Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Day of "Unfair"

Please ignore the cheesy title.  I want to talk about two things today.  The first is the reason for the truly terrible title, and that is the National Day of Prayer.  First, let me premise my argument with this fact:  I am not prejudiced against any religion.  That's actually why I'm writing this.  So please keep this in mind as you read.

I was reading an article in USA Today earlier about how the reverend Franklin Graham (the famous Billy Graham's son and successor) is complaining that his invitation to speak on the National Day of Prayer at the Pentagon was revoked because some of his beliefs exclude many Christians and because he believes that Islam is "evil."  He says that if he isn't allowed to speak "it will be a slap in the face of all Christians."

This is just ridiculous.  Seriously, what kind of person do you have to be to believe that you are that important?  They're still having the prayer, and it's still going to be a Christian prayer.  So who cares if he is going to lead the prayer or not?  Aren't Christians supposed to be humble?  

Intolerance is what I can't tolerate.  I hate how some Christians go around saying that a religion other than their own is "evil."  The reality here is that no one knows what religion, if any, is the "true" religion.  No one has the right to tear down another religion based on their own.  You just can't go around saying that someone else's beliefs are wrong because you have a book that says so.  Well, guess what, Islam has a book that says Christianity is wrong!  So does the Jewish religion!  And hundreds of other religions in the world think it's wrong, too.  Just because you grew up believing something or were told about it your whole life, doesn't make it true.  You could've been born in India and been told Hinduism is right, you could've grown up in the middle east and been told that Islam is right, or Israel and been told Judaism is the only way, or Tibet and been told that Buddhism is true.  You could've grown up in England or China and heard that no religion is right. 

But, here's the kicker, if people just go on believing everything they are told, everyone will keep on believing they have the only true answer.  And people will be divided like this forever, never moving forward or searching for truth.  Do you think it is good for people to blindly follow whatever others tell them?  If your religion tells you to be prejudiced against others, maybe you will be prejudiced.  Maybe you'll commit hate crimes or kill people because of it.  Plenty of Christians were involved in lynchings in the past and the slave trade.  They said back then that it was okay because they thought the Bible told them black people were inferior.  Many Christians do the same thing now with gay people.  They justify their hatred of other human beings without for one second considering that every person deserves the right to live their lives how they choose and not be discriminated against for those choices.  

Not every Christian does this, let me make myself clear that I understand this point.  Not every Christian is hateful or prejudiced.  And I realize I just went off on a huge tangent there.  So let me get back on track.

My other point is that I don't believe that we should have a day of prayer.  The bottom line is that it's just another way for Christians to "spread their message."  It's unfair to people of other religions because they aren't included.  It's unfair to people who aren't religious or are atheist because they aren't included and it can make them very uncomfortable. No one should have to be told they are evil or that the choices they came to from personal struggle are just wrong.  Plus, it's unconstitutional.

Besides, what happened to the separation of church and state?  And why is it such a big deal for people to think politicians are religious?  I think the problem here is that people just can't seem to be able to make up their own minds and choose their own morality without some kind of rule book or something.  Why can't we just be good people and grow up and choose our own values?  Why do we need some pseudo-father to continue telling us what to do, even after we're "all grown up?"

I suppose I'm a bit disillusioned.  I just don't think you need religion to be a good person.  In fact, I think religion can actually impede the road to becoming a good person with all the little prejudices and exclusivity hidden within its message.  I guess I'm really only talking about Christianity here because I don't have the kind of experience with other religions to talk about them.  But I do know that if people would look at the evidence, they might begin to see life in a different light, which leads me to topic numero dos.

If you look at the history of religions, you will find patterns among them that are hard to explain if you think that there is only one true religion.  Many Christians will say that theirs is unique because they're so inclusive or because theirs is a message of hope while others only condemn.  I've heard this too many times to count.  It's not true.  There are themes running through religions all throughout time and space.  For example, Christians practice communion, which entails figuratively "eating" a god's body and blood.  Several other religions do this, too.  Ancient Indian tribes used to eat different parts of their defeated enemies or drink their blood so that the "power" or "strength" from those parts would be transferred to them.  And plenty of other religions spread a message of hope and rest.  It's just one of those things we're told time and again.

Also, I am surprised at how many people know little or nothing about evolution, yet still adamantly refuse to believe it.  First of all, evolution is a scientific theory - which in science means it is a tested and proven hypothesis that is now little short of fact.  It's not some "idea" that someone proposed with no evidence to back it up.  There is so much evidence it's hard to ignore.  

For example, the fossil record shows a progression of more and more complex life forms, the rock record can be radiometrically dated to prove the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, the rock record shows us that the earth's magnetic field has switched thousands of times throughout the earth's history, plate tectonics show us how the continents have formed over billions of years, fossils of the same kind found on opposite sides of the world show us that the continents were once joined (actually they joined and broke up several times over our history), some starlight that we see now would not have reached earth yet if it were only 6,000 years old, since they are so far away, homology of different mammals are evidence for common ancestors, mammals that have returned to the sea (after coming on land for the first time - look up tiktaalik) are evidence for adaptive evolution, evolution that we can see before our very eyes (like Darwin's finches and tortoises), speciation on islands that have formed in recent geological past (where species are found in no other place than those islands).  

All of these and more are great evidence for evolution.  But most people don't know about any of it and still believe that we walked with the dinosaurs (even though the crater where the asteroid landed that killed the dinosaurs has been found near the Gulf of Mexico - **edit: right off the Yucatan Peninsula**).  And let me just point out that the Bible never says that the earth has to be 6,000 years old.  Actually, some dude came up with that hundreds of years ago based on, most likely incomplete, ancestral records listed in the Bible (which also have inconsistencies to boot).  

I think the country needs a little more (or a lot more) education.  Classes in geology and evolutionary biology should probably be required.  And, as a side note, they wouldn't be "in your face, you have to believe this or else" type deals, they'd simply give you the facts and allow you to decide for yourself.  At least then no one could honestly say "show me the fossils."  If we all had the facts and looked at them and really had to just decide for ourselves, maybe there wouldn't be so much exclusion, intolerance, and hatred in the world.  No more "Holy Wars."  Maybe we could all just get along and get on with our lives.  It's your choice to believe what you want, and I respect that.  Just don't be ignorant or intolerant.  Let's all be decent people, eh?

And, just as a final note (maybe a plea to angered readers?), I do not hate anyone, or discriminate against religious people.  I may have sounded indignant, but that's just a cry against ignorance.  You may be a very well informed religious person, and for that, I applaud you.  Just get the facts straight and leave the slighting skepticism at home.  No one wants to hear any more sneers from misinformed zealots who can't take the time to "know thine enemy."  I'm just saying, open your mind to possibilities and come into it with a good heart.  Search honestly for truth and that is what will make you a good and honest person.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4th

Today is May 4th, which happens to be the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings.  I don't know how many people know what happened that day.  Before I came here, I didn't have a good idea of what took place.  Before I read the article in the Stater today, I didn't have a good handle on the specifics, either.  (And this is all coming from the Kent Stater from yesterday and today).  Let me fill you in, then:

In the days leading up to May 4th, 1970, protests over the Vietnam war were happening all over the city of Kent as well as on campus.  On May 1st, some students rioted in the streets and smashed several shop windows.  On the 2nd, the ROTC building on campus was burned down by more rioters.  That night, National Guardsmen were called and assembled on campus.  On May 3rd, Guardsmen advanced on a crowd of protesters heading back onto campus after a street blockade, drawing blood from a few with their bayonets and threatening a few students with billy clubs.  They used tear gas on the crowd.  Ohio governor James Rhodes called the protesting students "the worst type of people we harbor in America."

On May 4th, it was a sunny, beautiful spring day.  More protests were planned on campus, with students gathering at the Victory Bell to hear speeches by their peers.  2,000 students gathered on nearby Blanket Hill, chanting things like "Pigs off campus" and "Hell no, we won't go."  Guardsmen in an army jeep yelled through a bullhorn, telling students to disperse and reading them the riot act.  The students laughed back - their peaceful chanting was nothing close to a riot.  Then the guardsmen advanced toward the students on foot, throwing tear gas canisters into the crowd, once again.  Some students threw them back, but most ran up the hill around to the other side of Taylor Hall.  The Guardsmen continued marching forward, confusion and cacophony ensued, and some rocks were thrown on both sides.  A kind of stalemate seemed to happen and the tear gas stopped.  Students began celebrating, chanting, "they're out of gas, they're out of gas," and laughing.  But the Guardsmen knelt and took aim at the students.  A few students came toward them with flags in hand, but the Guardsmen huddled up and then seemed to retreat back up the hill.  Students clapped and chanted, "They're leaving, they're going, we've won."  But, out of 76, 28 of the Guards suddenly turned and fired on the students.  For 13 seconds, the pop of gunfire was heard all around Taylor Hall and the nearby parking lot.  13 students were hit, from 60 to 750 feet away from the shooters.  Four young college students lost their lives:  William Shroeder, Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, and Sandy Scheuer.  Three of the four students killed were in the parking lot, several hundred feet from the Guardsmen who opened fire.

It was very emotional, reading that story today.  Hearing the account of the shootings from the students' point of view was moving.  It really hit my heart to finally hear how the events of that night played out.  

This year, Kent State remembered May 4th with a candlelight vigil last night, and several speakers, as well as cancelled classes today.  Several of those who were wounded and many witnesses spoke today on Blanket Hill, sharing their stories with the next generation.  Even though the blood that stained the grass on the hill that day is dead and new grass has sprung up to cover the ground where the slain and wounded students lay, they will not be forgotten.

Please check out the interactive map chronicling the events of May 4th, 1970 at  Also, check out the article from today's Stater which tells the story of May 4th from the students' point of view.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Let Our Voices Echo

Here in Kent, May 4, 1970 is still in the hearts and minds of all who live or work or learn here.  There have been several news stories in the past few months chronicling the events of that day, and the days leading up to it.  One of the important things that I've learned from these accounts is that protesting really defined that generation.  Students were angry - outraged even - and they weren't afraid to let their government know it.  Even though some protests definitely got out of hand, it's inspiring to see that kind of unification under a common concern among so many young people.

What will define our generation?  Is it perhaps the fact that young people today have more social interactions through text than face-to-face?  Is it our growing apathy toward our own education and futures?  Is it divorce numbers over 50%?  (But, as a side note, they do seem to be falling now.)

What do you want our generation to be defined by?  There are certainly enough social issues brewing today.  What about advances in civil rights, finally allowing the gay and lesbian communities the right to marriage.  What about advances in health care that allow all Americans to have an equal chance at a long, fulfilling life?

We need to speak up - let our voices be heard on the important issues that face us today.  Let's leave our legacy as a generation, stand up for what we believe in - no matter what that is.  We need something that the future will remember us for.  So let's sound our voices in the night and let the echoes ring for generations to come.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Things change.  I think a lot of our time is taken up by wishing things were back to how they were before, when we thought we were happy, or fighting to maintain the status quo.  Change is hard, a lot of the time.  Sometimes we get stuck in the way things are, afraid of what change will bring to our lives, even if we know they will bring growth.  It's just hard to face that unknown factor in our lives - maybe something we can't control.  

The illusion of control over our own lives is important, psychologically, to all of us.  Because, really, none of us can ever have complete control over any one moment of our lives.  But if we can go on thinking things will happen the way we want them to, we can at least keep our sanity.

Reminiscing is often composed of wishing things now were like they were at a "better" time in our lives.  For me, these times I wish for were often not the rosy, happy experiences I remember them to be.  But it's characteristic of human memory to see the grass as always having been greener at another time than now.  Also, people are much more likely to look back at their teenage and early adulthood with that longing eye and wishful heart.  I guess I should be making a lot of memories right now, huh?  Things I'll look back to in the future with that longing sigh of reminiscence.  But I've had the tendency, myself, to look back at things from my teenage years much more, with that longing gaze.

What I really miss right now is James and I in our early relationship.  When things were so fresh and new and we were just falling in love.  Don't get me wrong, things now are amazing and we both love each other more than we ever did as stupid kids.  And the changes we've gone through in life haven't pulled us apart, but we've been able to grow together and accept the new differences in each other.  Still, I feel like an old married couple sometimes.  And I wish I had done a lot of things differently - savored the moments more.  But maybe that's part of the lie we're fed our whole lives - that there's some end to everything we do, like if we work hard enough we can reach that mythical resting place in life - marriage often, or just finding that someone who you feel is your soul mate.  

Women, especially, are often victims to this lie.  We spend way too much time trying to look pretty, say the right things, wear the right clothes, flirt the right way to catch that great man who is going to give us everything we need and take away all of our worries.  Not only is that unrealistic and a huge burden for any man to try to carry on his shoulders, it's also weakening us as modern women so that the time we could have been spending throwing ourselves into our life's work is spent chasing boys.  

But I still believe in love, because I'm living it every day.  But it happened for me when I wasn't trying to find a guy.  I was just being myself.  And isn't it better to have someone who loves you for who you are rather than the girl you think every guy really wants - someone mythical that doesn't actually exist?  Isn't it better to be free to think how you want, do what you want, be who you are?  Maybe that's why a lot of marriages don't last - we're all too busy trying to be someone we aren't to make another person love us.  But if we let that go and waited for the one who loves us for all our weird quirks and silly habits and confusing feelings and all our opinions, maybe we'd all be a little happier.  Then we could kill the lie of the "happily ever after" and stop dreaming of yesterday.  Wishing things would change while being afraid that they ever will.

Change is good and it keeps us moving forward toward bigger and better things.  There is no "happily ever after," but each of us can have a happy life.  And sometimes you just have to let go and let yourself be happy. Take things as they come, adapt, change with your environment, embrace life.  Let go of the past and embrace your present and your future.  Do what you want and go where you want and be at peace with the people and things and the environment around you.  Live and let live, and let go of the past.