Easy Faith?

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On Christmas day I had a lively, though-provoking theological discussion with one of my best friends, a man who possesses a keen intellect and a good heart. He is an agnostic, I am a Christian, and this difference in belief leads to many late night debates. We respect one another, so there is no hint of rancor or accusation.

We discussed the nature of free will, which is something that always makes my head hurt. If all things work for God’s good, then how does sin affect outcomes?  How does evil work for good? Mankind is doomed to sin because it is inherent to our nature. God knows we will sin, when we will do so, and how that works out for us in the end. In my extensive experience with sin, short term bliss leads to pain at some point. How does this serve the greater plan? I have no idea.

I told my friend “Everything happens for a reason, and sometimes the reason is that we make dumb choices.Yet even these bad decisions transform into good in the end. Maybe not for us, though. There are infinite choices, and a myriad of outcomes… some are better than others within our own lifetimes.”

My friend wasn’t buying it. “What about a greater scale, then? Let’s take Hitler, for example. How does Hitler’s existence work for the greater good? The death of six million of God’s chosen people, along with Americans, Russians, English, French, Japanese and Germans? Explain that to me, please.”

“Well,” I replied, stalling, “Hitler chose to be evil. He murdered millions, which was clearly contrary to the will of God. The suffering Hitler unleashed will reverberate for centuries. But on a grander scale than that, perhaps there was a reason we cannot perceive.”

“Nonsense.”

“Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. We are too close to a thing to see the truth in it.”

“We’re not talking about trees. We’re talking about living, breathing people. Women and children. The truth is they died.”

“There were better possible outcomes,” I said, feeling the hollowness of the answer. “But in the end…”

“I wish I had your easy faith,” said my good friend.

“Easy faith?”

“It looks that way to me. You retreat into your faith when logic fails.” True.

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Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Faith is the cornerstone of Christianity. Without it, nothing else matters. We trust because we must. Because without that leap of faith, the world feels gray and mean, drained of color and life. Faith itself defies logical thinking. Yet our propensity for faith is as great as our vulnerability to evil.

We are the race of Mozart, Shakespeare, Rembrandt and Einstein. Creativity flows through our veins, itself a kind of faith, a force which propels us to seek the truth beyond what we see before us. Faith is a reward in itself, for it makes the world a brighter place.

Faith is not easy.

Clashes of faith have been a bane of mankind’s existence, and I think God’s least favorite words are “Holy War.”  Faith should not be a weapon, and when it is used as such, it makes the world darker and harder for those of us who cling to our beliefs in the face of hardship and doubt and the rampant evil in this place.

My friend is right, though. I do retreat into my faith. I remember the connection I have felt with the creator, moments that I cannot explain in any other way. I’ve seen miracles. I’ve watched the sun rise over the Rocky Mountains, felt the kiss of joy on an endless blue ocean, and witnessed my sons born into this world.  Faith is a singing feeling in my chest, a smile in my soul, and when it is strong, it is glorious.

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I stumble  and fall too often and my steps are not sure, my path unclear, and I lose my way in the forest. The truth surrounds me though, and just because I cannot see a thing does not make it less real. When the darkness presses in upon me, it is then I need my faith the most. Perhaps for me, having faith is indeed easier than living bereft of hope.

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http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

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Know Your Enemy

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The world is reeling In the wake of terror attacks in Pakistan, Canada, and Australia. The slaughter of more than 130 children at a school in Peshawar is evil incarnate, and it is impossible to see the images of those small coffins without feeling rage and sadness. These terrorists systematically slaughtered kids in a school. It will happen again until this brand of extreme Islam is stamped out. This enemy is relentless and hungry, and there is nothing but evil in him. Bring on the waterboarding.

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, there was little outcry around the world. I recall watching a few stories on the news about them at the time. It wasn’t until 9-11 that we started paying attention here in the United States. More than a decade later, we are still engaging these evil sons of bitches. They receive funding from a global network of “charities,” as well as weapons and training from nations. Pakistan itself divides the Taliban into separate categories, with the “good Taliban” waging jihad outside their own borders.

I keep hearing about the moderate, decent Muslims around the world who insist that Islam is a peaceful religion. This may be true in theory but it is most certainly not true in practice. ISIS  is spreading like a virulent disease, sweeping through Syria and Iraq, lopping off heads, raping and killing with wanton abandon. Where are the voices of protest from the streets of Jerusalem, the cries of outrage in Tehran? When will we see edicts from a group of the most influential clerics calling for war against these dangerous killers which threaten to plunge the world into darkness? The west cannot wage this war alone.

Other religions have their share of blood on their hands. Christianity has been perverted to wage war and commit atrocities. The Inquisition was terrible, and the Crusades stained countless battlefields with blood. Even now, there are nut-case extremist people who call themselves Christians who say awful things, advocate violence, and make other people of faith look evil by association. Here’s the thing, though. Other Christians jump all over these fringe crazies, ostracize them and isolate them. Whether you are Catholic or not, it’s hard to say that the Pope is an evil, violent man who is pushing for war.

Islam needs to come together to reclaim their religion. They need to say, “enough is enough, these terrorists do not represent our beliefs, and here is why…” And they need to act upon it. Stop funding these extremists, cease giving safe haven to terror groups, put the Imams in jail who are brainwashing kids to strap bombs to themselves. So far, though, the world has seen little in the way of Islam policing itself. There is too much resentment of the west, too much distaste for Christians, years of bottled up anger seething beneath the surface of placid smiles.

Only light can drive out the darkness. Only love can defeat hate. When I see videos of an innocent reporter getting his head sawed off, when I see these little children covered in blood, I admit I feel hate rising in me. I don’t want it, but it’s there. I try not to make generalizations, I try to keep an open mind and believe that most people are decent and kind. If these terror groups hope to instill fear, I believe they are failing. They instill hate. They want a religious war, and in the end, they will have it, dragging the world into it with them, consuming our humanity.

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I hold my young boys tight, and when I see them playing Army together, sometimes I have tears in my eyes because I fear what they will be doing in ten years. I fear that this war will be upon us, and my boys will be carrying  real assault rifles and keeping their heads down because darkness has already won.

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Torture and the Terrorist

There is a great deal of howling and gnashing of teeth regarding the Senate Intelligence Committee’s recent report which details the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used to obtain information from terror suspects over the last decade. The report reveals some practices that many people find objectionable. China and Russia are wagging fingers and calling the United States out for hypocrisy. Senator John McCain stated that our country has lost its honor. I’m fairly liberal on most issues. This is not one. Call me a hypocrite.

The Senate report delves into the treatment of 119 detainees. Not thousands, not hundreds. 119 men. I understand that the rule of law is important to our civilization. I respect human rights and civil liberties, and I am thankful I live in a nation which champions those causes around the globe. I understand the danger of a slippery slope. I don’t like the idea of a shadowy organization beholden to none operating at will, subverting our values.

On the other hand…

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If sleep deprivation and water boarding could have prevented 9-11, would it have been justified? To save thousands of lives, would it be acceptable to force a terror suspect to listen to Brittany Spears music until his ears bleed? How much collateral damage is too much? How many innocent lives are lost every month in the ongoing war on terror? How many American troops have fallen fighting Al Queda?

Remember these guys? I wish they’d been strapped into a chair on September Tenth, a burly Special Forces operator beating them to a fruit-juicy pulp before they decided to hop on planes and kill thousands of people.

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This is war. It’s a different kind of war than all of our nation’s previous engagements. The enemy crosses borders at will, from the mountains of Pakistan, the rocks and valleys of Afghanistan, to the deserts of Africa. This enemy is motivated by hatred and religious zeal, and is plotting against us right now. This foe will not hesitate to kill innocents, to torture and maim women and children, and his goal is nothing short of the complete destruction of our way of life. He hides behind children, wears no uniform, and melts into the crowds of the market or subway. He likes to blow things up, and is willing to strap a bomb to himself, inflicting the highest amount of damage possible with ball-bearings that fly out in all directions, tearing through flesh and bone. There is no mercy in him.

This is who we fight. An enemy with no fear of death, who in fact takes comfort in the promised rewards of martyrdom in the afterlife. This war is only just beginning, and will continue to rage for the rest of this century.

I fear America has lost its stomach for war. If war were not necessary, this would be a good thing. Peace comes through strength, though. War is brutish and ugly, and sometimes the only choices are between two evils. In World War II, bombs killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. In Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden, the United States unleashed firestorms. The goal was to win the war. It was awful, yet brutally effective.

I don’t mind that these terrorists were subjected to torture. Some things should remain secret. I sleep better at night knowing there are soldiers standing at the gates against the barbarians.

Racism in America

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We can deny a thing, but this does not make it any less true. Racism exists  and continues to shape America, and while some still dispute this, it remains a fact.  Can we, as a people, overcome this legacy, or is the nation doomed to repeat the same mistakes repeatedly, inventing new tragedies along the way?

Racism is more than one thing.

There are different kinds of racism, but at it’s core is a generalization, a stereotype, which is used to define an entire group of people based upon ethnicity. It is limiting, reducing the content of a person’s character to the color of their skin.

Institutional Racism

When racism is codified, when the promise of equal protection under the law is broken, the country itself is undermined.Police officers shoot and kill unarmed kids without consequence. Racial profiling. Gerrymandering in minority areas to split up districts so that the vote is diluted. The inequities in our Criminal Justice system in which black offenders are far more likely than Anglos to receive harsh sentences. The disparity in funding for schools and education between affluent areas and inner cities. Institutional racism dates back to the origins of our country, when slaves were deemed to be less than human. The Emancipation Proclamation began to address this, and the Jim Crow laws were finally repealed, and the Voting Rights Act was a great step toward dismantling institutional racism. It lingers, still, though, and all you have to do is flip through cable news to see it.

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This is directly linked to economics. Poverty perpetuates racism. Lack of jobs, education, and opportunity creates an endless cycle. A war on poverty is also a war on racism; this is the battle we need to be fighting, not a war against eachother.

Cultural Racism

Racism is part of the American psyche, woven into our collective history. It thrives in the South, but is by no means limited by geography. Stereotypes, played out again and again on television and movies, in music and the stories that the news decides to focus on, reinforce this kind of racism. This works both ways, too. In many black communities, there is a distrust of white people, of the police, and the feeling that not only is their voice not heard, but that it does not matter. This distrust, distaste, this sense of unfairness spills into the streets, simmering in the shadows until it explodes with violence.

Individual Racism

Each person must make the choice to be color-blind. It starts with us. If collectively we choose to see a person for who they are, not by the color of their skin or the clothes they wear or the car they  drive, then racism will cease to plague the nation.

Closet racists are the worst. They fill a pew on Sunday morning and spew hatred on Sunday night. They choose sides, rather than choosing a person. They don’t consider themselves to be racist, yet their actions prove otherwise, their veiled condescension, the hypocrisy they wear like a coat. When the media seizes upon cases like Trayvon Martin or the killing in Ferguson, these are the people who assume that a kid deserved to die, rather than question their own beliefs or the facts of the case. They call in to talk shows like Rush Limbaugh, hide behind anonymity on social media, and broadcast hatred and division with snarky memes and mean headlines.

If this continues…

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The country is becoming increasingly diverse. America has always been a melting pot, but it’s been the rich white folks who have made policy decisions since our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. As time goes on, the balance of power will shift. It’s already happening, and there is much screaming and gnashing of teeth over this fact. It’s inevitable, though. Within two generations, white folks are going to be in the minority.

There have been calls for civil war, revolt, secession, assassination and violence from extremists who are terrified of the changes coming to America. Rather than work within the system, they seem to want to break it entirely. This kind of thinking is seditious, dangerous, and gaining traction. As we move into the next election cycle, it’s going to get even worse.

We need to vote for responsible leaders, and do it in every single election.

But people are decent and good, for the most part...

The next generation will be better than mine. My kids don’t really see race. I think each subsequent generation will improve upon the one before, and that with time, the lingering vestiges of racism can be stamped out. It takes time, effort, and teaching our children. It takes honest dialogue and love for one another.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Check out my books on Amazon! Next year, The Tears of Abraham will be published, a novel about the coming American Civil War.

http://www.amazon.com/Sean-T.-Smith/e/B00IKHPGEK/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

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