October 24, 2014

SECURITY?  WHAT SECURITY?

The recent “attacks” on the White House in Washington, D.C. involving fence-climbers charging the building, have shown the world just how much America has learned since September 11, 2001, about making the country more secure.  Not much.  We can’t even protect the White House.  The White House.

To the world we still look like a bunch of dumb hillbillies who don’t know their rear ends from holes in the ground.

The last climber wasn’t even stopped by the Secret Service agents, but by two police dogs attached to the Service.  Dogs.  Dogs stopped him before the agents even got close.  He could have tossed or fired who-knows-what towards the building, including a Stinger missile if he had had one.

And this is just the beginning.  Every test of the TSA has come up failure, and in most cases the groups of men and women doing the testing are released before the tests are even completed.  Our government just sweeps it all under the rug, hoping no one will notice.

The worst, of course, goes all the way to well before 9/11.  Our national security is being compromised on two major fronts:  the first is American imperialism, including the installation of well over 900 military bases in foreign countries, some of them even in countries like France, Britain and Germany, where the only need for a military presence of the U.S. consists in stopping-off points for military forays into the Middle and Far East, and hospitals where they haul the dead and wounded from other parts of the world.

Now we even have bases, and big ones, in former Soviet bloc countries and even within the old Soviet empire.  Our base presence in Bin Laden’s home country of Saudi Arabia was the main reason for his anger towards the United States, causing the loss of thousands of lives in the 9/11 and other attacks on U.S. assets.  Resentment is high in many other countries as well, especially amongst average citizens, who have to live with the American occupation of their homelands; to them, our “heroes” are mostly drunken, arrogant rapists who vomit all over them as they try to go about their lives.

Our continual interference in the affairs of other countries in order to “Christianize, capitalize and democratize” their unique ways of life is an offshoot of our imperialism; it’s rarely accepted anywhere except by force or buying off the governments, and then it becomes a matter much like the former Soviet empire, a totalitarian nightmare and something the people will overthrow the second they are able to.

Our inability to “stay home,” because we are out protecting American oil interests and fueling the insatiable appetites of our war machine (munitions manufacturers, support companies such as Dick Cheney’s beloved Halliburton), in our endless war against “terror,” will continue to subject the U.S. to blowback attacks by other nations, factions, groups or sects, and we the common people of America are the ones who are going to suffer, much like the office jockeys in the World Trade Center did.

The second main cause of worry to our national security interests comes from within:  homegrown terrorists in the form of religious extremists, and we’re not talking about Muslims but about the people you sit next to in church every Sunday and who believe that if you are not a Christian, or not even the kind of Christian they think you should be, you are under a “curse” and are not even fit to vote or hold public office.  These are the people who kill abortion doctors and sing hymns on the way to prison, who want to install Mosaic or Old Testament law as our government, imprisoning or even executing homosexuals, adulterers, blasphemers and others who break the code, people who want to place Republicans from the Religious Right in every public office, and who want to take away all of your individual rights as a human being if those rights conflict with their Christian ideal of personhood.  Radical, fundamentalist Christians pose perhaps the greatest national security threat of all to our nation.  It’s about time we all educated ourselves about it; if we don’t, we won’t know what hit us when the “coup” finally arrives.

Endless foreign conflicts, internal revolution from perhaps the least-expected (and therefore most surprising) source, the Christian Right.  If we can’t find a way to deal with these threats, we’re finished as a free nation.

October 23, 2014

The fight over marriage equality is, legislatively, and in the courts, being won by the LGBT community and those of us who believe that our laws should extend to all people who wish to get married.

The argument is quite simple:  there can be no discrimination on the basis of sex or gender or sexual orientation. There is no moral language about whether or not being gay is a choice (it isn’t).  Our position here is that it’s NOT a choice, that people are born that way, just as they were born black or white, right or left handed, blue eyes or green.  You can believe that within a very few years science will reveal the so-called “gay gene” and the argument will effectively be over–except for a select few, of course.

The Fundamentalists of all the major religions (Christian, Judaism, Islam) will read the Bible literally on this subject while reading it metaphorically or symbolically on other subjects.  For example, most RC bishops and even the Popes of late recognize evolution as a valid explanation of how the earth, plants, animals and humans evolved.  Which means they don’t believe everything was created in six days or that the earth is flat under a plasterboard of stars and other planets.  There is no way to read the Bible and mistake what it says, and therefore it can be said that the RC Church either no longer believes what the Bible says OR it thinks the Bible is WRONG.

“Cherry-picking” is a favorite hobby of Christians especially, choosing those Bible passages as true which validate their own world view.  This is kind of like pulling cards out of a tower you’ve made.  One of these days the whole thing is going to collapse because there won’t be enough cards to hold the tower up.

And so even the Roman Catholic Church moves with the times now and then.  If this is so, and it is so with evolution, then why can’t it move with the times on other issues?

The Synod that’s taking place right now has some interesting sidelights.  One bishop has threatened (he’s an American and lives in America) to boycott signing off on gay unions or performing wedding ceremonies.  This takes his paycheck for doing a wedding away in some thirty states right now, states which have passed laws allowing marriage equality.  “Allowing” equality:  that phrase seems so, so…60’s, doesn’t it?  With declining church membership, all churches are going to get hit hard as their congregations dwindle and as someone else performs the weddings.  Once the belts start to tighten on these luxury-fattened, pampered churchmen and women, things will start to move.

Most kids growing up reflect what their parents say about gays, and much of that is not very good.  Their parents go to church Sunday after Sunday and hear the priest or the pastor or minister rail against gays and gay marriage.  They go home and repeat it to their kids at the dinner table.  The kids repeat it at school and the bullying of suspected gays begins.  This chain of events leads to a possible conclusion that those who preach this kind of hate from the pulpit should be brought up on charges.  This is already happening in Houston, and it’s a good thing.  If you preach hate and encourage discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, you are violating the law.

Until we start putting a few of these preachers in the slammer for a few nights, they will just keep it up with business and hatred as usual.  But the states will all fall eventually, and someday these holy hillbillies will have to find something else to whine about from the pulpit.

October 20, 2014

TAKE MY WIFE.  PLEASE.

I’ve been reading a collection of essays in a book called “Everything You Know Is Wrong,” edited by Russ Kick.  One of those essays concerned today’s hot topic of domestic abuse, written by Phillip W. Cook.  You can learn quite a bit from a writer who approaches the subject objectively and dispassionately.

The main point of the essay is that, despite what appears to be the knee-jerk tendency to always blame the male, about half of domestic abuse can be placed on women.  Women abusing men.

The author shows that women are very often the first to throw a slap or a shove, and if the skirmish escalates, they are the first to grab some sort of weapon, be it a pair of scissors, a kitchen knife, or the .410 hanging over the door.  Women can be just as violent as men, even more so.

Men being abused is under-reported, and for obvious reasons.  Men not only fear scorn and humiliation at the hands of relatives, friends and co-workers, they are also afraid of going to jail. More times than not, when the police come to a home where there has been a domestic dispute, even if the man is the only partner showing the ill effects of combat, he is usually the one who goes to jail that night.

Men are also afraid to file for divorce from their wives over spousal abuse, because they are afraid of losing custody of their kids.

When President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act in the 1990’s, the abuse of men wasn’t even mentioned.  There are virtually no hot lines for men to call or shelters for them to go to, although some organizations do take calls from both women and men.

When Stephan A. Jones was suspended from ESPN for one week for remarking that perhaps Ray Rice’s girlfriend had started the fight or had done something to make Ray react, he probably had in mind the kind of thinking I’ve been discussing here–men are abused as much, if not more, as women are, and just because there are two sexes involved in the fight doesn’t mean that one sex is ALWAYS to blame.  Admitted, men are generally in positions of power, our society is dominated by male leaders, our culture is patriarchal for the most part:  but let’s use a little common sense from time to time.  Men can be abused by women.

October 17, 2014

Rick Perry Actually Does Something Right!

The best way to stop Ebola from coming into the U.S. is to STOP PEOPLE from coming into the U.S. from Africa.

Today Texas Governor Rick Perry banned all travel into Texas from Africa due to Ebola virus fears.

Have we ever seen any one event so mishandled by our so-called leaders (except for Governor Rick today)??

What is the proper way to treat someone who comes down with a contagious disease?

A.  Fly that person overseas to America

B.  Fly that person around the United States, exposing potentially hundreds, even thousands of people

C.  KEEP THEM WHERE THEY ARE, TREAT THEM AND QUARANTINE THEM

I would say the last option fits the bill.  Instead, what have our leaders been doing?  They allowed a man from Africa into the United States, sick as a dog; allowed him to vomit all over Dallas and Dallas hospitals, making several nurses sick (who promptly decided to do some traveling of their own, of course), before he died as expected.

This is not a liberal/conservative issue.  This is a public health matter, and no matter how many times authorities tell us they “have everything completely under control,” don’t believe them.  This virus could kill us all.  You know, it almost makes you think they are screwing this up intentionally, like the Mad Cow disease fiasco.  Why would they do that?

They’ve been flying doctors and others back from Africa ever since the outbreak made some U.S. citizens sick several weeks ago.  That was their first mistake:  keep them in Africa, give them the best care they can get, quarantine them, and they will either die or recover fully.  THEN, AND ONLY THEN, should they be allowed back into the U.S.

By enforcing Perry’s ban on flights from Africa into Texas (and this should also include connecting flights from Africa originating elsewhere, including in the U.S.), we can now concentrate on putting the toothpaste back in the tube instead of having a steady flow of problems into the state.

Being the world’s “melting pot” does not include taking every other nation’s sick people!

Way to go, Rick, you FINALLY did something right!

October 13, 2014

Every now and then freethinkers ought to take a step back and consider some of the major goals of the Religious Right as it expands its influence into politics and the courts.

“Dominionism” has been called conspiracy theorists’ “mot du jour” because no sane person would actually subscribe to it or admit to holding such a world view, i.e. that Christians have been mandated by God to hold dominion over every aspect of life in America, including its government. Perhaps the same might be said for “Reconstructionism,” a movement founded by Rousas John Rushdoony that advocates the replacement of civil law with Mosaic or Old Testament law and Calvinist prescriptions.

Where a movement is going is usually evidenced by the actions and words of its leaders, and we as freethinkers need to listen to what they are saying, even if dominionism and reconstructionism, if played out to their logical conclusions, would involve the most radical, and perhaps even violent (see Freethought Today, April, 2007, “The Christianization of the Military”), political and cultural revolution in the history of the Western World.

First, a brief aside: “gradualism” has been accepted by many respected Muslim leaders as the best way to infiltrate secular societies by small, patient degrees, and it involves six stages, including Sharia over the individual, Sharia over the family, the society, government and finally Sharia over the world.

Dominionists, including Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, have described the “Seven Mountains of Influence Mandate” (from God, of course), which involve the gradual takeover (by small, patient degrees) by dominionist-Calvinist Christians of government, business, education, media, the arts and the church.

D. James Kennedy: “As the vice-regents of God, we are to bring His truth and His will to bear on every sphere of our world and our society…” Rolling Stone Magazine, April 7, 2005. Gary North: “Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land–of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ.” The Changing of the Guard, 1987.

Somebody’s not going to get a chair, right? Both of these world-dominating views, Sharia and Dominionist, are long-term goals. Both come directly from the Koran and Old Testament as interpreted through the lens of inerrancy. Both are shockingly similar, and both involve a radical restructuring of our government and our lives. So before we get back to putting up another billboard, or closing down a team prayer, we need to take a nice, long look around and see where these absolutely serious and dedicated fanatics are taking us, and our world.

October 10, 2014

The forgotten clause in the Roe decision…

In 1973 the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Roe v. Wade case.  It essentially legalized abortion, and has been the subject of conservative religionists’ ire ever since.

To me, the most important part of the decision was the declaration that, as a matter of law, an unborn fetus is not a person.  Thus, the destruction of that fetus before it becomes a person is not an act of murder, it’s a medical procedure chosen by women to be performed.  It’s the same as having a wart removed.

The Christian nut bags who’ve been running around for over 40 years now mad at this decision have tried their mightiest to change the definition of a “person” in the eyes of the public, but to no avail.  The law is the law, and until Roe is overturned by another Court at another time, and perhaps it will be, who knows?, a baby in the womb is not a person and has no legal right to protection.

The “killing” of unborn children, as Fundamentalists would express it, is not foremost on the Christian Right’s agenda.  What they cannot abide is that the Supreme Court has the final say on this matter, and they cannot control the Supreme Court.  It’s all about control to the Fundies, and if they don’t have it they become enraged like seven-year-olds who don’t get their way with their mommies.

All the picketing, all the marching, all the politicking to elect anti-abortion representatives, it’s all for nothing because none of that will ever change a Supreme Court decision.  All they are doing is acting out the futility of their position, of their future, of their lives.  What they seek is the very same thing radical Muslims seek:  total subjugation or death to all infidels.  That is precisely why the greatest threat to national security comes not from abroad but lies within our very own borders.

October 9, 2014

The Pledge of Allegiance…

Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist and former Baptist minister, was the originator of the Pledge in 1892, which he intended to make all school children of all races, nationalities and creeds, feel a sense of unity as they recited the Pledge together in school.

Bellamy was a “former” Baptist minister because he was tossed out of his pulpit in Boston for railing against capitalism!  Bellamy was also a staunch supporter of the First Amendment and the separation of church and state.

The Pledge he authored went as follows: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  The Pledge was later changed from “my Flag” to “the Flag of the United States of America” to avoid confusion for children who were born in other countries.

The Pledge, as envisioned by Bellamy, came complete with a salute, arm extended, palm down and then up, a perfect “Nazi” salute well before there was such a thing as a Nazi.  Needless to say, when the Nazis came to prominence, with their stiff-armed salute of “Sieg Heil,” the salute for the Pledge was changed to a hand over the heart.

Around 1940, the Supreme Court ruled that a school board had the right to expel a student for refusing to recite the Pledge.  This turned out to be the perfect way to deny about 2000 Jehovah’s Witnesses an education.  In 1943 the Court reversed itself after seeing widespread violence against Witnesses in over 300 American communities.

In one of the most blatant violations ever of the establishment clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution, the words “under god” were added to the Pledge in 1954 by President Eisenhower and by Congress, even though a Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus, had been using those words in their Pledge for several years.  The moving force behind this change was thus Catholic in nature and appearance.

This small change, a clear abuse of the principle of the separation of church and state, has created misery and bloodshed through the years, as children of secularist/atheist parents and others who have refused to recite the words “under god,” have been harassed, bullied and ostracized by the Christian fundamentalist mob.

Adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance is akin to the congressional amnesia that accompanied a chaplain’s prayer in the House, and a standing House chaplain, the White House Prayer Breakfast hosted by the president every year, and the rampant Christian proselytizing going on in the armed services and service academies on a daily basis.

You would think a sitting president and members of Congress were familiar with the Constitution enough to know that “under god” was a serious breach of the separation of church and state, especially since the Pledge was meant to be recited in public schools.  PUBLIC schools.  That means taxpayer attended, taxpayer funded.

October 8, 2014

I am a member of perhaps the most famous atheist organization in the United States, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Each month I receive a newsletter, and in that newsletter there is usually a section entitled “Sharing the Crank Mail,” which sets forth various forms of communication sent to FFRF by people who call themselves Christians.

Here are just a few of the comments FFRF received:

“You prevent chaplains in FLA from saying a prayer before games, but you don’t say a word when the goat fuckers want to build a Mosque, aka recruiting ground, in Minnesota?  You just want to eviscerate Christians, you God less cocksuckers.  FUCK OFF AND DIE.”  My, what a pleasant thought!  Wonder who it was, the chaplain or the football coach?

“All of your children need a bullet right between their eyes.”  This apparently from a Fundamentalist Christian upset that Bishop Sheen re-runs were no longer available on his cable service.  Murdering children for the “sins” of their fathers:  golly, that’s such a touching and rational thought, reflecting, no doubt, the genius behind it, who, one may guess, picks his nose in church and masturbates in the church lavatory while his wife is munching donuts.

“What about the muslim that prays out in public, or in state parks.  What about the Jews who wear a yamaka?  Is it that you only attack Christianity because you think that Christians are meek?  If that’s what you think then clearly you need to brush up on your history.”  OK, we brushed up on our history:  Inquisition, lynchings by the KKK, the support of Hitler and the Vietnam War, the murder of countless scientists and philosophers for contradicting church dogma, the instilling of a sense of guilt in all believers, scarring them for life, opposition to birth control of all forms, leading to teenage suicides, botched abortions by hacks, the dumbing down of our school textbooks so our kids wind up way behind the rest of the civilized world’s kids, leading to unemployment, depression, alcoholism, domestic violence and suicide, and first and foremost, robbing countless millions of children and adults the opportunity to live life without illusions, fantasies, outright lies and delusions.

September 29, 2014

Why the Tea Party and the neo-conservatives have it all wrong:

A major platform of the Tea Party argument is:  “Let’s get back to our roots, to the ideals of the founding fathers and the men who made this country great, let’s get back to a time when all citizens were white and believed in God!”

Their contention that America is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles couldn’t be further from the truth:  which makes the Tea Party one big lie perpetuated by ignorant, Fox News-watching, Glenn Beck-listening, Koch Kool Aid-drinking, religious rightists and fundamentalists (even more right than right), people who probably have no idea who the first three presidents of the United States were.

The secularist nature of the Constitution (neither religion nor god is mentioned once) is no accident.  The process had been going on for nearly ten years when the delegates finally met to discuss and decide.  Many, if not most, of our Founding Fathers were deists–people who believed in a watchmaker God who withdrew after getting the ball rolling, and was heard from no more–a belief that many religious types at that time labelled as “atheist” or “infidel.”  

Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Monroe, even Washington and Hamilton, among others, were counted amongst the avowed deists of the time.  Jefferson’s deism was used heavily against him (much more so than his alleged affair with a female slave) in the 1800 election, but he won anyway.

All of them fought long and hard to forge the separation of church and state.  In the Treaty of Tripoli towards the end of the century, written by Monroe and negotiated by Washington, we stated explicitly that the U.S. is not a Christian nation.  If anything, the church at that time which represented what was going on in America more than any other had to be the Unitarian Universalist church, an offshoot Protestant sect.  Pluralism, diversity, inclusiveness, that was the goal of our Founding Fathers, hypocritical as it was (only white men who owned land could vote, and slaves were owned by everyone who had money; women were marginalized.)

So the next time you hear some Tea Party blowhard mention that our country was founded on Christian principles or that America is a Christian nation, please set them straight!

 

September 26th, 2014: A Southern Revolution

Anarchy is usually defined as a state of lawlessness and disorder, a breakdown of governmental authority.

Most people would probably agree that policemen shooting citizens at random (well, sort of) is one good sign of either anarchy or its opposite, totalitarianism, where the state has complete control over everything and whose agents can do pretty much what they please.

Such a situation is playing itself out in Ferguson, Missouri, a redneck town with a fairly lively black population, and no black officers on the police force.

On August 9 Officer Wilson shot and killed citizen Brown, who was walking across the street with a friend.  Brown was just a boy and was unarmed.

Officer Wilson was put on paid leave and still has not been charged or arrested by anyone for anything, much less for the murder of citizen Brown.

The necessary reports were either never filed or have been destroyed, because they do not exist, apparently, as was recently revealed in the mainstream media.  Those reports were not filed or were destroyed because there exists in Ferguson, Missouri a state of anarchy, led by the local police and supported by police and city officials, all white, all redneck, all racist.

As a result of this shooting, rioting, protests and various forms of anarchic behavior took place.  Further police anarchy ensued, with citizens and reporters and just plain old “Looky Lews” were clubbed, beaten, gassed and hosed.  Why?  Because in a state of anarchy, there are no laws.  Therefore, those who are most heavily armed have control.  In this case, even though many of the citizens of Ferguson no doubt possess firearms, they have not fired back at the officers.  Yet.

The only way to stop anarchy is to achieve greater numbers and greater firing power.  Once in control, a new regime can install whatever laws and rules, if any, it deems reasonable and necessary.

There is one way this could happen.  Much like the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s, busloads of armed and concerned fellow citizens could travel to the fair city of Ferguson, converge, join forces with armed citizens of Ferguson and either attack or counter-attack the police firepower until every officer and town official is dead or dying.

If they want anarchy, if they are going to shoot unarmed citizens without cause or common sense, if they are going to cover up the evidence, then in my view they should be paid back in kind.  With violence, chaos, anarchy, revolution.

Now, what’s unreasonable about any of that?

August, 31st, 2014

As the U.S. once more contemplates sending our troops into battle in Iraq, we as American atheists need to take a long look at what we can do to stop the war, the violence, the assassinations, and especially, the killing of our young people in combat overseas.
We have already taken the first step in identifying “faith” as perhaps the key adverse element in world conflict, whether it be Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia or the Sudan, as well as the greatest obstacle to educational advancement (particularly in the sciences) and political rapprochement here at home.
But simply identifying the main problem is not enough and will not save us, not from attack, not from economic collapse.
Ever since 9/11/2001 we have seen the rapid growth of politico-religious jingoism and the “hero-ization” of anyone wearing a service uniform. Fundamentalist Christianity has, for example, virtually taken over the service academies; “God Bless America” is sung at many baseball games between innings; generals have been quoted as believing that God is guiding our foreign policy and is acting through our presidents.
Neo-militarism has become one of the biggest public relations scams in our history, aimed directly at gathering support for our imperialistic foreign policy and unending “war against terror,” and benefits mainly the military, the munitions and weapons manufacturers, support companies such as Halliburton, and indirectly the big oil companies who see the fruits of our overseas labors in terms of new markets and new trade routes.
For a starter, don’t swallow the Kool-Aid. Discourage open displays of militarism in your family, on your street, in your schools, at your events. Be prepared to explain why you feel this way. Try to make others realize that conformity is not your thing, that you think for yourself and they should too.
The new militarism is wedded to the misplaced alliance of faith and morality; perhaps if we show our opposition to war and warlords we may eventually create an epistemic re-evaluation of faith.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Being an atheist simply means I lack belief in a higher or supernatural being, God or gods.  That fact has nothing to do with the rest of my life:  it doesn’t mean I burn bibles or spit on babies or, on the other hand, give lots of money to charity.

Atheism is an epistemology, and it does not make a person good or bad.  The rest of the atheist’s life is hers or his.

This includes political beliefs or affiliations.  For many years I was a diehard Republican.  Recently I’ve grown alarmed at the takeover of the Republicans by the Tea Party and Fundamentalists; the Republican Party is fast becoming our first religious party in the U.S.

Good news today, though, when a federal court threw out a Texas law that closed down many women’s health centers and abortion clinics.  I believe a woman, as evidenced in Roe v. Wade, has the right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, and further, what she can do with her own body.

Wendy Davis, candidate for governor, was on the winning side of this debate, while AG Greg Abbott was on the wrong side, and, like every other sore loser, has already vowed to appeal the lower court decision.

A good day for Texas and Texans.

Science and Religion–The “Quick Study” Atheist: Let’s Read!

It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve been reading all of the atheist-oriented literature I can get my hands on, but one thing that has surprised me, perhaps more than anything, is the amount of science–hard, difficult science–that I’m picking up.

If you begin to study atheism, one of the first things you learn is that religion has put science back centuries.  One writer I’ve encountered even suggested we could conceivably have had a man on the moon by 650 A.D. if it hadn’t been for religion persecuting and censoring and banning science and scientists and fostering fantasies and fictions.

It has given me hope on one issue:  it seemed to me that Fundamentalists were running roughshod over our government, our military and our schools.  Schools in particular, because that is where you can turn a young mind into a soldier.

But the “Intelligent Design” crowd is not winning the fight in schools.  They have no scientific peer reviews to back up their claims, and their only hope is to get an audience as scientifically backwards as they are, and sometimes they do, but not as often as I had feared.

You learn about evolution and you read Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins.  You learn about how the universe works and the Big Bang and how and when the earth was formed, and you read Stephen Hawking.

And suddenly you are reading quantum physics, quantum mechanics, cosmology, anthropology, paleontology, psychology, and you learn about quarks and Higgs bosuns, the reduced Planck mass and black holes.

It’s a journey you just weren’t expecting, but that’s the kind of ammunition  one needs to begin to wage a private or public war against the forces of ignorance, bigotry, misogyny and racism.  The backbone of religion. 

If you learn how the universe works, how it expands and contracts and then expands again, how mass and energy have always been there, how the human eye evolved, how old the earth is, then you have a lot of what you need to defend yourself or stage a surprise attack on your opponents or your audience.

Take a look at some of the suggested reading titles.  It is by no means a full list or even a big one, but they are all books that have helped me along on my own journey.  David Mills, author of Atheist Universe, stated somewhere in that book that Amazon has only about 400 atheist titles listed, so things are just getting started.  Dawkins and Dennett are getting up there in years and Hitchens is gone, so we will be relying on many of the young guns that are making waves right now, including Mills and people like Sam Harris and Michel Onfray.

Do yourself a favor:  read, read and read some more!  Jack Mathys, editor

How the Bible was Invented, by M. M. Mangasarian

(Summary and Highlights)

M. M. Mangasarian, 1859-1943, was a “reformed” minister who was active in the American rationalist and secular movements.  This short book was delivered as a lecture in Chicago in 1911 and still rings true today.

Mangasarian, of Armenian descent, claims here that the Bible “is an Oriental book” and therefore is full of lies and deception, much in keeping with the culture of the East.  And this is not only in the way the Bible was written, or “invented,” but in what it says.

Paul of the New Testament admits to being full of “craft and guile” and can be “all things to all men.”  In Thessalonians, Paul says that in support of Christianity, “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe in a lie.”  Even God is a liar and schemer.

The author also claims that early Christians plagiarized pagan literature, such as that of Seneca, Pliny, Tacitus and Marcus Aurelius, and put it into their own works.  An “age of literary fraud” characterized the first few centuries after Christ supposedly was crucified.  Mangasarian is openly indignant:  “when I picture to myself an Asiatic scribbler, a sectarian, a clown, a rogue, a cheat, tampering with the works of a dead master…defiling the thought of the philosopher with the foulness of his superstition!”

In the transition from paganism to Christianity, culminating with the reign of Constantine in the 4th century, many buildings, shrines, monuments, as well as many literary and philosophical works of the pagans were destroyed by the Christians–“whatever was deemed unfavorable to the new religion.”  Sound familiar??  Such actions were a fitting prelude for the totalitarian reign of Constantine!  After Christ (if Christ even existed), there were only a few hundred Christians in the world, but the religion slowly gained momentum until, under Constantine, it shook the world.  Very similar to the beginnings of the Nazi movement in Germany after the loss of World War I.

The Bible, a book the authorship of which is full of lies, deceit, manipulation, plagiarism and fraud, is even, according to the author, less moral than it is true.  “A book which commands murder, plunder, persecution for opinion sake, slavery and credulity of the most abject kind, can not very well be recommended as a moral text-book.”

It is indeed strange to read a “man of the cloth” stating that most of the stories in the Bible are “pure fabrications,” and that most of the authors were “myth-mongers” with personal and political agendas, hoping that their crimes would be glossed over in the name of “righteousness.”  

He even claims that the so-called authors of the four gospels were in fact long dead when the gospels were written, and that “religious partisans” used their names to disguise their forgeries and other misdeeds in presenting these works as inspired by God.

The Bible, fraudulent as it is and with a history that spans over twenty centuries, was certainly NOT the inspired word of God.  It was a collection of made-up or stolen stories, poems, parables and biographies, written by a bunch of hustlers and thieves with no scruples or hesitations, but with plenty of agendas–personal, political, cultural and social.  It is possible even the story of Christ is a total fabrication:  what evidence do we have that he even existed?  Very little and even that highly questionable.

“The Bible has for centuries blocked the way of progress.  As an infallible book it has enslaved conscience and encouraged intolerance..”

The tyranny of the Bible.  So many stories, so little truth, so little authenticity.  Perhaps the greatest scam, literary or otherwise, in the history of mankind.

Michel Onfray’s The Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam

Summary and Highlights:

Part One

One of the monumental works of modern atheist thought, Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto:  The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam is worth an in-depth look.  

Michel Onfray:  French, born 1959, author of over 50 books, all of them in French with rare translations into English, such as the Atheist Manifesto (2007).

The book begins with a rifle shot from the very first line after the title page, a quote from Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo:  “The concept of ‘God’ invented as a counter-concept of life…”  A “concept.”  An idea.  Something formed in the mind.  Whose mind?  God is man-made.  God made in man’s image and not the other way around.  And a “counter-concept of life”?  Something opposed or contrary to or wrong.  Man inventing his own destruction, but perhaps in order to avoid destruction or death.  The opposite of human life is God, made divine, all-knowing and all-powerful–all the things that mankind isn’t, in order to flee from death with dreams of living forever, like God and under His protection.  Man invented God, heaven, the soul, eternity–in order to escape the cycle of life and death.  A flight from life:  death-in-life.  

“The concept of the…immortal soul, invented in order to despise the body, to make it sick.”  Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden–clothing themselves after they realized they were naked.  The bite from the apple of the Tree of Knowledge.  They chose, Eve chose, knowledge over immortal life (the fruit of the Tree of Life), the greatest symbolic decision in the history of mankind, even though just a fable.  Knowledge is bad, the human body is bad–“Gosh, I could’ve had a bite from the Tree of Life!”  Adam and Eve sinned, according to the rules set down for them, by choosing knowledge over immortality.  Only the soul remained immortal, thus the body is to be despised, shamed, covered and punished.  But where is the soul?  The soul belongs to God (or Satan), so it doesn’t matter what happens to the body as long as the soul is prepared for God.  Is there anything to compare in hopelessness to such a rendering of life as a meaningless exercise in futility as we wait to die and join God in heaven?

Introduction

Onfray: “The invention of an afterlife would not matter so much were it not purchased at so high a price:  disregard of the real, hence willful neglect of the only world there is.”  “Atheism is in harmony with the earth.”  

Mankind got rid of death by doing away with it–by wishing it away, with wishful thinking and daydreaming, God and the afterlife, the spirit and the soul, heaven and hell.

Atheism is life-affirming, body-affirming, knowledge-affirming, whereas religion is nothing more than a fantasy, some say a delusion (which is, by the way, a mental illness (“Atheism is not therapy but restored mental health.”)).  Onfray’s main gripe is not so much with the individual believer–anyone is free to believe what they want, and if they want to fill their heads with fantasies, fables and delusions, they are welcome to it, although they are encouraged to think and work through it–but rather with those who turn those individual fantasies and fairy tales into something much more sinister and organized:

“My atheism leaps to life when private belief becomes a public matter, when in the name of a personal mental pathology we organize a world for others.  For between personal existential anguish and management of the body and soul of our fellow human beings, there exists a whole world in which those who profit from human anguish lurk in concealment.”

Religious leaders and churches compound the harm that is done to the individual by spreading the pathology, “like manure,” all over the world.  We are led by the nose by others whose agendas run far away from the me and him as they push their way into the world seeking to control and bodies and souls of others.  

We have ample evidence of what that entails–the purges, the genocide, the inquisitions, the banishments, even to the point of collaborating with a genocidal government like Nazi Germany.  To this day, the Catholic Church has failed to officially apologize for its role in the Holocaust, only recognizing the State of Israel in 1993.  

And all the way down to the money-grubbing, grandma-robbing televangelists, who prey on the old, the sick and the infirm day in and day out until they get every last penny some people have; money given to reaffirm a dream, money taken to buy a new Caddy.

Onfray champions a new Enlightenment, a new Age of Reason:  “Sound use of our understanding, rational ordering of our minds, implementation of a true critical will, general mobilization of our intelligence, the desire to evolve while standing on our own feet–all these are strategies for dispelling phantoms.”

In Texas, where I live, there is a yearly battle over school textbooks and what they will teach, specifically evolution versus or in addition to creative/intelligent design (just a fancy way of saying that God created the universe).  No other country goes through these kinds of battles over the minds of our kids, because virtually the rest of the civilized world recognizes the correctness of the evolutionary model of being and creation.  The U.S. is the only country where we are willfully trying to “dumb down” our own kids for the sake of a demented religio-political agenda; and our science and math test scores keep going down and down.  Moms and dads are willing to sacrifice the futures of their own kids in order to prove a pseudo-scientific point that has virtually no scientific support, anywhere, in order to advance their twisted religious views of how the rest of society ought to raise its kids and live its lives.

Onfray uses the term “atheology” to describe his modus operandi, the philosophical deconstruction of religion right down to its roots, using psychology and psychoanalysis, metaphysics, archaeology, paleography, history, mythology, and so on.

Atheology

Onfray believes we are in the midst of a “cult of nothingness,” an atmosphere of hopelessness and nihilism, of which the announcement (by the New York Times some 50 years ago) that “God is dead” is only a small component.  After all, can a fiction die?  Ask your religious friends how old God is.  Is it possible he could die, or has?  How do you know?  Why is it important if God is invisible or unknowable anyway?

The author puts it this way:  “God, manufactured by mortals in their own…image, exists only to make daily life bearable despite the path that every one of us treads towards extinction.”  So far from killing God, the illusion (or delusion) that is God “puts to death everything that stands up to him, beginning with reason, intelligence, and the critical mind.”  Remember our Tree of Knowledge–Eve sought knowledge, even at the price of mortality, and was punished for it.  Ironically, a noble act of rebellion that reverberates to this day.  Isn’t that what the whole abortion debate is over?  A woman chooses to control her own body using her critical thinking about the choices she has, and, ever since Roe v.Wade, has been shunned, shamed, bullied and put down, especially by other women (who know their place, yes!).  The battle over abortion has nothing to do with fetuses or babies; it’s entirely about misogyny and women’s rights, other people who think they know better how women should manage their bodies and what decisions they should make.  It is a manufactured mob rule instigated by preachers and hard-liners; it’s refusal to accept a Supreme Court ruling is just one example of how the rule of law means nothing to many of our citizens when pitted against a misguided religious zeal based on delusions and fantasies.

One of Onfray’s major points in the book is the association between religion and death:  “Creation of the divine coexists with terror of the void in a life that must end.”  Religion is born of fear, not only of daily dangers and thoughts of future dangers, but from fear of our final end–death, termination, extinction.  Denial turns death into a new beginning, and so is born God, heaven, the spirit and the afterlife.  Onfray believes that belief and disbelief were simultaneously born:  God and the devil, life or no life after death.  Atheism rejects the fiction of God that man invented in order to flee a certain mortality.

From the beginning, the authorities used these fictions to consolidate their power over their subjects, a point brought home by Hobbes and Spinoza.  If the leader says that God exists and He is on the side of the earthly throne, then all who disbelieve are anti-social rebels to be cast out or cast aside.  As most of the words used to describe atheists are negative–impious, unbeliever, miscreant–the life-affirming and positive aspects of atheism are never given a chance to show forth.  Belief in God soon becomes a government imperative in order to keep the sheep inside the pen.  Onward Christian soldiers!

While ridiculing and ostracizing atheists, religionists have come up with some completely novel ways of worshipping their god or gods, and with impunity:  Roman cults of filth, farts and sewers, cow dung and urine used by the Hindus in their ceremonies, even Ezekiel had a recipe (inspired by God, of course) for using human waste in cooking.  Weird, huh?  But at least they aren’t atheists!

The few times in the history of Christianity when unbelievers had the upper hand were short-lived, such as the French Revolution in the late 18th century, when churches were turned into hospitals and schools, and atheists were free to write as they pleased without fear of blowback.  The term “atheist” throughout much of Western history was attached to anyone who resisted the norm, authority or the rules of society.  As Onfray puts it, “The atheist was a man free in God’s eyes–and ultimately free to deny God’s existence.”  What could be more liberating than to refuse to participate in the mass stupidity and infantilism that created the fictions of God, the angels, heaven and hell, everlasting life and answered prayers??  American cinema always seemed to make a hero out of the strong, silent, smart loner-types; and, although it cannot be said that any great films with a great hero were ever made on the subject of atheism, it can be asserted that you seldom saw such a man or woman praying or calling out to God when things went south or got rough.  The “atheist” has been brought up to be an anti-social loner with a mean streak and libertine ways–it’s high time atheists formed a more cohesive unit, communicating and networking with one another in order to try to stave off the constant threat of theocracy in our schools, our courts, our Congress and our White House.

Onfray recommends to his readers several early works: Jean Meslier, whose book entitled Memoir:  Clear and Evident Demonstrations of the Vanity and Falsity of All the Religions of the World, was published after his death, in 1729 (From Common Sense:  “If they would but take the trouble to sound the principles upon which this pretended science (theology) rests itself, they would be compelled to admit that the principles which were considered incontestable, are but hazardous suppositions, conceived in ignorance, propagated by enthusiasm or bad intention, adopted by timid credulity, preserved by habit, which never reasons, and revered solely because it is not comprehended.”  Baron d’Holbach, The System of Nature, 1770 (he also wrote Good Sense Without God, from which one can glean:  “…religion is the art of turning the attention of mankind upon subjects they can never comprehend.” “When the brain is troubled, they believe everything, and examine nothing.”).  Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 1841, in which he asserts that men created God in their own, opposite or inverted, image.  We are weak, God is all-powerful, etc.  “Religion thus becomes the exploitation par excellence of man’s vulnerability to deception.”  

And then comes Nietzsche:  “For the first time, radical and well-thought-out post-Christian thinking appeared on the Western landscape.”  Nietzsche went beyond a mere assertion of atheism:  he claimed a new set of morals, a new value system was needed–God is no more, now what?  In order to go beyond mere nihilism we need to follow the path of atheism where it leads.   And where it leads is towards a life-affirming, fearless new chapter in philosophy:  a new Enlightenment based on reason, critical thinking and a deconstruction of (especially) the new anti-philosophy that threatens to usher us right back into the Dark Ages.

Onfray believes we are in the beginning stages of a “post-Christian era,” as we now sit somewhere in the transitional phase from Christian to post-Christian.  Whereas atheism and philosophy look to the future, religion still looks to the past, insisting on imposing its rigors, fables and fictions, social and cultural conservatism, on one and all, while remaining politically reactionary and personally nostalgic.  It is no longer Jews and Christians against Islam, but rather all monotheisms against a new progressive atheism hell-bent on saving the world from being destroyed by religion!

Our current age Onfray characterizes as “nihilistic,” and perhaps mostly because we are nearing the end of the Christian era marked by violence, hatred, discrimination, brutality of the worst kind for the last thirty centuries.  Everything is permitted because there is a God, in the name of God.

“God’s existence, it seems to me, has historically generated in his name more battles, massacres, conflicts and wars than peace, serenity, brotherly love, forgiveness of sins, and tolerance.” 

He makes an interesting point:  while the current age is decidedly not atheistic, the Judeo-Christian man or woman on the street has for a while been allowed to study and discuss many theological issues without priestly intercession; those who look forward to a post-Christian era should be wary that irrational beliefs and superstitions may become exaggerated by the so-called “mob” left to its own devices, as it were, possibly ushering in a new period of Inquisition and persecution of non-believers and “infidels”: “…their former subjects remain submissive, manufactured, formatted by two millennia of history and ideological domination.”

Our society, such as medical care and the courts, is still based largely on a Judeo-Christian ethic.  Look at the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court, in which Justice Alito decided with four other male justices that the owners of Hobby Lobby did not have to pay for contraceptive care for female employees because the Green family, which owns the chain, held a “sincere religious belief” that life begins at conception (not even a religious belief, but a pseudo-scientific opinion)!  Our courts are based on the notion described in the very first book of the Bible–men and women have free will, and if they choose to do evil instead of good, they will be punished for their crime if they are held responsible.

Religion is so deeply imbedded in our culture and in almost everyone’s psyche.

“Man is forbidden to seek awareness; he should be content to believe and obey.  He must choose faith over knowledge, suppress all interest in science, and instead prize submission and obediance.”

Onfray recommends an “atheistic atheism,” that is, instead of a bellicose denial of God shouted at the top of our lungs, a going to work on “postconflict reconstruction.”  “Negation of God is not an end in itself, but a means of working toward a post-Christian or frankly secular ethic,” one that builds new paradigms to work and live by.  It’s one thing to say there is no God, it’s quite another to live it out ethically and morally.

“The next step is to formulate a new ethic and produce the conditions for a true post-Christian morality in the West–a morality in which the body is not a punishment; the earth ceases to be a vale of tears; this life is no longer a tragedy; pleasure stops being a sin; women, a curse; intelligence, a sign of arrogance, a passport to hell.”

Monotheisms

When the gods of the three main monotheisms were created, they were done so in man’s own image, faults and all: “violent, jealous, vengeful, misogynistic, aggressive, tyrannical, intolerant…”  Onfray returns to one of the main points of his book:  God was invented so man could avoid death, so man could live after death, so man could defeat death.  And the result is:  “Their glorification of a (fictional) beyond prevents full enjoyment of the (real) here below.  And what motivates them? The death instinct and unceasing variations on that theme.”

“Live for today” we used to say in the ’60’s.  What I didn’t realize then was that this statement could not be more secular; for the Christian lives…for tomorrow!  Disdaining the body and all its pleasures, waging war to provoke an end-time scenario, dreaming of an afterlife having sex with 72 virgins after blowing oneself up in a crowded Tel Aviv neighborhood, all this because life begins at death for the believer!  What could be sadder and more pathetic?  A wasted life in anticipation of a fiction based on a lie.

“Religion proceeds from the death wish.”  And from the death wish comes all manner of self-destructive behavior, violence and murder; Onfray thinks this is a result of the self-hatred that religion generates:  hatred of the body, of intelligence, and a love or liking of everything that “stands in the way of a gratified subjectivity.”  “Life crucified and nothingness exalted.”

The story of Adam and Eve (in all three books of the monotheisms) was, and is, the most devastating and destructive fiction in the history of literature.  Hatred of intelligence, hatred of women, hatred of a failure to submit and be obedient, hatred of the human body, guilt and punishment. Knowing good and evil, having wisdom (from eating an apple?  Come on!), put Adam and Eve on a par with God, and for that, but mainly for their disobedience (if they were thinking clearly maybe they should have rushed over and eaten from the Tree of Life to achieve immortality before they were condemned!), they were banished forever from the Garden.

The reality Adam and Eve and their progeny faced was full of proscriptions and taboos and rules for living, many of them listed in the books but many more invented by the men who worked as middle men for God, the priests and church hierarchy.  A race that messed up the very first chance they had to obey God was beset by guilt from the onset and had to be, from then on, guided through life.  

And so came along the priests and holy men, every bit as devious, manipulating, mendacious, thieving and self-serving as the men who put the bibles together.  Every aspect of life, from what eat to what to wear, even how to wash, had a rule, and mankind had to submit in order to prove his allegiance to God and to the one true religion.  Man’s will was thus put in a prison of social, physical and cultural restraints; is it any wonder, then, the zeal men displayed when called upon to help “correct” the heretics, witches and unbelievers?

In addition to this, books Christianity did not like were burned, sometimes along with the intellectuals and philosophers who wrote them.  Knowledge and learning was restricted to the main book, and those who sought knowledge for its own sake had to take cover.  “Refusal of the Enlightenment characterizes the monotheist religions:  they prefer mental night for the nurturing of their fables.”  (As late as 1976 in Iran, church leaders put out a statement that the earth was flat and that anyone saying differently was a heretic!)

In about the 5th century A.D., Leucippus and Democritus led the way to the discovery of the atom and the theory that matter is made up of atoms, leading to, among other things, Epicurean physics and the materialist philosophy.  Validated by modern science, this “philosophical atom” presented an early affront to the Christian notion of the immaterial soul; while science has moved on, the Church has not!  Early Christians chose to attack Epicurus and his followers (the messengers) in order to discredit materialism; somebody’s filthy little mind transcribed the Epicurean creed of pleasure into sexual liaisons with….animals!  The Church has maligned, tortured and assassinated materialists all through the ages, and Onfray suggests that the doctrine of transubstantiation may have something to do with it as well:  the bread and the wine are not actually there, although the blood and body of Christ is!  Matter that is there is not there, but we are tricked into thinking it is there by the characteristics of liquid and bread, and what is not there is there–real and substantial.

“Materialism is still on the prohibited list of the contemporary church.”!  The monotheisms, and Christianity in particular, have been a heavy millstone around the neck of science and scientific inquiry for about 2000 years now.  For the churches, there was but one science book required:  The Bible, and anything that contradicted what the bibles contained was dealt with accordingly–just think Galileo, polygenesis, atomism, etc.

“The believers’ condemnation of scientific truths–the atomist theory, the materialist option, heliocentric astronomy, geological dating, transformation of species, evolution, psychoanalytic therapy, genetic revolution–all loudly proclaimed the triumph of Paul of Tarsus, who had called for knowledge to pass away.”

Two fantasies of particular interest are angels and heaven, or paradise, created as the perfect and spiritual opposites of life on earth.  They are common to all three monotheisms, but Islam takes first prize for the splendor and extravagance of its paradise.  It seems that all the rules Muslims follow on earth are forgotten about in paradise, where you can eat and drink whatever you want, where coolness is eternal and there’s a virgin in every bed.  This is what the suicide bombers look forward to:”…falsehoods so improbable as to stagger even the meanest intelligence.”

Is it any surprise that all three monotheisms excel at misogyny?  In early August of 2014, when this summary and review was written, a Somalian woman was killed by Muslim militants for refusing to wear a veil, as required by her religion.  What is more important than a woman’s life?  Answer (from the gunman):  adhering to the law of the Koran, especially if you happen to be a woman, the source of all sin, all desire, all rebellion.  It seems that Eve touched a nerve in a the male ego when she led the way to gaining knowledge of good and evil.  It was Eve who negotiated with the serpent; it was Eve who decided to try the fruit and disobey God; it was Eve who tempted Adam to do the same and cause the Fall of Man; it was Eve who, against all prohibitions, chose reason and wisdom over eternal life and a slave-like obedience to God.

Men haven’t yet gotten over the shame of being second in line at the food court.  The Koran, for example, doesn’t even mention the first woman’s name.  Blamed for the Original Sin, woman has been punished, put down and subordinated ever since, good only for cooking and making babies.  It is easy to see how Muslim women are treated today, as revealed above; and the Christian woman?  The Church and other Fundamentalists are still trying to control women’s bodies (see the June 30, 2014 Hobby Lobby decision by the U.S. Supreme Court), still trying to make sure they have as many babies as possible, still treating them as second-class citizens in the work place.  This also explains why the Church refuses to face facts about homosexuals, hating them as much as it hates abortion and birth control.

Freud, of course, had a field day with all this.  The male fear of castration:  if Eve could squeeze the balls of God and tell Him to shove off, how will she treat the man if she isn’t controlled by religion?

CHRISTIANITY

There is no historical proof that Jesus ever existed.  The few Roman authors who mentioned him cannot be substantiated, as the name of Jesus came up in copies of their works several centuries after his alleged killing, just coincidentally during the ascent of Christianity in Rome.  All during the first century there was tension between the Jews and the Roman oligarchy, culminating in the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70.  With no military or other brute power with which to fight the Romans, early Christians resorted to a time-honored tactic in wartime:  propaganda.  Thus was the myth of Jesus Christ born.

End of Part One (TO BE CONTINUED…)

Ghost Wars, by Steve Coll

(Summary and Highlights)

An intensely-researched study of American policy in Afghanistan from 1978 until the eve of 9/11, Steve Coll’s (Coll is a journalist and Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, a winner of two Pulitzer prizes and a National Book Award) Ghost Wars shows how we got into that mess in the first place, and how, by our alliances, future blowback led to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks on the United States, its embassies, ships, troops, and other interests.

The amazing thing about this book is that Coll draws or makes no conclusions. He presents the evidence and allows the reader to decide. Many of his interviewees do give their opinions, but there is a reader’s advantage here: we can take all the information in and see a larger picture forming.

Our conclusions may differ, and while the evidence sometimes points in several different directions at once, the average reader MUST come to certain conclusions regarding how the Soviet war in Afghanistan started, which side WE were on and what we did to support that side, and how we conducted our foreign policy after the Soviets withdrew.

Coll carefully and with full documentation shows us how the Carter administration, and in particular National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, thought it would be great fun if we could somehow suck the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan, which that country did in 1979. We assisted, armed, gave money to and trained rebels (the mujahideen) who at that time were fighting against a new communist government in Afghanistan which had the full support of the Soviets. It got to the point where the Soviet army had to step in and help prop up the government, and they found themselves in a full-scale war for 10 years.

The Americans, particularly the CIA and the State Department, joined with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as the three main supporters of the rebel alliance (well, “alliance” is hardly the word for it, as rebel leaders fought against each other probably more than they fought the Soviets). We knew the people we were supporting were Islamic Fundamentalists and extremists (Bin Laden’s gang eventually joined up with the rebels), but we chose what we saw as the lesser of two evils.

One of the main sub-stories to all of this was the infusion of extremists from Saudi Arabia into Pakistan and Afghanistan to train and fight in the battle against the communist government and the Soviets. After the Soviets eventually pulled out of Afghanistan (they lost the war just as surely as we lost Vietnam), the elder Bush administration virtually ignored Afghanistan, although a civil war was raging between former rebel leaders. About the only issue that continued to interest us in that area was BUYING BACK OUR OWN STINGER MISSILES. Up to $150K per missile. We supplied around 800 missiles to the rebels, in addition to countless rifles, grenade-launchers, ammunition, etc., so we already paid for them once. After the Soviets left we wanted them back so they couldn’t use them to shoot down OUR planes and helicopters!

A new group, allied with Bin Laden, called the Taliban (“The Students”), gained in strength and took over a large portion of southern Afghanistan. It was from this base in Afghanistan that Bin Laden planned and launched his terrorist attacks against the U.S., and eventually, 9/11.

A good portion of the book is devoted to the Clinton administration’s efforts (or lack thereof) to capture or assassinate Bin Laden as he moved about Afghanistan (including an early use of missile-laden drones). Again and again the CIA had zeroed in on Bin Laden, and again and again Clinton failed to push the “go” button. Bin Laden hated the U.S. mainly because it put military bases in his home country of Saudi Arabia.  Saudia Arabia is the home country of Islam’s most sacred site, Mecca.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, supposedly our friends throughout the war with the Soviet Union and after, were shown by Coll to be anything but. Pakistan supported the Taliban as it grew in strength and political power, and provided warnings to Bin Laden concerning planned attacks on him or his compounds. As we know, Bin Laden was living in Pakistan when he was killed.