When I was young, I was a "good boy." I studied the catechism, went to church, said my prayers; worked hard at school; was a Boy Scout, achieved Eagle rank, attended the National Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge where we were addressed by vice president Richard Nixon; read "Dear Abby" in the severely conservative, country-club-Republican, Wolfe-family-owned Columbus Dispatch; had regular interaction with various farming relatives in Appalachia and Indiana; and had Black and Jewish friends - no one told me I wasn't supposed to.
For much of my life, I believed all the official dogma: God, country, the military, athletics, our elected officials, democracy, the land of the free and the home of the brave, that all men are created equal, and that we were a shining city on a hill.
Gradually, however, I quit believing. Do you know John Lennon's song, "God"? Check it out; the dream is over.
As I learned more about my country and this world, many disturbing questions and contradictions arose that I couldn't answer. I wonder if you can?
In my youth, I was taught that if I ate meat on Friday it was a "mortal sin" that could send me to Hell. A little later, I learned that if I were a Spaniard I could eat meat on Friday without sin because a warlord named El Cid had driven the Moors from Spain. Can you explain that?
In my youth, I learned that in America all are created equal but discovered that the Founding Fathers set things up so that some were more equal than others. Native Americans, slaves, women and white men without property could not vote. Some of the Founding Fathers even owned other Americans. Can you explain that?
In my youth, I was taught that my Christian religion was the one, true religion. Later I discovered that there are at least 40 other, different Christian religions claiming the same thing - not to mention the hundreds (?) of non-Christian religions claiming to be the only true one. How do you deal with that?
I was taught that the Bible was the unerring word of God, but if so, why do so many Christians not agree as to what it says? Why are there different versions of the Bible with different books included and in different translations, all of which were written down by men, not by God. How do you explain that?
In my youth, I learned that this was "the Land of the Free." Later I learned that southern Blacks weren't free to ride in the front of the bus, and women in Ohio, as late as the 1940s, weren't allowed to inherit property. I learned that there were deed and zoning restrictions designed to keep "certain people" from free access to certain communities. How shiny is that city?
I learned that we loved our soldiers who fought and died for various reasons, some of which are: to keep us free, to protect our right to vote, to make the world safe for democracy, and to maintain peace throughout the world. Regarding "free," see directly above. As for "peace," a large part of my long life has been spent while we were engaged in wars. And "voting"! Ha!! For some time now, if the military truly fought so that we could vote, they would be attacking governors and state legislators throughout the "Land of the Free" for working to make it more difficult or impossible for "certain people" to vote.
The same holds for making the world (including America) safe for democracy. The Air Force should send a few drones after gerrymandering and the Electoral College, not to mention decisions like "Citizens United" that change "one man - one vote" to "one dollar - one vote."
I always heard how much we loved the young Americans who serve in the armed forces. Speeches, parades and flag-waving every Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July. Over the years, though, it became obvious that we didn't love them if they cost us money. If they were physically or mentally maimed by their service and needed our help, needed our monetary support - when that was the case - our love became greatly diminished. How do you explain that?
When I was a freshman in high school, the Russians launched Sputnik, and we put our faith in science. Sure enough, we went to the moon. Nowadays science is disparaged and ignored by many. No matter what evidence science brings forth, millions believe the earth is only six to seven thousand years old. Many believe that global warming and/or climate change is a political hoax. Some believe the climate is changing, but it has nothing to do with what we humans do. Once we even told ourselves that smoking was good for digestion and did not cause cancer. Make you think?
When I played high school football, we were taught that it wasn't whether you won or lost, but how you played the game. Later we learned that winning wasn't everything; it was the only thing. Where ties had once been acceptable, tie-breakers were invented. Someone had to lose. Eventually, state and national playoffs were established so that all but one could be identified as losers. What do you make of that?
I learned in 1973, via Roe v. Wade, that women were in charge of their own bodies, and that they were free - within certain limits - to obtain an abortion when they believed they needed one. This decision was made by the US Supreme Court, but supposedly patriotic Americans have been denouncing it ever since. Some who "value life" and call abortion "murder" support capital punishment. Some who want no abortions oppose birth control that would reduce the number of abortions. Some who "value life" would rather have the mother die than have an abortion. How do you explain all that?
I saw a bumper sticker once that said, "Choose life; your mother did." That seemed to make sense at first, but then I realized that if that were logical, other "logical" arguments could also be made: "Beat your mother; your father did," "Get drunk all the time; your mother did," "Drive like a maniac; your uncle did."
Maybe how we answer difficult questions has, in part, something to do with a willingness to say and think whatever fits our emotional needs at the time, as compared to painfully struggling to find some rational explanation. Below are some quotations that may suggest some answers - or perhaps raise more questions.
"Culture is a set of agreed upon opinions." - Stephen Colbert
"We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented." - From The Truman Show
"What you think you become." - Gandhi
"Man is what he believes." - Chekov
"Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul." - Walt Whitman
"Whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be." - Carl Sagan
"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." - George Orwell
"What good fortune for those in power that people do not think." - Adolph Hitler
"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." - George Orwell (in 1984)
"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire
"People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster. - James Baldwin
"With most people unbelief in one thing is founded on blind belief in another." - Lichtenberg
"Only when we know little do we know everything; doubt grows with knowledge." - Goethe
"If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on and he'll empty his pockets for you." - Lyndon Johnson
"People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as "parasites" fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society." - Jason Read
"The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself... Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable." - H. L. Mencken
Jesus: "Let me in." Person: "Why?" Jesus: "So I can save you." Person: "From what?" Jesus: "From what I'm going to do to you if you don't let me in." - Mrs. Betty Bowers from "Salvation for Dummies"
"You must be true to yourself. Strong enough to be true to yourself. Brave enough to be strong enough to be true to yourself. Wise enough to be brave enough to be strong enough to shape yourself from what you actually are." - Sylvia Constance Ashton-Warner
"I don't believe in Elvis, I don't believe in Zimmerman, I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me." - John Lennon