Saturday, November 26, 2011

Agonizing Over Fear

In this moment, you are safe if you choose to believe it. Look around you, are you in imminent physical danger either because of another person, a natural disaster or a potentially risky and life-threatening job responsibility? No, then you are safe. Is there someone verbally assaulting you, reprimanding you or in any way accosting your sensibilities? No, then you are safe. Does the fact that you want to go beyond your comfort zone to experience something new and different produce a horrifying outcome in your mind? Is the likelihood of any of those things happening a by product of your day should you engage in them? Possibly, but not likely unless you or something coincidentally sets into motion that disastrous thing which you think is about to happen. Your fear is about giving credence to the possibility of something bad happening.

So, reasonably speaking, why are you succumbing to fear when logically the possibility of anything bad happening to you probably won't? My experience has taught me that the majority of the time it's the fear of the unknown. Somewhere along the line, someone has helped you to believe that the unknown is worth being frightened about. The more fear you feel the deeply you believed that message. And the more you've allowed your brain to repeatedly lay down the tracks of that self-destructive message making it harder to shake the fear when it raises its ugly head.

I don't want to imply that all fear and anxiety is not warranted or even exactly as I have described it above. Certainly situations that are dangerous and life threatening are worthy of feeling a healthy dose of fear. In addition, physical illnesses and chemical imbalances occurring in your brain can also produce the sensation of fear with absolutely nothing being contributed by you or your external environment.

Anxiety disorders, panic attacks, nervousness... these are all different ways of describing the physical condition that can be experienced when in the throes of that feeling that seems to want to push you over the edge with fear. Having an anxiety disorder is a real condition, one that I was afflicted with for many years finding absolutely no relief from but came to understand that there were many ways to gain control through medication and/or cognitive behavioral therapy. Medication, even though beneficial, was not what had the most impact on me. The biggest reasons I was able to achieve my current some what stable frame of mind in reference to fear and anxiety was learning and understanding how to cope, control and discover why I felt anxiety about certain situations. Luckily and through many hard years, I've found answers for myself and about myself that have helped me to keep the fear and the anxiety far away from determining what kind of life I wanted to experience. The situations I'd like to touch on are not about fear that is being experienced due to a medical condition and as such, would caution that if you are dealing with that type of anxiety, please understand this piece is not meant to diagnose or prescribe how you should deal with it. The situations I describe are my own personal conclusions that I have come to about some forms of fear.

There are two sides to everything, fear being no exception. Utilizing fear as a precaution gives one a feeling of commanding one's surrounding, but when you are immobilized in our own being due to an exaggeration of that precaution, then it has slipped into the negative arena that just holds you hostage, emotionally and sometimes physically. The chemical interactions go hay wire and you allow yourself to be dragged down a path of anxiousness that seems to offer no hope of escape.

Having the ability to fear something realistically imminent is not a problem, but when you have a baseless fear, that is something that is troublesome. Again, it could be because of something that is beyond your control chemically but in the case where it is unwarranted and only created because you have a fear of the unknown, then I think it might be time for you to stop what you are allowing yourself to feed into and truly, really examine what you are doing in support of that fear. The fear is keeping you from engaging with reality and it is allowing you to be less than what you are capable of achieving next. Don't go that route because it keeps you from going in the direction of being the best possible you that you can be. Cliche sounding, but true.

Fearing something just because it is unknown doesn't help you achieve what you yearn for nor does it help you fulfill what you could potentially be capable of, it only serves to keep you at a level of mediocrity. If that is all you are satisfied with, then cool - you have arrived. However, if mediocre is not how you want to define yourself then you have to realistically understand that continuing to fear the unknown and not striving to get past that fear means you are settling for mediocrity. You will remain stuck where you are and watch (from the sidelines) what you could potentially be in the thick of, get further and further out of your reach.

If you want more than what you see for yourself now, don't agonize about your fear. Take a good hard look at it and push through that mask of what is scaring the bejeezus out of you and knock it down. Get to the other side of what you are afraid of and claim victory over what has held you back before. Grab on and hold on, keep moving in the direction of what you know makes you happy and satisfied. Discovering that having courage is more rewarding than allowing fear to dictate what your life experiences should be; truly living your potential is what it's all about. Fear should only be a reaction to things you encounter that could be potentially damaging or dangerous. It shouldn't be your response to how you live your life or a reaction to opportunities that present themselves to you.

So don't hesitate. Put one foot in front of the other and let the unknown be a challenge that you want to meet head on. No more agony, only facing what stands between you and your achievements. Let the rewards that come with them be your satisfaction.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Religionized Democracy: Current State of Affairs

Can we truly be a Democratic society if we run our country based on religious concepts and not a country based on the idea 
of separation of church and state? would define democracy as a type of government that is run by the people and one in which people are the supreme power; power would be exercised by them or their elected agents under a free electoral system. As it is a government of the people, it would follow that it would be invested in the success of all the people. However, democracies are generally of the opinion that majority rules and it does not guarantee that people will have an equal say or favorable outcome in those decisions that affect their lives. The United States is a representative Republic and as such, attempts to protect the voices of the minority. It operates within many of the essences of a democracy, thereby cherry picking the best of both forms in its current state of being.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The first amendment clearly gives the citizenry of the United States the right to practice or believe whatever they choose, but it also clearly tells them that the government shall not give favor to one religion over another or permit any faction of religion to be a ruling force in our government or in the nation within the context of that freedom. The government takes a neutral or secular stance in all levels of government on the issue of religion. Rather, it should take that position, but, too often, we are seeing that is not the case within the framework of our current government and, in particular, the election process.

The United States citizenry is made up of all different cultures, ethnicities and having a wide variety of religious affiliations. Pew Forum's U.S. ReligiousLandscape Survey, which draws primarily on a nationwide survey conducted from May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007, finds the largest majority (83%) of our citizens identify as religious; 78.4% considering themselves as being Christians. The remaining 17% minority claims to either not believe in or identify with a particular religion or didn’t know their religious status. While a majority of the citizens claiming a religious affiliation are not the issue, the assumption by that majority that religion should play a large part in government is the problem.

Religion and politics should remain separate, but one only needs to look to the current crop of Republican contenders for the presidency of 2012, who wear their religious identification on their sleeves, and listen to their speeches - one can see that is not what is happening in the United States right now. The Democrats are just as guilty of using religion at every opportunity as a means to getting elected. When either party gives a speech peppered with religiosity and ends with “God Bless America” they are pandering to the base that will see to it they are elected. We watch as religion is being employed as the driving force behind using our citizens to bypass what our Founding Fathers had originally intended. The fact that they use their religion to attain a seat in any position of government reflects how this country’s original dialog and the basis of our freedoms are not being upheld in today’s society. Politicians have the right to a religious belief of their choosing, but they also have the obligation when seeking public office to act as proxy to all of their constituents by respecting the constitution in that election process.

Article 6 of the Constitution states: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." After the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was proclaimed on July 21, 1868, its Article 6 became binding on individual states. The religious requirement clauses in state constitutions became null and void. The 14th Amendment stated:  "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." Yet, there are still some state clauses that proclaim that if a person doesn’t have faith in a god he or she would not be eligible to run for office. Some of the states still using a religious test include: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee & Texas. In Pennsylvania, the statute reads: Pennsylvania, Article I, Section 4: No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth. This doesn’t say that a person claiming no religious affiliation could be disqualified, but rather, that believers can’t be disqualified. The fact that this language is even present in any laws, specifically as there is no religious test for office, is a testament to the unwillingness of religious forces to remove religion from our politics and keep the original secular intent in place.

In recent and past history, many political figures have, in fact, come out publicly, that religion should play an important part in our politics in spite of the illegality of demanding it as a requirement to hold office. On March 27, 2011, Newt Gingrich, in a speech at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX, said “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." The implication being that we should only be a Christian nation and not one of mixture and variety of faiths or non-faiths.

On August 27, 1987 in Chicago, IL, George Bush said the following to Robert I. Sherman, a reporter for the American Atheist news journal: Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God. Sherman (somewhat taken aback): Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church? Bush: Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists. In his demonization of atheists, his statements conflict with the idea that he supports a separation of church and state and, in the process, denigrates a segment of the population.

Pat Buchanan attempted to run for President in 1992, 1996 and 2000, but was also not successful in his bid. Nevertheless, Buchanan injects his faith into discussions where he can. One example, while speaking before the Christian Coalition in 1993, he said “Our culture is superior. Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free.”  He continued his rhetoric out on the campaign trail while speaking at an anti-gay rally in Des Moines, IA on February 11, 1996. “We're going to bring back God and the Bible and drive the gods of secular humanism right out of the public schools of America.” This type of campaigning, where it is perfectly acceptable to use one’s ideology in getting elected to a political office, goes completely against what our constitution stands for.

The fact that the 78.4% of our country is made up of Christians is not lost on politicians. They capitalize on seeming to be one of the faithful and show disdain for those who do not share their faith. The citizens who are hearing these statements and identify with the sentiments will ultimately, with their vote, support the point of view of that politician. Those campaigning are attempting to influence the majority in this country using their religion and ignoring what was intended in the founding of our country.

This country was established with a secular government in mind; ensuring that the rights of all were to be recognized. However, our society, although democratic in nature, is not upholding the democratic ideal of the separation of church and state if it allows campaigns to run under the pretense that religion is allowed to infiltrate the process. When we allow religious overtones to permeate campaign rhetoric and also let the religious influences dictate how affairs are conducted in governmental offices, this country is no longer based on the idea of separation of church and state.

The United States considers itself a democracy and the virtue of its society characterized by a formal equality of rights and privileges. If those rights and privileges of the non-religious and/or other religions are being denied in favor of Christianity only, we do not have a democracy guaranteeing a government for or by the people; and the ideal of a representative republic, in which minority rights are protected from the tyranny of the majority, is a complete fiction.

Also published at Atheism Resource

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

To Hitch

Seeing just a sampling of those Hitch has inspired in his lifetime and being a witness to his public struggles with this disease makes me ache with compassion for him. Death, although escaping it not being an option, the shock of knowing it will happen to someone who has influenced so many, still touches a place deep within and brings forth tears that flow freely with that thought.

Here's my 'Raise Your Glass' homage to Hitch...

It is inevitable that we must all die and I can accept that. Yours may come sooner than you certainly have thought and something, I hadn’t expected to happen for a long time. Here’s hoping that it is later rather than sooner and that your suffering will not be more than you have already had to endure.

I’m sure that I will not be saying anything new or something you haven’t heard before but, before you go, I wanted you to know how deeply your thoughts have touched me and how well you articulated the words that have inspired me. Reading them in your books, hearing them in your speeches, debates and interviews connected to my own thoughts on a very deep level. These things have helped me to remain firm in my resolve to openly speak out with confidence and passion, as I have been witness to seeing you do many times. Being on the receiving end of all you have shared has been a positive experience for me and for that I thank you. You have had a powerful influence on my life and helped to guide it with great honesty.

Even when you are no longer with us, you will continue to help shape the minds of those who will, in turn, give voice to the next in line. For that, I thank you, too.

I’m not part of your inner circle, I know, but I hope these words can still convey the depth of my compassion and gratitude I have always had and that it can give some comfort during this more than crappy time in your life.

As always, my wish and hope for you is that the end to your life will be a far away event, but if that is not to be, then I just wanted to let you know just how immensely impactful you have been to me.

Thank you for being you and sharing the best of you with me, with us.

To you, Hitch. Take care, much love... always.