Sunday, September 28, 2008


I've been ruminating on a recent post on The Atheist's Way that repeatedly referred, in what seemed to be a generic, non-denominational way, to things "spiritual." I've decided I don't know what that means.

I've always disliked articles that start by referring to a dictionary definition, but in this case such a procedure seemed apropos. Of the seven brief definitions of "spiritual" on, six refer to things that are definitely religious or supernatural. Things like "incorporeal" and "of or relating to sacred matters." None of these has any meaning to me.

The seventh meaning relates to things like "team spirit" or "in a spirit of fairness." This is a nicely secular usage of the word, but seems not to relate to what people mean when they talk about spiritual experiences.

People who are "spiritual, but not religious" sometimes talk about the "spiritual" experience of looking at a beautiful sunset, or walking in a forest, or sitting at the edge of the ocean. Searching for a term that I might use to describe these experiences that isn't tainted by reference to the supernatural, I decided they're restorative.

We all need restorative experiences. I should seek them out a lot more often! The nice thing about this term is that it can be explained in physiological terms, though we needn't get reductive about it if we don't want to.

If we meet someone and are tempted to say "she's a very spiritual person," the term "restorative" won't quite substitute. Perhaps "well grounded," "present," "very aware," or "calm and accepting" would serve.

For myself, I can see no reason to use the term "spiritual." It has too many negative connotations, and seems to convey nothing that can't be more accurately described using some other term. Read more!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Drugs are bad...m'kay?


I had an unusual interview two weeks ago.

I sleep through most media interviews now, since the questions tend to be the same, and in about the same order: Tell me a little about your book, Why do nonreligious parents need their own separate resource, How do you deal with moral development, How can you help kids deal with death without an afterlife, Isn't it important to believe in something greater than ourselves, Before I know it, I'm being thanked for a fascinating hour I can't quite remember.

It's a bit like teaching. In my last few years as a college professor, I'd hear my brain stem doing the teaching while my neocortex was planning dinner. I'd come back just in time to dismiss. That's when I knew it was time to do something else.

But the interview two weeks back snapped me out of my usual snooze. I was a little wary anyway, as the station runs syndicated neocon culture-warrior nonsense of the Medved/Prager variety most of the day. Even so, I was not prepared for the very first question to come out of the host's mouth:

"Without a higher power," he asked, "how are you going to keep your kids off crystal meth?"


Now I can see this kind of thing coming up at some point...but right out of the starting gate? This, of all questions, was knocking on the back of his teeth? When he heard he would be interviewing a nonreligious parent, the first thing that bubbled up was, "B-b-but how's he gonna keep them off meth?"

I answered that instead of a higher power, I encourage my kids to engage these questions with the power of their own reason, the power of their own minds. There are many compelling reasons to stay away from self-destructive things, after all -- including the fact that they are, uh...self-destructive.

He threw it to the other guest, a minister at a private junior high school, who answered confidently that the higher power was the one and only option. Without Jesus, he'd have no way whatsoever to keep his kids from whirling out of control and into the black abyss. Only by staying tightly focused on biblical principles, he said, can kids avoid utter annihilation.


Ready for the follow-up? Trust me, you're not:

"Now Dr. McGowan," said the host with a chuckle, "I gotta tell you, when you talk about the Power of the Mind, it sounds an awful lot like Scientology to me. Can you tell me what if anything distinguishes your worldview from Scientology?"

What, if anything.

This is what we've come to as a culture. When you advocate teaching kids to reason things out, it sounds to some like the process of auditing past lives to become an Operating Thetan, casting off the evil influence of Xenu (dictator of the Galactic Confederacy) and battling the alien implants from Helatrobus that seek to control our thoughts and actions.

I apologized for being so very unclear, assured him I had intended to evoke nothing alien, supernatural, or magical by encouraging my children to think. I've also never "informed" them, a la Mr. Mackey in South Park, that "drugs are bad, so don't do drugs, or you're bad." That's commandment-style morality, and it's weak as hell. Instead, we've talked about what they stand to lose, what others have lost, how addiction works, and what a fragile and fantastic thing the mind is.

I remember drawing that last connection vividly as a teenager. I knew that my mind was the key to any eventual success I might have, an asset to protect. I didn't want to risk screwing it up for any kind of pleasure or thrill, and drugs were just too unpredictable in their effects. It was a simple risk analysis, clinched by the death of my dad as an indirect consequence of smoking. I got the message: When you put poisonous stuff in your body, you risk too much for too little. And I never touched so much as a cigarette. My kids have received that same message: Grandpa David never got to meet them because he became addicted to poisonous stuff, couldn't stop, and paid with his life.

I came out of my study after the interview and Connor (13) asked how it had gone. "A little weird," I said, "but fine."

"What was weird?"

I looked him in the eye. "Well, his first question was how I'm going to keep you guys off crystal meth without religion."

"Pfft," Connor said. "As if it's an issue."

It was nice to hear his quick, dismissive snort. I know my kids really well, and though anything's possible, I don't see drugs as a serious threat. In addition to reasoning through it, we've talked about craving and addiction -- that your body can be chemically tricked into thinking it needs the drugs, and that this can be hard to reason your way out of once you're in the middle of it. That, plus a number of personal, family, and community assets, kept me from using. And all without a Savior in sight. I figure it has a good chance of working with my kids as well.

I wasn't surprised to learn that both the host and the minister had gone through the requisite "lost years" of sex and drugs, only to be gloriously saved by coming to Christ. It can and surely does work for some. I'd just love to hear someone on that side acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there are other ways as well -- ways that involve no magic, no demigods, no thetans, no fervent, focused distractions -- just the ability to draw on our own natural resources.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Three women's spiritual journeys

by writerdd

I change my mind a lot. For most of my life I have been on an involuntary spiritual journey that has led me into and out of Christianity, through explorations of Buddhism, through agnosticism and into atheism. And now I am not sure where I am heading.

This year I've decided that I'm not sure I want to be called an atheist any more, even though I don't believe in god(s). I know according to the dictionary that I am an atheist, but I've become disillusioned with the atheist movement, which largely seems to thrive on making fun of believers and ignoring the desire for spiritual fulfillment that most people feel.

Although I have some Christian friends in America, over the past years, I have found myself viewing all religious people as some sort of monolithic negative stereotype, hell bent on controlling everything and everyone, and teetering on the edge of insanity. I spent the summer in Lithuania where I met people from all over the world, I found that I'd made new friends who were Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Buddhist, agnostic, and "just spiritual." Although we didn't talk very much about religion, we engaged in meaningful and interesting conversations about many different topics. I found myself rethinking the stereotypes I'd come to accept, and wanting to engage more fully with people of differing backgrounds and philosophies. I want to be open to see where my own spiritual journey will take me next, and I am not willing to be pegged down by labels or stereotypes, even those of my own invention.

I've recently read pieces by two other women authors who are in places that I admire. I'd like to share a few of their words with you, below the fold.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka The Yarn Harlot, is a well known knitting author who has outed herself as an atheist who can appreciate religion and spirituality.

I attended St. Paul's Cathedral for the Sung Eucharist. Many of you will know that I often say that I am a godless heathen, which is to mean that I do not keep with any particular church, and that I am (gasp) an atheist. This doesn't mean, however, that I don't respect or enjoy religion in general, and as a matter of fact, there is a very great deal I find my personal moral code has in common with much of organized faith, particularly when it comes to the basic rules that almost all faiths.... and all good people, have in common. (It is the interpretation of those rules that defeats me. Stuff like "Thou shalt not kill" or "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"being interpreted as "Thou shalt not kill unless you happen to think that the other person isn't really a person because of your own rules" or " do unto others as you would have them do unto you unless you think that simply being a human isn't a good enough reason to receive human rights" is a problem for me. I would have been invited to no parties at all during the Crusades.)

I loved the sermon (topic involved how being a good Christian must include being an environmentalist, should you respect the work of God at all) and was profoundly moved by almost all of the sentiment. When I was offered a sign of peace, and made that same sign to others, and the organ swelled and the choir sang, I was filled with an enormous feeling... A respect for the monumental force that is human faith. Although I don't place my faith in a supreme being whom I believe to be sentient, I am faithful. I have faith in the goodness of people. Faith in the love I have for my friends and family, faith in the love they have for me. I have faith that people will almost always do the right thing, especially if they are not hungry or poor or homeless, or worried about becoming hungry or poor or homeless. I have faith that most poor human behaviour is driven by ignorance, not cruelty. I have a mountain of faith, and that was what I had in common with everyone else in that church. Faith. Different sorts of it, but faith nonetheless, and it was a very human and binding experience.

Sharman Apt Russell, another author I admire, has written the new book Standing in the Light: My Life as Pantheist. This book, which I've only begun to read, is giving me a glimpse into another, less conventional way, to explore spirituality -- without superstition.

I am fifty-one years old, sliding toward death, and I don't much like myself. I have failed at so many things--not the very best writer, not the very best wife or friend, not even the very best parent. I don't much like the world either, which is too full of suffering and disease and war, as the world has always been. I am acutely aware of how my country has betrayed itself, refusing once again to fulfill its potential, to be wise and strong. I am acutely aware of how humanity has betrayed itself, poisoning the earth, heedless of the future we create for our children. As a Quaker, I have lost my sense of the Light. I dislike town. I don't feel special. I am surrounded by miracles--the porch step, the blue sky, black ravens croaking and gurgling--only I don't see the connection. What do they have to do with me?

Still, I feel hopeful. My husband and I have a house in the Gila Villey and a new view of mountains. Living in nature will restore me. This time, I will pay more attention. This time I will take along some friends, books I haven't read for many years, some things I have forgotten. I will take along my science, my neglected pantheism, my neglected Quakerism. If I know anything, I know that I do not want to live in a universe devoid of community, mystery, and awe. I do not want to be alone in my brain, my timid and lazy personality, unconnected to the rest of the world. I cast my lot with Spinoza, Thoreau, and Einstein. I want to live every minute in a holy universe, so pleased and grateful to be part of this existence.

Of pantheism, I will ask the questions we must ask of any religion: How can I lead a better and more joyful life? How can I come to terms with my death and suffering? How should we live as humans on the earth? Ho can we be at home here?

These are the same questions we must ask of ourselves, those of us without religion. Desire, it seems, is the beginning of every journey. Whether we love or hate the current state of the world and of ourselves, if we can find the desire to grow and search, then -- as they say in Lithuania -- viskas bus gerai, everything will be all right. My own journey may be just beginning.

Cross posted on de-Conversion.
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Monday, September 15, 2008

Atheist Alliance International Con.: Sept 25-28th

Where do you find Julia Sweeney, formerly of Saturday Night Live, having a chat with Ellen Johnson, Executive Director of Godless Americans Political Action Committee, while enjoying a moment with DC Atheist Advocate, Lori Lipman-Brown? How about sharing a coffee break with August Brunsman from the Secular Students Alliance and Jason Torby from the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers? The time has come for the 14th Annual Atheist Alliance International Convention, held this year at the Queen Mary, in Long Beach, Ca., called "Unsinkable Atheism".
There are dozens of workshops and events planned, including one for Locks of Love, and a blood drive. Student discounts do apply to the convention and dinner fees, and are substantial. The woman who wrote the song that is all over radio and satellite, "I Kissed A Girl", Jill Sobule, appears, along with an entire theater company doing a bit of Religionmania. Aside from entertainment and charitable events, the convention boasts a wide array of workshops and lectures including Jennifer Bardi- Anchoring Your Atheist Story; James Underdown- Navigating the Media; August Berkshire- Starting Your Own Radio Show; and dozens of other events to promote communication in our community. Panels include Women Recovering from the Constraints of Religion and a special recognition festival for Atheists in Foxholes. For those who are trying to get through loss, without the inappropriate prayers offered, there is even a workshop on Godless Grief.

The convention offers an online streaming video for those who cannot make a journey to the various programs in person. The prices are quite reasonable:1. $75 for all three days (Friday night-Sunday morning)
2. $20 Friday night only
3. $40 Saturday (all day and all night)
4. $20 Sunday morning only
To purchase a password, please visit:

And, if you would like to attend in person, visit the website and register:
$150 (AAI Member); $160 (Non-Member)
$80 (Full-Time Student Rate—Student ID required). The cost of the convention includes- a souvenir speakers booklet, Friday-night hors d’oeuvre and entertainment, a Friday night concert, admission to the exhibition hall, Saturday morning workshops, Saturday afternoon plenary, Saturday Happy Hour with hors d’oeuvres and music, Saturday night plenary with a musical presentation, Sunday Continental Breakfast, Sunday plenary, and Closing Ceremony. Additional charges exist for dinner, luncheon, and special "Fun Raising" events. Parking at the event is $12 per day, and the location is wheelchair accessible.

Exhibitors for the convention floor include:

American Atheists
American Humanist Association
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Aspiring Atheist
Atheist Alliance International
The Atheist Spot
Atheists United
The Bill of Rights Security Edition
The Brights' Net
Center For Inquiry-Los Angeles
Center for Spirituality and the Mind
Charlie's Playhouse
Final Exit Network
Godless Americans Political Action Committee
Hope Press
Libros RevoluciĆ³n
Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
Orange County Atheists
Orange County People for Animals
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Secular Coalition for America
Secular Nation Podcast Station
Secular Student Alliance
Scouting For All
Stephen Uhl

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

An Inconvenient Commandment

lie43092by Dale McGowan
Author/editor, Parenting Beyond Belief

One of the common worries I hear from religious commentators about nonreligious people is the absence of a solid, reliable, unchanging moral compass. Lacking that...why, folks could make up the rules as they go along.

I've written about this nonsense before ("The red herring of relativism," July 8, 2007), so I won't go too deep into the silly idea that moral relativism follows from the absence of religious guidance. I'm more struck at the moment by just how quickly the "solid, reliable, unchanging moral compass" of religion is cast aside when it's inconvenient.

The Ninth Commandment, for example -- which prohibits lying, or "bearing false witness" -- is taking quite a hit at the moment among the most fervently religious of my fellow Americans as the presidential campaign heads into the final weeks.

Some will note that all politicians lie, as if that makes my outrage moot. Even if that's true, it seems clear to me that they don't do it with equal abandon. Jimmy Carter, who found it difficult to lie, declared the country had fallen into a "malaise" and was booted for his honesty. Ronald Reagan followed up by declaring "Morning in America," then ushered in the most corrupt and scandal-ridden Administration in memory.

Secular, un-compassed me is furious when my own party lies or cynically stretches the truth, which is little different. About a decade ago, the Democrats in my then-home state of Minnesota ran a television ad with a little girl struggling to read a sentence on a blackboard: "Republicans in the state legislature cut 32 million dollars from education funding." A tiny asterisk led to the following at the bottom of the screen:
*(Cuts forced by Governor's memo of 03/08/99.)

It flashed by too fast and small to read, which I'm sure was an oversight.

They were forced to do it by our governor, Jesse Ventura, an Independent. I dashed off an angry note to my state party, which thanked me for (and ignored) my petty plea for integrity.

Barack Obama has offered at least one wincing, bald-faced lie in this campaign when he claimed that his comment
"it’s not surprising then that [some voters] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations"

was really just an acknowledgment that in tough times, people turn to "the things they can count on," traditional values that "endure." Even without the obvious disproof of this (anti-immigrant sentiment is an enduring value?), it was obvious to all but those blinded by bias on the left that he had meant something much less flattering. The original statement, though impolitic, was true; the cover-up was false, and that diminished him in my eyes.

The half-hearted, embarrassed reaction from much of the left at the time shows that liberals tend to wince when their candidates lie so shamefully. At the very least, we tend not to line up behind him or her and repeat the obvious lie.

See where I'm headed, do ya?

How many supporters of Sarah Palin's candidacy are wincing with embarrassment at the astonishing, breathtaking stream of lies (both half and whole) coming from her and her surrogates in the past ten days? The Bridge to Nowhere ("thanks but no thanks") lie is just one of a dozen or more towering fabrications that have again raised serious questions about not just our collective gullibility but also the willingness of the Right to bear false witness whenever it suits the needs of the moment.

There's a term for this -- situational ethics. It also goes by the name of moral relativism. And the fact that it displays itself so dazzlingly in conservative Christian evangelicals -- those whose God devoted fully ten percent of his ethical instruction manual to forbidding it -- should give any sane person pause before yammering on about the rock solid reliability of that unchanging moral compass.

When Charles Gibson asked Sarah Palin about the Bush Doctrine last week, any thinking observer could see that she had no idea what he meant. She paused awkwardly, then asked if he meant "[Bush's] general worldview." To cover themselves and perpetuate the larger lie that Palin is prepared for the national stage, the McCain campaign engineered a whopper: Palin knew the Bush Doctrine so well that she wasn't sure which of its many facets Gibson wanted her to address.

And a shriek of needles on paper was heard across the land, and countless polygraphs now sit sweating in straitjackets, their needles quivering fearfully, humming "Give Me Some Truth" loudly to themselves for fear they will hear the Republicans

When (Roman Catholic) Sean Hannity interviews (Assemblies of God) Sarah Palin this week, there can be little doubt what they will do to their beloved Commandment. He will ask her (no doubt with "respect and deference") about the Bush Doctrine, and she will faithfully parrot the lines she has learned since Thursday about its many, many facets, pretending to have known this all along, locking the inconvenient truth away with a click as decisive as the syllables of "Ahmadinejad" she had so faithfully learned the week before.

And afterward, all talk will be about whether she hit a triple, a home run, or a ground rule double, measured not against a standard of truth, nor what it takes to be Vice-President of the U.S., but against "expectations" and the dial-in-your-vote-for-the-next-American-Idol perceptions of three hundred million marionettes.

Maybe we can't ask for an administration that doesn't lie. I don't know. But is it too much to hope for one that feels some semblance of shame when they do it?
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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Introducing Myself

by writerdd

Hi everyone! This is my first post on The Atheist's Way blog and I'm so excited to be here. Some of you might know me as writerdd from Skepchick, and others may know me as Donna Druchunas, the author of Arctic Lace and Kitty Knits, and to many of you, I may be a stranger. I hope we won't stay strangers for long. This message is a short introduction. If you have any questions about who I am or my background or what I think about atheism, feel free to ask in the comments.

I've been an atheist for about 14 or 15 years. I was raised as a Christian, was born again at age 9, baptized in the Holy Spirit at 14, and dropped out of high school to attend Bible School instead of college. I slowly lost my faith after I stopped attending church in the early 1990s, and I've never looked back. Obviously there's a longer version of that story, and I will probably share bits and pieces of it with you from time to time. 

For the first few years of my faithless life, I didn't think about God or church or religion very much at all. Then George W. Bush got elected, planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, and Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith. I found myself getting sucked into religion again, this time as an critic, rather than as a follower. I've been blogging about atheism and skepticism, following politics closely, and reading a lot of blogs by the prominent atheist figures for several years. 

To be frank, I'm getting tired of it all once again. It hasn't been any more fulfilling than going to church was. I don't care who believes in god(s) and who doesn't. I am not interested in making fun of believers, laughing at pictures of Jesus on toast, or deciding what form of religion -- fundamentalism or liberalism -- is more authentic.

What I am interested in is something that I call spirituality without superstition, and that's the topic I intend to discuss here. I want to explore how we unbelievers, those of us who don't believe in gods or spirits or maybe even souls, can experience the same wonder, awe, and exhilaration that believers find in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. I want to talk about how we can make meaning in our lives without having to depend on a holy book or a sage to show us the way. I want to explore ways to talk about spirituality without using the words that have been co-opted by religions and superstitions.

I was thrilled when Eric Maisel sent me an early copy of The Atheist's Way to read, because this book touched on the very topics that I find most important in my own life. I hope you will join me on my continuing journey to discover the joys of living without gods.
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Thursday, September 4, 2008

PANDER BEAR (atheist teaching tales)

Hello, all:

You know that I do not believe in gods and that I believe that god-talk is a betrayal of our common humanity. In this political season, I wanted to share with you the following teaching tale (that is, it is fiction) from the collection of atheist teaching tales that I’m developing. If you would like to share it with others, by all means do so.


So as to get elected and stay elected, a certain politician, who believed in nothing but pleasure, announced his belief in God at every opportunity and religiously attended a neighborhood church each Sunday.

As much as it pained him to do so, he would leave the bed of his mistress by Sunday noon and trudge home to his wife and family, who by the time he arrived would be dressed for church. Changing to a somber suit, he would set his face into its grave Sunday afternoon expression, an expression so pious and serious that undecided voters had been known to throw him their vote just because of it.

One day he came home to find his wife wearing the oddest expression, an expression at once grave and serene.

“What is it?” the politician said worriedly.

“Emily hasn’t been feeling well. I took her to the doctor last week and they ran some tests. The tests just came back. She has a rare cancer—I can’t remember its name.”

The politician slumped into a chair. “No,” he whispered. After a moment he said, “Can they treat it?”

His wife shrugged. “That’s neither here nor there. I went to church today and prayed with the minister. God spoke directly to me. He said that Emily must not be treated—that she was in His hands.”

The politician leaped to feet. “That’s crazy!” he cried. “Of course she must be treated. We’ll get her the best--”

“No,” his wife said, staring serenely at her husband. “God will take care of her.”

The politician thought quickly. “But didn’t God make the treatments and the medicines that the doctors use? Who else could have made them? So of course we should use them!”

“Of course He made them,” his wife said mildly. “But He sent me a clear message that Emily doesn’t need them. Not just that—He was very clear. He does not want Emily to see any doctors. He only wants her to pray. If she prays, He will take care of her.”

The politician took a menacing step toward his wife. “That’s lunacy! You and that minister! All those crazy churchwomen! We will not go down this road.”

His wife cocked her head thoughtfully. “You don’t trust God?” she said. “Or—maybe you don’t even believe in God?”

“I don’t believe in you, you crazy woman!” the politician shouted. “God isn’t talking to you! You are the last person He would talk to!”

“Of course He talks to me. He talks to all sorts of ordinary people. What sort of God do you take Him to be?”

The politician fought not to strangle her. “I won’t play along on this one,” he said after a long moment. “I won’t!”

“No?” the politician’s wife said, her smile still serene but her voice ominous. “Well, if you won’t abide by God’s wishes, then I will have to make it clear that you do not believe in God and that you are nothing but a lying hypocrite.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“If you don’t think that God comes before my husband, you are the crazy one!”

Later that day the politician called a meeting of his advisors. He explained that Emily had cancer, that his wife, trusting in God to cure Emily, would not let Emily be treated, and that if he lifted a finger to get Emily medical treatment his wife would go to the media and let it be known that he did not believe in God.

Hearing this last bit of news his first lieutenant jumped up and exclaimed, “Christ! She gives a terrific interview! She’s been great in every campaign. We can’t have her on television proclaiming that you don’t believe in God!”

“We could spin it that you believe in God but that you also believe in medical treatment, just as most religious people do,” his second lieutenant offered. “You could say, ‘God makes the medicine that can cure Emily.” You could, you know, say that you just disagree with your wife. You could say, ‘Believing in medical treatment doesn’t make me an atheist.’”

“God, no!” the first lieutenant cried. “Don’t use the ‘a’ word! We could say, ‘Millions of religious people seek out medical treatment every day and medical treatment is what Emily needs.’ That should work!”

“Maybe you could say, ‘It’s not a God question, it’s a health question,’” the second lieutenant added.

After a long silence, the politician said, “She’s not a stupid woman. She’s dug her heels in. If I fight her, she’ll bring out the heavy artillery. I think she’ll name all the Commandments that I’ve broken as proof that I don’t believe in God.”

“But everybody breaks those Commandments!” his first lieutenant cried. “Breaking them has nothing to do with believing or not believing in God. It just has to do with not listening to God!”

“I’m not sure about that,” his second lieutenant said thoughtfully. “An argument could be made that if you actually believed in the wrath of God you wouldn’t sleep with your neighbor’s wife or whatever.”

“People believe in the power of the IRS and still cheat on their taxes!” the first lieutenant countered.

“There’s that,” the other agreed.

“All right!” the politician exclaimed irritably. “What’s the bottom line here?”

They debated the matter for some time. Finally they agreed, unanimously and without reservation, that a television blitz by the politician’s wife would do too much damage. That couldn’t be allowed to happen. They would capitulate, give in to the politician’s wife’s agenda, and pray for the best.

“What if the public hears that Emily isn’t getting treatment?” the first lieutenant wondered suddenly. “Isn’t that going to look—I don’t know—cruel? Maybe even abusive?”

The politician nodded. “Good point. We’ll have to keep Emily’s condition a secret. That at least we are good at, keeping secrets!”

The meeting finally ended. The politician found that he couldn’t stomach going home. Instead, he went to the apartment of his mistress. She took one look at him and poured him a tall Scotch.

“What is it?” she said.

He explained Emily’s situation and his wife’s position.

On the verge of tears, his mistress said, “And what did you decide?”

“To trust in God. God will protect her.”

His mistress stated at him. “You can’t mean that!” she exclaimed. “That’s … that’s terrible! That’s awful. It’s … you can’t mean that.”

“What I can’t do is let my wife get on television,” the politician said coldly. “Pour me another Scotch.”

Emily lasted a year. Much of that time she spent in great pain, as her mother would not countenance painkillers. In deep seclusion, cut off from her friends and family, guarded by hired help masquerading as caregivers, and visited only by her mother and occasionally her father, Emily grew gaunt and pious, sometimes screaming and sometimes singing God’s praises.

Naturally the politician could not miss his daughter’s funeral. But as it took place during the campaign season, he could spare only a few hours, flying in, giving a lovely eulogy (which the cynical among the mourners thought sounded awfully like his regular stump speech), and flying right out again. All the pundits agreed that Emily’s death would produce a bump of at least ten percentage points—points that the politician did not actually need, so popular was he with his God-fearing constituency.


Have an excellent Sunday!



P.S. “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.” – Albert Camus

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