Friday, January 13, 2012

On your feet or on your knees

Praying Hands - DevoYesterday, I read an article that reported the results of a poll about Denver quarterback and current leader of the God Squad, Tim Tebow. The article stated that 43% of those surveyed think that divine intervention is at least partly responsible for Tebow’s success.

That’s right. 43% think that their god cares about football, and even answers prayers about it.

I suppose I can be grateful that 42% don’t think that’s the case, and 14% have no opinion on the matter. Maybe that 14% leans towards the no-intervention option. I can hope.

This is just astounding to me, and I have to say that it makes me more than a little angry. It led to an interesting Facebook discussion in which one person wrote that us liberals need to practice more religious tolerance. (My response was that I’d bet money that Christians wouldn’t be talking about religious tolerance if a Muslim player wrote verses from the Koran on his uniform and knelt to Mecca after he scored a touchdown. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I don’t think I would be.) Another person said that they pray for the health and safety of their daughter. Hey, that’s cool. I have no problem with what anyone does in their own life. If it helps people to feel better to pray, I say go for it.

I think it’s important to say why I find this offensive. It is not because I don’t like religious people, or because I don’t think they have the right to practice their religion in whichever way they choose--as long as they keep it out of my government. It’s not even because I’m not all that impressed by Tebow as a player (with apologies to my U of Florida cousins and my friends who are Bronco fans). It offends me because I just find it so damn shallow. If you’re going to pray about something, how about that the suffering of people will be alleviated? Or that one less kid will starve to death tonight? Hey, go big and pray that one less kid will starve to death in Africa, and one less will starve to death right here in America! Go for a twofer! How about praying that scientists will find a cure for cancer, or AIDS, or Parkinson’s disease? How about praying for an end to conflict and war?

What would Devo doBetter yet, how about deciding to do something about those things yourself? Donate to groups that provide food and medical care to kids all over the world. Donate to something like the Gates Foundation that is working hard to eradicate killer diseases like malaria. Donate to or work for candidates that aren’t so eager to get us into another war. I’m sorry if I offend anyone with this statement, but prayer doesn’t solve any of these things. Money, research, and hard work is what solves things.

The realization that there are people who really truly think that Tebow’s prayers have been answered and that God (I will use the capitalized, specific Christian deity here, because that is the deity Tebow prays to) is guiding his arm and helping him win is just...well, it appalls me more than a little bit. I recall someone telling me that a woman at their church prayed to win the lottery, and she won a few hundred dollars! Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture?

I also find it interesting that all good things are attributed to a kind and loving god. But what about when prayers don’t get answered, and bad things happen? For every missing kid that is found, often attributed to a miracle, how many are never found? How many bodies are found in a ditch? I’ve heard a couple of answers to that. “You didn’t pray hard enough” or “God works in mysterious ways.” (A friend wrote that a coworker told her that her dog died because she didn’t pray hard enough. Nice, huh?) For me, personally, those answers simply aren’t good enough. The logic just isn’t there, and I don’t see how anyone can reconcile such disparate ideas.

Ah well. I’m not really out to convince anyone. It’s just something that I hear and I have to shake my head in bewilderment. A video is making the rounds today, and when I watched it on Jimmy Fallon’s show last night, I really did laugh out loud. I think I might have even applauded. The Broncos are facing the Patriots this Saturday. Tebow might have Jesus, but the Patriots have Tom Brady. It should be interesting, and Tebowie thinks so, too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Perception vs Reality

Perception-Versus-RealityOver the past year or so, I’ve experienced a few things that have me thinking a lot lately about perception. Specifically, how our perception of others and their perception of us can be skewed by expectations and biases.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone; I have my own biases and preconceived notions. However, I do my best to fight it. I don’t write here about stories I’ve read that I feel are unfair or false, and I don’t spread unsubstantiated rumors. If one squeaks by me and I find out later that it is false, I retract it and apologize if necessary. I’m also not very pleased when I find out that such things are being said about me, especially because I rarely get the added retraction and apology.

I’m a little perplexed when I hear that things have been said about me that I feel have no foundation. Sometimes I chalk it up to manipulative game-players who have nothing better to do than try to move people around like pawns. Other times, I think it’s out of genuine, but misplaced, concern. What bothers me, though, is when it is voiced to others and I only hear about it indirectly. This is unfair, and I feel that it is the result of people having unrealistic expectations of me. Those expectations are their own, and not the result of any promises from me.

I’ve had this problem before. In fact, I’ve had to deal with it since I can remember. I am often very outspoken, I tend to make it clear how I feel about things, and I have a very low tolerance for bullshit. I’m sure that I’m not pleasant for a lot of people to be around. When I hear outright idiocy, I can’t just sit there and smile and nod. I had a few memorable moments in departmental meetings where I managed to tone it down and NOT say “What the fuck?!” but still managed to convey my contempt for what I was hearing. It’s actually a wonder that I have the friends that I do...but I’d say that my closest friends are the ones who have the same attitude. We get along well in that regard, and I’d say we understand each other.

Some might say that I’m “not a team player.” I’ve heard that before. In the context in which it was conveyed, I took it to heart, and I made some changes in my own attitude. It worked out well for all involved, and I have no regrets. However, I have my limits, and I have never been one to “go along to get along.” If something bothers me, I make it known. This is why you’ll never see me in politics: I don’t pander. (Also, I don’t have enough money to get into politics, but that’s beside the point.)

opening door to another planetMaybe it’s foolish of me to expect the same from others. If someone were to ask me about a situation or an incident, I’d do my best to be honest, but kind. I’m not an unkind person, certainly never intentionally. But if your perception tells you that there is something wrong with the way I’m behaving, or with the expression on my face, or with what I’m saying or doing, I expect specific examples. If you have a beef with me, you’d better have clear and concise reasons for it, something other than “I just have a feeling.” If you expect me to behave a certain way, your disappointment when I don’t is not on me...that is on you for having unrealistic expectations about what you think I should be or do or say.

I’ve always felt that it’s dangerous to try to mold people into what our own expectations of them might be. It assumes a power on our own part, one in which we can shape someone into our idea of perfection; it also closes our minds to unique personalities and ideas different from our own. It also is highly disrespectful to the person or group we are trying to shape, because it negates their right to their individuality and their own sense of self. No one is a winner in this sort of situation. You lose because you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and you miss out on the good and unique qualities of this person or group; they lose because they feel that it’s not enough for them to be who they are...they have to be what you want them to be in order to feel accepted.

I tend to think that conformity is way overrated. I’ve always loved this Cass Elliot song. “Make your own kinda music, sing your own special song. Make your own kinda music, even if nobody else sings along.” (Bonus video appearance: hipster Sammy Davis, Jr.!) I encourage everyone to make their own kind of music. I’d appreciate the same chance, without judgment or condemnation.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cult of Personality Disorders

Religions no questionsDealing with the holidays has left me a little behind on my reading, but today I finished Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman. Wow.

Reitman does a fantastic job of detailing the history of the “religion” (please make exaggerated finger quotes there) and of L. Ron Hubbard, as well as delving into policies and practices. I found the personal stories of those who had been abused by Scientology the most poignant; I got choked up over the tale of one couple who, after years of separation, were able to escape together, and the abuse and death of Lisa McPherson was heartbreaking to read.

I’m not entirely sure where to start here, because my mind is so boggled that anyone would fall for this bullshit, but I’ll try. L. Ron Hubbard was a pretty damn good snake oil salesman, and quite capable of reading the social atmosphere of the times and giving the people what they wanted. I have to give him credit for that: he knew how to market. But the guy was a science fiction writer, for pete’s sake! (I actually read one of his scifi books years ago, and thought it wasn’t too bad.) I found myself shaking my head at the stories about the evil Xenu, body thetans, the Galactic Confederation, and other such assorted gobbledygood. And people actually
believe this stuff?! It it weren’t so pathetic, it would be funny.

Then there is the bizarre military branch of Scientology, the Sea Org, in which people sign a billion year contract--yes, that’s billion with a B--because their thetans will eventually inhabit many other physical bodies. The people in the Sea Org have to undergo intense training, and can’t marry any non-Sea Org member, but I guess it’s worth it because they get special perks like wearing super cool uniforms.

I was also struck by the constant use of Capitalized Organizations which could be abbreviated as convenient acronyms (Potential Trouble Source, Operating Thetans, Golden Age of Tech, Introspection Rundown, False Purpose Rundown, Religious Technology Center, Rehabilitation Project Force, Estates Project Force, Pacific Area Command Base, Planetary Dissemination Meter...make your own acronyms, kids!), always a sure sign of an entity seeking to make itself sound more official and serious. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both the government and the military use acronyms a lot. (Speaking of military acronyms, It seems to me that Scientology is both SNAFU and FUBAR.)

Sea OrgAfter Hubbard died, Scientology was taken over by David Miscavige, who comes across as dictator-like in his need for power and influence. He’s the one who really embraced Hubbard’s idea of going after celebrities, so that they could be used as emissaries for the “religion.” He also followed in Hubbard’s footsteps by really raking in the dough from all these poor, lost saps who buy into this idiocy and fork over money in order to cross the Bridge to Total Freedom. ::eye roll::

Did I take away any positive messages that Scientology might offer? Not really, although I think being self-confident is a good thing; it’s no secret that those who possess and project confidence are more persuasive and likely to get others to go along with them. But do people really need to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to an organization like Scientology in order to figure that out? If so, pay me. I’ll tell you all about it.

While reading this book, I was reminded of my ex-husband, who, at a later age, became enamored with the pentecostal religion (some might say that he “found Jesus”). I’m someone who was raised in a church, but as I got older and read more and experienced more things and people with different backgrounds, I moved away from organized religion. I often wondered what was missing in my ex’s life that he felt the need for something like that. In some of the followers I read about in this book, I recognized his level of fanaticism; some might make the argument that all religions prey upon people, but I’m not here to do that. I’m writing only about this book and this particular “religion.” But I really couldn’t help but be reminded of what I experienced years ago.

PenaltiesMany people say that Scientology is a cult. I would have to agree with that assessment. You don’t place people into isolation, punish them, and isolate them from their friends and family unless you’re a cult (click picture at left to embiggen, to see some of the punishments). You don’t force women to have abortions unless you’re a cult, and you don’t withhold medical treatment from mentally ill individuals unless you’re a cult. Unfortunately, the government has recognized them as a religion, so they get all kinds of tax breaks and deductions. Yet another reason why I think that tax exemptions for all churches should be eliminated, but that’s an entry for another day.

You know, I honestly feel sorry (well, mingled with a little bit of exasperation and incredulity) for the people who fall for this. There is obviously something missing in their lives, and I would hope that they could find it through other means. If it were just harmless ideas, I don’t know that it would be cause for concern. But people sink thousands of dollars into this crap, and some are severely psychologically damaged. It does harm to people, and anyone who falls prey to this is obviously weak-minded and in need of the initial sense of community that Scientology gives them. It’s a shame that they’re so blind as to what they’re really all about (hint: $$$). What a great gig for the higher-ups in the organization, but not so great for the drones working 20-hour days and getting paid $50 a week.

A very good read, but also very disturbing.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chillin’ in the Retro Lounge

Beth and Shane2Last night, we had the inaugural soirĂ©e in what I have christened Nutwood Retro Lounge. You might recall a recent post where I posted pictures of what I did with the basement...we got some great ‘60s-era furniture from Cousin Doug, and we set up a little conversation area.

My niece Jennifer is in town, visiting from San Diego, so we had her and Shane and Matt over. Even though we have the extra seating in the basement now, our house is still pretty small, and I think the most people we’ve had over here at once is six. It was a fun group, and we had lots to talk about and lots of laughs. Loads and loads, right guys? (Private joke!) I made munchie food, so we all chowed on that (there is plenty more to eat tonight!), then retired to the Retro Lounge. I played some lounge music on the hi-fi (haha), and we played some pool and some ping pong.

At one point, we returned upstairs to watch a few minutes of the Republican debate, and damned if we didn’t end up watching the whole thing! We’re all like-minded individuals when it comes to politics, so we had fun yelling at the TV. Only in the Riches house do we make a political debate a part of the party! We did take my niece Heather’s (Jen’s sister) advice, though, and made a drinking game out of it. Every time Mittens smirked, we had to drink. I was feeling no pain by the end of the debate, I can tell you that!

Then we headed back down to the basement for more ping pong, although I think our games were more than a little affected by Mittens’ smarmy smirk. We switched over to some funk music and had fun dancing around to that, we did some FaceTime with Heather and her family in San Diego--wish they could have joined us!--and before we knew it, it was well after 2 a.m. Shane and Matt headed home after hugs all around, and Jen stayed the night.

All in all, I was pleased with the shindig. I think everyone had fun, and I wish Heather and Jen lived closer! I’m glad we get to do so many things with Shane and Matt, though. We found out that they also have tickets to the upcoming Rat Pack show (that was one of my Christmas presents from Ken!), and we are planning on having dinner together before the show. I want to try a new place, and it’s fun checking on new restaurants downtown and trying to decide where to go. There’s a new one in a former bank, a wine bar, a tequila bar, an oyster bar...decisions, decisions!

I hope your Saturday evening was as pleasant, pallies, and that you got to be cool cats and kitties in your own little retro lounge.