Thursday, May 26, 2011

That Silent Certainty

          For those of us dwelling on the side of reason, biblical prophesies of eschatology stir no fear of armies of angels descending to destroy the human race and cast into hell all nonbelievers, though those same prophesies used to provide potent imagery for reasonable men and women who once rallied against the U. S. and the Soviet arms race as it escalated during the Reagan years.  Jonathan Schell, in The Fate of The Earth, exhibited for readers some of the ghastly apocalyptic horrors nuclear war would inflict on those who survived the initial blasts.  His depiction of tormented “souls” milling about and waiting for nothing but radiation poisoning to finish them off imagines a Dantesque realm of destruction and suffering that should convince even the most militaristic hawks to eliminate nuclear weapons before they one day exterminate the human race.
        However, this Saturday, May 21, we can all look forward to the beginning of the end of the world, courtesy of California preacher Harold Camping who has been broadcasting that date as the day the “rapture” will whisk heavenward those sufficiently faithful and consigned to eternal flames those undeserving and wicked.  It’s not clear what time of day the event will kick off, but the date is signed, sealed, and all but delivered according to Camping and his followers.  Their certainty of belief has driven many of them to forsake their own well being and their children’s.   For instance, National Public Radio reported that Adrienne Martinez, a Camping faithful, gave up her plans to attend medical school, and with her husband travelled to New York to hand out fliers urging sinners and lost souls to repent.  In New York, another Camping follower, Robert Fitzgerald, has used his entire life savings of 140,000 dollars to fund campaign advertising on subway and train station placards the approaching Biblical event.
       It’s bad enough when grown-ups believe such lunacy; but when they teach it to their children, or worse indoctrinate them with the creed that argues non-believers can only look forward to eternity spent roasting in hell, someone should rescue the young from the stupidly wicked notions of their parents.  Some kids might be able to shrug off their parents’” end of the world” fanaticism, but the burden put on them by their parents must be overwhelming.  A case in point is the Haddad Carson family.   As reported in the New York Times, Abby Haddad and her husband, Robert, stopped saving money for their kids’ college and visited New York last weekend to spread the word about the end of the world.  Grace Haddad, their sixteen year old daughter, told a Times’ reporter that her mother had informed her that she would not be going to heaven when the rapture began on Saturday.  Grace admitted that it was “upsetting at first,” but also suggested that what her mother “honestly believes” is legitimate and acceptable concept for a parent to teach to her children.  Grace’s fourteen year old brother, Joseph, has been affected by his parents’ behavior.  He expressed his mortification about them and noted that he does whatever he can to keep his friends “as far away from them as possible.”  It is bleak to see him wither in the desert of his parents’ obsession with “no motivation to figure out what he wants to do anymore,” since his parents care about nothing except the approaching rapture.
          The need to believe in a deity that envelops the faithful in a “rapturous” afterlife no doubt springs from the yearning to escape the painful and quite terrifying prospect of our inevitable death and subsequent decay once we are swallowed by the earth.  But where does the desire to see others tormented for eternity by the most gruesome, and infinite tortures come from?  Certainly, everyone wants justice to dispose of anyone whose crimes have warranted a just punishment.  But the biblical literalists who aver that people who never heard of Jesus and others who question his divinity will experience unfathomable and infinite suffering betray simultaneously a sadistic and obsequious mentality that worships a totalitarian authority whose omnipotence and omniscience perpetually menace the faithful with threats of eternal torture.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When Strategy, Vengeance and Justice Converge
May 7, 2011
          This week the news reports and commentaries filled the papers and web sites dissecting into the thinnest slices the killing of Bin Laden.  To some, the shots that pierced his head constituted an “extra-judicial” execution in violation of his human rights and international law. (See “Obama’s fickle European fans,” by Charles Lane, “Bin Laden, Extra Judicial killing-And The Shining Example That Was Nuremberg” by Mark Seddon, and Noam Chomsky’s remarks.)  Some critics have even opined that those well placed bullets make the U. S. no better than Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda murderers who, in their orgiastic worship of death, have shredded innocent human lives with hijacked jets or suicide bombs hidden beneath their clothes.
          The difficulty some are having is that the U. S. Navy Seals killed Bin Laden instead of capturing him so he could be tried for his “crimes of mass murder.”  It needs to be remembered that the plan carried out by the seal team was one of three options offered to President Obama.  Another option Obama could have chosen was to have stealth bombers obliterate the Bin Laden compound with 2,000 pound bombs.  Ironically, had this method been used, critics complaining about violations of international law or justice would have to find something else to carp about.  But they would not claim that international law or Bin Laden’s rights to a trial had been denied.
          Perhaps the problem some are having with how Bin Laden was killed amounts to the problem of defining what he was.  How do we categorize him?  As enemy combatant?  As criminal?  As terrorist?   He is these and more: a hate filled man obsessed with planning the murder of as many innocent human beings as possible in the name of an ideology that claims divine justification for its actions.  In the end, the killing of Bin Laden is a triumph of reason over the fanaticism of benighted men (and women) who want to murder any who resist their desire to oppress all with their totalitarian theology.