Autobiographies from the Dead – Jefferson the Founding Father

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Jefferson will tell you the story of his life and death.

Jefferson the Founding Founder

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800My name is Thomas Jefferson.  I am one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.  I almost single handedly wrote the Declaration of Independence.  I was the third President of the newly united colonies and one of the most influential and famous Americans who ever lived.  Many people equated my skills and abilities with those of Leonardo Da Vinci.  I was considered a Renaissance Man.  My quotes and writings are ubiquitous throughout the world.  My name is synonymous with the concepts of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Yet, here I am today looking down at my grave in sadness.  I would never have thought that the day would come when I would be scorned and spit on and called a hypocrite.  Of course, even in my lifetime, I had many critics and people who attacked my position.  But it is different today.  Now, they are not doing it for political gain or to thwart my plans for building a great nation.  Today, I am being criticized because they honestly believe that I was a hypocrite and that I deserve to be denounced for it.

The sad part is that they are right.  I was a hypocrite.  I was also a coward.

I want to explain why I did not free my slaves.  I suppose I could make a few good excuses that would have to do with the economic realities in which I was faced.  I can’t deny that I knew slavery was wrong.  I often talked about how evil the entire enterprise was.  Our “peculiar” thing was, as we called it down South, not simply peculiar, it was fundamentally cruel and malicious.  Nevertheless, I was never a very good business man and I teetered between bankruptcy and solvency on a daily basis.  There was no way I could have freed my slaves and still run an economically viable business.  I was caught between making a living and living my ethics.  I choose to eat and continue my privileged life style.  In the South, I was not condemned for this choice.  I received no accolades either.  This was the way we lived.  We owned slaves and slaves were inferior beings born and bred to work for the White man.   I lived in a strange world.  I could not accept these beliefs but neither could I break free of them.  I do not justify my acquiescence and I do not seek to be exculpated for my failures.   If I were in a dock today, I would plead guilty.  My soul could not rest without such an honest admission.

sally hemingsNow we come to Sally.  I loved her like I never loved any other woman in my life.  I started a clandestine affair with her when she was only 14.  Was I taking advantage of her?  Maybe so, I do not know.  I never forced her or threatened her or coerced her.  Perhaps it started out as an affair of passion when my wife was sick and I was not able to have sex with her.  Soon though, it grew into much more than that.  Sally was witty and smart and fun.   She had none of the pretenses of the typical Virginian lady.  In bed, there were no rules and anything went.  If I could have imagined heaven, it would have been being in bed with Sally.

People started to suspect that something more than slave master and mistress was transpiring between us.  I could not afford to let anyone think it was anything more than that.  In 1790, in Virginia, it was permissible to sleep with a slave.  It was not permissible to love a slave.  My reputation, my entire life would have been destroyed if it had been shown that I was openly consorting with a Black woman.  I had six children with Sally.  Each of these children was kept secret from everyone around us.  I took the secret of these children to my grave.  One hundred and fifty years later, my family are still attempting to deny my lineage to these children.   I am sorry that I had to deny them.  I was worse than Peter with Jesus.  They were my children but they were raised in my house as domestic servants.

I freed Sally and her surviving children when I died.  I could not afford to free all my slaves as this would have left my heirs with a large debt.  My lands, house and slaves merely paid off the mountain of bills that my creditors were clamoring to be paid for.

Did Sally love me?  I don’t know.  I would like to think that it was more than simply serving her master.  But who can tell?  In the warped and perverted system that we called our “peculiar” thing, how could a Black woman have a normal relationship with a White man or vice versa?  Suspicion, fear, prejudice, uncertainty and opportunism were all pervasive in Black-White relationships.  Sally may have seen me simply as a way to have her children freed.  I might have indulged a younger beautiful woman simply to satisfy the narcissism of “old” age.  Who knows?  There is no sense wondering what I would do if I could do things over again.  I am sure I would do the same thing that I did before.  I would indulge in cowardice and hypocrisy because I could do no other.

I am looking at my grave stone now.  It reads:

HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

These were my most important accomplishments.  Please remember me for them.  Forgive me for my failings as a human being.  I never claimed to be a god or to be better than my fellow man.  I ask forgiveness from my children and my descendants.  I hope someday my ancestors will acknowledge the patrimony and lineage between the Hemings and the Jeffersons.  Ironic, that in some ways, this lineage is a more fitting tribute to the principle that “All men are created equal” than anything I have ever done with my life.

I never believed in a God of judgement or a God of human like characteristics.  My belief was in some kind of a higher power that created the galaxies but was not necessarily sentient.   I wander now through these galaxies looking for the god of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.   If I should find him, I will ask him why?  What was it all for?  What did I accomplish?  Would I have left a greater legacy if I had not been a hypocrite?  How could I have done this?   Would he forgive me for my hypocrisy and cowardice?  How do I get rid of the sadness and pain I feel?

Time for Questions:

Do you admire Thomas Jefferson?  What did you find most admirable about his life?  What would you have done if you were in Jefferson’s shoes?  Why?  What do you think he should have done with his slaves?  Why?  Do you think it was wrong for him to have a relationship with Sally Hemings?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

1789 “As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children. Many quakers in Virginia seated their slaves on their lands as tenants. They were distant from me, and therefore I cannot be particular in the details, because I never had very particular information. I cannot say whether they were to pay a rent in money, or a share of the produce: but I remember that the landlord was obliged to plan their crops for them, to direct all their operations during every season & according to the weather. But what is more afflicting, he was obliged to watch them daily & almost constantly to make them work, & even to whip them. A man’s moral sense must be unusually strong, if slavery does not make him a thief. He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own, can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force. These slaves chose to steal from their neighbors rather than work; they became public nuisances and in most instances were reduced to slavery again. But I will beg of you to make no use of this imperfect information (unless in common conversation). I shall go to America in the Spring & return in the fall. During my stay in Virginia I shall be in the neighborhood where many of these trials were made. I will inform myself very particularly of them, & communicate the information to you. Besides these there is an instance since I came away of a young man (Mr. Mayo) who died and gave freedom to all his slaves, about 200. This is about 4 years ago. I shall know how they have turned out. Notwithstanding the discouraging result of these experiments, I am decided on my final return to America to try this one. I shall endeavor to import as many Germans as I have grown slaves. I will settle them and my slaves, on farms of 50 acres each, intermingled, and place all on the footing of the Metayers (Medietani) of Europe. Their children shall be brought up, as others are, in habits of property and foresight, & I have no doubt but that they will be good citizens. Some of their fathers will be so: others I suppose will need government.” – Letter to Dr. Edward Bancroft, Paris, January 26, 1789; “The Works of Thomas Jefferson,” Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Volume 5

Autobiographies from the Dead – Chima the Slave

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Chima will tell you the story of his life and death.

Chima the Slave

igbo boyMy name is Chima.  My slave name is Julian.  My family and I were Igbo people.  I was 9 when I was brought to the United States.  My father and mother also came with me.  We were captured one night by Arab slave traders who sold us to the British slavers.  The year was 1790.  We were chained together with other Igbo tribe members and forced to walk many miles to the coast of Africa. Slaves_ruvuma

Once on the coast we were loaded like cargo into the hulls of the British slave ships.  Nearly 600 of us were loaded onto one slave ship.  As we were loaded into the vessel, we were branded with red hot irons on our arms or chests or legs with the marks of various slave owners.  We were crammed so close together below decks that there was no room to move or change position.  We sat between each other’s legs and could not lie down.

Freed-Slave-Ship-by-Granger-in-Fine-Art-America-665x385There were numerous pails placed among us to use for feces and urine.  Several people were selected to dump the pails overboard each day.  Usually they were overflowing before they could be dumped.  The smell was horrible.  Many of the people selected to dump the pails overboard never returned.  We often heard how they had jumped overboard to drown rather than return to the hull.  Other slaves were then selected to replace them.

We were fed on deck twice per day.  We ate rotten meat and a mixture of oats and gruel.  We were given water to wash our food down with.  The amount of food was never quite enough to make one feel satiated and there was always a gnawing sense of hunger that was pervasive among us.  Many of use died from starvation or dehydration.  The slavers deliberately underfed us in the belief that the stronger of us would survive and bring better money at the auctions.

Slave-hung-on-ship-1Some of my tribal members tried to attack our captors.  This would end in either being thrown overboard or hung upside down from the Yard Arms until they died from starvation or dehydration.  Screams and cries were a constant sound at all times of the day from sick or hungry slaves.  My father died from some disease before we reached shore.  Diseases were rampant aboard ship and no one received any treatment.  Smallpox and scurvy were the most common disease killers.  Probably one third of all the slaves who boarded our ship died before we reached port either through starvation, beatings, suicide or disease.

slave-auction-virginia-PMy mother and I were still together when we reached the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina.  We were brought to an auction house with many other slaves and placed into large rooms with no furniture or windows.  We were kept locked in these rooms like animals in a pen.  They discussed whether to sell my mom and I separately or together and it was decided that because of my age, they would keep us together for a while.

cottonculture-1875After some White people purchased us, we were loaded onto a cart with the other purchased slaves and taken on a two day journey to our new home.  We arrived at a large white building with big columns set in the middle of a large field.  In the field and around the house were many other slaves and White people riding large black horses.  The horse riders all carried whips and riding sticks.  We heard constant yelling and orders which we later learned were instructions to speed up and work harder.

born-in-a-tar-paper-shack1_scruberthumbnail_3My mom and I were brought to a single room shack where an old Black woman lived.  She was given instructions to wash us and show us what the rules were around the plantation.  She was told to get us out in the fields as old slave womansoon as possible and to show us how to pick and tend the crops.  Anna, as she was called, told us that she had lived on this plantation for over fifty years now.  She told us we would both be field hands and that if we worked hard enough we might someday become workers in the big white house.

I first ran away ten years later.  I was nineteen years old.  I did not get very far as some other field workers yelled to the Master that I was running off.  When they caught me, I was tied to a large oak tree and given twenty five lashes.  I was warned never to try it again.  As soon as my wounds healed, I ran away again.  I ran away at least five more times in the next three years.  Each time I got further and further from the plantation.  Each time I was caught the beatings got more severe.  They hung me by the neck once for about three minutes before cutting me down.  I was told that the next time I ran, the hanging would be for real.

My mom and some of my slave friends told me to never quit or give up.  “No matter what they do to you” said my mom, “never give up your freedom.”

I have heard tell of how happy slaves are and how much better off we are on the farms then if we were left on our own.  I never met a happy slave.  I never met a slave who did not want their freedom.  I never met a slave who did not want to go back to their home in Africa.  If we were so happy on the plantations, why do they beat us, chain us, brand us and torture us?

Slave_Hung_1I see my body now hanging from the trees.  It looks like a big celebration going on beneath me.  My eyes are bulging out, my skin is flayed off my loins and I am bleeding from many wounds made by the whips and dogs.  Some people are throwing rocks and sticks at me while other people look like they are having a picnic with their families on blankets below where I am hung.  I see a large pile of sticks being placed under me.  I assume they are going to burn my body now.  It won’t matter much to me because I am already dead.  My soul left my body several minutes ago and I am simply dead meat hanging there.  I am finally free.

I am wondering what I ever did to these people to make them hate me so much.  Why do they treat us as like animals when we have souls and dreams just like they do?  I have heard that White people fought for their freedom and declared the following:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

How could any people who believed in the above saying treat other human beings as we were treated?  The phase says “all men.”   Was I not a man?  Were my people not men and women?  Did we not want to have happiness and liberty?   How could we have a life and happiness if we were treated as animals and beaten and chained and whipped daily?  I do not understand.

Furthermore, the White people on our plantation all said that they were Christians.  They said they believed in a God who wanted peace and love among all people.  I heard it said that their savior (whom they wanted us to believe in) was a savior of compassion and mercy and forgiveness.  But these people never showed my people any love or mercy or compassion or forgiveness.  They treated us with contempt and scorn and intolerance and hatred.  Everything they showed us was the opposite of what they said their savior stood for.

They have lit the pile of sticks below me now and they are burning my body.  The smell is awful and many people in the crowd are holding their noses while many others are laughing and patting each other on the back.  It is time for me to leave.  I want to go find their God.  I need to see why he would let my people be treated like this.  What have I done to deserve such a fate?   Maybe he will be able to explain it to me.

Time for Questions:

Do you think the slave were happy down on the plantation?  Do you think the Confederate flag is about “heritage and not hate?”   Do you practice tolerance and love to only people of your own color or do you love all people regardless of color?  Why or why not?  What do you do to help fight racism and discrimination?  Do you think it is only a Black fight?”

Life is just beginning.   For some people anyway!

The facts cited below are from:  Center for American Progress

  1. While people of color make up about 30 percentof the United States’ population, they account for 60 percentof those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.
  2. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black mencan expect to go to prison in their lifetime.Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.
  3. Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated.Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percentof those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. Currently, African Americans make up two-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today.
  4. According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates.The data showed that96,000students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year. Of those students, black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of arrested or referred students. Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.
  5. African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.
  6. As the number of women incarcerated has increased by 800 percentover the last three decades, women of color have been disproportionately represented.While the number of women incarcerated is relatively low, the racial and ethnic disparities are startling. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
  7. The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses.According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percentof regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American.
  8. Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders.The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percentlonger than white offenders for the same crimes. The Sentencing Project reports that African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants and are 20 percent more like to be sentenced to prison.
  9. Voter laws that prohibit people with felony convictions to vote disproportionately impact men of color.An estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on a past felony conviction. Felony disenfranchisement is exaggerated by racial disparities in the criminal-justice system, ultimately denying 13 percentof African American men the right to vote. Felony-disenfranchisement policies have led to 11 states denying the right to vote to more than 10 percent of their African American population.
  10. Studies have shown that people of color face disparities in wage trajectoryfollowing release from prison.Evidence shows that spending time in prison affects wage trajectories with a disproportionate impact on black men and women. The results show no evidence of racial divergence in wages prior to incarceration; however, following release from prison, wages grow at a 21 percent slower ratefor black former inmates compared to white ex-convicts. A number of states have bans on people with certain convictions working in domestic health-service industries such as nursing, child care, and home health care—areas in which many poor women and women of color are disproportionately concentrated.

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

Repeat the words in the title anywhere in the world and they are immediately recognizable as referring to the United States of America.  As Michael Medved loudly proclaims on each of his shows:  “And another great day in this, the greatest country on God’s green earth.”  It is my guess that you have never thought about where the phrase “land of the free and home of the brave” comes from.  Of course, it comes from our national anthem but where did the words originally come from?  Were they from some patriot during the Revolutionary War or from the War of 1812?  Actually they came from a lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key.  He penned them as part of a poem he wrote in 1814 which was originally titled:  “Defense of Fort McHenry.” 

The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. “The Anacreontic Song” (or “To Anacreon in Heaven“), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key’s poem and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it would soon become a well-known American patriotic song.”  — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star-Spangled_Banner

Today, we naturally assume that the words refer to our penchant for American independence and heroism.  Our unique ability to save the world from itself and to right injustices wherever they are found.  Our vaunted American exceptionalism that gives us the moral right and categorical imperative to influence and insert ourselves in events and places the world over.  No one dares to question (or at least few in this country) the right of America to influence politics throughout the world.  No one questions the assumption that we are only in it for the greater good of humanity.  How could anyone from the “land of the free and the home of the brave” do otherwise?  Where our boots tread, soon follows democracy and prosperity, right?

But what if the “land of the free and the home of the brave” was not the reality anymore?  What if it was more accurate to say that today America has become the “land of the guarded and the home of the fearful.”  Since 911, Americans have seemed to retreat behind a cloak of ongoing surveillance and security measures that could become the greatest detriment to freedom, this country has ever faced.  As Benjamin Franklin so wisely noted; “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. 

So I have decided to do some first-hand research and go visit a few “average” Americans.  I took a little road trip across Wisconsin to find some true patriots and to see what they think about our country.  Are we really scared and fearful?  Are we willing to give up our freedom for security?  Have we become more xenophobic?  To answer these questions, I stopped at diners, coffee shops, rest areas, truck stops, libraries and Denny’s Restaurants to visit with real Americans.  Not the 1 percent who make their money from stocks and bonds, but the hardworking “Joes and Janes” who make their money the old fashioned way, by the sweat of their brows.  I will briefly post a few excerpts here from some of my interviews.

Roxanne:  The Full-Time-Part-Time Worker:

I met 36 year old Roxanne in a booth in Mc Donald’s where we talked over a Big Mac, fries and a shake.  Roxanne is a divorced mother of two school aged children whom she is raising with the help of some grandparents.   She works both a part-time day job at Benny’s Cleaners and a part-time night job at Wal-Marts.

John:  Let’s cut to the chase Roxanne. What do you think about America today?

Roxanne:  Well, John, its dam hard to make a living, I can tell you that. Without my grandparents helping me, I don’t know how I would get by.

John:  Do you think we have too much security and not enough freedom?

Roxanne:  I don’t know, seems like there is never a cop around when you need one.  I had a fight with my boyfriend the other day and called the cops, but it took them over 30 minutes to get to my place.

John:  What do you think about the Russians, Iraqis, Mexican Cartels and Obama?

Roxanne:  I think they should all go back to the countries they came from and leave us alone.

John:  Did you vote in the last elections?

Roxanne:  Who was running?

John:  Thanks Roxanne – got to go now.

Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.”  — Mark Twain

 Pete:  The Carpenter

I met Pete while stopping to fill up my gas at a Pilot Station.  I noticed the painted sign on his pick-up truck which read “Carpenters keep it up longer: Call Pete for a good job.”  I offered to buy him a coffee if he would answer a few questions.  Pete was 54 years old, married with four kids. One daughter was still living home with him.  She had been married and was now divorced.  Pete’s wife worked part-time as a church secretary.

John:  So Pete, what do your kids do?

Pete:  Well, one boy works with me when I need extra help. One daughter is married and lives out of state.  One daughter lives with us and the other son works nearby at a local manufacturing plant as a night supervisor.

John:  Do you think this country has provided enough opportunity for them?

Pete:  Yeah, I guess so

John:  What do you think about the economy Pete?

Pete:   Sucks.

John:  I guess a lot of people would agree with you there.  What are your biggest worries for the future?

Pete:  Paying my mortgage and taxes.

John:  Are you worried about freedom and security.

Pete:  Nope, got a concealed carry permit and a good stockpile of ammunition.

John: What do you think we should do about immigration?

Pete:  Send them all home.

John:  Well, thanks for your time Pete.

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.” — Clarence Darrow

 Bob:  The Tea Party Member

Bob is a 47 year old accountant. He is married with wife and no kids.  I met Bob at a local café that I had stopped at on my journeys.  He was wearing a t-shirt that read: TEA: Taxed Enough Already.   I sat down at the counter next to Bob and struck up a conversation.

John:  So you belong to the Tea Party?

Bob:  Yeah, joined about five years ago.  I am fed up with big government, taxes and the present no ethics politicians running this country.

John:  So how is the Tea Party going to change things?

Bob:  Well, for a start we are going to only elect politicians that support our views and are not going to compromise away what we stand for.

John:  So what do you stand for?  I know you hate taxes but is that all?

Bob:  Well, here look at this card.  It says it all.

John:  The card Bob gave me read as follows:

Our Core Principles

Tea Party Patriots stands for every American, and is home to millions who have come together to pursue the American Dream and to keep that Dream alive for their children and grandchildren.

What unites the Tea Party movement is the same set of core principles that brought America together at its founding, that kindled the American Dream in the hearts of those who struggled to build our nation, and made the United States of America the greatest, most successful country in world history.

At its root the American Dream is about freedom. Freedom to work hard and the freedom to keep the fruits of your labor to use as you see fit without harming others and without hindering their freedom. Very simply, three guiding principles give rise to the freedom necessary to pursue and live the American Dream:

John:  That sounds very good Bob, but I don’t see a lot of progressive thinking coming from the Tea Party.  Seems like you guys are more against things then for things?

Bob:  That’s because we want to go back to the way this country used to be run before the bureaucrats, illegal aliens, liberals and socialists took over this country.

John:  What about health care and education and social services for the needy?

Bob:  This country is full of free loaders who sponge off the hard working Americans who work for a living.

John:  So you don’t believe that there are truly needy people out there in this country?  What about new immigrants?

Bob:  No one gave me anything or my grandparents.  They came over to this country with just the shirts on their backs.  People used to believe in hard work and honesty.

John:  What about education?  It is barely affordable anymore.

Bob:  That’s because we give all of these free scholarships to students from other countries and the high salaries that those lazy professors make.  Do you realize most of them work less than ten hours a week?

John:  Well, thanks for the opinions Bob.  Time to go!  You have a great day.

 “Let us take a patriot, where we can meet him; and, that we may not flatter ourselves by false appearances, distinguish those marks which are certain, from those which may deceive; for a man may have the external appearance of a patriot, without the constituent qualities; as false coins have often lustre, though they want weight.”  — Samuel Johnson

Cassie Jean:  The NRA Member

Cassie Jean is a 33 year old single woman who works as an Assistant Manager in a small bakery.  I talked to Cassie Jean while she was on a break over coffee and a cigarette.  I had stopped for donuts and a rest break.  Cassie Jean rides a 2002 Honda Shadow 600 motorcycle.  She is an avid hunter and a card carrying member of the National Rifle Association.

John:  So Cassie, what was the last thing you killed?

Cassie Jean:  Well, got me a good sized buck this past fall and a nice turkey this spring.

John:  How long have you been shooting?

Cassie Jean:  Ever since I was a little girl.

John:  Why do you belong to the NRA?

Cassie Jean:  They protect our rights.  You know the Second Amendment.

John:  Isn’t that about militias?

Cassie Jean:  People have the right to arm themselves.   If we let them take our guns away, we will have no protection.

John:  Protection from what.

Cassie Jean:  The wackos and socialists.

John:  What about our army, National Guard and the police department.  Isn’t their job to protect us?

Cassie Jean:  They work for the liberal socialists that are destroying this country.  The only thing that stands between them and us is our guns.

John:  But what about all the gun violence in this country?

Cassie Jean:  If more people were armed, there would be less violence.

John:  How do you figure?

Cassie Jean:  Well, would you screw with someone who had a gun?

John:  But what if no one had a gun?

Cassie Jean:  Over my dead body.

John:  Well, you sure make good donuts.  Take care and happy hunting.

Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear – kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor – with the cry of grave national emergency.”  — General Douglas MacArthur

 Dick:  The Mechanic

Dick is a retired Ford mechanic who worked for a small Ford garage in upstate Wisconsin for over 30 years.  A bad back and a desire to enjoy more of life convinced Dick to retire early.  Dick is a strange sort of man as he does not like hunting or sports but enjoys literature and particularly good poetry.  He is a connoisseur of fine wines and good music and never misses an opportunity to travel with his wife Paula to see new places.  Dick belongs to a group of retired men who hang out at a local library where they can get free coffee and an occasional donut.  Despite his lack of a formal education, Dick is knowledgeable and well versed on many subjects.  His views would surprise many.

John:  What’s new Dick?

Dick:  I am going to Russia!

John:  For real?

Dick:  Yep, I like the way Putin is running things.  No BS in that country.

John:  What about freedom of speech and freedom of religion?

Dick:  Religion is a farce, just a bunch of know nothing do-gooders trying to live off the backs of hardworking people.

John:  What about freedom of speech?

Dick:  No one listens to you here anyway unless you are a billionaire.

John:  I don’t think Putin would tolerate unions and I thought you were a union man?

Dick:  Unions used to help people now most of them are just parasites as well.

John:  You sound like a libertarian.

Dick:  I don’t belong to any party.  They are all useless.

John:  When are you leaving for Russia?

Dick:  Soon

John:  How soon?

Dick:  Not soon enough.

John:  Well, I imagine many of your friends would hate to see you leave.

Dick:  Yeah, well I can send them a postcard.

John:  Do you think the libraries in Russia would have a men’s group and free coffee?

Dick:  I don’t know.  I will talk to Putin about it when I get there.

John:  Well, if I don’t see you before you leave Dick, have a good flight.

Conclusions:

I arrived back to my starting point in Frederic Wisconsin after several days on the road.  Truly, I cannot say I had any great insights into the subject of freedom and liberty.  My “random” sample of “average” Americans would not satisfy even a lazy graduate student much less a hard core researcher.  Nevertheless, my total observations have literally been based on hundreds of such conversations over the past ten years.  My interviewees are a composite of dozens of people whom I have met and talked to from the shores of Coon Lake in Wisconsin to the rocky Casa Grande Mountains in Arizona.

Numerous books attest to major changes taking place in our country.  Are we going backwards, forwards or perhaps sideways?  Are things getting better or worse?  Are we still the place that everyone wants to immigrate to?  If not, what has changed?  We are surrounded by apocalyptic visions.  The USA will be overrun by illegal immigrants.  Socialists will take over the country.  Fascism will become the norm.  The end days are near and the Messiah will return to judge the good and the evil.  The poor will rise up and destroy America.   The country will become one vast prison with drug addicts and drug dealers on every corner.  No one will be able to afford health care or education.  Terrorists will infiltrate and bomb our most prized establishments.  The country will give in to Sharia Law.

With such gloomy visions of the future, is it any wonder that many people are fearful and ready to sacrifice their freedom for security.  More and more Americans live behind walls either in a prison or in a gated community.   Neither prison walls nor community walls seem to protect us from our worst enemies which may be ourselves.

Beck – It’s All In Your Mind, music video         (Love this Song, click on here to listen)

Time for Questions:

Have you felt things are getting better or worse in this country?  Do you think we need more or less patriots?  Do you think most people professing patriotism are really patriots?  What do you think makes a good patriot?  What do you think makes a “bad” patriot?  Where do you stand on patriotism?

Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gandhi’s Sixth Social Sin: Worship Without Sacrifice

I find it surprising that I am writing about Gandhi and his ideas.  Surprising in that while growing up I was as far from a non-violent philosophy as anyone could be.  Sometimes it seemed like my whole life was violence, anger and fighting.  I joined the military out of high school and hoped to kill as many “commies” as I could.  I continued my violent ways for many years and to be honest I am still no pacifist.  I would not turn the other cheek once if you hit me, never mind 40 times. I am still on the border line about capital punishment.  One day I think Capital Punishment is terribly useless institution made even worse by its ineffectiveness at deterring crime. The next day I read of some horrendous crime that I feel can only be rectified by punishments that go well beyond the heinousness of legal murder.  If Gandhi were my father, he would surely disown me. 

Gandhi is one of those heroic icons who cannot be ignored.  Whether you believe in his ideas or not, you cannot deny that he tried to live according to his beliefs.  More important was that he lived to help others have a better life.  Everything Gandhi did paid evidence to his ideology that humans could be better than they were.  I know many people who think that educators, psychologists, social workers and other “human service” workers are just a waste of taxpayer money.  These same people are continually on the front line for more prisons and more military hardware.  It is evident to such people that humans can not improve and thus the only betterment of humanity lies in more weapons, more police, more military and more guns.  Gandhi would have professed the exact opposite and worked to create a world that was non-violent and where disputes could be resolved by civil discourse.

Years ago, I dropped my belief in God and in religions.  I came to the conclusion that the first did not exist and the second was evil. It seemed to me that much of the misery on the earth came from one or the other of the major religions.  The crusades, the inquisition, the Protestant Catholic wars, the wars against “Pagans” all showed me conclusively that religions did more harm than good. When I joined the military, I would not speak to any clergy and when they came around; I always avoided them.  I was even rude to them at times as I regarded them as hypocrites.  My first wife and I did not practice any religion together but I did bring my daughter around to several different religious venues as I wanted to at least expose her to them.  My second marriage was to a more deeply religious woman who practices her faith regularly by participating in church affairs and helping out at many church functions.  I often kid her about some of these events but I have come to a different point in my life regarding their benefit to the world.  I am somewhat less judgmental about religions and people then I was in my younger days. 

What does this mean for me about religions and how I regard them today?  I can say with sincerity that I still see much evil that comes out of religion, not to mention its ongoing hypocrisy (for instance where were all the churches and ministers when we invaded Iraq both the first and second times?).  However, I also see many good things that they now do, from supporting health care for poor people to championing efforts to feed people both domestically and abroad.  There are many other examples of good things that are done by churches and religious leaders.  So what does Gandhi mean by “Worship without Sacrifice?”  Is Gandhi against organized religion?  Here is the description from the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence that summarizes Gandhi’s ideas in respect to his Sixth Social Sin: 

“Worship without Sacrifice: One person’s faith is another person’s fantasy because religion has been reduced to meaningless rituals practiced mindlessly. Temples, churches, synagogues, mosques and those entrusted with the duty of interpreting religion to lay people seek to control through fear of hell, damnation, and purgatory. In the name of God they have spawned more hate and violence than any government. True religion is based on spirituality, love, compassion, understanding, and appreciation of each other whatever our beliefs may be — Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics or whatever. Gandhi believed whatever labels we put on our faith; ultimately all of us worship Truth because Truth is God. Superficially we may be very devout believers and make a tremendous public show of our worship, but if that belief, understanding, compassion, love and appreciation is not translated into our lives, prayers will have no meaning. True worship demands sacrifice not just in terms of the number of times a day we say our prayers but in how sincere we are in translating those prayers into life styles. In the 1930’s many Christian and Muslim clergy flocked into India to convert the millions who were oppressed as untouchables. The Christian clergy stood on street corners loudly denouncing Hinduism and proclaiming the virtues of Christianity. Months went by without a single convert accepting the offer. Frustrated, one priest asked Grandfather: After all the oppression and discrimination that the ‘untouchables’ suffer under Hinduism, why is it they do not accept our offer of a better life under Christianity? Grandfather replied: When you stop telling them how good Christianity is and start living it, you will find more converts than you can cope with. These words of wisdom apply to all religions of the world. We want to shout from roof-tops the virtues of our beliefs and not translate them into our lives.”

Gandhi’s words remind me of a comment by Sitting Bull. When asked what he thought of Christianity he replied:   “From what I have read it is an admirable religion, however I do not see any white people practicing it.”  From a Native American perspective, the only thing the conquerors religions offered was a destruction of their habitats and lifestyles.  Witness the coming of the Spanish to the “New World” and the systematic destruction of the culture and religions that already existed by the Spanish military and their allied missionaries.  The genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples throughout the world is full of pompous and pretentious efforts to “convert” and save them from their evil ways.  In reality, religion only provided an expedient excuse to separate them from their lands and gold.  We have in much of the history of organized religion a clear example of what Gandhi meant by Worship without Sacrifice.

Perhaps surprising to some though, true Christianity is firm that Worship without Sacrifice is worthless: 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and be well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  

 

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

                    James 2:14-26- New International Version

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for his religious beliefs. This is Worship with Sacrifice.  Going to church on Sunday or simply reading the Bible is Worship without Sacrifice.  When Jesus said that the two most important Commandments were Love God and Love Everyone, he meant you had to practice your faith by helping others who were less fortunate.  This has made it very difficult for most of humankind to be his followers in deed as well as in professed belief.  It is far easier to say “I am a Christian, then to “Sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  It is much easier to pray, worship, and read the Bible than to actually practice what Jesus was saying.  Think for a minute what it would mean if all would be Christians really practiced the “Love Everyone Commandment?  A short list of the consequences of this would mean:

  • No religious wars
  • No Jihads
  • No terrorism
  • No murders
  • No rapes
  • No assaults
  • NO WARS PERIOD

Can you imagine a world without these problems?  This is the world we would have if everyone practiced their religions by deeds and not just words.  However, this would require sacrifice and too many people are not really willing to sacrifice for their religion, for Jesus or for God.  Sacrifice means giving up something to help others, not giving up something to gain something for you.  Those who blow up their bodies to attain paradise with 40 vestal virgins are not sacrificing for others; they are simply trying to take a shortcut to attain what other greedy people already have.  Any religion that terrorizes others in the name of “whoever” or “whatever” is evil regardless of what it calls itself.  This raises the question that might be phased as “What is the purpose of religion.”  Searching the web it is easy to find that many have condemned organized religion because of the atrocities associated with it. Great thinkers from Plato to Thomas Jefferson to Bertrand Russell have had little good to say about religions.  However, I like the following comment from WaheguruNet regarding what positive role religion could and indeed should play in society:

“Religion has and continues to impact almost every aspect of human civilization in both positive and negative ways. The great spiritual masters from all traditions have taught that we need to adopt and develop higher qualities of love, mercy, generosity, kindness and so on. These higher qualities are a natural byproduct of developing a deeper connection with our spiritual nature and so in this respect religion can be thought of as a vehicle to support our spiritual development and our re-connection with divinity.  In this way, human beings will be better at working together to create a better and more harmonious world.”

You will notice that in this purpose there is nothing mentioned about doom and destruction  or about going to hell and suffering for the rest of your life or about your neighbor who is a hypocrite and unlike you is destined for fire and brimstone.  The purpose of religion is to help us become better people. To help us find our connection to our inner spirit and to help guide us in living a more just and moral life.  This purpose must be followed by actions and deeds as well as pious readings and professed beliefs. There is no room Gandhi’s religion or Jesus’s religion for bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, intolerance and destruction of others or their belief systems.   

Time for Questions:

What can we do to practice good deeds as well as good thoughts? What sacrifices are you willing to make to help others?  Are we making a true sacrifice by telling others how hard we worked and that they can be what we are if they only try?  Should we simply tell others to pull themselves up by their boot straps?  Are all people really created equal in the sense that everyone has an equal chance at health and happiness?  Can we help make it so by sharing what we have with others?  

Life is just beginning.

 

 

Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: