World Views — God, Me, Environment

When the resources are gone....

Terry Tempest Williams is a favorite writer of mine, not only because she writes of the environment, the living and physical world we live in, but because the God-view that is woven through her writing is familiar to me, close to my own. Williams talks of the consciousness of being in the world in an article in the online The Progressive.  She then compares that consciousness to the “world view” held by many scornful of  environmentalism, specifically naming current GOP candidates Santorum, Gingrich and Romney. Williams quotes Santorum:

Consider Rick Santorum’s recent comments to Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation, when he said Barack Obama’s “world view” is different than that of most Americans. The day before, Santorum had said that the President believes in “some phony ideal, some phony theology . . . not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”

When Schieffer asked him to clarify his statements, Santorum said that he was referencing not the President’s faith but environmentalism.

“Well, I was talking about the radical environmentalists,” he said. “That’s what I was talking about: Energy, this idea that man is here to serve the Earth, as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth. . . . I don’t believe that that’s what we’re here to do.”

“The Earth is not the objective,” Santorum said. “Man is the objective. I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down.”

The most frightening thing about Santorum’s comments are that so many people have the same world view.   Many seem to have no consciousness of the reciprocity, the symbiosis in our existence in this world.   We have become parasites of the highest order, sucking the life out of all that has been supporting us.

Williams includes this from Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), an anthropologist who saw human beings as part of a system:

If you put God outside and set him vis-à-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks . . . against the environment of other social units, other races, and the brutes and vegetables. If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic byproducts of your own hate, or, simply, of over-population and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.

I cannot say it better so will simply repeat Bateson’s pronouncement while thanking Terry Tempest Williams for her essay on the need for consciousness.

Life undisturbed

If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic byproducts of your own hate, or, simply, of over-population and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.

Yes, I am Anti-War.

I recently made an online comment expressing horror and sympathy for the tragedy in Norway. A commenter took issue with my statement.  He jumped from Norway to suggesting that I have a complete lack of concern over those killed in America’s current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that I give President Obama a “get out of jail free card” regarding his role as Commander in Chief.  Trying to reason with him, I replied that to me there is a difference between a drone dropping a bomb on an intelligence-identified location of terrorists, Taliban or “the enemy” that ends up mistakenly killing innocents and a gunman in Norway purposely planning and attacking innocents.  The operators of the bomb-dropping drones or pilots of helicopters and others involved in these wars know there might be – perhaps even probably will be  – innocent people nearby when they drop their bombs. I will assume that they hope no innocent victims are being killed.  The gunman in Norway not only planned his slaughter, he intentionally selected his innocent targets, planning to kill as many as possible.  He deceived the teenagers and others on the island into thinking he was there to keep them safe; he looked some of them right in the eye and pulled his trigger, knowing and wanting to end their lives.

My response didn’t sit well with my now comment thread adversary and he continued his off topic attack.  He would not be dissuaded, and continued to call me warmonger, supporter of killers, etc.  Since the topic had now definitely changed, I decided to let him know how I really feel about war.  Simply put, I do not believe there is a “just” war, at least not in the last hundred years.

In the pre-war days of 2002, the political machine propagandized Americans (quite successfully I might add) to convince us that Iraq was the real enemy post-9/11 and Saddam was an accomplice in that act of terror on U.S. soil.  I live and work in a community where people would go to church on Sunday, preaching Christ’s peace, love and brotherhood, and then wear backpack patches and drive around with bumper stickers such as “Nuke Iraq,” “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iraq” (thanks, John McCain) and/or “These Colors Don’t Run” and no one saw a contradiction.  When I tried to tactfully question this dichotomy in conversations, the response was usually something like, “well, this war is justified.  After all, we have to remember 9/11.”

When President Bush and his team, enabled by a responsibility-abdicating Congress, were selling their whitewashed story to the American public in the lead up to the war in Iraq, having failed to get bin Laden in Afghanistan, I was horrified– horrified that we were forgetting the lessons of Vietnam, horrified that we were being told and believing lies again, horrified that SO MANY people were going to die.  There were many who cried out warnings as loudly as possible to not do this, that there were so many things wrong with the arguments, but they were ridiculed, even threatened.  Anyone who spoke out against this war of choice or suggested that WE were the aggressors here, was accused of being un-American.  A not-so-distant family member vehemently spat out that John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran serving in the House of Representatives (D-PA), should have his medals stripped and be tried for treason after he stood on the House floor and called for a withdrawal from Iraq.  Those in power would not accept any criticism, even when the facts proved that we, the citizenry of this country, were being, and had been, lied to.

Part of the problem is that people don’t want to see themselves as having fallen for a lie.  We don’t want to be considered gullible.  We would rather just forge ahead in our blind, bullheadedness and let ourselves be led down the proverbial path.  This is a prideful flaw in character and flawed human beings cannot be trusted to make correct, just judgments regarding war.  People die in war.  Lots of people die in war.  Part of the justification for the war in Iraq was that the dying would be “over there” and not here.  Why is that okay?  Why is it okay that the Iraqis die instead of us?  We do not know enough, nor do we have the RIGHT to make that call just because we can.

Both wars, Iraq and Afghanistan have continued not only through the remaining Bush years but unfortunately into Obama’s tenure as well.  We’re still in both countries, both wars.  The commenter that attacked me about Norway somehow made the jump to an assumed support of Obama’s war policies.  He, however, made no mention of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the long list of others complicit in the manufacture of the wars that have killed thousands and thousands of people, many, many completely innocent.  In the midst of the budget crisis that we have been going through the last few weeks, he made no mention as to how a large part of that crisis actually began when a budget surplus in 2000 was eaten by two wars that were not financed and paid for by the country that decided to wage them.  To the commenter, everything is Barack Obama’s fault.  I disagree.  I think the wars are OUR fault.  We didn’t hold our leaders accountable for their falsehoods. We didn’t speak up, we were timid and afraid of being called “unpatriotic,” and through our inaction we let a war be waged in our name and allowed our national character to erode.

These are the things that influence my determination to be anti-war.  We simply do not know enough, are too proud to admit when we are wrong, we see only our very own selves in our little patch of the world and think, as Americans, that we are the most important of all God’s children (i.e. “God Bless the USA”).  We are flawed human beings that take it upon ourselves to decide that one person or a group of people is “evil” or otherwise unworthy to continue living. That is NOT our call.

It’s not often that I actually articulate my “anti-warness,” mainly because I rarely think it will do any good and, being honest, my own personal insecurities in the face of criticism and antagonism cause me to shrink from conflict.  Going back to the comment discussion, I ask, do you think it matters anymore who is president?  The other commenter said it does; he has decided it is all to be laid at the feet of the current president, Obama.  I, however, do not.  I don’t believe a true advocate for peace rather than war or conflict will be elected as long as war makes money and campaigns need rich donors.  The gluttonous war machine will be fed, it will just be on the lives and livelihoods of innocents.  But, beyond that, people in this country — I guess in much of the world — have forgotten the spirit of peace. That is how horrors like Norway happen. That is how tragedies like Timothy McVeigh and Oklahoma City happen and that’s how Americans can know that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis, Sudanese, and the list goes on and on, who have died, but we don’t care. All we seem to care about is vengeance and ‘making them pay for what they did.’

This is the final reason, for this essay, why I am anti-war — we kill people for the wrong reasons.  If you don’t agree, please study history again — Dresden bombings in WWII, firebombing of Tokyo, the unleashing of the atomic bomb on Japan — not once, but twice (anyone want to bring up innocent victims?)– Vietnam, Iraq — and those are just the war and actions of the United States.  We’re not alone in warmaking, but we have certainly done our best to take it to new levels.  Is it human nature to break down, deteriorate to excessive cruelty and inhuman actions?  If not, how can it happen?  Do we all have within us a heart that can turn stone cold regarding other human beings?

I do not have the answers to the above questions but will continue searching. In the meantime, I simply continue living my life, doing what I can–writing and calling the congressmen who supposedly represent me, and try to be a life, a voice, that speaks for peace, love of other human beings and life itself.

Mountaintop Mining Revisited

Mountaintop removal

Mountaintop Removal

Featured front page in the New York Times today, April 12, 2011, is an article by Dan Barry on the effects of mountaintop removal mining of coal on communities.  I have expressed my opinion on this type of mining operation previously but focused on the environmental effects — removal of “overburden” as it is called by the industry, filling of valleys with unused (waste) material, disruption and pollution of ecosystems and water drainage (See Stealthy No More” and “Bush’s Stealth Attack: Mountaintop Removal Mining” below).  Mr. Barry focuses on one town, one family and what is left of the life they had.  It is death, not necessarily of the people themselves, but death nonetheless.  Life as they have known it has ended.  The others in the community, those who have already moved away, faced that death as well and chose to move on earlier.

Mountaintop Removal Site in Pickering Knob, West Virginia

You will recognize the corporation involved, Massey Energy, as the owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine where 29 miners were killed on April 5, 2010.  Subsequent investigation of the accident that led to these deaths has shown that there were hundreds of safety violations filed in the months and years prior to the accident.  See the WVGazette for a good synopsis of “what we know and what we don’t know.”  The final investigation report will probably be out in June 2011.  You may remember comments at the time by Don Blankenship, CEO.  He said a lot.  He said a lot more prior to the accident, one of his memos telling employees,  “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. – build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal,” the memo says. “This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills (npr.org, 4/9/2011).”

Granted, Massey was not wholly to blame for the accident, nor is it wholly to blame for mountaintop mining in general.  We all share the blame.  Our glut for energy with little emphasis on conservation is selfish.  I realize that life as we know it has evolved to include a demand for energy.  I do not advocate going without what we now consider necessities (e.g. technology, a computer, for example, I love my computer).  What I do advocate is that each individual THINK about what we do and need, start with little things — we’ve all heard the “turn off the light when you leave the room” proposal — well, let’s DO IT.  What’s so hard about things like this?  Government shares blame:  the main government regulator (MSHA) had tools it could have used against Massey and didn’t. Politicians share the blame — Republicans in 2010 blocked a bill that would have improved safety in mines, and that is in addition to their continuing fight against environmental regulations that would protect ecosystems which include not just the air, water, plants and animals, but people.  Human beings. Us.

We are all at risk from mountaintop mining because it is the result of and continues from a mindset that minimizes life.  What good are our “rights” if we’re not alive to exercise them?  Why do we, those of us living right here, right now, have the right to live and future generations do not because of our actions?  We exist on an earth that was created with multiple natural systems for the sustaining of life.  Those systems can only be strained so far before they break and cannot be repaired.  We must repair the mindset and that requires each one of us to make some changes.

Mr. Barry’s article about the effects of mountaintop mining on Lindytown, West Virginia should be a wake up call for us all.  The town is gasping its last breath as the last two residents see the end.  I realize the earth will not die in the next 5, 10, 50 or perhaps 100 years, but the breaking point is closer than we think, I’m afraid unless we make changes.  We cannot wait for someone else to do it, we must do it on our own, one little thing at a time but mainly we must THINK.

What is it Really? Separation of Church and State, or Separation of Church and Taxes.

Apparently there is a loose coalition of churches that feel that because the government is not being run the way they think it should that they don’t have to obey the laws any longer. One church leader, Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. told his flock that voting for Obama would be the equivalent of “severe moral schizophrenia.” For more details, read “33 Pastors Flout Tax Law With Political Sermons.”

I’m not sure if they realize the full implications of getting their way, challenging the 1954 tax law that specifies that non-profit, tax-exempt organizations, which includes churches, may not “participate in, or intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” Just think — now our churches will pay taxes on what we give them and we, the members of those righteous flocks, will lose the deduction for charitable donations to that church because, well, those churches will no longer be tax-exempt.

There is a positive side, however. ALL who work for one of these organizations, be it a church itself or an organization that is owned by the church (e.g. church-owned university) will be free to speak our political minds. No longer restricted by the “no political campaigning” restrictions imposed by the tax law, a dean at a church-owned university or a Bishop or someone like the above Rev. Johnson can now become politically involved and become an advocate for a political persuasion. Just think! We can begin having political lobbying by all sorts of religious organizations: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, etc. You weren’t assuming, were you Rev. Johnson, that only evangelical Christians will take advantage of this newfound opportunity to speak openly? Are you positive, Rev. Johnson, that leaders of all churches agree with the 33 of you? Do you really believe that everyone has the same political opinion as you? Or do you think that perhaps there are just as many or more who think that Senator Obama is the answer to prayer for our nation?

I think most religions, Christian or not, teach their believers to help and support each other, have tolerance and compassion for all, leave the ninety and nine to search for the one. I personally believe that I am responsible for my actions, that I am should love others as myself, that my beliefs are my own and that I can be as conservative as I want in my own actions, my own personal standards, but that I do NOT have the right to impose my standards on anyone else. I also believe that goes for everyone else, too.

Education Week

Just a note before I get started: This post addresses and uses terms familiar to a specific audience, anyone associated with Education Week at Brigham Young University (BYU), most being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). If you are not a member of this church you may be unfamiliar with many terms used here. That’s not a bad thing! I’m just giving you a heads-up that you may not “get” everything that I’m saying. For more information you can link here for the Church, here for BYU and here for Education Week.

Education Week (hereafter referred to as Ed.Wk.) at BYU has been a source of irritation to me for several years and I’m speaking out. Before anyone feels the need to condemn me for being a smug, secular (aka “godless”) elitist, you need to know that I have personally attended this esteemed gathering. I have faithfully carried my folded, dog-eared schedule, post-it notes with recommendations, alternative class options and mapped routes from one class location to another and, with my worthiness badge around my neck, plowed my furrow through the fields of expectant faces to plant myself at the feet of those who preach.

My notebook overflowed with gleanings on how it’s important to be a friend to those in need, that music plays an important role in family and spiritual life, that we need to learn to forgive ourselves, and to reorganize my “telestial” house into a “celestial” house– yes, cleaning toilets and decluttering closets can be a spiritual experience. Lest you think that I am making light of serious things, no, — well, yes, but I am being serious as well. There is much of worth to be gathered from Ed. Wk. My criticisms are 1) of the perceptions of those who come, albeit with the very best of intentions, 2) with the often flawed internalization of what they hear/learn, and finally, 3) with the missing application of the principles being taught and discussed.

Attendees spend hours listening to the perceived “experts” on everything from Isaiah to potty training. These “experts” are subsequently quoted in informal neighborly chats as well as church meetings with the deference afforded to chosen and called church leaders. Just because this event is held at BYU does not mean that the person teaching your class knows or is guided by the Spirit more than your local Gospel Doctrine teacher. They may have had more teaching experience and know the engaging, tricksy ways to present material but your ward Sunday School, Priesthood and Relief Society teachers have been called and set apart to teach. One difference between the two settings is that in your ward/branch classes you are expected to be an active participant, to share what you know with the class and contribute to the discussion whereas at Ed. Wk. you usually just sit there and act like a sponge. Sponges are great for cleaning up messes but they soak up whatever it is, good or bad which brings me to my second point, flawed internalization.

I am going to direct this mainly at women because although I don’t know the statistical male/female breakdown of attendance, I see more women there so unless the men are magically transporting themselves from car to class, class to class and back, they are in fact fewer in numbers. LDS women are told over and over, including at Ed.Wk. “Of course you can be the perfect mother, the perfect wife, etc. Just organize your housekeeping and food storage according to this system and you too can be the next Relief Society President.” I simplify and exaggerate but we are constantly fed examples of perfection – perfectly organized home office, perfect family histories, perfect marriage, perfect children. We have the eternal goal of perfection always before us and often forget that it is a GOAL, something to move toward but will not reach until we are perfected by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Ed. Wk. perpetuates the perfection expectation, even while couching it in such terms as “overcoming perfection” or “living imperfect lives” – I have wished that someone would actually teach a class titled “You’re not going to be perfect in this life – Deal With It!”

Finally, I see masses of people coming to campus to learn about being “God’s Chosen” while leaving common sense and common manners at home. People sit in these classes learning about Christ and how to pattern our lives after Him, but every year in this peculiar society of believers in law – both God’s and man’s – there are several near-misses of people who step out in the street in front of the car that has the right of way, instances of shoplifting in the Bookstore by attendees who “just have to have that CTR ring for my daughter,” or simply cutting in line or cutting people off in the mad dash to get ahead of those other unworthy souls who have been waiting patiently in line for food or to get out of the parking lot. What is it that makes one person think that they are the one who really needs to get that sandwich, or that parking space or that whatever? Why is there so often a lack of common courtesy in a setting where we are surrounded by our “brothers and sisters?” How can we ever hope to get along in a world of 6.6 billion people of mixed language, race and culture if we can’t show kindness to those with whom we have the most in common?! No wonder our world is in such a mess!

Now, my conclusion: I realize that I am going to be considered a marginal member by criticizing Education Week. Forgive me, I’m not perfect. Keep it all in proper perspective; these may be great teachers but they have NOT been called nor set apart to teach you. They are invited because of their expertise in the field (yes, there are real doctors talking about real skin problems!), or their ability to tell a darn good story or evoke testimony tears. Anyone who attends can learn a great deal but should be very careful in the selection of classes. Don’t take on too much and don’t necessarily try to solve all your problems (example: you have a daughter making choices you don’t care for so you take the class titled “We are a Happy Family”). Lastly, if you attend Education Week please be considerate of each other and of people on campus –yes, some of us actually work there. Obey traffic signals and driving laws – we really don’t want to run over you (although it has crossed our minds when you cross the street against the signal). I believe, however, that it can be a great experience for anyone who attends IF the emphasis is on GOALS (and not too many of them), enjoying life, and being kind to each other. Thanks for listening to my rant – have a great life.
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On second thought, I don’t care whether you forgive me or not! My garage is cluttered, my children have challenges, sometimes I don’t like to go to church– I’m not perfect but I’m happy and I try to learn from every experience.

Killing People Because of their Beliefs is Okay??? — NO!!!

Quoting from The Progress Report (Center for American Progress Fund, 7/29/08):

Jim Adkisson, the man who shot two people to death in a Tennessee Unitarian church this week because he was angry at “liberals and gays,” had an array of right-wing books at his home. Inside his house, “officers found ‘Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder’ by radio talk show host Michael Savage, ‘Let Freedom Ring’ by talk show host Sean Hannity, and ‘The O’Reilly Factor,’ by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly.”

Can’t we make the same type of correlation here that has been made between acts of violence (e.g. Columbine shootings) and violent movies or video games (e.g. The Matrix, Doom)? Maybe we should call for a boycott of these right-wing radicals as they are now shown to influence certain personalities toward dangerous, violent behavior — sounds kind of like drugs and alcohol!

Most of us realize hate is not limited to the right-wing radicals nor to Republicans but the above-mentioned talk show hosts along with others, such as the venomous Ann Coulter, have done tremendous damage to our country. They screech Hate and Fear, key elements of their mantra, all while trying to hide their hideousness behind the veil of religion and shrouding their stench under the American flag. What a foul use of the name of Jesus Christ who taught peace, charity and love.