It’s the beginning of every conservative’s favorite joke. And only joke. “I identify as an Apache helicopter.” “I identify as a disabled Black woman.” “I identify as a a hawk.”
You see, the joke is on those wacky transgender people, based on the supposed immutability of the genders. You can’t just identify as whatever you want. You are what you are, no matter what you feel you are. “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” as a famous Christian Fascist likes to put it.
Which is genuinely funny (as opposed to conservative joke funny), because anyone can identify as a Christian and it means literally nothing.
What do I mean by that?
There are currently 2.2 billion Christians on the planet, of which almost all fall within the three main branches: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. They all identify as Christian, and yet, strictly speaking, each branch believes it represents the only true version of the faith. And then, of course, those branches break down into hundreds of denominations, many of them claiming they have the one and only truth.
I could go on about this for pages, but this classic Emo Philips joke sums it up better than a hundred theologians ever could:
Beyond the three branches, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also identify as Christians, even though Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians all reject that claim and dismiss them as cults. But for demographic purposes, Mormons and JWs are counted as part of the 2.2 billion Chrizzos.
Alright, so a bunch of people have differing theological ideas about their religion. Who cares, right? That’s not any great gotcha. It doesn’t undermine the faith. I agree, it doesn’t. I don’t care what a self-proclaimed Christian believes. But shouldn’t Christians?
The Christian Nation
Let’s narrow our focus to America. The United States, as conservative politicians and religious leaders claim again and again, is a “Christian nation.” Founded on Christian values with a predominantly Christian citizenship, it’s totally reasonable for the Ten Commandments to be etched into US government buildings and “In God We Trust” splashed across the currency. So we’re told.
Never mind that the number of Christians in America dropped to an all-time low of 64% in 2020 and is, according to thePew Research Center, on track to drop below 50% within roughly two decades. America is still a Christian nation. So says amajority of Republicans. So, beat it, Jews and Muslims.
But, here’s the real catch: Among those conservative Christian Nationalists who believe Christianity is the foundational truth of America, there is a growing contingent who don’t believe Jesus was God, which is literally the foundational truth of Christianity.
Don’t just take my word for it. That’s the finding of the most recent biannualState of Theologysurvey, which is overseen by two Christian organizations, Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research. This isn’t a survey of “gotcha” questions from Marxist college eggheads. These are Christian groups looking to understand theAmerican Christian™.
A whopping 38% of self-identified Evangelicals said they “strongly agree” with the statement, “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” Another 5% somewhat agreed, meaning a full 41% of Evangelical Christians question whether Jesus was God. For those who haven’t been to Bible study in a while, if Jesus isn’t God, there is no Christianity.
Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.
So, 41% of Evangelical Christians identify as Evangelical Christians while denying the foundational belief of Evangelical Christianity, namely that Jesus is the Lord.
That should probably raise some holy eyebrows. Evangelicals Protestants, which, for the record, are not a denomination but a subset (there can be Evangelical Baptists and Lutherans; there are even Evangelical Catholics), make up at least 25% of all Christians in America, and growing.
Let’s do some quick math: There are 330 million people in the US. Since 64% are Christian, that is 212 million (rounding up), which makes 53 million Evangelicals (more than the population of Spain, by the way). And if 41% of those 53 million don’t believe Jesus is God, there are at least 22 million people in the United States who identify as Christian but don’t actually meet the technical definition of Christian.
(For the record Wheaton College estimates 30-35% of the US is Evangelical, which would mean 90-100 million people, with between 37 and 41 million doubting Jesus’ divinity.)
What should we call these millions of people who identify as Christian while denying the central, essential tenet of Christianity? TransChristians? Christian-adjacent? Apache Hell-icopters? (Get it? Because according to their own religion they’re going to Hell.)
I don’t suppose it matters. They identify as Christians, and therefore they are Christians. I have no right to question it, and neither do you. Funny how that works.
This last Saturday, Helen and I, along with her parents, headed to the third night of Las Fiestas Virgen de la Paloma, one of Madrid’s most popular local festivals and essentially the biggest party of August.
My first experience of the Fiestas de la Paloma was back in 2018, when Helen and I accidentally stumbled upon it not realizing what weekend it was. The festival, from August 11 to August 15, builds to one of Spain’s main national holidays, the Assumption of Mary (or Assumption Day). Being a majority Catholic country, celebrations of Mary (Marian feast days) take a central role in Spanish society, even if day-to-day religious practice is majorly on the wane. They usually involve parades, religious plays, and Mass.
While Saint Isidro is officially the patron saint of Madrid, the Virgin de la Paloma (Virgin of the Dove) occupies a similar, albeit unofficial role for Madrileños (citizens of Madrid). As such, the Paloma festivals are essential the city’s biggest block party and not-quite-end-of-summer celebration.
The festivities takes place in Barrio de La Latina, among Madrid’s most active and developed neighborhoods (it makes my own Puerta del Angel look positively sleepy). Situated around Plaza de la Paja, the festival stretches past the Royal Basilica of Saint Francis the Great and to the Church of the Virgen de la Paloma. At that second church, there is a famous image of the Virgin Mary over its altar, from which the church and the festivals derive their name.
While La Paloma is ostensibly Catholic, the parties themselves aren’t particularly religious. Mostly, they’re an excuse for locals and visitors to drink beer, eat various grilled meats (lots of roasted full pigs on display), try their hand at carnival games, and watch traditional music and dance performances, like the El Chotis, a Madrileño folk dance that’s origins go back to Polka. At night, there are also concerts on a mainstage to show off various local performers, from flamenco to rock.
A fair warning to anyone planning future visits to any Spanish festivals: If you want to eat, show up early. Spain is a country of exact timings, and the only thing more rigid than dinnertime (22:00) is lunchtime (14:00). If you go for dinner at the standard time, expect to wait in line for 30 minutes, easy. On the plus side, if you’re even 10 minutes early, your wait will be cut in half.
(This is a general rule for eating in Madrid any day of the year. If you don’t have a reservation and want to get a table for lunch, show up at 13:45 and you’ll be all good.)
The Return of the Festivals of the Virgin of Paloma
In 2020, las Fiestas de la Paloma were canceled due to COVID-19. Still reeling from the ongoing pandemic, 2021 brought the return of the festivals, but in a very restricted manner. There were strict capacity limits for most of the events, even outdoors.
So, seeing the bustling, mostly unmasked crowds at the festival this year really drove it home: Madrid, and probably Spain in general, has officially entered the post-COVID era. That’s not to say COVID is gone (it never will be), or even that people should stop caring about COVID (I’d expect at least a mini-surge in winter). But people definitely have stopped caring.
To be fair, at 86% of the population, Spain does have one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe (and the world). Though the country was pummeled by the first few rounds of COVID, life in Spain has mostly felt like it’s been back to “normal” for a while now. But this weekend at La Paloma was the first time it was so in my face.
We were among the unmasked cohorts; there were maybe a handful of attendees wearing masks. In Madrid, mascaras are only required on public transportation and in pharmacies. Perhaps that’s a mistake; maybe the long-term effects of COVID will prove masking should’ve been a permanent part of our lives. But, hey, no one ever accused humanity of being farsighted.
(I realize for many Americans, the idea that any COVID precautions would still be in effect sounds insane.)
For now, at least, it really does feel like we’ve truly entered the post-COVID era. Not an era where COVID doesn’t exist, but an era where the hospitals aren’t overwhelmed, vaccines are readily available, and serious cases are few and far between. Famous last words? Guess we’ll see.
Fiestas de la Paloma 2022
If the last 2 years has reinforced anything, it’s that we live in uncertain times. It’s a frequent topic of conversation, the fact that lifestyles that were once taken for granted are no longer the norm. It’s not just the pandemic. The Great Recession and its ripple effects, the rapid technological advancements, the widening global reach of culture, all of it has wildly reshaped what it means to live, even just from a generation ago.
So, it’s interesting to walk through something like the Fiestas de la Paloma and see the vestiges of the past still holding on. The elderly chotis dancers were doing their part, performing their routines in classical attire. And there were younger people helping out, too, like the 20-something-year-old girls wearing manila shawls and traditional dresses.
The purpose of the various Spanish festivals is to continually reinforce the ever-fraying threads that connect the past and the present. Many Madrileños will return to La Paloma year after year, growing up with it from childhood to adulthood to parenthood, bringing their own offspring to an event that makes some concessions to the changing world but largely remains the same. They’ll come because it doesn’t change.
Likewise, posts like this by writers like me are meant to be evergreen, something that aims for the first page of search results when someone googles “Fiestas de la Paloma Madrid”. A good travel blog (which 10 Cities/10 Years is categorically not) is always looking for that perennial hit post, and that means writing about these kinds of static cultural events.
But, how static is it, really? The festivals themselves are relatively new, having grown out of the religious processions surrounding Assumption Day; the Paloma Festivals only started at the end of the 20th century. So, while it’s now a mainstay of Madrid culture, it’s a relative baby in terms of Spanish tradition. What will La Paloma look like in the future; in the unknowable 2023, and the unimaginable 2053?
Spain is a country that is notoriously slow to embrace change, but it feels like all of us are being carried on an unstoppable wave to a foreign future (and not just because sea levels are rising). So, will I be returning to the Fiestas de la Paloma in 30 years, or will we have all evacuated the city to escape the fire-breathing lava monsters that rise up out of the heat-scorched Earth? It’s really anyone’s guess.
For years, you have told us that we – the atheists, the agnostics, the homosexuals, the Muslims, the liberals – are the reason bad things happen in America. You have argued that mass shootings are due to our immorality, that we removed God from our schools and homes, that our acceptance of sinful behavior has led God to abandon us.
And we are to believe that at some point between 2005 (or 2006) he became a Born Again Christian, seeing the error of his ways and abandoning his sinful life for a path of high-minded civic service. No matter how many times you say it, no one will believe it. We don’t believe it. You don’t believe it. Billy Graham, Jr. doesn’t believe it.
I might respect you a little if you’d at least acknowledge that, but all criticism of Trump’s morality is immediately deflected. “Other people are bad, so why judge Trump?” you ask.
Which puts you in the position of defending Trump’s policies. Policies that have literally left 4,645 American citizens to die (about the same number as died in Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, combined). Policies that rip thousands of children away from their parents for committing a misdemeanor.
It doesn’t matter how much he lies, though, because his predominantly Christian base is more than happy to run with that lie and push it. If only the Bible had anything to say about bearing false witness. (You were okay when Trump lied about Obama being born in Kenya, so this is really no surprise. You’re consistent hypocrites.)
It’s very telling when the most common defense of Trump is, “But Obama” (or, confusingly, “But Hillary”). In defending the indefensible, you point at flaws in others and say, “See, everyone is bad.” It’s a weird day when Christians admit they don’t care about being holy or moral, they just don’t want to be called worse than “sinners” and “heathens.”
If you rate your morality by how it stacks up against the worst of humanity rather than comparing it to the best, you have no claim to moral authority.
In the Bible, God reserved his harshest punishment for His people. If, as you have claimed for years, God is punishing America, the Bible says it is because of you.
In supporting Trump, you stand with White Supremacists, Holocaust-deniers, and flat out criminals. Every time you defend an abhorrent policy because you see it as more important to fight liberals than to fight for justice, every time you defend Trump because he’s on your “team,” you reveal yourself for what you are: Fake Christians.
America has done good things in the world. But it has also done vile things, often in the name of God. You can be sure, in the eyes of history, this will be considered the most vile American period since slavery was legal.
If your mentality is that you are at war against liberals because they stand against Biblical teaching, isn’t it ironic that you have abandoned the most fundamental Biblical lesson – love your neighbor as yourself – in order to pursue this political vendetta?
You claim it is Biblical to defend your borders, and yet Jesus’ message was for you to open your doors to strangers. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek when attacked. Give your cloak to those in need. These are direct teachings from the Bible. To defend Trump’s policies (and the way you practice your faith) requires distorting Biblical teachings beyond recognition.
I don’t care how often you go to church. I don’t care about your snarky memes saying liberals who support legal abortion are hypocrites for caring about living children. I don’t care that you don’t care that I’m calling you out. You are Fake Christians. You are why America is in decline. #FakeChristians
I know I have been harsh in this post, so I want to leave you with a comforting thought. I actually have good news for you. You might even call it The Good News: there is no God, no Christ. There is no one watching over us.
Your actions reveal that you know it to be true. Your workless faith is dead.
So, take heart, God won’t punish you for the evil that you support and do in His name. There is no hell waiting for you. There is no eternal damnation to come.
No, any punishment that awaits you will come from your children and grandchildren who will refuse to acknowledge you and abandon you in your old age, unable to stomach the sight of you and your hypocrisy. That is your legacy. That will be your reward.
It’s one of those intentionally simplistic terms – like “The Big Bang Theory” – that exists because the general public can’t deal with complex concepts without them being stripped to their basest form. Still, it’s the term du jour, so for the purposes of this article, I’ll use it.
As it relates to the US presidential election, “Fake News” is more accurately known as propaganda: distorted news stories and statistics used to push lies about immigrants, urban crime, Muslims, and other boogeyman designed to scare you. This form of propaganda isn’t unique to the US, of course; Brexit was fueled by it, and fear of the “other” has been the politicking weapon of choice since the first politician gave a speech.
But in the broader context of our lives, “Fake News” has always existed, and it has never been a liberal or conservative issue, just a matter of laziness and opportunistic cynicism.
A Long and Tortured History of Fake News
I’ve been calling out my friends’ tendency to spread fake news for years – and lost some for doing it – only to see the same people lambaste Trumpers for spreading fake news. The irony physically hurts.
The uncomfortable truth about the current form of fake news – the Facebook-viral, Russian bot-pushed, grammatically-indifferent breed – is that it didn’t just appear out of nowhere with perfected tactics for reaching the most susceptible (gullible) targets. These tactics have been deployed and honed for years by all kinds of sources pushing their dubious claims, most of them not inherently political. Some you probably trust.
I didn’t call them “fake news” back then, I called them bullshit.
To help explain this, I’m focusing on one website (though there are many) and how it fits into both the current political moment and the road that got us here: Naturalnews.com
Natural News is one of the most unapologetic sources of bullshit I’ve ever seen. There was a time a few years back when it would pop up in my Facebook feed almost every day.
In its heyday, NaturalNews.com existed as a poorly-designed, green-hued nightmare of circular reasoning and supplement peddling. It ostensibly existed to provide information about “alternatives” to Western Medicine (a.k.a. “medicine”). There have always been snake oil salesman, and there always will be. Natural News just did it digitally.
Natural News became a phenomenon largely because it pushed the roundly debunked and thoroughly bullshit idea that vaccines cause autism. Even now, as I type this, the top link on the site declares “Highest AUTISM rates found in countries with highest VACCINE compliance” (playing the hits). It also went all-in on the “evils” of GMOs, another bullshit scare tactic that you – yes, I know you’re reading this – probably still believe is a big concern.
What made this site so effective and so useful for people spreading its lies is that when you clicked on an article, it appeared to be a legitimate news article, with quotes from relevant experts and links to supporting articles. For a reader ready to buy what Natural News was selling, that’s all it took to be convinced that the article was properly researched and well-sourced. Click, share.
But those articles were garbage.
The quotes were almost never actually quotes. They often referenced “a person there” or “an expert”, but never gave a name, as if they had to maintain the person’s anonymity lest Big Brother snuffed them out.
Worse, if you clicked on a link embedded in the article, it inevitably took you to a different article on naturalnews.com, generally written by the same guy (or avatar, at least). Keep clicking and you’d go further and further down the rabbit hole of that website, perhaps even coming right back around to the original article. It was an ouroboros of bullshit, and goddamn was it effective. The creators of the site knew, if you’re predisposed to believe them, you wouldn’t check their work.
The site’s most dedicated readers were usually those who called themselves skeptics, those people who never trust the “official story” and pat themselves on the back because they voted for a third party candidate once. Self-proclaimed skeptics are always the easiest to fool.
If you go to naturalnews.com now (I wouldn’t recommend it; except to check my claims, so I guess you should do it), the website has transformed, unsurprisingly, into a pro-Trump, “Deep State” conspiracy-pushing, manure factory. Still poorly designed, but at least it’s keeping up with the latest bullshit.
I say “unsurprisingly” because, as someone who has been tracking bullshit for my entire adult life, as soon as I saw the political “fake news” websites during the election popping up in my feed, I recognized all the same tactics being used, both in terms of self-referential links and the way they preyed on “skeptics” and “free thinkers.”
Nowadays, Natural News has gotten a little more sophisticated: Its links go to other websites, sites with names like “Deep State News.” Regardless, it’s the same tactic as always, linking back to different like-minded (almost certainly interconnected) sources to give the sheen of authenticity to its claims. The snake is still eating its tail, one source of bullshit feeding another. (Who would have thought that “The Human Centipede” would turn out to be the most culturally astute film of our times?)
It’s possible that Natural News’ turn to Trumpism is just a natural development of its anti-establishment roots. If you don’t trust doctors and the medical establishment, it stands to reason you probably look askew at the political establishment, too.
On the other hand, if you’re a bit more cynical – as I am – you might note that Natural News always had a political slant at its core. I don’t mean Republican or Democrat, or even conservative or liberal. Rather, its politics were about persuading its readers that all “official” sources were lying, so you could only trust them. (And while we’ve got you here, why don’t you buy some vitamin supplements?)
“Everyone else is lying but me.” Sound familiar? When Trump praises Fox News and calls all other news sources “fake” he’s relying on the same tactic that Natural News used to secure a loyal and defensive audience. As soon as you’ve earned someone’s trust and, more importantly, built their distrust of others, they’re yours for life.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying Natural News was a Russian-backed front for spreading fake news (unless it turns out it really was, in which case, I’m also not not saying that).
What I am saying, though, is that all “fake news” sources use this same tactic to create loyalty. It’s not a new tactic. It originated with the original – and still best – purveyor of lies the world ever knew: Religion.
In the beginning…
Once you’ve convinced your followers that only your book, your prophets, your preachers, your celebrity spokesperson have access to the truth, it becomes impossible to dispute your claims.
I said above that I have been tracking bullshit my entire adult life. What I meant was that, as soon as I de-converted from Christianity at the age of 20, I began to look for all the ways that religion convinced its followers – convinced me – to stay in its grasp, even when so little of it made sense.
As a young, firebrand atheist, I was obsessed with debunking Christian myths and disproving its claims. I followed a pretty standard trajectory for an atheist, from excitable (and mean) reactionary to stately but acerbic provocateur, to where I am now: an old man tired of the fight. I mostly don’t write about it anymore, because the debate has gotten tiring, and the results non-existent.
But I bring up my young atheism because that’s where I first noticed the tactics of modern “fake news”: utilize self-referential sources, engender distrust, muddy the waters around what can be known (i.e. facts).
In one specific topic, I saw those tactics being used to prolong a debate that had long been settled: Evolution vs. Creationism (Intelligent Design).
Creationists like Ken Ham have no chance of winning the debate on the merits of facts or reason, so they turn to other methods for winning adherents to their political views: repeating assertions ad nauseam, no matter how baseless (repetition creates the illusion of veracity); arguing that one can’t trust what is seen with one’s own eyes; and proclaiming that biologists (all scientists, really) are part of a conspiracy to trick the world.
These same tactics are used by Climate Change deniers, Natural News quacks, and Donald Trump, among others.
When writing article after article about religion in my early 20s, I felt a bit like Chicken Little screaming that the sky was falling. Some people humored me, some even agreed. Turns out, the sky really was falling, and everyone thought they were safe under their particular awnings.
The future is bleak
Things are going to keep getting worse because of technology. Don’t get me wrong, technology is amazing, but its most amazing feature is also its greatest danger: it makes what isn’t real look like it is. Whether it’s getting us emotionally invested in the arc of a talking raccoon in a space epic or creating a video in which Obama appears to be calling Trump a dipshit, our world is increasingly virtual; in other words, fake. Eventually, our tech will overwhelm our ability to tell the difference.
For those looking forward to 2018 or 2020 in hopes of the truth winning out and Trumpism being eradicated, well, don’t hold your breath.
It’s not enough to know that “fake news” exists; we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that we are susceptible to it, and to blame for it.
You are to blame. I am, too.
I’ll admit, I reposted that fake Trump quote about Republicans. I’m at least partially responsible for that “quote” having more legs than it deserved.
This is the simplest form of fake news, and it’s one that was pretty easy to debunk because it gives the supposed source. Trump never said those words, and obviously he wouldn’t have. The fact that I reposted it speaks to my own willingness to put aside common sense when something feels true enough.
(There is a similar damning “quote” going around, with George Soros supposedly admitting to using Black Lives Matter to stir up violence in America. It’s just as bullshit as the Trump quote and proof that tactics know no political allegiance.)
When I read that the quote was fake, I double checked and was dismayed to find I’d been suckered. I deleted my post and now tell other people when they post it. People often smugly respond, “Well, even if he didn’t say it, the quote is true,” not getting the irony that they’re making fun of other people for believing lies. We have to be better than this.
Calling out these blatant lies is a small thing, but it’s some effort towards stopping the deluge. Sadly, I fear it’s a bit like cleaning up an oil spill with a teaspoon.
You’re to blame for Fake News.
You have spread fake news. I don’t care who you voted for, I don’t care how much of a “skeptic” or a “free thinker” you are. You have helped spread false information. Maybe you found out and corrected yourself, maybe you quietly buried the evidence, or maybe you are still convinced of its veracity. Whatever the case, you’re guilty.
And to prove it, I will list some lies that you believe or did believe. I won’t provide my sources, but I assure you, these are all facts. If you doubt me – good, that’s the first step – I encourage you to do the research yourself and learn why these lies became so massive that most of society accepts them as truth.
Here are lies you have undoubtedly believed at some point in your life:
Carrots improve your night vision
Diamonds are rare
It’s dangerous/too difficult for women to get pregnant after 35
Vitamin C will cure a cold
Milk strengthens your bones
Mary Magdalene was a prostitute
You need to drink 8 glasses of water a day
A woman frivolously sued McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee on herself and that’s why we live in a nanny state
We not only live with our lies, we love them. We define our world by them. Like it or not, there is a good chance your idea of the world has largely been shaped by at least one of those lies above (I used to drink a big glass of OJ every time I felt a tickle in my throat).
The spreading of lies isn’t going to stop. Liars aren’t going to stop. The only way to make a better world is to be better consumers of information.
It’s not enough to just be a “skeptic.” We need to be curious. We need to be invested in the truth. We need to be interested in the wider world.
But, before all that, we need to admit, we’re part of the problem.
My apologies ahead of time if this post is not what you come here to read. It won’t be very funny (not that they ever are).
When I decided to bring this blog back from hibernation, I did so with the intention of writing exclusively about travel and directly related topics. Long time readers of this page know I’ve never been shy about getting into politics and writing passionately about social issues. Going forward, though, I wanted this page to eschew those topics as much as possible, to be a positive page buoyed by the joy of travel.
To ignore what is going on in my country right now, though, would be a disservice. To write some random entry about a failed trip I once took would be a lie, because that isn’t where my mind is right now.
This is not a political post. I want to write about who we are.
Put simply, this Travel Ban – the Muslim Ban, the Refugee Ban, whatever you would call it – is not who we are. I refuse to accept this as a Conservative versus Liberal issue. Shame on us if we allow it to become so.
Since World War II, when America was forced to reconcile with the tragic results of banning refugees in the 1930s, we have been a nation that said we were a home for the outcast. It has been our identity in the world; it has been our beacon, a figurative idea made literal by Lady Liberty who stands roughly 5 miles from where I type this.
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This has been the spirit of this nation for over 100 years. That is not to gloss over our numerous failings as a nation, especially as it relates to foreign policy. Our actions have rarely lived up to our ideals. But we have had those ideals, and they have been what united us as a nation, even if we couldn’t agree how best to achieve them.
For eight years, dyspeptic voices warned us that President Obama was fundamentally changing the character of this nation. Well, in eight days, Donald Trump truly did it.
You can be fiscally conservative and see this is wrong. You can be socially conservative and see this is wrong. You can love your children and want to protect them and not turn your backs on others – that isn’t love, that’s fear. This isn’t Right versus Left, this is a basic question of our humanity. To shut our doors on those in need under the guise – the lie – that it will keep us safe is to fail on every level to be the nation we have claimed to be for a century.
I won’t post pictures of the children caught in the Syrian war because I don’t want to be accused of using emotional manipulation or propaganda. But you have seen them. You have seen these children, these mothers, these fathers; you have seen their suffering. They are no less human because the God they pray to answers to a different name than yours.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I have been told often that we are a Christian nation. When will we act as such? How can we be a nation that professes that it is in God we trust, yet we have no faith that we will be protected if we do what is right?
I don’t know what motivates you. I don’t know which truth you hold most dear to your heart. I don’t know which belief guides your choices.
Here is mine: Humanity is flawed; it is capable of great evil and depravity, motivated by selfishness, greed, hatred, and, more often than anything else, fear. But within humanity is also the capacity for tremendous acts of love and sacrifice, resilience and hope. I believe that humanity at its best surpasses humanity at its worst. And I believe that there is no Judgment Day awaiting, no eternal reward or punishment; just the beating rhythm of our own conscience too often drowned out by the frightened bellows within us.
To those living elsewhere in the world: Know that the actions of these particular leaders are not the will of much of the people. It is not my will. I became a traveler because I do not believe in walls. I travel because my humanity is awakened when I open myself up to new experiences and new perspectives.
To those of you living in the US: Now, we must resist this spreading evil, just as generations passed resisted tyranny in Europe and elsewhere. We must not grow complacent or irresolute in the face of this onslaught of cruelty. This is not who we are as a nation. This is not who we are as people.
I want to say something, but I’m not really sure what.
I’m not sure I have the words for what needs to be said.
I want to say that when a white man enters a black church and kills 9 black people, it is obviously racially motivated. When the man says, “I want to shoot black people,” we don’t have to wonder what his motivation was. We don’t have to wonder if racism is still an issue in America. We can know.
I want to say that just because a mass murder happened in a church, it doesn’t mean Christians in America are under attack. There are places in the world where Christians do have to fear for their lives, and to pretend like America is one of those places is to do their struggle a disservice. To claim victimhood when you are not a victim is a monstrous act of narcissism.
I want to say that we create laws and regulations to protect us against those who would do us harm. We create laws to protect us against ourselves. Society, politics, the rule of law, these all exist because without them humanity is a chaotic mess. With them, we grow incrementally less messy.
I want to say that we do not live in the wild west, and that’s good. The wild west was horrible. People died, frequently. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies have led us to romanticize the old west as a time of Real Men and Real Women. In fact, it was a horror of constant dangers: lawlessness, poor health, racism, sexual violence and poverty. Why would we seek to emulate that period?
I want to say that a person who would put his or her right to own a gun above the lives of his fellow humanity is a terrifying human being. I don’t have children so I don’t know what it feels like to believe that I must do anything in my power to protect them, including being ready and able to shoot any attacker. I do have loved ones, though, family and friends and lovers, and I do know what it’s like to hear they have been attacked, hurt, violated. I know what it’s like to want vengeance, to want to inflict pain, violence, righteous punishment. I know the craving for justice. A gun isn’t justice.
I want to say that the world will never be perfect but that doesn’t mean we have to stop striving for it. A sailor will never reach the horizon, but she can still follow the setting sun.
I want to say that this shooting in Charleston will make us stop, consider and finally act. It won’t.
I want to say so much. Every. Single. Time. this happens. Every time a psychopath enters a church, a school, a theater, a synagogue, a mall – anywhere they damn well please – and obliterates innocent people with easily purchased guns, I want to say something. I want to scream. I want to grab people by the shoulders and yell in their face.
I want to say something.
But I can’t. Because if I do say any of that, I’m just politicizing these innocent people’s death. If I say something, I’m the bad guy because I didn’t have the decency to wait until after the mourning was finished. If I want to say something, I have to wait until there are no more tragedies, no more senseless acts of violence, no more crippling flashes of horror. I have to wait until there are no more mass shootings.