Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The People Who Challenged My Atheism Most Were Drug Addicts and Prostitutes

00 BMD. Zyuganov We should strive to be better. 25.12.13

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They prayed when they could find 15 minutes. “Preacher Man”, as we called him, would read from the Bible with his tiny round glasses. It was the only book that he’d ever read. A dozen or so others would listen, silently praying while stroking rosaries, sitting on bare mattresses, crammed into a half-painted dorm room. I was the outsider, a 16-year-old working on a summer custodial crew for a local college, saving money to pay for my escape from my hometown. The other employees, close to three dozen, were working to feed themselves, to feed their kids, to pay child support, to pay for the basics of life. I was the only white; everyone else was African-American. Preacher Man tried to get me to join the prayer meetings, asking me almost daily. I declined, preferring to spend those small work breaks with some of the other guys on the crew. We’d use the time to snatch a quick drink or maybe smoke a joint.

Preacher Man would question me, “What do you believe in?” I’d decline to engage, out of politeness. He pressed me. Finally I broke, “I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in a God. I don’t think the world is only 5,000 years old, I don’t think Cain and Abel married their sisters!” Preacher Man’s eyes narrowed. He pointed at me, “You’re an APE-IEST. An APE-IEST. You going to lead a life of sin and end in hell“. Three years later, I did escape my town, eventually receiving a PhD in physics, then, working on Wall Street for 20 years. A life devoted to rational thought, a life devoted to numbers and clever arguments. During that time, I counted myself an atheist and nodded in agreement as a wave of atheistic fervour swept out of the scientific community and into the media, led by Richard Dawkins.

I saw some of myself in him… quick with arguments, uneasy with emotions, comfortable with logic, able to look at any ideology or any thought process and expose the inconsistencies. We all picked on the Bible, a tome cobbled together over hundreds of years that provides so many inconsistencies. It’s the skinny 85-pound (35-kilo) weakling for anyone looking to flex their scientific muscles. I eventually left my Wall Street job and started working with and photographing homeless addicts in the South Bronx. When I first walked into the Bronx, I assumed I’d find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism, it was addicts, who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be. None of them are. Rather, they’re some of the strongest believers I’ve met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore.

The first addict I met was Takeesha. She was standing near the high wall of the Corpus Christi Monastery. We talked for close to an hour before I took her picture. When we finished, I asked her how she wanted me to describe her. She said without any pause, “As who I am. A prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God”. A relative raped Takeesha when she was 11. Her mother, herself a prostitute, put Takeesha out on the streets at 13, where she’s been for the last 30 years. “It’s sad when it’s your mother, who you trust, and she was out there with me, but you know what kept me through all that? God. Whenever I got into the car, God got into the car with me”. Sonya and Eric, heroin addicts who are homeless, have a picture of the Last Supper that moves with them. It’s hung in an abandoned building, it’s hung in a sewage-filled basement, and now it leans against the pole in the small space under the interstate where they live. Sarah, 15 years on the streets, wears a cross around her neck. Always. Michael, 30 years on the streets, carries a rosary in his pocket. Always. In any crack house, in the darkest buildings empty of all other furnishings, you can find a worn Bible laying flat amongst needles, caps, lighters, and crack pipes.

A system driven by a predatory economic rationalism (a term used recently by J M Coetzee in his essay On Nelson Mandela) brutalises Takeesha and the other homeless addicts. The public views them as losers, almost everyone concurs in that. They’re just “junkie prostitutes” who live in abandoned buildings. They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I can’t tell them that there’s nothing beyond this physical life. It’d be cruel and pointless. These last three years, out from behind my computers, reminded me that life isn’t rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we’re all sinners.

We’re all sinners. On the streets, the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, came to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don’t. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance numbed their understanding of our fallibility. Soon, I saw my atheism for what it is… an intellectual belief most accessible to those who’ve done well. I look back at my 16-year-old self and see Preacher Man and his listeners differently. I look at the fragile women praying and see a mother working a minimum wage custodial job, trying to raise three children alone because her children’s father off drunk somewhere. I look at the teenager fingering a small cross and see a young woman, abused by a father addicted to whatever, trying to find some moments of peace. I see Preacher Man himself, living in a beat-up shack without electricity, desperate to stay clean, desperate to make sense of a world that gave him little. They found hope where they could.

I want to go back to that 16-year-old self and tell him to shut up with the “see how clever I am attitude”. I want to tell him to appreciate how easy he had it, with a path out… a path to riches. I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from life’s ambiguity that he finds himself judging those who think differently. I see someone doing what he claims to hate in others… preaching from a selfish vantage point.

24 December 2013

Chris Andrade

The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/24/atheism-richard-dawkins-challenge-beliefs-homeless

Editor’s Note:

The author’s critique of Richard Dawkins is why I oppose the First Families so. I’d go so far as to say that it’s clear to me that many of them aren’t believers… and that counts those who use “religious” verbiage and positions the most. For instance, there’s the Hard Right clique at Jordanville, who willingly collaborated with the CIA; who took Langley’s money gladly. They didn’t disappear because of ’07… nor did they really change their minds. Then, there’s Potapov and Kishkovsky… both sold out to the Establishment (Potapov as a willing propagandist  attacking the Rodina, Kishkovsky as an eager member of the Council on Foreign Relations). SVS is stuck on itself; it’s proud of its (pseudo) intellectualism… a more sterile example of academic masturbation couldn’t be found in secular academe. Finally, there are the willing running dogs such as Whiteford, Reardon, Paffso, Dahulich, and Moriak… who echo the First Family line and repeat it shamelessly, with no care as to whom they hurt. They’re worse than any Stalinist of the Great Purges, for at least the Stalinists didn’t pretend to be Christians. At the Last Day, the Stalinists will accuse them… and the Stalinists will be right!

Richard Dawkins is an open antitheist… that’s honest, at least. However, those who’ve sold out the Church to the Far Right (both to the contemporary Republican Party and to the Black Hundreds and Nazis in the past) are worse. They blaspheme the Lord Christ… the antitheists didn’t do that. I’ll be blunt… I prefer the company of honest secularists to that of smarmy hypocritical religious hobbyists. I do daresay that I’m not alone in thinking that way…

BMD

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Think The Whole World Is Honouring Mandela? Not These American Conservatives

00 What Would Jesus Do. Terry Jones. Political Cartoon. 9.12
Let’s do what Christ would do… now, that’s RELIGION… and that’s a PLAN!

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On Tuesday, world leaders and public figures from across the globe gathered in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and revered anti-apartheid crusader. For what seemed like the first time in years, Democrats and Republicans united… in their tributes to Mandela. At the memorial service, the climate of respect for Madiba was so deep that US President Barack Obama even shook hands with Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz. So, of course, Mandela’s death has inspired similar feelings among Americans themselves. Or, has it? Sadly, no. As conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio took to Facebook and Twitter to honour Mandela, some of their constituents did the opposite. Such posts were flooded with highly-rated comments calling Mandela a Communist, killer, and liar, accusing these same conservative politicians of getting into bed with the supposed secret Communist terrorist menace symbolised by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Mandela.

Soon after Mandela’s death on Thursday night, Gingrich wrote a short, deeply felt tribute to Mandela, calling him “one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime” and “the father of an integrated democratic South Africa”. Alarmingly, Gingrich’s support for Mandela enraged many of his supporters. Many of their attacks on Gingrich and Mandela were racial:

  • He hated America, Newt. Quit pandering to the blacks”.
  • “Come on Newt. He was a communist and a murder similar to our currant [sic] president. Are you too being baffled by the main stream media”.

Backlash against Gingrich from his supporters was so great that the former Speaker of the House and Republican presidential candidate felt compelled to write an even longer separate post, praising Mandela, and asking his commenters what they would’ve done in his place. Gingrich even went on to discuss his horror at the comments on CNN, saying, “If you’d been imprisoned for 27 years, 18 of them in a cell eight foot by seven foot, how do you think you would’ve emerged? Would you have been angry? Would you have been bitter? Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison as an astonishingly wise, patient, and compassionate person… before you criticise him, ask yourself, what would you have done in his circumstances?”

Still, Gingrich’s most hardcore supporters refused to listen. One commenter… who clearly has no idea what apartheid entailed, or of what South Africa has become… wrote:

  • “[Mandela] didn’t turn S. Africa into a place of equality. He flipped the roles and has now made it racist toward all white people… So I am sorry Mr. Gingrich, but I will never honor a butchering communist”.
  • “Mandella and Fidel Castro were best friends. That’s all I need to know. That and Obama woshiped [sic] him. ’nuff said”.

Gingrich was far from the only Republican to suffer a major backlash over supporting Mandela. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) wrote, “Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe”, and it wasn’t long before his supporters, too, let loose racially-charged, supposedly anti-Communist, nonsense:

  • “Why don’t all you Mandela lovers head on over to South Africa and see what’s going on now that ‘Mandela’s people’ have control of the nation. … Get out and go mix with the people, experience what life is really like. Especially if you’re white”.
  • “He was also a huge supporter of abortion! Don’t put him too high up! Careful Mr Cruz”
  • Another replied, using some of the most obvious racist code words: “It’s the one thing Mandela got right. Abortion among his supporters improves humanity as a whole”.

Even House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) received similar hate after praising Mandela’s “perseverance in fighting the apartheid system”. A concise poster wrote:

  • “glad he’s dead”.
  • “John, from your comments does it mean you support communism and the killing of white people?”

10 December 2013

Eric Brown

International Business Times

http://www.ibtimes.com/think-whole-world-honoring-mandela-not-these-us-conservatives-1503886

Editor’s Note:

The comments speak for themselves. It’s not for nothing that the GOP is the “Stupid Party”. Remember… it defends the greed of the unfettered Free Market. “The love of money is the root of all evil”… that says it all, and it says why NO Christian can support the godless agenda of the Republican Party. No… being anti-abortion doesn’t cancel out indiscriminate drone strikes, unlimited extrajudicial detention, the promiscuous use of capital punishment, coddling of the Affluent Effluent, and attacks against social programmes. It’s EVIL… that’s all that I can say. I oppose all who support such demonic rubbish… especially, the “clergy” who do so. I’ll see you on the other side of the barricades… now, that’s “’nuff said”.

Nevertheless, the Republicans who spoke well of Mandela DID stick out their necks, the contemporary GOP being what it’s become. I bow to them in that. Courage is courage, and, sometimes, your foe shows it. Acknowledge it or be found a pig. That’s that…

BMD

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Snowden Shortlisted for Sakharov Prize

00 Statue of Liberty. Soviet. 01.10.13

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The European Parliament announced that fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was on a short list for the prestigious Sakharov Prize celebrating freedom of thought. The Greens and the leftist GUE/NGL group nominated Snowden. On Monday, European lawmakers cast their votes for nominees in the short list in a secret ballot. The list also includes three jailed Belarusian dissidents and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who’s the odds-on favourite to win the prize. Snowden, a computer specialist and former employee of the US National Security Agency (NSA), was the focus of international attention over the summer after he leaked classified evidence of US government surveillance programmes to the media. He fled to Hong Kong, and, then, to Moscow, where Russia granted him temporary asylum in late July, despite repeated extradition demands from Washington. Parliament leaders will announce the winner on 10 October, and the awards ceremony will take place in Strasbourg in December. The European Parliament awarded the 50,000 Euros (2.185 million Roubles. 67,800 USD. 69,800 CAD. 71,900 AUD. 41,800 UK Pounds) prize, named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, every year since 1988 to honour champions of human rights and freedom of expression. Past recipients included anti-apartheid revolutionary and former South African President Nelson Mandela, Chinese dissident Hu Jia, and Reporters Without Borders, a French NGO advocating freedom of the press.

1 October 2013

RIA-Novosti

http://www.en.rian.ru/world/20131001/183869306/Snowden-Shortlisted-for-Sakharov-Prize.html

Monday, 3 September 2012

UN Envoy to Syria Sez Invasion or Military Intervention Not in the Cards

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On Sunday, Lakhdar Brahimi, the new UN envoy to war-torn Syria, said that a military intervention by Arab forces isn’t in the cards. Brahimi said in an interview to al Arabiya television, “A military intervention in Syria means a failure of diplomatic efforts. For me, this option isn’t available, and, personally, this will be neither today nor tomorrow nor the day after tomorrow”. The 78-year-old diplomat called for a ceasefire in the conflict, which has claimed 25,000 lives since March 2011, according to UN estimates. Brahimi avoided apportioning blame, but said, “The government’s responsibility to stop the violence is greater” than that of the opposition.

Sunday marks the first day at the job for Brahimi, a former Algerian Foreign Minister, and a member of the Global Elders, a group of ex-world leaders and prominent public figures brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to tackle various global issues. Brahimi replaced Kofi Annan, a former UN Secretary General who introduced a peace plan for Syria in February that Russia signed off on, but both the Syrian government and the opposition ignored it. The Arab League, a regional organisation comprised mostly of Syria’s opponents, repeatedly blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the conflict and urged him to step down.

2 September 2012

RIA-Novosti

http://en.rian.ru/world/20120902/175724639.html

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