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Effortlessly Average

Sort of half-heartedly leading the charge into mediocrity since, oh, let's say around 1987 or so.

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Location: Roaming (additional charges may apply), Argentina

Proof that with internet access and a powerful laxative, even insipid people will blog; the place where your excellence and my mediocrity collide; where my Karma whips ass on your dogma.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

And The Lord Jesus Said, "Any XXX Video, $12.95"

Those of you who know me know that I'm not a religious man. Personally I think all organized religion today - and for at least the last 1,000 years, actually - is based more on influence and power than actually doing good. Now before anyone of the Bible-Thumping-Jesus-Freak crowd clicks "post a comment" to set me straight, let me explain. My belief that organized religion isn't right is not to say I don't believe in God or Jesus or Abraham or Buddha or Allah or whatever particular deity humans worship nowadays. I have supreme confidence and faith in an almighty, albeit not the grandfatherly old man portrayed by Christians any more than the vengeful, kill-in-my-name version too many radical Muslims worship.

I believe God gave us the ability to take care of ourselves and He expects us to do so. And by "ourselves" I don't think He specifies Christians, Muslims, Jews, rich, poor, black, white, male, or female or whatever; He means humans. Everyone, everywhere. One is no better than the other. The rich tend to think they're superior because they have money. Men seem to think they're superior to women because they can kill with more resolve. A person of one religious belief feels justified in persecuting those with differing beliefs because he/she goes to church or prays regularly. Pick your metaphor. I think God, however you define Him, would be freakin' pissed to see how we've acted in His name toward each other.

The fact is that while I hold a belief in God as some manner of existential being, I have far less faith in humanity. Yes, we all know people who are good and people who are bad and we believe that since we know fewer of the latter there must be more of the former. I don't believe this to be true. I find a chasm exists between the borders of good and evil and I don't particularly find them to be mutually exclusive, either. We humans find it convenient to think that if we're not killing, robbing, raping, or pillaging we're automatically "good." Not so. There is more to being good than simply not being bad. Good and evil are not black and white. Avoiding one doesn't automatically, by default, make you the other. The vast whole of humanity exists in this chasm between the two, where doing good deeds and helping those less fortunate or even merely ensuring everyone has a level playing field is little more than academic. In the middle is where humanity strives to better him/herself as an individual, even if it negatively affects someone else. This is where we engage in a pugilistic free-for-all to buy the bigger house and better car, to get into the right college and company, to acquire more for ourselves and only truly consider those less fortunate when something drastic happens (read, Katrina or "The Tsunami") or during that two month period ending with Christmas Eve. The middle is where the vast majority of humans live in general apathy about the ills we exact upon each other. That is, until another's discomfort or our own circumstance becomes unavoidable, causing us to swing toward one end or the other by committing an act of good or evil.

I also don't believe doing one or two good deeds every now and then makes you a good person; any more than I think one or two bad deeds makes you a bad person. If you stretch mankind into a linear expression of good and evil, you'd have a small percentage of people on one end that we could mostly agree to be "evil." Your Hitlers, Stalins, Vlad Draculs, serial killers, and extreme conservatives live here.

On the other end of the scale are those we can call truly "good;" those who truly care for their fellow (wo)man and devote actual time and effort into bettering humanity as a whole, even in small ways and even if it means detriment to him-/her- self. This is the realm of Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and anyone who routinely goes out of their way in an effort to make someone else's life better. In between these extremes are the rest of us.

Cynical? Perhaps. Realistic? I think so. Definitely. Yes, there is good, but it is good borne of the single person. Evil, if you want to call it so, is universal. Think about it. "Good" is usually something one person - or maybe a few people - do from time to time. "Evil" seems to be ingrained into the very core of humanity. When was the last time you heard of hundreds or thousands of people taking to the streets to perform random acts of goodwill? Now, when was the last time you read of a riot? Yeah, what day is it, right?

Drive along a freeway. Turn your blinker on. What happens nine times out of ten? Does the diver in your desired lane slow down to let you merge? Hell no. He speeds up because there's no damned way you're going to cost him 25 feet of roadway.

Ask someone what they'd do with the money if they won the lottery. Most will claim they'd do all manner of philanthropy, from setting up scholarships to paying for immunizations for un-insured children. Then ask them why they don't do it now. Most will say "I don't know." Well I know. It's because if they won the lottery they would only then feel they'd have enough for themselves. They don't do it now because they don't believe they have enough for themselves. But win the lottery and suddenly the money given to charity won't be missed.

The problem is that we assign a different scale for ourselves than we do those around us. And the scale changes given the individual, so one may have a narrow definition of "evil" whereas another may find evil everywhere he/she looks. In general, we consider ourselves to be good simply because we can always find someone worse; someone who's deeds we believe are something we'd never stoop to performing ourselves.

All this being said, I was thinking about the dichotomy of good and evil as I was driving from New Jersey to Texas recently (hey, the radio was broken in the moving van, so give me a break already). I'd never really been through the "Bible Belt" so I was intrigued by what I'd thought would be a church on every corner and "Read Your Bible" signs on every other billboard. After all, this is the region that picked Dubya as their president, despite his faulty resume, simply because he now claims to be righteous and fancies himself some kind of modern day crusader for God. I swear I'd not be surprised if he went on air to proclaim that God himself told him to wage war in Iraq. Wait. He has said that, hasn't he?

Anyway, I wasn't disappointed. Every few miles or so from South Carolina to Alabama I passed a sign proclaiming my soul could be saved by exiting now and visiting the Holy Crap, You're Screwed Church, where my salvation can be assured for only 15% of my annual income.

Boy they'd love a heathen like me. A guy who actually believes God doesn't need man for anything and therefore it makes no sense, for example, that He'd ask Noah to build the Arc in the first place. After all, didn't He create all the animals and plants in one day? So why couldn't He do so again? And why would He need a flood anyway? Isn't He God? Isn't He omnipotent? Can't He just snap His fingers or wave His hand or do whatever a deity does to exact His will and make everything the way He wants it? And besides, if the only people left on Earth following this flood was Noah, his wife, and their offspring, where did all the people we have today come from? Does this mean we're descendent from incestuous mating of Noah's family? Ditto the animals on the Arc. I guess we just have to suspend the fact that science has long since proven that close-genetic inbreeding causes severe birth defects - and eventual extinction - within only a handful of generations.

But that's the double-edged sword of organized religion, isn't it? On the one hand, you need people to believe that the only way to the Kingdom of Heaven is by following your church's doctrine to the letter and being as righteous as people like Noah. But on the other hand you preach that God is all-powerful, able to exact His will at... Well... Will. This always made me wonder, than why does He need man anyway? He's God. All-Powerful God. He doesn't need man for anything, does he? So either God used people like Noah because He's not all-powerful or He's trying to test humans to gauge their commitment to the faith. But, again, isn't He God? Wouldn't He know the level of Noah's faith automatically? Or yours? Or mine? A third possibility: those who told many of the stories in the Bible embellished or made them up entirely. Unfortunately, the Church's approach to this paradox is to simply forbid the flock from reading anything that questions the church and that to do so yourself is instant damnation. Nice. Answer a question by stating that merely asking the question is a crime against the Church and puts your soul in danger.

As I passed yet another billboard proclaiming that piety and salvation were only 4.6 miles and a left turn away (just past the Wal-Mart on your right), I saw the first of what would be many, many advertisements for something that I'd think such a virtuous place would be void of.

I grew up in the hotbed of debauchery and sin known as Nevada. There it is legal to carry a sidearm. In any town within its boarders you can find a place to gamble; and as long as you are gambling, you drink for free. Prostitution is legal as well and it will be a sad day when the non-natives who care nothing for the culture, but moved to Nevada to escape taxes, organize enough to ban it. It's amazing to me how stupidly people act in the name of so-called "morality."

Throughout my life I've heard my home state referred to as Nevada-and-Gomorrah and/or the last refuge of the Godless. Blah blah blah. At least we don't have Jersey City or Hillary Clinton. While all these things do happen in Nevada, they don't necessarily advertise them. But as I drove through the area of the country that touts itself as the land of morals, I must have passed a hundred huge billboards for adult "cafe's," whatever those are. In huge, bold letters they assured me women and couples are welcome; proclamations that they have the largest selection of adult movies, toys, and "sexual aids" in the state; and that their booths are the most risque I'd find anywhere in the state. Oh, and several also promoted themselves as being "topless." Granted I didn't do a lot of research, but I'm guessing that by "topless" they don't mean the roof was blown off by a hurricane.

Personally I'd love to buy one of these shops just so I could engage in the advertising. I'd buy every billboard along every interstate within fifteen miles. In letters just as bold, just as garish, I'd proclaim both my business and the region's belief in the Almighty.

One might read: "and the Lord Jesus saw our prices. And He said: 'They are good.'"

Another might declare, beside a huge picture of Da Vinci's God portrait from the Sistine Chapel: "After a long day of ruling the cosmos, I like to unwind at .... Home of the low price debauchery guarantee."

Or how about: "This week only: 10% discount for all Evangelists."

I am so totally going to Hell.

If it actually exists, that is.

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