God Bless America? (revisiting a column I wrote in 2001)

With my friend Ken Schultz at the Comedy Etc. last week.

Back at the turn of the millennium, I used to have a couple thousand people that had signed up to read a weekly column I would email to them. There were no blogs at this point so this was my way of writing, plus it was helping me build a following.  These columns eventually formed a book that I put out titled Dysfunctional Thoughts of a 21st Century Man. Below is one of those columns.

The column was written on September 16, 2001.  It is amazing how much you can forget about how different the world seemed at the time. It was a period of uncertainity for the United States, on a level that we have never experienced. The column I wrote discussing my thoughts on 9/11 and its aftermath has some things that I now, looking back, feel were a bit naive. I still think, though, it might bring some interesting memories about how you felt at the time and how your views might have changed.

One other thing I will mention is that when I wrote this, I receieved one email from someone who had it passed on to them that said they would shoot me in the head, if they were ever in the same room with me. A fellow comic, who I was fairly friendly with, sent me an email saying that he thought I was despicable for what I wrote and that he would do everything in his power to destroy my comedy career. I wrote this column the day before Bill Maher made his comments on his ABC version of Politically Incorrect, so after the hate mail I received, I wasn’t too shocked at the shit storm he faced.


Now I know this is never a popular declaration, especially now after the terrorist hijacking last Tuesday, but I am not patriotic. Outside of every couple of years, when the Olympics take place, I’m not generally filled with patriotic fervor. You might say that if I would have known someone involved in the destruction, I might feel differently. Well, let me say that my best friend since High School worked at the Pentagon and I didn’t know if he was alive or dead until late in that afternoon. (He was fine, narrowly missing being one of the deceased.)

I’m no stranger to this type of catastrophe, as my Mom lives in the Oklahoma City area. At the time of the Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, my Mom was working close by.

You see, I consider myself a member of the human race, first and foremost. I am not someone who automatically falls in line with what the government tells me. If I had been of the drafting age during the Vietnam War, I would have emulated great patriots like George W. Bush or Bill Clinton by trying to get into the National Guard. Translation: This war was not worth me dying for.

Having said this, the hijacking in New York and Washington DC, last week, was an action against freedom and freedom is something I would put my life on the line for. Our rights in the U.S. to say and do, for the most part, what we want are what I love most about this country. I believe this personal freedom is why we are the most powerful nation on the planet. The Muslim extremists that perpetuated and celebrated these actions are filled with hatred and fear of what freedom stands for. They are not alone in their views, though. Look at most every major conflict in the world and you will see religion at the center of it. (Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) I am not saying that religion is inherently wrong, but when it is involved in the hierarchy of the government, it leads to conflict. Hopefully, we can learn from these other countries’ examples.

What troubles me about our President is the religious overtones used in almost every speech he has given since the attack. When the President spoke to the nation on September 11, he quoted Psalms 23.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I hear no evil, for You are with me. I am not arguing that Psalm 23 isn’t beautiful scripture, but I feel it is inappropriate for the President of the United States to be reciting it in such a situation.

I am for people mourning the catastrophe any way they choose, be it prayer, meditation, or something else, but our government should not be using religious rhetoric when discussing the topic. President Bush, during one of the Republican primary debates of 2000 said the man he most admires is Jesus Christ. Well what would Jesus do (WWJD) in this situation? This is not an option for our country, though, and that is why President Bush needs to quit with the quoting of the Bible verses and speak in straightforward terms. He needs to leave the public prayer to the various Holy Men across the nation, as bringing up God and eradicating the enemy in the same sentence is confusing and in my way of thinking, sacrilegious.

The President isn’t the only one guilty of crossing the boundaries between church and state. Many were deeply moved by the unified Congress singing the God Bless America, but don’t count me as one of them. This song reminds me of the athlete who thanks the Lord for helping his team win the game. I’m sure that many radical Muslims were singing a version of God Bless America in their own countries. Remember that these suicide bombers were committed to their God on a level most of us would never consider.

This is why when I hear the terrorists called cowards; I disagree, as these men were willing to give up their lives for their terribly misguided cause. A coward to me is someone like Timothy McVeigh, who blows up a building and then drives away, unharmed. This is the interesting paradox that the words brave and coward can have, as in both cases; these men were responsible for some of the worst tragedies ever committed.

Did you know that there are 7 million Muslims living in the United States today? How would you like to be one of them? These Muslims probably will be seen under suspicious eyes the rest of their lives. I’m sure the next time I’m on a plane and see someone of Middle Eastern descent, I’ll have a heightened sense of awareness the whole flight. What horrible life they have to look forward to because of no doing of their own.

Keep this in mind, the next time you stereotype all Muslims as the same. Consider the analogy of the Ku Klux Klan, who since the beginning of their organization used Protestant religious tenets to back up their horrible actions. Does the fact that many KKK members were Protestant make all other Protestants guilty by association? Of course not. Well, then same goes for Muslims in this country and many others across the world.

Hearing the statements of Reverend Jerry Falwell who stated that gay and abortion right activists are partially to blame for our nation being bombed, further magnifies the reason why religion and politics should be kept as separately as possible. Falwell’s comments were made on the 700 Club, a program hosted by former Presidential candidate, Reverend Pat Robertson, a man that has significant power in the Republican Party. Robertson never refuted any of Falwell’s dangerous statements, which makes one wonder about the label Men of God that these two proclaim themselves to be. If either one of them were ever elected President, would they set in motion their own version of the Spanish Inquisition? Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe most religious leaders think the way these two do, but then I don’t think that most Arab leaders are happy over the actions of 9/11.

On different talk radio shows over the past week, I have heard various callers say we should just nuke Afghanistan. Well, besides the environmental implications these weapons would leave in their wake and the political fall-out it would bring to the Middle East; consider the plight of the average Afghan. These people are among the most destitute people on the planet and are controlled by such a vicious secret police that they are often afraid to breathe, in case their government leaders see it as a slight to Allah. The Taliban government that controls the country has performed public hangings of its citizens for crimes such as adultery. Girls are taught in underground schools, as the Taliban forbids public education of females. Does this sound like a country that we should nuke?

What we should do is take out the terrorist groups who threaten our safety and the governments who protect them. I realize that I’m recommending a few restrictions in our retaliatory actions against the perpetrators, but I feel the United States needs to go about things in a calculated way, or we’ll fall into behaving in some of the same ways as nutcases who started this war. It is inevitable that some innocent people will die, but if we want to keep this from escalating into a large-scale holy war, we need to error on the path of aggressive caution. We need to be patient, as a nation, in our pursuit of these rogue leaders, as it will not be a quick process in trying to eliminate these terrorists. If you think getting Osama Bin-Laden will be easy, just consider the case of Eric Rudolph.

If you have forgotten about whom he is, Rudolph was the man accused of the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. On top of this crime, he has been charged with three abortion clinic bombings. As you might guess, actions like these would make you a pretty high priority for the FBI. Initially, after being charged, the FBI put over 200 of their people on the case of finding Rudolph, whom they believed was hiding in the hills of North Carolina. Sadly, over 5 years since the Olympic Park bombing and 2 years since he was put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List, Eric Rudolph is still at large. Now investigators think Rudolph probably died in the Carolina mountains, but my point is that we have no luck finding a high profile terrorist in our own country, how much more luck are going to have finding a well-guarded, well-funded Bin Laden, in a land we know little about. Just something to consider when your anger grows over the elusive Bin Laden. As many experts on terrorism have stated, this will not be an overnight capture.

As we enter a new age of terrorism, which is driven by evangelical zeal, we should be prepared for many more heinous events. Hopefully, we will strike a balance between safety and freedom, as if democratic nations like US go overboard on the former, the terrorists will have accomplished another major victory. To rid ourselves of terrorism, we are going to have to ally with some unlikely partners such as Pakistan, China, and Iran. If you didn’t know, these countries aren’t filled with White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. It will be very interesting to see how these alliances hold together. Maybe our refrain should be God Bless the Planet. We are going to need it.

Prologue: September 11, 2011: When you publish something you wrote a decade ago, especially if it is filled with political opinions, it can be kind of embarrassing.  If I was to Monday Morning Quarterback this piece, I could nitpick a couple things, but I’m still pretty satisfied with my conclusions at the time.  I think it’s important to revisit what our thoughts were then.  That is one of the best parts of blogging. It’s like a diary of the mind helping you better understand how you were as a person at different points in your life.

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