Sunday, April 20, 2014

Let There Be God But Not In My Foxhole

In the beginning, man created god. Man said, "Let there be God" and God was a formless void. Then man said "Let there be religion," then there was a God created in his image. Now we had us and we had them, those who believed and those who didn't. We could now have someone to thank, someone to blame, someone to give credit and someone to point the finger at in shame. Now man was off the hook for God got all the credit. Man now had convenience and ritual.

Man then created many gods for many purposes. The gods would bring the sun across the sky, they would make the waves crash on the beaches, make the thunder and lightning and change the seasons. A perception of order was created throughout the world. This order was the garden where the seeds of civilizations were planted.

This made sense for a while. Then some interlopers started explaining things using experimentation and proof. So the gods, most of them, got smaller and disappeared. The many gods dwindled to be few, for some down one and for some down to none at all.  Few are left, but linger ... for now. Man loves ritual and this carries on even now that the Bronze Age is over.

The religious bear many gifts for us non-believers. They created temples, churches and cathedrals with spectacular architecture, music and art. They created the Book of Leviticus as a gift to comedians.  For genre writers, they gave the Book of Revelation. For poets, they gave the Book of Psalms. And for us atheists, they gave the Book of Job.

If you believe in God after reading the Book of Job you have to wonder why you would worship this God at all. This is a god that takes one of his children and completely fucks with him to prove a point to Satan. Satan claims that Job is only pious because life is good. To prove Satan wrong, God gives Satan permission to destroy all of Job's relatives and possessions. Satan kills Job's family while they are at a feast and destroys all his possessions. After this is done, Job praises the lord and the smug God gives Job an even better family and possessions. Well that's awesome!  Be pious and God will kill your family and give you a better one. So glad everyone is worshiping this God!  (This is sarcasm in case you haven't noticed.)

Often I find myself having to defend atheism which seems odd since atheists are not the ones with a belief system. One shouldn't have to defend a lack of something. No tomes of atheism or scrolls of atheism exist that I am aware of.  The closest one could find is perhaps a copy of a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens book, but these are not ancient.  Humanism is close to atheism in that it looks to humanity to resolve problems with the world, but a humanist can still believe in a god. I write this today on Easter Sunday, the most holy of Christian holidays (which they celebrate with chocolate bunnies and egg hunts), because I am a little tired of people bashing atheists. I am usually quiet about my atheism because really it is not something I think much about until someone bothers me about it. I am not sure why I should have to. My memory is imperfect and the sense of history is limited, but I don't remember ever hearing about any groups of atheists flying any planes into skyscrapers. I don't remember ever hearing about any groups of them lynching people from trees or burning people at stakes. Yet I am somehow told occasionally how immoral it is being a non-believer or that all morality comes from God. I have no doubt the mythical Job felt that way. This may just go on my long list of things that I don't understand, but if you need to cling to a Bronze Age superstition to make yourself moral, please do so, but leave me alone if I don't. Don't come to my door with pamphlets and don't fill my Facebook feed with self righteous indignation.

Atheism is not a religion (it is the antithesis of religion), but if it was, it would be the fastest growing religion in America. There is something else growing in America, civility. Violence is down and has been steadily dropping for years. All violent crime has been dropping for decades. Fear of crime is higher (thank you 24 hours news cycles), but violence is the lowest it has ever been. Yes, even gun violence is down. We have big news stories when a shooting happens but overall gun violence is down. I am not so bold that I am drawing a direct line here, but if atheists were so immoral, wouldn't crime be getting higher?

There seems to be two aphorisms being proved wrong here. One is that when the economy gets bad, then crime gets bad. This is somewhat true in that property crime, like theft, has been higher since the economy got bad, but this hasn't affected violent crime. The bigger aphorism of course, that adverse conditions make people turn to religion, that there are no atheists in foxholes, is obviously wrong as well. If people turn to religion when times are hard, shouldn't Atheism be decreasing?

The aphorism that "there are no atheists in foxholes" is particularly egregious to me. Apparently, when conditions get really bad for me, I am going to abandon everything I believe in and start believing in God. There is no basis for this. Many religious people who experience war, like Job become more religious, but many don't. It goes both ways, but conversion doesn't happen, not on any scale whatsoever. It occurred to me one day as a young Catholic that the idea of God just seemed silly and illogical. It wasn't an epiphany, it was too anticlimactic for that. It just happened. It was a great weight lifted off of my back. In the more than 30 years since then, I haven't once considered I was wrong. No crisis, no foxhole, no pamphlet or Facebook video is going to change my mind.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Are People Actually Listening to the Lyrics of Springsteen Songs?

Being a Red Sox fan was a lot easier before they won three World Series in ten years. For one, getting tickets to Fenway was easier and cheaper. Before 2004, once you got to Fenway, you were lot more likely to be surrounded by real Sox fans like someone who listens to the game in the car on a crackly AM radio even when they were in last place or someone who remembers Oil Can Boyd and knows who Yaz is. Now when you go to a game, a good many of the "fans" are front runners with little loyalty to the team or the brand and no sense of the team's history. This is one of the drawbacks of success. Everyone wants in.

This is what it is like to be a Bruce Springsteen fan these days. Before he put out the Born In the USA album back in the 1980's, which had a pile of top 40 hits, Bruce already had a lot of dedicated fans, but he wasn't a household name. Perhaps it is conceit, but I have a feeling that those of us who were fans, before he was "Dancing in the Dark" on MTV, are the real fans. When we listened to Darkness on the Edge of Town or Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, the entire albums, we listened to the lyrics. We memorized them and thought about their meaning. He wasn't a brand, an icon or even an image back then. He was just a guy from Jersey who could write a song. He was originally signed to Columbia Records back in 1972 because they were looking for a new Bob Dylan. Singer/song writers were in. I still purport that Dylan is a better song writer, but Springsteen is definitely more accessible. Where Dylan is profound, Springsteen hits you in the gut.

Springsteen has become so big now that the icon overshadows the music. Something beautiful is getting lost. Few seem to be listening to what he is actually saying.

The song "Born to Run" is not about running. So if you are watching a promo for a marathon and this song comes on ... if you are watching a political rally where a candidate announces that they are "Born to Run" with the "last chance power drive" wailing in the background .... clearly ... they don't understand the song. The running in this song is running away from something, a bad situation, a trap ... not for office or exercise. I grew up in a Northeast mill town and the only thing that I ever wanted was to get out, to get away, to run away. The image I get when I hear this song is someone driving to work at one of those dehumanizing mills and just getting on the highway instead. When I tune into the Boston Marathon on Monday, if I hear "Born to Run" even once, I am turning it off.

"Glory Days" is not a baseball song. One verse of this song mentions a baseball player. The second verse is about an old girlfriend and the third is about drinking through your sorrows. This is not a happy song. It is about living in the past, about sitting around drinking and talking about old times instead of living for now. Yet, when NPR has a special to talk about baseball, what song do they play?  Not "Centerfield" by John Fogerty. No, that would make sense, that song is about baseball. Not a slew of other great songs by guys that actually make an effort to write baseball songs like Dan Bern ("This Side of the White Line," "Come Back Andy Pettitte,"  "Ballpark" or "When My Buckner Moment Comes") or Chuck Brodsky ("Bonehead Merkle," "Moe Berg: The Song," "Ballad of Eddie Klepp" or "Lefty"). They play the icon whether it is relevant or not.

"Born in the USA" is not a patriotic song and yet, at Independence Day celebrations, they play it and it just makes me shake my head. Clearly they haven't listened to it. It is full of bitterness and anger about a guy that was screwed over by his government. He is disaffected, alienated and shell-shocked.
Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there he's all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I'm ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go
Not patriotism. The irony that they are playing a protest song mistaking it as patriotism isn't lost on me. Patriotic events are all about blind nationalism so why would they actually listen to the lyrics of the song? It says "USA" in it.  That's enough, right?  Are they only listening to the driving anthemic chorus and not the verses? This song was supposed to be on his earlier album, Nebraska, but was supposed to be slower and acoustic. You wonder if it would have been as well received and misinterpreted as much.

Considering how little people listen to lyrics, it is no wonder what passes as songs. Perhaps I should just be grateful that they are playing Bruce at all.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Max's Eulogy

A few years ago, my brother-in-law Kevin rushed into his burning home to save his dog Echo. Both of them survived the incident with the only damage being some burnt paws and/or sneakers and some smoke inhalation. In a similar story of canine related human heroics, my friend Patrick walked onto, then into, a half frozen pond to save his dog Moose who had fallen through the ice. My personal heroic story doesn't involve fire nor ice. Back in 2010, I rushed into the Burlington Emergency Veterinarian armed with only a credit card and saved my dog Max. It was one of those awful experiences that you dread as a pet owner. How much money do you spend to save your pet?  If I were a millionaire, I'd spend millionaires to save one of my dogs. Since I am not a millionaire, I have a limit. Like Kevin and Patrick, I'd like to think I'd risk my life, but risking my financial life is different, is it not? We spent an obscene amount of money to save him that day. My crazy yellow lab ate a piece of wire that was stuck in his intestines. They had to cut the wire out the piece of intestine out and reattach them. The first time they did the surgery, it failed. The cost of the surgeries, the cost of his rehab at the vet and then the meds and prescription food we had to feed him the rest of his life, it came out to an amount that I would not like to share. I know too many people that are struggling financially. I'd feel uncomfortable sharing the amount of money I spent on this dog. We had to cancel our trip to Korea and we rolled the balance into a home equity loan when we built an addition on our house.

Max lived another three years so I have no regrets. Everyday he lived he became more cost effective. He made me laugh everyday and I don't think I am exaggerating. The stress relief alone made him a worthwhile companion and investment. Joy is priceless. Every time I lose a pet, I am amazed at how it affects me. The loss is substantial. I look for him by habit. I reach for him in bed, he was like a living pillow. When I get up from my desk, I instinctively step over him. He used to follow me from room to room so he was always under my feet.

When my wife was a preschool teacher, she had to do home visits for kids that were aged birth to three. She would go into people's home and spend quality time with the kids while they were too young for school. Max was a pet in one of these homes. She bonded with him. So when the family needed to give him up, they asked her if she could take him. We had two dogs already so it wasn't that easy to take him in but he bonded with Rex and Cokie just fine. Two people having three dogs is not a very good plan. Dogs should never outnumber the humans in a household. Adding Max to any mix of dogs seemed to have a multiplicative affect because he was always so excitable. He was six at the time.

Like most labs, he was very needy. If there is someone home all day or if you have children, the lab is the perfect dog. Max was all this and then some. He had a thing for carrying things. If you left your shoes around, one of them would disappear on you.  He didn't destroy them, he'd just carried them around. When the snow melted, you would always find one of your slippers under the snow. He also had a thing for puddles. No matter how small the puddle or muddy, a centimeter deep, he'd lay in it. If you let him off leash, expect to hose him down when you got home. He greeted me every time I came home, usually carrying something, sometimes something he just pulled from my recycle bin.

He was my pillow, my doorbell, my greeter, my protector, my anti-depressant, my entertainer, my shadow, my travel companion and friend. It will be a while before anything is the same. There is a huge hole to fill.