He’s Only ‘Mostly’ Dead   (2016Dec29)

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Thursday, December 29, 2016                                                   12:01 PM

Here in the future, things are different. I was born in 1956, when the world was a far different place and people didn’t know half of what they now know—so trust me, this is the future. I can’t begin to list the things we have created, the powers we’ve gained, and the secrets we’ve unlocked from the mysterious universe since the year of my birth. In the course of my lifetime, we have reached a destination so far ahead of what 1956 portended that we refer to things with the ‘post-’ prefix.

When we say ‘post-modern’ we refer to our time as being so far past our expectations and imaginings that “The Jetsons”, once a symbol of futurity, has become a quaint icon of the past. Where technology and history once seemed to file along on a set path, we now see our culture virtually explode—and our entire past rendered moot—by the chaotic changes brought about by developments in AI, robotics, astronomy, genetics, and medicine.

Beliefs once valued enough to merit Crusades and Jihads have become side-issues, old toys we are too grown-up and busy to play with any more. The few benighted groups who can’t accept this find themselves desperately throwing bombs into marketplaces in a futile attempt to keep religion relevant. Meanwhile, reasonable people have all new gods and demons to fear—killer asteroids, AI singularities, global toxicity, climate change, habitat loss, ocean acidification, gene-mod blowback, and overpopulation.

Reasonable people have another, more difficult problem to deal with as well—unreasonable people. You see, with technology making us all more productive, more capable of things that once required vast multitudes—each man and woman becomes a power unto themselves. Our old world, that troubled idyll, got along fine with unreasonable people running all over the place—there was plenty of space and there was only so much damage they could do.

But if you put unreasonable people in the cockpit of an airliner, or in charge of an investment bank, or in the Oval Office—the results are terrifying and global. Our civilization has become too powerful to be trusted in the hands of a childish mind—and yet it is the most foolhardy among us who lust for power and riches. The intelligent people are busily making the world more convenient and accessible—and the stupid people are working overtime trying to take advantage of everyone else—it’s a poisonous combination.

As we observe the powerful within the beltway, and in the several state houses, we feel the futility of having rich people working on ‘protecting’ us from rich people—but I’m not sure we recognize the greater irony of having the most unwise among us ‘protecting’ us from common sense and kindness. When I see some of these people on C-SPAN, orating with the skills of a middle-schooler, saying things no high-school graduate could agree with—I am shocked that such buffoons can get themselves elected to public office—and saddened to realize that their constituencies find them acceptable.

What self-respecting person could publicly claim that our problems are caused by the old, the sick, the poor, the immigrant, the refugee—the most powerless and disenfranchised people on this earth? And who could be fool enough to believe that those in power do not bear any responsibility for the lives they control? In a previous century, humanity mourned the fading of religion, saying “God is dead.” Here in our time, we may mourn the fading of truth and admit, “Common Sense is dead.” That will be the legacy of our late election.

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Thomas Cahill on “Bill Moyers”

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Monday, December 30, 2013              1:44 AM

On Bill Moyers tonight a guy said, ‘There’s really only two sides: kindness and cruelty.’ And I agree. When all detail is scraped away, a kind person will do what they can, and a cruel person will do what they can get away with. The main obstacle to that clarity is human history. We start focusing on debts, borderlines, dogmas, politics, and whose dad could beat the other guy’s dad. The cruel side uses all this ‘white-noise’ to tap-dance endlessly around the simple issue of ensuring that no one starves to death.

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My South African friend became quite exercised about we Americans always bringing up Apartheid. (On Bill Moyers they also talked about Mandela’s turning away from revenge or bitterness towards his oppressors—and how that was as rare a thing as a thing can be.) I think South Africans have a false sense of how easy it is to end bigotry—their miraculous, overnight switch from apartheid to equality, as an entire nation, could have gone in many different, less peaceful, directions after Mandela’s release from prison.

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But the funniest thing on TV today was mentioned on both Bill Moyers and Religion & Ethics Newsweekly—The new Pope, Francis, is throwing a huge monkey-wrench into the neo-con evangelists’ secularizing of Christianity. He reminds the world that ending poverty and hunger must be a Christian’s highest priority, Catholic or otherwise—this flies in the face of pious Republicans whose decidedly selfish narrative ‘explains’ cutting food stamps for poor families and refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy.

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The Roman Catholic Church, prior to Francis, was a major banking institution and the single biggest holder of real estate around the globe—an institution soaked in power and property—and was thus reliably on the side of big business and high finance. Pope Francis’s new thrust seems to be a sharp break with expectations. He wants Christians to live their faith: mercy, charity, and love—and he’s not inclined to spiral off into some distraction that allows the status to stay quo. Recently, the Pope even mentioned the existence of atheists like myself—and not as damned souls doomed to perdition, either!

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This pleases me more than I can say. I was happy enough to hear that the Catholic Church had finally seen the light, vis-à-vis pederasty and general corruption amongst the priesthood, and would no longer consider buggery an ‘old tradition’, but rather as the crime it was always (quietly) known to be. But now—O, to have a Pope stand up and tell the world that we don’t know what Christianity is. If Christians want to be worthy of their faith they have to act like Christians. They have to believe in mercy towards, charity for, and love of our fellow men and women.

 

You know, people talk about the Jews having to avoid the flesh of scavengers, like pigs and shellfish; or the Muslims having to pray four times a day (or is i

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t 5?). But Christians get a pass. To believe in Christ is to want to follow his teachings—which say plenty about the poor and the outcast, but nothing at all about mortgage derivatives or early foreclosures. There was a story about J. K. Rowling in the news this week—she was a billionaire, but now she’s given away so much to charities that she’s become a mere multi-millionaire. I was shaking my head at the thought that this was news—it was news because no one else had ever f*#king done the same.

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But between her, Bill and Melinda Gates, billions of US $s in foreign aid, and the Catholic Church, we still have starving kids and homeless victims of a global system that says, ‘not my problem.’ Just within the USA alone, we have erosion in our beautiful Capitalist sand-castle—Detroit declared bankruptcy a while ago—the whole city. Of course, rich people can move. But what does civil bankruptcy mean to the Detroit denizens that were already broke before the crisis? It means that what little support the poor were getting there will become no support at all. A major city in the USA!—O how the mighty have f*#ked up.

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And often we hear about the churches of all denominations being the major source of soup kitchens, charities and volunteer work. There’s only one problem with that—nobody goes to church much anymore. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger—but there are definitely a lot of people besides just me, all staying home from church—some just lazy, yeah, but a lot that just don’t have religion in their lives now. A lot of Catholics are staying away because of the betrayal of sexual misconduct committed by their once most-trusted and respected civic leaders, their local priests. And don’t even ask about the number of young men deciding to enter the priesthood–who in their right mind would jump into that abyss?

I don’t want to go into that cesspool of a subject, but my point is—the church is no longer the core of a town or a neighborhood. And without the collections funds, the charities have no cash to operate. It is time we stopped looking to church charities and began implementing something more secular. We could call it “The Centers For People We’ve Finally Stopped Pretending Weren’t Suffering” (“…and stuff”, as Derek Zoolander might say).

Well, I Googled, so now I know the guy on “Bill Moyers” was Thomas Cahill—and he was right: ‘There’s really only two sides: kindness and cruelty.’