2017: How Will It Be A Better Year?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

I’m a big believer in personal change, I just don’t put any stock in arbitrary time markers. The division of years, while useful for a myriad of practical and societal reasons, is given too much prominence in our personal lives. You’re going to be the same person at 2016-12-31 23:59:59 as you will be at 2017-01-01 00:00:01. We don’t change because the calendar turns; we change because we make a choice to do so.

It’s already a cliché that 2016 was a shitty year, but you know what they say: They’re clichés for a reason.

It’s quite possible your favorite artist died (with David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Gene Wilder, and Harper Lee topping the list of the deceased, odds are good at least one creator you enjoyed or even adored passed); or maybe the man who was elected President of the United States deeply concerns (terrifies, sickens, etc.) you; or perhaps your personal life has fallen apart all around you. All reasons to hate the year that was.

Also, let us never forget, millions of people around the world were displaced from their homes and are still facing uncertain futures and unrelenting terror. It’s hard to look back on the headlines of this past year and not feel despondent. This Saturday, people across the world will gather to enthusiastically celebrate 2016’s end, myself included.

But then what?

It’s time to ask yourself the question, how are the next twelve months going to be better than the last twelve months?

I’m not talking about weight loss plans, or resolving to read a book a week. Those are all fine goals to set for yourself, but they’re skin deep endeavors. Even if you accomplish your goal, you will exit 2017 essentially the same as you entered it.

Look, if you’re content with yourself and your place in the world, I’ve got no advice for you. Just keep on keepin’ on, stay golden, Ponyboy, and so on.

For the rest of us, though, it’s time to think about how we’re going to make actual change in our lives and our world.


Firstly, if you’re depressed because a bunch of celebrities died this year, I don’t know what to tell you, other than, buckle up, it’s only going to keep getting worse. If, however, you’re saddened by the loss of artistry as represented by those who departed in 2016, maybe it’s time to do your part to make sure new art keeps being produced in the world. Lord knows we need it.

That could mean finishing your album or novel. Maybe you take a big risk – quitting your job, performing live – and actually put faith in your art. It might not even be about your own art: You could start a company or group to support other artists. Or maybe you’re a parent and you encourage your child to pursue music, or theater, or dance, or any form of expression. The David Bowie’s of this world all started somewhere.


If you’re looking around the planet and don’t like what you see, you are not alone. The global political landscape is looking pretty grim right now, and there’s no one singular cause. There’s also no one solution.

If you’re politically inclined, now is as good a time as any the absolute best time to get involved. I can’t speak for politics in other countries, but in the United States there is a dearth of thoughtful, engaged people throwing their hat in the ring. It’s not enough to go to protests or to sign petitions (and it’s certainly not enough to share articles on social media). There are open positions in your local government that aren’t glamorous or sexy, but still matter. Stop bemoaning the lack of viable candidates, and become one.

You can blame a rigged system for why Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or some other (better) candidate didn’t get their shot at the presidency, but politics is a game of chess, and there are more pieces on the board than just the King and Queen. The great thing about a pawn is, if it makes enough moves, it can eventually become a knight, rook, bishop, or, yes, queen.


Politics matters, but there are some causes that will never be fixed by laws or deal making. There are many lives that cannot hold on long enough for a treaty to be signed. Donating to good causes is a straightforward and admirable way to help out others, especially when there’s no clear answer for a problem, but that money doesn’t just go to a magical cloud to rain down on those in need. Wherever there is a need to be met, someone has to physically step up to do the work. Could that be you?

Doctors Without Borders, the Peace Corps, and countless other disaster relief organizations all do great work around the world. If you have a medical background, especially, your services could be put to great use. There is likely even vital work to be done in your own neck of the woods. Volunteering somewhere, anywhere, whatever your skill sets, is massively important. Obviously, not everyone can do it, and that’s why donations are still so important, but for those who can, there is a world of need.


This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. It’s easy to read these kinds of posts and think, “That sounds great, but I know myself and I won’t/can’t do any of it.” Believe me, I get it. All of those suggestions I made, I don’t intend to do them.

As readers know, I’m moving to Spain next year. In my next post, I will write about my plans and purpose in making that move. It’s true that I’m doing it because I love to travel, but I’m also moving to hopefully have a positive impact. Like I said, I’ll get into the details next week, but for now I just want to say I spent much of this year frustrated and determining how to improve my world and my place in it. 

There’s no wrong way to make a change, but there’s a surefire way to make sure nothing changes, and that’s doing nothing.

I started out this post by saying that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I never have, I never will. But that doesn’t mean I don’t make resolutions. I’m resolved to be in a new place – geographically, psychically, intellectually – than I am right now. If, for you, tying a resolution to the New Year gives it more weight, then do what you need to do. Just make it a resolution that matters.

With this year coming to a close, those of us who are dissatisfied with the state of our world need to decide what we’re going to do about it, and as individuals, we need to resolve to take action. 2017 will only be better than 2016 if we make it so.


The View from Outside the World

“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

The world is a scary place. Or, more accurately, a lot of people around the world are scared. Yesterday alone, attacks across Europe shook politicians and civilians, even as ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen – to name just a couple – continue testing our ability to just look away as innocents suffer. Meanwhile, in America, the next president was officially given his Electoral College victory even as a sizeable portion of the nation’s population looked on in dismay. It was for much of humanity, not a happy day.

This post has no answers. It isn’t about stomping the ground for some political point or pleading for you to donate money. I mean, yes, please, do that if you can; there are no shortage of causes demanding your attention. If you’re a charitable person, consider yourself blessed with an abundance of opportunities to prove it.

I believe there are answers to all of these problems; I just don’t have them.


This is a blog about travel. I write it because my undying hope is that we will make our world just a little bit smaller by fulling appreciating how vast it is. I write this blog because I refuse to allow borders to be prisons.

The attack in Germany appears to be terroristic, and at this moment the prevailing theory is that the attacker was an asylum seeker, a Muslim immigrant. Of course, anytime anything bad happens in the world, that’s the prevailing theory. No matter who turns out to be the perpetrator, there will always be people who believe immigrants in general – and Muslims in particular – are a danger to society.

History is clear on this: the Outsider is always evil.

Of course that’s not true. There is not a person reading this who wasn’t an outsider at some point. Maybe you’re an immigrant, or the children of immigrants. Maybe you’re a Muslim in a Christian society, or vice versa. Maybe you’re gay, or an atheist, or transgender, or disabled. Maybe you just never fit in.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting all outsiders are the same. Some people are put on the outside for the good of society: Murderers, rapists, thieves, so on.

The point is, we’re all on the outside of something. Even Trump, a rich white man from New York City who was born into money still managed to run a campaign as the “outsider” candidate. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

There are millions and millions of people around the world who want nothing more than to be inside the United States, who want to be accepted here and given access to the opportunities and freedoms many of us take for granted. Just by birth, some were blessed with the ultimate insiders’ pass. I’m one such person. And all I want to do is get outside.


Every year for a decade, I moved to a new city and over a period of 12 months, I worked my way from outside to inside within my new home – and then I started over. I won’t pretend my journey was even 1/100th as difficult as those of immigrants moving to a new country. One thing we Americans often take for granted is that we are lucky to live within a country that is so diverse in culture while still unified by language and common experiences. I will never understand the people who don’t take advantage of that.

What 10 Cities/10 Years taught me was to not be afraid of being on the outside. As I plan my move to Spain in 2017, I’m reading accounts from those who have already done it, and the most consistent sentiment I read is, “The hardest part for me was being away from friends and family; it took me a couple months to make friends here.” I can only smile, because that stopped being a concern for me many years ago.

I want to be on the outside. I want to learn new things and be confronted by circumstances where my previous experience and knowledge isn’t sufficient. I don’t expect to enjoy every step of the journey or to always succeed. I will regret choices and wake up some days thinking, “What have I done?” That’s called traveling.

Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown. Terror is the most basic response to what is going on the world, but compassion should be as well. Empathy and a desire to understand, these should be just as powerful emotions within all of us or our world will continue to deteriorate. We can’t keep pretending that just because something happens on the other side of an imaginary line that we won’t be impacted.

Yes, the world can be a terrifying place. It’s also a beautiful place. I’m not sure it could be one without being the other. We can’t appreciate that dichotomy if we don’t get out and see it for ourselves. And we won’t ever step outside if we are motivated solely by fear.

If you’re the kind of person to make New Year’s Resolutions, may I suggest a very simple one for 2017: Don’t be afraid. Don’t let what scares you dictate the kind of life you’ll live. Learn to appreciate what it’s like to be on the outside.

And, you know, travel.

Joseph Kony and “Entitled Salvation” (Again)

I’m not going to waste a lot of exposition here.  You’ve heard about Joseph Kony now.  You’ve seen the video (or, you know, the first ten minutes, then skipped to the end) and posted it to your Facebook wall.

And then, a day after you mustered up the courage and integrity to do what everyone else did, you started hearing the negative feedback loop:

Joseph Kony isn’t even in Uganda anymore.

Invisible Children is a questionable organization that misuses donations.

Now you don’t know what to think.  You tried to do a good thing, you might have even given some money, and after all that hard work, you feel your faith in something you hadn’t heard of 48 hours ago may be shaken to its core.

Well, I’m not here to restore that faith or to tell you, “As long as your heart is open to those in need, that’s enough.”

Because it’s not enough.  Your heart should always work in concert with your brain.  Do some research, get to know the history and then figure out how to help (even if it is just giving money).

The situation in Uganda and other African nations is tragic, but it’s also complex and it’s not going to be resolved by trending #JosephKony on Twitter.  Yeah, I know, the Arab Spring was a digital revolution.  The world can be changed by people on Facebook and Twitter.  Except, those people weren’t just on Facebook and Twitter.  They got off their asses and many risked their lives.  Social Media is a tool, but it isn’t the tool.

I’ve written about this problem before, which I call “Entitled Salvation,” or believing that merely acknowledging a problem will fix it because, hey, the world owes me happiness.  I want to share the salient points from a post I wrote over a year ago in response to the “Change your FB picture to a Cartoon Character” movement of 2010.

Entitled Salvation: How Cartoons Saved the World

(You’ll note the sarcasm right upfront.)

This weekend, Facebook users raised awareness about child abuse.  Next weekend, it’ll be about breast cancer.  After that, AIDS.  Or autism or Darfur.

All worthy causes, to be sure.

But people know these problems exist.  Their ‘awareness’ of them isn’t the issue.  It’s their complete unwillingness to get off their asses and do something productive that is the problem.  By telling people that doing nothing (and changing your profile picture [or posting a video] is pretty much the dictionary definition of doing nothing) is accomplishing some small victory, you’re reinforcing an attitude that great strides can be made by doing very little (or nothing at all).

At the same time, you’re also just piling on a list of capital ‘I’ Issues that you expect people to care about.  We should all be concerned about the myriad of horrendous problems that affect our nation and our world.  And when another earthquake decimates a third world country, we should care about that.  But, in reality, each individual has only a finite amount of resources (time and money) to devote to any number of causes.  The awareness raising technique is a way of alleviating guilt by telling people they can address every issue simply by acknowledging they exist.

Instead, people should focus on the one or two issues they can truly invest in and encourage others to find their own worthy causes.  This is not to say that people should have tunnel vision and ignore other problems (especially because different world problems tend to arise out of similar root causes), but we also shouldn’t reward inaction by giving everyone a blue ribbon for showing up.

If you want to cure AIDS, it’s better to have 100 active, committed people than 100 million ‘aware’ do-nothings.  Granted, if we could turn those 100 million people into activists, that would be a great accomplishment, but saying the bare minimum is all that’s required of them is not going to light a fire under anyone.

As a culture, we are breeding something I call, “Entitled Salvation.”  Specifically, this means that people believe they deserve to be rescued from the absolute chaos and cruel indifference that rules the universe.  We acknowledge that the world can be a shitty place, but we don’t think that it should be a shitty place for us.

Now, someone might argue, “But people didn’t know about Joseph Kony before, so this awareness is a good thing.”  You might be right, but I think most people had heard of the child soldiers in Africa and the other atrocities like rape and murder.  Putting a face on it might make it easier to digest, but that doesn’t make this a new issue.

I am by no means saying that we shouldn’t get involved.  Absolutely, if your heart breaks for Africa, put your money where your mouth is, read up on the historical and political background of the situation and do something.  (Posting a video doesn’t count.)

But like I said in the previous post, if you want to do good in this world, don’t spread yourself so thin by trying to address every issue that you can’t do anything more than post a video on Facebook.  Pick a cause and focus on that.  And encourage your friends and family to do the same.  If you notice in my links, I have “Girl Effect” listed.  It’s a great cause, I recommend you look into it and donate if you find it worthy.  And if isn’t something you’re interested in, don’t post it to Facebook.

I am not encouraging apathy.  Find a cause, devote yourself to it.  My problem with this Joseph Kony stuff is that it actually causes apathy.  You post the video on your page, your friends read the counterarguments against Invisible Children, and suddenly people have an excuse to not care.  And not just about this cause, but every cause you post about in the future.

As a socially conscious, concerned member of an international society, it isn’t your responsibility to care about every issue that comes your way, and it certainly isn’t your job to turn your Facebook into one giant bulletin board for every global tragedy.

Pick a cause, research it, get involved, and then pass the information on to your friends.

I guarantee you, that kind of dedication will pay off greater dividends than a million video shares.

I’ll give you all I got to give if you say you’ll love me too

So, here’s the scene:

I’m leaving my job at [Downtown Seattle clothing store] and walking home.  Normally I put my headphones on before I’m even out the door, but I was distracted reading an email on my phone (that’s right, I’m a baller like that) and I just didn’t think.  If this were a zombie movie, the camera would have lingered for a moment on my pocket with my inactive iPod inside, foreshadowing my dire fate.

I’m about two blocks away from the store when I spot her.  She isn’t wearing one of those red or blue vests like many of them are, but she’s got the binder in her hand.  She’s attempting to stop people, but no one is making eye contact.  There’s no denying it, she’s one of them.  Charity Worker.

And she has me in her sights.

I’m looking at my phone, but she has positioned herself right in my path.  From a distance, I can feel her eyes on me.  I can’t help myself, I look up and make eye contact.  I should pull a Peter Gibbons from Office Space and just stroll around her, but I’m not that Jedi. I stop.

For the next ten minutes (not an exaggeration.  Well, I don’t think it is.  Time sort of stopped, actually), she fed me her reasons why, A) I looked like the kind of person she wanted to talk to and B) Why I would obviously want to jump at the opportunity to give.  Man, did this chick have a lot of energy and gusto.  She certainly made some mighty convincing points and had an answer for every objection, even when I wasn’t stating any objections.

It took about five “I’m sorry, I can’t”s before I was able to break free with a handshake and a begrudging smile.

Lyttleton 1, Charity Worker 0.  Suck it poor children.

Causes Galore

Here’s the thing.  I agree with her cause.  I agree with all the causes.  The Red Cross?  Sure, would love to give.  Susan G. Komen for the Cure?  Absolutely, I love titties.  And this chatty woman’s cause, Children’s International?  I think someone should, please, think of the children.  So yeah, all worthy causes.  And many many more.

My personal charitable organization of choice is Oxfam International, as I’ve discussed before.  I’ve given to lots of charities in my time, and I know I have because my email inbox is full of requests asking for more.

I’m not writing this as some way to assuage guilt for not having given to that woman’s cause.

I’m also not writing this to lay out my perfectly sound, guilt-free reasons for why I didn’t give.

My choice to not give in that instant doesn’t need justifications.  I give when I can, I don’t when I can’t.  I’m no great humanitarian, I know this.  I yam what I yam.

The Street Sales Pitch

One of the great tools of these types of charity workers is manipulating cognitive dissonance.  Once they spot you – the promising mark – on the street, they play up the fact that you are obviously a cool, decent person, and so you’ll want to give to this cause.  And why wouldn’t you give, you might not be rich, but you could certainly afford $25 a month, right?  By the end, you have either succumbed to the guilt and given, or you have walked away feeling shitty about yourself. 

Win / Win.

It’s nearly impossible to walk through downtown Seattle and not be stopped by one of these charity workers.  On any given day, there are at least three different organizations trying to raise money.  That doesn’t even include the countless homeless people asking for change with their signs and cups or extended palms.  Short of burying your head into your chest and blasting music on your headphones, there really isn’t a way to make it through downtown without somebody hitting you up for money.

When you live in a city long enough, you learn how to cope.  You ignore the homeless or get good at unapologetically telling them ‘No.’  As for the charities, people have similar strategies of ignoring them, but there are also other ways to get around them.  Most just sort of point to their watch (or really just their wrist, because who wears a watch anymore?), indicating they’re in a hurry.  Some say, “I already give,” whether it’s true or not.  Urban living is a bit like maneuvering in a minefield, there’s always someone trying to take your arm and your leg.  That metaphor probably doesn’t work.

I believe in giving to charity, I absolutely do.  But I’ve gotten to the point where I detest this form of collection.  I get why organizations do it (guilt is a powerful motivator, especially when it’s in your face), but it’s a very disingenuous way of engaging with the public.  I’ve already been held up twice by this sort of sales pitch (actually, three times if you the count running into the same guy twice), and each time they’ve tried to play it up like we’re friends, like we were all on the same page and (this part is implied) unlike the rest of the assholes on the street, I’m one of the good ones.

They always ask what I do before they go into the sales pitch, and invariably when they hear about the 10 Cities Project, they say something like, “I knew you were different, I could tell.  You’ll definitely be interested in…” and then they go straight into their prepared speech.  They weren’t really listening to me.  I could have explained how I arrange illegal cockfights and they would have still gushed about how perfect I was for their cause.

I’m completely in support of these causes, and even I am turned off by these tactics.  I can only imagine how someone who isn’t predisposed to help would react to this sort of blatant manipulation.  I’m sure it works for these charities (or they wouldn’t pay to have all these people on the street), but I find the whole thing distasteful.

Reasons Not To Give

People really don’t need any additional reasons not to give, they’ve usually got their stockpile.

Some like to argue that charity is bad, that it makes people lazy and that no decent person would accept charity anyway.  I find that to be a very nihilistic view and a weak argument, besides.  I don’t think charity makes people lazy when the charity is dispensed in such a way to encourage self-reliance.  There are plenty of charities that give assistance by providing work or educational opportunities, and in fact, I think most charities attempt to build or maintain infrastructures for long-term growth.

The other common argument that sounds convincing until you think about it is worded a bit like this: “If you give to one charity, why shouldn’t you give to every one?  Would you have us all be broke so that no one was well off?”  Essentially, the suggestion is that it is logically inconsistent to give to one deserving person and not another, and so if we follow that logic, eventually we’ll have to give away all of our money and we’ll be just as poor as those we’re helping.

These arguments against charity (and social welfare, for that matter) are profoundly stupid.

Charitable Living

Here is a simple way to live a sustainable, happy American life with your morning chai latte while still helping out your fellow human being:  Give to causes you believe in when you can.  When you can’t, or just don’t feel particularly invested in a cause, don’t.

It’s a pretty guilt-free way of living.  I think most people, if they have any decency in them, will have some cause in their life that they want to give to.  I’ve known people who scoffed at charitable giving but then they’ve had a family member get cancer or a child be sick and, what do you know, suddenly they’re asking for a donation to whatever group helps with that illness.

For some people, charity will always be a bad thing, until they need it.

For the rest of us, it should just be a part of who we are.  Not because God tells us, or because we feel guilty if we don’t, but because helping someone who needs it is one of the most enriching ways to live.

But the next time one of those charity workers tries to stop me, I think I’ll just walk right on by.

The Importance of Being Apathetic: or, The Birth of a Liberal

For most of my young life well through college, I considered myself apathetic to politics because I didn’t know enough about the issues to care (as a good little Christian Youth, I was Republican by association, but it wasn’t something I got heated up about).  As I have little to no belief in the ability of politicians to make big changes, I still am rather apathetic towards Politics.  But, that’s not to say that I am apathetic.

Most people choose their political leanings based on one or two issues that end up pigeonholing them as Conservative or Liberal.  While everyone likes to think of themselves as reasoning automatons, usually if you go Conservative socially, you end up being Conservative fiscally, too, as with Liberal.  Are there exceptions?  Certainly, probably millions.  But if you’re not particularly worked up about some political issue, it’s easiest to go along with the flow of the people you’ve surrounded yourself with.  A Pro-Life rally is likely going to consist of people who oppose big government (ironically), while a Pro-Gay Marriage rally is most likely going to share a mailing list with the Pro-Health Care Reform rallies.

Which brings me to my political views.  I fully admit that my stances on all the obvious issues – Abortion, Gay Marriage, Immigration, Gun Control, blah blah blah – are predictably liberal and it would be easy to think I’m just a bandwagon jumper.  But most of my political views come as a logical progression from a single realization:

There is no God.

One of the first big ‘issues’ that I became impassioned about (and remain so) was the vast and debilitating poverty that overruns Africa (I know, a random concern for a white middle-class kid from Kansas).  Along with poverty comes disease and genocide, making Africa a continent truly beleaguered with the greatest crises in the world.

Before some troll erupts in my comments, I am well aware that some parts of Africa are actually well-off; that’s beside the point.

As I looked more into the issues that affect Africa, I studied Fair Trade vs. Free Trade, the Rwandan and Darfur genocides and the AIDS crisis (along with countless other diseases, most of which we in the West no longer fear).

I first developed my interest in Africa in college, around the same time I was losing my faith in God.  Some of the first divisive arguments I found myself having with the Christians in my life were about differing approaches to giving aid.  The Christian method of aid so often comes with such dangerous preconditions that I refuse to be mollified by, “At least they’re helping.”

In the Good Ol’ Imperial Days of Christian Charity, if you needed help from one of Christ’s disciples, you had to convert.  Nowadays, well, things haven’t changed much.  There may not be an overt expectation of religious conversion, but there certainly are moralistic expectations aplenty.  Take the Catholic Church’s approach to fighting AIDS in Africa as example:  Lie about the effectiveness of condoms and expect the continent to practice abstinence.  I guess they thought, “The abstinence only approach works so well here in the U.S., let’s play Russian Roulette with an entire continent.. and that’s load all the chambers just to make it more interesting.”

The point I am making is that belief in God can taint even the best intentions.*  Worse, it leads to despicable governmental policies.  Somehow, the Conservative notion of the Free Market became a tenet of Christianity (even though it was Jesus who said sell all of your things and give your money to the poor… it’s not one of those subtle verses, either).  What does belief in the Free Market lead to?  Well, apparently, it leads people to believe that the Rich are chosen by God and the poor are just shit out of luck.

What people don’t seem to understand (or willingly ignore) is that there is no such thing as the “Free Market”, not in the totally autonomous sense that is often meant.  There are always agents working both in front of and behind the scenes.  These are the people making sure the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.  They are the ones creating laws that favor the powerful and step all over developing nations (the meek aren’t inheriting much).  Free Trade is an ideal, but it doesn’t exist, and that’s why Fair Trade is necessary.  Most of the arguments against Fair Trade are that it hinders nations in a Free Trade system, but it ignores the fact that the Free Trade system is a lie.  Just look at our own recent recession to see the abuse of power that happens when no one is watching the markets.

(EDIT – I didn’t realize I was going to have to make this explicit:  I think the Free Trade Ideal is superb and if it existed, I’d be all for it.  I’d be all for an all-loving, all-knowing God who wanted nothing for me to be happy, too, but neither one exists so I adapt my expectations for the world and the universe.)

Learning more about Africa taught me more about politics and the way the world really works.  Rarely does anyone look out for the oppressed unless a news camera is in their face and the first priority is always about getting their pockets lined.  You think that isn’t true for the Catholic Church (or churches in general)?  Well, were they doing anything about the child rapes in their midst until it became a huge scandal?  And what does their presence in Africa do if not guarantee more people belonging to their church, pledging more tithes?  All the better to get the Pope a Gold-Plated toilet seat.

Am I cynical?  You bet your ass I am.  I know how the world really works.

How does this all tie in to the non-existence of God?  Well, some political views are obvious:  If there is no God, why oppose Gay Marriage (the sanctity of marriage argument is bullshit)?  If there is no God, abstinence is no morally better than using protection, and only fractionally safer.  If there is no God, no person or group has a ‘God-given right’ to anything, whether that be land, wealth or even freedom.  (I’m not arguing that freedom is not a human right, only that it is not a gift from some invisible Beard in the sky).

But beyond the obvious, atheism reveals even more: If there is no God, then the atrocities in Africa are not a punishment from God, they are not God’s will or even a method for testing his Faithful (one of the more perverse explanations for evil in this world).  No, without God as an excuse, what is happening in Africa becomes much simpler:  Human greed, selfishness and fear is at the heart of Africa’s problems.

It can be traced back to the slave traders who raped the continent, but Conservatives are always quick to say, “Don’t blame us for the sins of our fathers” (even though that’s the foundational belief of Christianity, Original Sin).  Well, you don’t have to go back 400 years to find people using and abusing Africa for their own profit.  It goes on today.  Governments and corporations thrive on the backs of cheap labor (not just in Africa, worldwide), lax regulations and trade treaties that protect their interests.  And many of the people working behind the scenes to keep these conditions in existence are doing so with the belief that they are doing God’s work.

These are complex issues, far more complex than I could ever claim to understand.  I know I have a lot to learn about global economics, but I am willing to learn.

I’m not claiming that everyone who is Conservative or Christian is guilty of these crimes (or even complicit), not at all.  But what I will say is that the Conservative view, in my experience, is always narrow.  It looks at a problem like immigration and says, “Kick illegals out,” without looking at the larger political spectrum and acknowledging that illegal immigrants are not the problem, they are a symptom of a corrupt global economy (and the governments that support it).

Unfortunately, Liberals can suffer tunnel vision, too.  Well meaning Liberals will find a pet cause and protest the hell out of it, and pat themselves on the back for every little victory.  But the underlying conditions still exist and a victory in Seattle is just one more defeat in Haiti.  We have to think globally.

I am liberal by natural extension of my atheism, but I’m not political.  I’m still totally apathetic when it comes to the political system (I had a lot of hopes for Obama; they have been tempered, but I haven’t given up on him completely).  I think my political apathy is a good trait, because it keeps me from falling for the lie that all I have to do is vote and that will take care of the world’s problems.  Real actions are required (which is not to say that I don’t vote, because I do).

I don’t put my faith in politicians and I don’t put much stock in going to protests.  I think bringing attention to problems in the world is necessary, and so I do not look down on anyone who wants to beat the street with their message; I just question how effective it is.  When I’m not broke and I have a little extra cash, I’ll throw money to causes I believe in, but I know that money is nothing more than a band aid for a broken bone.

The most common argument against Atheism is that it provides no moral foundation, but that is preposterous.  Atheism takes away the excuses for lazy morality.  If there is no God, no invisible hand to guide human history, then it becomes clear that the world is only as good as we make it.  For me, knowing there is nobody watching over us, no force that is going to punish evildoers, I feel the burden to fight for what is right, to fight for those who cannot fight.

You tell people that Africa is being treated terribly, and usually the Conservative view says, “The world ain’t fair.”  On the other hand, if you dare say, “The rich should pay more in taxes,” Conservatives cry, “That ain’t fair!”  Well, I agree.  The world is not fair.

My goal in life is to make it a little more even.  That is why I am a Liberal.

*The argument that faith gives people a reason to do good is suppose to be admirable.  I just find it sad.  You need to believe in an overbearing Master of the Universe for you to give a shit about the poor and downtrodden?  Here’s a cookie.


I’m used to going to the New York Times website every morning and reading about another bombing in Iraq or Afghanistan, a mass murder in Africa or a national disaster in some part of the world.  When I first heard of the earthquake in Haiti, my natural reaction was, “That sucks.”  To be honest, I had a similar reaction when I heard about a plane flying into the first World Trade Center.

I was not even a month into my first semester of my Freshmen year at KU.  I was outside of Wescoe Hall, having just exited my first class of the day, Ethics.  A friend and I were walking out when someone he knew approached him and casually mentioned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  My first thought was, “Weird, I wonder how that happened.”  I was thinking something like a private plane had flown off course and into the building.  Having never been to New York City at that point, I couldn’t even picture the scene.  Some random student walking by overheard us talking about it and said he had just heard about it, too.  At that point, I understood that this was a big deal, I just didn’t get how big.

It wasn’t until I walked back to the scholarship hall I lived in and went down to the common area that I began to understand the scope of the tragedy.  A bunch of the guys from the hall were downstairs watching CNN as the story unfolded.  By that point the second plane had hit and it was pretty clear that this was an attack.  The rest of the day is kind of a blur, as I don’t remember when we first knew it was Osama Bin Laden behind the attacks.  I’ve seen the footage so many times since that day, I can’t even remember if I watched the buildings fall live, or if they had already come down by the time I was watching TV.

What I remember vividly though was that first moment of hearing about it and not really grasping how momentous the events unfolding were going to be.

And that’s how I was with this earthquake in Haiti.  It seems every other month an earthquake (or hurricane or fire) causes large swaths of damage around the world.  It’s tragic, but it feels so remote and even in our modern connected times, it rarely feels like something that’s in my world.

If you’re being honest, that’s how you feel quite often, too.

The thing about these massive tragedies, though, such as Haiti where the death toll estimates are at an unthinkable 50,000 people, is that even though I have no connections to Haiti and will feel almost no personal repercussions from this tragedy, there is a riptide that emanates from it and I can’t ignore it or shutter it away with an, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

President Obama has promised 100 million dollars in aid, with more to come later, and I am in full support of the decision.  There will be plenty who say that we are not responsible for other countries, that we don’t owe them anything.  Those people are right.  We owe nothing to Haiti.  But this is an instance where our humanity demands more of us than just cold Capitalistic Ideals.  It is true, there are tragedies all over the world every day, with millions if not billions of people in need of financial help.  And no, we cannot help everyone.  But if the choice is between making an arbitrary decision to help one specific group over another, or do nothing, then there really is no choice at all.  Only a fool believes moral actions are black and white, yes or no, do or don’t.

If you want to help out, do so.  If you feel the urge, do so.  If you are broke and have no money or time to give, you are not a bad person for not giving, but consider if there is anything you can do.  At the very least, though, go to Good Search and for the next week or month or forever, use it as your search engine instead of Google (I love Google, but it’s a worthy and easy sacrifice).  With every search, you donate a little to a good cause.  It costs you nothing, but with a large enough base, it can make a huge difference.

In this instance, there are numerous worthy charities to donate money to, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one you trust to be good stewards of your donation.

I need to add that I know there are a lot of good, decent Christians (and other religious people) who will give money and sacrifice time and organize charities to help in this tragedy, but I would encourage those of the faithful to not put preconditions on what you give.  There are quite a few faith-based charities who do good works while requiring that the beneficiaries of their work give a commitment to the Christian faith or submit to Christian ethical standards (such as the Abstinence Only AIDS charities in Africa). True charity comes without strings or agendas.  (At the same time, there are faith-based charities that don’t have preconditions, and I say kudos to them.)

In general, there are plenty of excellent secular charities out there, and if you want to look into the charities you can give money to, there are sites like Charity Navigator to help you out.

Finally, I want to say for the record that I believe Pat Robertson to be an evil person.  There are no apologies for him, no dismissing him as an old kook.  He isn’t just some nutjob sitting on a street corner.  He has a public forum, a television station that lets his filth spread forth into the public (and he has an audience that listens and respects what he says).  I’m posting the video that you’ve probably already seen so that you will get angry.  Don’t pray about it, don’t get defensive and say, “I’m not that kind of Christian.”  Get angry and use your actions to prove that Robertson doesn’t speak for anyone.

Personally, I’m counting down the days until Robertson’s reign of terror over Christian evangelicals comes to an end.