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Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. (Galileo Galilei, quote taken from Michael Parenti’s new book titled God and his Demons)

Recently, I’ve received some private emails from readers of this blog concerning my passing statement that I am an atheist. I mentioned it as a minor point at the very end of my article Trusting God and Worshiping Mammon, which deals with separation of Church and State in the American constitution.

Several people have since emailed me to ask me why I don’t believe in God, expressing their own doubts. One of these correspondents tells me she doesn’t believe in God either. Like many in her position, she dreads the loss of respect and affection of friends and family, fearing that admitting an atheist outlook would cause loved ones much distress.

I well can understand these swirling feelings, and I sympathize with their plight. All of us atheists have faced the discomfort of disapproval or loss of friends because of this at one point in our lives.

Not long ago, I had just such an emotionally painful experience, an experience not untypical for atheists.

I used to participate in a physical fitness web forum whose owner, an ordained minister, often said he is honored to be my friend. But then, a month or so ago, he started a thread titled “The Fool Says In His Heart There Is No God.” This refers to a Bible verse that says atheists are fools and incapable of producing anything of good.

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For those blog readers outside the United States, the State Of The Union Address is a speech the American president customarily gives at the beginning of each year, usually in January but sometimes in February, to a joint session of congress and, via broadcast, to the USA population. It lays out what the president hopes to accomplish in the coming year, what the past year has meant in his or her estimation, what the state of the country (the Union) is. If I were the president’s speech writer, this is the speech I’d write for him.

Good evening Madam Speaker, Vice President Joseph Biden, Elected Members of Congress, privileged guests, and my not-so-privileged and long-suffering fellow citizens and residents of these United States of America:

Customarily, during a State of the Union Speech, the congressional attendees and privileged guests in these chambers interrupt this speech with many applause lines, cheers, and even a few ovations. I fear that tonight, my fellow Americans, those elected legislators and privileged guests will do precious little applauding and even less cheering.

At the beginning of my address tonight, I will give them credit, the credit they deserve. I will recognize that these legislators have worked very hard, represented quite effectively their constituents, the stakeholders present at the negotiating table that is Washington DC. They have supped at the table of American affluence. They spent many hours dealing with conflicting agendas of those who sought their ear, those who sought to influence them, those who brought them their views, their concerns.

However, they will not cheer the various points I make in this address. Their silence will be forthcoming because tonight I speak not in the service of those constituents for whom the legislators have labored so diligently, so conscientiously.

No! Instead, tonight’s speech is in service of people with a separate set of interests, the ordinary working people, the common people, those whom we understand by the term “American middle class.” That’s quite a different constituency, if you will, than those whom the mass media and the pundits have traditionally considered to be the stakeholders who matter.

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In 1940, shortly before the United States went to war against Hitler’s Germany, the famed and highly-acclaimed comic actor and director Charlie Chaplin made a wonderful movie called “The Great Dictator.” You can get The Great Dictator for home viewing, and it is a worthwhile purchase.

This movie plays up the classic doppelganger gag. The story is of a little Jewish tailor who is drafted into the army of the country of “Tomania,” (a satirical reference to Germany) during the First World War. The Jewish tailor helps save a comrade in battle and is wounded, ending up with amnesia in the hospital. After 20 years, just before the beginning of World War II, he somehow leaves the hospital to go back to his barbershop, thinking he has only been gone a couple of weeks. Of course, the anti-Jewish pogroms were in full swing by then.

As an odd wrinkle, our little Jewish tailor bears an uncanny physical likeness to the insane dictator of Tomania , Adenoid Hynkel, (another satirical reference, this time to Adolf Hitler) who is rising to power on anti-Semitism and anticommunism. In fact, at the beginning of the movie, there is an advisory that the resemblance between Adenoid Hynkel and the tailor is purely coincidental! Our Jewish tailor is completely unaware of the anti-Jewish fever sweeping the country or the redoubtable Adenoid Hynkel’s rise to power.

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Martin Luther King died in 1968, a year of incredible upheaval throughout the world. I was a young married man with a beautiful young daughter. We lived in San Diego, California, and I was a private music teacher. It was a completely different world then. People in my town thought it was funny to call Dr. King “Martin Luther Coon.” Many were sure he was a communist.

A student came to my studio in downtown San Diego for a music lesson. He was about 16, and his father was an officer in the Navy. San Diego had a large US Navy base.

This young man broke the shocking news to me that Dr. King had been assassinated. He was quite pleased. He referred to Dr. King as “Martin Coon.”

 

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In this essay, when I say “Americans,” I mean citizens of the United States, with apologies to the good citizens of other countries on the North American and South American Continents who visit this site.

The real question is this: What is the American middle class and in what sense did it ever exist? And how does this tie in with idea of the “upper class”?

We Americans love to think we have no “upper class,” that we are a actually a classless society, that the USA is a democracy beholden to the will of the governed, the great “middle class.” The politicians tell us they serve the interests of this middle class, the ordinary chap in the street and in the workplace.

The popular American concept of ourselves is that when the Europeans landed in what eventually became the United States, they formed an egalitarian society. Eventually, a majority coalition of small landholders, the small tradesmen, the mechanics and artisans, the yeomen farm-holders, frontiersmen, and small burghers–in other words, the great  and broad “middle class” overthrew the tyrannical rule of the tax-happy British monarchy and instituted a republican form of government. This was a government, perhaps divinely inspired, that represented the will of the great majority of its inhabitants.

Like all narratives that great powers and empires tell themselves about their beginnings, this tasty broth contains both a dash of truth and dash of myth.

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I offer each of you personally this lovely Christmas card, now nearly 140 years after it was first created in the year 1870, as I start to write this essay on Christmas eve, year 2009.

Best holiday wishes to all my friends and visitors, you who are my brothers and sisters, who come here to Alan OldStudent’s Musings.

And Merry Christmas to my Christian friends.

Although I am an atheist, I like that Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

As one who is in the seventh decade of his life, I have seen some amazing things. I saw how a mass movement in my own country, the United States, defeated and knocked down the infamous Jim Crow laws, America’s home-grown version of apartheid. And I saw how a mass movement ended an unjust war in Vietnam.

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