Oh, God, You Devil!

Even though I grew up attending a Baptist church on a weekly basis for years, since I was about 20, I don’t consider myself a member of any organized religion. Up until the pandemic, when most were temporarily discontinued, I did I attend church services on a regular basis (in various denominations), but only to sing in the choir or act as solo cantor. It was a job and nothing else. I always tell people, ‘You have to pay me to go to church!’ And I’ll go anywhere that they are paying, too; I don’t discriminate. I like the musical aspect of church services (I love to sing hymns, for example), but I am less-than-enthusiastic about the liturgical parts. The same tedious rituals week after week, and especially the sermons and scripture readings, are a crashing bore to me, although I do find a lot in them with which to take issue.

Most sermons and homilies that I have had to sit through seem irrelevant and pointless to me. I’m sitting there thinking, They are just talking bullshit! What does that have to do with helping us to become better people? Why doesn’t anyone ever talk to the congregation about confronting their racism, sexism and homophobia? Fix those things in our lives, and I think that the rest of it—that is, humanity, Godliness and Christianity—just may take care of themselves. But I suppose you can’t address what you don’t acknowledge. There are conflicting views about human morality, for one thing. A preacher is not going to lecture his congregation about those points if he believes that it is okay to discriminate against his fellow humans, objectify women and hate queers.

The thing about organized religions is that they tend to control and bully their followers into believing what they are told and not to think for yourself. If you are a Catholic, you have to be against abortion and birth control. Well, maybe I don’t want to be married and have a whole bunch of kids! It’s the same reason why I don’t affiliate myself with a political party. In order to be a Democrat, I have to believe and agree with their platform. Everything they do is right, and the Republicans have it all wrong. Then the Republicans say the same thing about the Democrats. I can find fault with both parties. I choose not to pigeonhole myself like that. I need to think for myself.

I have found from working at various churches that the tenet lines between the Protestant religions, especially, are somewhat blurred, as there are more similarities than there are differences. They all regard God and Jesus the same, they use the same Bible and Scripture readings, they sing the same hymns, and their service liturgies follow the same basic pattern. As with any group, differences of opinion occur between individuals, and just because they all attend the same church, they don’t have to agree on everything that is done or said there. I think that most people regard attending church as a social thing. One does not have to go to a house of worship to be religious. You can pray and give your reverence to God anywhere.

Now, just because I have no interest in matters ecclesiastical, does not mean that I am not a spiritual person and don’t believe in a higher power. I am not an atheist, but consider myself more of a heretic, heathen or pagan even and quasi-agnostic, since I don’t know for sure. In fact, nobody does. I have many theological questions and I don’t just accept everything on blind faith. Heresy is not a bad thing, by the way.  A heretic, for your information, is a person who chooses to think for themself rather than follow someone else’s arbitrarily-established opinion about something.  So, what’s wrong with that?  I used to know a guy who was a dyslexic, agnostic insomniac.  He would stay awake all night sometimes, wondering if there is a Dog. (::rim shot::)

If anyone should ask me the question, “Do you believe in God?” I ask them how much time they have, because the answer requires more than a simple yes or no.  I don’t doubt the existence of God, per se; there must be such a thing.  It has a referential name, therefore It must exist.  So a better question would be, “What do you think God is?” or “What is your personal perception of God?”  Now we can talk.  I take a more scientific approach to religion and God.

For centuries there has been a conflict between religion and modern science.  There is an ongoing controversy between the Biblical account of the Creation of the World versus Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, for example.  Many still contend that you have to believe in either one or the other, that the two schools of thought are mutually exclusive.  They don’t have to be, though.  Instead of taking one side over the other, I will attempt to explain and redefine the situation, which I hope will satisfy both camps.

First of all, the mere fact that everyone does not agree on a common explanation of God, indicates that it’s all based on human theories, and is why there are so many different religions and beliefs, because people all have their own ideas on the subject, including myself.  It’s all conjecture. Also realize that monotheism, the belief in only one omnipotent God, has not always been the way of the world.  The early Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Norse and Babylonians worshiped many gods, often in the form of graven images.

Another school of thought is that it was Abraham who invented God.  It was he who made all the laws and decisions for his people, claiming that they all were relayed to him personally by God.  So, in essence, Abraham was playing God, and the people were all too willing and compliant to go along with whatever he told them to do.  His later descendants and Gentiles even referred to It as “the God of Abraham.”

So now I will give you my own theory about God.  Why can’t the physical sciences be the explanation of God?  For me, God is simply the collective energy forces that govern the Universe.  God is in everything, and everything is God, including you and me and everybody.  Apparently, this is not my thinking alone.  I recently learned that there are others that follow that same philosophy.  They even have a name for it: pantheism, meaning, God is all. So I guess I am a pantheist then.

I will go so far to say that there are really no real atheists.  How can anyone deny the existence of God when It is evident all around us?  Is there anyone that denies the concept of nature?  We comment on the wonders of nature and on the “natural order of things.“  Well, Mother Nature is just another name for God.  The miracle of childbirth and our mere existence is an evidence of God.  World phenomena don’t just happen automatically.

Now there are people, like myself, who don’t buy the notion of some supernatural Man or Gnostic Being up in the sky who looks down on us and with whom we can converse and from whom we can ask favors, and whom we were taught by our parents and clergy to fear and praise and obey.  But just because you don’t believe in That Guy, does not make you an atheist, because that’s not really God, at least in my opinion.  That’s just somebody that Man made up for our benefit, like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. If we just accept the fact that God is the Virtual Everything, then there is nothing to doubt or to wonder about.  So when someone tells me that they don’t believe in God, I ask them, ‘How do you explain your own existence then?  Did you just happen all by yourself?’

I am not being blasphemous when I say that I am God.  I am only stating a fact. We all are God.  If you believe that we all are created by God, then we all must be imbued with the essence of God.  God is what sustains us and what makes our bodies grow and function the way they do.  That is God digesting our food and keeping our hearts beating and our blood flowing. So someone who claims that they don’t believe in God is denying life itself, including their own.  Whenever we tamper with Nature and upset the natural order of things, we are playing God, or rather, defying God, in a sense.  Whenever anyone kills any living thing or even saves the life of anyone who would be doomed otherwise, they are interfering with God’s Will.

A physician’s very profession is to defy God.  God gave this person that fatal ailment, and the doctors then go against God’s way by attempting to keep the patient alive.  What gives them or us the right to decide for ourselves who is to live or die?  I don’t mean to say that it is not a good thing to try to save and prolong lives when we’re able to.  I am all for medical assistance when needed, but we still should own up to the fact that we are interfering with one’s destiny when we do so.  Just be willing to admit it and don’t be all self-righteous and pharisaical about it.

Incidentally, my God does not have gender.  God is an energy force, not a person, and certainly not a man.  That’s why I choose to use neuter pronouns in my references to God, except when It‘s a dramatic character reference.  So I don’t go along with the Trinity concept of “God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost,” but rather simply, the “Unity”: God the Spirit.  Along with that, I will say that the words “holy” and “sacred” have no validity to me.  A certain degree of reverence or value judgment is arbitrarily placed on anything having to do with God and organized religion.  But to me, nothing is sacred.  So I don’t believe in blasphemy and sacrilege, as God, to me, is completely a secular entity.

The Book of Genesis presents the theomorphic notion that “God created Man in ‘His’ (meaning God’s) own image.”  (Purported atheist Mike Stivic of “All in the Family” asked his father-in-law Archie Bunker one day, “You mean to say that God looks like you?!”)  But I happen to think that it’s the other way around.  We (that is, Man) have created God in our own image, just as the gnostic beings anywhere else in the Universe most likely created their God (if they, in fact, acknowledge one) in their particular image, which would be totally different from our concept.

Man seems to have a need to personify everything (to wit—Mother Earth, Mother Nature, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Father Time, Jack Frost, Ol’ Man River, etc.), and it’s Man who refers to God in the masculine gender—“the Almighty Heavenly Father” and other male, patriarchal epithets.  There is also a human need to have a visual image of everything.  That’s the reason for religious icons, statues and paintings—to remind us of who and to what we are paying reverence.

But the question then arises, how shall God be depicted?  And this arbitrary decision is, of course, at the very heart of sexism and racism.  White men naturally always depict God as an old, white man.  (It wasn’t my idea.) Anything else would be refuting their imagined superiority.  It has to be someone that they can look up to, respect, revere and worship—therefore, an older white man.  It can’t be a woman.  They have no power here.  And it can’t be a person-of-color either.  How could they worship and adore someone beneath them, someone for whom they have utter contempt and disrespect?  No, it has to be a white man, someone exactly like themselves. You see then, by doing that they are equating themselves with the Almighty, in essence, putting themselves on the same personal level with God.

That is the reason that deists give God all our own human characteristics, to make God to be more like themselves.   When they talk about God’s likes and dislikes, they are merely expressing their own feelings and opinions. This is why Jesus, too, is most often given artistic representation with Aryan features, because if his “Father” and mother are white, then he has to be too, right?  Just as I contend that nothing in Christianity is original, that common depiction of God as an old, white man with the white, flowing beard is not just anybody.  It’s the same way that the Greeks’ head god, Zeus, is commonly depicted.  So they didn’t create a new God image but only borrowed an already-existing one.

There is an old joke about a man who dies, goes to Heaven, meets God, but has the opportunity to come back to life and earth to report on his experience.  So of course, everybody wants to know what God looks like and all.  “Please, tell us, Sir, what does God look like?”  The man replies, “Well, first of all, She’s black.”  Whenever this is told, of course everyone laughs at the accepted absurdity of it all.  But if that punchline had been a pre-ordained notion, then it wouldn’t be a joke.

Why couldn’t God be manifested for all time as a black woman?  I don’t see anything wrong with that.  Believers expect God to be their Parent Figure, Guardian, Defender and Protector.  But in real life it’s almost always the mother who looks after the family, nurtures, feeds and takes care of them. The traditional Man is merely the breadwinner.  He is not always around when you need him.  So why are you praying to some Man to comfort you and watch over you, when it’s most likely a Woman who is the one doing the comforting and caregiving for you?  In general, I hold black women in as high regard as I do white men—maybe more, since my own mother was a black woman.  This idea apparently did not escape the writers of the TV series “Joan of Arcadia,” in which more than one of the various guises that “God” appeared to the title character, was indeed a black woman!

At least the Christian Scientists are not guilty of this destiny-tampering, as they do renounce doctors and medications in the time of physical maladies and instead, leave their fate in the “hands of God” by resorting to prayer to save their lives.  They believe that if they are meant to live, they will, but if their time on earth is up, they have learned to accept that, too, and that medical intervention will not make any difference one way or the other.

But then, we could also look upon praying as going against God’s Plan. When people pray, they are usually asking for something personal or wanting to change something that is to be. “Please, God, I need this job!” Some people pray for guidance and assistance. “Lord, help me to be a better person and more loving to my neighbors…Lord, help those poor people in need.” I think that’s all up to you. Why don’t you help those poor people in need? What do you expect God to do about it? If God was on the case, they wouldn’t be in need, would they? If you want to be a better person, then be it! So if you continue being a jerk, are you going to blame God for not changing your attitude?

People make deals—“Lord, if you let me pass this test, I’ll start going to church!” I don’t think that God makes deals. “Oh, God, please help us to win this game!” But if both teams are praying for the same thing, whose plea is God supposed to honor over the other? It creates a conflict of interest. “Don’t let my little girl die, Lord!” But then she dies anyway, so now they are mad at God and has lost their faith. God does not keep people from dying just because you ask It to. Everybody dies eventually, of something. God did not give you personal assurance that It would grant your request of prolonged life. People in my life didn’t die because I failed to pray for them to stay alive. I don’t have that kind of power.

Some even make non-requested, personal promises to God, and then think that if they break the promise, God will punish them in some way.  First of all, God did not ask you to promise It anything; you volunteered that on your own.  So God is not going to hold you to it, if you should happen to renege on it.  The promise you broke was to yourself.  God doesn’t give a shit.  I recently heard a news report that the current Pope made a promise to the “Virgin Mary” that he would give up TV and the internet for some period of time.  Now, what is she going to do if he breaks his promise–send him to his room without his supper?!  How inane is that?

The weekly Episcopal services at the church where I worked includes Prayers for the People, where a parishioner prays aloud to the congregation and mentions just about everybody in the world for succor, blessing and forgiveness.  One part goes, “We pray for those seeking God.”  Why would anyone need to seek God?  Just look around.  God is everywhere and in everything.  If you want to find God, just look inside yourself.  And what is the point of praying for people who have died?  They’re gone.  There’s nothing we can do about that.  It’s out of our hands now.  Oh, they’re praying for their souls, you say?  Well, a dead person’s soul is not your business either.  What’s done is done.  Don’t even be concerned about the souls of those who are still alive, for that matter.  Worry about your own soul.

In the 2003 satirical film Bruce Almighty Jim Carrey is given the opportunity to be God for a short period of time.  He had been bitching to the real “God” that He was not complying to his wishes when he called upon Him.  So God, played by Morgan Freeman (don’t I love that!), appeared to Bruce and said, “Do you think that you can do a better job at being Me? Let’s see how you do.”

Well, Bruce does enjoy at first his newfound power, being able to make everything go his way, though only doing things that benefit himself.  But he didn’t consider the responsibility that he was taking on, that is, running the entire world and in particular, the answering of prayers.  When he starts hearing all those simultaneous voices of people asking him for stuff, he becomes so overwhelmed he doesn’t even deal with it.  He soon comes to realize that being God isn’t all that easy.  After all, he has his own mortal life to worry about, who has time to listen to or help all the needy people in the world?

So then Bruce creates his own e-mail Prayer website to which all prayers would be directed.  He can do that.  He’s God, remember? When several millions of hits come in right away, he refuses to read any of them.  He simply sends a general “Yes!” to every piece of mail.  The next day he hears on the news that thousands of people have won the local lottery for that day, which causes rioting and unrest among the masses.  Hmm, I think it would behoove him to examine each and every request.  So Bruce learns his lesson, and this experiment taught him not to be so critical in the future. And instead of always waiting for a miracle to occur, he learns that we all have the power to create our own miracles.  Don’t expect somebody else, especially God, to come to a person’s aid.  Why don’t you help them yourself, if you have the means?

I don’t see the point or purpose of praying to God because if It is supposed to be All-Knowing and is aware of all of our thoughts and wishes, there is no need to tell It what we want.  Do you think that God “sits” idly by, watching Its people in trouble and will intervene only if someone asks for help?  If God is the Head Guy running things, It will do what It will anyway. How dare we tell God what to do and ask for special favors!  I have more to say about “Deistical Favoritism” in my blog entitled, For the Bible Tells Me So.

So when you pray aloud, do you think that you are the only one?  There are probably millions of others praying at the same time.  I mean, God may be Almighty and All That, but I don’t think It’s that good, to discern everybody‘s supplications simultaneously.  So why even bother?  Haven’t these people come to the realization that nobody is listening and that they are only praying to themselves?  I believe that it is up to us to answer our own prayers, having enough faith and believing in ourselves so strongly as to make our wishes come true.  It was Oscar Wilde who once said, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”  So always be careful of what you wish for, because you just may get it.

The same goes for confessing one’s sins.  If a person admits out loud the bad things that they have done, they believe that God will forgive them.  But aren’t they really making the effort to forgive themself by admitting the wrongs they have done?  But just like making those promises to God that I just spoke of, it’s not God who is absolving you of anything, especially when you probably keep doing the same thing over and over.  It’s good that you have the sense of remorse, but it’s you who has to forgive yourself. Otherwise, again, why bother?

People should stop making God responsible for their own actions.  We either blame God for something we did ourselves or we give God the credit for something we did ourselves.  God is merely the means for us to function in the way we do.  “It’s God’s will … God’ll get you for that … If there is a God, how can ‘He’ allow all the suffering in the world?”  Because God doesn’t care! Don’t blame God for the world’s suffering.  We bring all that on ourselves.  It’s we who are responsible for human mistreatment, injustice and our apathetic attitudes, not God.  During church prayers the clergy are always asking God to free the world from poverty and national conflicts.  Again, we are the ones who cause world poverty and the inability to get along with each other.  How is God suppose to remedy that?  It’s up to ourselves to right all the wrongs in the world.

God created us, and then Its job is finished.  What we do with our lives is up to us.  God has given us the privilege of free will to make our own decisions, and that is the one thing It doesn’t have any control over, our individual free will.  If we didn’t have that, life would have no meaning or purpose.  We would have no reason to think for ourselves, because every aspect of our life would be decided for us.  What would be the point of living? Interestingly, that is the one restriction that Morgan/”God” puts on Bruce in the movie, that he will not be able to tamper with anyone’s free will.

So with this free will concession, we have to take responsibility for the choices we make in life.  Don’t expect God to tell you what to do all the time. When some crazed gunman goes into a classroom and blows everybody away, don’t blame God for allowing all those innocent people to die.  Blame the person who did the actual killing.  God didn’t give him the gun or try to save the victims by preventing the gun from firing.

Then, too, our life’s accomplishments are our own, albeit with God’s help.  God gives us the tools, the talent, skills and ambition, but it’s up to us to do something with those gifts. Many performers, upon receiving Academy Awards and others, will thank God for giving it to them.  God doesn’t hand out trophies.  We have to earn them.  I don’t have an Oscar because I haven’t done what is required to get one.  But if I ever do win one, it will be because I worked for it, not because God thought it was time for me to receive one.  You can pray to God until you’re blue in the face, but until you get up off your lazy butt and make some personal effort, it never will happen.

So I do believe in “God helps those who help themselves.”  You may have heard the oft-related story of the pious man who receives a news report that the dam near his hometown is about to break, which will flood the whole town and everyone should evacuate immediately.  The man decides, “I am a religious man.  If I pray to God really hard, He will save me from this disaster.”  So when the flood does come, the man retreats to the roof of his house to avoid being swept away by the deepening water.  A neighbor comes by in a rowboat.  He says to the man on the roof, “Come down, friend, and get into this boat, and I will take us to safety.”  “Oh, no,” the man replies.  “I am a religious man and I have prayed to God to rescue me.  But thanks, anyway.”  Pretty soon a helicopter hovers near and offers to get the guy off the roof.  Again he rejects them, telling them that he has prayed and is waiting for God to save him.  Well, the flood waters eventually covers the man’s house and he drowns.

So now he’s just arrived at Heaven’s Gate and he tells St. Peter, “I would like an audience with God, if you please.  There is something I need to ask Him.” When his request is granted, the man says to God, “I am one of your most faithful believers.  I prayed and prayed that you would save me from the flood.  So I don’t understand, Lord. Why did you abandon me and let me drown?”  God replied, “Man, what are you talking about?  I gave you prior warning about the flood, I sent you a rescue rowboat and a helicopter. What were you waiting for, a personal appearance?!”  Some people don’t seem to realize when their prayers are being answered.  They tend to ignore the very signs of help that are staring them right in the face.

Even though I do it myself on occasion, like when I receive a much-needed paycheck after a dearth of work, I don’t think that it is necessary to thank God for our good fortunes either.  Courtesy, respect, gratitude and sense of appreciation are all human characteristics, and Pride is one of the Deadly Sins.  How dare we accuse God of having false Pride.  Do you honestly think that God is that insecure, egoistical or vainglorious that It needs to be constantly thanked, praised and exalted for all Its goodness?  Why would It even care how we feel?  God just is and does what It does.  Our gratitude and reassurance may influence the world in positive ways, but not because God needs to “hear” it from our mouths.  “Well, after all I’ve done for those people, they can’t even say ‘thank you’?  I should stop doing anything for those ingrates.“  Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.  One can show their gratitude by their good deeds rather than by prayer and worthless Godly praise. In other words, pay it forward.

There are certain people who take it upon themselves to be messengers, employees and even colleagues of God.  They go about the land doing “God’s Work,” which I find to be a suspicious and sometimes frightening concept, because they can make that to be anything they want.  They kill people in the Name of God and say that God told them to do it, because certain people should not be allowed to live.  Well, that’s not your job!  If God didn’t want those people to be here, they wouldn’t be.  One can always justify their actions by saying that they were only carrying out God’s Wishes, therefore anything they do must be all right.  The Catholic Church even has a worldwide organization that they call Opus Dei, which means God’s Work in Latin and which I discuss in my blog, A Critique of Catholicism.  That is so arrogant.  God doesn’t need you to do Its work.  It can manage quite well without your help.  Do your own work, why don‘t you?!

Another thing that I don’t take any stock in is the concept “The Word of God.”  What is that?!  God does not speak.  It’s humans who speak, and it’s these anthropomorphic theomaniacs who accredit their own thoughts, words and deeds to God.  I automatically turn off when someone starts a sentence with, “Well, God says…” or “God don’t like…”  How do you know what God don’t like?  If God made it, then It must like it.  Anyhow, nobody is an authority on or official spokesperson for God, not even these self-appointed clergymen, evangelists and prophets.  I can’t be concerned about what God allegedly said to anybody else or what God doesn’t like.  Maybe God “told” me something different than what It “told” you.

It’s a matter of interpretation anyway.  If you tell me that God is Love and that we are all God’s Children and that we should love our Neighbors and that thou shalt not kill, then don’t tell me in the next breath that God hates homosexuals and that we all should be put to death.  That’s a contradiction. Anyway, if God hates queers, as some people insist, then why did God make, has always made, and continues to make, so many of us?  So don’t be mad at us!  Take your gripes to God, Which put all of us here in the first place.  It must be these people who hate us and are again attributing their own hatred to God.

Do not presume to think for God and make decisions for It.  I have a sense of morality and ethic principles, and although some of my morals may differ from someone else’s, I do know right from wrong.  I think that I am more lenient and tolerant when it comes to certain accepted ideas of morality than others might be.  As long as people don’t inflict harm on others, I think that it’s okay to do some things that might be deemed immoral or unethical by someone else.  Judge not lest ye be judged.  I believe in “love thy fellow man” (I certainly do that!) and that we are our brother’s keeper.  I think that we should look out for each other, if it is within our means.

What is our conscience if not God “speaking” to us directly, guiding us to make certain decisions in our lives?  But consider for a moment that some of it might be Old Satan trying to advise us, too.  People are constantly committing heinous deeds against each other, with the excuse that they are obeying instructions from God.  Why, for example, would God tell somebody to go out and commit mass murder in Its name?  But then the claim used by some that “the Devil made me do it” does not hold up with me either.  If we all accept that excuse, people would use it as a trial defense.  No one could be convicted of any crime.  “It wasn’t me, Your Honor.  The Devil took hold of me and I didn’t have any choice or control.” “Oh, well, then.  Case dismissed!“  No one would be held responsible for their bad actions.  Just blame it on the Devil.

We must be very careful not to mistake the Devil’s telepathic guidance for God’s.  That must be one of the Great Mysteries of Life, trying to discern the Two.  I mean, did God really tell Abraham to kill his son?  And he was just about to do it, too, when a voice stopped him with, “Ha ha, I was just kidding.  I was testing you, to see if you really would do it.“  Say, what?!  The seemingly good advice that we receive from beyond is not always from God either.  You know, it’s been said that the Devil can quote scripture, too.  The Devil frequently tells us what we want to hear.  I believe that those individuals who are strong-willed and astute enough to determine Which is Which and then govern themselves accordingly, are the real survivors in this world.  Judging from the incredible good fortune I have had all my life, and the fact that I am still here, I consider myself to be one of the Discernible Ones, at least most of the time.

I will share with you the basic guideline that I follow on how to tell Which you are being influenced by, God or the Devil?  Satan is ultimately hell-bent for our self-destruction.  It wants us to destroy ourselves in any way we can and inflict harm on others in order for It to claim our souls.  God wants us to live, to enjoy life to the fullest, to use and share the talents that have been bestowed upon us.  This is the Meaning of Life for me.  Our short time here on earth is so precious and quite limited.  We should not waste the little time we have.  Satan wants us to waste our lives and our talent.  God wants us to make the most of them.  So when you are receiving conflicting messages in your head, consider carefully what you are being told to do.  If one inner voice is saying, “Go ahead, jump!” or “Go ahead, pull the trigger!” but another one is telling you, “Don’t do it. You’ll be sorry.” or “Put the weapon down,” you should know which advice to obey.

For a moment, I’d like to play “Devil’s Advocate” (if you’ll pardon the pun) and share another of my theological theories with you.  Instead of two separate entities, what if God and Satan are One and the Same, merely two sides of Good and Evil?  I mean, if God controls the whole Universe, then theoretically it makes sense that It’s responsible for all the Evil in it as well. Since God is supposed to represent only Good, Man needed somebody else to personify the Evil in the world, so he created the Devil as a separate being.  But I say, There is no Two, only One. I discovered that even this is not a novel idea, on my part, as the Biblical prophet Isaiah apparently had the same notion when he (or somebody) wrote in Chapter 45 of his book, “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me.  I form the light and create darkness.  I make peace and create evil.  I, the Lord, do all these things.”  So, there!  See, I can quote Scripture, too!

But even if this is the case, we are still given the choice of how to lead our lives.  It’s easy to remember: God = Good, Devil = Evil.  The positive side of God controls the goodness in everything while the negative side controls all wickedness.  And we do need both to give us proper perspective.  How could one determine what is good if there were no bad against which to measure it, and vice versa?  The Chinese have their yin and yang.  There is good and bad in everybody, including the God Entity.  No one is only one or the other, no matter how self-righteous you think you are.  Therefore, when we do receive mixed messages of a good and bad nature, maybe that is God testing our morality and sense of what is right and wrong, by giving us the opportunity to exercise our freedom of choice and inherent free will.

(“Are you a Good Witch, or a Bad Witch?”)
So then, it’s up to us to decide which is to be the more dominant influence in our own life.  Think about this.  If God is supposed to be all good and love, how do you account for Its vengeful actions?  God’s having a Satanic side might explain it.  Destroying the world that time by flood certainly wasn’t an act of benevolence.  I’m not entirely convinced that the event even took place, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt just to make my point.  Even modern-day natural disasters, like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, severe storms and drought, which regularly kill and injure masses of people and which are classified as “Acts of God,” by the way, are not looked upon as favorable occurrences.  Yes, Mother Nature can be quite a bitch at times.

The people who use the phrase “The Wrath of God” must consider God to be very angry on occasion.  Some parents even raise their children to be “God-fearing.“  If God is supposed always to have our best interests at heart, why should we fear It?  I don’t think that theophobia is the course to teach or take in life.  Of course, some people consider global adversity to be God’s punishments to humankind, but why must the so-called good people be arbitrarily sacrificed right along with the bad?  That’s not a good thing, no matter how you look at it.

I find more hypocrisy with these self-professed, so-called Christians, because they don’t put their beliefs to practical application when an appropriate situation arises.  Like in the Oh, God! movies (1977-1984), everybody, especially the clergy who get involved, refuse to believe that John Denver (and the little girl in the sequel) had actually heard, seen and spoken with God.  And even when “God” appears and speaks to all of them as well, they still cannot accept it.

The TV series “Picket Fences” touched upon religious faith subjects a couple of times.  They explored the phenomenon of a modern virgin conception, and another time one of the main characters, an 11-year-old boy, experiences stigmata in his hands.  In both cases, the townspeople, headed by a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister, try everything they can to disprove the events.  They try to explain away the latter incident as being stress-induced.

I’m thinking, In all these cases, now, the whole bases of these people’s religion are supernatural phenomena and miracles and fantastic occurrences and belief in things that supposedly happened over 2000 years ago but without any tangible proof except for their so-called faith.  Then they finally get a chance to put these beliefs and their faith to the test in a real situation and they all fail miserably.  They just can’t accept any of it.  If it happened once, as they claim to believe, why couldn’t it happen again? Why come up with names for these phenomena if they don’t believe in their occurrence?  They all were admittedly ashamed even to entertain the possibility of their purported beliefs.  “Merciful Heaven, if I admit to anyone that I believe in God, what will people think of me?!”  It seems rather hypocritical for a person to profess their belief in Godly matters but then are reluctant to confess their belief in Godly matters.  So let me get this straight.  It is perfectly okay for people to pray and talk to God on a regular basis, but if God should actually answer back, then those same people are crazy.

In the aforementioned TV series, “Joan of Arcadia,” the title character secretly converses with “God” on a regular basis.  When her parents find out about their daughter at the end of the first season, they send her to a child psychologist who declares the teen to have “impaired perception.” That’s an irresponsible diagnosis, in my opinion.  I think that a person who sees things that the rest of us cannot, doesn’t have impaired perception but rather heightened perception.  It’s their own perception that’s impaired. Just because you yourself cannot see the entity in the room, does not mean that it is not really there.

In the Doctor Dolittle remake (1998), when Eddie Murphy is discovered being able to communicate with animals, of course his family and friends think that he has lost his mind.  “Nobody can do that.“  Again, just because you can’t, it doesn’t mean that someone else couldn’t possibly be able to.  It seems that whenever someone displays a special ability beyond common normalcy, people tend not to believe it or accept it and will deem that person to be not-all-there.  So they can do something that you can’t do, but that makes them the crazy one?  Why not encourage someone’s special psychic gifts instead of making them feel that they’re mentally unbalanced or delusional?

The Bible, which they so love to cite, is loaded with characters who claimed to have had personal conversations with God: Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Moses, Abraham, Job, all those prophets and others.  People accept it from them, but they don’t when it’s somebody they know makes the claim.  Even Rev. Todd Burpo, the father in Heaven Is for Real (2014), which is supposedly based on a true story, had a hard time at first accepting his son’s claims that he had actually died temporarily and got a glimpse of what he believed to be Heaven.  The images and impressions that the child witnessed in his unconscious state are the same ones that his father has related to him all his life, so why wouldn’t he think that’s where he was? (Check out my Heaven and Hell blog.)

Similar to the guy who waited for the Lord to save him from the flood, in The Preacher’s Wife (1996) Courtney B. Vance is a troubled minister who prays for divine help and is sent an angel in the guise of Denzel Washington.  Not surprisingly, Courtney doesn’t believe him.  He is constantly dismissive to Denzel and is always telling him to go away and leave him alone.  Although he keeps imploring, “Oh, Lord, please help me!” when Denzel keeps showing up, as per his requests, he’s ready to cuss him out.  I’m thinking, Why ask for help if you’re not going to accept it when it’s freely given?  Now Reverend “Vance” is up preaching about angels and other supernatural beings every service, so he is sent his own personal one, and he’s not having any of it!

Angels in the Outfield (1951) is a baseball movie starring Paul Douglas as the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, while they are in a losing slump.  They come to receive angelic intervention, which helps them to start winning games.  Donna Corcoran is a little orphan girl and baseball fan who is the only one who can actually see the “angels in the outfield,” and when she says so, of course nobody believes her.  I love this scene.  Back at the Catholic-run orphanage, Mother Superior (Spring Byington), tries to convince the child that she is suffering from heatstroke or something.  The two are standing in front of a huge statue of the Archangel Gabriel, and the nun tells the girl, “Come on, you don’t believe in angels, do you?” Uh, so what is that behind you, then?

So these guys all make their living teaching religious faith to their constituents, but they certainly don’t practice what they preach.  Of course, these are only fictional dramas, but as all literature is based on human behavior, I am pretty sure that real people would have a similar reaction if any of these things actually occurred today.  There is always some thought-provoking truth in good satire.

“May the Force be with you.”

[Related articles: Credos; A Critique of Catholicism; For the Bible Tells Me So; Heaven and Hell; Jesus H. Christ!; Nativity Redux; Sin and Forgiveness; The Ten Commandments]

For the Bible Tells Me So

(# …The things that you li’ble to read in the Bible, it ain’t necessarily so. #)

I take a less-than-literal approach to the “Holy” Bible. I think it’s grossly overrated. The Bible is just a book; albeit it is a biographical (allegedly) anthology, a reference book, a story book, a history book, an oracle and prospectus, a book of mythology, a book of poetry, proverbs, song lyrics, epigrams, letters, essays and yes, even erotica. Hey, this very book of mine, from which my blog articles originate, could be described in exactly the same way!

The stories in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) are no more valid than the myths of the Greeks, Romans, Norse or Germans. For example, if I am to believe the story of Lot’s Wife being turned into a pillar of salt, why shouldn’t I believe that the Gorgon Medusa could turn people to stone? Or if you buy the story that Jesus could turn water into wine, then why not believe that Dionysus could do the same thing?

I don’t take the Bible seriously in terms of letting it govern my entire life, no questions asked. If you want to make a convincing point to me, please don’t begin with, “Well, the Bible says…” for I will not be impressed. It’s not that I consider anything in the Bible to be worthless advice—I frequently quote the book myself. The Bible “says” a lot of things. I may believe or agree with a particular passage on its own merit, but not because it is in the Bible. I might find the same sentiment in a Jacqueline Susann novel. Actually, it’s not the Bible that’s “saying” anything anyway, but the particular translator and interpreter of the passage that they are quoting.

Because the Bible has many authors and you will never get that many people all to agree on everything, it is loaded with contradictions. As the name implies, it is full of holes. For every passage that tells us to do one thing, most likely there is another one somewhere else in the book that instructs us to do the exact opposite. Examples: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” but “Turn the other cheek.” “Love thy neighbor,” but “Stone the sinner.” Well, suppose that alleged sinner is also your neighbor? How would you proceed then? It’s like with conflicting proverbs. One says, “Two heads are better than one,” but another suggests that “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” So, which are you going to go with? “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But then, “Out of sight, out of mind.” You see, people tend to select the passage that most suits their purpose for their particular argument.

In the Book of Genesis, “God” hated the world that It had created because of the people’s sinful ways and decided to destroy it. But in the New Testament, “God so loved the world that He” sacrificed his Son to take on all our sins and give us everlasting life. Now, people were doing and are still doing the same things that they have ever done, so why the subsequent leniency? Had God gotten more laid back and forgiving in Its later years? That’s more contradiction. So, to take one thing in the Bible to heart without considering all the rest of it is not practical or sensible. It’s better not to take any of it to heart. We all should be able to determine right from wrong without consulting the Bible to guide us.

The fact of the matter is, most of what is in the Bible cannot be taken literally. Nobody really knows for sure what it all actually means, because it is all written in code, metaphors and symbolism and subject to many different interpretations, which I shall illustrate in the following paragraphs. By the way, if we all followed the eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth philosophy, everybody would be blind and/or toothless!

Now for myself, I happen to believe in Darwinism, or the Theory of Evolution. Science has given us living, tangible proof of our biological evolution. What real proof do we have of the Biblical account of the Creation? Nobody was there to witness it, so it‘s only somebody‘s theory of how it all came about. And as it is not the only take on the story–there are several, in fact (Kabbalah, Midrash, Talmud, Torah, Zohar, et alia)–it should not be any more valid than anybody else’s version.

The commonly-regarded “Big Bang Theory,” for example, contends that the expansion of the Universe was caused by a gigantic explosion. But that would mean that there had to have been something already there to explode. What was it that actually exploded? Here is my idea. It is believed that in the beginning there was only darkness and void. But maybe there was a ball of light in all this nothingness. Was that God? So when It exploded, on Its own volition, It scattered particles of matter everywhere. So then, God really did create the Universe! If everyone would accept that theory, there would be no reason to debate it.

Now, for the Creationists who want to buy the Adam and Eve story–which I don’t believe for a moment, but for the sake of argument and discussion–why does virtually everyone accept the notion that the male of the species was the first on earth alone until Woman was created out of him (and from one of his ribs, no less!)? It makes more sense to me the other way around. Since, as far as we know, it has always been Woman that procreates and perpetuates life by bearing children, might not it have been that way even from the very beginning? Maybe Eve was here first and Adam was the afterthought. Why not? Well, just think about it. Why would the First Man just happen all by himself that one and only time (well, not exactly by himself, I guess; he did have help from his Creator, another “man”) and from then on, things change completely around and everyone else after that is born from Woman? Don’t you think that theory reeks a bit of male chauvinism? Man was here first, therefore, “the King” and ruler of his dominion and all the other creatures on earth, but let’s make the woman do all the heavy lifting and the pain thing.

Then what about the animal kingdom? According to this same Biblical account, the animals were created before Adam, but there is no mention of the male of each species of creature being on earth alone until one day the females miraculously show up and they start procreating. Come on! It’s sort of like the old riddle of the chicken and the egg and which came first. (The answer is, of course, the rooster!) My suggestion that it’s always been “ladies first” or at least simultaneous co-existence seems much more logical to me. In fact, Genesis 1:27 states “male and female created He them.”

This other way creates a moral problem, though, that changes everything. If Adam came out of Eve, that would make them mother and son instead of husband and wife (who “married” them, by the way?), the births of Cain and Abel would be the result of incest, plus they would be bastards! Now, we can’t have that, can we? But it was God Itself who ordered them to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, so God must have been condoning eventual and unavoidable incest. Don’t forget that the way it is now is Sexist Man’s account of the Creation. You know that he’s not going to play second-fiddle to a mere woman!

If a feminist had written the original Bible, they probably would have told the story from the perspective that I have just suggested. But this more popular Genesis story is not the only published version either. One Hebrew legend contends that Eve was not even the first, but Adam’s third “wife”! His first main squeeze was named Lilith, and this version of the story says that they both were created from dust and at the same time. But Lilith didn’t enjoy having sex with Adam because he wouldn’t let her be on top. (Already the dominatrix?) So she left him. Then God created another woman for Adam out of the dust while Adam watched, and he was so repulsed by it all that he could never get into her, and he flatly rejected her. (Shades of Bride of Frankenstein, huh?) So it was back to the old drawing board. This time God put the squeamish Adam to sleep while “He” fashioned Eve from one of his ribs. This he could live with, as Eve was “flesh of [his] flesh” and she was a real Woman, taken out of Man, you see.

But before any of these alleged women, when Adam was still all by himself, God got the notion, “It is not good that Man should be alone. I will make a help meet [sic] for him.“ But God could have just as easily created another man to be Adam’s companion and life partner, if that was all he was meant to be. By making it a fertile, child-bearing woman suggests that God’s primary purpose all along was eventual procreation.

By the way, do you know where the name Adam comes from? Adham is the Hebrew word for man, which is from adhamah, meaning earth or clay, hence, of mortal clay. Eve is derived from the Hebrew hayyah, another word for life. I contend that Adam and Eve, therefore, are merely a representation of humankind—metaphorical personifications, not actual persons that ever lived. Many of the characters in the Bible have names that seem too coincidentally-prophetic for them to be real. I shall cite other examples as we go along.

Still for the sake of argument and discussion, let’s explore the story further. God told Eve, “…Thy desire shall be to thy (common law) husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Now that’s a sexist male attitude, isn’t it? Wait, there’s more! You will notice that it was Eve who was beguiled by the Serpent to disobey the Lord and partake of the Forbidden Fruit. The lesson in that is that women have no will power and they cannot be trusted. That’s why they need a stronger-willed, trustworthy man to be in charge over them, you see. God’s order to them in itself was merely a test of trust. “He” told them that if they ate from the taboo tree or even touched it, they would surely die. But the Serpent assured Eve, “Oh, poppycock! You won’t die, Miss Thing. Instead, your eyes will be opened and you will know good and evil.”

So Eve decided to listen to the Serpent rather than to that old killjoy God. And after they had eaten the Forbidden Fruit (the Bible never mentions an apple, by the way), it suddenly dawned on them that they were naked, and they got all ashamed and hid themselves. Ashamed of what, I ask you? Hid themselves from whom? Each other? The other nekkid animals? God’s already seen you, no need to hide from “Him”! How silly is that? But, wait a minute! Get this. Due to the fact that clothing had not yet been invented, nudity as a concept didn’t even exist yet. Naked means to be without clothes. But how can you be without something that doesn’t yet exist? So how could they possibly know what nakedness is? Don’t you see that this is somebody’s way of instilling the human concept of modesty into all of us and to justify the reason for us to cover our bare bodies? And what is this “die” thing? Did God explain to them what death is when He threatened them with it? While they were checking out each other’s naked bodies, did they also notice that neither of them had a navel? (“What’s a navel?”)

That so-called Serpent, by the way and by some accounts, was an advocate of Satan in male human form (so Adam was not the only man in the Garden at that time), until God, as a punishment for his beguilement, condemned him forever to slither along the ground on his belly. So that’s how we got the lowly snake. It’s like those Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling—How the Camel Got His Hump, How the Leopard Got His Spots–in fact, the book of Genesis itself is merely a series of “Just So” stories–or the Greek and Roman myths that explain how certain things came to be.

Arachne was a skilled weaver who was turned into a spider, and the self-absorbed Narcissus was turned into a beautiful flower, for example. The Greeks’ version of Eve and the Downfall of Man is in the guise of Pandora (meaning “all gifts”) as the first mortal woman, who opened a box, that had been entrusted to her by the head god, Zeus, that contained every manner of evil, which she released onto the world. The only thing left in the box was Hope. I wonder, though, why Hope was in a box filled with Evil and vices?

But getting back to the matters at hand, my take on the story is that I think the Serpent is treated unfairly and even now still receives a bad rep. What did he do that was so terrible? He only told Eve the truth about the Tree of Knowledge. What he said would happen is exactly what happened. She didn’t have to take his suggestion. It was God who told the boldfaced lie, telling them that they would die if they partook of the Tree. They didn’t, did they? At least, not right then. So then, if they had not partaken of the taboo tree, would that have rendered them both immortal?

The Serpent actually did them and all of us a favor. Whereas everything happens for a reason, if Adam and Eve had not done what they did, they would have been doomed forever to exist in their innocent, ignorant bliss, never experiencing real life as we know it and never experiencing hard work and personal accomplishments, sex or the enjoyment and fulfillment of raising a family. So I think we should thank the Serpent, or Snake-in-the-Grass, for inspiring humankind to endure and thrive.

Now, here is another oversight about this whole scenario. I said earlier that some accounts of the story have the Serpent in human form. But there are others who believe it was in its common reptilian form. If that is the case, then what you have here is a talking snake, people! Did they ever think about that, that this alleged Serpent actually spoke to Eve? And was quite eloquent and intelligent, besides! But then, they had “God” speaking directly to them as well. Some people will believe anything. And that has nothing to do with faith either. That’s just stupidly gullible illogicality.

(# Ol’ Jonah, he lived in a whale; / He made his home in that fish’s abdomen… #)
Another preposterous tale is the one about Jonah’s being swallowed up by an alleged whale. First of all, the Bible says that is was a “great fish,” not a whale. I suppose that one or more translators surmised that a sea creature large enough to accommodate a grown man must be a whale, not knowing that a whale is a mammal, not a fish. So then, half of that song lyric above is wrong, as it stands. It should be changed either to “Ol’ Jonah, he lived in a fish,” or if he wants to stick with whale, the second part should be, “He made his home in that mammal’s abdomen.” But fish or whale, I don’t believe any of it. The account goes on to say that Jonah remained in the creature’s belly for three days and nights. In that amount of time, he would have been digested. It says that the thing spit Jonah out on the shore, alive and totally unharmed. If he was all the way down in its belly, it would have to bring him up to regurgitate him. Are we sure that it didn’t “shit” him out on the shore?

I also don’t buy that unlikely bunk of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three Hebrew heretics from the Book of Daniel, who miraculously survived being confined to a fiery furnace, because they wouldn‘t worship King Nebuchadnezzar‘s golden statue. It doesn’t say how long they were in there, but they, too, like Jonah, managed to emerge unscathed. But who was that fourth person in the furnace with them–their guardian angel, perhaps, who protected them from the flames? Now, I believe, however, that “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” is reasonably plausible. I mean, wild beasts don’t always automatically attack and kill humans for no reason. Daniel could have established a friendly rapport with the lions, just as lion tamers do with their charges. There is nothing miraculous about that.

I have found that different editions of the Bible say different things, too. My own personal copy is “the authorized King James Version” and claims to be “translated out of the original tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised.” Oh, really? Well, Genesis 3:16 of this particular edition reads (as Eve’s punishment for disobeying the Lord), “Unto the woman [God] said, ‘I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…;” Why should childbirth be sorrowful? But the Catholic Bible renders this same verse as, “Unto the woman he said, ‘I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing…’” and the Episcopal Bible has, “…I will greatly increase the pain of childbirth…”

Those three passages don’t all mean exactly the same thing. It sounds as if everyone is paraphrasing. And those are not the only translations either. Who knows what the original Hebrew actually said? But even that is subject to speculative scrutiny. How can the pain of childbirth be increased, when she doesn’t have anything to compare it to? “Ooh, this hurts much worse than the last one did!” or otherwise intensified when Eve has never experienced it in the first place? Unless she really did bear Adam. (Aha!)

What about this “Just So” story? You know that bulge of laryngeal cartilage in front of the throat, called the “Adam’s apple,” which is commonly prominent in men but rarely so in women? Again from the male’s account, you understand, deceitful Eve swallowed her piece of the “apple” without a trace, whereas good old misled Adam was too open and honest to hide his guilt, therefore his piece got stuck in his throat. Please! Here is another. “Well,” said Adam, “She started to bleed again. This happens every month or so.” “So, where is she now?” asked God. “Well, she went down to the river to wash up,” replied Adam. “Damn,” said God, “Now I’ll never get that smell out of the fish!”

In Chapter 4 of Genesis, after Adam and Eve had their first two sons and Cain had killed his brother Abel, as a punishment Cain was deported to dwell in “the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Who deported him, by the way? The INS? You’ll notice, too, that they were already into arbitrary, imposed punishments for their misdeeds as well as minor indiscretions, another human practice. But by his own parents? He didn’t get a jury trial, did he? Did Cain pose a dangerous threat to society? What society?! If it was God who sent Cain away, why would he even comply? They ignored God’s wishes before, so why listen to Him now? And too, who determined that murder was a punishable crime when it had never been committed before? It makes more sense that Cain’s leaving was his own decision, out of shame or remorse, perhaps. He might have been an adult by that time, and it is customary for children to leave home at some point anyway. He was apparently rebellious, so why stay where you are not happy?

The fact is, there was no actual place called Nod. It’s merely a metaphor. Nod is the Hebrew word for “wandering,” which suggests that Cain condemned himself to roam the land for the rest of his days. So anywhere that he settled or traveled to, he would be in the “land of Nod,” you see. Cain goes on to say, “I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth, and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me.” Uh, whom did he expect to meet? And then, too, how many times could he be slain? Cain even “builded a city,” all by himself apparently, since he was all alone. So, he is going to have a city without any people? For that matter, what is a city? And too, where did he get the materials with which to build this alleged city? Uh, are you all buying any of this?

Now get this. Eventually Cain “knew his wife and she conceived.” What?! But wait! The chapter goes on to say that Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, who in turn had a son named Enos. Now, who are Cain’s wife and Enos’ mother, please? If Eve was the only woman on earth at that time, where did those other women come from?! If they were Lilith and that other reject, the book never says so anywhere. That little incongruity alone is enough to make me question all the rest of it.

The rest of Chapter 4 and the next are all about who begat whom, nine generations after Adam, all the way down to Noah, who was Methuselah’s grandson, by the way, and mentions several women’s names as the wives and daughters of Cain and Seth and their subsequent lots. Although the book mentions Seth as their only other son after Abel’s death, certain Biblical scholars have theorized that Adam and Eve had several more children, some of them most likely girls. This would explain the existence of the other women that Adam’s sons were “married” to. But that would make them their very own sisters, or even their daughters, which would again involve incest!

If we are to accept this only one original Man and Woman theory, then we must accept that there had to have been some incest between mother and son and siblings for subsequent procreation to occur. Do they think that if they don’t admit it right out, nobody will ever notice the oversight? How and why do people ignore the logic and obviousness of the situation and instead just accept and perpetuate such fantasy storytelling as truth?

I had the good fortune of visiting Israel in 2008 and performing with the Collegiate Chorale and Israel Philharmonic. While shopping at a tourist gift shop in Nazareth, I spied this preposterous poster for sale: the Adam and Eve Family Tree! It traced the couple’s lineage all the way down to Jesus Christ! I regret now that I didn’t buy it, just to have as a souvenir novelty item and conversation piece. I was curious about who is included on that tree, so I looked up the item online, but Amazon wanted more money for it than I am willing to pay. I found out what I wanted to know, and I can always go back to it when need be.

I did notice during my perusal that there are a whole list of males from Adam’s son, Seth, down to Noah, but no women. Did these guys just happen all by themselves, then? The person(s) who compiled this family tree apparently did not know the names or existence of any subsequent females, so chose not to make up any names; just exclude them completely, I guess. I couldn’t be the only one who noticed something so obvious. I see that Noah had a wife, but where did she come from?

They talk about weeks and months and years as if they were following a written calendar. They related natural phenomena in non-scientific terms that they could understand. Like, since they didn’t know about meteors and comets and such, they would describe the appearance of one as “a flaming chariot across the sky,” for example. Maybe the wheel that Ezekiel saw “way up in de middle of de air” was really a flying saucer (or perhaps, a runaway Frisbee?). I hope you don’t deem extraterrestrial visitation to be only a modern occurrence.

I don’t know why people take the Bible so literally. The Old Testament, especially, is just a bunch of fables like the classical myths. As I suggested before, the stories and characters were written to explain and justify why things are the way they are, and so much of it is speculation, symbolism and metaphor. Take the Genesis account of the Creation itself, for instance. It is not related in scientific terms because the authors were totally ignorant of scientific matters. Certain words used aren’t even valid. How can they say that the earth was created in just six days when they didn’t even know what a day is (the time it takes the earth to rotate once on its axis), let alone a year (the time it takes the earth to make a complete revolution around the sun)?

The word “day” was used to represent an indefinite period of time. It could have meant a few years, several centuries or many millennia, for all we know, most likely the latter. The third and fifth verses read, “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light…And God called the light Day and the darkness Night.” (Now “day” means something else.) That was the First “Day.” So God is already naming things and using English words, to boot! That means that the English language must have existed during the time of the Creation. And then, to whom is God making these demands? Is It talking to Itself, and why does It have to utter aloud to render compliance? And, too, what was God doing before It decided to create the world? Just floating around in empty space, twiddling Its thumbs?

Then later on during the Fourth Day, it reads, “And God made two great lights; the greater light (presumably the sun) to rule the day and the lesser light (the moon?) to rule the night.” So, a couple of questions. If the sun was just now created during this Fourth Day, what light was that mentioned back there in the third verse—some temporary work light until God could get the sun up and running? Then, too, without the sun, what was determining those first three “days”? We now know that the moon does not have its own light but gets it from the sun, so what are these “two great lights”? That author obviously knew nothing about modern astronomy.

“And on the Seventh Day, God rested from ‘His’ great work.” So, who was minding the store while God was taking Its siesta? And then how long was that particular “day”? The Universe couldn’t have just shut down indefinitely while God was taking a work break. And why would the Almighty God require rest anyway? It’s God! It doesn’t need to rest. Don’t you see that as somebody’s way to explain what a week is and to justify the Sabbath? And since Creation is an ever-ongoing project, why hasn’t God ever had to take a rest again since that one and only time? I don’t know how people with even half a brain can believe and accept such illogical nonsense.

So let’s talk about these so-called “years” that the Bible is always referring to with regard to people’s ages. They didn’t know what a year is, so how can that term be valid? Again, why do people take everything so literally? For example, it is said that the oldest man, Methuselah, lived 969 years. I don’t believe that for a moment. Many of those Biblical characters lived many hundreds of years. How could that be? Now, they could have kept track of the passage of time by noticing the cycles of the moon. So what they referred to as a year might be really just a month. 969 months, then, is equivalent to 80 of our years plus nine months. That makes a lot more sense, as 80 would have been considered very old, since the average lifespan in those days was probably 40 to 50 years. In general, people tend to live much longer nowadays then they did long ago. We have medications and remedies for most everything and medical assistance to keep us alive, where in Biblical times and after, people died from the most minor of ailments. So a person who lived to be 80 and beyond was considered pretty remarkable.

Also, the Hebrews were said to have wandered the desert for forty years, as a punishment for disrespecting the Lord after He had led them out of bondage in Egypt. We now know that it could have been only three years and four months, which is still a long time but not near as much as forty. That’s three generations. What would they have been doing all of that time? Three and some years makes a lot more probable sense, doesn’t it? That is, if it ever happened at all.

I have some questions about the Noah’s Ark story, too, and there are discrepancies. There seems to be two different accounts of the story. It is generally regarded that Noah (whose name means “peace” in Hebrew) brought two of every creature onto the Ark, so says Chapter 6 of Genesis. But in the very next chapter, it says that the clean beasts are to be taken in by seven, and only those who are not clean shall go in by two. One verse says that it rained for forty days and nights, but another one says that it was 150 days. One verse says Noah sent out a dove after the rain stopped, and another says that it was a raven. So you see, they can’t keep their stories consistent even from one passage to another! What is a clean beast as opposed to an unclean one anyway, and who decided which was which?

I have many unanswered questions. How were the animals summoned onto the boat? Did Noah and his boys just say, “Come on down, y’all!” and they all willingly came a-running from wherever they were? But how about all the insects and crawling things and all the different kinds of birds there are? How did they get them all aboard? How could any vessel, no matter how large it is, hold that many animals at one time? I suppose that the sea creatures all had to fend for themselves, huh? There is no mention of the dinosaurs being there. What about all of them? Did they only come along later in history? But from where? In fact, we don’t really know for sure what animals were in existence at that time. All animals, too, are the result of evolution, just like we are, and they all didn’t happen at once.

What did they all eat the whole time? Every creature depends on some other creature for its food supply. There must have been those on board that are natural prey for each other. So did the cheetahs, for example, refrain from attacking the gazelles all that time? But what about all the herbivores aboard? Since there was no vegetation, due to the flood, wouldn’t they all have to eat meat? Or did Noah gather up enough grass and veggies to last the duration? One giraffe alone consumes 140 pounds of foliage daily. How did they get along, all cooped up together for so long? What about animals that require a certain environment or climate for their survival? For example, were there polar bears and penguins right along with the armadillos, elephants and kangaroos?

What was the plumbing and waste disposal situation like? Can you imagine the constant stench up in there? By the time they got off the boat, there would have been a lot more on board than they started with, since many creatures mate frequently and have short gestation periods. Opossums, for one, breed every 13 days! And since their landing site, Mount Ararat, is supposed to be in Turkey somewhere, how did all the animals get from there to the other continents, like North and South America, Africa and Australia? Or was the world just one big land mass at the time, before the oceans were formed to create the separate continents? Inquiring minds want to know. I question everything.

Did you ever consider how long it would have to rain in order to flood the entire earth and drown all its inhabitants? I think it would take a lot longer than six weeks (or 5 months). How do you flood a desert, for example? The water that falls there would all be absorbed by the sand. Come on, people, use your brains! Whose account is this story, anyway? Did Noah or someone in his family keep a journal?

Let us consider this story in a modern-day setting. In the 1998 TV-movie Noah, Tony Danza portrays a building contractor who is commissioned by an angelic emissary to build an Ark in the middle of the Arizona desert. Once he has accepted the request and takes up the task, of course everybody in town, including his family and friends, all ridicule him, shun him, call him crazy and even try to thwart his efforts. A desert flood? How preposterous! But when it starts to rain and it looks as if it is not going to let up anytime soon, here they all come a-running, wanting to get onto the boat. He doesn’t seem so crazy now, does he? People tend never to want to believe anything until after the fact.

The story was tackled once again in the more recent Evan Almighty (2006) with similar responses. The reason that God gave Noah, in the Bible version, why “He” decided to destroy the world, was because people had gotten to be so wicked and sinful, He wanted to erase the slate and start all over again. Then it happened again with Sodom and Gomorrah, but that didn’t solve the problem either. So I guess God has learned His lesson, that humankind is basically a sinful lot and cannot be made completely righteous. He also came to the conclusion that we have come up with numerous ways to destroy ourselves without any interference from Him!

But why was Noah singled out for divine salvation? He and his family could not have been the only ones in the entire world who were so good and sinless that they didn’t deserve to perish like everybody else. We are still bombarded with genocidal disasters all the time–floods, fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms, fatal epidemics, etc.–but no one gets warned ahead of time so that they can get the hell out of Dodge and save themselves. What made Noah’s family so special? I think that he was created as an example, merely for the purpose of telling the story.

Our next “Just So” Bible story attempts to explain why we earthlings all speak many different languages. The surviving generations after the Flood were of one language and speech. They all somehow settled in one place, a plain called Shinar and became governed by a mighty hunter named Nimrod (meaning “rebel“), who just happened to be Noah’s great-grandson. Nimrod talked the people into building a tower whose top would reach up to Heaven. “And the Lord came down (!) to see the city and the tower…” (What, He couldn’t see it from where He was?) and took it as a personal affront to Him, I guess, because He decided that they were free to do anything they wanted to on anybody’s word. So instead of destroying them all again, as a punishment, He scattered the people all over the earth and confounded their tongues so that they could not understand one another‘s speech. That’s a punishment? But how did they understand even their own, having never spoken it before? “I’ll teach you people to behave. I’ll make it so that you won’t know what anybody is saying.”

What irritates me about these Biblical accounts is that they constantly make these preposterous statements and then don’t bother to expound upon them. They just go on to something else. Why even mention such monumental situations and then not explain anything? This isn’t a condensed Reader’s Digest, or if I will pardon the expression, “Cliffs Notes.” I want details. This is a big deal. I have more questions. First of all, what was the one common language that they all initially spoke? And then what were the languages that they took on to speaking? Some scholars have put the number of different languages at 72.

The Bible makes everything sound so instantaneous. I would think that it takes a long time to invent a new language. They have to be organized in some way. There is vocabulary to consider, plus rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, pronunciation and syntax have to be established, and then these guidelines have to be learned and then passed on to the persons who deign to speak it. But why go to all that trouble? By some accounts there are more than 6,900 spoken languages in the world. That was a whole lot of unnecessary work for a lot of people.  “Confounded their tongues?”  How stupid is that?  Plus, how did God “scatter the people all over the earth”?  Did He say, “Hey, y’all!  Now git!” and they just willingly up and dispersed to who-knows-where on His word?  Again, are you buying any of this nonsense?

Another thing that bothers me about all those Biblical accounts is how vindictive they make out God to be. God supposedly put humankind on the earth to live our lives as we see fit. But He seems to take issue with everything we do. He told us to go forth and multiply, but then when we went about having rampant sex with each other, He deemed us sinful and immoral, therefore subject to punitive destruction. Why give us all these privileges and then turn right around and take them away from us? “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” The Lord is an Indian giver, it appears.

How about the Biblical account of the Exodus? Who said that the Jews were the “Chosen People”? It must have been the Jews themselves. They spoke as if God were their own personal possession. They even referred to It as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses.” (the name Abraham means the “father of a multitude,“ by the way.) According to them, there was considerable favoritism going on. Why would God, whom we all consider to be an equal opportunity Overseer, take sides with his Children? The Hebrews were oppressed, in bondage, and they were all such good people, they had to be helped out of their unfortunate situation, while the Egyptians, on the other hand, were all evil, powerful, and had to be punished for their tyranny and misdeeds. So Moses’ God delivered “His People” safely to the Promised Land and destroyed anybody who interfered with that goal.

Now, since I was not there to witness it and have only the movies to depict how it was, I don’t understand the slavery part of the Hebrews’ situation. According to films like The Ten Commandments (1956), the so-called slaves seemed to have free rein to do as they pleased. They had their own private homes to go to after work every day, for instance, and they apparently owned personal property, judging from all the stuff they took with them when they left. And why did they all have to leave the country anyway? They didn’t even know where the hell they were going. They could have just stayed where they were and just refused to work for the Pharaoh any more, for no pay. When they all left, the Egyptians had to fend for themselves, so they could have done that anyway, even if the Hebrews had decided to remain there with them.

And why didn’t they ever try to leave before now? They are out in the middle of a desert. There are no fences or barriers around anything. What was stopping them from just taking off? If they left all at once, like they eventually did, Pharaoh’s guards wouldn’t have been able to stop them. I suppose they needed someone to lead them and tell them what to do. “Oh! Do you mean that we can leave if we want to?”

Some Biblical scholars have determined the possibility that the ten Plagues visited upon the land could actually have taken place. There is a plausible, logical explanation for everything that happened.  This is the T given by a “National Geographic” telecast, which I found to be rather interesting.  The scientists say that it was natural disasters which caused all the trouble, but the Bible purists insist that they were caused by “the Hand of God.”  I believe that both theories could be valid. It is just the relating of the story in which the details differ. I contend that “Nature” is God.

You see, around 3,000 years ago in Egypt, during the reign of Ramses II, there occurred some major climate conditions that created a chain of events in that part of the world. As a result of drought and high temperatures, at some point the Nile dried up quite a bit and produced toxic red algae that turned the water red, or “to blood.”  This, in turn, forced a large number of frogs to come on land to escape the poison lake. When they died out, that left the land vulnerable to a vast number of flying insects, which the frogs had previously kept their proliferation under control.

It’s known that many insects carry communicable diseases, so their bites and stings subsequently brought illness to the people and livestock, including boils and other skin conditions. About the same time, a nearby volcano had exploded, spewing billions of tons of volcanic ash into the atmosphere. The side effects of that is what caused the raining, fiery hailstones and also the presence of the plague of locusts. The volcanic ash also could have blocked out the sunlight, causing the plague of darkness over the land.

What about the final plague, the killing of all the firstborn? How was that accomplished? Well, it seems that a poison fungus got into the grain supplies. So the bread and other food products made from this grain turned out to be the real culprit. You see, in Egyptian households, it was customary for the firstborn to partake of the family meal before everyone else. So they were the first to be fatally poisoned.

Now according to the Hebrews’ version of the story, the Plagues visited on the country seemed to affect only the Egyptians.  Even the “Angel of Death,” in the form of a mist in the movies, killed all the firstborn in the land, but was instructed by God to “pass over” the Hebrews’ homes and target only the Egyptians.  How could that be?  That sounds just like our modern AIDS virus—you know, the early one that was so smart and discriminating that it targeted only homosexual men and drug addicts?  But since the Pharaoh was the one in charge, holding the Hebrews captive, why didn’t God just deal with him directly instead of subjecting the entire land to Its pestilence. Why punish everybody for one person’s transgressions?  It wasn’t the common Egyptian citizen who was keeping people enslaved.

Then the fleeing Hebrews made it through the Red Sea okay (somebody has come up with a practical explanation of that as well), but when the Egyptian soldiers followed in pursuit, God killed them for their effort.  Now what’s up with that?  Even the innocent horses all were drowned, who were not at all responsible for the Hebrews’ prior situation.  Why would God take sides like that?  Aren’t the Egyptians God’s People, too, just like the Hebrews are?   I think that there is some biased storytelling there, don’t you?  That’s why I would contend that what happened (if it really did happen) was a result of natural occurrences and not somebody’s, even God’s, personal vendetta.

This whole scenario is just too fantastic to be taken seriously anyway. If somebody told this story today as something that happened just recently, who would believe it?  “Really?  You mean to tell me that the sea just parted and created a wall of water on two sides, and the ground was completely dry and hard so that you could walk through, and waited until they all got across before the water went back to normal?  And there was a pillar of fire on shoreside that just sprang up out of nowhere that the military troops could not get around, and it hovered there indefinitely? Wow, that‘s amazing!  That must have been a whole lot of fire!“  You know, most people refuse to believe in the occult and supernatural even when they experience it firsthand, but they will readily accept some fantastic tale by some unknown authors that they read in a story book. But just because it’s in the Bible, with no eyewitness proof, we’re supposed to think it’s all true.

And what did those Hebrew refugees eat the whole time that they were wandering around in the desert all those years? Did they not starve because of all the sand which is there? (Sandwiches. Get it?) They eventually must have gone through all those sheep and camels and cattle and poultry that they brought with them.

They also had a little thing called manna which helped them out. But what exactly was this “manna from heaven”? What did it look like? What form did it come in? Was it kosher? My dictionary doesn’t even give any kind of description, but it says that it is a Hebrew word meaning “what is it?“ This is what the Bible says about it, however. The 11th chapter of Numbers reads, “The manna was like coriander seed and the color of bdelium (a tree gum resin similar to myrrh). When the dew fell upon the camp at night, the manna fell upon it. And the people went about and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in a mortar, baked it in pans and made cakes of it, and the taste of it was of fresh oil.”

So they are saying that these people had cooking utensils and ovens out there in the desert, and this miraculous foodstuff just rained down from the sky as often as they needed it, huh? But how did they know that this strange substance was edible? I mean, I wouldn’t voluntarily consume some UFO (unidentified falling object) that fell from the sky. Well, I suppose I would if I were hungry enough. And where is the stuff now when we need it? There are still all these places in the world where people are starving to death from lack of food. Why doesn’t God provide Its manna for those food-deprived nations? Where was it during the famine in Ireland, for example? You know, on second thought, maybe those Old Testament Israelites were the Chosen People! So then were they also the people chosen for mass elimination by the Nazis during the Third Reich?  Nu?

So, after all that Moses had done for God and His people, getting them out of so-called bondage and safely delivering them all to their new home, he was not allowed to enter Canaan with them. The Bible (Deuteronomy 32:51) does not say exactly what Moses did that was so unforgivable. It just says that he “trespassed” against God, whatever that means. Maybe it was because he killed all those people when he threw the Commandment tablets down at them! He was guilty of murder earlier on as well. In fact, but this was just in The Ten Commandments movie, when God is “writing” the tablets, and when He gets to “Thou shalt not kill,” He “points” right at Moses. Now considering all the people that God had just killed and all those whose deaths He is responsible for on a regular, daily basis, how dare He point His ol’ fiery finger at anybody else! It’s “Do as I say, not as I do.“  So, God is a hypocrite, too, it appears!  I mean, isn’t death itself God’s doing?  “He’s gone to meet his Maker.“  Don’t you mean, he’s gone to meet his Killer?!

Anyway, Moses was ordered to stay behind, and when he eventually died, in Moab, the Scriptures say, God Himself (right!) buried him somewhere in the valley, where exactly nobody knows. Then Moses’ faithful protégé, Joshua, was assigned to deliver his horde–well, really, to invade Canaan and take it over, to kill all the people (including children and animals) already living there and establish the land as their own. This was on God’s order, by the way.

The History Channel on cable TV produced a well-received event called “The Bible” in 2013. The Bible is commonly referred to as “the Good Book.“ Well, I’m sorry, but according to that series, I could find hardly anything good about it. If the producers’ intent was to get people to embrace the Bible and learn affirming, positive messages from it, then they failed miserably, at least for me. Every episode from beginning to end features primarily warring and killing.  Noah’s flood kills a lot of people, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, a bunch of Egyptians perish during the Exodus, the Hebrews, in turn, kill all the people in Jericho as they are taking it over for themselves, they later are in an ongoing war with the Philistines, Samson kills a bunch of them, Kings Saul and David kills a bunch of them, then the Babylonians come along and start killing the Jews again.

This isn’t just voice-over narration either.  The senseless murder of millions of people is graphically depicted scene after scene.  I’m watching this thing (mostly out of curiosity) thinking, does the killing ever stop?  Is that all we humans are about?  But the interesting as well as disturbing fact about it all is that most of the killing was ordered by God Himself!  The characters, by their own admission, are acting on the Word of God.  So, this so-called benevolent, merciful God, whom we are supposed to honor and obey, according to the Bible, is also a dispassionate condoner of war and genocide.

There is a passage in Psalm 137 (author unspecified) that seems to be condoning and glorifying human sacrifice.  It says that we shall be rewarded and happy if we take our little children and dash them against the stones!  What?!  If that is not what it means, then why don’t they say what they really mean?

So what words are the Biblemongers actually abiding by? The old prophets didn’t speak English. The Old Testament was originally written all in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. The version of the Bible with which we are now familiar has gone through numerous translations. And as with all translations, they are never absolutely literal but often paraphrased, as I demonstrated earlier, and everybody has their own version. It’s like the parlor game Telephone, whereas one person whispers something into the next player’s ear and that person tells the next person and so on, and by the time it reaches the end of the line, it’s nothing like the original message.

In I Love You, Phillip Morris (2010) Jim Carrey tells his secretary a joke, which then circulates around the office, and by the time it gets back to Jim at the end of the workday, it’s a totally different joke. Nothing is ever retold verbatim. It’s always subject to revision and reinterpretation. So it is, too, with multiple translations. But no matter how good a translation it is, it’s still the original writer’s one-person opinion.

Who translated the Bible? Why, heterosexual white men, of course! I would think that their opinions and outlook on life are going to be biased, at least. The King James version, for example, which is a very commonly-used edition, was translated from the Greek by blatant male chauvinists. King James I (who was actually a “queen”), and others of his era, had a very low regard for women, in general, but Bible thumpers are always quoting their bigoted comments. The Bible’s true authorship is rather a moot point with me anyway, as I am not at all convinced that any of it is true, as far as the characters and events related therein go. Who is the biographer? Who was actually there when all that stuff was happening, and then wrote it all down and lived long enough to tell about it?

Actually, some Biblical scholars have accredited Moses as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch. It is the basis of the Hebrew Torah as well. So right there you know that anything that happened before or after Moses’ time must be all made up or at least speculation. When did Moses record his account, by the way? It must have been while he was in Moab, waiting to die.  If he instead related the stories verbally, to whom did he tell it? Might all of the people mentioned throughout the Bible, at least the Old Testament, be made up?  Maybe none of them ever existed at all, which brings me back to my original contention that the Bible is merely a book of fables and myths.

Historian John Boswell made an in-depth study of the likelihood that supposed condemnations of homosexuality in the Bible do not exist in the original texts at all, but are actually the result of later translators imposing the prejudices of their times onto the translations. Boswell has written, “In spite of misleading English translations which may imply the contrary, no extant text or manuscript, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac or Aramaic, contains the word ‘homosexual’. Of course there are ways to get around the lack of a specific word in a language, and an action may be condemned without being named, but it is doubtful in this particular case whether a concept of homosexual behavior as a class existed at all.” So, there, you people who like to cite that famous passage in Leviticus (20:13) which purportedly outlaws homosexual cohabitation.

If you want to buy that convenient Biblical condemnation, however, perhaps you should also condone some other sanctioned no-nos from the same source. In Leviticus and other passages of the Pentateuch, it says that women are not ever to cut their hair, her hair being a “woman’s glory.” Now, what woman living today has never cut her hair or shaved her legs or armpits or consider such actions wrong or sinful?  Check this one out.  “A man shall not go near a woman while she is menstruating.”  How can something like that be avoided?  How do you know who’s having their period, unless they tell you, and what man would consciously stay away from his beloved wife or girlfriend for several days every few weeks?  That same chapter also outlaws any instance of adultery, which is then punishable by death.  Think about how many people, male and female, the world over, has succumbed to that prevalent infraction.

So, you see, it’s not just we gays who are Biblically damned. But wait! These Bible quoters are not even being true to their convictions. They are not taking the passage literally as written. What it actually says is, “If a man lieth with another man as he would a woman…” It doesn’t specifically say that they’re having sexual intercourse with each other. They are reading more into it.  A common euphemism for coitus is “sleep,“ as in, “Did you two sleep together?“  But people can actually sleep together without having sex.  I have done it on many occasions.  Maybe, then too, just to lie with a person is as innocent as it sounds. It is common for people to reduce everything down to sex. One can redefine anything to suit their own particular purposes.  And do!  For instance, when some states recently legalized marijuana and gay marriage at the same time, it gives that passage new meaning. “If a man lies with another man, he should be stoned”!  Oh, okay! ‘Give me another toke on that joint and then get over here and suck my dick!’ See, that’s another way to look at it. They’ve been interpreting it wrong all this time!

Chapter 11 of Leviticus has a detailed rundown of which animals God’s people should and should not eat, the criteria depending on the beast’s hoof formation and whether it chews a cud or not! Sea creatures that have fins and scales are okay and all those that do not, like shellfish, are out. It goes on to tell us which birds and which insects we are allowed to eat. For example, we are encouraged to eat locusts, grasshoppers and beetles, but “all other flying, creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.”  What?!  Well, I for one, consider it my own business what I put into my body.  How dare “God” or anybody else tell us what we can or cannot eat!  And who living today actually follows such a dietary edict?

I have told you how I question everything. During one of our daily tours in Israel (we were in Jaffa this day), our tour guide, Mark, was telling us some legendary tale about St. Peter receiving some kind of cloth from God which had pictures of animals on it which could be processed into food or some such nonsense.  God told Peter that it was okay to eat any of the animals on the cloth, but Peter objected, saying that the animals on there were unclean, and God kept trying to assure him that they were not.  So I asked Mark, ’Who told Peter that certain animals were unclean in the first place?’  “Well, God did.”  ’But God just told him that they were not unclean.  So who is he going to listen to, this God or the other one?’  Mark had to admit, “I see your point.” I was just trying to get him to think about was he was telling us, instead of just repeating what he has been taught and believing what he is saying to be true.  Mark related several statements to us that day that have no basis of proof or truth to them.

The Bible says that it is against sacred law to touch the skin of a dead pig. So not only are pork eaters of the world condemned, but so is everyone who has ever handled a football! It even says that it is all right to sell your children into slavery. There is something about a man’s planting two different crops next to each other being punishable by public stoning! Common modern-day practices like birth control, adultery and even masturbation are outlawed in the Bible. Who is entirely guiltless of any of these “abominations”? And why don’t they take issue with all the killing and mayhem going on all over the place? If they want to cite abomination, I think that would be it.

Maybe the confusion lies with the actual meaning of abomination. The context of the word as it is used there refers to actions that were culturally “inappropriate” at the time. Please realize that our standards for decency and morality have changed considerably since Biblical times. I wish that some people wouldn’t give the word such a strict connotation. “That’s an abomination. You shall be put to death!“ What, for having this shrimp cocktail? For shaving my girlfriend’s armpits while she‘s on her period? For playing touch football with my son? For lying down with my male friend as I would my sister?! Gee, you’re so strict!

According to the Bible (Genesis 17:9-14), it is God who sanctioned male-child circumcision. But of course, if you have read my Oh, God, You Devil! essay, you know that it was Father Abraham who came up with this barbaric tradition. It is described as “the seal of God.” But it has occurred to me, if God does not want us to have our foreskins, why are all we men born with them then? Our having foreskins is Its doing. Why would God command us to mutilate ourselves that way? Does It want us all to endure some kind of blood and carnal sacrifice in Its honor after the fact? I don’t think so. Homie don’t play that!

This is how it is justified by some. “Circumcision imprints into a man’s body a lifelong sign that Israel will be perpetuated through him, that his seed, passing through the circumcised portal, will create children who will in turn be pledged to the Jews.” What?! You’re going to cut off part of my dick for that?! I don’t even know what the hell they’re talking about, I’m certainly not going to subject my kid to such an ordeal on that stupid premise. What does passing one’s seed have to do with whether he’s circumcised or not? I can pass semen and whatever else through my uncut penis without any problem. That is a totally senseless explanation, in my opinion. So all those non-procreating, homosexual and/or celibate Jewish men were circumcised as babies for nothing, then. But then, non-Jewish faiths as well have taken up that same practice for their children, when it has nothing to do with them. “Well, it’s in the Bible, so we have to abide by it.” No, we don’t!

What these so-called “Christians” have not seemed to acknowledge is that Christianity was founded in the name of Jesus Christ, who is a New Testament personage and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Old Testament. All their arguments and points-of-view that they cite from Leviticus and the other Old Testament books are not at all Jesus-inspired or condoned. If you claim to be a Protestant Gentile, why do you adhere to and swear by the sentiments in the Torah? That has nothing to do with you.

So if we conclude that God did not write the original Scriptures, and we know that Moses couldn’t have been the only alleged author, who did then? God can’t write, per se, despite Charlton Heston’s claim in The Ten Commandments that the Tablets were written by “the Finger of God.” (The middle finger?) Men wrote the Bible, via inspiration from God, or so they said. (I wonder what language God speaks?) But if you think about it, everything that anybody writes is God-inspired. All human thought comes from God, doesn’t it? So who appointed all those so-called prophets and scribes as the official spokesmen for God? I sure didn’t. Any of us could do the same thing. This very essay that you are reading right now is completely inspired by God. My God told me what to write and what to say. But who would deem it holy and consider it the ultimate gospel? But why not? I mean, people know me. I’m trustworthy, intelligent. Why shouldn’t my philosophy of life be taken seriously and being just as valid as those other anonymous old farts?

An entire religious sect, the largest worldwide and with 800 million followers, was established from Quotations from the Works of Chairman Mao Tse-tung. It is the main text of Maoism and the second most widely distributed book in the world. Similarly, Confucianism is based on the philosophic writings of Confucius. And I learned a while ago that our very own Thomas Jefferson wrote and published his own rewritten account of the New Testament. He denied accusations that he was an atheist, he just didn’t buy Jesus’ purported divinity. So he wrote his own version, entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, making Jesus a normal, mortal man who did not perform miracles and other fantastic public displays. Jefferson chose to concentrate more on Jesus’ teachings and embraced the true “Christian” philosophy without the supernatural trappings.

At least Confucius, Mao and Jefferson were real people who lived during modern times. None of us living ever knew any of those old Biblical prophets. What are their credentials? Why should we govern our lives based on the claim that the writings of people we don’t even know were “inspired by God”? Well, so what if they were? Then so is mine and so is yours.

Don’t you think that most of that scriptural advice and counsel is a bit outdated and obsolete by now? They didn’t know as much about the world as we do now. An encyclopedia, for instance (which is inspired by God, by the way), is revised every few years, because the world is constantly changing, and we keep learning new things. New amendments are added to our U.S. Constitution when they affect current events and the changing laws. I often change my mind about some things that I write; I have that option. One’s free will is forever mutable. So why do people like to cling onto that antiquated, antediluvian Bible that hasn’t changed its views since it was first written? We are the products of our own modern times, and our lives are very different than they were in Biblical times. We don’t build things out of gopherwood anymore and don’t use the cubit as a standard measurement, for example.

I mentioned before that I suspect the Old Testament to be mostly myths and fables with much paraphrasing and speculation about events that may or may not have happened so long ago. I learned that almost all of the New Testament books, too, except the four remaining Gospels, were written 25 to 40 years after Christ, by Paul who never even met Jesus, and in Greek, a language that Jesus may not have even spoken!

When I visited Mt. Beatitudes in Israel, the place of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” it occurred to me to pose the question, how do we have an account of what exactly was said on that occasion? Was there someone there writing down everything that Jesus said, or did Matthew or someone else happen to remember his entire speech and was able to recreate it, word for word, many years later? There was no recording devices back then. In my Bible the sermon takes up five whole columns. That’s a lot to recall. And even for those who witnessed the event, were all those people spread out all over the place able to hear every word that was said? There was no amplification. Could Jesus project his voice that well? Monty Python spoofed that in Life of Brian (1979).  From a distance away somebody asked, “Blessed are the cheese makers?”

The books of the New Testament that you Christians hold so dear are merely fabricated propaganda created by St. Paul in order to curry favor with the Roman Catholic Church. My point is, we should not take anything in the Bible literally or at face value or trust the validity of the quotations and events therein or the accepted translations, for that matter.

[Related articles: A Critique of Catholicism; Heaven and Hell; Jesus H. Christ!; Nativity Redux; Oh, God, You Devil!; Sin and Forgiveness; The Ten Commandments]

Real Characters

The ideas and inspirations that writers come up with have to originate from some place. I believe that all your popular legends have some true, historical basis. I suppose you all know that the von Trapp Family featured in The Sound of Music are real, but do you know that these story characters—Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Hannibal Lector, James Bond, Robinson Crusoe and The Lone Ranger, among others—were inspired or based on real people?

Also, The Exorcist, Moby Dick, Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were based on true events. There have been film documentaries that have convincingly confirmed the existence of King Arthur and the Amazon warrior women, for example. There has also been located a real, live “Indiana Jones.” He’s an archaeology professor who travels around the world stealing ancient, coveted artifacts. Sound familiar?

Late screenwriter/director Wes Craven got the idea of his A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) from a news article he had read concerning a group of Laotian refugees who had experienced a series of common nightmares, some so frightening that it even caused the death of some of them.

The extraterrestrial, gelatinous killer The Blob (1958) is not as far-fetched as it would seem. It was inspired by a 1950 Philadelphia news story, when four policemen discovered a six feet in diameter disk of quivering jelly on the ground. This substance, referred to as astromyxin, or “star jelly,” is a common occurrence all over and is a byproduct of meteor showers. Of course, these true-to-life blob masses don’t roll around absorbing everything in their path, but you now see that the monster in the movie is not entirely fictional. And it did come from outer space, as the actual ones do.

The original Dracula was a ruling prince of Walachia, which is part of Transylvania in Romania. His real name was Vlad Tepes [1431-1476], and he was cruel, sadistic and quite demented, earning him the epithet “Dracula” or “son of the Devil.” Vlad spent much of his time devising all kinds of tortures, both physical and mental, and his favorite way of imposing death was to mount his victims’ bodies on tall, wooden, ground stakes. This earned him his other nickname, “Vlad the Impaler.” He then would set up a table in front of his impaled victims and enjoyed eating his meals while watching them scream and writhe in pain and agony. Is that sick, or what?!

The legend of vampires also has its origin of reality. The most notorious was a 16th-century Hungarian countess by the name of Elizabeth Bathory [1560-1614], who got the idea in her head that human blood was conducive for maintaining youthful-looking skin. She started killing her servant girls and other young women whom she would lure to her castle, draining them of their blood to go into a large vat and then actually bathing in it! She got away with her literal blood baths for ten years but was eventually found out and sentenced to life imprisonment inside her own castle.

The countess was walled up in her bedchamber with no windows or doors and only a small hole through which to pass her food. She remained there until she died four years later. It is uncertain how many young women she had killed or she killed herself. Her nurse and accomplice testified that about 40 girls had been tortured and killed, but when the authorities came to the castle to investigate, they found several still in captivity and another 50 girls buried below the castle.

Too, there really was a “Dr. Frankenstein.” His real name was Johann Konrad Dippel [1673-1734], and he was a German scientist who was born in the actual Castle Frankenstein. There are unsubstantiated rumors that this guy experimented with corpses to find an elixir for immortality, and that Mary Shelley visited the castle in 1814. She undoubtedly heard stories from the locals about Dippel, the castle and the alleged goings-on there. So you see, she didn’t come up with that idea of her famous book just out of the blue.

Did you know that there was once a real, live Kong, a giant gorilla called Gigantopithecus? Its descendants have since evolved into the creatures we now know as Sasquatch or Bigfoot. I learned that playwright Edward Albee based his bickering George and Martha characters from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on a real married couple whose acquaintance he had made. And Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, knew a man named Willy Wonka.

Pamela (P.L.) Travers’ Mary Poppins series of children’s books is semi-autobiographical. She did have a nanny as a child, so she could be Jane Banks. And the film Saving Mr. Banks (2013) explains that not only did Mary Poppins come to the Banks household to tend to the two children, she was really there to help the troubled Mr. Banks, who was in actuality Ms. Travers’ father.

It appears that the inspiration for Peter Pan is also autobiographical. James M. Barrie had an older brother who died when he was still a young boy himself, and his mother did not handle her son’s death very well. It helped her to think that her dead son, David, being her favorite, would always be her little boy in her mind, never to grow up. Then so that young James might receive the same affection from his mother that his brother got from her, he tried to be like David, even to the point of deciding that he would not grow up either, so as always to remain his mother’s little boy. Amazingly, Barrie’s full-grown height did not exceed 5’3″. So, Barrie himself was “Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”

He wrote the story, however, in honor of a young friend of his, as Alice Pleasance Liddell was the little girl for which Lewis Carroll wrote his Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The main character in Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias (or “Camille”) was inspired by the French courtesan Marie Duplessis, who died of pneumonia (consumption) just as does the character in the book.

In the early ‘80s a young man named David Hampton conned his way into rich, white suburban homes, claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier. The people that he conned apparently were more impressed by Poitier’s name and reputation rather than knowing anything about his personal life. None of them were aware of the fact that Sidney does not have any sons, therefore this guy must be an imposter. The actor/director has six daughters! John Guare based his play Six Degrees of Separation on this Hampton guy, which subsequently was made into a movie starring Will Smith as the charming con man.

Dr. Joseph Bell [1837-1911], a Scottish lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Bell had such a keen ability for observation and deductive reasoning and could diagnose patients before he even examined them. He became an important pioneer of forensic science as it‘s used in criminal investigations even today. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle met Bell in 1877 when he served as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and went on to write a series of popular stories featuring Sherlock Holmes, whom Doyle admitted was loosely based on Bell and his observant ways.

The crippled beggar, Porgy, from the novel then subsequent folk opera derived from it, Porgy and Bess, was based on a real person. His name was Sammy Smalls, and writer Dubose Hayward must have met him and decided to exploit him. Smalls became sort of a local celebrity when the book came out about him. My friend Lloyd, who grew up in Charleston, where the story takes place (Catfish Row is even a real locale), told me that he used to see Mr. Smalls, by then an old man, who was still living there at the time.

The original “Uncle Tom” is based on a former slave named Josiah Henson [1789-1885], whom Harriet Beecher Stowe happened to meet while she was doing research and interviewing slaves and former slaves to get background on the book she was writing. After having escaped from slavery, Josiah fled to Canada and became a preacher and lecturer. He must have impressed Ms. Stowe enough to become the inspiration for the title character in her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Many of the other characters in the book, as well, were people that she knew or experiences that she personally witnessed. It turns out that Josiah Henson may be related to me! I don’t have absolute proof yet, but I learned that he could be the uncle of my great-grandfather Syrus B. Henson.

So might we reason that if certain myths and legends have now proven to have some basis of truth, maybe many of the others, if not all, might be factually-based as well? Legends aren’t invented. They are just the retelling of prior incidents or even local gossip in some cases, and there is always a basis. It has even been suggested that the classic fairy/folk tales, like Cinderella and Snow White and the rest, as well as the old traditional nursery rhymes that we grew up with–at least my generation–are based on real people and events. It is the folklore of the time, and there is some history behind each one. Mother Goose herself is said to be the mother of Charlemagne, and “Mary, Mary, quite contrary…” is really Mary, Queen of Scots. Old King Cole was a real person, and the poem, “Sing a song of sixpence…” is about Henry VIII.

As with any story, details are bound to change and differ, depending on who’s telling it. We may embellish to make the story more interesting, more romantic or more fantastic, perhaps. In one version of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, the Wolf gobbles her up dead, but in another version, she is rescued by a woodsman. And they can’t agree on what material was Cinderella’s slippers–glass, fur, or what?

It even happens with a simple thing as the telling of a joke. If it is a long and drawn out one, we don’t always remember the whole thing verbatim, but if we remember the punchline, we can revise it to our own liking and still arrive at the same conclusion. Authors tend to write about what they know. Even if it’s a work of fiction or fantasy, there usually are some factual elements to it.

The Wolf: “Hey there, little girl, I am going to eat you!”
Little Red Riding Hood: “Oh, eat, eat, eat! Doesn’t anybody like to fuck anymore?!”

America: Land of the Free?

As if! In spite of the fact that I am an Afro-American male, for some reason or another I have had my share of runs-in with the law, and it has made me come to realize, now more than ever, that the frequent affirmation by many that the United States of America is a free country is idealistic hogwash! It’s not free in any sense of the word, and not just for non-whites either, but not for anybody. Nothing is free. We have to pay for everything in some way or another.

Throughout history it always have been the people in positions of power and influence who establish the laws for their particular jurisdiction, control or personal satisfaction. Many imposed laws are merely arbitrary or at the whim of the person making them. And every law made is not always a just one either. For instance, once upon a time, in this country, it was against the law for any black person to learn how to read and write. Then later it was against the law for blacks and whites to intermingle with each other, which included mere socializing, dating and especially marrying. In certain places we were not allowed to vote or serve on juries for the longest time. There were laws that forbade us from eating, taking a drink of water or sitting where we pleased. So just because something is a law on the books, doesn’t mean that it’s a fair or valid one.

I find myself challenging stupid laws all the time, especially for things that others may be guilty of, but they don‘t apply to me personally, although I am expected to abide by them just the same. Then there are certain things that I and many others consider wrong but are not against the law, like the right to bear arms, hunting for sport, gambling and the wasting of our natural resources, like food and water. In the southern states, lynching was not outlawed until the late sixties! Guns, alcohol and tobacco are still legal commodities, but riding in a car without fastening your seat belt is unlawful.

We also have to accept the fact that we don’t have many personal freedoms either. And I am not even talking about laws against inflicting harm on other people. We are not allowed to do things that are our own business alone. How is this nation free when there are laws and rules for practically everything? There are warning and forbidden signs all over the place, everywhere you turn. “No smoking.” “Walk, don’t run.” “Do not enter.” “Keep off the grass.” “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” “Suit and tie required.” “Please check all bags.” “Stand behind the white line.” “Turn off your cell phones.“ “No loitering.” “No panhandling.” “No sleeping.” “Do not remove this tag!” We certainly are not free always to do as we please. I don’t bother anybody, as a rule. I, and others of my kind, have been stopped, scrutinized and harassed for being in a public setting, even on streets, in major U.S. cities, where it was deemed that we should not be there. See my Stereotyping: Racial and Otherwise blog for the scoop.

Some consensual sex is against the law, and I know from personal experience, so is consensual touching. Even touching yourself “down there” is against the law in some places. A 42-year-old laborer from Como, Italy, was fined 200 euros and ordered to pay an additional 1,000 euros in court costs for “ostentatiously touching his genitals through his clothing.“ It seems that an Italian court has criminalized the centuries-old practice of superstitious males touching their genitals to ward off bad luck, when discussing a tragic event or when a hearse passes by. “Io mi tocco…“ (I touch myself), has long been an Italian equivalent to “knock on wood,” and is traditionally accompanied by a grope of the utterer’s own crotch. But now that tradition “has to be regarded as contrary to public decency, a concept including that nexus of socio-ethical rules requiring everyone to abstain from conduct potentially offensive to collectively held feelings of decorum,” according to the Rome court’s ruling. Can they stop?!

How do they even get away with such idiotic edicts? Many are wondering how such a ruling might affect American baseball players, rap artists and 3-year-olds, and more seriously, as to how police and the courts are to determine when an innocent adjustment becomes a criminal self-grope. You would think that white men would have better things to do with their time than sitting around thinking of more ways to control everybody. Okay, so I can’t touch you, but I’m sorry, I defy anybody to tell me that I can’t touch my own dick, whether I do it in public or not. We have to draw the line somewhere!

We are even forbidden by law to put certain substances into our own bodies. When he was in office, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg proposed a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages that are more than 16 ounces, because he is so concerned about our obesity problem. How is anybody’s weight issues or beverage choices any of his business? Why does he even care? Some movie theaters that I attend regularly already check patrons’ bags to see if we are bringing in food or drink from the outside. So what if we are? What’s it to them? You see, they want people to buy the overpriced fare at their refreshment stands, thus taking away our freedom of choice. Maybe I don’t want anything the theater is offering and prefer to prepare my own healthier snacks at home. No, you can’t do that. “I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t bring that bottle of water through airport security. You can buy one inside, however.” I suspect that is their plan all along. It’s all a corporate racket. You can’t travel anywhere you want to. To leave this country and visit another, you need a passport. And then you need a work permit or visa in order to remain there for an extended period of time.

Here is one personal incident of police harassment. I was riding down Broadway through Times Square one day on my bike going home, and a patrol officer pulled me over to give me a ticket for, get this…wearing earphones! I did not pay the ticket. I decided to plead ‘Not Guilty’ and contest it in court, as I had a few things to say about it. At my subsequent hearing were only the judge, the arresting officer and myself. I forewent a lawyer, because due to prior experience, I figured that I could do a better job in defending myself. I told the judge that I was unaware that I was doing anything wrong, as I have been listening to music while riding my bike ever since I’ve had one. When she informed me that there was a law, at least on the books, against using headphones while operating a bicycle, this is what I had to say in my defense.

First of all, I wasn’t wearing headphones but the kind that fit loosely in my outer ears, allowing me to hear outside sounds. Plus, I never play my music so loudly that it blots out all the sound around me. If I caused some kind of traffic mishap because I couldn’t hear anything, then that’s something else altogether. If I haven’t harmed anybody, then what’s the problem? Then, too, at the time he stopped me, that officer couldn’t prove that I was actually listening to music. The disc that I was playing earlier could have finished, for all he knew. And I refuse to accept the wearing (or not) of any type of headgear as a traffic violation. But that’s all beside the point. That I choose not to wear a helmet is my business also. I have been riding a bicycle for 63 years, and I have never needed one. But if ever I should fall and land on my head, then too bad for me. I’m not going to blame or sue anybody. So how is that your concern?

I then pointed out that motorists listen to their radios, tapes and CD players while they are driving. The same goes for pedestrians. Why is it disallowed for cyclists? It’s hypocritical to penalize one mode of transportation and not the others. I suggested that they do something about that so-called law, because not only is it unconstitutional, how are they able to enforce it and why should they? I’m certainly not going to stop doing it. I get around mostly by bike and I have as much right to play music while traveling as people who drive cars do. Their talking on the phone while driving is more of a potential hazard than my listening to music on my bike. That cop, by his own admission, was just trying to fulfill his monthly quota that day. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The judge must have considered my arguments and in all fairness, she fined me only $20 (you know they had to charge me something!) then dismissed the case. Had I just paid the ticket without a fight, it would have cost me $60 or more, so I’m glad that I held out.

While riding my bike through a section of Central Park one day, I was stopped by a patrolling park police officer and told to walk my bike. Bike-riding was allowed only on the main roads and not on any of the pedestrian paths or other park trails, or so she said. I had never heard of such a thing. I and everybody else have always ridden our bikes through there. It’s the fastest way to get around and the most efficient way to go. What’s the point of walking your bike in the park? I asked the cop, ‘Why? What’s the problem? How long has this been a policy?’ She told me that park robberies have been committed by cyclists as of late. ‘Hunh?’ I responded quizzically. ‘What does that mean exactly, and what does that have to do with me?’ I haven’t robbed anybody. So just because somebody does that, all we innocent, law-abiding bikers have to be penalized? Just pick on the guilty parties.

That sounds like a bullshit reason to me anyway, that a person will mug somebody in the park only if they have a getaway bike. How about those who mug people on foot? The cops have not outlawed pedestrian traffic in the park as a result. Of course, it could be a racial issue, you know, although I try not to “go there” if there is another plausible explanation. Maybe that cop singled me out simply because most of their previous perpetrators that they have caught might have been black (or maybe not), so I must be like all the rest of them, you see. Let’s see them try to enforce such a stupid rule. Central Park is a huge place. They can’t be everywhere all the time. Actually, that was the one and only time that has happened. I still ride my bike in the park all the time, and nobody has told me otherwise.

The plaza at Lincoln Center—the area around the fountain and in front of the Metropolitan Opera House—has the imposed policy of No Bike-riding on the premises. I suppose it’s to protect the pedestrians from being run into by reckless cyclists. But if I can maneuver the daily, challenging Manhattan traffic and streets without any casualties, I certainly can make it across a sparsely-populated (sometimes it’s completely empty), wide-open space such as that without hitting anything. Even so, I could easily run someone over walking my bike as well as riding it, so what difference does it make if I am on the bike or walking beside it? They don’t make those employees of Lincoln Center who ride around in those little go-carts or people in their motorized wheelchairs walk their vehicles across the plaza. They are able to run down folks just as well as I could on my bike. That’s discriminatory as well as hypocritical.

It’s like this ludicrous sign on the front door of my post office branch. “No dogs allowed, except those assisting blind or disabled persons.“ So, I can’t take my dog into the building with me, but my friend here, who is blind, can take his in. What?! If their rules don’t apply to everybody regardless, then just get rid of them. “No” declares an ultimatum. If you qualify it with an excepting condition, then it’s no longer a definite.

I discovered a few years ago that I am not even free to visit a public park in my own neighborhood. I live on a block in midtown Manhattan that has a school and a small playground/park with swings, monkey bars and a basketball court. One summer when my Parisian boyfriend, Gilles, was visiting me, we were out walking in the ‘hood one day and decided to sit in the playground to rest and just to chat. No sooner had we sat down when a uniformed cop approached us and asked us if our children were there with us. Since they weren’t, he then asked us to leave the park. This was my first time there, so I had no idea that there was such a policy about who is allowed to patronize the playground. So if I don’t have school-age children, there is no reason whatsoever that I would be in the park? Do they actually think that every adult male in the park must be a stalking child molester or else why would he be there? The officer didn’t actually say that, but what was his objection of our being there, if not something along those lines? We weren’t doing anything wrong or suspicious. All we were doing was sitting on a bench, enjoying the weather and talking. Then, too, just because a man (or woman) is there in the park with a child, should not automatically absolve them from being a potential predator. If you suspect one person, then you should suspect everyone.

I am a responsible adult, and I don’t like always being penalized for other people’s indiscretions. Why should I have to suffer certain imposed inconveniences just because other people are so careless and inconsiderate? “No food or drinks allowed beyond this point.” So just because some clumsy or inconsiderate dolts spill their drinks and leave their food wrappers lying around, we all have to be banned? I am a careful eater and I always clean up after myself, although I am not one to indulge in this particular activity, of eating on-the-run. I reserve my eating to my home or to an actual eating facility. But if spills and discarded trash are their main objection, then why not have the signs read instead, “Please clean up after yourselves, and deposit all trash into the receptacles”? You know, address the specific complaint, instead of to whom it may not apply.

I heard a news report that in a restaurant somewhere an unruly youngster was being disruptive and disturbing the other patrons. So instead of instructing parents to take control of your unruly brats, they put up a sign banning all children under the age of five from the establishment. So those with mannerly, well-behaved, disciplined kids who have been properly taught how to behave in public, aren’t allowed to enjoy a nice, family meal together? That’s not fair. Just address the specific issue instead of penalizing everybody, most who are not even guilty of the complaint.

That should apply to other situations as well. I don’t know why they would even have to tell people certain things. They should know enough to do that on their own. In Celebration, Florida just recently (it’s a Disney-incorporated residential community near Orlando), I came upon a fountain in the town square which allows residents and tourists to go into. There is a sign at the site which lists the rules for using the fountain. One of them warns, “Do not use the fountain if you are ill with diarrhea.” See there? You can’t even shit anywhere you want to! I suppose it must have really happened to prompt such an admonition. “I have a severe case of the runs today. I think I’ll go into town and take a dump in the fountain!”

Why did they have to tell us that?

I reckon that the laws against jaywalking are arbitrarily implemented to protect us citizens from ourselves. You see, we don’t know how to cross the street without avoiding getting hit, so traffic lights and crosswalks have been set up at corners and intersections to control the traffic and ensure that we traverse thoroughfares safely. Unfortunately for the law enforcers but fortunately for us, with all the pedestrians in Manhattan on a day-to-day basis, there is no practical way to monitor or control all the jaywalking that occurs, so people are left pretty much to their own devices. I say that if we can make it across the street unscathed, then more power to us! And the city cops seem to go along with that. They never intervene when New York pedestrians cross streets in the middle of the block and ignore the “Don’t Walk” signals and traffic lights at intersections, relying instead on the traffic itself to guide their maneuvers. That’s a more practical approach anyway, in my opinion. If there are no cars approaching, which is a common occurrence, especially on the side streets, and with most of us always in a hurry, why stand there waiting for the light to change? Nobody does that.

It’s just like what comic Moms Mabley used to say in one of her routines. She’s talking about certain stupid advice that parents give their children. “Go on to school now, Baby. Be careful. Watch the lights.” Then, “Damn the lights! Watch the cars! The lights ain’t never killed nobody! Many a kid looking at the lights while a cab done knocked his head off!” Moms is not too far wrong either. Cars have been known at times to ignore the traffic signals at intersections where people are crossing. Should we risk being run down by a car plowing through the intersection, with the defense that we were crossing on the green light, therefore in the right? Yeah, you’d be dead right, but what good does that do you?! I have heard of people getting run down by buses. Now how does one get hit by a bus? I blame the bus driver only partly, because the pedestrian could have been out of their sight-line perhaps. But the person that got hit is mostly at fault for not being more observant. I mean, how did they miss seeing something as big as a bus coming right at them? What were they doing or looking at?

As a city cyclist, I find that I have more trouble with pedestrians than I do with vehicular traffic. People will dart out into the street from behind parked cars, and many of them don’t look both ways while crossing. Some are looking down or talking on their cell phones. Most of Manhattan thoroughfares have one-way traffic, so I am always amazed when a jaywalker crosses in front of me and is looking in the opposite direction to where the traffic is coming from! Even if they do look in the right direction, it’s advisable also to look the other way as well, as they don’t know what might be approaching from that side. In that case, when someone gets hit or run down, they can maintain that they were in the right. But that argument is rather moot if they are making it from their hospital bed or the morgue! I was taught growing up to look both ways before and while crossing. I also find myself having to avoid pedestrians walking in the middle of the street, instead of on the sidewalk. They are actually walking in the bike lane, which is designated specifically for us cyclists. I saw a much-pregnant woman jaywalking in heavy traffic one day. I called out to her, ‘Hey, watch it, lady! You know you can get knocked down, too!’

By the way, I object to the “Walk/Don’t Walk” signals as being biased and not all-inclusive. Everyone who crosses a street is not always on foot. They may be on a bicycle, like me, or a scooter, on rollerblades or skates, or on a skateboard, or even in a wheelchair. Imagine how a person in a wheelchair must feel every time they are confronted with that insensitive “Walk” sign. The city ordinances might consider changing to more appropriate, politically-correct signals, like “Wait” and “Proceed.” But that would cost us more money, wouldn’t it? Somebody should have thought of that in the first place.

So you see, I am all for the commercial awareness of the physically-challenged. I think that all public buildings should be wheelchair-accessible, as well as sidewalk curbs at street intersections (that’s also good for bicycles and other wheeled conveyances) and provisions made for special toilet stalls in restrooms. These are normal concessions made so that everyone can enjoy the same public conveniences, and I do agree with that. But I don’t agree with people with certain physical restrictions receiving special treatment or privileges because of their supposed disability.

The biggest indication of this are the specially-designated and restrictive “handicapped” parking spaces at shopping centers and other public parking areas. Most everyone, including able-bodied persons, wants to park as close as they can to where they are going, so why should only the physically-challenged be privy to the best parking spaces? In this instance I believe in first come, first served. If that guy in a wheelchair wants that good spot right next to the entrance at the mall, then he has to beat me to it, just like everybody else. Why should we have to leave the spot empty for some unknown person who may not even show up that whole day when somebody else could be using it? Since I don’t drive myself, I am speaking on behalf of those of you who do.

The height of absurdity and unfairness, though, is the parking lot at the nudist beach in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, that a friend and I visited a few times in the past. The parking area is a good quarter mile from the actual beach, accessible only by foot. The first time we went there and while searching for a place to park, I counted no less than twenty (!) designated handicapped parking spaces, all unoccupied. Now I ask you, what were they thinking? Do they actually think that at any one time ever in life, there will be that many (if even one) vehicles with handicapped drivers within, attending a nudist beach?! They might go out there with somebody, but it’s unlikely that they would make the trip alone. But my point about the irrationality of such a provision is the fact that everyone has to get to the beach area by the same means. So if a person on crutches or in a wheelchair can successfully maneuver the winding boardwalk and deep sand dunes that lead to the beach, I don’t think that parking their car a few feet closer is going to make a whole lot of difference, do you? If they can accomplish that, where they actually park is inconsequential.

I, for one, prefer to use the handicapped toilet stall when I encounter one. It’s very roomy and comfortable, and the toilet is built higher than the regular ones, which I like. If a wheel-chaired man comes in while I am in there, although it has never happened, then he has to wait until I’m done, just like everyone else there has to do. If the man in the stall is also like him, he would have to wait anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference whether he is crippled or not.

In Denver, Colorado there is a law that insists that dogcatchers notify dogs of impounding by posting a notice on a tree in the park.

“Thanks for the heads up.”

People are always boasting that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Sure, we have certain freedoms and privileges that some other nations don’t enjoy. But in order to claim the title of greatest, we have to have it together in all aspects of society and living conditions. While there is still rampant racism, homophobia, sexism, crime, substandard education, no public health program, abject poverty, homelessness, a greatly-flawed judicial system, and certain civil rights that are still denied some of our citizens, we can’t rightly be called the greatest, now can we? I don’t think that any nation can make that claim at this time, including and especially America. If we are so great, why do we have the largest number of incarcerations than any nation of the world? A great country’s citizens should be able to get along and accept each other’s differences, points-of-view and faults. There would be no instances of terrorism, undue aggression, mistrust, intolerance or animosity toward their fellow humans. Our artistic creativity would not be subject to arbitrary censorship, someone deciding what is appropriate, or not, for our eyes and ears to witness. I don’t think that it’s unpatriotic of me, either, to make such a statement. As always, I just call it as I see it!

Just so I am not deemed a person who does not love his country, I assure you that I do. It’s just that I can recognize that it is not perfect but has its faults and flaws and foibles (oh, my)! I criticize the things I care about, hoping only to make them better. In some of my other articles I criticize movies and television, too, but I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

“Are You Crazy?!”

I tend to be somewhat of a loner, for the most part, and I cherish my solitude. And since I do spend so much time alone, I naturally would need someone to talk to on occasion. That person, of course, is myself. I think that I would go crazy if I couldn’t talk to myself! I mean, who knows my mind better than I do? My alterego and I are great pals. We play games, we argue. “That’s Haydn.” ‘No, I’ll bet it’s Mozart.’ “Whaddya wanna bet?” ‘Ha, ha, I won!’ When I play solitaire computer Scrabble with four players, I play all the hands myself, so I don’t care who wins. Being that I had my brother and other childhood friends to play with while growing up, I never had need of an imaginary friend, like some lonely, only children tend to conjure up while they’re young. I am quite content to have myself, who is very real and far from imaginary, to converse and play with.

I used to be critical of people who talk to themselves in public. I, and others too, would consider them cuckoo and off their rocker. Then I caught myself one day, while walking on the street, talking back! I realized then that the people around me must think that I am as loony as all those other nuts on the street who talk to themselves. So now I am not so quick to judge. I talk out loud to myself and I sing out loud to myself often. When I go out anywhere, on foot or on my bike, I almost always am listening to music on my portable player, and I will be singing along or practicing a song that I have to learn perhaps. So maybe some of those other people that do that aren’t any crazier than I am. They could be working or just amusing themselves just like me, or nowadays it turns out that they may be talking on the phone, using their hands-free blue-tooth attachment.

But then, what is crazy anyway? Who is crazy? Who isn’t? I suppose it is determined by one’s behavior, but doesn’t everybody do something out of the ordinary or act abnormally at some moments in their life? If someone reports a strange occurrence without corroboration, for instance, they are often deemed to be drunk or crazy. But what if that person is telling the truth and did see what they said they did?

In The Prince and the Pauper (1937) two look-alike boys exchange places, and judged only by the way they are dressed, nobody believes them to be who they say they are. When Tom Canty swears that he is not the prince but a beggar boy, the courtiers deem him to be mad. Why is he mad if he is telling the truth? And of course, they don’t believe the real prince either. So just because you don’t accept their wild story, it doesn’t make them crazy. I say, first, disprove their claim before you decide that they are crazy. Therefore, crazy assessment is based on one’s perception of somebody, not necessarily how they really are.

Why should the person with heightened perception, acute mental powers or having the ability to tap into the spiritual or supernatural world be considered crazy? So like, I am able to see the ghost in the room, and you can’t, but I’m the crazy one! If someone has innovative ideas or radical beliefs, they’re crazy. Even if you believe in something that someone else finds too incredible to be accepted as real, then you are the crazy one for believing such a thing.

How is one supposed to answer if asked directly, “Are you crazy?” That sounds more like an accusation than a question anyway. To deny it outright would not convince them, because you must have done or said something to prompt the question in the first place. I don’t know why somebody would even say that to a person without some provocation. Then who would admit that they are crazy when they don’t agree and may not even realize it if, in fact, they are? Most may not question their own sanity until someone else questions it. “I don’t know. Am I? Why do you ask?”

Similar is the judgmental, “Have you lost your mind?” or “I think I am losing my mind.” How can one lose what is inherent in all of us? If you have a change of opinion or think along different lines, then that’s all it is. It doesn’t mean that you’re crazy. And of course, craziness has nothing to do with one’s lack of intelligence. Some of the most brilliant minds have also been stark, raving lunatics, like your mad scientists, your political despots and some religious fanatics.

In all the movies where someone (let’s say a man) is wrongfully committed to a mental institution, he finds it so difficult, if not impossible, to prove his sanity. If he protests by kicking and screaming and proclaiming, “I’m not crazy! I don’t belong here! It’s a mistake!” the hospital personnel don’t believe him. Naturally he would say that. They don’t expect him to admit that he is crazy. Isn’t his very agitation an indication that he is seriously unbalanced? If he keeps quiet and does not put up any resistance, however, then he really must be crazy or he would say something to the contrary, wouldn’t he? It’s a catch-22. You can’t win either way.

There is a French-British film that I like called King of Hearts (1966) which satirically examines social sanity. Alan Bates is a Scottish soldier who is sent on a suicide mission to blow up an evacuated French town during World War I. The only inhabitants left behind are the inmates of the local “insane” asylum. Bates soon befriends the mental patients there and even falls in love with one of them (Genevieve Bujold). He sees how really nice and caring these so-called nuts are. They welcome him into their family—they even crown him King—and he sees how happy they all are and innocently oblivious of the outside world. Then he thinks about what is going on outside—the bombings of cities and the genocide—so he begins to question, which ones are the crazy, irrational people, these basically harmless folks in here or those gratuitous murderers out there?

Bates ultimately decides to stay in there with the alleged loonies! I don’t know who decided that these characters were insane or a danger to society anyway. They seem perfectly normal to me. Many of them are into innocent role-playing, but so is almost everybody else. It is basically true that “all the world’s a stage, and we are all merely actors.“ Many of us go through life play-acting and pretending to be somebody else. So by that criterion, we all must be crazy in some way. Those inmates in the film seem intelligent, articulate and certainly non-threatening. It’s a sorry state of affairs when a person’s benign non-conformity is grounds for commitment to an asylum.

In 1950’s Harvey, too, James Stewart’s character, Elwood P. Dowd, has for a friend a pooka, which takes the form of a 6-foot-3½-inch, invisible rabbit. And although Elwood is completely harmless–in fact, he is the sweetest, kindest, most polite and friendliest person you’d ever want to know; everybody likes him–just because he talks to this rabbit that only he can see, everybody considers him a real nut, and his distraught sister and niece want to have him committed to a sanitarium, as if confinement would rid him of his delusion. So what if Elwood is an alcoholic? He doesn’t deserve to be locked up, as he is no dangerous threat to society. Shouldn’t a person be allowed to have their personal fantasies, whether they are real or imaginary, without the harsh judgment and the threat of commitment, especially if they are otherwise a good person and who is not hurting anybody? Truth be told, I believe that we all have some kind of mental flaw, including myself, but not enough to require institutional commitment. As it turns out, Harvey proves himself to be real after all when he appears to other characters in the story, including Elwood’s sister and the director of the sanitarium! So now, are they crazy, too, or less judgmental of Elwood?

(# …A flibbertigibbet, a will-o’-the-wisp, a clown… #)
For myself, I prefer to be around people who are a little eccentric, oddball, offbeat, quirky, strange, wacky. I find them to be much more interesting and entertaining than those who are always trying to act “normal” and fit in. In all dramatic situations and even in literature we want colorful characters that are larger than life. On TV sitcoms it is often the supporting players, like Sheldon Cooper (“The Big Bang Theory”), Barney Fife (“The Andy Griffith Show”) and Steve Urkel (“Family Matters”), for example, who become viewers’ favorites over the star of the show. Ordinary commonness is boring, in my opinion, and does not make for good theater.

Now, I don’t like simple or dizzy people in real life, those who are in a constant state of mental confusion, and chronic stupidity and excessive silliness get on my nerves. But I like your rebels who challenge the status quo and don’t always do things that are expected of them. Since I can admit that I have certain quirks myself, my close friends, too, tend to be a little off, or at least accepting of my own personality foibles. But they, in turn, have to be intelligent, open-minded, and have a good sense of humor. I don’t take myself too seriously, as you must have surmised by now from my writings, and they shouldn’t either.

Weaponry and Warfare

Let me say right off the bat that I have no use for firearms, okay? I have never needed a gun in my entire life, and there is no reason for me to have one now, or ever. My only experience with a real firearm was when I was required to learn how to use the M-16 rifle in Basic Training. And I didn’t like it even then. Since I had no intention of ever using this weapon, why was I even learning how to operate it? I needed to pass Rifle Training just so I wouldn’t have to take the whole training cycle over again. That was the only reason.

I didn’t like it when my older brother, as a boy, had a BB-gun with which he used to shoot at birds and squirrels. I thought that that was downright cruel. We both had one of those harmless, toy cap pistols as kids. I was too young to know any better. I mean, boys are supposed to like playing with guns, aren’t they? I am thankful that neither my dad nor granddad was into guns either, like those fathers who buy their young sons rifles and want to take them hunting all the time.

Since I am so pro-life now, the only situations that would necessitate the use of a firearm is for shooting at a non-human target or skeet shooting at clay pigeons, and nobody really has to do either of those activities. Otherwise, guns are for killing, pure and simple. I would never own one or even have one in my possession. I certainly would not keep one in my home. For what purpose? Some people say that they hate guns, that they only have them to protect themselves against other people with guns, but I don’t buy that excuse. It’s hypocritical anyway, because then they are no better than the other guy. “I’m going to shoot you first to keep you from shooting me.”

I wouldn’t want to kill someone even in self-defense, because I still would have to live with the fact that I killed somebody. Willfully to take a life is murder, regardless of the circumstances. To cause a death as a result of self-defense, is still murderous intent. They purposely killed the other person to defend themself. There are those who don’t accept that contention, however, because they want to excuse their actions and absolve their guilt. Many of these gun owners end up killing members of their own family, especially their children, the very ones whom they are supposed to be protecting!

Some try to justify their gun ownership by reminding you that our Constitution grants us the right to bear arms. But that doesn’t mean we all should, just because we have the right to do so. The Constitution is not intended as the standard for human morality. The country has changed greatly since the Constitution was drawn up. In the Old West, for example, practically everybody carried guns with them at all times. Law enforcement was not as strict as it became to be later on. Men shot and killed each other all the time without any repercussions. The sheriffs were not able to maintain peace nor prevent crime and violence in their towns. When a sheriff himself was killed, they just appointed a new one to take his place. Next! “Gunslinger” was a regular personal assessment of the day for some.

So then what happens is, every time somebody gets a bigger and better weapon, you have to get one, too, to match it, to protect yourself, right? And of course, nothing is ever good enough, is it? We went from bare fists to crude, makeshift weapons, like sticks, clubs, bats, knives and swords, then, so that we didn’t have to get too close to our opponent, we learned to hurl stones and other things at them via slingshots, catapults, arrows, spears and the like. With the invention of firearms: handguns, rifles, cannons, bazookas, Gatling guns and explosive devices, like grenades, land mines and torpedoes, we could now accomplish longer-range annihilation. But even these became too limited for our special purposes. With a machine gun, you could mow down only a few people at a time. We need something that can wipe out entire nations at one time, like an atomic bomb! Hey now, that’s the ticket! “Well, since they got one, now we have to have one, too! Just let them mess with us! We’ll show ’em!”

This Governmental “arms race” is so stupid. When and where does it end, when we ultimately destroy ourselves and everybody else in the process? I hope they don’t think that they have to use the Bomb on my behalf. There is nobody that I hate that much to merit it. And how dare they jeopardize our lives while they are playing their silly little war games!

The manufacture, sale and use of firearms only perpetuate the aggression and violence to which human beings subject each other. And the way things stand, I don’t take a lot of stock in the concept of “maximum security.” If somebody wants to get in (or out) of something badly enough, they will find a way, as long as there are dynamite and other explosive devices at their disposal. We are so technically-sophisticated nowadays, however, that we have resorted to chemical warfare to wipe out our “enemies.” No cumbersome weapons and gadgets to deal with and no space-taking and environmentally-threatening nuclear paraphernalia—just a simple, little ol’, unseen, odorless, tasteless microorganism, capable of decimating whole nations, if handled properly or im-. And it’s untraceable. Where did it come from? Who introduced it? Who is responsible? I explore this type of conspiratorial genocide in another article. (Check out my Conspiracy Theory, Part II–The AIDS Epidemic and Other Medical Speculations.)

(# …For he’s a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny! #)
Oh, really? Just watch me! We, as a society, tend to exalt, glorify and make heroes of combat soldiers who indiscriminately kill in the name of so-called patriotism. I had a recurring gig singing in a male quartet for religious services for certain veteran groups, which were held in the chapel at West Point Academy. After the mid-morning service we were always invited to stay for lunch. So one year my colleagues and I were sitting with one of the WWII Army veterans whose former unit was the focus group that day. During the meal this old lifer started telling us about one of his fellow soldiers who had been declared a war hero for single-handedly killing a very large number of Germans or whomever they were fighting at the time. He seemed to be so proud of this guy and kept bragging about his military accomplishments, and he seemed to want us join in on the adoration. The outspoken person that I am, and because I am not a hypocrite, I proceeded to let this man know that I could not get excited in honoring a mass murderer. It doesn’t matter to me why he did it, I was just not at all impressed with his wartime credentials. This man, and even the other guys with me, couldn’t understand why I didn’t share their unbridled enthusiasm about celebrating a killer. They probably deemed me to be an anti-patriot or something. I’m sure the vet was not pleased with my frank disdain. Pardon me, but I won’t pretend to condone war and support gratuitous killing. I don’t care what anybody thinks about me.

I feel the same way about law enforcement personnel, FBI agents, U.S. marshals, executioners, hit persons, anyone else who, in the course of their daily duties, have the occasion to kill people, for whatever reason. I would not have a job like that, but those who do that sort of thing voluntarily seem not to mind–after all, that is what they have chosen to do with their lives. So what if they may be protecting us from the terrible criminals of the world, or not, I don’t feel the need to glorify them or their efforts nonetheless. I consider a hero to be someone who is a positive role model for people, especially the young. They should inspire good. Why would I or want my children to honor and glorify a man who effects undue aggression upon perfect strangers? “Daddy, that Audie Murphy is my all-time hero. I, too, want to kill a lot of people when I grow up.”

Even now, with regards to Iraq, Afghanistan, the recent Gulf War and any of our other military involvements, these men did not incite the conflicts and then volunteer to go over there and stop them. They are only following someone else’s orders. Why should I congratulate and cheer on somebody for doing their job and what they are being ordered and paid to do, and when it’s something that I am totally against besides? I choose not to condone their activities, even if it is in the name of so-called patriotism. I would have more respect and gratitude for the guys who refuse to fight in these arbitrary conflicts, thereby choosing not to perpetuate them. Instead of the war infantryman, I cheer and honor the conscientious objector. What if they gave a war and nobody participated? I believe that nations and individuals perpetuate war because they want to. Otherwise, they would just stop, wouldn’t they? Nobody has to fight. “I’m done with this. I’m going home. Y’all take care now.”

I think one’s sentiment lies with which side of the conflict you’re on. In Quentin Tarantino’s marvelous production, Inglorious Basterds (2009), the Nazis make a feature film honoring a Gestapo soldier who single-handedly slaughtered hundreds of Jews and was declared a national hero by Hitler and his cohorts. During the premiere of the film, entitled Nation’s Pride, shown in Nazi-occupied Paris and attended by all of the Third Reich top dogs, including Der Führer himself, there is much cheering and applauding from the audience (in the film) as they watch on the screen this soldier plow down Jew after innocent Jew. They are absolutely delighted. The real-life theater audience, however, did not share in the jubilation. If anything, we were all horrified and appalled at the behavior of that audience in the picture. My lunch companions at West Point didn’t seem so willing to glorify that “war hero” in that particular situation in the film. So it’s okay when we are the ones doing the killing, but we feel quite differently when it’s they killing us. When we put ourselves in the other person’s place, we get a different perspective. I applaud Tarantino’s satirical depiction of the situation.

I have heard people try to defend Chris Kyle, the main character of American Sniper (2014), saying that he had no choice in what he was doing over there in Iraq. It was his calling and duty to kill all those people. Well, the fact of the matter is, Kyle voluntarily joined the Navy SEALS and trained to be a sniper. Nobody made him do that. He did it because he wanted to and apparently was very good at his job. The movie ends with Kyle himself being killed by somebody he was trying to help. Some people felt sorry for him, that he had to die like that, since he was such a “hero” in their eyes. But he had killed a bunch of people himself, including women and children, for whatever reasons, so why is his own demise any more sorrowful? I’m sure that his killer had his reasons as well. It seems that some people have selective tit-for-tat, and only certain ones should be required to pay for their misdeeds. I have said before, that what goes around, comes around. I firmly believe in “karmic justice.”

For myself, I don’t like it no matter who it is being killed. You see, I have no enemies. If somebody personally does not like me, that’s their doing. I don’t hate anybody, and one is an enemy only if we have mutual animosity for each other. The casualties on both sides are human beings with grieving families and loved ones, so I choose not to root for either side. How does having antiwar sentiments and being pro-life make me unpatriotic? But if it does, then so be it. I’m certainly not going to apologize for having convictions of morality.

It seems that wherever American soldiers are concerned, we are supposed to treat them with some special honor and respect. Well, we don’t seem to be so appreciative and charitable to them when they come home. We often hear, “Thank you for your service.” from well-meaning civilians. Talk is cheap. How about a job or at least a little financial aid? It’s downright appalling how our returning war veterans are treated and ignored after they have served their purpose. Many of them can’t find work and end up homeless, and those who are injured and develop resultant mental problems, it’s even worse for them.

It occurs to me that only certain people have the right to commit murder and under special circumstances. As a civilian, I am not allowed to take the life of some despicable scumbag who has wronged me and others or made our lives miserable, and the world would be a lot better without them. But my Government gives me permission, even orders me to, and will give me a commendation medal, if I put on a uniform, go over to some foreign country, sneak up on perfect strangers, who have not done anything to me personally, and blow them away with my M-16 rifle and machine gun. Oh! And the more “gooks” I kill, the bigger a hero it’ll make me. The message I get from that is, our country’s lawmakers are telling us, “Look, you will commit murder only if we tell you when and who to kill. Otherwise, you will be punished for your heinous misdeeds.” In my opinion, they are no different than sanctioned executioners or even contract killing done by professional hitpersons.

The Vietnam Conflict alone had 58,191 American casualties, and for what? It wasn’t even our war, not that it should even matter whose war it was. It’s still pointless. I remember a very moving moment in my life, when I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (or as a character on “The West Wing” once referred to it—“The Wall of Death”) in Washington, DC in 1986. When I saw those columns and rows of all those names of dead soldiers, many of them practically children, I became very upset and depressed. Viewing the AIDS Memorial Quilt always elicits a similar reaction. The obituary directory itself was as thick as the former Manhattan phone book. All those wasted lives lost for no good reason. Can you imagine how many other lives have been lost to senseless wars since the beginning of our civilization? And I use that term loosely. I consider the act of mortal combat to be anything but civilized. Let’s all make love, not war.

(# War! Hoo! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again!… #)
I just can’t find any point or sense to war. For perfect strangers to destroy each other on someone else’s behalf is mind-boggling to me. One head-of-state has a gripe or grudge against another nation’s leader, and instead of them trying to resolve their differences on a one-to-one basis, they will solicit their countries’ youth to fight their battles for them, who have nothing to do with their leaders’ disagreements. They’re out there killing each other and don’t even know why most of the time. Why don’t the two leaders themselves duke it out instead of sacrificing their innocent sons and daughters in their place? I think it’s morally wrong to coerce people to do one’s dirty work for them. In Apocalypse Now (1979) one Army officer was ordered to seek out and kill a highly-decorated fellow officer just because he became a renegade.

There was a case on “L.A. Law” once (the writers often based their storylines on real-life events, so I expect that this probably really happened), in which a young Army lieutenant was being court-martialed for disobeying a direct order in wartime. He refused to destroy a potential enemy community in Panama because of the innocent civilians he believed to be residing there. He was found guilty and convicted on the grounds that to disobey a superior’s order in a military situation, for whatever reason, is totally inexcusable and cannot be tolerated. The boy was therefore sentenced to ten years in prison! So this compassionate, moral-minded individual was deemed a despicable criminal because he would not willingly commit random mass murder. His compliance, on the other hand, would have declared him a national hero. Now how is that for ironic irrationality and twisted justice, to be sent to prison for not killing somebody? What’s up with that?!

So it’s more about military rules than the act itself. Why didn’t that commanding officer take the responsibility by bombing the village himself instead of forcing his reluctant underlings to do it for him? He didn’t seem to have any trouble giving the order, so he should have been willing to carry out the order himself. Let the guilt be on his own head. If I had have been the defense attorney for that case, I would have read some people! A person should not be forced to do what they don’t want to do. Of course, our decisions result in consequences, at times undesirable, but still we should have the choice.

For the other side, however, I suppose I could argue that in a war zone, how do you know for sure who is really innocent? Civilian women and even children have been known to conceal firearms and explosives and act as snipers, so you really can’t trust anyone in that situation. Then too, we could consider the casualty of war to be a societal implementation for population control, just as are natural disasters, famine and pestilence. “The country is getting a bit over-crowded. Let’s have a war with somebody and get rid of a bunch of people.”

Another hypocritical, war-related situation comes to mind. On an episode of the TV cable series “The Glades,” a southern town is doing a Civil War re-enactment, and during the course of it, a soldier gets killed by another soldier impersonator. Now the law enforcement officials of the town are considering this guy’s death murder and wants to convict the killer of same. So it occurred to me that during the actual Civil War, or any war for that matter, people got/get killed as a matter of course, and the bystanders have this “Oh, well!” attitude about it. All’s fair in love and war. But because this is only a re-enactment and not a real war, the criterion should be different? It’s apparently all right for people to kill each other during a government-sanctioned war, but it’s not all right when you are only pretending to fight. Isn’t that, too, a bit twisted?

Even the practice of spying and espionage seems senseless to me. A traitor is regarded to be someone who divulges government secrets to so-called enemy factions. The dictionary definition goes so far as to say that someone who even gives aid or comfort to an enemy is a traitor. So a civilian correspondent on assignment in Afghanistan, let’s say, comes upon a young, wounded Afghani soldier. Should he just let the kid die, or risk being deemed a traitor if he offers him some kind of help? So Christian charity can be considered treason, punishable by death, in some cases. But my question is, what secrets? What are you up to that you don’t want anybody else in the world to know about? It must be something nefarious or underhanded or else you wouldn’t be trying to hide it.

Why is certain information “confidential”? I would hope that the goal and purpose of every nation’s government is to serve the common good–but of course, that is not the case–so shouldn’t any important discoveries or innovations be shared with each other? Perhaps research scientists in Switzerland, let’s say, have discovered a cure for preventing all kinds of cancer, but deem it to be top secret and choose to keep it to themselves. I don’t understand that. Something that will benefit all of humankind, how can they sit on that information? You know that our country harbors a lot of secrets that they don’t share with anybody.

After seeing Bridge of Spies (2015), I was made aware of the gross hypocrisy that our country displays. It takes place during the Cold War with Russia in the ‘50s and ’60s. A man deemed to be a Russian spy is captured and made to stand trial. It is merely a formality, because it was already decided that he would be convicted and must face the death penalty. The lawyer assigned to defend him (played by Tom Hanks) was given a hard time as well and received death threats, merely for doing his job. Now at the same time, our CIA was recruiting agents of our own to spy on the Russians. But I guess it’s all right when we do it then.

When we or any other nation makes a beneficial, technological or medical breakthrough, it should be shared with the rest of the world instead of withheld for their own benefit. Many humans live their lives in constant competition. They are always trying to better the other person. It occurs at home, in school and later spills over into the workplace. Corporate espionage in business exists just as it does in the military. If we all got along like we should, there wouldn’t be any secrets between us.

Moreover, the act of war is, in fact, a game (hence the term), a competition of winners and losers, so getting an advantage on your opponent by discovering their weaknesses and strengths is just part of the game. To learn of any secret information to help you win by whatever means should be commended and awarded whether than be deemed punishable by death. But then, who is the actual winner of a war or major battle? Is it the side who kills the most people? That makes them the winner? I would deem the winner to be the side who resolves the conflict with the fewest number of casualties, not the most.

(# Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war… #)
Although probably meant to be merely metaphorical, a “Christian soldier” to me sounds like a hypocritical contradiction of terms. Real Christians are supposed to be self-proclaimed pacifists, not fighters. Jesus and his disciples were not warriors. There have been individuals over the centuries who have chosen warrior as their life’s career. They actually wage and fight wars for a living. The word itself suggests it to be an occupation. Alexander the Great was a warrior. Kunta Kinte claimed to be training to be a warrior when he was captured by the slavers. It’s too bad that he hadn’t learned enough to prevent himself from getting caught!

There is a scene in The Foxes of Harrow (1947) where one of the plantation slave women gives birth to a baby boy, and “Massa” Rex Harrison comments to her husband that the newborn is going to make a fine, strong slave. The mother overhears this, gets very agitated and keeps uttering, a little too proudly I think, “Him no slave, him warrior, him killer of lions!”, as if he has no other choice, and she considers warrior to be a noble profession. What’s wrong with a doctor, a teacher or a scientist? Of course she wants more for her son than being a lowly slave, but wanting him to be a fighter and killer, to me doesn’t seem like a commendable alternative.

A while back, although I don’t know when the first incident of it was, the military came up with the oxymoronic phrase, “friendly fire.” That is when a soldier, or more than one, are killed, even if it‘s unintentional, not by the regarded enemy, mind you, but by someone from their own side, often from their immediate company. For the family and friends of the victim(s), since the result is the same, that is, death, they don’t see what is friendly about it. “Mrs. Smith, I’m sorry about your son, but it was from friendly fire, not the enemy‘s.” Is that supposed to make her feel better about it? “But it wasn’t the ‘enemy’ who killed my boy. You did! You call that friendly? What, were you smiling apologetically when you blew my son away?!”

Right here in New York City recently, a black, off-duty police officer was pursuing a fleeing perpetrator of a crime, when another officer, white, shot the other one dead, thinking that he was a criminal himself, so he said. Yeah, right. The news media reported the death as a “friendly fire” killing. It was another case of shoot first, find out who they are later. The cops also like to use the equally-oxymoronic phrase “good shoot” to justify their killing someone in the line of duty, whether it was self-defense or not, or whether he was even the right guy. Even if it only appears that the guy has a gun, the officer has the right to shoot him. And it’s only considered a “good shoot” if someone other than the cop dies. If it’s he, however, in the same situation, then the other guy is a “cop killer.”

I was trained as a military policeman during my stint in the Army, and we were taught always to use minimum force when apprehending a perpetrator. If someone pulls a gun on you (sometimes it’s not even a gun but some harmless object which they mistake for one), you don’t have to kill them. Just disarm them by shooting it out of their hand. If they are running away, shoot them in the knees. That’ll slow them down, I’ll bet you. They don’t have to aim for their back or their head. That way, if the officer makes a mistake in judgment, at least it won’t be fatal. If the guy turns out to be guilty after all, they will be dealt with at a later date. This “I had no choice” defense does not set well with me. You always have a choice. You either do one thing or you do something else. That’s your choice.

I have been fortunate enough to have gotten through life with a modicum of physical conflict. I remember only one or two altercations ever. I don’t look for trouble, so I manage to stay out of it, for the most part. I am a confirmed pacifist. I prefer to try to settle disputes with my mouth instead of my fists. I won’t strike you, but I will read your butt for filth! I especially enjoy writing letters by way of reading people. When someone has wronged me and I proceed to tell them off, most of the time I think of things later that I should have said at the time. In a letter I get the chance to organize my thoughts and I can speak my mind without rebuttal or being interrupted. And it gives the recipient a chance to heed my words and reflect on what I am telling them. They don’t have to guess at what I mean or try to remember what was said; it’s all right there in print. I have had to read friends and even lovers as well as foes. I have read the CEOs of corporations and businesses for receiving shoddy service and merchandise. “Reading” by letter is also quite therapeutic for me, as it allows me to clear the air and get stuff off my chest without destroying things out of frustration or attacking someone physically.

Although I never resort to pugilism myself, I realize that physical altercations, however petty, often do occur between individuals. Now, I can enjoy a choreographed, cinematic fistfight or free-for-all bar brawl for dramatic purposes, especially when women are participating—besides, it’s all fake, and nobody gets hurt—but I can’t get up the same enthusiasm for real-life, professional boxing. What’s the deal here? Two guys are paid millions of dollars (some of them) to get into a ring and duke it out together in front of thousands (sometimes millions, if it’s televised) of rooting, cheering spectators. The winner is the one who knocks the other one unconscious for at least 10 seconds, for everyone’s delighted amusement. “Look, man, I’m going to kill you tonight, or at least beat the shit out of you. Don’t take it personally. It’s all in the name of fun.”

It seems hypocritical that a “sport” whose main intent is to beat each other up tries to follow such strict safety rules. What does it mean to fight fairly? If I am fighting somebody, I want to hurt them as much as I can. If I cared anything about their feelings, I wouldn’t be fighting them in the first place. Boxers can punch each other in the face all they want, but “no hitting below the belt.” So I can’t kick him in the shins or knee him in his groin? Why not? I’m in this thing to win. What happened to “all’s fair in love and war”?

I think that Mike Tyson was treated unfairly, suspending him from boxing because of his “unsportsmanlike behavior” at the big fight with Evander Holyfield in June 1997. I mean, what is a fight without somebody getting hurt? So Tyson bit his opponent’s ear. Did that disappoint the fans somehow, who must all be vicarious sadomasochists anyway? Perhaps they felt cheated. Instead of merely biting him, maybe they would have preferred that he beat his face to a bloody pulp and knock him out cold. Now, that’s a fight! I think that the whole idea of physical violence for profit and exploitation is stupid, cruel and barbaric. Then they have the nerve to be hypocritical about it. I liken pro fighters to your high-priced prostitutes. They voluntarily sell their bodies for lots of money, and the people who patronize them and foot the bill get off on the experience, whereas some will condone the former and protest the latter.

If we’re so damned smart, why have we still not come to the realization and acceptance that all human beings belong to the same species and that no one individual or group is better than any other, in terms of their creation? I don’t think that there ever will be complete World Peace. Ever since there have been people there has been conflict. Humans just cannot seem to get along! When there were only four people on earth (Biblically speaking, that is), even your brothers Cain and Abel were at odds with each other. Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity. It sort of defeats the purpose. What is it going to take, extraterrestrial intervention for us to get our act together and start working together as a unit for the good of humankind, instead of always at each other with our petty squabbles and disagreements?

(# …All we are saying is give peace a chance. #)
Can I get an “amen” up in here?

Heaven and Hell

(# …For what it’s worth, you make your own Heaven and Hell right here on earth… #)

I want to discuss Heaven and Hell. I believe that they are merely manmade, idealistic concepts, created and perpetuated to keep us sinners in line. I believe Heaven and Hell to be states of mind, really. Like the Temptations sang, I, too, believe that we make our own Heaven and Hell right here on earth, and this is where they begin and end. When we experience something very pleasurable in life, we say that we’re in Heaven, and when we are tormented and subjected to unpleasantness, we imagine ourselves in Hell.

There are many heavenly and hellish expressions in our vernacular. “Heaven on Earth” is a common one. You have heard it said that “war is hell,” but how do they know that? Well, being in a situation where you are being shot at for no good reason, and your friends are dying all around you and being mutilated and blown up, could what is done to you in Hell be any worse? I think that would qualify as “Hell on Earth,” don’t you? So where do we get all these notions about Heaven and Hell, having never been there? Supposedly, we have to die first to see them, so anything that we think about them must be a preconception. For those who believe in an Afterlife, they would ordinarily prefer to spend Eternity in a utopian paradise.

Has there always been a Heaven and Hell? If so, how did we first find out about them? If not, where did all the dead people go before their invention? Interestingly, Heaven was created out of the Jewish culture. It’s mentioned in the Old Testament, as early as Genesis. The Tower of Babel was intended to reach to Heaven, for instance. But then the Christians came along and changed the rules so that only they and their ilk who are “saved in Christ” are eligible to enter. The Jews had Heaven first, but now they are not allowed to go there themselves. What’s up with that?

Like the Boogeyman, it’s merely a means for our religious leaders to hold something over us, control us and threaten us with when we disobey. “If you don’t abide by God’s (that is, my) Word, you are going to Hell! … Do you want to go to Heaven when you die? Then you had better straighten up and change your sinful ways. Give your life to Jesus,” and all that other Christian propaganda. It seems that Heaven is reserved for a specialized chosen few, and those who don’t deserve to go there have to go somewhere else instead. So Hell was invented to accommodate the unworthy lot.

The Catholics have, in addition, a place they call Purgatory, which is a temporary way station while one’s as-of-yet-undetermined fate is being decided. I refuse to go through my entire life denying myself of certain pleasures and enjoyments so that I will be sure to pass over to some mystical place that may not even exist. But even if it does, what difference is it going to make after all? I’m dead. I can’t be worried about what happens to me after I die. It’s out of my hands. No person alive has the power or right to make that decision for anybody, including themselves.

I think, too, that we don’t have to wait until we are dead to have our fate decided. We all experience punitive retribution and suffer ensuing consequences throughout our lives for our actions and choices we make. But then, who makes those fateful decisions anyway? Since we all are sinners, what are our requirements and special qualifications to get us into Heaven? With karma constantly at work we experience heaven and hell all the time. I, myself, have been so blessed with good fortune most of my life, that I must be doing something right. But am I eligible to go to Heaven? Why not?

I always try to keep an open mind, so for the sake of argument, what if there really is a postmortem Heaven and Hell? I asked my sister, who is sure that that’s where she’s going, ‘What is the big attraction in Heaven? What is there to do for all Eternity?’ She says, “Praising God.” Hunh? Is that it? How does one “praise God” for all Eternity? I mean, what does that entail exactly, and for what purpose? It sounds to me like “Heaven” could be quite a tedious, monotonous bore. This is Heaven for whom? Of course, she couldn’t answer. She doesn’t know for sure. All she has to go on is her faith. I said, ‘Gee, Deb, you’ve been praising God all of your life. Isn’t that enough?’ I would think that after a while God would say, “Hey, enough with this blasted praising already! Okay, I get it. You all adore me. But I heard you the first time you said it. I don’t have to keep hearing it repeatedly, ad nauseum. Give me a break, will ya!?”

So then I asked Debbie about Hell. What’s so terrible about it? She says that Hell is constant torture and discomfort. But I’m dead! Only a conscious body feels pain, which is a result of sensitive nerve endings and brain impulses. You can’t torture a disembodied spirit or soul or whatever the heck we become after we die. But even if that is somehow possible, what difference does it make? You can get used to anything after a while. So whatever it is that is done to you in Hell, it will eventually lose its effect. Anyway, I would think that your heavy-duty masochists would be right at home in Hell. So then, is it really Hell for them? See, it all goes back to one’s state of mind. And besides, some people live their entire lives in constant torture and discomfort, so then they must already be in Hell, even before they actually die.

I have another question. Some believe that the Devil works his evil on us in order to claim our souls when we die. But we always have the choice whether to succumb to his seductive guile or live our lives righteously. I don’t know why he wants us so badly, but he must have his reasons. So if one decides voluntarily to go with the Devil, to sell our souls to him, as it were, why then would he punish us for our compliance? Since we have been told that Hell is a horrible, miserable place, why would we willingly go there? I would think that we would be rewarded with good treatment, which would inspire us to proselytize to get others to join our merry band. It’s not so silly a notion when it only points out the silliness of the whole thing anyway!

I try to use logic with these Heaven-bound Saviors in my life, who include Debbie, but also my friend Lloyd and my mother, when they was alive. They admit(ted) that they would like me to be “saved” for their own selfish reasons. They love me and want me to go to Heaven with them, so that we can all be up There together, that is assuming, of course, that they made it there themselves. Well, that’s all well and good. I appreciate the sentiment. But suppose I don’t make it there, and if Heaven is supposed to be this utterly fabulous place where all is bliss, if their loved ones are not There to share It with them, then how is that “heaven” for them? They would be eternally unhappy because certain people, and their beloved pets as well, are not there with them.

Some TV writers have had the same idea as this. There is a “Twilight Zone” episode (“The Hunt”) about an old country bumpkin who dies while he is out coon hunting with his trusty dog one day. The guy doesn’t realize that he is dead until he comes across a manned gate. “St. Peter” tells the man about all the good aspects of where he is taking him, but when informed that no pets are allowed there, the old man says, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going anywhere without my dog. He then opts to see what is down the other road, where he runs into an angel, who tells the old man that the place he just escaped from was not Heaven at all but Hell. And the reason they wouldn’t let his dog in was because he would know where they were. “Animals can’t be fooled as easily as people can.”

Why do people assume that when they die they automatically will be reunited with those who have gone on before them? We don’t know for sure that dead people all hang out together. Maybe every soul roams around in their own private limbo. The ghosts that people claim to have witnessed are usually alone when they manifest themselves. I have no knowledge that they commonly travel around in packs. Or if they are with others, they may not necessarily be people that they know. The Afterlife is most likely a vast place. We don’t know what special powers they have or how they get around or even how or if they communicate. Maybe they don’t look the same as they did in life but take other possibly unrecognizable forms. In all those countless number of souls, how do you find each other?

Moreover, how do these self-presumed “saints” know for sure that they will make it to Heaven themselves? The common belief is that only good people go to Heaven. The problem I have with that notion is that there is good and bad in everybody. No one is exclusively or entirely one or the other. So who are these so-called “thoroughly good” people? Maybe everyone is potentially eligible to go to Heaven, or contrarily, no one is qualified. At the “Pearly Gates,” are they going to use the argument that since they are saved, they have the right to enter? “Yeah, but… How about all those unborn babies of mine that you deliberately killed, Jenny? Or how about the time when you were destroying yourself abusing dangerous, addictive drugs and selling them to others as well, Lloyd? Or how about my gay children that you demeaned, denounced, disparaged and persecuted all of your life, Fred Phelps? So you think that just declaring yourself saved excuses you from all of your worldly misdeeds?” Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

Have you noticed that in the movies, whenever a character dies or is already dead, they are automatically relegated to Heaven. “Daddy, where is Mommy?” “Your Mommy is in Heaven, sweetie.” (Really? But she was such a bitch!) “He is now with the angels.” Even if the person was not very nice in life, the writers still let them go to Heaven, as if death automatically absolves them of all their past sins and aberrant personality.

And of course, young children and especially babies all go to Heaven, but only if their parents believe in it. Who knows what happens to the deceased children of non-believers? Then that raises the question of whether young’uns continue to grow and age once they get to Heaven. What purpose or function would a baby serve there? For that matter, what purpose does anybody serve? As conjectured earlier, what is there to do, besides to “praise God?”

But on that note, one does not need to go anywhere to praise God. Don’t we do that anyway, all the time? God is right here with us. We don’t have to go any place to find God. Jesus Christ told his followers that someday they would inherit “the Kingdom of Heaven.” But he didn’t say that it was a place they had to go to. I interpret that as meaning that at some point in our lives may we achieve a sense of inner peace and self-contentment. That is an individual goal, however, which differs for each person.

The ever-popular Christmas carol “Silent Night,” which can be considered a lullaby, contains the line, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” To me, that sounds like a metaphor for death. If one is sleeping in heavenly peace, they must be dead, or otherwise in a state of earthly bliss, which would make it a mental assessment then, wouldn‘t it?

The Christian religions (maybe others, too, I don’t know) consider suicide a mortal sin. If you kill yourself, you will certainly go to Hell, they believe. But pardon me. God kills people all the time. Death itself is God’s doing, isn’t it? (# They needed a songbird in Heaven, so God took Caruso away… #) So why is it all right for God to kill us at will, and we still make it into Heaven, but if we off ourselves, we deprive God of “His” job and must be sent to Hell as a punishment? That doesn’t seem fair.

Some gung-ho fundamentalists insist that there are no homosexuals in Heaven, only “hets.” Well, I’m sorry, but how can you have a utopia without gay people? That doesn’t sound like much fun. Who would all of your pious, dead, fag hags hang out with, for example? And if there is no sex in Heaven, as some also believe, then why would someone’s sexual orientation on earth be a determining factor after death anyway? Are they afraid that we would be there seducing the big, humpy angels and preying upon the pretty little cherubs? You needn’t worry yourself. Don’t you see that we all make Heaven and Hell what we want them to be? It’s all just wishful thinking, which comes right back to its being our own state of mind.

I’ll go wherever I’m destined to go, probably where everybody goes when they leave this earth. Consider this. Death is inevitable. Every living thing dies eventually. So who or what has the time or inclination to monitor every death that occurs and decide the various places where each soul should go? I believe that we all go the same route, regardless of what others think about us or what we think about ourselves. So until then, I can’t be concerned.

Some people think that they will go to Heaven just because they want to. Actually, I believe that to be the case. Who else could make such a decision for us if not our own self? How would you know that you are in Heaven unless you think that you are? Only you can make that assertion for yourself. See, it’s state of mind, just like I said. Your Heaven wouldn’t be the same as mine because we don’t think exactly alike. It can’t be defined in any definite terms. Each of us will make it what we want it to be. No one knows for sure what the criteria are. It seems that one has to believe in Heaven in order to go there, but we can go to Hell whether we believe in it or not? Come on! Humans invented Heaven to satisfy their own peace of mind. There are some miserable souls who will opt to end their life because they believe that Heaven will be a better situation than what they have here on earth. Many of the Negro slave songs implore that they be taken home to Heaven. (# …and go home to my Lord and be free. #) You know? (# There’s got to be something better than this. #)

To illustrate this assertion of state of mind, let’s further explore this philosophical approach to Postmortem Destiny and Relocation. There is another “Twilight Zone” episode, entitled “A Nice Place to Visit” in which small-time, petty crook, Larry Blyden, gets killed during a robbery and comes to in a nicely-furnished apartment and is greeted by his “spiritual guide,” Sebastian Cabot. After he is informed that he is, in fact, dead, and since his surroundings are so satisfactory, Larry assumes that he must be in Heaven. He is further convinced of that when all his earthly desires are provided for him. All the money he asks for (although why does he need money now? He’s dead!), booze and young white women to fawn and gush over him. At the casino he constantly wins every time, never loses.

After a while he complains to “Mr. Fats” that he is bored. There are no kicks to winning all the time. He’s even sick of the gorgeous “broads” hanging around him. He can’t seduce any of them, because they are all too willing to succumb. There are no challenges or mystery to anything anymore. Everything is so predictable. What is the fun of robbing banks and holding up people if they know about it ahead of time and don’t even try to stop him? Plus, he doesn’t know anybody here; he is basically alone, because this is his own private domain, you see. So he tells “Angel” Cabot, “I don’t think that I belong here in Heaven. I want to go to the other place.” He is then informed, “What ever made you think that you were in Heaven? This is the Other Place!” Aha!

Another take on the subject is on a “Night Gallery” episode, in which John Astin is killed in a car crash and is immediately relegated to a subterranean Waiting Room. He turns on the radio but the only thing that he can find on it is annoying Muzak. Soon enters an old man, but when Astin tries to make conversation with him, all he talks about is the weather, his health and other boring prattle. There is a married couple there who are showing thousands of slides from a trip they took and are insisting that everybody watch them. There is a sign on the wall that has a long list of no-nos and what not is allowed there. He is assuming now that he must be in Hell.

When Astin asks for an audience with the Devil Himself, he does appear and John asks to be transferred to Heaven instead. The Devil tells him that “Heaven” has a room exactly like this one, and the people there just love it! “One person‘s heaven is another person‘s hell, and vice versa. Think about that,” he tells him. See? It’s state of mind, just like I said. So it doesn’t matter where you go. It’s we who ultimately punish or reward ourselves, depending on how we regard things.

This idea is further explored in the more recent film, Heaven Is For Real (2014), supposedly based on a true story, whereas a 4-year-old boy, Colton Burpo, while undergoing an operation for appendicitis, claims to have experienced an out-of-body episode, during which he sees himself being operated on, sees his mother and father in different locales of the hospital, making phone calls and praying to God, he sees angels who sing to him, meets his long-dead grandfather and unborn sister, and even meets and speaks with Jesus Christ! Since his father is a Christian minister, little Colton already has been taught certain images of Heaven, so why wouldn’t the child conjure up those impressions in his dreamlike state? What would he know of Hell? He’s only four! Jesus appeared to the boy as he looked in many of the pictures that he had seen. If he were a Buddhist, it would have been Buddha and Mohammed for a Muslim.

If you want to believe this story, and I don’t discount it completely, it only reaffirms that rather than an actual place, Heaven (and Hell, too) is merely a plane of consciousness, which varies from one person to the next. Heaven, therefore, to reiterate, is whatever each of us chooses it to be. If someone feels that they should be punished for their worldly transgressions, they will banish themselves to Hell instead. And there is no reason why we wouldn’t be able to venture back and forth between the two, depending on our state of mind at any given time. So then, we don’t really “go” anywhere when we die, only our soul, or essence, “crosses over” to the Hereafter. Since death itself is the same for everybody, I would think that our afterdeath would be the same as well. I believe that any retribution afforded us is administered while we are still alive. That means that we decide our own fate.

(# …There are no restricted signs in Heaven, there is no selected clientele… #)
Oh, really? Tell that to the Mormons. They are even more restrictive than the Catholics, who are another story altogether. (Check out my A Critique of Catholicism in another post.) Mormons actually deny people’s worshipping choices. If you are not a full-fledged, initiated and dedicated Mormon, you cannot set foot into their Sacred Temple. My acappella group, The Flirtations, played Salt Lake City once, and they wouldn’t even let us see the inside, even though we were visiting celebrities. And on top of that, everyone who wants to, cannot become a Mormon. You have to qualify to be a member of their church. Oddly enough, blacks can be members of the Mormon Church (Gladys Knight is a converted Mormon) but they cannot become priests nor do they go to the “Mormon Heaven.” Yep, they’ve even got their own heaven, don’t you know!

A passage in the Book of Mormon tells that because of a curse upon them, some whites were turned into black people, and whites who mix with them will suffer the same dreadful fate. There are always ways to sanction discrimination, in the name of religion. And it’s not enough that they segregate here on earth, they intend to keep their heaven exclusive, too. According to Mormon tradition, Abel Burns, who was a faithful servant to Mormon leader Joseph Smith, is the only black man in the Mormon Heaven. Wasn’t that white of them to let him enter? They probably just needed a token “gofor”/slave. I reckon old Abel must be pretty lonely and out-of-place up there, though, all by himself with all them white folks. Heaven, huh?

In the Greek myths and legends, all their mortal characters go to Hades, or the Underworld, when they die. Their Heaven, or Mount Olympus, apparently is reserved only for the gods and goddesses. So there is no judgment between good and bad, as everybody goes to the same place, regardless. When deserving thus, their punishment is usually bestowed upon them by the gods while they are still alive on earth. They may be turned into things or made to endure some sort of heinous torment. I guess you can say that those mythological characters do indeed experience Hell on earth, whereas Hades is the place they go for their peaceful, eternal rest.

I have a couple of other observations or theoretical queries, if you will, that I’d like to run by you. Why are all allusions to Heaven upward?—up there, on high, in excelsis, in the highest, “Cabin in the Sky,” we look up when we say our prayers or talk to God, “she raised her eyes up to Heaven … He ascended into Heaven.” Some Romance languages, like French, Italian and Spanish, even use the same word for both heaven and sky: ciel and cielo, respectively. And Hell is always downward somewhere—the Underworld, Down Below, “He descended into Hell.”

Again, it goes to how we humans think about things. When we feel good about ourselves, we feel uplifted, on a high, lightheaded. Conversely, when we are depressed, we feel low, down in the dumps, downcast. So naturally we like to think of Heaven as up, positive and happy, and Hell as down, negative and miserable. They don’t necessarily have to be up and/or down. Hell could be up there in the sky just as well as Heaven can, or vice versa, or neither place. They might be “over there” somewhere.

Another reason why I think Heaven and Hell must be theoretical rather than actual places, is because of their limitations of capacity. Here on earth we are all recycled and subject to the balance of nature. People (and animals, too) are born and then have to die eventually in order to make room for more. Otherwise, we would be over-crowded and there wouldn’t be enough room to sustain everybody. If those afterlife destinations where the dead are to remain for all eternity because they don’t have anywhere else to go, both places would have to fill up at some point. I’m talking about googols of creatures who have been dying since the beginning of time. Even if it’s only their spiritual essence rather than their corporal being, that’s still a lot of occupied space.

So, here is an idea. What if all our deceased souls are relegated to outer space? Since the Universe is limitless, that way we never would run out of space. Or else, as I have already concluded, Heaven and Hell both are merely in another dimension, if you will, or another plane of consciousness, which goes right back to the whole thing’s being a state of mind rather than something concrete.

[Related articles: Credos; A Critique of Catholicism; For the Bible Tells Me So; Jesus H. Christ; Nativity Redux; Oh, God, You Devil!; Sin and Forgiveness; The Ten Commandments]

“Trust Me.”

Trust is a two-way street, and it is very hard for some people to trust each other. “If I am capable of no-good, then you must be, too.” But just as people are generally distrustful of everybody, they also tend to be too trustful at times. All of us are forced to put our trust in people who are responsible for our very lives and our common safety. We trust bus and cab drivers, chauffeurs, train engineers, airplane and ship pilots to get us where we want to go safely. We constantly eat out in restaurants and trust that the food we order is prepared under safe and sanitary conditions, which applies also to the processed food items that we buy in stores. We don’t know any of these people behind the scenes. Are they all really looking after our best interests? Why should they even care?

Gaining people’s trust is how crooks and con artists and other evildoers are able to operate. Those grifters don’t really steal people’s money. They charm and talk you into willingly giving it to them. So then they haven’t committed any crime. It’s not wrong to accept money from somebody, given freely. These people don’t do what they do out of financial necessity. They could get a real job, if they chose to. It’s all just a game with them, with losers and winners at stake. In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), for example, there were three cons who were all trying to get over on each other. The one who ultimately won “the game” by conning the other two, admitted to them that it was the most fun she ever had. We often hear someone complain, “But I trusted him, and he betrayed me!” Always keep in mind that you can be betrayed only by someone that you trust.

Here is a situation that I find to be worthy of consideration. You are in a waiting room somewhere, at the airport or train station, perhaps, and you need to go somewhere for a moment. So you ask the person whom you’ve been sitting next to, and whom you don’t know from Adam, to watch your bags and stuff until you get back. Now when this happens to me or when I witness it with others, it always occurs to me, from whom are we being asked to guard this person’s belongings? Are they worried that some random thief will walk up from somewhere and just start going through a person’s things or otherwise run off with it when we are sitting there right next to it? They would probably think that the stuff belongs to the person there watching it or to someone they know. I would be more concerned about this stranger that I asked to watch my stuff, since they are the one who has direct access to it and who could pilfer something without anybody being suspicious. Just because you are sitting next to someone in a waiting room doesn’t automatically absolve them from being a thief. The person that you just gave permission to guard your bags may be the very one to be wary of! They may be in possession of stolen goods right then and there. I never ask anybody to watch my stuff for me. Either I take my chances and just hope that it will be safe, or I take it with me. I am not as trusting as other people tend to be.

Another case in point. While at a disco in Cape Town, South Africa, my friend and colleague, Michael, requested that a perfect stranger standing on the sidelines hold his fanny pack containing his new camera and some other important items, while he was out on the dance floor. When he later sought out the guy to reclaim his property, the man had fled the premises with Michael‘s stuff! Later he was telling people that somebody stole his camera. I would always correct him. “No, Michael. That man did not take your camera from you. You gave it to him!“ Take some responsibility. Did Michael actually think that since the guy was white, he could be trusted with his property? “Sure, I’ll hold that for you. In fact, I’ll keep it for you!” I think he learned his lesson that night.

Airport baggage handlers have been known to go through passengers’ luggage and take things out. It has happened to me more than a few times. If I know that a certain item was in my bag when I checked it, but it’s not there when I claim it later at my destination, what am I supposed to think happened to it? Did it just disappear in transit? Important mail that I have sent has been illegally opened and retained by unknown postal workers. The mail goes through many hands before it’s delivered. Who can you specifically blame unless they are actually caught in the act?

The use of video surveillance has become a necessity now. Individuals have been caught in the act committing bodacious acts of thievery and vandalism. Besides the rampant employee theft that goes on everywhere, it occurs in people’s homes from their housekeepers and other visiting servicepersons as well. We’ve seen young children being mistreated by their babysitters and caregivers. Parking attendants steal things from your car and even take your vehicle out for joyrides. There is virtually nothing some people won’t do when they think that nobody is watching them.

Realize, too, that the concept and implementation of contracts and other signed documents are based on people’s personal distrust of each other. We all know that a verbal agreement is not worth the paper on which it’s printed. We want everything in writing and notarized to protect ourselves from other people’s potential dishonesty or injustice. It’s not enough to assure someone that you will repay a bank or some other corporate loan. You are required to put up some kind of collateral of equal value, just in case you don’t or cannot pay it back.

A marital, prenuptial agreement is another obvious indication of mistrust. What about those story plots where the lovers are scheming to get rid of the spouse of one of them? “Darling, I’m going to kill my wife so that we can be together.” “That’s nice, dear. But how do I know that in a year or so you won’t get tired of my ass and want to kill me, too?” I can’t trust a person who I know has wronged someone, because they are liable to do the same to me. “Oh, I’m not worried about that. He loves me.” Yeah, he probably loved his wife, too, once upon a time, before he decided to murder her!

Some buildings here in the City and elsewhere require you to sign in upon entering. What is the purpose of that, please? Some have suggested that it is for “security reasons,” that if something happens, they have a record of whom was there at the time. But if there are a hundred signatures on the list, that doesn’t narrow down the culprit. And if someone is in the building to steal something or up to some other no-good, they’re not going to sign their real name(s) anyway, so that guard still is not going to know who to blame. So you can see that that sort of signing in is an unnecessary and pointless annoyance, in my opinion. Moreover, what good is a so-called security guard when they are not impervious to physical harm. They can be subdued or even killed by a perpetrator just like anyone else.

I’ve seen this common scenario. A man witnesses a murder and is badly injured and is admitted to the hospital. The police need him to testify, and as his life has been threatened, they want to protect him from being killed until the trial. So they post an officer (one, mind you!) outside his room in the hospital. But what good is that when the cop just let that nurse or some other hospital personnel, who may be an imposter, go into the witness’ room alone, who then proceeds to kill him?! How are you watching them out in the hall outside of the room? Why not put someone inside the room as well, in case they get in through a window or some other means? If you want to protect somebody from harm, you have to stay with them every second. But even that may not be enough. You have to go to the restroom or get a drink of water at some point. The coffee offered the guard could be drugged with something, even the pizza he has delivered might be poisoned. So the guard can be killed just as easily as the intended target.

I have been required to serve on jury duty in New York a few times, and they now have very tight security in all the court buildings. It’s just like the airports. They have metal detectors and make a thorough search of the belongings of everyone who enters the buildings. That is, everyone except the attorneys and other court officials, which, in my opinion, is discriminatory and prejudicial in itself. If they are going to check some people, they should check everyone, regardless of who they are, no exceptions. If they think that a regular citizen off the street might be packing heat, then those lawyers and judges could be as well. And who could get away with sneaking a firearm into the courtroom but someone who knows that they won’t be searched upon entrance? We regular folks know better than to do it because we know that it will be confiscated.

And somebody tell me, please, what is the purpose of allowing bailiffs to carry loaded pistols while in the courtroom? What do they need it for? Whom do they plan on shooting? The weapons are not even concealed either, just right there in the holster in plain sight of all present. What is preventing some deranged, desperate person there from getting the gun away from the officer and using it to shoot somebody themself? I’m sure that has happened more than once. People often get shot and killed with their own gun. Such hypocrisy! No guns in the court building should apply to everyone, regardless. No exceptions!

They don’t even allow anyone to take cameras and cellphones up to the courtrooms. Firearms are okay, apparently, but not cameras and phones. I just happen to carry my camera and phone with me at all times, at least when I have my shoulder bag. So they confiscate my items at the door, make me fill out a form and say that they will return them to me when I leave. Now, the problem that I have with that is that even though I have assured the security guard that I have no intention of using them, he does not trust me to let me take them in with me. But he expects me to trust him to hold them for me while I’m there. I mean, neither of us knows each other, but he is automatically presuming that I am a liar and a criminal while I am forced to trust him with my personal property, just because he is a hired security guard. That’s not fair, is it? What, none of them ever lie or steal? I don’t know that for sure. I did not hire them for that job or check into their background or credentials.

I don’t quite understand the objection to cell phones. Many own these smartphones now that are basically mini-computers. Instead of confiscating them, they could just instruct visitors not to use them in the courtroom. While on jury duty, there is a lot of waiting around time. We are put in the holding area for hours sometime before being called to be interviewed for jury selection. Plus, there are intermittent breaks throughout the day and time out for lunch. All this extra time could be used to do work, read, surf the internet, make calls, play games, whatever it is you do on your phone. If they don’t want people to take pictures, then just tell them not to do that. Then if they disobey, confiscate their phone as a punishment. Everyone should not be penalized.

The managers of stores that require us to check our bags at the door apparently are presuming that we all are there to steal from them. How do we know for sure that their checkers are not going through our bags while we are shopping? I am not watching them every second. I don’t know those people or if they are honest or not. Again, the mere fact that we don’t expect it is how they would be able to get away with it. It has been proven in many instances that most of the theft that goes on in stores, offices and other businesses are by the employees themselves, not the customers. Most corporate crime involves an inside job. As I mentioned in another article, how could I embezzle from a company unless I actually worked there and had access to the money?

Here is another scenario that I saw in a TV drama (“Diagnosis Murder“). They are on the set of a live music awards telecast with recording artists and dignitaries galore on hand. There is supposed to be all this tight security in the studio and premises, I suppose to protect the stars from aggressive fans and stalking paparazzi. But somebody managed to murder one of the honorees in his trailer during the broadcast. It turned out to be the daughter of the producer of the show! So I’m wondering what was all that so-called security for? They were watching out for unauthorized, although innocent, outsiders and chose to ignore the participants. That is from whom all the intrigue and backbiting was occurring. If you’re going to have security guards, they need to be aware of everybody and everything, not just certain designated individuals. The ones not being paid attention to are probably the very ones up to no-good.

In July 2004 there was a fatal shooting in our own City Hall in Manhattan. When the news story broke, everybody wanted to know how the gunslingers got in with their weapons, since the building has such advanced security, or so we all thought. One of the men, James Davis, was a City Councilman who the guards all knew, having seen him come to work there every day. On that particular day when he entered with another man, the guards didn’t bother to check either of them. Why should they? They knew Davis. Well, both men were carrying concealed firearms. Later that day Davis was shot and killed by the other guy, who was in turn killed by a police detective on the scene. So, what good is so-called top security if they don’t make it apply to everyone involved, not just to persons whom they don’t know or who they deem suspicious?

The shooting occurred on the same floor as the mayor’s office, too. One would think that they would have learned their lesson from the 1978 City Hall assassinations in San Francisco of Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk by fellow supervisor Dan White—that public officials and other government employees can be sick criminals, too, not just your average Joes off the street. Why shouldn’t the mayor himself be checked every day? How do we know for sure that one day he won’t snap, enter with a gun and go on a wild shooting spree? He’s only human. Their neglect to check each and every person entering a high security building, regardless of who they are, rather defeats the purpose, don’t you think? The moral of the story is, don’t trust anyone!

Humans Versus Animals

“What a piece of work is Man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”–Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Yeah, yeah, we are all that, but are we? Humans seem to have this chauvinistic and arrogant notion that we are the superior beings of all living creatures. It was the Swedish taxonomist, Carolus Linnaeus, who dubbed us homo sapiens, “wise man” (sexist, egocentric arrogance in itself). Homo, at root akin to humus—from which we also get human—is the Biblical clay from which God allegedly kneaded Adam when allegedly giving him his sapience. Linnaeus would have done better to call us homo loquens, “speaking human” or “the clay that speaks.” For though our racial sapience may be in doubt, our loquacity is beyond question and is what sufficiently distinguishes us from the so-called lower forms of life. Human is the critter that uses spoken language.

So, other than having the power of verbal communication, what else can we do the best? We can’t fly on our own volition, like the birds and some insects do. We can’t breathe underwater unassisted, like the fish and the aquatic mammals. As a species, we have relatively very short lifespans, unlike some tortoises and trees that can live for hundreds and thousands of years. We’re not the biggest, by any means, but size does not determine superiority anyway. I read somewhere that in proportion to his body, a male flea has the largest penis of any living creature. We’re not the strongest. Even a lowly ant has it over us.

Animals have built-in defense mechanisms, like horns, armor, claws, poisonous stingers, bites and venom, that can harm us and even kill us, as well as other creatures. Other than our limbs and possibly our teeth, we humans usually have to resort to outside tools, weapons and other gear to inflict harm on others. We’re not the fastest, all things being relative. We’re not the most adaptable. A cockroach can live off the glue on a postage stamp for months. We are certainly not the most beautiful, by some aesthetic standards. Our basic senses are not the most developed. Many animals have much better eyesight, hearing and sense of smell than we do, for instance. And it’s highly debatable whether we are the most intelligent.

In fact, with all things considered, I think that your insects are really the most supreme of all living creatures. They can fly, they can defy gravity (can you walk up a vertical surface unassisted?), they can swim, they have heightened senses and lethal defenses, they are creative, intelligent, resourceful, incredibly strong, fast, adaptable, and they have big dicks! They have also mastered resistance to exposure to the most deadly force known on earth—radiation. It’s been said that if (and when) there is a nuclear holocaust, the insects will probably survive it. I believe it.

And don’t let size fool you, because there is strength in numbers. I learned that there are several billion insects to every person on earth. If they ever decided to band together and turn on us, we wouldn’t have a chance. They could easily take over the world. Look at how those locusts travel in massive swarms every few years, eating up all the vegetation in local areas. Suppose that they summon the rest of their friends sometime and go on a feeding rampage? After they have consumed all the plant life on earth, they would then have to start in on us and all the other animals, wouldn‘t they? We already know about those fearless, carnivorous army ants, who are able to cause plenty of damage in great numbers. Even if they eventually have to start eating each other, they proliferate so much and so often that they probably would always maintain a supply of and for themselves.

Just because a creature cannot verbalize their thoughts, it does not in any way mean that they are less intelligent. Certain members of the ape family, for example, have been taught to communicate via American Sign Language. That would make them at least as smart as any deaf person. Dumb (mute) does not necessarily mean stupid. I absolutely abhor the common practice of referring to a deaf-mute person as a “dummy.” Just because they can’t speak or choose not to, does not make them mentally deficient. A person learns to speak by repeating from what they have heard others speaking. Since someone born deaf has never heard spoken language, how would they be able to imitate it? It is those who do speak who reveal their stupidity. If one doesn’t say anything, how do you know what they know? Deaf and blind Helen Keller was thought to be a hopeless case until her teacher, Annie Sullivan, got a hold of her. Helen turned out to be quite intelligent. How many of us with normal hearing can read lips and knows Braille and Sign Language? I learned that a tame gorilla is able to operate an iPad!

A guy I know once proclaimed at a party that “animals can’t think.” I said, ‘How in the hell do you know about their mental capabilities?’ Why wouldn’t animals be able to think? They have a brain just like we do. For example, my cat liked to sleep with me, but when she was just a kitten she was too small to climb the ladder to my loft bed. But I never carried her up there; I wanted to see if she could get there on her own. And she did! I could see her casing the situation, then she must have figured it out to maneuver each rung of the ladder until she reached the top. That must have required some thought and logic. Of course, as she grew, she was able to accomplish it more easily and subsequently was able to run up or down the ladder in one fail swoop.

A polar bear’s being white allows them to be able to blend in with their snow-covered surroundings. But their black nose is a sure giveaway when they are trying to sneak up on a seal, their primary food source. I learned that a polar bear will cover its nose with its paw to camouflage itself. Now how do they know that their nose is black, unless they figured it out from seeing the other bears and then knew enough to hide their own in order to stalk their prey? That must have taken some thought on their part. In a study of the mating habits of kangaroos, it was discovered that females tend to go after the males with the bigger arms!

Some dismiss animal behavior as mere instinct, but I think that even so-called instinct requires some kind of mental assessment. When they need to eat, they know enough to try to obtain food to satisfy their hunger. Otherwise when they got hungry, they would just starve to death, because they wouldn’t know what to do about it. With some creatures, all they do in life is eat and breed. Have they figured out that they need to breed in order to sustain the species, or is it that they just like having sex? How do they know about gestation and self-birthing and parenthood? They know their own children and will go to any length to protect them.

Animal mothers teaching and training their young how to hunt and how to survive in the wild must result in telepathic communication. How do baby animals learn about their particular skills and defenses, unless their parents somehow teach them what they need to know? Do birds realize that they can fly from seeing others of their kind do it? Then what about the ratites, birds that can’t or won’t fly–like your cassowaries, emus, kiwis, ostriches, penguins and rheas–did they a long time ago decide that they didn’t want or need to fly, so they never developed the proper wings or body type to do so? It couldn’t be about their size, because I’m sure that a condor is bigger and heavier than an ostrich, say, and it can lift off, despite its weight. So when someone tells me that penguins can’t fly, I suggest that maybe they just choose not to.

I have so many questions about animal behavior. Do animals that compete with each other–racehorses, greyhounds, fighting cocks, jumping frogs, whatever–know that they are being tested? Do they themselves have a competitive nature and actually want to win the race or fight or athletic event? Do they know when they win or lose and do they care? For that matter, do horses and other animals really like being ridden all the time? I realize that they put up with it, but even we humans often tolerate things that we don’t particularly enjoy. Some of these beasts of burden might think, “Well, he feeds me, grooms me and talks nicely to me. I guess I can let him ride me in return.”

I am pretty sure that animals on screen know that they are performing. Lassie, for one, was a great actor. He (the role was always played by a male collie) would display a range of emotions, depending on the situation. He could register excitement, despair, pain, affection, whatever was required of him. Mike, the chimpanzee who played Cheeta in many of the Tarzan films, was also a consummate and versatile actor. He had to have known what he was doing. James Stewart relates in a documentary how the horse, Pie, that he worked with for 20 years in 17 western films, always knew when he was being filmed, and they knew each other so well that Jimmy could talk to him and give him directions and the horse would obey and do his part.

There is a story about the making of Mike Nichols’ The Day of the Dolphin (1973). It is said that the two dolphins that played a big part in the film would show up on the set every day at the same time, or at least when they were shooting, and then would go away when they were finished for the day. And they somehow knew when the movie was finished as well. At the various Sea Worlds across the country, the dolphins and whales do perform for the attending spectators. They jump out of the water together and juggle balls, so they must know that they have an audience.

How do certain animals form groups and perform common actions? How do birds get into that choreographically-synchronized formation when they fly south for the winter, for instance? When the lead bird gets tired and drops out, another one will take its place. Does that one volunteer or are they chosen by the other birds? A pet “homing” pigeon, when left some place other than where it resides, can find its way home, even if it’s thousands of miles and through any kind of weather condition. If you woke up in unfamiliar surroundings many miles from where you live, would you be able to find your way home, without the use of any maps, signs, conveyances, protective covering, or asking anybody for your location and directions?

Who told all those cattle to stampede? Is there an ant and bee foreman who tells the others what their particular tasks are? There must be some mental communication, or do they just decide on their own what needs to be done? How do they know who their queen is? Is she elected or self-appointed? Since most insect species reproduce many offspring at one time and often, are the breeders able to keep up and recognize their spawn and regard them all equally? Is the mother cockroach aware that that was her baby that I just smashed in the sink?

I believe that communication is accomplished via their antennae, something that we humans don‘t have. Consider the architectural prowess and aesthetic sensibilities of some creatures. A bee’s honeycomb is made up of symmetrical, adjacent six-sided cells. How did they figure that out? How did they learn to make honey, for that matter? Is the pearl inside an oyster’s shell an unwanted, resultant growth like a gall stone, or is it intentional on the oyster’s part? Birds build nests for themselves and their young, and beavers build dams, using material that is available to them. When the lemmings are heading to the sea to commit suicide, does any of them ask, “Where are we going, what are we doing, and why?“?

“Nature” on PBS did a fascinating series on observing how certain animals behave in the wild. They showed Sumatran orangutans washing themselves with soap and water and sawing pieces of wood with an actual saw! I suppose they were provided with the saw to see what they would do with it. Some tropical macaws, after eating their usual meal of nuts and berries, which are apparently toxic to their systems, will then nibble on an available clay substance, which serves as an antidote to the poisonous food they have just eaten. How do they know that and what to do about it? Similarly, some peccaries have discovered that the mud that they regularly wallow in has a medicinal and nutritional effect on their diet.

Then, too, most animals make audible sounds that they most likely understand between like species, just like humans have created our own languages by which to communicate with each other. Just because we don’t understand their “zoosemiotics,” does not mean that their utterances don’t mean anything to them. We just don’t speak each other’s particular language. And whereas humans use many different sounds that mean all different things, a cat’s meow or a pig’s grunt sounds pretty much the same, at least to our ears. So they must have a more specialized way of conversing with each other. They more often seem to use non-verbal communication, which must mean that there is mental connection between them. A dog’s wagging their tail, for example, is a kind of sign language. They are trying to express something that’s on their mind when they do that.

I think that creatures that are able to communicate telepathically, therefore have it over us. Moreover, our pets and other animals can be taught to respond to our verbal commands–in all languages, too, depending on who is speaking–which suggests some sort of comprehension on their part. A Chinese dog, for example, responds to spoken Mandarin just as an American one knows English. You tell them to sit, and they will sit.

In Water for Elephants (2011) one of the characters attempts to train a female “bull” elephant that he acquires from another circus. When the animal doesn’t respond to his spoken commands, he proceeds to poke her in her side with a pointy prod. This doesn’t work, and of course, it enrages the elephant. They eventually figured out that the pachyderm understands Polish, which she learned from her previous owner! So it appears that animals learn whatever language is spoken to them and then respond accordingly, just as we humans do.

But we still haven’t learned what all their sounds mean. When a dog barks, we will say, “What’s the matter, boy? What do you want?” But if we knew Dog, we wouldn’t have to ask, would we? He understands you, but you don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. So, who’s the smarter?

Humans have the propensity of measuring and assessing all universal accomplishments against our own limited abilities. If Man [sic] can’t do it, it can’t be done. I was annoyed by a line in the movie sequel Aliens (1986). When the power went out in the complex and somebody blamed it on the creatures, one guy of the squadron said, “What do you mean they killed the power? They’re only animals!” I said (to the screen), ‘Well, what do you think you are?!’ With all that we had seen that organism already do, I don’t think that a little power switch would pose that much of a challenge.

Moreover, the astronauts in all four films of the series were on some foreign planet, dealing with an indigenous creature. But the titles and the movies themselves all implied that the monsters were the aliens, when in actuality, it’s the errant humans who are the real extraterrestrials and who came from someplace else. If we ever get to Mars, for example, we shouldn’t refer to the “people” already living there as aliens! That’s such an egocentric viewpoint. It’s like when we used to think that the Earth was the center of the Universe and everything else revolved around us.

I know it’s only a movie for our entertainment, but I also don’t like the fact that the humans’ prime mission is to wipe out all the creatures. Still referring to the “Alien” films, now Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) managed to survive the first film and make it back home to Earth. So then in the sequel, they get a whole new team together and go back to that same planet with the sole purpose of killing all of the creatures, who are there going about their own business. She got away, so why didn’t she keep her butt at home instead of going back there to antagonize them further? Naturally, the things are going to retaliate. The creature tried to impress upon them in the first film that the Earthlings were not welcome there, so why would they want to keep going back to where they are not wanted?

In Aliens, the second installment, just after a female creature has laid her eggs in the complex, Ripley goes in and destroys the nest and all the eggs. I don’t blame the mother for going after Ripley for that. Most anyone would do the same thing for their own kids. I don’t hate space creatures and monsters for being different from us, and just because the humans are actors that we know and love, doesn’t mean that their characters are always doing the right or honorable thing.

All living creatures are part of the Circle of Life, and if we would just leave everything and everyone alone, Nature would be able to operate as it’s supposed to. You know, it always bothers me how animals are treated, especially in their own habitats. Like in the jungle safari movies, for example, the explorers will be making their way through the brush when they encounter a big cat, maybe looking for food or just passing through on its way home. “Eek, a lion! Shoot it!” Look, if you’re afraid of dangerous jungle animals, then keep your butt out of there! Their rationale is that it is either them or the animal—you know, self defense. But who is in the wrong here? Doesn’t this animal have a right to be where it is? It’s at home. Those people don’t live out there in the jungle! They’re the intruders, not the lion. If someone breaks into your house and you both have a gun and you shoot and kill the intruder, you would be declared to be in the right, since it was self-defense and you were defending your turf. Well, these wild animals should have the same right. The humans are the interlopers, but they can just walk into these animals’ homes, kill them and destroy their homes, and nothing is done about it. The innocent animals have no rights or recourse.

Another time they will disturb a tree and a python will drop out of it, most likely startled and frightened. So what do these white men do? They kill the snake! Now, this poor little snake is in its own home minding its business, and just because these assholes don’t like snakes or are afraid of them, they decide to kill it. Once when a friend of mine was visiting his sister in South Carolina, his teenage nephew and niece found a snake in their yard and promptly killed it. I asked him why did they kill the snake, and he told me, “Because it might be poisonous.“ I said, ‘What?! Just because this innocent creature may or may not have a built-in defense mechanism, it deserves to die?‘ With that thinking, why don’t they kill everything for their mere being, and then why not go farther than that and kill everybody they encounter in life, too, because they just might have a gun or knife or some dangerous weapon on them? Some people will use any excuse to justify killing something.

So the way things are, if you don’t like a certain creature, it does not deserve to live. I would bet that more snakes have been deliberately killed by humans than people have been attacked by snakes. Where does one encounter a snake? Where they live–in the wild, in the jungle, in bodies of water. They tend to stay to themselves. They don’t get their friends together and go into the village or big city on a killing spree. If you find a snake where it shouldn’t be, it’s because somebody probably put it there. Okay, maybe I do like snakes, but that doesn’t excuse these animal killers.

It’s been said that most animals can smell and sense fear. They have learned that when someone is afraid, they will strike out at the object of their fear. So the animal, in turn, will then attempt to defend itself against the other’s aggression. I don’t consider any animal to be vicious by nature, who attack people unprovoked. We are usually the catalyst. Just like when a bumblebee buzzes by, a common reaction is to swat at it, which the innocent bee takes to mean that the person is trying to harm or kill it. So naturally it will retaliate by stinging the aggressor, which is their defense mechanism. When a bee loses its stinger, the result is death for the bee. I don’t think that they just go around committing suicide at will. If you don’t bother them, they most likely will not bother you. I am pretty sure that bees, hornets and wasps don’t go on regular stinging sprees, attacking everything that they come in contact with. I have encountered many stinging insects during my lifetime, but I have never been stung by one. I just remain calm and let them go about their business, which they always do.

Wild animals behave much in the same way. Most tend to avoid and retreat from humans when they can. Unless you are their intended prey, they don’t just attack innocent humans for any other reason. In my opinion, it is Man himself who is the most vicious of creatures. Humans are the ones who kill other living things and each other indiscriminately at will. As I said, animals seem to sense fear. If you freak out in their presence, it causes them to freak out as well. They wonder, “What’s happening? Why is that guy acting so nervously? Is he about to hurt me? I’d better put up my guard.” I’ve never been bitten or attacked by any animal (discounting mosquitoes), because I must not be threatening to them, I guess. I don’t bother them, so they leave me alone as well.

There was a news report a while ago that a Siberian tiger had escaped from his cage at the San Diego Zoo and killed a man in the process of trying to get away. So, of course, the poor tiger was shot and killed, because we can’t have a wild animal running around killing innocent people, now can we? But I am on the side of the animal. How would you feel if you were abducted from your homeland and then imprisoned in a tiny cell, er, cage, as if you were a dangerous criminal but you hadn’t done a damned thing to anybody? Wouldn’t you try to find a way to escape and strike out at anyone who tried to stop you? Some people think that animals have no feelings at all and think that they can do anything they want to them. But apparently the tiger was unhappy being confined like that or else he wouldn’t have tried to escape. They didn’t have to kill him. They could have used a tranquilizer dart on him or something. The fact that tigers are now on the endangered list, makes his murder all the more unfortunate and maddening.

A more recent scandal has arisen with the slaughter of a celebrated Zimbabwean lion named Cecil by dentist Dr. Walter Palmer. The country is in an uproar, deeming Palmer as “the most hated man in America.” The excuse that he proffered was that he didn’t realize that the lion he killed was famous or beloved. But that’s hardly the point, is it? He shouldn’t be killing any wild animals, regardless of their purported notoriety. “Oh, I thought he was just some old, anonymous, insignificant, ghetto lion. I didn’t know that he was beloved by many and was actually known by name.” And Cecil isn’t even the first lion that Palmer has killed. It’s just that this last time he was found out and called on it. Another sick aspect of it all is that Palmer paid $55,000 (!) for the privilege of going on one of these big game hunting safaris. As of this writing, Dr. Palmer is in hiding somewhere, as there are a bunch of people after his hide. Somebody said, “I’d like to mount Palmer’s head on my wall!:

Another recent incident of public outrage concerns the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla who was shot and killed when a toddler managed to get into the animal’s enclosure. Many, including myself, want to know how the child got into the gorilla’s space in the first place. It appears that he crawled under a fence and then dropped down ten feet into the enclosure. What was the child’s parents doing at the time? They must not have been watching him. The kid was deemed to be in serious danger, but the news footage that I have seen of the encounter appeared to me that the gorilla was not intentionally trying to harm the child. They looked as if they were merely playing. The animal was holding the kid’s hands and romping with him on the ground, perhaps a little too roughly it was thought. But just as with the murdered tiger, this innocent gorilla, although also endangered, its life was not as important as a human child’s and had to be sacrificed. It’s a good thing that there weren’t any trigger-happy hunters around when those jungle apes encountered Baby Tarzan.

I think that some blame must be put on the parents and the zoo officials as well. The fact that any visiting spectator can get that close to the animals should be addressed. I suppose now they will do something about the lax security and safety features at that zoo. And instruct parents to keep an eye on their children while there! I remember a sign on the wild birds’ cage at the Bronx Zoo years ago that read, “Keep your hands outside the bars. These birds will bite your fingers…OFF!” Thanks for the warning.

But speaking of dangerous, uncontrollable simians… Remember King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005 and 2017), that giant, vicious gorilla? Now Kong had lived on that island all those years, staying off to himself, minding his business, not bothering anybody. The natives there even revered him as a benign god. Sure, he abducts Miss White Child, who is given to him as a sacrifice, but he doesn’t harm her in any way. In fact, he keeps trying to protect her. When the marauding interlopers arrive to rescue “the girl,” the first thing they do upon encountering the ape is to start shooting at him! “Let’s kill that savage beast! How dare he run off with one of our women!” Well, how did he get her and why was she there?

But then the head guy gets the bright idea to take Kong back to New York to exploit him for his own gain. But as soon as Kong displays the slightest displeasure of being in this new environment, well then, he has to be destroyed! So those bastards go to all that trouble bringing him here, against his will, only to have him killed when they realize their mistake. They should have left him where he was. Then the jerk who is responsible for what went down has the nerve to blame Ms. Thing. “It was Beauty that killed the Beast,” he declares at the end. No, it wasn’t. It was you greedy, exploitative scumbags who killed him!

There is an old “The Twilight Zone” episode entitled “People Are Alike All Over,” in which Roddy McDowall is an astronaut who lands on Mars and is met with friendly Martian hospitality. They appear to be human (although everyone is Caucasian), they wear clothes and speak English. They escort him to his lodgings, a house equipped with all the normal comforts of an Earthly home. But when Roddy tries to leave the house and discovers that his door is locked and there are no windows to his humble abode, he starts to freak out. Then a wall panel opens up and he is confronted with iron bars and sees a throng of Martian people staring in at him. There is a sign just outside of the bars that reads, “Earth Creature in his natural habitat.” He then realizes that he is on display, like in a zoo, and will have to remain there for the rest of his life. He concludes that people are the same everywhere!

I am not against zoos in themselves. I like the fact that we can view all kinds of different creatures without having to travel to their various natural habitats. But I do object to confining them in cages. There are some zoological gardens that maintain large, unbarred areas where the animals can roam free. Visitors can drive through and look at the animals from their vehicles or get out if they want to take pictures. Why can’t all zoos take this same approach and do away with cages and confined spaces? We have the room.

In 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) a space crew returning from a trip to Venus bring back with them a creature from the planet who is not vicious at all but on the contrary, innocent, confused and frightened. It subsequently escapes its original confines and gets away. While hiding out in a barn, a farmer jabs the “Ymir” with a pitchfork, causing the creature to fight back. So whereas William Hopper and his guys want to protect and study the creature, now some others want to destroy him because he hurt a man. Well, the man attacked him first! He wasn’t bothering anybody. Just like with Kong, they bring this Venusian animal from his homeland, against his will, and then are hellbent on killing him as soon as he gets here. Why don’t they leave things alone?!

(# Who’s afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?… #)
The poor wolf is always depicted as a vicious marauder in folklore. They are always stalking and preying on innocent animals like pigs and even little girls. From what I know about them, wolves are not aggressive like that at all. They’re gentle and they stay to themselves most of the time. They’re just a breed of wild dog who have to eat just like everybody else. So what if that wolf or fox raided the hen house? Now, come on, admit it—I’m sure you’d raid it, too, if you got hungry enough! My sympathies always lie with the creatures rather than the humans. In all those giant monster movies, the animals got that way due to some sort of experimentation, radiation tests or ecological negligence on the white man’s part, but then the creatures are punished for being in the situation that the men themselves caused. It’s the same thing that they do with each other.

Let’s consider the plight of our sea creatures. The great white sharks in the Jaws movies and the giant squids in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Beast are made out to be monsters and the villains of the story. Why is that? A shark’s only raison d’etre is swimming and eating. That’s all it does. And being a fish, it can’t leave the confines of the ocean, so that is where it must find its food. So if that group of sport divers were eaten by sharks or other sea creatures, how are the animals in the wrong? They were hungry, and the divers were available. We do the same thing. And don’t smaller fish go after what’s dangled in the water at them? So, people are bigger, but they are still considered bait just the same. “I’m going to destroy that shark for killing my son!” But, which shark did it, first of all, and what was your son doing lurking around the shark’s domain? It didn’t come up on the shore to get him, did it? Captain Ahab is obsessed with killing Moby Dick because the whale bit off his leg. How did that happen? He didn’t bite off my leg! Ahab has to take some responsibility for being in that situation.

As life imitates art and vice versa, some years ago a 13-year-old surfer girl named Bethany Hamilton, was relaxing on her surfboard off the coast of Kauai, when a large tiger shark swam up and bit off her entire left arm all the way to the shoulder. The girl survived—she didn’t even freak out about it—but her father and some of his friends subsequently went after the alleged shark to destroy it, which they did. How dare that shark look for food in order to live! I mean, what was it thinking? Couldn’t it distinguish a little white child from a sea turtle?!

Another woman was out marlin fishing one day, and I suppose the marlin that she was struggling with just got fed up with people trying to catch it all the time. So the marlin swam up to the boat where the woman was standing, jumped out of the water and speared the woman through her body while trying to pull her into the water with it. The fish was probably thinking, “Bitch, you are going down! I am tired of y’all fuckin’ with me!” Miraculously, the woman survived the attack.

I don’t expect ever to be eaten by sharks or whales, because I’m not intentionally going to be out there where they are! But if it should ever happen, then it’s too bad for me. I certainly won’t fault the animal. People need to take responsibility for their own actions. The animal shouldn’t be blamed for doing what it is supposed to do. Again, an arbitrary value is put on a creature’s life. Humans, especially white men, think that they are certainly more important than an insignificant shark, some stupid snake or tiger. But in Nature’s eyes, we are no better than any other creature. What humans need to realize is that just as we prey on other animals, we have to accept the fact that we ourselves are also prey for other creatures. We kill and eat things from the sea, hence the term seafood, and sea creatures themselves eat other things that they find in the water. So if some guy is swimming around in there with the sharks and other hungry sea creatures at mealtime, then they should expect to become the potential “seafood dinner.“ How dare we blame them for doing the exact same thing to us that we do to them? It’s survival of the fittest, or most clever. The difference is, however, that most animals kill only for self-preservation or to protect their young. Only humans kill other creatures for mere sport.

Being a major carnivore myself, it would be hypocritical of me to protest the killing of all animals for our food supply. But I do object to killing an animal just for the sake of killing it. The hunter who will shoot a deer or a duck out of the air and then walk off and leave it lying there seems senseless to me. Even fishing just for sport with no intention of eating the fish caught seems a bit pointless and wasteful. If you’re not going to eat it, then let the thing live out its natural life. It’s bewildering to me that there are people who actually take great pride in their ability to outwit a fish.

I don’t think that we all should become vegetarians, necessarily. If everybody in the world was a strict vegetarian, there would probably then be a shortage of fruit, vegetables and grains. And then, too, plants are living things that we kill and destroy when we pick them, cut them down and dig them up. But I believe that these things are put here for our own use. We have to eat something, don’t we, to nourish ourselves and to survive. But we carnivores are part of the balance of nature ourselves. At this time, however, there does not seem to be a noticeable shortage of beef cattle, porkers, poultry and seafood. But as soon as any of these creatures become endangered, only then will I worry about giving them up.

Slaughtering poor, defenseless animals just for their furs is cruel and barbarous, too. As I am all for conservation and recycling, I don’t object to the use of animal by-products, but why can’t they wait until the animal dies a natural death? There is nothing that we need so urgently that we should kill an elephant to obtain its tusks. If they want it that badly, find the secret elephant graveyard and get it from the dead animals. Oh, but that’s too much trouble. It’s much easier just to kill the ones right there in front of me. Or as an alternative, plastic piano and organ keys work just as well as ivory ones.

Supply and demand should be determined by natural availability. “I would like a silver fox coat, please.” “I’m sorry, ma’am, but there are no deceased silver foxes at the moment. You’ll just have to wait. Or better yet, why don’t you select one of our imitation furs instead?” The appearance and feel of fake furs are just as nice and they are just as warm. Why do they have to be real? Sure, I love leather, but I can do without it. Please don’t kill anything on my account.

I don’t personally indulge in the killing of any living creature, except for insects that get into my apartment. My justification is that they are unwanted intruders in my domicile. I don’t mind spiders, but I don’t like flies, ants, termites or cockroaches in my house. So with them, it’s either get out or die. Anywhere else, I don’t care what they do. I don’t like gnats and mosquitoes anywhere, indoors or out, but I don’t bother bees, butterflies or any other outdoor insects. I have seen mice in my place on occasion, but I don’t kill them when they get in here, however. I think that mice are cute, and basically harmless. When I had cats, they would get rid of them and take care of any other invading vermin. Mice don’t come in your house to make social calls. They’re looking for something to eat. If they don’t find anything lying around, they will go away on their own. I don’t have to kill them. They don’t say, “I am going to stay right here until you feed me!”

Ogden Nash has a verse that goes, “God in His wisdom made the fly, / And then forgot to tell us why.“ I feel the same about cockroaches and waterbugs. What earthly purpose do they serve anyway? All they do is proliferate, crawl around on anything and everything and eat anything that they are able to. I feel no guilt or remorse when I kill one. My roaches seem to be remiss in their communication skills, incidentally. They most likely have a nest in my kitchen area behind the sink, as that is where they usually emerge from, crawling around on my counter and in the sink itself looking for water perhaps. As they are not very fast in their retreat, I am able to smash them or scald them with hot water from the faucet. Sometimes I will leave them there as a warning to the others, so I would think that when one comes out into the sink and sees their dead homies, they would alert the others and tell them, “Hey, guys, stay in your hole and don’t come out! There is a mad serial killer on the loose! Nobody is safe!” But they never seem to learn and keep dying by the droves. And the fact that I don’t leave any food lying around, their quest for same is futile anyway. As it turns out, their venturing out into the open tends to be a potential suicide mission for them.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s take on his 1963 thriller The Birds, he explains how humankind constantly takes nature for granted. In the case of our feathered friends, they are always being shot at and killed, throttled, strangled, eaten and/or confined in cages. Is it any wonder that they would some day all band together and fight back? In the movie itself, it’s never explained why the birds attacked or if something or someone were compelling them to do so. Mr. Hitchcock has left it up to us viewers to draw our own conclusions about it. I suppose these films, as well other similar ones, could serve as cautionary tales to warn us that if we oppress living beings long enough, whether they be human or beast, they may eventually turn on us, and the resulting situation will be our own undoing.

I have another thing to say in defense of animals. We should stop attributing our negative human traits to innocent animals. “Men are such animals!” you’ll hear people say. In actuality, men are such…men! “My boyfriend treats me like a dog. He beats me and even tried to rape me last night. He was like an animal.” Really? What animals do you know that beat and rape their mates? My guess is that he is an abusive man who treats you worse than he would his dog. An unattractive woman is not a dog either. She’s an unattractive woman. Most dogs are considered cute. To a person who overeats, we might say, “You eat like a pig!” instead of “You eat like a voracious person!” Pigs don’t eat any more food than they require. “He drinks like a fish.” Uh, I don’t think that fish actually drink. Don’t you mean that he drinks like a lush? Let’s stop using animals as, if you’ll pardon the expression, scapegoats for our own human shortcomings, you male chauvinist…men, you. I shall work like a dog, er, I mean, a diligent individual, to obtain some common respect for our animal friends.

We do the same sort of thing to children. Adults refer to many of their own actions as “childish” behavior when they are, in fact, quite adult-like behavior. Childishness should not be synonymous with immaturity. One can act immaturely, but not necessarily childish. Many children are quite mature, regardless of their age, just like many adults can be quite immature, regardless of their age. So in my opinion, the term “childish,” when used in this context, as an insult, is inappropriate, unjustified, disrespectful and condescending. What’s in a word? The verb to kid means to fool, deceive, tease or joke, which suggests that children shouldn’t be taken seriously and everything they say is a joke. “Are you kidding me?…You’ve got to be kidding…I kid you not.”

Why I find that term to be inappropriate and disrespectful is because it is usually adults, not children, that indulge in misleading or derisive behavior. What I consider to be childish attitudes are innocence and unbridled honesty. Children usually speak their minds and call it as they see it. They have not yet learned the adult games of willful pretense, deceit and social decorum. It’s “out of the mouths of babes“ with them! Of course, youngsters can be deliberately cruel, too, especially to their peers, but I think that they pick up that tactic from their elders. In the case of your school bullies, for example, more often than not, you’ll find that they have a guardian or family member who is also a bully.

We should not presume that God makes mistakes of Nature. Whenever an animal or plant specimen is discovered to be different from the accepted norm, it is considered to be a new variety, breed or species. But when a human is born abnormally, it’s regarded as a freak or monster. Why should so-called normality be based on majority? They are just different from somebody else. Let’s consider the canine family, for instance. There are countless breeds of dogs of every shape and size who don’t look anything like each other. You put a Chihuahua, dachshund, pit bull, great Dane and St. Bernard together. Which one is the “freak“? We recognize and accept them all as dogs. They are just different. The same can be said of birds. Look at all the different kinds of birds there are in terms of appearance, but each species is accepted as being what it is and not criticized for not looking like another kind. Maybe these human anomalies are evolutionary mutants, members of a new species themselves or perhaps misplaced prototypes of creatures from somewhere else in the Universe.

Let me now give you a couple of human for-instances. Have you noticed that children born with Down’s Syndrome all have similarities in appearance? They look as if they could be related genetically. The condition is caused by a certain chromosome that occurs in the parent’s genetic makeup. Maybe they belong to their own sub-species. They are not unique, as there are approximately 400,000 Down’s Syndrome people in the United States alone. The same can be said of Little People. I find that dwarfs, particularly, have a similar facial resemblance, as if they, too, are all genetically-related. I don’t believe that is coincidence. Just as it is with dogs, birds and all the other generic creatures, these people have a commonality among them but are still different from one to the next.

There was a television commercial for Bell Helmets that displayed the caption, “Humans are the only species with the ability to reason, and sometimes, they even use it.” I have come to the conclusion that this ability to reason is more often a discredit to our imagined superiority than it is an asset. Our trouble is that we tend to over-intellectualize everything. Thinking makes us too judgmental and moralistic. There is an old adage that says that ignorance is bliss, and it’s true in many cases. Certain knowledge is dangerous and/or nonconstructive. It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the more knowledge that humankind obtains, the more stupidly and irresponsibly we behave with that knowledge. In many ways I wish we were more like the animals—more simplistic or less-complex. By animals, I refer to non-human lifeforms.

If animals could talk to us…gee, could they teach us a thing or two! I love the section of Gulliver’s Travels where he visits the land of the Houyhnhnms, a superior race of rational, moral horses, and the life-changing lessons that Gulliver learns from them. They show him that complete honesty in communication is necessary for true knowledge and understanding, and purposely to utter untruths is senseless and counterproductive. He also comes to realize the needlessness of material things. Clothing, for example, is a manmade invention, as we were all born naked. With clothes we need pockets, then we need things to put into those pockets. And that’s where our lives become so complicated. Animals don’t need clothes or pockets (discounting the marsupials) or things with which to fill them.

Whereas animals don’t use any kind of currency or even need it and are not at all concerned with money, our very existence is motivated by it. Our society and civilization have been set up so that we cannot possibly live without it. In fact, we need it to come into the world, certainly to stay here, and even to go out of it. Money may not be at the root of all evil, but it certainly is the motive for much of the wrongdoing in the world. Some people lose all moral sense when it comes to money. They will do absolutely anything for it. They lie, cheat, steal and especially kill for it. It causes avariciousness and it makes people crazy and irrational.

What if there was no such thing as the concept of money, if everything was free? If money was not the end result or motivation behind all human action, people would do things out of mere necessity or their desire to do them. We all would still have to work to create and manufacture and maintain the things we need to live on and give us pleasure. Most money-related crimes are committed because we need something that we can’t afford or we are just greedy and want something that doesn’t belong to us. If no one needed money for anything, there would be no good reason to rob or steal. We could simply go to the store and get what we need or want.

Animals are not into social status and don’t try to impress each other with their appearance and how much they have. I imagine, too, that animals accept the way they are and how they look. Even if they don’t, what can they do about it? They don’t wear makeup and have cosmetic surgery done on themselves. They seem content to be the shape and size that they turn out. If a species specimen does find itself discontent with any aspect of its being, it will employ the process of evolution to effect the necessary changes in future generations. They don’t have the luxury of instant gratification like we do. If we want to change our nose or our whole face, we can get it done more readily.

Animals have no modesty or shame whatsoever. They don’t get embarrassed and have no humility. They are totally uninhibited when it comes to the sex act, for instance. They will sniff each other’s asses and indulge in unprotected sex right out in the open with people watching them. They don’t care. They’re just doing as nature dictates. Animal mothers breast-feed their young in public and no one seems to mind. But people aren’t as unfazed when their own human counterparts do the same thing. Breast-feeding mothers have been banned from the mall, and some have even been arrested for indecent exposure. Animals will relieve themselves in public wherever they please, and they run around without any clothes on and are not at all concerned with what anybody thinks about it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we just take dumps wherever or whenever the mood strikes us, but then again, if we use some discretion and then clean up after ourselves like we do our pets, then I don’t see anything all that wrong with it. And I’m certainly not against public sex. I am an exhibitionist as well as a voyeur. If I like to watch other people exposing themselves and having sex, and who doesn’t, judging from the success of the porno industry, then in all fairness, I shouldn’t mind showing myself off to others. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. You don’t have to look if you don’t want to. And you had better not mind my looking either. If you don’t want me to see your “bidness,” then cover the shit up! (Check out my piece on Censorship.)

That’s another thing I’ve noticed about human beings, is that they like to hide and conceal their activities from each other, as if nobody else in the world is doing the same thing they are. If that weren’t enough, we can’t just be content committing the consensual sex acts that we enjoy among ourselves, we have to be concerned with what everybody else is doing with each other, and then passing judgment on those activities that we ourselves may or may not engage in. No matter what sexual activity you engage in, no matter how benign or perverse, there is going to be someone who disapproves. Who has the right to decide what should be taboo? Taboos are perpetuated by narrow-minded individuals and remain so because of people’s otherwise desire to keep their regardedly shameful activities secret, often not realizing that there are many people all over the world doing the very same things. We can break down some of these taboos when enough indulgent people decide to bring the matter out into the open for discussion toward acceptance. I believe in chacun à son goût—each to their own taste. Live and let live.

“For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed; He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.” Well, now! Those are lines from a motet that I get to sing on occasion at church. Human beings are a highly-judgmental lot, but we are often guilty of the very things for which we condemn others. People tend to be hypocritical about cannibalism, for one thing, but those practicing Christians sound like a bunch of cannibalistic vampires to me! Cannibalism is defined as “the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind.” Now, by our own standards, it’s all right for humans to be carnivores, that is, to eat the flesh of other creatures, but it’s sick and perverted to eat the flesh of other humans. Why? Other animals eat each other. What’s the difference? Meat is meat, isn’t it? There are animals that would eat a human or another of its kind if given the chance, and they would not be considered sick or perverted. It would just be a matter of hunger and availability.

Humans, as a species, have been known to consume virtually any and every kind of creature, whether it be mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish or insect, and not only the creatures themselves, but their by-products as well. Some current epicurean “delicacies” are ant eggs, frog fallopian tubes, crème brulee made with bone marrow, exotic cheese which contains live maggots, and coffee brewed from civet shit! Now someone is marketing human breast milk for commercial public consumption, and there are those who are repulsed by the idea. Don’t they realize that all milk and cheese products that they consume on a daily basis come from the teats of animals? And then, too, humans are the only other creatures (aside from cats) who drink the milk from other animals! Just because it’s your own or your mother’s, why should that give you pause to partake of it? How can people be so hypocritical about practically everything?

Most creatures of the world I would not eat voluntarily under normal circumstances, because they don’t appeal to me. But if my life depended upon it, I guess I could stomach a bear or a cat or a snake or a rat, or a human being. But human cannibalism is still a taboo activity, which incites shock and repulsiveness. It is a common plot element in good horror stories and holds more fascination in true-life incidents. Some people will willingly eat a cow but would rather die themselves than eat a cowboy—that is, if they are aware of it. People frequently eat things without knowing what they are. I know that I have come across “mystery meat” on my plate from time to time. I was enjoying some unidentified hors d’oeuvres at a party once, then later discovered the tasty morsels to be smoked eel! Had I known what it was initially, I probably never would have tried it. But considering it, why not? Although snakelike, an eel is just another kind of fish, so what’s unusual about that?

People are even gastronomically selective with certain animals, not just with human flesh. Your basic carnivores don’t have any qualms about eating their favorite fowl or other creature, as long as they don’t know who it is or where it came from. But they feel differently when the Thanksgiving goose or the Sunday dinner pork roast was originally the family’s beloved pet or an animal that they knew. I suppose the rule of thumb is that we don’t want to eat things that have a personal name. If we deign to eat it, we don’t want to know anything about it.

The premise of the sci-fi thriller Soylent Green (1973) is not so far-fetched and quite practical, in my opinion. For those of you not familiar with the film, it takes place in the year 2022 (Goodness! We’re already there!) when the earth is grossly overpopulated and there is a definite food shortage, especially in overcrowded Manhattan. Spoiler alert! By the end of the picture we learn that the coveted, precious foodstuff known as “soylent green” is made of soybeans, lentils and people! Considering that the world is already experiencing widespread hunger, which will only get worse as time goes on, I don’t see anything terribly wrong with finding a way to process human remains into palatable food. That’s better than wasting dead bodies like we do now. I think that we should reuse and recycle whatever we can, even ourselves! I also think that Mrs. Lovett had the right idea, short of murder, that is. (# …What a downright shame, what an awful waste… #)

It seems that modern technology is making us lazier as time goes on. We have virtually all the conveniences of life at our disposal, and we (well, I don’t) take so many things for granted. Fathers used to tell their kids, “Boy, you don’t realize how good you’ve got it. When I was your age, I used to have to walk 5 miles to school and back every day through the cold and snow!” Now these same fathers can tell their grandkids, “Back in my day, we actually had to get up and cross the room to change the TV channels!” I was glad when they came out with Touch-Tone phones and I think that Speed-Dialing is a pretty nifty thing, too, but I have a manually-operated pencil sharpener and I still use a basic, hand-operated can opener. I don’t mind at all putting out that little bit of manual energy to sharpen a pencil or to open a can. It certainly does not save any extra time.

Now they’ve even improved upon speed-dialing by coming up with voice-activated dialing, where instead of having to push one or two buttons on your phone, all you have to do is speak the name of the person you are calling into the phone. We don’t even have to do our own typing if we don’t want to, as that feature is now available for our computers. I happen to love typing. It’s conducive to my digital dexterity. But I think that the height of indulgence is the new voice-activated remote control! This is for the guy who is too lazy even to press a button! I suppose, however, that this gadget and the others would be useful for a paraplegic or a person with missing limbs, who would be unable to push a button manually.

Don’t get up to turn off the lights. Just clap your hands once or twice. Why bother to be constantly changing records during your party or while you’re working on a project? We now have CD players which can play nonstop for several hours. Automated Teller Machines allow us to do our banking and get ready cash anytime we need it, at any hour of the day. My toaster oven bakes, toasts and broils, and my microwave oven can cook a large potato in about five minutes. What a great invention is the word processor! How did we get by so long without it? And with the growing internet and World-Wide Web, all human knowledge is now, literally, at our fingertips. We don’t even have to leave the house to find out anything anymore or even to buy anything, when virtually all consumer products and services are available for purchase via one’s home computer. Practically everything has been computerized, including your daily news and weather report, postal services, all manner of games, books, music generators (sound and notation), TV cable boxes and other common household gadgets and appliances, even clocks and watches.

I enjoy most of these great conveniences just like everybody else, so why is it that the more neat stuff that becomes available to us, presumably to make our lives less hectic and less stressful, are we never satisfied? We always want more. One would think that these products would make people more amiable with each other and appreciative. But on the contrary, people, in general, seem to be more hostile and more ill-tempered than ever before. They are rude, inconsiderate, and sometimes would rather throttle you than utter a friendly “good morning.” There seems to be so much unhappiness in the world, and I don’t understand it. I have to live here, too, and I am subject to the same crap (more, in some cases) that everybody else has to endure on a day-to-day basis. But even in adverse situations, I manage to maintain my composure and good humor and common courtesy toward my neighbors. But then, of course, I guess I shouldn’t expect everybody to be like me, should I?

I think that humans, in general, have a problem with non-conformity. I’m always hearing about someone being picked on or ostracized by their peer group because they are “different.” Different than what, I ask? By whose ken do we measure human difference? Every living creature is different in some way. There are no two people exactly alike, not even so-called identical twins. So in reality, everyone is “different.” And since everybody is not the same, then, who are you trying to be anyway? If everyone were exactly the same, how boring would that be? We wouldn’t have our own distinct identities. How could we tell one person from another? That’s one of the arguments against genetic engineering and human cloning. And who should be the prototype on which everyone is modeled after? Whatever one they pick, it would destroy all human diversity and our freedom of choice for different types. But I’ll bet that people would behave the same if members of a group each were told to wear different kinds of shoes, let’s say, and one guy comes in wearing a pair exactly like another person’s. They would probably then get on him for not being different. You know, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You can’t win sometimes. I think that just to be yourself is the way to go.

I, for one, pride myself on my individuality. I purposely avoid conformity. I’m not one to follow fads or the changing fashion trends of the day. I don’t feel a need to “keep up with the Joneses,” as it were. I would rather try to bring them down to my level instead! Even as a kid, I never gave in to peer pressure. I never did (and still don’t) do something that I didn’t want to do, just because all the other guys were doing it. I am not intimidated by dares and name-calling. “I dare you to jump, you chicken!” Well, I’d much rather be a live chicken than a dead duck, thank you. Humans, for the most part, tend to be gregarious beings, too, indicated by their need for marriage, companionship and family. Some people cannot stand to be alone and need people around them at all times. I mention in another post (On the Road with Cliff) how some people, even when they have the space, choose to live in close proximity to others, instead of spreading themselves out.

The human animal is also good for justifying everything that they do. That way, it relieves their guilt and responsibility for their actions. I discuss the barbaric, centuries-long practice of youth castration in my A Critique of Catholicism article. Man has always been imaginative in ways of mutilating himself and others. A less severe operation than castration that is still perpetuated even today, but nonetheless is pointless and unnecessary, in my opinion, is forced circumcision. They have all sorts of excuses and justifications for that, too, but I’m sorry, to cut off part of a boy’s penis without his consent should be a punishable crime. If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is. First of all, the procedure must be traumatic for the child, and then he doesn’t have any say-so in the matter. I give you the Judaic explanation for the ritual, absurd as it is, in my blog, For the Bible Tells Me So.

I once asked my mother why I was spared the ordeal of circumcision, as my older brother, Earl, was not so lucky. She told me that it was my father who forbade it. Earl’s delivery physician, Dr. Mott, apparently took it upon himself to circumcise my brother without first getting my parents’ consent. Fortunately, my dad made sure that the same thing would not happen to me. He, like me, thought that it is an unnecessary and cruel procedure. I’m glad that he did.

I am aware that there are tribes all over the world that practice all sorts of tortures and mutilation rituals on girls as well as boys, but that doesn’t make it right or acceptable, does it? The centuries-long tradition of foot-binding of Japanese women, for example, was certainly a senseless and inhumane practice. But we, in this country, are supposed to be more civilized than that, aren’t we? Do you still think that male circumcision is a harmless, relatively insignificant practice? Then how would you like to have all of your penile skin removed? There was a procedure (at least I hope it is no longer performed) by some sadistic tribesmen somewhere in the world, in which the penis of a boy was stripped of the skin along its entire length in front of his father and his intended bride. If the boy cried out, his father would kill him for being a coward and unworthy of manhood. A great percentage of the boys died anyway from trauma, as a result of the operation. I wonder how they are supposed to accomplish intercourse with a skinless penis? In some primitive ceremonies the penis was slit along its length as deep as the urethra. Now I ask you, how can anyone justify such cruelty on their own children?! I just don’t get it.

I attribute many of humankind’s prevailing conservative and prudish attitudes about a lot of things to the Victorian era, the influence from which we have never fully recovered. Queen Victoria reigned for 64 years, so that’s several generations of influence. When she ascended the throne in 1837, she issued a “Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue and for the Preventing and Punishing of Vice, Profaneness and Immorality.” In other words, “Life is not to be enjoyed.” Among other things, the document outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages and the playing of cards, dice, or any other game on Sunday, either in public or private, and it commanded that people attend church. One Victorian Era manual of decency and decorum, Lady Gough’s Book of Etiquette, cautioned against placing books by female authors next to books by male authors on any bookshelf. The only exception was if the authors in question had been married to each other in real life. How silly is that?

A pamphlet on marital sex practices warned that fellatio causes cancer of the tongue. If that were the case, mine would have rotted off decades ago! Another claimed that seamstresses were apt to become sexually aroused and that inadvertent orgasms often resulted from the up-and-down motion of their legs while using their sewing machines. But so? I think that people should be allowed to get it where and how they can! Of course, the very idea of contraceptives was completely out of the question. Birth control advocates Edward Foote and Margaret Sanger got into loads of trouble for distributing “obscene” and “heretic” literature which advocated the right of women to decide when, or even whether, to have children.

During the Victorian era, masturbation caused such hysterical anxiety among doctors and parents, that curing it became an obsession. It was believed that masturbation caused everything from acne to epilepsy to mental retardation to death. Some of the torturous and extreme “cures” that innocent children had to endure were: erection alarms, straitjacket pajamas, ice water enemas, spiked cock rings, infibulation (that’s fastening the foreskin shut with clamps, staples, or by sewing!), the German bandage (a genital suit of armor with lock and key, similar to a chastity belt), Kellogg’s breakfast cereals (?!), and ultimately, castration.

(# Beat it, just beat it!… #)
It would seem that some corporate attitudes about this practice have not changed, when former Surgeon-General Jocelyn Elders can be fired for merely suggesting that masturbation should be taught and encouraged as a safe-sex alternative. At least, that was the excuse they gave for her dismissal. But ironically and hypocritically as well, during the same period, when women in the throes of hysteria were put in asylums, the staff there would induce these women to orgasm to relieve their stress. This certainly alleviated their suffering; it must be what they needed. But they didn’t refer to it as induced orgasm, as masturbation was not permitted, you see. They called it “hysterical paroxysm.” Don’t you love that? There is a 2011 British film called Hysteria (or rather “Hersteria”), which deals with that very thing. It also depicts the inspiration for the invention of the vibrator!

And of course, Americans would like to think that we are smarter than everybody else. NASA spent millions of dollars trying to come up with some kind of writing implement that would defy gravity to be able to write in outer space. Well, those wily Russians, for one, beat us to the punch. They used a pencil!

[Related article: Confessions of a “Petophile”]

Happiness Is_____–(You fill in the blank.)

“I just want you to be happy … I’m going to make you happy.” People often meddle in each other’s lives with the excuse that they are concerned about their happiness. I think that a person’s happiness is not anybody else’s business but their own. Happiness means different things to different people. It is a personal, idealist concept that cannot be defined in definite terms. So how can you guarantee someone else’s happiness when maybe you don’t know what being happy is for that person. Therefore, I think that everyone is responsible for their own happiness and needn‘t be anybody else‘s concern.

Happiness for me is self-contentment, which I can honestly say that I have. I am happy when I am providing pleasure for another person, either through my art or by way of personal interaction. Whereas I feel happy to be single and living alone, some people hate to be alone and think that happiness is synonymous with marriage or mere cohabitation. Many women declare that their wedding day or the birth of their first child was the happiest day of their life, for instance. If that is what I have to look forward to, to achieve true happiness, then I guess I’m doomed, since I don’t expect ever to experience either of those events.

I can’t determine my life’s happiest day until my life is over, then I can reflect. I don’t think that my happiest day has occurred yet. I have had many good times throughout my life, but I can’t discern which has been the absolute happiest. I am always expecting one good experience in my life to be topped by another. If one has already experienced the happiest day of their life, then everything else must be downhill from there. That doesn’t leave much to look forward to, does it? I don’t think that one’s overall happiness can be determined by single, isolated events anyway. It is an ongoing state of being.

Someone on TV once posed the question, “What was your best decade so far?” I thought about that and decided that I have two that qualify. The ’70s for me were great years, all things considered. I served in the Army, which certainly was life-changing and fulfilling in many respects. Then I came to New York and started a new life for myself. I got to travel and see the country while performing, here as well as abroad, I got into the opera chorus scene, I obtained and maintained two apartments on my own, and I had the most and best sex that I’ve ever had.

The other candidate is the ’90s. I worked with The Flirtations for five of those years, which boosted my career considerably, it was the most financially profitable, enabling me to acquire a substantial savings and produce my solo album, which I entirely paid for myself, and I also wrote a symphony, which was one of the greatest joys of my life. Of course, I lost a lot of good friends during that period, including my father, but people close to you are always dying. That’s unavoidable.

In life shit happens all the time. It’s full of alternating highs and lows, and you are either a generally-happy person by nature or circumstance, or you live your life in a constant state of depression and misery. You can’t make someone happy, if they don’t want to be. Therefore, happiness is a choice, just like everything else in the world. We can either choose to dwell on all the adversities of the world and be miserable most of the time, or we can choose to rise above it all and not let it get us down.

I am always cheerful, fun-loving, witty, and have been blessed with a wonderful sense of humor. I am the type of person who has the same demeanor anytime you see me. You never have to speculate, as with some people, “Oh, Lord, I wonder what kind of mood Cliff is in today?” because you will always find me amiable and in good spirits. I am never deliriously happy one day and then totally miserable the next. I do get annoyed about some things upon occasion, but I never lose my temper. I am seldom depressed and I have never contemplated suicide. Life is too short as it is, and I’ll be dead soon enough without rushing things along.

Of course, there are certain things I don’t have that I would like to, but no one has everything they want. I am one who is grateful for the things I do have, rather than pine for and kvetch about the things I don’t have. Keep in mind that there is always somebody somewhere who is much worse off than you think you are. I try to find the positive aspect in all situations, however grim. Call me Pollyanna.

Here is one minor example. My favorite grocery store used to be down the block and around the corner from where I live. But they closed eventually, and I started going to the one a couple of blocks away from there. Then they, too, moved a couple more blocks further away, but instead of complaining that my store is now five blocks away from my house, it allows me to get more walking exercise than before, which I need.

(# …All’s for the best in this best of all possible worlds… #)
So sings Candide‘s Dr. Pangloss, whose agathistic philosophy I also follow, although as I get older, I find myself being somewhat cynical about little things in life. But my cynicism is based on personal experiences, observations and predictable reoccurrences. I keep my expectations low, therefore I am seldom disappointed. My cynicism notwithstanding, I try to maintain a positive, optimistic attitude about all aspects of life, because I have found that in the long run, everything seems to work out for the better.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. When one door closes, another one opens. I never worry about unimportant things, especially things I can’t do anything about. I am able to deal well with occasional stress. I have great patience and I am quite easy to please. I certainly don’t want to be any older than I am, but I really don’t want to be any younger either. I’m not interested in reliving the past. Been there, done that. So I have accepted growing older with the passage of time and choose just to be content with my present age. Age is something that none of us can do anything about. If we stay here long enough, we will get old. It’s unavoidable. Just accept it and deal with it.

All things considered, I am a quite contented, well-adjusted individual with positive self-esteem. I’ve known so many people who have these humdrum jobs which they hate, but they keep on doing them because “it pays well,” never mind that they dread their work and are miserable because of it. That’s what causes undue stress and ulcers. I don’t need any of that. My idea of success and having a happy course in life is being fortunate enough to make a living doing exactly what I love to do. That is my best advice to everyone—decide what it is that you love to do, and get somebody to pay you for it!

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