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Posts Tagged ‘God’

For an UPDATE on this issue, scroll down to the section heading that reads UPDATE: September 9, 2010.

After an extended summer break, I’ve returned to the blogosphere with a story that has been burning up the airwaves … or whatever passes for them anymore. Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida, has fallen into the media spotlight with his ultra-controversial plan to burn copies of the Koran on September 11 (and for the uninitiated, the Koran is Islam’s holy text, equivalent to Christianity’s Bible). This bonfire is set to take place on the grounds of his church, the Dove World Outreach Center, and he has encouraged the participation not only of his congregation but of any and all Christian persons. Now, this has raised two main issues: 1) does he have the right to burn a holy scripture, and 2) should it receive media coverage.

I say “yes” on both counts. First, the Amendments to the United States Constitution (the Bill of Rights) clearly allows the freedom of religion and freedom of speech. That includes religions you don’t agree with, like radical factions that preach intolerance and sow the seeds of hate. Likewise, the freedom to express oneself should be recognized. If protestors can burn the flag and I can rally a group to burn, say, L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology doctrine, then Jones should be allowed to burn Koran.
Second, I think this is a good topic for media coverage, when done properly, as it shows the ugly face of intolerance within our borders. Every nation and every religion has its extremists, its radicals, its zealots. I think it’s good to expose them for what they are, to publicize their inexcusable acts so that we can try to move forward, to progress away from narrow-minded bigotry and toward goals of common decency and respect.

Islam gets a lot of bad publicity but let’s not forget that Christianity has a long and sordid history of violence, prejudice, and intolerance despite the peaceful teachings of its prophet Jesus. Does that make every Christian violent, intolerant, prejudiced? Of course not. And not every Muslim is a terrorist. It’s ridiculous to think otherwise. And I think Jones’s plan is completely reprehensible. What would he say to a group of Muslims burning Bibles and denouncing the Christian faith as evil? I dare say he wouldn’t care for it. I think he is, at best, a misguided fool and, more likely, a religious zealot with more mouth than brains. That this pageant of prejudice is set to occur on the nine-year anniversary of the September 11 tragedy further illustrates his poor judgement. Instead of focusing on the people injured and killed, he wants to focus on those who perpetrated the attacks, a radical faction that preaches intolerance and sows the seeds of hate. Hmm, sounds familiar.

It’s obvious to me that Jones isn’t familiar with Islam. Nor am I, actually, but I’ve spoken with several Muslims and read part of the Koran (or Quran, as it’s often known) and not once was there mention of bombing people. It advocates spreading the word to others, of course, as religions generally do, but Islam is as peaceful a faith as Christianity. Perhaps moreso. At any rate, I think the best advice for Jones comes from the New Testament when Jesus says all the teachings of all the prophets boil down to two commandments: 1) love God. 2) love your fellow man. In taking those two things to heart, you cannot fail.

UPDATE: September 9, 2010
My local evening news reported that Pastor Jones has cancelled the Koran bonfire. I find that good news indeed. An ABC news article relates that the change in plans came after Jones spoke with Imam Abdel Rauf, the Muslim leader proposing a mosque and multi-faith religious center near Ground Zero in New York. They are due to meet Saturday, September 11th, in New York but Jones said the Imam has agreed to move the planned center elsewhere. The proposed mosque and cultural center has become a point of contention, with some saying a Muslim-based center should not be allowed so near the site of the Twin Tower tragedy. (Which I think is bollocks, but freedom of speech clearly allows them to say so.) Other sources do not agree that the Islamic center is being moved, and the ABC Evening News reported that the Imam had not yet even spoken with Jones. So we’ll have to wait for more information and clarification on that. But as long as there aren’t any organized book burnings this Saturday, I think it will be a step in the right direction.

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This is still a fresh and highly contentious subject so please navigate away from this page after the following paragraph if it is too sensitive a subject for you. My thoughts are often … unconventional … and though I certainly mean no disrespect some things I say could be potentially hurtful to others. Please beware.

George Sodini was responsible for the deaths of three women and the injury of several others recently at a gym in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. He left writings that outlined his plans and general attitude toward life. His last actions were terribly violent and should not be dismissed. These are my compiled notes on George Sodini and my thoughts on his life.

On paper, and even on video, George seemed like a very ordinary man. He worked an ordinary job, drove an unremarkable vehicle, and lived in a perfectly normal house. But he lived there alone and this seemingly led to (or was caused by) some of his personal issues. According to his purported “blog,” he had not been in a relationship since 1984 and had not slept with anyone since 1990. If said “blog” is genuine, it provides quite a peek into a disturbed mind.

The very first entry is studded with spite and dark sarcasm. Further entries blend melancholy, irritation, and disbelief with a perpetual foundation of frustration. “Result is I am learning [life] basics by trial and error in my 40s,” he wrote. “Seems odd, but thats true. […] Too embarassed to tell anyone this, at almost 50 one is expected to just know these things.” Later, describing his mother as a controlling, overbearing woman, he laments, “Why are people vicious with their closest ones?”

It feels almost like there are two different men writing. One is wholly negative, calling younger women “hoes” and stating that he will always be alone. But there is another man, a positive force who tries to hope that things will improve. The trouble is that the negativity always seems to win the argument. “Writing all this is helping me justify my plan and to see the futility of continuing. […] No matter how many changes I try to make, things stay the same.”

But those jumbled, sometimes resentful paragraphs help flesh George Sodini out as a real person, a living, breathing person who made a terrible, terrible choice. They portray a man who is tired of being alone but has no clue how to change. They show how out-of-control his life felt, and how he was convinced he was a total and utter failure as a human being. He seems to be saying, “Everywhere I look people have their shit together. They are getting married, are in relationships, are having kids… What is wrong with me that I am not? Why doesn’t anyone feel remotely interested in me?” None of the entries sound “crazy” or even demonstrably unstable until he mentions having “chickened out” of his plan with the guns in his gym bag. Until that point, he just sounds lonely, possibly depressed. Suddenly the post reveals him to be homicidal, suicidal, unexpectedly dangerous and seemingly without remorse for his intended victims. “God have mercy,” was his only remark.

“I already know what the problem is, but a solution eludes me,” he said months later. He attended church for many years and apparently didn’t want to go to Hell for seeing through this “exit plan” but had been assured such actions would not necessarily damn him. “[P]astor Rick Knapp … teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven. […] I think [he] did the most damage.” And though he did not consider the “exit plan” a real solution, it seems he could not identify a better option. Why he chose the gym one can only guess. Why his anger was funnelled into a murder spree instead of just a suicide is a mystery. But it seems odd that he would do such a thing when his words indicate that he did not hate women but their (real or imagined) rejection of him and the loneliness which followed.

His words show a man who felt lost and without hope that things would ever change. Expounding on a radio talk show caller, George wrote, “It is the quality of life that is important, he said. If you know the past 40 years were crappy, why live another 30 crappy years then die? His point was they engage in dangerous behavior which tends to shorten the lifespans, to die now and avoid the next 30 crappy years.” He had been recently promoted and liked his new boss, even found his new duties more rewarding. And yet he led a joyless life, ultimately punctuated by the shooting of innocent strangers.

I compiled all these notes and thoughts with one basic goal: to try and understand a man who felt so hopeless that he would take out his frustrations in the deaths of others and then kill himself. Many call him a blatant misogynist but I believe that falls well short. Others have labeled him “psychotic” and “psychopathic” and while I’m not sure that quite covers it, either, I think it is closer to the truth.

Psychopaths are mentally unimpaired but nonetheless engage in self-defeating acts. Often unable to delay or defer gratification, they are prone to impulsiveness, sometimes violence, and are often coupled with an inability to learn from past mistakes. Roughly one percent of the general population are psychopaths. A recent study at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London found that “psychopaths who kill and rape have faulty connections between the part of the brain dealing with emotions and that which handles impulses and decision-making,” according to a Reuters article. The findings were based on a small test group and is expected to be studied further. “As well as finding clear structural deficits in the tract in psychopathic brains,” the article continues, “they also found the degree of abnormality was significantly linked to the degree of psychopathy.”

Which makes sense. The less functional the brain, the more abnormal the behavior of the host. Which opens up a whole new bag of worms. If a brain isn’t functioning properly, how responsible is the host for its actions?

George Sodini decided to take three guns into a gym and shoot people. He decided to turn the last gun on himself and end his life. These were things he chose to do and which cannot be excused. But I wonder how much of the circuitry that led him to that choice was faulty, how much it interfered with his impulses and decisions. I wonder about the other one percent of psychopaths trying to live among us while their brains unknowingly mislead them. It is such a cruel and unpredictable world when the very thing that filters the world around us and keeps us going quietly betrays us.

I am reminded of a quote from Plato:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

If you’d like to read George Sodini’s “blog” for yourself, you can find it here.

And one parting thought … why did George Sodini turn out the lights before he started shooting? Some called it cowardly, insinuating that maybe he could not face the people he killed as he killed them. We will never know for sure, but I like to think differently. He could have hit many, many more of those women if the lights had been on. I like to think it was perhaps a last act toward decency, that if he could not or would stop himself from carrying through with his plan, he could at least try to give them a better chance by firing into the dark.

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