Friday, January 30, 2009

"Hippocrats and Hypocrites"

I am watching, with utter fascination, as events unfold in Washington, D.C. re: the stimulus program and the politics surrounding it. In the background lurk the denizens of the financial industries with their insatiable appetites for more and more of the largesse from the national treasury, being aided and abetted by those suffering from the common malady of greed.

I wrote off the theory of trickle-down economics and free-market purists a long time ago as a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites who will screw the common man at every opportunity while they lace their own pockets with the spoils of their skullduggery. After what they did to this country during the last twenty plus years, their pathetic attempts to claim any credibility ring hollow. What they consistently fail to acknowledge is that, for such a system to work, everyone has to be squeaky-clean honest. The human race simply isn’t wired to that standard.

I really want to see Barack Obama succeed, but I have long had a haunting doubt as to where he really stands and who is likely to benefit the most from his programs. Given that he has only been in office for a little over a week, it is too early to tell, but I am not at all optimistic that those who need help the most are likely to receive the lion’s share of any stimulus package. What causes me to have these haunting doubts? The resurrection of members from the Clinton Administration brought in to fill so many key positions in Obama’s Administration. Some are the ones who, before leaving office, were party to setting the stage for the wholesale plundering of the treasury by the Bush Administration through de-regulation of the financial industriesoffice. Why does Billy Boy still get a free pass for this, plus NAFTA and CAFTA? The Harvard goon squad seems to be firmly ensconced and I am not so sure it will accrue to the benefit of the common folks of this country.

I don’t see that the barons of the financial industries have changed their stripes very much since this crisis was dumped into the laps of the American taxpayers. They are just as brazen as they ever were and seem to be getting away with it, save the token sacrifice of a 50 million dollar corporate jet and other lavish screw ups, when the heat is ratcheted up by the press. Mind you, nothing they do is a matter of conscience. Rather, it is whatever the traffic will bear.

The industry that irks me almost as much as the money men are the key players within the broad spectrum of those subsumed under the banner of healthcare. They are just as bad if not worse, in some instances, than the high-profile ones in the financial business. They are still screwing our economy and the consumer public with nary a hint of shame. They aren’t bad. They are absolutely obscene. Every licentious opportunity that was given to them by Billy Boy and Georgie Porgie are still intact and they are raking in untold millions of dollars they don’t deserve, all at the expense of a society (and indeed the world) so badly crippled by their antics.

The most glaring example of greed is on the part of the drug companies. The most recent example is the buy-out of Wyeth by Pfizer. There doesn’t seem to be any problem with getting the money they need to consummate this deal. And who will benefit the most from this move? You can bet your bippy it isn’t the consumer!

And where does Obama stand on all this? How compromised is he through his association with the high-powered associates of his wife, who was recently in a high-profile position at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics? Is that why he seems less than enthused at the notion of a single-payer national health plan? Rather, he seems to favor something short of that which will keep the “private” sector comfortably in the healthcare business?

I regard our healthcare system as one of the most self-serving and corrupt within the arena of our national economic structure. Talk about greed! They share the national spotlight with the bankers in that regard. Drug companies, hospital management companies, managed health care plans, etc. bleed the consumers for all they can get. And the most egregious accomplices to all this are senior executives in all sectors of the healthcare economy, making high six-figure salaries or more, all based on their “entrepreneurial” skills, and their ability to screw their victims without benefit of kiss.

Amid all this are what I regard as the most insidious and self-serving of the whole bunch - those esteemed practitioners of medicine - the good old doctor. They have come a long way since the days of driving a black Buick, carrying a black bag and making house calls. They have long maintained effective control over members of their elite club in order to ensure the viability of their own financial interests. They have manipulated private hospitals through their economic and political power. They have a history of an unhealthy relationship with drug companies by favoring and promoting brand-name drugs that are much more expensive than their generic equivalents. They scratch each other’s backs through their network of referrals to other physicians and healthcare practitioners. They do a damned good job of looking out for themselves, all the while basing their actions on what they profess to be “in the best interests of their patients.” Give me a break. Watch what they do when one of their patients falls on hard times, goes on Medicaid or Medicare or suffers some other financial misfortune. If these patients don’t have the money or insurance to pay full tab, the doctor dumps them as if they had the plague. My experience has been that damned few doctors give one hoot in hell about anyone except the patients who have the means to pay full price for the cost of the medical miracles they render. They do a good job of talking in lofty and noble terms. However, what they care most about is a healthy return on their revenue-generating capabilities.

Have you noticed, when you visit a doctor, a dentist and, yes, even your veterinarian, they all seem to have gone to the same charm school on how best to “market” their services and garner as much money as the traffic will bear? The first questions asked are most often those having to do with your ability to pay for their services. They all have the same phony lingo and fake sincerity that makes one want to rush to the nearest vomitorium!

Mind you, not all doctors are bad. There is a whole host of doctors and other healthcare professionals who are genuinely dedicated to helping suffering humanity. Unfortunately, most of them ply their skills outside the affluent environs of metropolitan practices, in government owned and controlled hospitals, in less than desirable geographical areas, inner-city clinics, etc., that pay far less than what they could command in a lucrative urban group practice. But, who said dedication is worth much in this industry? In the eyes of their cohorts who have made it in the profession and are regarded as the professional elite, these types don’t count for much and wield very little political and economic power within the circles of their profession.

As tattered as those at the bottom of the food chain may be, without the dedication of those who really do care and those who have given their lives in the service of humanity, I cannot imagine how much worse their lot in life would be.

Those who I hold in very high regard are the ones who live and work in the tier just below that of our esteemed medical practitioners. It is they who work with and enable the doctors to ply their trade. They are often the ones who catch the mistakes and who discreetly bring them to the attention of the “attending physician,” so he/she can continue to appear to be one in good standing among the lofty paragons of medical perfection. They are the nurses, the pharmacists, the therapists, the technicians, etc. who make up the bulk of the team that takes care of us when we seek medical care. And, from my perspective, they get far less in terms of money and recognition for all they do and what they genuinely deserve.

Those who have traditionally been the staunchest advocates for patients are nurses. Anyone who thinks they continue to play an active role in their profession for any reward other than their dedication isn’t very well informed. I have known damned few nurses whose primary reason for working was to make money. God knows they have had a long struggle towards economic equality, but through it all they have never abandoned their role as advocates for patients. They still hang in there despite the extent to which they have been taken for granted by medical practitioners, healthcare managers, boards of directors, etc. At the end of the day, they make them look far better than the majority of them deserve.

There is an urgent need to rectify the excesses that have created what seems to be a bottomless pit in the escalation of costs in the “healthcare industry.” It isn’t going to come about by allowing those who feed must gluttonously at the trough of unbridled greed in order to manipulate and control the system. Their rewards for “service to humanity” stand proudly with those of their financial counterparts on Wall Street. To continue with a fragmented healthcare system will only allow them to find new opportunities in their continued efforts to exploit the system for their own personal gain. It is like trying to squeeze a hand full of mercury. It can’t be done.

There are significant numbers of physicians who are actively supporting a national single payer healthcare system. They are to be commended for their tireless efforts in this regard. Unfortunately, they are still very much in the minority among their more conservative colleagues. After all, the AMA is probably one of the strongest unions and most powerful lobbying organizations in the country. As we all know, money and power talk - big time!

It is time for serious consideration of a single payer healthcare system. The California Nurses Association has recently put one of the best proposals on the table that I've seen. Not only will it improve access to the system, but it will create a huge number of new jobs that will serve to improve the economy at a time when we desperately need it. It deserves the attention and study of our political elites in Washington, D.C. As of this writing, I have seen precious little attention paid to it within the hallowed halls of our nation’s capital. It will pump billions of dollars into our economy. It will remove the burdensome cost of healthcare from the backs of industry and commerce, thereby enabling them to regain a more competitive edge in the international world of business and commerce.

All the while keeping an eye on them, the time has come to take some of our focus off Wall Street and shift it to the excesses and self-serving practices going on within our healthcare industry. It has been said of lawyers and physicians that they have purged two words from their vocabularies; ethics and economics. They have instead combined the two into just one word: Ethinomics!

Mind you, there are a lot of good and decent physicians out there who genuinely care about the issues of the day, and who are active in national healthcare agendas. However, those are not the ones with whom I am concerned. The ones who I regard as the most insidious are those who are members of the “club” that regularly meets in the doctor’s lounges and country clubs. As for those of us who are on the receiving end, persistence, good oversight and sound regulation are the only remedies we have. Otherwise, the fox will continue to guard the chicken coop at our collective peril.

Cowboy Bob
January 30, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Our Common Journey on the Road to Damascus"

I must confess that I was somewhat surprised by the passage of Proposition 8, amending the Constitution of the State of California to prohibit same sex marriages. I was even more surprised to note that the majority of support for passage of the proposition came from Latinos and Blacks, given their history of being marginalized within the context of the broader society.

I, also, find it all rather incredulous that any rational and enlightened person could buy into the belief that homosexuality is a choice. That is yet to be proven and, until it is, I regard it more as a societal prejudice that has absolutely no foundation in fact.

The person is yet to be born who would deliberately choose a life of ostracism, persecution, alienation and violence from their families, churches and society. I have known too many with the same sad tale. They realize they have a different sexual orientation at a formative age and struggle with what they suspect they are vs. what they feel they should be. They may go to churches where they are subjected to a tirade from the pulpit or the altar condemning their kind as an “abomination of God. “ When they do come out, there is often faint sympathy and little or no attempt at understanding and acceptance. A goodly number are literally thrown out of their homes and disowned by their families. They must either live the life of a hypocrite or seek acceptance within a community of their own that is rife with prejudices specific to their subculture. For some, the only way out is suicide.

It is yet to be proven that homosexuality is genetic, but it has not been conclusively proven that genetics does not play a part in it. Frankly, I am inclined to believe it has its roots in a combination of factors that causes them to be attracted to another person of the same sex. The scientific community needs to continue devoting the effort and resources necessary in order to resolve this question. Current scientific evidence suggests it may be a combination of genetics, environmental influences and family history.

When I was in college, I recall research conducted following WW II which focused on men in the armed forces who were isolated from the company of women for a sustained period of time. They found a greater incidence of homosexual behavior among men while they were isolated from women than was the case when they were not. Much the same findings were also found among male prison populations. However, when they returned to a normal environment, the majority of them reverted to heterosexual behavior, but a minority continued to prefer the company of men. The conclusions pointed not only to the strength of the male sex drive within the population but, also, to the identification of a minority who had a latent sexual orientation toward members of the same sex. As to the causal factors, as of today, that is yet to be conclusively determined.

Of course, we cannot leave out the religious institutions that believe they, and only they hold our salvation in their hands. Their personal and institutional hypocrisy knows no limits. They all rail on, in one form or another, about the evils of homosexuality, the remedies for which range from ecclesiastical condemnation to divinely ordained death. I am always amused by such invective when I hear of clergymen of professed piety sneaking out under the cover of darkness, or to the anonymity of a distant city, in order to procure the sexual favors of one of the same sex.

Then there is the issue of the rule of celibacy adopted and institutionalized by the Catholic Church, causing centuries of cover-up, denial and hypocrisy at what has gone on in parishes, orders and monastic orders. It will take a long time for the church to recover and, in my opinion that will only come about when celibacy is made optional. I just don’t believe it is possible to ignore and suppress one of man’s strongest and most basic biological needs without breeding hypocrisy on a grand scale. If the protestant faiths can support a married clergy, then I see no reason why the Catholic Church cannot do the same.

As for criminally and sexually predatory behavior, statistics show the incidence to be much less in a homosexual population than in the population at large. Further, there is no evidence to suggest that children adopted by gay couples have any greater proclivity to homosexuality as they mature than do those raised in heterosexual homes. The evidence thereby negates the prejudicial conclusion that such adoptions are likely to lead to some sort of a conversion from a heterosexual makeup to a homosexual lifestyle. Gay couples, generally, have shown themselves to be exemplary adoptive parents, who are actively involved in their children’s school and social activities.

Personally, I am put off by the overt and exaggerated expressions of being gay. I see no positive reasons for gay parades, and the antics and forms of dress likely to be found amid their protests. On the other hand, I can understand why they engage in such activities as one way of saying “f--- you” in response to the almost total ostracism and alienation the gay community at large must feel. At the end of the day, I think they would be better served by being accepted and assimilated into mainstream society. That, of course, presupposes an open minded society that still has a long way to go before reaching that objective.

As for sexual activity, it is pretty much a given that most people engage in such activity, be they straight or gay. When the clothes come off and people jump into the sack, it is at that point I believe we separate ourselves from the spiritual side of our nature to the physical, try as some may to think otherwise. Other than as it relates to the creation of life, I rather doubt that God has any interest in that activity, as well. I know of no Divine proscription as to style and conduct for sexual activity. I rather imagine, whether those involved are heterosexual or homosexual, the inclination to engage in variety is just as pronounced for one group as it is for the other.

I cannot imagine why any religion would want to concern itself with this aspect of our human nature, must less engage in elaborate prohibitions as to what is acceptable or unacceptable; what is normal vs. what is abnormal. However, as always, we have left those issues to the elders of the faith who have, historically, done a laudable job of subjective judgment and condemnation. The laity has also done a very good job of rising up in righteous indignation about such matters. Frankly, I don’t think God gives one hoot as to what two consenting adults do in privacy. What I do think He cares about is the moral dimension of it all which, as we all know, is based more on conjecture than on fact.

I believe what determines the morality of it all is whether it occurs within the context of a promiscuous relationship or within the context of a committed relationship. Lust vs. love. The same applies to heterosexuals as it does to homosexuals. That doesn’t mean some of us may not be weaker than others, but it doesn’t change the standard.

That marriage applies to the “union of a man and a woman,” is pretty clear in its definition and seems to be a generally accepted. Perhaps that is because only from the union of a man and a woman comes the power to create human life. I can think of no other rational explanation. If that is indeed the case, I will yield to that definition, and it seems rather futile to belabor the issue and prolong a long overdue reconciliation. Nothing will be solved by the conflict. It will only continue to separate the two sides of the issue without any meeting of the minds. In reality, is the prize really worth the price of the Cracker Jacks? What is of importance, from my perspective, is whether a union of two human beings occurs within the context of a loving and committed relationship. That can be accomplished by means other than labeling it as “marriage.” Why can we not accept that the traditional definition of “marriage” applies to the union of a man and a woman? On the other hand, the term “civil union” does sound overly legal and sterile in its connotation. Instead, why not consider “a pledge of commitment” between members of the same sex that can be legally performed in a ceremony, either by a religious cleric or a civil servant, just as a marriage ceremony may be for a man and a woman? If churches want to formally bless those unions, as I think they should, all the better.

To deny anyone who is striving to live a moral life from the life of a church, regardless of their religious persuasion, is self-defeating for the church and fosters an estrangement of millions of good and decent people from the fabric of our community simply because they happen to be gay. To continue to gore each other’s ox over the definition of “marriage” will only continue to separate us from each other. Nothing is to be gained from that posturing.

I believe the time has come for churches and religious clerics to heed their own counsel to “Judge not lest ye also be judged.” If anyone seeks to become a part of your community and comes to you with a sincere heart, then I think the only decent avenue for them to take is to set aside their own prejudices and welcome them into the fold. In the final analysis, it is a matter of the individual’s own conscience for which they, and only they, will be held to account before their Creator, not that of the church. That will be the Day of Judgment for each of them and, indeed, for us all.

Let’s face it, as long as we persist in having our own way we will never get to where we should be. At the end of the day, whether in the eyes of God or whatever higher power one may look to for spiritual guidance, we are one people. The time has come for us to divest ourselves of the petty prejudices that divide us from one another. We might just as well accept and make the most of who and what we are, for the sake of everyone. Why would the God of Love want to condemn any human being for the simple need to love and be loved?

At the end of the day, that which we must all share is our common journey on the road to Damascus.

Cowboy Bob
January 15, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

“Still a Mystery”

What I am about to commit to paper is the product of my own thoughts about religion, the answers about which remain elusive as they have throughout my life. I neither credit nor blame anyone for what you are about to read. I am not trying to convert anyone to my system of beliefs nor am I attempting to denigrate anyone else’s. For me, this represents a whole host of unanswered questions and conclusions. I do not pretend to have all the answers. They remain eternal questions, which I have been unable to prove or disprove to my complete satisfaction.

Of all the phenomena, that which I simply cannot get my head around is that of the universe. It totally baffles me. Try as I may to conceptualize otherwise, I just cannot comprehend that anything can exist with no beginning and no end. The best I can do is accept my own limitations at having been born into and lived exclusively in a universe that is linear in time. Therefore, my comfort zone is within the constraints of the existence of a Creator. There is nothing absolute about my conclusion. It simply reaffirms that nothing of this nature can be empirically proven nor can it be disproved. If it cannot be proven, empirically, that God exists, similarly, it cannot be proven, empirically, that God does not exist. In the final analysis, it boils down to a simple belief, providing a small dose of humility for those prone to absolutes at both ends of the religious spectrum.

The notion that God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh overwhelms me, based on the sheer magnitude of that accomplishment. Geology does not square with that either, so I am more inclined to think the absolute truth of that assertion must be based on a celestial measure of time we have yet to comprehend or it simply is not true. Suffice to conclude that the creation of Mother Earth was a magnificent accomplishment, however it came about. That is, until the avarice of mankind set itself to the task of systematically destroying its perfection, which may well result in our collective and eventual doom.

I have chosen to believe in God. However, I have yet to encounter any evidence that I am right. On the other hand, religious scholars and authorities abound throughout history who professes, with absolute certainty, that theirs is the one true religion led by the one true God. That they cannot prove their assertions is summarily dismissed in the face of their own religious fervor. The veracity of their assertions is predicated on the existence of holy books, the contents of which can neither be proven nor disproved, but are, nevertheless, quoted in absolute terms. I do not buy into the notion that the holy books are necessarily the inspired word of God, but I do not discount the notion that His hand may have played a part in them. Each spans periods that preclude absolute accuracy and the integrity of one or more authors exposed to the same events, both of which cannot overrule the possibility of inaccuracies and inconsistencies.

Why does every form of institutionalized religion appear to rest on a set of written works that are absolute, supported by an anointed group accepted as possessing unquestioned knowledge and authority, supported by and through Divine inspiration and/or the written word? As more and more questions have been raised, over time, as to the absolute truth of those works, it seems to me that organized religions have tended to become more rigid by rejecting anything that might cause one to question the absolute certainty of their assertions. I do not necessarily question that there may well be a thread of truth running though any one or more of those belief systems. However, as knowledge becomes available it seems to me intellectual and moral honesty require religious leaders and scholars to keep an open mind that might shed more light and understanding on what we are to believe.

I am more inclined to believe that, as those religions have matured, rather than keeping an open mind about new knowledge, they have tended to cling ever more tenaciously to their official system of beliefs, ever more shrouded in mystery, secrecy, and absolute authority in order to affect greater control over their followers. That has resulted in a disinclination for us to question what we are led to believe, and to accept extremes in our system of beliefs that may cause us to become less rational and more emotional about any challenges that are presented to us about those beliefs. To the extent we are not accepting of contrary evidence and fail to question, we create and till fertile ground for extremes in what we believe and the ends to which we will go in enforcing those beliefs. Hence, we are left with a few “major” religions that allow for extremes that foster and accept violence on the one hand and total passivity on the other. As the schism has widened between the followers and religious authority, we have become increasingly dependent upon what those authorities profess to be the truth and their interpretation of the truth. That being the case, wherein lies the kernel of truth that is at the heart of a particular religion?

Why have the “believers” become passive in their acceptance of religious beliefs, abdicating their responsibility to question and to seek a deeper understanding of what they are to believe, and how they are supposed to conduct their lives within a particular system of beliefs? With the failure of the followers to actively participate in the teachings and affairs of their religion, greater license is given to the authority of religious leaders, whose commitment may or may not be as much to the needs of the followers as to the needs of the institution itself. As institutional authority becomes more absolute, it seems to me there is a natural inclination for greater misunderstanding between “what is” and “what should be.” To the extent that occurs, I suspect there is a tendency for the “flock” to become more passive and the “shepherd” to be ascribed greater authority. The notion of community and a shared responsibility for the institution becomes ever more tenuous. As members opt to leave the “flock, “the authority of the institution is further eroded and becomes less relevant.

When members become disenfranchised from the institution, in the absence of any real authority, that is when I see people either rejecting their religion out of hand, or they seek to progressively redefine their system of beliefs less in terms of the ideal of what we should be, and more in terms of rationalizing what we have become. That is the point at which I believe the moral authority of our religion begins to erode and the vitality of the institution itself begins to wane, leading to a downward spiral with a declining emphasis on the finer aspects of our spiritual nature, and greater license regarding the various aspects of the physical side of our human nature. What results, from my perspective, is a gradual acceptance of the baser aspects of whom and what we are and a growing inclination to descend into a state of progressively greater depravity. There is no longer a moral compass with which to guide us. We become more disenfranchised from one another and no longer subscribe to a commonly understood and accepted code of conduct that is requisite for a civilized community.

I believe God intends for us to seek greater understanding of His plan for us and our destiny, more through the avenues of knowledge and understanding, than through ignorance and fear. The former fosters acceptance, unity and a common purpose; the latter fosters separation, isolation, mistrust and violence.

Now, to issues of complexity and simplicity in our religious beliefs. A deeper understanding of the mysteries of religion is the eternal quest of religious scholars and philosophers. That they have been the source of enlightenment throughout the ages is not in question. However, I believe the essence of religion is a constantly evolving process of discovery and learning. That presupposes an active relationship between the clergy and the followers. To the extent that does not occur, I believe we are more prone to be duped by views that may better serve religious institutions and the clergy than they necessarily do the followers. To the extent that occurs and becomes accepted, those of us sitting in the congregation become more likely to accept simplistic answers to very complex issues. The shared responsibility for learning withers, leading to a relationship of greater authority on the one hand and greater passivity on the other. Prejudice and ignorance abound. Therein is what I perceive to be the essence of extremes that are likely to be found within the context of any religion.

I happen to believe, if it is the will of God that His word be known and understood throughout the world, then that expectation applies far more to the common man than it does to scholars and the educated elite. Simplicity seems fundamental to an understanding and acceptance of the inspired word. After all, Christ chose, as his Apostles, those from the ranks of the common man.
I cannot accept the notion that only those who subscribe to one of the three “religions of the book,” necessarily have exclusive claims to Divine favor, and those whose religious beliefs place them outside that circle are necessarily relegated to a lesser status in the eyes of God. What about all of the good and spiritual souls who were born into societies that had no knowledge of those religions? Are we to summarily conclude that they are pagans whose destiny does not include eternal salvation? Are we to accept that people such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Dali Lama, and all of the other great spiritual thinkers, leaders and believers have no place in eternity? When we all reach the end of our earthly journey, either (a) our very existence (in any form) ceases to exist; or (b) we are all in for one heck of a surprise at what we are likely to find!

Then there is the perennial conflict between the theories of evolution vs. that of creation. The theory of evolution seems pretty logical to me. However, there seems to be a barrier when it comes to discovering the missing link. We have been taught to believe that man was created in the image of God. If we accept that assertion, how are we to interpret the “Image of God?” Is the traditional image of God as a male authority figure predicated on the fact that, historically, societies have largely been patriarchal? If our physical form is not His, then what is it? It seems readily apparent that our anatomy and physiology is a form specific to survival on planet Earth. However, if God were everywhere, His form would have to be compatible with the vastness of time and space. Where we are mortal beings with a finite life span, then I believe God is a spiritual and philosophical being free of any such constraints. He would have no need for the same characteristics that are essential for our earthly survival. So, in what way do we exist in His image? I have concluded that the image we share with God lies within the spiritual and intellectual aspects of our makeup. Because God’s survival is not dependent upon anything akin to our physical makeup, then the image we share with Him must necessarily lie in the spiritual aspects of our nature. That calls into question the image of a mortal man as the traditional image of God. How are we to know?

So, where does all this leave us? What binds us to or alienates us from God? What is pleasing to or engenders the wrath of God? Obviously, it is beyond my ability to provide exhaustive answers to either. However, I do subscribe to a few. I believe those aspects of our makeup specific to our physical survival and procreation is limited to our mortal existence and has no relationship to God. Further, I see those aspects as the seat of our greatest temptations and, consequently, our greatest excesses that can lead to our moral demise in the absence of any constraints. Then the spiritual aspects of our makeup would seem to comprise the finer aspects of our nature and are those qualities we share with God. Unfortunately, at this point in our history, there seems to be greater reverence for the physical than for the spiritual. That leads me to believe that from the physical come the more aggressive aspects of our nature, which, if taken to the extreme, results in violence. I do not believe it is in the nature of God to be violent.

There are some issues within various religions that remain unresolved questions with me, and their professed relationship to God. Following are but a few examples.

1. The rationale behind the rule of celibacy and the attendant consequences that have dealt such a serious blow to the moral authority of one of the world’s great religions.

2. Ministers of mega-churches and televangelists that rake in huge sums of money which appear to be more for the support of their lavish lifestyles than for the support of God’s work on earth. My suspicions are further aroused when the offspring of the “clergy” follow in the footsteps of their father. Is that more a matter of a religious calling or a conscious business decision to market religion in order to pursue a lucrative career path?

3. I do not believe God was ever in the real estate business. To use that as a pretext for disenfranchising an entire nation of people is a ruse perpetrated by a bunch of hard- line zealots in the name of religion. The Israelis have learned the lessons of history well, as evidenced by sixty years of brutality they continue to inflict on the Palestinians. They never waiver from their unspoken goal of a pure Jewish state. While they talk of their support for a peace process that will result in a two-state solution, they continue to establish Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. They continue to physically isolate them, break up their families and impede their ability to have a decent standard of living. Would any reasonable person expect them to behave like a bunch of sheep waiting to be led to their slaughter? If I were to be asked to come up with three symbols depicting the “special relationship” between Israel and the United States, I would (a) mention the name of the USS Liberty, (b) mention the name of Jonathan Pollard, and (3) draw a caricature of an elephant recoiling in stark terror from a mouse.

4. How religions that foster and support international terrorism can be anything but the complete antithesis of what God is and expects of us.

5. How religions that suppress women, minority groups, and those of different religious persuasions can profess to enjoy favored status with God.

6. Religions that condone the importation of cheap labor from third world countries that are among the poorest of the poor, and treats them like beasts of burden in both the way they are forced to live and the conditions under which they labor.

7. Religious splinter groups that live in isolation from society while they practice polygamy, pedophilia, etc. I see that more as institutionalized perversion than living a religious life.

8. Religions that rule by fear, ignorance and intimidation, rather than knowledge and enlightenment. All that can result from this mindset is submission to authority and a total abdication of any personal responsibility to pursue an independent understanding of what God is all about.

I deeply admire people who can quote from the holy books with ease and fluidity. I must confess that, a few times during my life, I made an honest attempt to read the Bible, but I was never successful. I found that effort to be either a sure cure for insomnia or I simply got lost in all the begetting. I now know that, in order to comprehend what is written in the holy books requires not only a great deal of discipline, but the assistance of good teachers, as well.

Basically, I regard myself to be a simple man. For me, true wisdom is to be found in simplicity. Given that, let me conclude with what I believe to be the essence of what God is all about.

1. I believe God embodies all of the finest attributes of our human nature, but billions of times greater than we can imagine. I believe the essence of His make up is essentially based on --

a. Unconditional love.
b. Unconditional acceptance.
c. Unconditional understanding.
d. Unconditional forgiveness.

God expects no less from us in our relationship to each other.

2. I believe that the Ten Commandments have served humanity well as the foundation for a virtuous life.

3. I believe the Beatitudes are one of the best repositories of principles by which to live that are to be found anywhere.

4. I believe, when faced with any problem, to the extent we follow our heart rather than our head, we increase the probability of coming up with the right solution.

5. And, finally, the old standby, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

To the extent I may have offended anyone by this treatise, I regret having done so. To the extent that I may have provoked some serious thought, reflection and soul-searching, then the time and effort spent on this rather modest work was well worth it.

The mystery of it all remains.

Cowboy Bob
January 10, 2009