God Bless America?

Before I began writing this blog, I used to have a couple thousand people that had signed up to read a weekly column I would email to them. These columns eventually formed a book that I put out titled Dysfunctional Thoughts of a 21st Century Man. Below is one of those columns.

The column was written on September 16, 2001. It is amazing how much you can forget about how different the world seemed at the time. It was a period of uncertainity for the United States, on a level that we have never experienced. The column I wrote discussing my thoughts on 9/11 and its aftermath has some things that I now, looking back, feel were a bit naive. I still think, though, it might bring some interesting memories about how you felt at the time and how your views might have changed.

One other thing I will mention is that when I wrote this, I receieved one email from someone who had it passed on to them that said they would shoot me in the head, if they were ever in the same room with me. A fellow comic, who I was fairly friendly with, sent me an email saying that he thought I was despicable for what I wrote and that he would do everything in his power to destroy my comedy career. I wrote this column the day before Bill Maher made his comments on his ABC version of Politically Incorrect, so after the hate mail I received, I wasn’t too shocked at the shit storm he faced.

GOD BLESS AMERICA?

Now I know this is never a popular declaration, especially now after the terrorist hijacking last Tuesday, but I am not a patriotic. Outside of every couple of years, when the Olympics take place, I’m not generally filled with patriotic fervor. You might say that if I would have known someone involved in the destruction, I might feel differently. Well, let me say that my best friend since High School worked at the Pentagon and I didn’t know if he was alive or dead until late in that afternoon. (He was fine, narrowly missing being one of the deceased.)

I’m no stranger to this type of catastrophe, as my Mom lives in the Oklahoma City area. At the time of the Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, my Mom was working close by.

You see, I consider myself a member of the human race, first and foremost. I am not someone who automatically falls in line with what the government tells me. If I had been of the drafting age during the Vietnam War, I would have emulated great patriots like George W. Bush or Bill Clinton by trying to get into the National Guard. Translation: This war was not worth me dying for.

Having said this, the hijacking in New York and Washington DC, last week, was an action against freedom and freedom is something I would put my life on the line for. Our rights in the U.S. to say and do, for the most part, what we want are what I love most about this country. I believe this personal freedom is why we are the most powerful nation on the planet. The Muslim extremists that perpetuated and celebrated these actions are filled with hatred and fear of what freedom stands for. They are not alone in their views, though. Look at most every major conflict in the world and you will see religion at the center of it. (Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) I am not saying that religion is inherently wrong, but when it is involved in the hierarchy of the government, it leads to conflict. Hopefully, we can learn from these other countries’ examples.

What troubles me about our President is the religious overtones used in almost every speech he has given since the attack. When the President spoke to the nation on September 11, he quoted Psalms 23.

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I hear no evil, for You are with me. I am not arguing that Psalm 23 isn’t beautiful scripture, but I feel it is inappropriate for the President of the United States to be reciting it in such a situation.

 

I am for people mourning the catastrophe any way they choose, be it prayer, meditation, or something else, but our government should not be using religious rhetoric when discussing the topic. President Bush, during one of the Republican primary debates of 2000 said the man he most admires is Jesus Christ. Well what would Jesus do (WWJD) in this situation? This is not an option for our country, though, and that is why President Bush needs to quit with the quoting of the Bible verses and speak in straightforward terms. He needs to leave the public prayer to the various Holy Men across the nation, as bringing up God and eradicating the enemy in the same sentence is confusing and in my way of thinking, sacrilegious.

The President isn’t the only one guilty of crossing the boundaries between church and state. Many were deeply moved by the unified Congress singing the God Bless America, but don’t count me as one of them. This song reminds me of the athlete who thanks the Lord for helping his team win the game. I’m sure that many radical Muslims were singing a version of God Bless America in their own countries. Remember that these suicide bombers were committed to their God on a level most of us would never consider.

This is why when I hear the terrorists called cowards; I disagree, as these men were willing to give up their lives for their terribly misguided cause. A coward to me is someone like Timothy McVeigh, who blows up a building and then drives away, unharmed. This is the interesting paradox that the words brave and coward can have, as in both cases; these men were responsible for some of the worst tragedies ever committed.

Did you know that there are 7 million Muslims living in the United States today? How would you like to be one of them? These Muslims probably will be seen under suspicious eyes the rest of their lives. I’m sure the next time I’m on a plane and see someone of Middle Eastern descent, I’ll have a heightened sense of awareness the whole flight. What horrible life they have to look forward to because of no doing of their own.

Keep this in mind, the next time you stereotype all Muslims as the same. Consider the analogy of the Ku Klux Klan, who since the beginning of their organization used Protestant religious tenets to back up their horrible actions. Does the fact that many KKK members were Protestant make all other Protestants guilty by association? Of course not. Well, then same goes for Muslims in this country and many others across the world.

Hearing the statements of Reverend Jerry Falwell who stated that gay and abortion right activists are partially to blame for our nation being bombed, further magnifies the reason why religion and politics should be kept as separately as possible. Falwell’s comments were made on the 700 Club, a program hosted by former Presidential candidate, Reverend Pat Robertson, a man that has significant power in the Republican Party. Robertson never refuted any of Falwell’s dangerous statements, which makes one wonder about the label Men of God that these two proclaim themselves to be. If either one of them were ever elected President, would they set in motion their own version of the Spanish Inquisition? Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe most religious leaders think the way these two do, but then I don’t think that most Arab leaders are happy over the actions of 9/11.

On different talk radio shows over the past week, I have heard various callers say we should just nuke Afghanistan. Well, besides the environmental implications these weapons would leave in their wake and the political fall-out it would bring to the Middle East; consider the plight of the average Afghan. These people are among the most destitute people on the planet and are controlled by such a vicious secret police that they are often afraid to breathe, in case their government leaders see it as a slight to Allah. The Taliban government that controls the country has performed public hangings of its citizens for crimes such as adultery. Girls are taught in underground schools, as the Taliban forbids public education of females. Does this sound like a country that we should nuke?

What we should do is take out the terrorist groups who threaten our safety and the governments who protect them. I realize that I’m recommending a few restrictions in our retaliatory actions against the perpetrators, but I feel the United States needs to go about things in a calculated way, or we’ll fall into behaving in some of the same ways as nutcases who started this war. It is inevitable that some innocent people will die, but if we want to keep this from escalating into a large-scale holy war, we need to error on the path of aggressive caution. We need to be patient, as a nation, in our pursuit of these rogue leaders, as it will not be a quick process in trying to eliminate these terrorists. If you think getting Osama Bin-Laden will be easy, just consider the case of Eric Rudolph.

If you have forgotten about whom he is, Rudolph was the man accused of the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. On top of this crime, he has been charged with three abortion clinic bombings. As you might guess, actions like these would make you a pretty high priority for the FBI. Initially, after being charged, the FBI put over 200 of their people on the case of finding Rudolph, whom they believed was hiding in the hills of North Carolina. Sadly, over 5 years since the Olympic Park bombing and 2 years since he was put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List, Eric Rudolph is still at large. Now investigators think Rudolph probably died in the Carolina mountains, but my point is that we have no luck finding a high profile terrorist in our own country, how much more luck are going to have finding a well-guarded, well-funded Bin Laden, in a land we know little about. Just something to consider when your anger grows over the elusive Bin Laden. As many experts on terrorism have stated, this will not be an overnight capture.

As we enter a new age of terrorism, which is driven by evangelical zeal, we should be prepared for many more heinous events. Hopefully, we will strike a balance between safety and freedom, as if democratic nations like US go overboard on the former, the terrorists will have accomplished another major victory. To rid ourselves of terrorism, we are going to have to ally with some unlikely partners such as Pakistan, China, and Iran. If you didn’t know, these countries aren’t filled with White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. It will be very interesting to see how these alliances hold together. Maybe our refrain should be God Bless the Planet. We are going to need it.

 

18 thoughts on “God Bless America?

  1. 1.  Interesting how many people have died from Christian and Jewish fundamentalist attacks in the last 6 years…hmm, let’s review:

    Sept. 11
    London subway
    Madrid
    Bali
    the list goes on and on.

    Long, that’s why your analogy between the taliban/jihadists and guys like Eric Rudolph is so transparently weak…Certain jihadist groups are getting serious funding from Iran, Syria and a minority of the Saudi Royal family. This support makes them orders of magnitude more dangerous than wacky survivalists.

    Invoking God during an attack or crisis is a breach of the separation of church and state? I didn’t get that memo. Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Bush…they all invoked religious themes during times of war…you personally may not like it, but give me a break, that does not mean that theocracy is imminent.

  2. 3.  In times of trouble, I’d be worried if our leaders did not call on God.

    I have more faith in God, than any human hands or minds. I think that is what political leaders try to accomplish. Build people’s morale by invoking something bigger and more powerful than you.

    Scott, for being a confessed liberal, I really think you should be more tolerant of other people’s views, especially Christians. If no one could ever speak anything even remotely religious or even moreso–opinionated–for fear of offending some small group—thats not freedom.

    Our leaders are elected to represent the people of the US. Each member of congress has a constituency to represent. The US was then, and is still now a nation whose majority are Christians. To have the elected leaders, calling on their faith, is not crazy at all. Its representative of the way the majority of America is.

    Did you know that there are 7 million Muslims living in the United States today? How would you like to be one of them?

    How’d you like to be one of the 200 million Christians that are the target of radical Islam? I think thats worse. Its one thing to receive funny looks on a plane, its another to be targeted for murder by suicide bombers.

    I’m sorry that religion makes you uncomfortable. I dont think the uncomfort of the small minority, should take precedence over the comfort of the majority.

  3. 4.  When I made the comparison, none of these events outside of 9/11 had happened. It was a time when the conflict in Ireland was barely in the rear-view mirror, as the Omagh bombing of 1998 was still very fresh.

    When Lincoln spoke he was speaking to a country that was pretty much either Judeo Christian traditional or Agnostic. Hey, you have your opinion, I have mine, but my main point about Rudolph was that don’t expect that we are going to find Bin Laden very easily. Pretty wacky, huh? Did you think that Bin Laden would still be around making videos 6 years later, Jason?

    I feel pretty comfortable with what I wrote that day. Before I had reread my thoughts from this day, I had forgotten how worried I was about the Muslim citizens in the US at the time. I’m also the same person that believes we should racially profile at airports, so I guess I’m not the easiest person to pigeonhole.

  4. 5.  Joey, where have you read that I’m a confessed Liberal? I’m for racial profiling at the airport. If believing that fundamentalist religious thoughts are loony, be it Musliim, Christian, Jewish, etc and that politicians should strive to keep their religion out of their public statements than under your definition I’m a liberal.

    We have had a President that shares your Messianic views, JoeyP, and I’m comfortable at this point in saying, Jesus F. Christ, don’t give us another one like him.

    For those of you like JoeyP who think I’m some type of Liberal commie pinko, let me once again put out a couple things.

    My favorite politicians are as following.

    Bill Clinton
    Chuck Hagel
    John Edwards
    Bob Kerrey
    Michael Bloomberg
    Richard Lugar
    Russ Feingold

    I like my politicians to be people with ideas, who are willing to go against CW.

  5. 6.  Ok, Long, let’s look at pre Sept. 11:

    WTC attack 1993
    Khobar towers
    African embassy bombings
    USS Cole
    list goes on and on, check, yup, all jihadists.

    Re: those 7 million US muslims…it’s interesting that the post-9/11 attacks in Europe were in countries with almost no immigration restrictions who bent over backwards to be “multicultural” and “tolerant”…meanwhile it appears so far that Muslims in the US have assimilated into this society pretty well, precisely because we have an immigrant tradition of assimilation:
    Have you read those articles about the complete self-segregation of Muslim immigrants in France/Netherlands/UK/Spain?

    Bill Clinton? Read the 9/11 commission report? Not sure he should be at the top of your list, IMO.

  6. 7.  6. Actually, those countries have severe immigration restrictions, particularly in terms of becoming citizens in those countries. America has been much better at assimilating Muslim immigrants precisely because we allow immigrants to assimilate at their own pace, not either right away or being forced into ghettoes. As for those countries being more tolerant, exactly how is France’s banning of headscarves in school more “tolerant”? Just because those countries pay lip service to multiculturalism and tolerance of immigrants, but in practice the US has assimilated its immigrants because the country is in practice more tolerant than those countries and has much more experience adapting to the presence of new cultures.

  7. 8.  I don’t blame Bush for 9/11 anymore than I blame Clinton. Both administrations made mistakes, but at the time, there was little support from the country in doing anything concrete about Bin Laden.

    I believe in tolerance…to a point. I believe in the US that if you want a drivers license, you should have to take off your scarve, hat, helmet, ski mask, etc.

    I sometimes feel that you know you are on the correct path when you are pissing off both extremes. Not always, but it does seem to work out more times than not.

  8. 9.  Jefferson was very precise when he drafted the Declaration of Independence that church and state be separate. His call for a secular society was very clear. He was also an atheist. Religious fundamemtalism in any form is the cause of hundreds of millions of deaths over the years. Your essay is quite coherent considering when you wrote it and of course you are looking like genius for calling for limited, precise action as opposed to the full scale disaster we are seeing now. All conservatives, please start the vitriol now…

  9. 10.  6 As examples, years and years of terrorism in Northern Ireland (primarily the IRA) and Spain (ETA – the Basque Separatists) have nothing to do with radical Islam. Neither does FARC in Colombia.

    There are, however, numerous jihadist terrorist organizations. The U.S. Dept. of State’s current list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations can be found here:
    http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2006/82738.htm

  10. 11.  Scott, how’d you get into my head way back then? Your thoughts weren’t mine, exactly, of course, but they were pretty darn close.

    I was in downtown Manhattan that day for my first week of college. What struck me about my peers’ reactions, and the reactions of New Yorkers in general, was the sheer sadness. I saw very little anger, and what anger I did see well up almost always dissolved into despairing… sadness… a sadness that was missing in the emails my high school classmates who weren’t in New York or DC kept sending each other in the following days and weeks. A sadness missing in this Administration’s rhetoric. This might sound crazy, but I wasn’t particularly shaken by 9/11. Yes, it was shocking and terrible, and there was crying and anxiety. But I had already learned to fear terrorist attacks from the Oklahoma City bombing. And I had learned to fear the guy three desks over from the Columbine attacks. Seeking out and destroying the perpetrators and defending our country from future attacks are both necessary, and we can argue all day long about how best to go about it, but I feel that six years later, the sadness and empathy are missing. When did it disappear? Was it ever there? Can any American leader emphasize the sadness of the day at the expense of calls for justice?

  11. 12.  My purpose in republishing my thoughts from Sept. 2001 was not to get into a partisan political flamewar, but to hear how people felt at the time and how they might have changed from that position, today. Thank you David for your remembrance, as I think it really informs the debate.

  12. 13.  Passing by my religious or political views, I remember 9/11/01 very vividly.

    I was living in LA County, a senior in college. We’d been back in school just more than a week at the time, and living as I did at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, it was hot as hell’s own fire — had been since I’d arrived. That morning I woke to my radio burbling — news, though I usually kept it on the local college radio station, which would have been playing music most days. I didn’t really notice. I was hung over as hell; with no class till eleven, some of my friends and I had overindulged just a bit. I remember waking up with that horrible feeling like my blood was a little thicker than it should be, and wondering why the hell the radio was going.

    I got up, snapped off the radio, and was about to get back in bed when I heard my roommate calling my name. We had two rooms with no door between them; the doorway was covered by a thin piece of cloth. I stuck my head through that cloth, and there was Josh, buck naked — he always slept naked — sitting in his desk chair, a hand over his eyes.

    “They crashed a plane into the World Trade Center,” he said.

    I remember it so vividly. At that point, I think the towers must still have been standing. What I really remember was Josh, naked, and that he said “they”. We had only the vaguest clue who “they” might have been at that point — Josh was never a man to make unwarranted assumptions — but whoever they were, they were definitely They.

    I called half the people I knew, woke up my best friend, my girlfriend, and the three of us drove to Best Buy to get an antenna for the television in Josh’s room. Then, all day, we smoked cigarettes and watched the CNN feed on some channel or another. Even Mike, my best friend, smoked, and he didn’t smoke. The first coherent words I spoke were, “I hope it was white people.”

    That sounds like an awful thing to say, but that was my first response. I don’t want to claim that I was some kind of Cassandra, but it was clear to see that if it was Arabs or someone else similarly other, America was going to start stomping across the earth like a wounded giant. And we did. The first moves were probably good moves. Almost everything subsequent has been a mistake of increasingly large proportions.

    I’m not going to mislead anyone; I’m technically Jewish but I was raised as a secular humanist, and when a politician invokes God, I get scared. 9/11 radicalized me, far the other direction from most people. Some of the things I thought and said in the first months after the attack were crazy — but I feel to this day that I was pushed to that extreme by people who were being equally crazy, whose insanity was accepted by the mainstream. I was dually terrified in those days right after 9/11: I lived in Los Angeles, where the fear of a terrorist attack of some kind was very real, and very visceral; but I also lived in a country — a country that I loved — that seemed to have lost its collective mind to a spirit of bloodyminded, pointless vengeance. I felt like a foreigner in my own country. It was not a good state to be in.

    I, too, experienced some negative feedback (read, “threats of physical violence”) from people who felt differently to I. The whole thing has colored the way I view American politics and society to this day, though not in the way that I expected. The messianic fervor for wergild bought us a war that we no longer want to fight and cannot win. It gave us another term for a President with dangerous ideas, who clearly lacks the wherewithal to deal with the messes that he has made. Since then, most of the American public has come to its senses. Our collective bloodlust has abated now.

    The lesson I learned was not that America was an intolerably hateful place easily moved to violence, but that the seeming sea changes brought around by things like 9/11 are, ultimately, transient. Remember when 9/11 unified the populace? Remember when irony was dead? Remember when we were righteous? Remember when the world loved us? Yeah, me, too. Those things pass. The lesson I have learned is that most people are much less scarred by these things than they’d like to believe. No matter the enormity of the event, people will attempt to use it to their own ends. Republicans, Democrats, messianic Christians, fundamentalist Islamists, the French, the British, the oil companies — they’ll all try, and in the heat of the moment, most will succeed. When the alleged “changes” and “scars” have faded, all that remains true is that we’ve been used, and tragedy has been used, in the most vulgar possible way.

    Of course there are people who were deeply, rightly, and forever affected by 9/11. Most of us watched it on television. I was already a cynic before that terrible day. Now I’m just irretrievably so.

  13. 14.  Thanks Voxter, I really connected your piece. Imagine having your feelings and living in an Indiana suburb which votes 90% republican. This is my life.

  14. 15.  11 : “I saw very little anger [in NYC].”

    I saw a lot of anger. Plus every other emotion.

    “I wasn’t particularly shaken by 9/11”

    That’s an astounding sentence to me. But I knew some people at the bookstore where I worked who experienced it the same way, which astounded me at the time. I’m still shaken by it, probably always will be.

  15. 16.  9 Hugh (or anyone else here who wants to help out):

    You claimed that “Jefferson was very precise when he drafted the Declaration of Independence that church and state be separate. His call for a secular society was very clear.”

    Can you quote those parts back to me? You must have a special copy of the DoI that none of us are privy to.

    This is one of the great (liberal) myths of our country: that the “separation of church and state” has been codified. There is the Establishment Clause, of course, which has evolved to have the interpretation Hugh gives, but neither the Declaration or the Constitution state the phrase, “separation of church and state.”

  16. 17.  genius for calling for limited, precise action as opposed to the full scale disaster we are seeing now

    Full scale disaster?

    The US is killing 1,500 Al Qaueda fighters per month in Iraq. Thats good news. I hope we kill them all.

    Would you rather have them multiplying without pre-emptive action?

    Its not a full scale diaster.

    My side is killing the enemy.
    I like that.

  17. 18.  Your breakdown is beyond simplistic, Joey. Sure we might be killing some bad guys, but how many more are we inspiring to join Al Queda’s recruitment drive. A lot more than the broken military we are creating, with Reserves and Guardsmen being asked to do double and triple tours of duty.

    Oh and the incredible fiscal damage we are doing to our country, basically funding Iraq’s complete rebuilding. Call me a Pat Buchanan isolationist, but I guess I feel like these funds could be better used building up our defenses on US borders and fixing our decaying infrastructure.

    Hey, but my side is killing the enemy. I like that. I was pretty impressed with Petraeus and Crocker’s testimony, as they never spouted out anything as asinine as your Sean Hannity-type breakdown.

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