Sunday, December 21, 2014

What If Jesus Was Just A Teacher and Philosopher?

"Christ, not Christianity, is the power that has soothed and satisfied the spirit of the great multitude which no man can number." 

Why do we need religion in our post modern condition? This type of question turns off many believers, yet it's a question any person of faith will deal with- whether we want to or not. Our doubts and insecurities are real. The manner in which we deal with these doubts is what will build or crumble our faith. Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus, yet our influence on the world is lessening. We aren't as effective as many of us would like to be, and some of us won't even try to make a difference. How have we (Christians) become so impotent? 

Let's work backwards. What if Jesus was merely the teacher of a social gospel and moral philosophy, would we still follow him? What if he didn't die for our sins, would we still ground our morality and ethics in his teachings? If we struggle with any aspect of either question then we have reduced our salvation to a market style quid pro quo. In essence we are telling God that we will spread the gospels and worship, if one day we are granted power and eternal life. This type of worship is more common than most of us inside the church are willing to accept. We either get God the ATM or God the attack dog.

I see three forms of religion being practiced today. The first form is diagnostic ideological religion. Practitioners of this form of religion use the teachings of Jesus and his disciples to offer critiques for the condition of the world. The men and women who subscribe to this particular kind of religion believe that all of the worlds ills could be solved by a greater commitment to the teachings of Jesus. I don't disagree with them, but the choice to come to the father is one each of us has to make on our own. The call for a mass commitment to Jesus seems improbable. Instead of working to change things many are comfortable offering their diagnosis.

The second form of religion is medicinal. Practitioners of medicinal religion seek to find comfort from the conditions the world has imposed on them. Many have resigned to the fact that their kingdom shall come and that they will one day become what they cannot presently be. The trap of medicinal religion is acceptance. Medicinal religion's impotence comes from a lack of trying. Instead of embracing God's omnipotence as a way of shaping the here and now, they settle for the promises to come down the road. 

The last form of religion I see practiced is empowerment religion. When you're around someone who truly embraces this form of religion you can't help but notice their attitude and spirit. I know people who are connected in a way that I wish I was connected. There isn't an obstacle you could place in front of them they won't give God the glory during their attempt to overcome it. They have a belief so strong that they never outwardly doubt the circumstances of life. It's this group of believers that accomplish what was previously thought to be impossible. The sad thing about empowerment religion is that there aren't enough of them. They have no problem diagnosing societal ills, they are assured of their place in heaven, yet they set out to do the hard work of changing their communities. 

As a child I believed that God sent his only begotten son to die for our sins; later in life I found myself not believing this as much. I now find faith in the faith of others. When I'm around someone who really believes I'm comforted by their convictions. Jesus said follow me; he never called on people to worship him. This distinction matters because it creates the space for those who are weak in their faith and those who have no commitment to faith. If Jesus wasn't the perfect sacrifice of God he would still be worth emulating. If Jesus was just a myth, his lessons can still provide valuable insights for those who are lost. I thank God that he sent his son to die on Calvary. I believe what I can't provide physical evidence for. Jesus was the turning point in human history. His birth fulfilled a prophecy from God, and his impact is still felt 2014 years later. You can't look at a calendar without recognizing that we track the days since his arrival. I need the teachings of Jesus to sustain my sanity during crazy times and to comfort me during times of distress. I need religion because of the state of the world we live in.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christian Memes: What Do We Really Believe?

Tis, the season for cable and local news outlets to dust off their file footage from the previous years war on Christmas stories. I'm not particularly concerned with the validity of their claims; maybe there is a cabal of Atheists and secular progressives trying to diminish Jesus' role in the holiday season: that may be true. As nefarious as that sounds, I'm more concerned with the apparent lack of faith some of my fellow Christians seem to have when it comes to matters like these.

At the beginning of the school year a similar religious phenomenon happens: Facebook memes about Prayer and God being removed from school spread like wild fire. The law is very clear in these matters anyone who wishes to pray can do so without fear of punishment by an authority figure. The law prohibits someone employed by the state or federal government from leading a prayer and potentially endorsing one religion over another. 

The fact that our schools no longer have structured prayer has been used (by some) to explain the decadence in our society. There's not enough hard evidence to support that claim; correlation doesn't always equal causality. Even if someone could prove that the removal of prayer is the underlying cause of our moral erosion, it doesn't solve the problem of Christians who subscribe to the idea that an omnipotent God could be limited by man's law. 

After every new school shooting memes like the one at the top of this post dominate space on newsfeeds and timelines across social media. The logic is very easy to refute. If you read (and believe) the first verse of the Bible: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Any Christian who believes that the same God who protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedego from being consumed by fire, protected Daniel in the lions den, and provided for his people for 40 years in the desert has to listen to a law written by a man who will wither and die needs to get a bit deeper into the word. 

Before there were politicians, school boards, or people to worship him God created everything. When Christians subscribe to the kind of faulty logic these memes offer they sound more like nonbelievers than our Atheists brothers and sisters. How can you believe Jesus overcame the grave and washed our sins away, if you don't think he can get past a hall monitor?

These memes offer a glimpse into the psyche of those who invest in them. It's easy to share a catchy meme, but much harder to come to grips with the evil in our world. The free will we exercise to worship (or not worship) is the same free will that allows someone to open fire on children. It's not easy accepting the terrors of life. There's a season for everything and this too shall pass, but until then I will do my best to fight what I perceive to be the dumbing down of God's people by overly simplistic social media memes.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Eric Garner's Death Changes Nothing

How can cameras help deter police violence if there's no reasonable expectation that officers who abuse their power will be charged?

23 years after Rodney King was beaten(on camera)we watched Eric Garner get murdered by a N.Y.P.D officer using a prohibited choke hold. We were told by a grand jury(ipso facto)that the coroner was wrong in ruling his death a homicide, and that there was nothing to see here. It's a struggle to calmly articulate what I feel is the state sanctioned killing of black people over the last few years. I'm saddened that 6 kids will be raised without their father. Law enforcement officers were able to capture the shooter in Aurora, Colorado alive after he killed 12 people, but the guy selling smokes had to die. We live in a country where black athletes and entertainers are revered for their talents, but lesser known blacks need to know their role.

I'm what's commonly referred to as a 'race hustler' I hold the scandalous world view that we still have a serious race problem. I look at public schools in black communities, the empirical data on unemployment and underemployment, and the disparity in the criminal justice system as evidence for my claim. I'm a race hustler because I point out the reality many in our country don't know or would rather ignore. If you're tired of reading this type of critique: block me from all forms of social media and never read my blog.

I intend to use my corner of cyberspace to stand up for the dignity of people (even black people). Being black is not a degenerative condition. If you treat anyone like an animal long enough they'll act like an animal. I don't apologize or make excuses for people when they're wrong, but I don't vilify a group of people based on the actions of a few. I reject the notion that blackness is inferior.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Self Creation: Nietzche's Challenge Our Decision

For some, going against societal norms seems odd, scary, and/or downright crazy. Instead of appreciating and respecting the courage it takes for someone to be original, many in our society will diagnose your originality as craziness and dismiss you.
Nietzche argued that we should live our lives in an artistic way. We should be the Plato to our Socrates; in other words: author the kind of life for yourself that you could live over and over again forever.

Too many struggle (at an existential  level) to fit into prefabricated molds, yet they're too afraid to be themselves. From an archeological perspective we have uniforms that identify us. There's a set of presuppositions that come with our appearance and attire. Personal catastrophe is a certainty for those who don't fit neatly into societies boxes, yet lack the knowledge of self to understand that conformity is a trap.

Sigmund Freud once said that Nietzche knew more about himself than any man who ever lived. Our biggest obstacle in accepting Nietzche's challenge of self creation is looking inside of ourselves and accepting our shortcomings and weaknesses. We should view our limitations for what they are: a constitutive part of who we are. Our attributes, positive and negative, don't define us; they offer glimpses into certain aspects of our character.

Strength, confidence, and courage are necessary armaments along the path of self discovery. The journey inside ourselves is supposed to be lonley: we're looking for someone who has never existed. There will always be people who won't understand you: don't waste too much of your time and energy on them. For too many the dream of being socially accepted turns into a nightmare. My advice would be to walk real cool and enjoy the things that make you happy. In the end authenticity maybe the only thing that can liberate us from the shackles of social pressure.

Friday, November 28, 2014

With Us or Against Us: The All or Nothing Logic Trap

I could be naive, and I'm willing to admit my intellectual limitations, but saying all cops aren't racist is akin to saying all black people aren't criminals. No serious person disputes this sort of claim. As a nation we suffer from a severe lack of critical thinking. In my opinion, the biggest outward sign of this lack is our collective inability to look at situations and recognize the gray areas contained in them.

We continually fall into the trap of declaring 100% allegiance for or against a proposition without looking for any overlap. America is either the greatest nation on earth or the worst; instead of a more realistic view that America has done a lot of good things, yet she has her share of dirty secrets as well. We're forced to make choices in which all of our proverbial eggs are in one basket. I reject the notion that I have to be left-wing or right-wing, up or down, in or out. Situations like Ferguson, Missouri have the tendency to bring out the worst in our country when it comes to in-group out-group distinctions.

Race is such a sensitive issue that important questions related to the topic are trivialized. For example: why is the unemployment rate for black veterans almost twice that of white veterans? That's a legitimate question, but if I ask it I'm a"race hustler". We(as a nation)are almost to childish to have adult conversations.

Over last few years I have donated money and supported several groups that peaceful protest and fight against laws I feel are unfair I.E. stop-and-frisk, but my support isn't an indictment against all of the individuals in law enforcement, but a critique of the system itself. I'll always stand with black people fighting for equality and dignity, but I'll never (voluntarily) live in the hood again. I know that gang violence is a problem, but I reject the notion that every black kid is in a gang or a threat. It's funny, the majority of pedophiles in this country are white, yet when I see a white person I don't automatically assume they molest children, nor do I fear that they will shoot up a school or movie theater.

It seems odd that when someone of color stands up for our people controversy ensues. I have stood in solidarity with gays and lesbians in their fight for equal treatment under the law without my motives or patriotism being questioned. It's like I have to choose between being a black man or being an American. That's a choice I won't make for anyone.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Faith of Atheists and the Reason of Theists

I've been blessed to study with many people who hold a variety of religious and non religious beliefs. I have a friend, Wilfredo, who converted to Islam; another friend, Andrew, who is devout to his Jewish heritage and religion. I've studied with Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, and a number of people who have lesser known religious beliefs. What became clear to me was the way faith and reason functioned inside these systems of belief.

Theism and Atheism are in contradiction with each other. Dialectically speaking, investing in one is divesting in the other. Faith and reason, at their simplest levels, are also thought to be contradictory notions; I believe this assumption, by some, is due to a breakdown in language. Faith is understood to be religious based and reason science based. What I've found is that faith can be derived from reason, and that a constitutive part of reason is faith.

At our instinctual level we seek to put order in the world around us. I'm a Christian metaphysian (small m) the claims I make about the nature of the world are in no way an attempt to make a universal philosophical system of thought. I understand the world through language, culture, and socioeconomic realities that I didn't choose. With all of that said, my perception of reality is limited by my stationary existence. I could be wrong in my interpretations and that could cause me to make false conclusions.

At their purest levels faith and reason supplement each other. Before many make pronouncements about their religious convictions they have reasoned with their interpretation of reality and made a leap of faith. This holds true for the nonbeliever as well. Scientific experimentation is based in a certain kind of faith: are my hypothesize grounded in enough hard evidence? Will the theoretical conclusions I've made coincide with reality?

The dumbing down of our culture has led to narrowly viewing science and religion. There's a faction of angry Theists who hold the view that they are morally superior to their Atheist contemporaries; while their equally angry Atheists contemporaries hold the view that they are intellectually superior to their theist contemporaries. Faith and reason are not opposites. They are vital components to any belief or set of beliefs about the world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Are Some People Born Slaves, If So, Then What?

But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? 

Without sociopathic tendencies most people need to dehumanize someone in order to dominate them for slavery to properly function. In Aristotle's lifetime the slaves were barbarians. Barbarians were considered anyone who wasn't of an educated Greek order. Whether it's religion, race, or class distinction the ability to place the slave class in a category of being other is not just a postulate, but a constitutive part of justifying the immorality of the institution.

The three dominant western religions all have scriptures that can be used for the justification of slavery. When you add religious approval to in-group out-group bias, you have a moral slip n slide in which the use of humans as tools for production is acceptable. 

This explains the subjugation of people, but does nothing to deal with the question of someone being a "born slave". I'm comfortable knowing there's no serious conversation about moving our culture back to a place where people, who have a predisposition for servitude, could be easily exploited by individuals or market factors. We should strive for a society in which we actively prevent the exploitation of people, even those who may even want it. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Taking Back Their Country: I Don't Want to Go

The free press and the right of the people to dissent without fear of criminal prosecution is a constitutive part of our continuing attempt to perfect our union. I look forward to reading the comments section on blogs and the editorials in my local newspaper. The passion that some of our fellow citizens write with is palpable. We share space with some interesting people.

Over the last few years I've noticed a recurring theme among several of the comments and editorials of different publications: the quest to, "take back our country". This America that my fellow citizens long for seems like a fascinating place. When I close my eyes I picture Mayberry. The only problem with that is Aunt Bee and Opie were fictional characters. From 1960-68 (the years the Andy Griffith Show ran). Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated (in that order), the Vietnam war had started under false pretenses (we admitted the Gulf of Tonkin incident didn't happen) and the National Guard had to be sent to the south numerous times to enforce the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, Kansas decision (ending segregation in public schools). In 1961 there were over 60 churches burnt to the ground by American terrorists.

I'm leary of a trip much further back than that. We live in a country that has overcome great obstacles, but we were never a perfect union. If we push that fairytale out of our mind, and look at how far we've come I think we can appreciate the journey even more.

Mayberry seems like a great place to live, but the reality is: just as The Andy Griffith Show was taping their first episodes students were risking their lives in organized sit-ins less than 100 miles away. Often times the further we get from something the better it looks, but historical context and empirical data have a way of removing the thick clouds we can find ourselves viewing the past through. I long for the day that the promises of citizenship apply to everyone, until then I'll think long thoughts and write letters.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Month of Resistance

This is the first day of the month of resistance. There are dozens of events planned throughout the month of October designed to bear witness to the epidemic of police brutality, and the Stop-and-frisk policy that criminalizes black and brown existence in New York City. 

This movement has been organized and promoted with virtually no help from the traditional media. As the month progresses and the protests can't be ignored any further the organizers and participants will undoubtedly be demonized. Don't fall for this; the people making the arguments are secondary to the arguments they're making. Stop-and-Frisk is a direct violation of the 4th amendment.

I'm "amazed" that our 2nd amendment "patriots" haven't been more vocal against stop-and-frisk. The sad truth is that many of them are more concerned with the majorities 2nd amendment rights than the 4th amendment rights of minorities. It's tragicomic how a society (any society) just assumes the humanity and dignity of some of its citizens, while others have to constantly prove their right to be treated as a person. Johnny Carson once asked Malcolm X what does the black man want. Malcolm's response was perfect. "Johnny, I'm the same man you think you are. I want to fall in love. I want my family to be safe. I'm the same man you think you are. What do you want?"

The messengers and fighters for equality have been historically vilified. Dr. King was called an outside instigator by several prominent clergy members in the south. Don't allow some talking head to distract you from the arguments being made. The inadequacies in our judicial system aren't imagined. Yes, we've made great progress on the racial front, but we still have work to do. I pray for the day that we make overtly racist policies not only illegal, but so stigmatized no one would want to be associated with them. As citizens we have the power to put enough pressure on the power structure that we can make a fundamental change to the elements of our justice system that aren't working.

The Gap Between Dogma and Dogmatism

It's been my experience that faith rooted in cautious optimism and a smidgen of doubt is less likely to devolve into dogmatism. Having beliefs, whether they be religious or secular (grounded in faith or empirical data) is something all of us have in common. All of us believe something: especially those trapped in nihilism who profess they don't believe anything. The amount of certainty we place in our worldview coupled with an inability to accept or even process new information factor heavily in our dogmas slide into a combative one sized fits all belief system.
One sufficient, but not necessary, symptom of being overly dogmatic is the inability to consider ideas that don't originate from people who share your worldview. We're all fallible; all of us posess the human propensity for error. Our quest[s] for ultimate truth will all fall short and end in the grave, but the closing of our minds to information or empirical data is a flashing sign that points to a childish mentality grounded in low intellect and/or weak faith. 

I often hear people say we need a national religious awakening or prayer back in school. These request assume that all of our problems could be solved with a rededication to spirituality or faith. The biggest problem with that line of thinking is that we (Americans) have never lived the utopian religious fantasy those who espouse those views are nostalgic for. It's much more reasonable to ask for a collective commitment to critical thinking. 

We have political and media organizations that are invested in systematically misinforming our fellow citizens. The university, scholarship and intellectualism have become the sacrificial lambs to the shrine of dogmatism. Immanuel Kant wrote an essay titled, "What is Enlightenment" that I have quoted in the past more than a few times, the most powerful quote in relation to dogmatism reads as follows: 

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me.

We are splintered as a nation along every possible dividing line. Even agreement has suffered because of our "pure" ideologies. We can agree with each other on 90% of an issue and allow the 10% to get in the way of progress. Just remember: because you hear two sides of an issue doesn't mean you've heard every side of an issue. The certainty we cling to is often an illusion. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I'm Not Going to Write About Mike Brown

The body of unarmed teenager Mike Brown
 four hours after he was shot 10 times
by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer. 

I'm not going to write about the murder of #MikeBrown in #Ferguson Missouri. The truth is: my Facebook "friends" and the people in my community don't care about arbitrary rule of law, police brutality or mass incarceration. A large portion of them will immediately ask: what was he doing? As if shooting an unarmed teenager 10 times could be explained. I live a peaceful life tucked away in a rural suburb away from the "others". An unarmed kid getting shot 10 times by the police is of no consequence to my peer group.

 I hope all of my Christian friends are comfortable today as they give thanks to Jesus for shedding his blood on Calvary. I'm naive enough to believe that blood was the same blood that inspired the 25th chapter of Matthew: 35-46. It's funny: Jesus starts with the least of these, yet we often avoid the very ones he called us to serve. We're passionate about the conflicts in the Middle east, yet ignore the genocide in our streets. This is the point in my rant where people stop reading and classify me as an angry black man. Well for the first time in my life I'm going to embrace that title. I'm mad as hell. I'm tired of watching the news and seeing kids killed by those who swore to protect and serve. This is where someone mentions violence in the inner cities. Well guess what: I hate that too. It's possible to do more than one thing at a time. 

This October there will be hundreds of functions around the country in solidarity with the stop mass incarceration and end police brutality movements. I have donated time and money for this cause, and will wear orange on the 30th as a show of my solidarity with this movement. I'm glad I don't have any children. How could I teach a child to respect and bow down to an authority figure who doesn't even respect their humanity? I know all cops aren't bad; likewise, I  know all black kids aren't angels, but I also know that if black cops were killing white teenagers at the same rate we would have solved that problem a long time ago. Why do you think we don't have an epidemic of black cops killing suburban and rural teens? It's not that black cops are better or more moral, it's because they know it won't be tolerated by greater society. Until we change the system it will stay the same.

Where's our righteous indignation? Jesus flipped out in the temple, that's the kind of Holy anger we should have about injustice in our time. I thank God for Christians like John Brown and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They weren't afraid of cutting against the grain. That blood shed on Calvary meant something to them. This rant is why I have very few friends. I would rather be by myself than buck dance and try to assimilate into a normative gaze that views me as other. I pray for the family of Mike Brown and all of the kids who will lose their lives in similar fashion.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Race Issues Part 3 Undervaluing Black Women

In part two I tried to focus on the psychological war being waged by some in the black community. I avoided discussing black women; the level of disrespect they deal with is of a different nature. I know black men who have never dated a black woman. They love their grandmothers, mothers and sisters, yet (some) show outward animosity if not downright contempt towards black women. If black men don't value black women why should anyone else? There's a small (and relatively voiceless) minority of men and women trying to refute the lies being told about black women, but their voices are muted by comparison.

Claire Huxtable was one of the most beloved characters on television. She was beautiful, professional and hard working. Although she wasn't your typical black mother she was more realistic than the women who dominate television screens today. Claire has been replaced by Real Housewives, Basketball Wives and a slew of lesser known "reality" show divas. Many of these woman have provided the worst images associated with black women in recent years. Blaming these women won't solve the problem. After their fifteen minutes are up a new starlet will fill the void. The entertainment industry (with help from the viewing public) has successfully commodified black female buffoonery.

Black women (like all women) are susceptible to the physical abuse that's prevalent in our patriarchal society, but they also fight negative labels associated exclusively with them: angry, hoochie, welfare queen and hoodrat. The most pervasive stereotypes associated with black femininity are negative. All of these stereotypes and images have worked to reclassify black women as being less desirable and substandard. Realistic images of black women on television have been drowned out by a fame and fortune chasing minority who have proven that fame and fortune are worth their souls.

We have a First Lady who is often described as unpatriotic, angry and a freeloader. The Ivy league graduate who routinely made a six figure salary in the years before she was the First Lady has been reduced to being an angry welfare queen. Black women have struggled to control their image in greater society. No matter how professional and competent they show themselves to be they still find themselves fighting for legitimacy. Every time a black woman does something outrageous in the public sphere countless other black women suffer. 

Many of the black men I know who exclusively date white women say they would date black women if there were more sisters "on their level"; the reality is: black women are more likely to be college educated than black men. Society has put such a premium on Eurocentric standards of beauty (blond hair and blue eyes) that for decades black women have used skin lightening creams and hair products designed to make them look less like themselves. Black men are partly responsible for this. We have believed the hype that we turned white women into a symbol of success akin to a Rolex or a Mercedes.  

If you go to any church in the black community you'll see black women doing much of the work to keep the doors open. Black women disproportionately fund the missionary and teach the bible school and Sunday school lessons. It's black women who raise the children when daddy decides he's had enough, yet with all they do for our community we (collectively) don't value them. There's a reason society won't respect our women and we've given it to them.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Courage to Dream: Why We Should Never Forget April 4th

J. Edgar Hoover called Dr. King a "notorious liar"; he also labeled him the most dangerous man in America. In his official C.I.A. file Dr. King's code name was Zorro. Every April 4th we observe the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the reality is that he died a hated man. Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders of his day lived with constant death threats and alienation from many of their own people. The revisionist history associated with the civil rights leaders of the 60's is typical of the way we (as a nation) deal with uncomfortable subjects.

After Martin's death James Baldwin left the United States. He said he couldn't take it anymore; Medgar, Malcolm, and Martin were his friends. He felt that he was the last one left. Almost 50 years after his death we have political parties fighting over who is the rightful heir to the King legacy; when in reality, he had sharp criticisms for both parties. His stance on the Vietnam war was seen as treasonous. Now, in our hyper patriotic culture the pastors and spiritual leaders actively support the war efforts as they play golf with the president. We've fallen a long way. Dr. King use to say, "I'm a cross bearer before I'm a flag waver." He felt every flag was subordinate to the cross.

I salute Dr. King for his courage and humility. Dr. King, like Gandhi and Oscar Romero, was a prophetic voice who paid the ultimate price for standing up against the mendacity and evil of the system they lived under. I too have a dream; one day, I will awaken and our spiritual leaders will embrace their inner Moses and push back against Pharaoh. One day our preachers will be more like Jeremiah and less like Peter.

I'll close with my favorite passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Economic Realities Politicians Rarely Talk About

How does a producer decide whether to employ additional units of a resource? This question is posed in the 6th edition of a textbook titled "Economics: Private and Public Choice". We (the collective labor force) have been reduced to "units of a resource".

Another midterm election cycle is upon us and candidates from both parties have "on schedule" started repackaging the same truncated arguments from the last dozen or so election cycles. While our economy has added jobs for 52 straight months most of those jobs are low paying and offer no benefits. As summer turns into fall our television screens and mail boxes will once again be filled with partisan political rhetoric offering solutions to our current economic situation. Tragically, most of the solutions offered won't address the root cause of these problems: the labor force (at all levels) has been relegated to being nothing more than an appendage. This problem is systemic and can't be solved from Washington D.C.

One political party is offering wholesale deregulation: get rid of the minimum wage and cumbersome regulations and watch the economy grow. I'm sure the unemployment rate would be close to zero if the minimum wage was $2.00 an hour. Just think of the money that could be saved on hard hats and safety glasses in the manufacturing sector of our economy.

The other party is calling for unrealistic wage hikes and regulations that most small businesses can't afford. Sure it would be nice if the minimum wage was $15 dollars an hour, but how many businesses would be able to stay open? Who would take the risk of starting a business if your labor force is going to make more money than you?

I believe that we are at the tail end of a fundamental shift in business ethics. The same middle class Americans who would have led the marches and protests are now sitting on their hands and keeping their mouths shut. Their fear is rational in context to their eroding status in our society. In the professional sector productivity is at an all-time high due to the 70 plus hour work weeks; while low skill jobs have seen their wages stagnated for the better part of a decade. We have lived for 30 plus years with a business ethic in place that reduces work in all of its forms. Seeing labor (people) as "units of a resource" who exist for the sole purpose of generating revenue is a problem that I'm almost certain we won't see addressed in the majority of the political ads coming our way.

My fear is that we (as a country) are too distracted by the spectacle of pop culture: Duck Dynasty, Real Housewives of (insert your favorite city) and technology, and too fragmented over social issues: abortion and same-sex marriage to correctly identify and work towards solving the economic issues we are facing. So remember this fall when candidates A and B are "debating" the issues, the odds are they are both competing for the same campaign dollars from people who view you as "additional units of a resource".

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Open Carry Texas vs. Stop and Frisk New York: A Tale of Two City States

According to Texas state law open carry of a hand gun is illegal, but a concealed handgun license or a (CHL) is issued to all citizens who qualify. Shotguns and semiautomatic rifles are legal everywhere but federal buildings and schools.

The stop-and-frisk policy of New York City has criminalized  millions of (Innocent) blacks and Latinos. Under stop-and-frisk ANY citizen can be subjected to random searches and interrogation for any reason or no reason at all.
The logic behind the searches is based on the notion that stopping petty crime before it escalates is a proactive approach to crime fighting.

Further justification is  based on the number of African-Americans and Latinos currently inside the criminal justice system. A closer look at the data reveals that racial profiling isn't validated by the racial makeup of the penitentiary, but a constitutive reason for it. 62% of America's prison population are soft drug offenders. Almost 90% of stops result in no legal action and only 2.5% result in finding guns.

The preconceived notions about minorities in New York City is justification enough for the legal violation of their 4th amendment rights. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to make the policy as fair as possible but has done nothing but talk about it.

I don't care what side of the gun debate anyone who reads this is on. I care about the blatant hypocrisy of this situation. We live in a country in which some have their 2nd amendment rights protected more than the 4th amendment rights of others. I challenge us to be honest and say what we mean. If we mean the rights of the majority to carry weapons in public trumps the rights of minorities to be victims of illegal searches and seizures then just say it.

Groups like the Brady Center and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence are missing out on a golden opportunity. If they wanted to push through legislation banning open carry laws, they would hire a couple thousand blacks and Latinos between the ages of 18 and 30 and have them march on the steps of every capital in every state until the laws were changed.
Many of my 2nd Amendment warriors don't know or care that their political hero (Ronald Reagan) supported and signed into law several limitations to their 2nd amendment rights. As Governor of California he signed the Mulford Act into law after the Black Panthers marched on the capital to protest bans on carrying loaded firearms in public.

This kind of hypocrisy is all around us; it's woven into the fabric of our country. We had a Bill of Rights that didn't apply to Africans (22% of the population) and women the mothers, daughters, wives and sisters of our founding fathers. We've gotten to the point that the dualism of our doctrines go by unnoticed. The next time Carl Dix, Bob Avakain, Cornel West or any of the others who have led rallies to bring awareness to stop-and-frisk are marching in New York City look for the Gadsden flags bearing the don't tread on me moniker. You won't see them.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Sad Truth About The Minimum Wage.

It would be easy to raise the minimum wage and pull millions from poverty. There is, however, an unintended consequence that comes with doing this: a small percentage of the people who need the most help would be hurt as some jobs would be eliminated. There's enough Prima facie evidence for us to admit that low wages and depressed living standards are a structural part of our capitalists economy. Many industries are dependent on the supply of low-wage, unskilled and immobile labor. It's not a coincidence that the rise of capital markets occurred in coordination with the demise of labor markets.

As Americans, we tend to ignore the plight of the developing world. When we think of capitalist countries we rarely consider Mexico or Nigeria. The developing capitalist countries and the Asian countries who practice a mix of capitalism and communism have benefited from the offshoring of our manufacturing base. The relaxed labor laws combined with overall poverty levels have made those countries very attractive places to do business. As we continue the 30 plus year run of Neoliberal and Neoconservative economic policies I wonder: what's left for America? The move from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy wasn't a smooth one, but teaching farmers to work in factories has proven to be easier than teaching factory workers to work in information technology.
With so many multinationals feeding off of the poverty in the developing world, it's conceivable to think one day everything produced by companies with a few hundred million dollars in market capitalization will be made offshore.

Karl Marx was right in the Philosophic Manuscript of 1844. We have elevated the market to idol status. At the highest levels of a manufacturing and production based economy the function of money is to produce more human labor, who produce more goods, which leads to more capital. This isn't the case for investment banks and equity firms. The function of money is to produce more money. The interests of workers have been replaced by the interests of investors.
Just today I was watching international news. Parts of Spain are experiencing severe civil unrest and disobedience. I wonder: how long before this hits our shores? The idea that we can continue on this path without a negative reaction is as big a daydream as believing the market forces at play can be contained under the constraints of our current system. This monster is out of the cage and without any viable alternatives or remedies to fix this system, we could be living in the last days of the capitalist economy.

The sad actuarial truth is that a hike in the minimum wage would lift millions out of the category of the working poor, but it would also hurt smaller businesses with fewer resources. If the decision were made under utilitarian principles alone, the choice to help many over the few is a no-brainer. The tragedy of our current economic reality is that millions are working their fingers to the bone with no chance of getting out of poverty. The minimum wage can't keep up with inflation, but every little bit helps. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Black History Month: Why It Matters

There are people who really believe Black History Month exists to make the ancestors of slave owners uncomfortable. I can't

The lessons learned through 244 years of legal slavery and 81 years of Jim Crow aren’t solely for blacks seeking a knowledge of self, but for all who seek courage in the face of injustice. The fight for freedom and the continuing fight for equality isn’t gender or race specific. Telling the truth in the face of public scrutiny requires courage. If John Brown, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and countless others could risk their lives for freedom, why should I stop writing about injustice in our time because it makes me unpopular and some of my “friends” uncomfortable?

Every February certain political outlets restart their push to delegitimize black history month by calling it’s usefulness into question. I often see memes on social media that ask the question: why isn’t there a white history month? I wonder; how would a white history month curriculum differ from our current primary and secondary requirements in history.

I get a burning in the pit of my stomach when someone down plays the role of race in today’s America. Denial of a race problem isn’t the same thing as ending racism. I live in a community where, often, I’m the only black man in a restaurant, sporting event, or church- depending on which denominations service we attend. In my home town we’ve shuttered the doors of two black churches in the last 10 years. The oldest black church in our area (Mt. Pisgah) is down to two services a month with no full time pastor. The church I attend has seen its attendance fall dramatically in the last 15 years.

The biggest problem is a lack of opportunity for minorities. Many of my siblings and friends have had to make their lives far from home. The largest employer in our county (a resort that I won’t mention by name) and the county government itself has a horrible track record of employing minorities in high positions. Many of our parents worked in the service industry waiting the tables and making the beds in order to educate their children. I know people who got their degrees, returned home, and were offered the same jobs they held in high school.

The argument that the election of a black man is proof that racism is over is a disingenuous argument that asks one to forget all of the heated rhetoric and blatant racist attacks on him, his wife and their kids. If we had a Jewish president it would be unthinkable to protest at the White House with a Swastika, yet the stars and bars, nooses, and other relics of America’s dark ages are common place.

I want people to understand that denying opportunity implicitly or explicitly is a way of placing and keeping people in a caste system. Yes it’s true that opportunity in many of America’s small towns is scarce, but opportunity for racial minorities is almost nonexistent. My county is less than 5% African American. In my old Neighborhood (one of the two predominantly black neighborhoods) there’s one child of mixed race that catches the bus to school. The high school has fewer blacks enrolled than at anytime since segregation ended.

The picture at the top of this post is from a dedication ceremony in 2013, commemorating Union Hurst and T.C. Walker. (schools for blacks in our area) This is important to me because my parents and my future wife’s mother attended theses schools. My mother was Jim Crowed. Let that resonate with you for a minute. My mom! Not some person in a book a hundred years ago, but my mom. I will always tell the truth about these issues. I would rather sleep with my conscious than pretend the things I write about aren't real. 

We are a culture ducking and hiding from our feelings. Most of the people I know are on some sort of drug, whether it’s a legal prescription pharmaceutical, an illegal substance or good old fashioned alcohol. Many choose to ignore or run from the problems in life. When you are a black man in a community like this there is no hiding. There’s no amount of denial that can change the reality of the situation. So, yes, I choose to make trouble for all of the old teachers I had that think I’m obsessed with race or the leaders of religious flocks that find the fight for equality a laughing matter. 

Pictured below: Joyce Lewis and my future wife Renee Cardwell

Monday, February 10, 2014

Divided Ideology: Why We Rarely Practice What We Preach

Cultural relativism:


The view that all beliefs, customs, and ethics are relative to the individual within his own social context. In other words, “right” and “wrong” are culture-specific; what is considered moral in one society may be considered immoral in another, and, since no universal standard of morality exists, no one has the right to judge another society’s customs.

It's natural to judge ourselves in relation to another. We gain a sense of superiority when we're able to point to what we perceive as defects in other cultures. As long as there's another (that we regard as less than us) we don't have to hold ourselves accountable for our lack of consistency when it's time to follow our principles

My criticisms of modern Christian ideology and American exceptionalism are rooted in a love for Jesus and America. The fact that Jesus wasn't like modern Christians is a big selling point for me. My love for America is predicated on the belief that her foundation allows prophetic voices of all stripes to drag her kicking and screaming down the road to equality. Some view any criticism of religion or nation through a defensive lens that prevents them from seeing the love at the center of it. I'm a fallibilist; I could be wrong about most (or all) of my critiques. So with all of that out in the open: is it wrong to point out the obvious hypocrisys in the prevailing dogmas and ideologies of our times?

Christianity has provided a spiritual safe haven for the economically, culturally, and religiously oppressed. America, at her best, has been the manifestation of many prayers. We market America as a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world, yet so many of our citizens are crying out for help? 

Our nation is full of politicians and religious leaders who profess to be Christians, but when you get down to it the only people they seem to love (or like) are Christians who look like them. Dealing with the religious aspect of our ideological problem is necessary in order to show how deep the hypocrisy runs. How can we expect people who believe the bible is the literal word of God to take the founding documents written by men seriously? The next time you hear a politician condemn someone who doesn't look like them, worship like them, or live like them watch how quickly they use the flag as a shield and the Bible as a sword.

The past few years have been a case study in adding qualifications to rights granted to us in the Constitution. I remember all of the fury over the "911 Mosque" which was 2 blocks away from the World Trade Center. In the land of religious freedom we actually had politicians (who claimed to be strict constitutionalist) support a separatist agenda aimed at denying the first amendment rights of citizens to worship. 

We should change the 1st Amendment from, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances", to: Thou shall not worship any deity that is deemed to be an enemy of the state, nor shall any monuments be erected for the worshiping of said deity on any land considered to be hallowed ground.

It's not fair to measure other cultures by our standards. (standards we rarely follow) The first paragraph of  the Declaration of Independence should be read and reread by all of us:

We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,"

This declaration has no qualifications; it's a statement of shared unanimity. A statement made possible by the dispossession of native lands, the subjugation of women, and the enslavement of Africans. I long for the day when we don't place groups of people into secondary categories to be pushed to the margins of society.These promises apply to Muslims, Gays, Lesbians, and brothers and sisters of all colors. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Du Bois, Sartre, and the Double Conscious Gaze of the Other

I often hear people say they don't care what "others" think of them. For some, I'm sure that's true. I don't know if it's a testament to their journey of inward discovery or if it's just the Paxil talking, but some people truly don't care. The rest of us are left with doubt, stress, and the task of finding our place in a world eager to dish out judgement.

The major theme of my writing has been ideology and the role ideology plays in our lives. The ramifications of many of our interactions aren't tangible, but in our hearts we know how real they are. Everyday we have interactions that are shaped by the way "the other" views the world and our position in that world. Even if we (on a personal level) are able to overcome the prevailing ideologies of our time, we still have to deal with their effects on those around us.

I'm going to focus on negative Ideology, and the power stereotypes and expectations have on our psyche. I'll introduce some language and ideas, and then attempt to relate them to our time. This being black history month I feel it's fitting to start with W.E.B. Du Bois and his notion of Double-Consciousness. Then, I'll move to Jean-Paul Sartre. I want to finish with the role men have played in forcing the notion of ideal beauty onto women.

Here's a quote from Du Bois:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. 

Du Bois, who wasn't educated as a Philosopher, eloquently laid out the struggle for sanity under conditions in which a person's humanity is called into question. Although his double-consciousness is given from the perspective of a black man in 19th century America it transcends time and race. Waking up everyday and negotiating life from an assumed position of inferiority is a reality for many. These assumptions are based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or class. The "otherness" of a classified existences is a crime that strips us of our individuality and places us in a box to be labeled based on the experiences of another.

Jean-Paul Sartre developed a concept he called "Bad Faith". This concept is rooted in the idea that not only are we often classified by our Job, religion, race, sex, and other socioeconomic identifiers, but that some of us actually start living out stereotypical traits associated with the existence we've been associated with. Sartre felt we had to break out of the roles society put us in; if we didn't, we could never separate our humanity from our social functions. 

If we don't draw a distinction from our social functions and classifications we will never find our authentic self. We can overcome the way others make us feel, but we can't negate the original phenomenological exchange in which we were subject to those presuppositions. In other words we can't change the ideology of another, so the goal should be to accept the shortcomings in people and work around them. This isn't a default position; of course on an individual basis we can alter the way some people think about us, but every new encounter places us back in the gaze of the other.

Here's a passage from Sartre:

I rule the space around me but when my environment is intruded upon by another person I have to share it with this Other in an indeterminate manner. The freedom of the Other destabilizes my own freedom and disintegrates the preconceptions I had previously existed in. As a human being, I naturally tend to objectify the world around me but I must also presume that the Other also objectifies the world as well, including me in it. I have now become an object in the Other's vision and, because I realize this innately, I have become an object even in my own opinion. I am imprisoned in the Other's vision and, therefore, pass judgment on myself as a mere object. This causes a shameful feeling similar to if you were to spy through a keyhole and became surprised to see another eyeball staring back at you. If you privately do something so natural as to pick at your nose, for example, and come to realize that someone was watching you the whole time - you are inevitably reduced to shame.

The idea of the "gaze" is something Sartre, Jacques Lacan, and Cornel West have written about. They weren't alone. Many feminist have talked about the male "gaze" We can't escape the constant judgment of those around us. Am I tall enough? Am I thin enough? How am I being received by the other? This line of questioning is more commonly found among women- especially young women who may still be unsure of their place in the world. 

Men have created and sold women our fantasies about beauty. We've imposed this ideology on our women starting at a young age. I'm not sure, (and don't feel like researching it) but I bet a man decided how Barbie should be shaped. Men are somewhat responsible for the eating disorders in our women. We've been complicit in the destruction of the female psyche. I know women are capable of making their own decisions, but how can we expect young girls to overcome the images that fill their smart phones and iPads? If society tells you beauty consists of blond hair, long legs, and big breasts, how do we make the women who don't possess these attributes understand that these traits are a type of beauty, but not constitutive for the presence of beauty? 

All of us are susceptible to snap judgments. We can acknowledge them or avoid them, but either way they are still there. Many societal problems can be linked to the power we place on the gaze of the other. I know people who are in debt for the sole reason of living up to an unreasonable expectation placed on their life. We all know people who live in paralysis because they find themselves on the outside of societies normative gaze. (A phrase coined by Dr. Cornel West) The sooner we overcome ideology, the sooner we start living the life inside of our life. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Income Gap and Ideology: The Further Dehumanizing of Working Class People

  • If we made an income pyramid out of a child's blocks, with each layer portraying $1,000 of income, the peak would be far higher than the Eiffel Tower, but almost all of us would be within a yard of the ground.
        Paul Samuelson

There's an important question to consider when trying to understand how ideology functions in our lives: Is what I believe in the interest of other people for me to believe it?

The attacks on people of low income has turned into a competitive sport for many public figures, politicians, and citizens. We've declared a socially acceptable war on the least of these. If the attacks against the poor were leveled against any other minority group, we would have taken to the streets and called this behavior out for what it is: hatred.

We've created a straw man to beat up and blame all of society's ills on. This straw man is a composite of every negative stereotype about poor people. If we believe all of our economic woes are caused by welfare queens and meth addicts on food stamps, then we don't have to ask the real questions related to the military-industrial complex or our broken financial system. 

An ideological war is being waged against the working class. In one corner we have the working poor and in the other corner we have the working two missed paychecks from being the working poor. The saddest thing about this war is that it's a shadow war in which the ruling elite are forming alliances with members of the "47%" in order to bash their contemporaries. 

To get to the crux of the original question: who benefits from what we think? Why are so many people against raising the minimum wage if there's no empirical data to support the claim that doing so hurts the economy? Why do we blindly accept partisan talking points as facts? All of these questions have real answers; sadly, too few of us will even engage in the pursuit of these answers.

The quote from Paul Samuelson is often dismissed as class warfare. The structural problems of global capitalism go unresolved as we focus on the plight of those closest to us- instead of looking at the circumstances that caused them. Yes, there are welfare cheats. There's corruption in every avenue of life; some people will always take advantage of a situation.

I've never understood how people get so outraged over someone in their community getting over on the system, but keep quite about a fashion designer using child labor in the developing world or some company polluting the water because it's easier to dump chemicals than to responsibly dispose of them. There's a segment of our society who view the 4% of our country who are investors as mythical and magical. We get upset about the Affordable Care Act, but keep quite about a tax code so full of holes that anyone with a decent accountant can pay a lower tax rate than the average citizen. 

I'll close with a few points to ponder: first, the Federal Reserve is a private bank. It's not part of our government. Second, globally there's about 3 trillion dollars in circulation, but we have over 50 trillion dollars of debt. Last, If you work for a living: you are working class. There's no shame in this. 

Rick Roderick once offered an empirical test for anyone unsure of where they stand. He said quit your job for eight years, and if at the end of that period really bad things happened to you: you were working class. The growing income gap has the ability to affect your life more than what your neighbor is doing. The majority of us are one catastrophic accident or illness from being on public assistance.