The Decline of America

Things are getting worse.  The things that we all considered good and decent are now negotiable.  Honesty, truth, and charity have all taken a back seat to agenda and winning.  Sometimes it is just enough to make me want to opt out of life.

One of my not-so-secret vices is that I like to watch Big Brother. For those who do not know, Big Brother is a television show where a group of people are stuck in a house with each other.  Week by week through competitions and creating friendships and alliances, people try to avoid being voted out by the other houseguests.  It is sort of like Survivor - except it is a lot cleaner(they regularly bathe) and more social.I have been fascinated with the program because I think it is an awesome psychological and sociological experiment.  I always wanted to be on the show and see how I would do.  
As a viewer, I always sided with the honest and goodhearted people.  They always found each other while the suspect and conniving bonded, too.  It was usually good versus evil - a formula that always works in storytellling.

This season, I have noticed something different.  Even the "good" group is bad.  I got surprised about how disheartened I was to see that.

This is interesting in light of the Republican National Convention that just transpired this week.  There was a lot of blatant falsehoods that were spouted by the GOP speakers.  When fact checkers called them on it, they basically had the response, "We don't care. We have our own facts."  My purpose here is not to slam the Republicans, but to lament on how bad things have gotten.   The Democrats are preparing for their convention this coming week, and candidly, I don't expect them to be better with the truth.  I will be watching carefully and hoping, but not being optimistic.

So, dishonesty and immorality are rampant and that just bends me to the ground.  And . . . I no longer have any desire to be on the show. 

Election Year Politics

Conservatives vs Liberals; Republicans vs. Democrats; it is all a big blame game.

When I was a kid, I remember going through the channels before church on Sunday morning looking for something to hold my attention.  When I came upon Meet the Press or Face the Nation, I would turn the dial quickly.  I thought those shows were boring and always wondered, "Who would watch this?"

Then, in my teen years, my taste changed.  During high school and college I was fascinated by what politicians and pundits are saying about each other.  It was a school fight for adults.  I craned my neck to hear the stings and watch people sweat hard questions.

Times have changed once again.  Now I am mostly sickened by it.  I think I pay attention too much to appreciate it as I once did.

First of all, politicians and pundits will say anything.  They seem to ask themselves one of two questions when preparing to speak.  It is either, "will this make my side look good?" or more often, "will this make the other side look bad?" If the answer is yes to at least one of these things, they give themselves the green light to open their mouth and let fly.  One question they never consider it seems to be "is what I am about to say really true?" This is where I find stomach illness welling up in me.

Both sides are guilty of this and they say the same things:

Republican:  We cannot continue with the failed policies of this president.
Democrat:  We cannot go back to the failed policies of George W. Bush.

That is just the beginning.  Listen for the term "flip-flop" or "flip-flopper."  Who is that term describing?  It only depends on who is doing the talking.  Also, everyone now makes a point with a close fist - like giving the thumbs up sign, but only with the thumb not sticking up but closing around the index finger.  I think this was a tactic that has surfaced so politicians wouldn't get into the habit of finger pointing.  I am not sure why a closed fist is better, but I guess someone did some kind of poll or test on it and passed out the results to everyone.

Don't get me wrong, there are some differences among factions when communicating.  The Democrats are clearly not as good at getting their message out.  I really don't think they know who they are talking to when they make their points.  The often say the wrong thing in response to an attack.  When they do have an adequate response, they tend to speak over the heads of a lot of the folks.  Those that are on top of the issues may get it, but the rest are tempted to think it is just double-talk.

The Republicans seem to understand their audience a little better.  TThey are masters of swaying the simpletons. They speak in simple terms and simple concepts.   Listen to AM radio sometime!  It is just full of conservative talk show hosts saying those idiotic and unbelievable things - yet it has been very effective.  When Democrats try that technique, they seem to sound like cartoon characters.  As one progressive put it, "we have already lost the idiot vote."

Back to the Sunday news programs.  It seems that I have come almost full circle.  The question, "who would watch this?" wants to resurface after all these years.  But this time, I have the answer and  I don't like it.  I, and those of my ilk, are the ones who would watch it.  It is like a wreck on the highway.  I know it is probably going to make me sick to seet, but I just can't turn away! 

Atheists vs. Believers - The Giving Wars

I have been pondering the whole God thing again.  Does God exist?  What about science? 

For those that know me, I am not really wondering if God truly exists.  No, internal truth has been revealed to me long ago.  Instead, I am just drifting through the questions themselves.  There is a lot of aggression on both sides of the debate.  The poor saps on the fence are probably turned off of the whole thing.  I can picture a curious agnostic observing a debate about God and concluding that there is no God, the world is flat, and it is just best to go to bed and dream (which is another version of reality).

For myself, I try to be the adult in the room.  However, I doubt that I am very good at it.  I can only talk with any kind of conviction from my own perception. Still, one has to try lest he gets caught up in the game - the major sporting event that pits the Godless Invaders vs the Superstitious Crusaders.

I recently read an article that compares giving between the religious and non-religious.  The nonreligious tend to be more compassionate in their giving than the religious.  Although the study states that they are not saying that the nonreligious are more generous or compassionate than their religious counterparts, certain aspects of the study would lead one to believe that.

This makes sense to me. I am not going to get into why the religious seem to be less generous or compassionate (I will save that for another time), my comments will be more about those generous and compassionate atheists.  Why would they be either?

Morality has to be based on something. People doing things that are not in their personal best interests flies in the face of "survival of the fittest" ideology.  They may argue that compassion has evolved down to help preserve the overall species and not just the self.  That makes sense . . . except for the part that compassion and generosity seems to be part of an elaborate design to preserve the species.  It isn't too likely that random mutations and chance survival would lead to such a thing.  But what do I know? These same folks are convinced that we humans have common ancestors with turtles and tomatoes.  I am not open-minded enough to embrace that yet.

So what could it mean that it just may be that nonbelievers are, at least, as generous and compassionate as those who champion God as their Creator and Lord?  Doesn't that slide the weights to the side of the secular?  I say just the opposite.  One doesn't have to understand or even believe in something to be effected by it.There have have been people in the past (and perhaps some even today) that do not understand gravity or even believe in this unexplained force.  Yet, they are constantly under its influence.

Such as it is with God. Sometimes things effect us no matter where are mind is.  All we have to do is be.

When outsiders who have never heard of God's law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God's law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God's yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to God's yes and no will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences. ~Romans 2:14-16 (the Message)

The American Dream

I am going to pretend like it hasn't been a while.  I am convinced that posting today will not turn out to be an isolated incident.  I have decided to put memoirs together, as it were.  As I get older, I find myself tending to forget a lot of things.  So, for posterity's sake, I am going to start recording them here.  I am curious to see if I skip the parts of my life that I wished I could forget.  I guess we will find out.

This isn't my house or family, but it captures the spirit.
Beginnings and New Beginnings

My mom and dad came from humble beginnings and both were hard workers.  There wasn’t really a time when I remembered them having a loving marriage.  However, back then there was a duty to kids and they had five of them.  Until I was three years old, our family lived in a humble house my folks rented in a working class neighborhood.

I don’t really remember too much about my life then, but the fragments I do remember include the little dog my elderly neighbor had next door.  I also remember having an oak tree in the small backyard that my brother liked to climb on and get on top of the garage that was connected to the alley. He would throw acorns at me and anyone or anything else that might cause an uproar.  I also remember putting pennies on the train tracks that were just across the street and gather them flattened.

When I was three, we moved into a house that my folks had built in a new subdivision.  Neither my father nor mother had much of an education. However, back then, you could manage to build and move into a new house if you worked hard and remained frugal.  The American Dream was alive and well and my folks were full participants.  Today, there is no way my parents would be able to build a house - probably not even buy one.  When people talk about “the good ol’ days,” this is what they were talking about.  It isn’t as much as a myth as some would have you believe.

I was proud of that house.  It was in a new part of town and was built in the middle of an apple orchard.  There were fields and trees and woods all around.  The house was also a rock’s throw from the elementary school.  Happy times.

There weren’t very many people in my neighborhood when we first moved in.  However, across the street was a family that also had a number of kids.  With those kids, we had friends that turned into adversaries and then to friends again.  They lived a rural existence and I liked spending time over there mostly.  Funny, my mother, now disabled and widowed, still lives in our house.  The neighbors across the street are still there, too – well, the mother of that clan, also a widow, remains there. Of course her kids have mostly moved on but our lives intersect every now and then.  

It was these roots that should be credited or blamed for forging the core of the man I am today.

Why Movies Make Us Cry

First things, first - I have confessions to make. Sure, I haven't been here for a while. Yes, I know because of that, I am talking to myself. Finally, this particular blog post is somewhat of a revisit. I addressed this before, but I got to thinking about it again. Living alone, sometimes all I have are movies and songs to make me cry. Maybe that's a good thing.

Those of you who have read much of my blog know that I am a spiritual kind of guy. I think most questions in life have a spiritual component. This one ESPECIALLY does. I could be wrong about it; I'm no expert (on anything, for that matter). Feel free to disagree without consequence. But here is the reason movies, songs, books, etc. make us cry, as far as I see it:

I think it is a matter of communication and a reset of the soul. Life is difficult. We witness the hardness of the world on a daily basis; we see our soldiers dying in Afghanistan, car crashes that kill mothers and their babies, etc. We just can't stop and feel for these things all the time at the moment it intrudes into our brains. We have become calloused for survival's sake. Oh sure, every now and then it stops us in our tracks and touches us if the tragedy is particularly powerful or we are having a vulnerable moment, but for the most part, we simply do not have time to stop and cry over every tragedy and/or touching news story.

Movies, music, books, etc. grab us when we are not as busy. We are relaxed and have our emotional guards down. Our minds and souls get real with us and reset our emotions. It reminds us that we are feeling, compassionate beings. Without this outlet, I believe that compassion would wane altogether and the world would spin violently out of control.

What about the non-tragedy tears - the "tears of joy" phenomenon? I believe it is the same principle, different stimuli. The most significant part of the soul is the part that connects with other souls. There is something that transcends known science here that deeply effects our well being. We need to care about others. We need to feel connected to others in life, love and loss, dreams reached or shattered. Our humanity depends on it.

I believe God made us this way for our own survival and to remind us that there is something bigger than our own life and circumstance. It is mind-blowing when considering that there is something "unreal" by physical life standards that has more power than our current physical life state. It is this type of illogical emotion that humbles us and forces us to admit there is something bigger going on inside. The fact that there is something bigger than life makes us admit the possibility that something will ALWAYS be bigger than life - even when life as we know it ceases for us.

Admittedly, we often find a connection with fiction to our own lives and dreams that can prompt emotion. It is the attention getter. However, it is still fiction and we have our own lives to deal with. Yet, here it is - the passion, the tears, and the connection to the One big Mystery that created us this illogical way.