HOW TO BE FREE FROM ALL YOU HOLD AGAINST YOURSELF

freedom

NOTE: The following applies to most ordinary bullshit. HUGE bullshit, like a terminal disease, or a loved one who is suffering profoundly … these are struggles of a different magnitude. Our discussion here pertains to regular old human suffering, so much of which has to do with the ego and its endless needs.

And so …

1. TAKE INVENTORY OF ALL THE THINGS YOU SEE AS YOUR DEFICITS.

This includes all perceived body flaws, personality flaws, financial situation, living situation, relationship issues, perceived state of success/failure, moral/spiritual failures, past choices you see as regrettable.

Go ahead and make that list. The whole enchilada. Leave nothing out. Write it down, if you like. Or just make a mental list. I’ll wait.

Okay. Done?

2. NOW, IMAGINE YOU ENCOUNTER YOUR PERFECT PARTNER AND THEY ACCEPT AND LOVE YOU EVEN THOUGH THEY KNOW ALL THAT STUFF YOU JUST LISTED IN THE ABOVE INVENTORY.

Think of what that would do to you. What a colossal relief, right? You can stop pretending you have it all together. You can quit “putting on a happy face.” You’re done with all that bullshit. You can just be who you are, and you’re absolutely accepted and loved. Imagine how you’d carry yourself with this person: no fear, no worry, no self-consciousness. You’ve won the Inner Peace Lottery, right?

3. NOW, FORGET THAT PERSON. YOU CAN’T BE SURE YOU’LL FIND THEM. IF YOU ALREADY HAVE FOUND THEM, QUIT YOUR WHINING AND GO GIVE THEM A HUG. IF YOU HAVEN’T (ON SECOND THOUGHT, EVEN IF YOU HAVE), THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE YOU KNOW WHO CAN ACCEPT AND LOVE YOU JUST AS YOU ARE, DESPITE ALL YOUR PERCEIVED ISSUES/PROBLEMS. AND THEIR OPINION OF YOU IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT OF YOUR FANTASY LOVER/FRIEND/PARTNER.

That person, of course, is YOU.

Can you do it? Can you look at that list and say, “I accept and love myself just as I am in this moment?” If you can, then you’re off the hook you’ve placed yourself on! You’re free!

This doesn’t mean you don’t try to improve yourself. If you are bothered by some aspect (or aspects) of your life that you have the ability to affect? Go ahead and make plans for improvements. But don’t wait until you’ve accomplished your plans to approve of yourself. If you do, you’ve placed unnecessary emotional tension in your way. You are in conflict with what IS. That’s a surefire setup for unhappiness. ACCEPT what is, even as you engage in a plan to improve what you can.

Easier said than done? Yes, it is.

The truth, though, is that MOST people are holding a lot of things against themselves. Their lists look much like yours (and mine). Maybe the details vary, but the general idea is the same: “I am unacceptable and unlovable for these reasons.” And we carry this in the form of many thoughts that build up into one helluva destructive emotional snowball … we’ve given that fast-rolling sonofabitch SO MUCH power! The power to sabotage our happiness in the here and now, and on through the rest of our lives, right to our graves if we let it! LET’S NOT LET IT!

Unless and until you accept and love yourself unconditionally, radically … you will be stuck in a bad place, somewhere between mere discontent and full-on depression.

The power is yours, and yours alone. What will it take for you to LET GO of all that bullshit you’ve been holding against yourself? When will you get around to unlocking the chains you’ve put on your soul?

Examine each item on your list. Say each one OUT LOUD and say you accept it, as it is in this moment.

Examples:

“I accept how my body looks and feels right now in this moment. I am letting go of the desire for my body to look and feel any different than it does right now in this moment.”

“I accept my job situation as it is right now in this moment. I am letting of the desire for it to be any different than it is right now in this moment.”

Remember, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look to drop a few pounds or get a new job. If you deem those things important, start mapping your strategy RIGHT NOW, even as you accept things as they are, right now, in this moment.

Do this with every item on that list.

And mean it. In your heart. This is not just an intellectual thing, not just an acknowledgement thing. Maybe it starts as that. But it MUST BECOME something you believe and feel to be true in your heart.

IF you can do this, then you are free from your bullshit, it no longer has to be an impediment to your present happiness or future growth.

Congratulations on the first day of the rest of your life.

Now. Full disclosure.

I believe everything I’ve just written. The ideas aren’t mine, they are very old ideas. I’ve laid them out in my own way, but they’re in a million self-help books, spiritual and non-spiritual.

I wrote them down this way FOR ME.

Because I hold so many things against myself. I’ve given these things COLOSSAL life-killing power over decades. And I still struggle with them. Every day.

I feel I’ve made important steps forward. I have begun with the acknowledgement of the truth that my holding on to these things has been, and clearly is still, sabotaging my happiness. I have spoken this struggle out loud to others I trust, even disclosed some of it to my entire church community in a video sermon. I am actively engaged in a process of radical self-acceptance, even as I recognize that I have far to go.

So, I’m still working on it.

I hope you are too. If so, tell me how.

And, if you’ve conquered it, if you’re surfing the waves of radical self-acceptance right now in your life? I bow to you and congratulate you! Tell me what has been the most helpful insight for you. Together, we can lift each other up.

I’m pretty sure that’s the highest thing we can do as humans.

Love each other to wholeness.

May it be so. Peace to you.

Continue reading “HOW TO BE FREE FROM ALL YOU HOLD AGAINST YOURSELF”

Lopsided Indiginity

duplicity

I describe myself these days as a “political atheist.” By this I mean I don’t believe in any political party.

Like you, I try to sort out what I believe about the moral and social issues that matter to me then vote for people who claim to believe in principles that (more or less) are in alignment with that.

Problem is, I don’t believe most politicians (of any party) truly give a rat’s ass about what you or I believe, want, or need. I just don’t. If the show were really about us (ordinary Americans) and not about power and greed (this refers both to the politicians who are busy preserving their gig and the ruling class who are busy preserving theirs), then things would be radically different.

All of the outrage over the lies spewing forth from High Office in 2018? I get it. I do. But let me pose a question.

Which do you find more disturbing: the lies that are so obvious a seventh grader can point them out, or the lies that are so carefully crafted and eloquently delivered that you’re applauding and wiping away a little tear as they reverberate in your ears?

They’re equally disgusting, yes? The clever lie is being delivered by a Statesman, likely one with a formidable academic background, and the obvious lie is being delivered by a delusional fool. At the end of the day, it’s the lie you believe that presents the greater danger, though both are a great offense.

Do you really imagine that “your party” and its leaders are the good guys and “the other party” and its leaders are the bad guys? You weren’t lied to about the Watergate break in? You weren’t lied to about what was really happening in the Viet Nam war?

Do you think your party’s leaders aren’t lying?

Do you believe what you read in history books is unvarnished truth? The whole truth?

What is CNN telling you? Or FOX news? You think there is no agenda, no pullers of strings, no money influencing “your” media while “the other guy’s” media is a pack of filthy lies?

Follow the money.

What do you or I know?

We know the story someone else is telling us.

By all means, fact check. By all means, call out bad behavior. Go ahead and be indignant.

But never forget that, within the framework of history, “your team” is as guilty as the other guy’s team. If we catalogue all the lies and crimes of our political leaders, neither party comes out looking saintly.

It’s the “lopsided indignity” that chafes me.

If you’re gonna hate one man’s misuse of power (and you should), you must hate the other man’s equally. Even if he’s better looking and more intelligent. Even if he accomplished things you thought were good. If you’re going to despise one man’s womanizing (and you should), then you must despise the other’s with equal fervor. Even if your guy was the leader of a cause you believed in. If you’re gonna hate one man’s approval of torture, you must hate the other man’s approval of Napalm. Even if your guy said a bunch of neat stuff and wrote a lovely book. One man’s collusion is another man’s drowned mistress. Don’t idolize these people, don’t make of them anything more than they are.

Be an equal opportunity hater of injustice, lies, and misuse of power. That’s all I’m saying, people.

The endless self-righteous political talk (from both sides, from all sides) is incredibly tired and terribly lacking in context.

“I don’t wanna live in a world of darkness, I wanna live in a world of light. I don’t wanna live in a world that’s heartless, I wanna live in a world of sight.” – Steve Miller

Yes, that’s right. All the best wisdom has been summed up in pop music lyrics.

 

 

Why I’m a Believer

cosmos1

This is not an argument for the existence of God.

This is not me trying to convince you of anything. I, of course, understand that for any point I might make supporting my view there is a counterpoint tearing it apart. I’m not really interested in debates.

This is simply me telling you what I believe and why. Nothing more.

When I watch a show about animals or space, about life’s origins or the origins of the universe, I can get downright tingly. I can’t help being moved when I see the majesty of the heavens and the astonishing variety and complexity of life on planet Earth. Nebulae, the Aurora Borealis, spiraling galaxies, transparent fish, flying lizards, bugs that walk on water … these are awe-inspiring sights to be sure.

But, while watching these shows, I have never once thought, “Gosh, isn’t it neat what random forces can produce given enough time?”

I’ve heard the story where Matter is King. It starts like this: “Once upon a time, all matter was infinitely dense.”

That’s right, kids. Every bit of matter and space in this universe—you know, the universe that contains TWO TRILLION GALAXIES (this is 10 times more than the previously believed 200 billion galaxies)—was once so very teeny tiny that it couldn’t be seen. It had NO SIZE. Let’s not forget that each of those 2 trillion galaxies contains 100 billion stars, more or less.

So, there it was: all the matter in the universe just hiding out in nothingness, smaller than a single atom.

How’d it get there? Where’d it come from? Why was it so itsy bitsy?

No one can tell you with any certainty.

“It popped into existence from nothing, out of nowhere,” is one answer science gives. It seems to be the most plausible one out there.

Okay. So, this is different than Genesis 1 how? Oh yeah, no Creator. Now it makes SO much more sense.

The fact is, both of these ideas, the idea of God and the idea that everything came from nothing, require us to believe fairly nutty things that absolutely CANNOT be proven.

My God-view requires faith. Just as the everything-from-nothing-view requires faith.

Here’s where I admit that the idea of God is sort of whacky. I mean, if we’re going to approach it rationally, we have to ask where God came from, right?

Well, no. No, we don’t. If you’re going to propose that everything came from nothing (without any proof), then I think I get to go ahead and assume the existence of God without having to come up with an origin story.

For me, God is the one utterly inexplicable thing that makes everything else possible.

The First Cause of life must be living. The First Cause of consciousness must be conscious. The First Cause of intellect must be intelligent.

Look at the observable universe. It’s so bloody amazing.

Everything is made of invisible particles in constant motion. THAT is amazing. Your smartphone looks like it’s stationary, a solid object, but it’s composed of madly spinning particles, as are you, as am I.

That’s insane! Yet I believe it.

Interesting fact—I believe in atoms. And so, probably, do you.

But why do we believe in atoms?

Can you prove they exist? Not without an electron microscope, my friend.

Unless you’re a renowned scientist working at a super high-tech lab, you’ve never looked into an electron microscope. They cost nearly one million dollars, so I guarantee neither PoDunk High nor Big Town University have one in their science wing for you to play with on your lunch hour.

You and I believe in atoms because we read about them in a book, or maybe we saw some blurry image of one in a YouTube video. The truth is, we believe in atoms, even though they are entirely outside of our sphere of experience; atoms are an article of faith—a thing we believe in even though we can’t prove it. I understand that we’re confident that someone can prove it, but we can’t and that’s my point. We’re relying on the testimony of others, which requires faith.

Modern science, with all its impressive gadgetry and seemingly limitless cosmic imagination, still can’t give a satisfactory explanation of what human consciousness is.

When it comes to the question, “What is gravity?” our friends at NASA are forced to answer, we don’t know!

So, the most fundamental things we should understand about ourselves and the world we inhabit are fucking mysteries. Surprise!

Another thing, dear reader. I believe in God because of you. Yes, you. You are a freaking stunning, mind-blowing miracle.

Here’s something about you that maybe you haven’t thought of. You were inevitable. Just as you are. Your eye color, your height, your personality. Why do I say this?

Because YOU ARE. When the universe unfolded you were already an inevitability: all the conditions being what they were, this moment in time with you in it reading this absurd essay right where you are … it all HAD TO HAPPEN. Because it did.

I take it further and say, you are an INTENTION of the universe, of the God that forged your consciousness in the infinite past.

In summation…

I believe in God because:

  1. The “purely material” answers are unsatisfactory on every level.
  2. Faith in God is no less crazy than the faith it takes to believe everything came from nothing.
  3. The marvel and awe of the cosmic universe and this living planet make no sense without an intelligent being to observe them.
  4. Everything about the observable universe is infused with intelligence, from humankind to trees to ticks, it is all bound together in an unfathomable symbiosis.
  5. If this is the one and only universe, the odds that it would come up with you and me and all this life are as good as zero. And the fact that one of science’s answer to that dilemma is to suggest an infinite number of universes (so that, of course, one of them would have to result in us, right?), smells of desperation (and not a single one of those “other” universes can be demonstrated to exist).

But, most importantly, I believe in God because:

  1. I need to.
  2. I choose to.

And that’s it, people. For what it’s worth.

I also totally respect your non-belief, or your belief in fairies, or your it’s turtles all the way down theory.

So it goes.

And amen.

Peace, my brothers and sisters.

Dear Angry Atheist

theist atheist

A Christian, a Buddhist, and an atheist walk into a church.

That may sound like the opening line to a joke, but it actually reflects the reality of what’s going on in my church on any given Sunday.

My church has no religious creed or doctrine, it holds up no deity or faith as “the one and only truth for all humanity.” Those who attend are welcome to bring along the deity of their choice, just as they are welcome to bring their atheism, agnosticism, etcetera.

My atheist friends and acquaintances are very sure about what they don’t believe. They absolutely do not believe in any kind of god or goddess or spirit creating things or watching over the affairs of humanity. They do not believe in an afterlife. None of that should be surprising, as that would be the very definition of an atheist, yes?

What may be surprising to some, though, is that these non-believing folks are not in the least bothered by the fact that many of their fellow congregants do believe in God, or a goddess, or any of a variety of spiritual notions. For these atheists, it doesn’t inspire scorn, anger, or mockery. They’re not just okay with the faith of their peers, they respect, appreciate, and celebrate it.

Weird, huh? But should it be?

Is there really any good reason that modern believers and non-believers should be adversaries? I would propose that what they have in common matters so much more than what they don’t.

Our desire to love and be loved, our mutual searches for survival, connection, purpose, well-being, happiness, security, and pleasure—put simply, our shared humanity—ought to unify us to an infinitely greater degree than our various philosophies, religious and non-religious, divide us.

First, let’s tell the truth.

We all know that a lot of horrifying shit has been done in the name of some God or other. Witch hunts, crusades, wars, jihad … lots of bloodshed in the name of someone’s God. So, let’s not deny that truth.

Let’s also acknowledge that horrifying shit has been done by folks who wanted to outlaw religion: Mussolini, Stalin, Mao. Now, it’s a stretch to say these men were seeking to “spread atheism,” but it is certain their intent was not forcing people to believe in any religion’s God.

When we boil it down, deep evil is usually done in the name of power and greed—religion or non-religion are simply window dressing. That’s the truth about that.

Here’s another truth: people can arrive at either benevolence or savagery through both religious thinking and atheistic thinking.

Here, for example, is a theology that leads to evil:

  1. My God is the only truth and all other ways of seeing the world are not just wrong but an offense to my angry, jealous God.
  2. Therefore, if you do not follow my God I will have to kill you to make the world a better place. It’s my sacred duty. If I can’t convert you, you must die.

And here is an atheistic philosophy leading to evil:

  1. Humans are nothing more than smart apes. Love is an illusion brought on by chemical reactions. Morality is nothing more than a social construct. The survival of the most fit (or simply my personal gratification, regardless of the harm it may cause to others) should be the only appropriate guiding principle.
  2. Therefore, if misusing or even exterminating a person or an entire group of people (Jews, Tutsis, the infirm, the mentally inferior), helps to ensure the survival (or gratification) of the superior person or group, it is not only permissible, but wise. Any other way is self-annihilating sentimentality.

Here is a theology that leads to love:

  1. Life is from God, God is love, and all people are children of God.
  2. Therefore, the highest thing I can do is love life and people.

And an atheism that leads to love:

  1. We get just this one shot at life, which makes it a precious gift of immeasurable value.
  2. Therefore, the highest thing I can do is love life and people.

I have to admit, when I read social media “pile ons” where atheists are bashing Christians for being ignorant, backward, hateful hypocrites … it makes me very sad. Not because there aren’t Christians who fit this description (there certainly are), but because it is such a narrow-minded, thoughtless approach that discounts the millions and millions of magnificent, loving, compassionate, intelligent, luminous beings that would call themselves Christians (or Catholics, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or Whatever Religious Persuasion).

It’s not religious people that suck. It’s people that suck, some religious and some not.

In the same way, there are people you’re very glad to have as friends, neighbors, and co-workers because they’re kind, thoughtful, smart, funny … some of them are religious, some are not.

Being a human being on planet Earth is hard. Even under the best of circumstances, this life is going to beat the shit out of you many times, make you physically ill, disappoint you, and break your heart. Inevitably, it will kill everyone you love and, unsurprisingly, it will kill you as well. If a large number of people need belief in God to get them through this life, are we really going to fault them for it? And what about the many millions on the planet who will only know poverty and suffering until the day the die. How inspiring do you imagine they find atheism?

When can we start being grown-ups? When will we learn to live and let live, to find respect for one another—regardless of philosophy—to be a core value?

It shouldn’t really be so hard, should it?

If you’re angered by intolerant religious people, are you helping your cause by being an intolerant atheist … or have you become the enemy through emulation?

Look, I have a kind of faith but I have no problem with those who don’t. In fact, I think they’re quite courageous. Because they are facing life and heartbreak and illness and death simply on their own inner strength! No “teddy bear” of faith to curl up with at night. I don’t envy them. I couldn’t do it. I have no wish to try. But I do admire them for living their convictions, truly. Not just saying that.

I would just like to see them not act like assholes. Of course, I’d also like to see religious people not act like assholes.

Can we just do that, people? Would that be so hard?

RESPECT

Peace and love to all (flavor to taste with the philosophy of your choice, brothers and sisters).

Abortion: Finding my Moral Hypocrisy

 

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Leonardo da Vinci

 

The way we generally hear abortion debated, there seems to be an implied assumption that highly-intelligent, deeply-caring, profoundly beautiful people can’t exist on both sides of the argument.

This is simply not true.

Arriving at a position on this highly complex, nuanced, emotional issue shouldn’t be easy. If it is, then you haven’t thought about it enough. Once you dig in deep, once you pick your side—if you can’t spot any moral hypocrisy in your thinking (no matter which side you wind up on), you haven’t thought about it enough.

Because both sides are irrefutably right about some very critical things. And if you see no merit in the argument of your opponent? That’s right: you haven’t thought about it enough.

I am not a fan of the descriptors. “Pro Life” and “Pro Choice” are both misnomers, they both attempt to claim morally superior territory while, in fact, revealing their hypocrisies upon closer examination. But we’re sort of stuck with these terms, aren’t we? After all, we must respect how people “self-identify,” mustn’t we?

If we were to take the most radical Lifer stance, and ask the government to force every pregnant woman, girl, and child to give birth … it would be a moral catastrophe of epic proportion. That’s simply a fact. According to the World Health Organization, there are 56 million abortions a year, worldwide. Imagine all the children who would be born into extreme poverty; or into dangerous, drug-addicted or abusive households; or simply born to people who don’t want them, can’t afford to or don’t want to care for them. That’s a whole lot of babies suffering—does forcing them into the world really make you an advocate for children?

Let’s admit, also, that it’s an unfair gender equation. Women bear children. Men/boys may populate a small island with their seed then run off and do as they please. The sufferers in a world of forced births would be girls and women and their babies, the more disadvantaged they are, the more they suffer. As always, the wealthy fair better under duress. Additionally, the men too often will not be held accountable for their actions.

All of that is irrefutably true. And those truths are why I am forced to be a Choicer. But, trust me, I see my moral hypocrisy all too clearly. Because there’s something else that is irrefutably true.

There are no geneticists debating whether a fetus is a living human being. We call it “human reproduction” because that’s what we’re doing. We’re reproducing humans. Not gizzards or asparagus. Humans. We know this. The zygote is a living human being at its earliest stage of development. This is not a religious argument. It’s science. To say otherwise is to construct a fantasy in order to soften a harsh reality we’d prefer not to face. I say this, remember, as someone who is Pro Choice. I’m just not going to lie to myself about the science to make me feel better. (By the way, there are Pro Life Atheists, some of them famous, in case you were wondering.)

What we’re debating is not the humanity of a fetus, we’re debating whether the right of women to “have free agency” over their bodies and their futures supersedes the right of conceived children to be born. As a culture, we’ve decided (by law) that it does.

So, when I say I’m Pro Choice (which, again, I AM saying), I’m saying that I accept that a human life is being taken (because that’s science, not some emotion-driven flight-of-fancy). I’m also saying that this evil is less than the evil of 56 million unwanted babies being born to 56 million women/girls/children who aren’t ready to be mothers. Here, then, is my moral hypocrisy: as a good liberal, who claims to be a voice for the voiceless, I am saying that it is morally acceptable to take the life of the most vulnerable humans on Earth … because the alternative creates an even greater evil, an even higher level of human suffering. In other words, the only thing worse than having legal abortions available as a choice would be NOT having legal abortions available as a choice. This is hard for me to swallow, but I don’t see us changing human nature any time soon, so it is a conclusion I can’t escape, and it makes me Pro Choice at the end of the day, whether I like it or not. Being Pro Choice also, for me, addresses the fact that a significant percentage of pregnancies involve rape, incest, severe pre-natal deformity, danger to the mother’s life, or other extraordinary mitigating circumstances.

I understand the indignation and revulsion Choicers feel when they see angry people holding signs with graphic photos of bloody fetuses. The easiest thing to assume is that they are a bunch of ignorant, holier-than-thou, finger-pointing, religious hypocrites who want to shove their morality down the throats of everyone else. We see them as people who claim to prize “all the little children of the world,” while doing nothing whatsoever to help the suffering children already-born. We see them as self-righteous a**holes. And some of them are just that.

But I would propose that many, many Lifers are simply men and women who have concluded that abortion takes a human life, and their consciences won’t allow them to be okay with that. I don’t find that incomprehensible at all. I don’t find it offensive. I don’t feel this negates their intelligence or compassion or decency. I do think that people that reach this conclusion need to genuinely grapple with all the moral issues related to unwanted pregnancies. They need to ask themselves what they intend to do to help the (theoretical) 56 million and, more importantly, the children and single mothers who are here, now, suffering all over the world. If they’re doing nothing, their claim to care about babies rings rather hollow, doesn’t it?

By the same token, Choicers ought to genuinely grapple with the fact of what it is we are doing as a civilization, what the ethical bargain is here. What the unpleasant, haunting truth is. It should never be glossed over. If we see no reason to grieve … we haven’t thought about it enough.

There is something both Choicers and Lifers would celebrate: a world where unwanted pregnancies were a rarity. (56 million—that’s not rare. It’s incredibly sad and revealing.) Reasonable, compassionate people from both sides could unite over this common ground and focus on the one thing they agree on, focus on how to make it a reality to the extent that resources and human nature allow.

But they probably won’t. Because they’ll be too busy not hearing each other.

 

 

 

Should We Punish Hate?

(Please don’t judge my intent before you’ve read the whole essay. And know that I welcome “enlightened guidance,” correction, and exposure to knowledge I do not currently possess. Thanks.)

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Imagine you are beaten senseless and robbed by someone of your own race. The perpetrator is a junkie in need of a fix, and you’ve just cashed your two-week paycheck. The thief empties your wallet of cash, leaving you bloody and unconscious, sprawled in a dirty alleyway.

Now imagine the same beating by someone of a different race. This person does not steal from you, but spews hateful, racially-charged language during the beating.

In the first case, the crimes committed are assault and robbery. In the second case, we are looking at an assault that would likely also be categorized as a hate crime.

Once apprehended and convicted, should the bad guy in the second scenario receive a harsher sentence because he hates you? Is the assault-plus-hatred somehow a worse crime than the assault with the intent to rob? Here’s another ethics questions for you: Which crime would you rather be a victim of, the one where you’re robbed but not hated or the one where you’re hated but not robbed (the beating is the same either way)?

To the point: should we punish criminals for what they do or for what motivates them to do what they do?

You see, Johnny Skinhead can sit in his moldy, darkly-lit basement his entire lifetime, surrounded by neo-Nazi posters, slogans, and literature—his grayish little white-supremacist heart beating with savage hatred for all Jews, gays and non-white people—but if he never harms anyone, never vandalizes someone’s property, never commits a crime … we can’t arrest him. The FBI acknowledges that hate itself isn’t a crime, but should it be a reason to escalate punishment when it is associated with the commission of a prosecutable offense? Is that logical, is it reasonable?

Please, please, do not get me wrong here. I’m not pro-hate. Hate sucks. It’s ugly and it does unforgivable, despicable things to (and in) the hearts and lives of people all over the world, every single day. If I could abolish hate with a nice, shiny piece of legislation, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

mlk-quote

Hatred, however, is a slippery devil. It doesn’t care much for rules. More worrisome still, it doesn’t only belong to “those horrible people” we imagine when we think of those who commit hate crimes.

Nope. We all hate sometimes, don’t we? Even if only for a moment.

Surely, we’re tempted to hate “Jihadi John,” the masked ISIS operator who beheaded multiple non-combatants (many of his brutal executions were posted on the Internet). It wouldn’t be hard to hate 22 year-old Dylann Roof, who callously murdered nine African American churchgoers while pretending to join them in a Bible study. Wouldn’t we be justified in hating Omar Mateen for his ruthless massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida?

Let’s admit it. We have sometimes been guilty of hating the haters.

We have maybe even hated our exes, our bosses, our neighbors, cops, priests, or politicians.

Should we turn ourselves in at the local police station, confess our hatred and await sentence? Luckily, we’ve already established that hate alone is not a crime. But, wait. Isn’t it a little contradictory to say hate isn’t a crime but it is a reason to increase the severity of the penalty for the commission of a crime?

I think I get the idea of hate crime legislation. Handing out harsher penalties to those whose crimes are an “offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity” might help discourage people from committing such crimes.

Okay. Maybe. I’d like to see the stats. Regardless, as a matter of principle, are we not, in fact, punishing hate? You know, that thing the FBI told us wasn’t a crime.

Let’s consider something else. Jihadi John, Dylann Roof, and Omar Mateen didn’t emerge from the womb consumed with hatred and a desire to do harm to infidels, black people, or gay people. These criminals were infected with the hateful biases of their families and/or peers. In a way, each of them is a victim of a mindset passed on from generation to generation.

People who commit hate crimes were taught to hate. This fact in no way excuses their behavior or means they shouldn’t face justice. But it does mean, in my opinion, that the helpful (ethical, empathetic, compassionate) reaction here probably isn’t to up their sentences.

Punish them according to what they’ve done. The three I have mentioned? They are serial murderers. Punish them accordingly. Life in prison or the death penalty works in each of these cases.[1] Punish hating vandals for vandalism, hating assaulters for assault, and so on. Prosecute them to the full extent of the law … for what they’ve done.

In addition, necessitate their enrollment in some de-programming classes. Re-educate them. Expose them to loving, intelligent, kind, merciful people who are in the ethnic or religious groups they despise. Find the root of the hate. Expose the fallacies of the philosophies they’ve been fed their whole lives. Chip away at the hate with education and love. Mostly love.

There are paths out of extreme hate groups. Let’s help offenders find them.

Punish crime. Heal hate. End the cycle.

 

 

[1] Jihadi John is believed to have been killed in a targeted drone strike. Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death. Omar Mateen was killed in a shootout with police on the day of his murderous rampage.

Walking the Labyrinth

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I walked the Earth-Wisdom Labyrinth on our church’s property today. I’ve been attending the Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin for almost two years and I’ve been a member for less than a year. Because this season of my life is so full and challenging, regrettably, my attendance there is spotty. I am always glad to have attended on those Sundays I make it. Today was my first labyrinth walk.

A few details about the labyrinth (copied from church website):

  • It is made up of over 25 tons of stone.
  • It spans more than 93 feet in diameter.
  • It winds in for 1/3 mile and out for 1/3 mile.
  • It’s one of the largest labyrinths of its kind in the world.

What did I learn on my walk today?

  1. That my mind is an obnoxiously busy place and has trouble shutting down the “constant dialogue” machine. My thoughts kept wandering to the comic. What would it be like if we had to navigate the labyrinth on unicycles? Is that Columbian Gold Minister Leslie is burning in the center (the answer is “no”)? If I suddenly hopped over a few rows, would anybody say anything? How fast could church member Todd get to the center and back on his bike (he bikes a lot)?
  2. The labyrinth takes longer to walk than I figured.
  3. Spiderman (or it might have been a very young churchgoer wearing a Spiderman jacket, I can’t be sure) does not recognize the implied constraints of the labyrinth, and yet he is not invulnerable to the slipperiness of the ice-coating on the path. Still, his powers seemed to protect him from harm (thankfully). Spiderman is adorable.
  4. As we walked in silence, the sound of our collective footsteps—as they softly crunched on the pavement and less-softly crackled over the icy areas—created a comforting, constant rhythm. It reminded me I was not alone on the path. It made me wonder what the experiences of the other walkers were like. Did some of them have the same trouble quieting their thoughts? Did some recite mantras? Did some pray? It made me reflect on the fact that even as we walked the same path, The Way was different for each of us.
  5. I encountered a few stones whose juxtaposed edges fit together nearly as neatly as puzzle pieces. That made me wonder if their placement was deliberate. It made me contemplate how things you might not think would fit together can (like atheists, Christians, and Buddhists—oh my). lab-2
  6. It re-confirmed what I’ve been thinking for a long time now. UUCE feels like home to me.

What a cool way to start the new year!

I will walk the labyrinth again. Wonder what I might learn next time…?