Found on Facebook.
From The New Yorker, a cartoon from this week’s issue. By Liana Finck.
For more humor from the magazine: http://nyr.kr/1qLpw98
From The New Yorker, a cartoon from this week’s issue. By Liana Finck.
For more humor from the magazine: http://nyr.kr/1qLpw98
Warning: This is a rerun — with editing — but it so precisely fits the requirements of today’s Daily Prompt: Discussion Enders, I could not resists doing a little revision and posting it. I quite like this little post. It makes me laugh every time I read it so maybe you will laugh too. We all need a laugh.
As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place. I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).
I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will make movies I like, though occasionally they release something I love (like “Quartet,” a movie Dustin Hoffman directed in 2012). I’ve stopped trying to adopt new music and most new television shows.
I’ve renounced trying to figure out what’s going on with the Red Sox.
Some stuff gave me up. Some people gave up on me Other things, I gave up more or less voluntarily. In the end it works out to the same result.
When anyone asked me how or why I have given up whatever it was, I tell them it was for religious reasons.
No one ever asks me what I mean by that. But just so you know, here’s my secret … obviously a secret no more …
I don’t mean anything at all by it. It’s just a way to end a conversation. No one wants to offend me by asking for the details of my religious beliefs. Who knows? They might turn out to be embarrassing or merely bizarre. Thus my all-purpose answer to everyone is “on religious grounds,” “for religious reasons,” or “my spiritual adviser required it.”
What power these words hold. They can make pretty much any conversation vanish without having to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.
It’s very similar to (but different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!” 99.9% of the time, this does the job. Give it a test drive yourself. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.
Because I’m fine. For religious reasons.
As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place.
I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).
I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will produce movies I like, though sometimes, much to my delight and surprise, they release something I like a lot (remind me to tell you about “Quartet,” the movie Dustin Hoffman directed last year). I’ve stopped trying to like new music and most television shows.
Some stuff gave me up. Other things I gave up voluntarily, but in the end it comes out the same.
When anyone asked me how or why I have given up whatever it was, I tell them it was on religious grounds.
No one has yet asked me what I mean by that. But just so you, my faithful readers, know the secret …
I don’t mean anything at all by it. It’s just a way to end a conversation. Since no one wants to offend me by asking about my religious beliefs, I can make pretty much any conversation go away without having to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.
It’s very similar to (but different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!”
99.9% of the time, this does the job. Give it a test drive yourself. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.
I’m fine. For religious reasons.
There has been an upsurge of interest in this subject in the past few months, coinciding with the discovery of the remains of some previously unidentified victims at a funeral home in Delaware. So here’s a rerun of those weird, horrible events that took place almost 36 years ago, a piece of American history of which no one is proud.
It is rarely mentioned anymore. Everyone would like to forget it.
I think it would be better to not forget so quickly. Forgetting is an invitation for a recurrence. At a time when too many people are busy waving flags and stirring up hatred, the Jonestown Massacre is a stark and terrifying cautionary tale for our time.
It’s not just about free speech, you know. It really is life and death.
If you are my age or near it, you remember the Jonestown Massacre. Even if you are younger, if in 1978 you were old enough to watch TV news, you could hardly forget it. Now that fundamentalism is enjoying a rebirth with well-known political and religious leaders (who ought to know better) urging others to murder or mayhem, it’s probably a good time to remind everyone where this kind of thing can lead.
There is nothing remotely amusing about this story. It was horrible when it happened and time has not made it less awful.
The Road to Jonestown
The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” has become common parlance in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow.” It usually carries a negative connotation. The “Kool Aid” references go all the back to the 1950s when it was the typical drink for children on suburban summer afternoons. The origin of the saying is something else — darker, and different. It has become the kind of bland rhetoric about which we don’t give a thought, but its roots lie in horror.
Before we talk about Kool-Aid, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to that particularly awful episode of American history.
Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist and occasional Methodist minister, he founded his pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”
The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name was supposed to be a reference to “the people of the world.” While Jones called it a church, it was closer to a warped version of a Marxist commune. Initially, it combined a hodgepodge of Christian references that Jones used in his diatribes … supposedly sermons.
It was never a real church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult. It required a level of commitment and financial support from members plus a degree of obedience that’s the defining quality of a cult.
Jones was the cult’s leader — and a homicidal maniac. But he had positive attributes. Jones and his wife Marceline were in favor of racial integration. They adopted a bunch of kids from varying backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. Other adopted children included three Korean Americans, a Native American, and a handful of white kids. They also had a child of their own.
Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed about this, note this story ultimately climaxes in the murder of all the Jones children by their parents.
The Peoples Temple continued to expand through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned his Marxism. His preaching began to increasingly focus on impending nuclear apocalypse. He even specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested afterwards, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?
Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California and before the expected apocalypse, he moved the Temple and its peoples there. When the end-of-the-world deadline passed without a holocaust, Jones quit pretending to be a Christian and revealed himself as an atheist who used religion to give his own opinions legitimacy. Jones announced that “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words since Jones was a drug addict who preferred literal to metaphorical opiates.
As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — probably with justification.
In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people to a different site that Jones had been working on since 1974. It was located in Guyana and he modestly named it “Jonestown.” It was a bleak, inhospitable place. Built on 4000 acres with limited access to water, it was much too small and seriously overcrowded. Temple members had to work long hours just to keep from starving.
Nonetheless, Jones decided his people would farm the land of his utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown (he confiscated all his followers’ money), but wealth was not distributed. He barely used any of the money for himself and lived in a tiny, bare-bones shared house.
All Hell Breaks Loose
U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate rumors of abuses in Jonestown. Ryan didn’t travel alone. He took a contingent of media people including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. He assumed that this would protect him — a major miscalculation.
During his visit to Jonestown, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.
If the number of defectors seems low considering the more than 900 residents of Jonestown, remember they had not been allowed to talk to most of the “fellowship.” The number of those who wanted to leave could have been much more. We’ll never know.
Ryan began processing the paperwork to repatriate Temple members. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked with a knife by temple member Don Sly. This would-be assassin was stopped before Ryan was hurt. Eventually the Ryan party decided to leave. They and the Jonestown defectors drove to the airstrip and boarded planes.
Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade” — after the Congressional party. These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire on them, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, three members of the media, and wounding eleven others. The survivors fled into the jungle.
When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He invited all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown.
He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled. Faced with this invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders. They could take off for the USSR or run into the jungles of Guyana. Or they could commit mass suicide.
On previous occasions Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment by giving them cups of liquid that supposedly contained poison. Which they drank (???). After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.
Jim Jones had been stockpiling poisons — cyanide and other drugs — for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.
Don’t Drink It!
After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid, a beverage similar to Kool-Aid.
Jones told his followers they should commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is still a matter of considerable debate. Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying members to the USSR.
Of course, Jones was never really interested in escape. There was only one answer that he would accept. Death and lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out to his followers that Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is just as creepy as you’d expect.
Then it was time for the detailed instructions which — still baffling to me at least — the followers did as they were told. I will never understand why. Probably that’s a positive sign indicating I’m not insane.
Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were allowed to drink poison from cups. Temple members wandered out onto the ground where eventually just over 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful of survivors escaped — primarily those who happened to be away on errands or playing basketball when the mass suicide/massacre took place.
Jones did not drink poison. He died from a gunshot to the head. It’s unclear if it was self-inflicted. Jones probably died last or nearly so and likely preferred the gun to cyanide. He had witnessed the horrendous effects of death by cyanide and preferred something quicker.
What’s With the Kool-Aid?
In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind obedience, as Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without objection. According to various accounts, the primary beverage used at Jonestown was actually Flavor Aid (sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”) — although both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were used.
Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. Kool-Aid was introduced in 1927 in powdered form. When Americans thought about a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” came immediately to mind.
So, although Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were both present at Jonestown, the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” has become entrenched in popular lingo.
Personally, I never touch the stuff.
Within the past couple of days, more remains of massacre victims were found in Delaware. These were contracted out to local funeral homes after being flown back from Guyana, apparently marked as “unidentified” and unclaimed.
If you are interested in more of the aftermath of this nightmare, you can read:
The Eighth Sin – Remember the seven cardinal sins? You’re given the serious task of adding a new one to the list — another trait or behavior you find particularly unacceptable, for whatever reason. What’s sin #8 for you? Why?
I did a little quick, shallow research on those original 7 big ones. They are, for those of you who were not raised as Christians or have totally forgotten whatever you learned:
Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.
I’m not convinced adding another sin matters. Anything I add would no doubt be a subset one of the Cardinal Seven. But hey, I’ll give it a shot.
The original sins are more than words. They are concepts. Starting from the top, we find Lust. It isn’t just having indiscriminate sex or doing it with people to whom you aren’t married. Lust is not just for horny teenagers and men in a midlife crisis.
Lust is an intense desire. It is a general term for desire. Therefore lust could involve the intense desire of money, food, fame, power or sex. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings.
On this earthly plane, there’s a lot of lusting going on and sex is the least of it. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say sex is the best of it. Possibly the only piece of the “lust sinology” that’s fun and might do somebody some good.
So how about Gluttony, eh? If you think it means you eat too much, you’d be right, though eating is a minor detail.
Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.
As far as I can tell, our whole society has been doing a lot of gulping … of natural resources, of fancy cars, houses, gadgets, widgets. We also eat too much, but in the overall scheme of things, it hardly matters.
Moving along, we get to a perennial favorite: Greed. You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has been on the “most popular sin” list for most people. It’s probably the single most motivating of the sins having lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as something wonderful to which one ought aspire.
Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Scavenging, hoarding materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are actions likely inspired by Greed.
According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” So not to worry.
Sloth is always charming. It hardly seems worthy of mention in such impressive company.
Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.
Wrath is a big deal, the cause for much of what ails America these days.
Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as “rage”, may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath can persist long after the person who committed a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide.
We seem to be in the middle of an epidemic of wrath in the U.S. Politically and socially, we are an angry, hate-filled people. Scary stuff.
Ah Envy! The motivator of crime, the inciter of ambition.
Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is insatiable desire, is similar to jealousy in that they both feel discontent towards someone’s traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is the envious also desire the entity and covet it. Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Neither shall you desire… anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Pride is the downfall of smart people. If there’s a sin to which I am committed, it’s pride. It pops up in so many ways. Believing one is smarter than everyone else, that one is really in control of ones fate (yeah, right!). It is the sweetest of sins, the most comfortable sin, the most beloved of the educated and smart set. My personal favorite.
If it turns out a Judeo-Christian God is truly in charge, this sin will guarantee I never make it to heaven.
In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).
So what could I add to this prestigious list?
Allow me to offer Willful Ignorance, a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance comfortably joins with other popular sins to make up “our body politic.”
You’re welcome. I’m glad to be able to contribute to our cultural demise.
I noticed I have about an equal number of religious and atheist friends. That probably means I’m doing something right. If you get right down to it, I believe in you. And me. I believe in human intelligence. I believe we each have the right to exercise our intelligence as we see fit.
I am not an atheist, but I’m not religious, either. You can not prove there is no god. Nor can you can prove there is a god. I will defend to the death your right to believe whatever you choose. It is your right to believe, disbelieve, question, argue. It’s my right too.
I draw the line at anyone telling me what I should believe.
I dislike dogma. Religion by itself is not a problem. It’s the systems, the rules, the dogma that messes up the world. Dogma is a way to categorize everything, to put it all in boxes. If it doesn’t fit in a box, a properly dogmatic believer will beat, pummel, pound, and torture a person or concept until it fits.
I don’t want to be in a box.
Atheism is a leap of faith as is every religion. And it is a religion. My mother was an atheist, or so she declared herself. She wasn’t really an atheist, in my opinion. She hated god, felt betrayed by god. She felt that if there was a god, he wasn’t worthy of her faith.
No one can prove the existence or non-existence of god. Personally, I think we’d all be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it one way or the other. No one is going to be convinced by anyone else’s proof. Why not let everyone be as irrational as he or she wants? Maybe if we let others do their thing, they in turn will be let us be crazy in our own ways.
It has to start somewhere. Why don’t we take the first step?
I’m sure this makes me the ultimate fence sitter. So be it. I actually believe in everyone’s right to freedom. It’s the last vestige of my optimistic hope for humanity, the last non-cynical piece of me.
It’s fun to debate god, no god, religion, no religion, faith, no faith. Whatever. Big ideas, complicated concepts. It’s particularly fun when you’re stoned. But. No one is going to be converted to your point of view, no matter how well-constructed your arguments may be. It’s intellectual exercise. It makes great after dinner conversation, but that’s all it is.
When the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, then it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home — each to our own beliefs. That’s the way it should be.
We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means and too little time doing the stuff we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. Normal, but a waste of time and energy because I’m going to explain everything and you’ll never have to wonder again.
Learning to accept the total randomness of stuff that happens is difficult. We want it to make sense. We want order. We want this mess we call life to mean something important.
I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.
One day, I had an epiphany. I got it! I knew The Truth.
I felt like I was 12 again. I considered founding a church to spread my word. My church would require no faith in anything. No deity will get pissed off if you disobey some arbitrary rule. Contributions would be welcome, however. We all need to pay the rent. It would suit our modern lifestyle, don’t you think?
You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you will never have proof.
If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.
As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.
Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?
You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.
Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me (and I know you want to be just like me). Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.
Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.
Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?
I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.
Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)
On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.
Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:
Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.
In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.
You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.
There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one who holds it.
Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.
Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.
If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.
Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.