A New CEO for the Faithful

Jealous of Elon Musk, Donald Trump has make an offer of an undisclosed amount to purchase the Catholic Religion. Sources say the transaction has already been approved. The Pope, when asked to confirm, replied, “Yes, I’m sad to say it’s true. But honestly, I don’t think a purchase was necessary, since we’d mostly sold out already. When asked for details of the deal, Trump said, “Jesus Christ. We worked them down to such a low price that it was literally a steal. I mean, God, you wouldn’t believe what we got it for. It was criminal.”

Trump said he plans to make The Ten Commandments the law of the land, and added these additional stipulations. “I will see that my profile is mounted above every alter of every church, next to the crucifix, and the revised Communion service will now include the distribution of golden threads to be worn around the wrist, which, through transubstantiation, will become actual strands of my hair. I swear to God!” He went on. “I will encourage Sunday afternoons to be devoted to ‘Make America Great Again’ rallies and promotions for ‘My Pillow’ products. “I will encourage children to recognize the role of the New Catholic Church, and to reject their mothers and fathers if their parents do not also recognize the values so central to ‘Make America Great Again.’ “

When pressed for further details Trump was glad to elaborate, “We’re working to revise the Apostle’s Creed to include language attesting to the theft of the 2020 election, and confirming that RINOs and Democrats are led by the Devil.”

“Finally,” Trump concluded, “we shall hold all those who do not convert to the New Catholicism in absolute contempt, especially those who live in close proximity to us. Our neighbors who don’t agree are the worst. Furthermore, we declare that to not follow the Ten Commandments will be considered a capital offense, punishable by death. We shall place adherence to the Ten Commandments above all else.” When asked about adultery he said he would have an assistant look that word up in the dictionary and get back to the questioner at a later date.

At this time comments from other world leaders were not available, but Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio, and Mitch McConnell made assurances that Trump’s purchase would be met with enthusiasm by the international community.

George, and the Songs We Go Out On

It’s been six weeks since George died after a little over a week in the hospital and two or three days in hospice. I’ve put together several pages of videos and songs in his memory, but I’m writing this now to explore my reaction to his dying and his death, and to reflect on how he chose to live out his final few months. I hope it will serve to also remind me that the way I choose to handle my dying, if I have a choice, affects others.

My mother died at the age of 84 in late November of 2012. She let everyone she was close to know that she had cancer of the esophagus soon after she was diagnosed, and when she knew her death was imminent, she wanted my sisters and me to be with her for her final weeks. In her last six months she enjoyed as much time as she could with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and enjoyed travels and other activities as her health allowed. In this way she celebrated her life with those around her, and together they reflected on it in a way which helped make it complete.

My father died barely a year later. His dementia sometimes prevented him from knowing where he was. I had moved him from California to a memory care unit in Denver where my wife and I visited him almost daily in his last few months, and his daughters and grandchildren were able to visit during that time. He usually recognized us, but was often disoriented otherwise. The time we spent with him allowed us to come to terms with his passing, but his compromised cognitive state robbed him of the chance to acknowledge the ending of his life in a way that was meaningful to him. It seems a great tragedy to not know who we are or who we have been as our lives are coming to a close.

My wife, Leslie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor less than three months after my father died. She immediately reached out to her brothers, friends from high school, college, nursing school, previous jobs, and many other people who had meant something to her at different stages in her life. Her response to treatment was positive and we were sure she would be one of the rare people who survived many years with a glioblastoma, but sadly she took a turn for the worse a year after surgery and died on March 31, 2015. Up until then we traveled to New York, New Mexico, and California, and welcomed many visitors into our home. She ran foot races with her son, step daughter, and daughter-in-law, rode a bicycle through the Colorado and New Mexico mountains, swam in the Pacific Ocean, and sang songs with her friends. She died after spending her last year visiting and sharing good times with the people she loved, and allowing them to love her in return. Leslie wanted to die at home and I did all could to make this happen, but we reached a point where I was not able to manage her pain. Many friends were with her in a local hospice facility during her final week. Lukas, her son, had been with us at home the week before in Denver, but had to return to Albuquerque. When he got word that she was in hospice he rushed back to Denver, but by the time he arrived she had been comatose for nearly two days. There were a handful of us in the room when he entered. We all observed a visible reaction on Leslie’s face at that moment. I’ve related this event often, as I think about the power of love, the nature of consciousness, and how we should not make assumptions about things we can never understand. I’m reminded of it now, thinking of how George spent his final days.

I’m not sure of the timeline, but I think it was less than two years later, at a concert at Red Rocks, when my good friend David told me that he had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. He said there were treatments that could probably keep him relatively symptom free for several years, but the disease would ultimately prove fatal. From that date until Covid-19 forced us all into isolation, we enjoyed bike rides, hikes, and concerts together. One especially fun event was a cabbage-chopping party Nichole, his wife, organized as part of her preparing a large batch of sauerkraut. This event brought together friends, neighbors, and relatives. David loved the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, and the jam bands and other groups that carried on their traditions. He and a group of his friends would get together for dinner, beer, and concerts to see Phish, Dead and Company, Phil Lesh and Friends, Dweezil Zappa, and other artists. When Covid-19 hit David had developed a chronic cough but still was strong and feeling healthy, but we didn’t see each other. A year and a half later I got a call from David asking me to meet him outdoors at Sloan’s Lake. When I got to the agreed-upon meeting spot I found him in a wheelchair, looking frail, and dependent on Nichole for mobility. It brought back memories of Leslie’s final days before she went into hospice. Tragically, Covid-19 had robbed David of the comfort of sharing time with those he cared about and those who cared for him. Like my mother and Leslie, and to some extent my father, he wanted the time between his diagnosis and his death to be enriched by sharing it with the people he cared about, and doing the things he loved.

Of the four people with whom I had been close between 2012 and 2022 that I had accompanied up until their deaths, Obviously I was closest to Leslie. I was privileged to let her show me and the others around her how much life meant to her, and how much the people in her life meant to her. She freely allowed us to tell her and show her how much she meant to us. Not only did she demonstrate and express her love for life itself, but also how much she valued the life she had lived and those who had shared her life with her. The experience of having lived is different in some ways from the essence of being alive, and I watched this play out in hearing her recount, sometimes in the presence of and sometimes not, those who had shared those experiences. In a sense, knowing that she was losing her life gave her the chance to enrich the lives of those who would survive her.

I just heard that Peter Schjeldahl, a long-time art critic for New Yorker magazine, has died. In 2019, when he learned of his diagnosis of lung cancer, he wrote an essay called The Art of Dying. In fact, it was much more than an essay. It was a memoir – a reflection on his life. I started writing this piece about George several days ago and was about to give up on it when I started reading Schjeldahl’s piece from 2019. I have read many of his articles in the New Yorker in the past and often found his writing irritating. I wondered if it annoyed me because as an art critic, he did not consider me, a naive reader, to be his intended audience. I would read his articles hoping to learn more about modern art, but found that he was writing for people who were already there, people who knew the world of modern art very well. But his writing was also very clever – so clever that I thought he was showing off – not so much trying to communicate as he was trying to impress. The truth was probably that his writing was so brilliant that it was too challenging for me. I struggled to make sense of his metaphors, similes, and analogies. The Art of Dying is, in contrast, an honest, touching, amusing reflection on his regrets, achievements, insights, and other personal observations that one might be expected to have upon learning of a terminal illness. Reading it has further helped me to understand why George’s dying and his choice in dealing with it has left me, six weeks later, still coming to terms with it.

I met George in late 2015 or early 2016, when I decided that joining the Acoustic Music Community and taking part in open microphone events would be a way to help me cope with my own grief. For those who might not know, an open mic is an event where musicians, comedians, and storytellers, who for the most part are amateurs, can sign up to sing a few songs or otherwise perform in front of a crowd at a coffee house, library, church, or brew pub. The first one I attended was at a brew pub where I sang a song I wrote and also sang an old Bob Dylan song. George approached me afterward and said he liked my guitar playing and my choice of songs, and thought perhaps I could back him up in the future on some songs he’d like to sing. Through George I met nearly a dozen other amateur musicians who have come to be good friends, and I give George credit for helping me find a new focus for my music. Together we worked out a half dozen or so songs that we performed at various venues and events over the next several years.

The way George and I met was the way George had met everybody else that I came to know through him. As far as I know, the only friends George had were friends he had met through his interest in music, which centered on folk singer/songwriters on the 1960s and 1970s. George was opinionated. If he liked a song, he liked it very much. If he didn’t like a song, he didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to consider singing it, and didn’t want to hear anybody else sing it. There were aspects of the singing and playing of each of his friends that he appreciated, but he was very specific about each of our shortcomings, as well. If he asked one of us to play guitar or piano for him on a song he wanted to sing, he was quick to tell us when he didn’t like how we played it, although he couldn’t always articulate what we should do differently. Although he was a good enough guitar player that he could accompany himself on most songs he liked to sing, he preferred not to play when he sang.

George said at least once that it was impossible to play a song too slowly. He preferred ballads by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Lennon and McCartney, Phil Oaks, John Prine, and Townes Van Zandt that allowed him to show off his ability to reach high notes, and he liked to slide into those notes, then hold them in long, drawn-out hums. Not everyone appreciated his style but it was distinct and some – many, I think – found his singing very moving.

Some of George’s opinions were fixed and firmly held. He and I agreed that we liked Bob Dylan songs from the mid 1960s, especially from the albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. But there were times when I would bring up a song that I liked, expecting him to agree with me, and he would tell me in no uncertain terms how wrong I was. It was just as likely that if I criticized the same song he would defend it. These exchanges didn’t consist of debates, but rather George’s matter-of-factly expressing what was the correct position to hold on the merits of the song.

Several of us worked with George to put together performances of three hours each. George selected the music and had the most input into the arrangements, and for the most part they went well. There was one that was different. I was working with him on another performance about a year ago but backed out when rehearsals became contentious and time consuming. It was partly an issue of his not liking the way I played an accompaniment. He would stop me midway through the song, saying it wasn’t right, but he wasn’t able to explain what he didn’t like. And he started expanding the scope of the performance. Not only was I expected to back George up on guitar and add harmony where possible, but I was to provide the sound system and make adjustments to the balance, volume, and equalization with each number. As he brainstormed other performers he wanted to include in the event, I realized I would not be able to manage everything. What I thought was going to be a simple evening of George and me together had turned into a rotating list of five or six different acts over a three-hour time period. I don’t think he ever forgave me for backing out. But now I think I understand what was going on in him mind, even though he never explained it to me. He probably never understood his unconscious motives himself. The others George intended to include were people whose talents he had come to love, and I think he wanted to, in his way, let them know how much he appreciated them, and also give himself the gift of having them perform for him. Although I didn’t know he was dying, he did. He was planning a celebration for himself. I believe he was more accepting then of his mortality than he came to be months later.

More than two years earlier, when the pandemic first hit and we stopped meeting in person to play music, I began hosting song circles on Zoom. George joined enthusiastically and helped me pick a list of people to invite to participate on a weekly basis. For over a year we shared songs every Wednesday evening from 7:00 pm until 10:00 pm. After that we decided to only get together once a month. Looking back now, I can see that George had a reason for picking the songs that he chose to sing week after week. It wasn’t so apparent at the time.

One of his favorites was Carrickfergus, a song written by Dominic Behan that was popularized by the Chieftains, and includes the lyrics:

But I'll sing no more now til I get a drink.
I'm drunk today and I'm rarely sober, 
A handsome rover from town to town, 
Ah but I'm sick and my days are numbered, 
So come all ye young men and lay me down.

He also liked to sing Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Talk To Me of Mendocino:

. . . and let the sun set over the ocean,
I will watch it from the shore,
Let the sun rise over the redwoods,
I'll rise with it til I rise no more.

I was not familiar with Sandy Denny’s song, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, when he sang it one night, but it, too, contains lyrics hinting at death (or perhaps immortality):

How I'd love to remain
With the silver refrain
Of an old fashioned waltz,
As they dance round the floor,
And there's no one else there,
And the world is no more.

On a different night he sang a song by Danny Flowers, James Hooker, and Nanci Griffith called Gulf Coast Highway with the lyrics:

And when we die we say we'll catch some blackbird's wing
And we will fly away to heaven
Come some sweet blue bonnet spring.

And George was always game for singing a Bob Dylan song. Forever Young was his favorite, but he surprised us one night with Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues with these lyrics:

I don't have the strength to get up and take another shot,
And my best friend, the doctor, won't even say what it is I've got.

Toward late 2021, George started joining less frequently. He had undergoing bypass surgery a few years previously and suffered from COPD, and cited breathing difficulties sometimes as a reason for not joining. I was surprised one night in June when I reminded him of a scheduled Zoom meeting, only to hear from him that he was in the hospital. I went to visit him the next day and he told me that another friend, Lonny, whom he had known since the 1970s when he lived in Cincinnati, had been keeping in close contact with him and when George had stopped answering his phone Lonny had the police make a welfare check on him. They found him nearly unresponsive in his apartment and had him taken to the emergency room. It was during this visit in the hospital that George told me that he had metastatic prostate cancer (it turns out he had been diagnosed many years earlier), but made me promise not to tell anyone. He said that Lonny and I were the only ones who knew. He intended, he said, to let the rest of our circle of friends know in person when the time was right.

Two weeks later George was transferred to a rehabilitation facility where they hoped to get him well enough to return home. I tried to visit him there but because I had been exposed to someone with Covid I was not allowed in. More than a week later, when he was transported home, he asked me to meet him at his apartment because he didn’t think he would be able to negotiate stairs. He told me then that he thought he had between six weeks and three months to live. I was still asked to keep his condition to myself. In the mean time, he hoped to put together a list of all his friends he had heard perform or who had performed with him, and note the songs that he thought they performed the best. He intended to share this list. He never did. Again, he told me that he planned to tell everybody in person his his condition when the time was right. I urged him to change his mind and tell people immediately. I knew people would want to know and would want the opportunity to visit with him, and that he would benefit from their company. He never did.

I had been dismayed at the condition of his apartment. It had been nearly a month since he had been there, and clearly he had not been able to manage for a long time before being taken to the hospital. I offered to pay for a professional cleaning but he assured me he would be hiring someone to get it back into shape. He never did.

Another week went by, and I received a call from George. He had a prescription for pain medication that he wanted me to pick up for him. He was barely able to rise from his chair, so driving was out of the question. I could hear voices in the background. He told me that a home health team was making a visit. Several hours later I delivered his pills. The apartment was in even worse condition than before. He told me the home health team would be back in a few hours to take him to the hospital. I was relieved, and asked him to contact me when he was admitted. Two days later, on a Saturday afternoon, I called the hospital and they had no record of his being there. I called his doctor’s office and they would not give me any information on his condition or status, but apparently my call triggered a welfare check to his apartment. He was found nearly unresponsive again, and taken to the hospital. I found out later that the team that was at his apartment when he called me was there to take him to the hospital, but he refused to let them take him.

The following day I received a call from the hospital social worker who was hoping I might have some information on George’s next of kin, power of attorney, and end-of-life wishes. It seems he was being combative, insisting that he didn’t need to be in the hospital, and expressing anger with me for making the call that resulted in his being there. He wanted to be discharged. I knew George had no siblings or children, and he never talked of any other living relatives. At one point the social worker and his attending physician got me on the phone with George where I was encouraged to talk sense into him, but he became angry with me, so we ended the call. I thought perhaps this would be the last contact I had with him.

The next morning I was several miles into a bicycle ride when my phone, mounted on my handlebars, rang. The caller ID said it was George. As angry with me as he had been the day before, and as disoriented as he had been, I did not think he’d be calling me. I expected it to be a hospital professional calling on George’s phone to inform me of a crisis, or worse. Instead it was a calm, lucid George sounding like his old self, taking his time finding the right words, slow to get to the point, repeating himself, getting distracted and asking questions off topic, but sounding like the George I had known these past six years. When I realized the call was going to go on for a while I moved out of traffic into a shady, secluded spot and listened to him ask me to help him invite all his musician friends into his hospital room that evening to play for him.

Amazingly, ten of us were able to mobilize on short notice and take guitars, autoharps, mandolins, and a bass ukulele into his hospital room and play whatever songs he requested of us from 6:00 pm until 9:00 pm. George was happy that night, but not well enough to play or sing himself. I kept think that if he’d have let people know months ago that he wasn’t well we could have had dozens of events like this. As it was, most of the people there that night didn’t know he wasn’t going to get better. The following Saturday he was admitted into hospice. Several of us visited him the next day. As my friend and I approached his room we could hear him groaning in pain. The nurse told us his dose of medication had just been administered. We sat with him as he tried to speak but was unable to make himself understood. As the medication took effect he became still and quiet. We left when it appeared as though he had fallen asleep. He died the next day, September 5, 2022.

His healthcare providers had asked him if he had designated anyone to have power of attorney. On the first day of his second hospitalization he told St. Joseph Hospital that Alan, a friend in New York from many years ago, had power of attorney. Alan was contacted and said that although he was willing to accept the responsibility, no documents had ever been signed. Then George said Lonny was actually his power of attorney. This, too, was not correct but the following Wednesday the necessary documents were executed to make it so, although George had trouble accepting that it needed to be done.

George would not say what he wanted done with his remains. Lonny tried to get him to express his wishes several times, but his unwillingness to answer seemed consistent with his denial that his death was imminent. This was similar to his thinking that the right time would come later on to tell people of his condition. When he died without having made a decision his body became the responsibility of the state. This means there is no grave or other memorial site.

My mother gave her body to the University of Minnesota for research, but we were given her cremated remains eventually. My sisters and I, along with our spouses, held a ceremony at Solana Beach in California, a favorite vacation spot of Mother’s, where we sent her ashes floating out to sea. My father was also cremated. We held a small ceremony at Seal Beach to offer his ashes to the Pacific Ocean. Leslie, too, was cremated. One third of her ashes were buried at the base of a memorial tree in her hometown of Voorheesville, New York, one third at the base of a memorial tree by Sloan’s Lake in Denver, and one third at the top of Lookout Mountain, one of her favorite cycling destinations. I can think of my parents when I think of or visit the west coast of the US. I often ride to the spot where I distributed Leslie’s ashes on Lookout Mountain, and I end most of my bike rides by stopping at Leslie’s memorial tree by Sloan’s Lake. George has no spot that holds any physical remnant of him, where any of us can go to remember him.

I’ve tried different explanations for George’s handling of his own terminal illness. One is to tell myself that, although he kept up the appearance of a rational person through most of it, he wasn’t really rational. Maybe he thought, in some unconscious or unstated way, that if he didn’t tell anyone he was dying, then he wouldn’t be giving nature permission to take his life. Telling people you were dying was letting nature know it was true, but keeping it quiet was to keep the fact at bay. Likewise, nature couldn’t have its way with you if you stayed out of the hospital. Nature couldn’t shut down your organs if you didn’t put your initials on a piece of paper expressing your wishes for what to have done with your no-longer-functioning body.

This sort of made sense with regard to his behavior in his last few months of life, but looking back at the songs he chose to sing a year or two before that, he seemed to be more accepting of his mortality. Maybe knowing that he still had several years to live made the prospect of death easier to accept. I don’t know how long he had been on pain medication, but the prescription I picked up for him was a strong narcotic. Who knows how that might have been affecting his cognition and reasoning.

When we tried to get George to give Lonny permission to take responsibility for his car, at this point five days before he died, he asked three of us individually if we thought he would every drive again, and when we said no he argued with us. The Sunday before that, when I was advised by his caregivers that anyone who wished to visit with him might only have several days left to do so, George was arguing that it was being in the hospital that was keeping him from hearing live music, driving around town, and attending fun events. In reality, he hadn’t had the strength to walk across his living room. I wonder if this kind of thinking hadn’t taking over his mind months before.

Why had George been so different from my mother, my wife, and Peter Schjeldahl, who, knowing they were dying, wanted to relish every remaining moment with friends and loved ones, and reflect on the lives they had lived, honoring both the blunders and moments of pride? Unlike David, who had the opportunity to do so robbed by the pandemic, or my father, whose dementia kept him from being aware of how his life was ending, George could have celebrated himself and allowed those who cared about him to join in that celebration. Now he’s gone and he’s left many of us feeling we didn’t help him through the end of his life properly. I have friends who have lost spouses or loved ones suddenly, to heart attacks, strokes, or accidents. They didn’t have time to prepare for this loss. I suppose going suddenly is a blessing in that there is little or no suffering, but those who are left never have a chance to say proper goodbyes, settle unresolved issues, apologize, ask for forgiveness, forgive, or say “I love you” one final time.

George had to opportunity to let the people close to him know how he felt about them, and for them to let him know how they felt. Instead he died angry with those who tried to help him, and he left them feeling angry with him for not letting them help, and for not letting them be close to him as he was losing his life. It was his life. It was his choice and his absolute right to make that choice, but unlike the other deaths of people I’ve loved, his is an unsettled one. There is no summary or conclusion to be reached. George’s behavior dealing with both music and illness is easy to describe, but hard to understand. Was he private and aloof because he didn’t want people to truly get to know him, or is the George we saw all there was to him? Was he sometimes disagreeable and contentious because it was a way he could flatter himself, or was he just confused and inconsistent? Maybe beyond the way people made him feel when they sang and played instruments, he had no feelings for others. Maybe his friendships went no further than asking someone to play a few guitar chords behind him when he sang, or no further than feeling special if asked to sing some harmony. Many of us are left to wonder.

Cold Snaps, Climate, and Evolution

I’m going to try to connect two different discussions I’ve heard recently using climate change as the bridge. I heard last week from someone living in rural Idaho that they experienced a record cold snap the week of April 10th through the 16th, providing evidence that God and Mother Nature, rather than humans, were in charge of temperatures on Earth, counter to what global warming alarmists contend. Then, on Saturday (April 23rd), Colorado Public Radio rebroadcast a production of RadioLab that originally aired in March on which the hosts discussed a study conducted in the 1970s by Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Simberloff, David Raup, and Thomas Schopf that raised questions about Darwin’s notion of survival of the fittest.

I’ll begin by making the point that has been made repeatedly, and should not ever have to be made. Day-to-day, week-to-week, and even month-to-month variations in weather cannot lead to inferences about climate unless they are trended over many years. Furthermore, climate includes other elements of weather besides temperature, including wind, moisture, ultraviolet radiation, cloud cover, and snow pack, year after year.

Nonetheless, I was curious to see how the week of week of April 10th through April 16, 2022 in Coeur D’Alene compared to the previous 25 years. Using the website https://www.almanac.com/weather/history, I was able to look up the high and low temperatures for each of the dates in this range for the past 26 years. For comparison purposes, I looked up the same data for Fairbanks, Alaska, since I had heard that climate change was more extreme closer to the Arctic Circle. Though still nearly 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, I thought Fairbanks might offer some insight.

I was then challenged with how to summarize the data to provide some useful information. I decided that for each of the twenty-six years in question I would average the seven daily high temperatures for the week and the seven daily low temperatures for the week for both cities. When I plotted the data I ended up with a busy and rather inconclusive graph.

The mean high temperatures for Coeur D’Alene show a slight downward trend, while the opposite is true for Fairbanks. Both cities show a downward trend for mean low temperatures. Interestingly, the week in question was unusually warm in Fairbanks in 2012, and unusually cold the following year. 2022 showed the lowest mean high temperature for the week in question for Coeur D’Alene, but had been preceded by two fairly warm years. The mean low for the week in question in 2022 in Coeur D’Alene (24.4) was about 2 1/2 degrees colder than the second coldest mean low temperature recorded in 1999 ( 26.9). If nothing else, the graph shows that for the week of April 10th through April 16th, year-to-year since 1997, for both Fairbanks and Coeur D’Alene, the average high and low temperatures vary quite a bit. No single year is a good predictor of what will happen the following year.

I’m told by climate experts that these seasonal variations are to be expected, but more stable indicators of climate change can be found in shrinking polar ice caps, rising sea temperatures, chronic drought conditions in some regions and chronic flooding in others, changing migratory patterns of birds and mammals, and changes to floral habitat. Those who think that God and Mother Nature control daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly weather events must also think these changes, clearly documented over the past fifty years, fit into the plan.

When I hear friends argue that God is in charge of weather, I wonder what they imagine. Do they see God looking down on Earth as he files his fingernails and clips his toenails, trying to decide whether to inflict meteorological pleasure or pain on the creatures below that day? Perhaps he suddenly sees Ricky Gervais and decides he will cause a blizzard while blowing Ricky’s furnace pilot light out. Regarding climate, maybe God is just bored with polar ice caps and wants to change the shape of the continents by raising sea levels.

To counter the evidence of human-caused climate change, skeptics point to Earth’s history of repeated ice ages followed by spells of exceptional heat. But these arguments overlook the known fact that carbon dioxide and methane are heat-trapping gasses and their increased concentration in the atmosphere over the past century can be measured. They also overlook how quickly the climate is changing now compared to the historical record, and how we have fashioned civilization to make life for humans comfortable in the climate the existed before the human-caused acceleration began. If the acceleration continues at this pace we will not be able to move our cities and adapt out technology to accommodate it.

This brings me to the RadioLab segment entitled “Life In a Barrel.” In a computer simulation of evolution conducted by Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Simberloff, David Raup, and Thomas Schopf, they discovered that, rather than survival of a species turning out to be a reward to those most “fit,” extinction seemed to happen at random. The broadcasters also pointed out, independent of this research, that 99% of all species that have ever existed on Earth are now extinct.

I haven’t read a lot of Darwin’s original work but I have been taught it and have heard his theories discussed and repeated. Most people I have heard who talk about evolution explain it as a process that results in continuously improving species on the planet – both within the species and in the creation of new species. Some people think of this as akin to a divine process, and think of “survival of the fittest” as meaning that the creatures which survive are meant to survive, because they are more suited for survival, or more “fit.” They attach a qualitative value to the term “fit.” But it is important to think of “fit” more in terms of a match to the environmental conditions that exist on Earth, and to consider that conditions on Earth are constantly changing. Most of the changes take place too slowly to be observed by a single generation, although there are exceptions. Floods, volcanoes, tidal waves, earthquakes, and other natural disasters can change the natural environment in an instant. A creature that is “fit” to survive on a dry shoreline one day is no longer “fit” to survive in the same spot after a flood. The waterfowl that were “fit” to live in a bayou would give way to scorpions and tarantulas after years of prolonged drought.

I wonder if the Gould computer simulation found randomness in extinction due to the random fluctuations in Earth’s environment? It is widely accepted that dinosaurs died out suddenly after a meteor hit the Earth. They were probably quite “fit” to survive until that happened. Most natural disasters are huge but don’t affect the entire planet. They kill many creatures locally, but are not widespread enough to cause extinction. Apparently the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs was an exception. However much Earth has changed since humans came into existence, these changes have happened slowly enough, or been confined geographically enough, that humans have continued to be “fit” enough to survive. However, I do question our fitness in one regard. Unlike most other species, we don’t seem to be able to survive on Earth the way it is. We have to modify the environment in order to live comfortably on Earth. Ironically, these very modifications are what now threaten our “fitness” for survival, due to the way they are affecting our climate at such a rapid pace – a pace that does not appear to be giving us a chance to adapt. And the changes we are bringing about are happening on a global scale.

These changes are harming other species more quickly than they are harming humans, too. We only have to consider the animals that have gone extinct in the past 100 years to recognize how humans are changing Earth in a way that threatens all species. These include the paradise parrot, the passenger pigeon, the Sicilian wolf, the Japanese sea lion, the Bubal antelope, the Tasmanian tiger, the heath hen, the golden toad, the Carolina parakeet, the Caspian tiger, and the Guam flying fox. Besides these recent extinctions, nearly twenty species are considered critically endangered currently, all due to environmental changes that are human caused.

It is widely held that our large brains are what set us apart from and make us superior to other creatures on the planet, and that the mutations that led to our having more sophisticated language, speech, and other forms of communication were part of an ever-improving process. Walking upright and having opposable thumbs also set us apart from all but a dozen or so other species on the planet. But what if what we call evolution isn’t really part of an ever-improving process. Mutations happen randomly in species all the time – most are too subtle to detect, while others are considered deformities and often are incompatible with life. If humans have survived so well for so many eons due to “fitness,” would we need to use our opposable thumbs in conjunction with our tongues and oversized brains to modify our environment to make it “fit” us? It is these thumbs, after all, that allow us to grip the tools that we use to so drastically alter our environment. Here I must also say that thumbs allow us to play musical instruments, which, as far as I’m concerned, demonstrates what beautiful creatures humans can be.

I know this next idea contradicts the genetic, chronological, and paleontological evidence, but why don’t we amuse ourselves for a moment and consider that the great apes might have evolved from humans to be a better “fit” for the natural world. Gorillas, bonobos, chimps, and other primates can live in the natural world as it is, without having to modify it and make it less survivable for other species. Doesn’t that make them superior to us? On the other hand, we do believe we have the ability to study, learn, teach each other, and collaborate. But the evidence is that we rarely practice these skills in a way that enhances human survival in the long run, especially now, when faced with such existential threats.

Planet Earth will only continue to support human life for so long. Barring some some disaster such as a meteor strike or a seismic or volcanic event releasing toxic gas across the entire planet, it might take eons for conditions to change enough that humans and other mammals could no longer survive. And if changes to the environment on Earth happen slowly enough, random mutations to some humans might produce a new species of human-like creatures who can adapt to these changes. But the struggle to maintain our quality of life in the midst of rapidly occurring human-caused climate change is a different challenge. It would be hyperbolic to suggest we’re facing imminent human extinction due to our continued burning of fossil fuels. But the threat of economic collapse, the demise of commerce as we know it, crop failures and resulting food shortages, and new pandemics are real. I wish I could believe that one cold week in Idaho meant we didn’t have to do anything to prepare for all this.

What Olympians Must Overcome

It’s so moving to hear the stories of hardship that competing olympians have had to overcome to reach the heights they have achieved. NBC has gone to great lengths to provide us with details of their personal lives in order to add a human interest touch to their coverage of the winter events. I was particularly touched by what the young woman from Bogart, Kentucky, who is competing in the crock-style brake sled event, has had to deal with. When she was conceived her unfortunate parents lived in an apartment without air conditioning. While copulating they were forced to leave the windows open and had to endure the sounds of street traffic below, not to mention heat in excess of 85 degrees and barely tolerable humidity. It’s a wonder her father was even able to do the deed. Then, nine months later, when her mother went into labor, her father started the car to drive to the hospital. He noticed that the gas gauge registered only one third of a tank. What if the hospital had been farther than ten or fifteen miles away? He might have had to stop to refill the tank. She related an incident once, as a child, when she wanted oatmeal for breakfast, but much to her mother’s dismay, the microwave was not functioning. She realized she would have to use the conventional oven. To make the tragedy even worse, there was only standard oatmeal, not instant. She would have to stand for a full ten minutes while it cooked, just to prepare breakfast for her hungry daughter. Lastly, when the poor girl applied for her learner’s permit, they misspelled her name. She was forced to return to the department of motor vehicles and wait a full ninety minutes to have the error corrected. Yet here she is today, in spite of these unbearable setbacks, representing our country so proudly.

Are You Christian Enough?

We know you’re going to Heaven. After all, you’re reading this post. But what about all those people you shared a Thanksgiving table with? Sure, they all said they were Christians, but there have been so many Revelations since 2016 that we now know so much more about what it takes to please Jesus than we did before. Here’s a little quiz you can use to gauge what the chances are of those who sat with you at that most American of holidays to meet the Lord’s criteria. And if you probed enough to find out if they might not really be trying to subvert our country, then you should be able to tell for each and every one of them whether they will share the hereafter with you. Are you ready? You will find the answers to each of these questions at the bottom of the post.

  1. If you don’t own a firearm, will St. Peter let you pass?
  2. We know that God frowns upon electric cars, but are there any Prius owners in Heaven?
  3. How many episodes of Tucker Carlson can you miss in a week and still get in to Heaven?
  4. If your gross annual family income is less than $100,000 it is a clear sign that you are not blessed by God. Does this also mean that you are condemned to eternal damnation?
  5. If you live in New York City, is it enough to call Sean Hannity your hero, or must you or an immediate family member also have contributed to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign when he was running for Mayor of the city?
  6. Some people might actually like broccoli. But if it is eaten with a meal that does not include beef, will Jesus forgive you?
  7. There are several things black people can do to get into Heaven. Which of these qualify:
    • Acknowledge that the Civil War was about States’ Rights, and not slavery
    • Appear behind Donald Trump on camera at one of his political rallies
    • Send your children to a mostly white, private Christian elementary school
    • Deny ever having heard a James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Snoop Dog, or Run-D.M.C. song
    • Assert publicly that welfare perpetuates poverty and a national healthcare program would encourage people to stay sick
  8. During an NFL time-out, can you momentarily switch channels to a soccer game and not incur God’s wrath?
  9. Can you get into Heaven if your neighbors have solar panels on their roof and you still talk to them?
  10. Is getting a college degree a mortal sin?

And here are the answers:

  1. If you don’t own a firearm, will St. Peter let you pass?
    • Recent court rulings have made it clear than owning a gun is a “God-given right!” Even though guns are an invention of modern history, and traditional Christianity is based on writings a thousand years old and older, we know now, based on teachers of the NRA, Southern Lawyers, Republican lawmakers, and Evangelical preachers, that these esteemed individuals have a direct line to the workings of God’s intentions. So, not only is owning a gun a “God-given right,” but to pass on this right is an affront to God’s wishes. Therefore, if you do not own a gun, you will not see eternal glory.
  2. We know that God frowns upon electric cars, but are there any Prius owners in Heaven?
    • Why would God have put petroleum in the ground if He did not want us to pump it out, refine it, and burn it as fuel? The sun is for tanning flesh, not making cars go or lighting our houses. There are no Tesla, Chevrolet Bolt, or Hyundai KONA owners in Heaven. However, when hybrid owners present at the Pearly Gates, assuming they qualify on all other grounds (which is rare), St. Peter flips a coin to determine admittance.
  3. How many episodes of Tucker Carlson can you miss in a week and still get in to Heaven?
    • Increasingly Tucker Carlson has God’s ear. But we know Tucker Carlson to be inconsistent, so this varies from week to week, depending upon Carlson’s mood and his relationship with God at the time. Is it one episode, or none? I would not take a chance. Play it safe, and never miss an episode.
  4. If your gross annual family income is less than $100,000 it is a clear sign that you are not blessed by God. Does this also mean that you are condemned to eternal damnation?
    • Clearly Jesus has had a change of heart when it comes to the poor. Forget that “eye-of-the-needle” nonsense. If you are not wealthy, especially in America, your hell on Earth will continue on into Hell in the afterlife.
  5. If you live in New York City, is it enough to call Sean Hannity your hero, or must you or an immediate family member also have contributed to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign when he was running for Mayor of the city?
    • Both conditions must be met.
  6. Some people might actually like broccoli. But if it is eaten with a meal that does not include beef, will Jesus forgive you?
    • Jesus forgives those who hunt deer, elk, caribou, bear, moose, javelina, and other forms of large game for their primary source of meat. Domestic fowl and small game birds and mammals, as well as fish, do not count. Keep in mind also that hunters who are unlucky in their quest to “bag” something must pray for success. And if they pray for success but still do not kill any big game, then God is fucking with them. He is, of course, in control and enjoys frustrating you from time to time. If this happens, and you won’t know if it did, maybe you’ll be forced to eat broccoli without meat, but you won’t know if it’s your fault or a divine joke. Remember, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Can you still get into Heaven? Wait and see.
  7. There are several things black people can do to get into Heaven. Which of these qualify:
    • Acknowledge that the Civil War was about States’ Rights, and not slavery
      • Of course
    • Appear behind Donald Trump on camera at one of his political rallies
      • By all means
    • Send your children to a mostly white, private Christian elementary school
      • No. What do you expect to achieve by educating your children in the first place?
    • Deny ever having heard a James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Snoop Dog, or Run-D.M.C. song
      • No. He’ll know you’re lying
    • Assert publicly that welfare perpetuates poverty and a national healthcare program would encourage people to stay sick
      • That’s the ticket
  8. During an NFL time-out, can you momentarily switch channels to a soccer game and not incur God’s wrath?
    • This depends on the teams you switch from and switch to. God will never forgive the 49ers, so you can turn them off any time. In fact, you are already in his bad graces for watching them in the first place. Like our founding fathers, Walter Camp was in direct contact with God when he developed the first rules of football, and God does not like sports that compete with it. But, he kind of winks, knowing that Texas has Major League Soccer teams in Dallas and Houston. But if you should happen to switch to a televised soccer game from England or Mexico (football and futbol, respectively), you would be instantly condemned to Hell.
  9. Can you get into Heaven if your neighbors have solar panels on their roof and you still talk to them?
    • There are only a few topics that would be acceptable in this case. You could tell them that climate change is a hoax, that Donald Trump was the real victor in 2020, that the sun’s purpose was to tan skin and not to produce electricity, that you value horsepower over fuel economy, that you use your AR-15 as a handle for your dust mop, and that any sperm that leaves the male body but does not find an ovum with which to unite is murder. Should you say anything suggesting that you regard this neighbor as a reasonable human being would be to condemn your soul.
  10. Is getting a college degree a mortal sin?
    • Higher education in and of itself is not a sin, depending upon the institution and the nature of the curriculum. In choosing a school, first look to the results of the previous football season. Jesus shows his colors during college football, as coaches and players know, and that’s why so many pray for success on the gridiron. But Jesus has his favorites. First, choose a winning football program if you want to pick a college. Second, pick a school that has “Christian” in its name. It’s hard to go wrong there, but some might have deceptive, liberal, humanistic tendencies. Do your research and stay away from these. Third, find schools associated with Evangelical leaders who endorse Donald Trump and who, in turn, Donald Trump endorses. You can be sure that both the Heavenly Father and his only begotten Son are on board with these guys. Avoid any school that includes “technology” in its name, has a medical school associated with it, or is located north of the Mason-Dixon line. Most universities in the south that have law schools are all right.

So, let us know how the people you shared Thanksgiving dinner with did. How many can you safely say now are going to Hell? Of the ones you told to go to Hell that day, how many times were you right? What about your kids? Do you have them in line? It might not be too late if they don’t meet these criteria. Like I said at the top, we can be sure you are Heaven bound, or you would not be reading this post, but what about your friends? What about the people you work with? What about your spouse or the person you date? Now you have the tools to be sure you are associating with the right people. Question number 11 doesn’t appear in the quiz and doesn’t have an answer, but if you are close to someone who is going to Hell, are you going with them?

Walnut Valley Music Festival, Winfield Kansas

In 2016 I submitted a song I wrote to the New Song Showcase contest that is a small part of the Walnut Valley Music Festival. My song, “I Dreamed Terry Gross Came To Interview Me,” was selected as an alternate in the “Songs for a Better World” category, one of ten song categories in the contest. The winner was unable to appear at the festival, so I was invited to perform my song. I was a little nervous as I stumbled over the words early on, and wasn’t exactly on pitch in a few places.

I’ve entered songs in subsequent years but didn’t win again until 2021, when my song, “That Brick House North of Colfax,” won in the same category of “Songs for a Better World.”

The song is about what I’ve witnessed in northwest Denver since moving there in early 2011, and specifically in the area bordered by Colfax Avenue on the south, 20th Avenue on the north, Federal Avenue on the east, and Lowell Avenue on the west. In 2011 this neighborhood consisted mostly of modest single family homes, duplexes, and a few row apartments that were built shortly after World War II and as of 2011 were rented out to working class families. In truth, there were also some very run-down properties and the neighborhood had issues with crime and drugs, so it was a mix. When property values began escalating, landlords, rather than pay for upkeep and collect rent, found they were being offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to sell their properties to developers. Developers, in turn, evicted the tenants, scraped the old dwellings from the lots, and put up multiple-unit condominiums that sold for $500,000 to $600,000 each for 2-bedroom units. The previous renters were unable to find other places to live in the area, and some, although steadily employed, ended up homeless. The neighborhood has been transformed from one that provided affordable housing to working class families to one of single young adults enjoying the proximity to trendy bars and restaurants in downtown Denver, and who somehow are able to pay for the rapidly escalating property values.

I hope the song speaks for itself. As our economy presents opportunities for some, and many in America are now enjoying unprecedented wealth, the real estate boom has created victims, and we have a growing underclass suffering in our country. Every person living without shelter in America has a different, unique story, and I wanted to counter the stereotype of the homeless man as a lazy, drug-addicted or alcoholic criminal. I don’t know all the causes of homelessness, and I certainly don’t have a solution, but we can’t dismiss our fellow Americans who are suffering by simply saying they choose to live that way.

Here is a video of my performance, which I did along with my friend Ruth Price, at the 2021 Walnut Valley Music Festival. I wasn’t nervous this time, but I wish the mix would have included a little more of my guitar.

David Hakan, a DJ with KC Cafe Radio in Kansas City, operates Gypsy Wagon Studios, and invites song contest winners at the Walnut Valley Festival to give interviews and perform their songs in his mobile studio on the festival grounds, which he then records. Here is the recording he made for us.

I have a lot of friends who are better song writers than I am. I encourage each and every one to submit songs to the New Song Showcase for 2022. Their ten songwriting categories are 1) Songs about Winfield, 2) Sweet memories, 3) Songs suitable for children, 4) Love songs, 5) Songs of religion or spirit, 6) Songs about feeling blue, 7) Instrumental, 8) Songs for a better world, 9) Humorous songs, and 10) None of the above. And if you are a bluegrass and/or Americana fan, think about going to Winfield, KS for next year’s Walnut Valley Music Festival for the great lineup of entertainers that appear there. In years past the following have appeared: Lester Flatt; Doc & Merle Watson; Mark O’Connor; Alison Krauss; Byron Berline; Dan Crary; Norman Blake; John Hartford; Tom Chapin; David Grisman; Merle Travis; Hot Rize; Tim O’Brien, New Grass Revival; Nickel Creek, and Billy Strings. Two of my favorites that have become regulars are The Steel Wheels and John McCutcheon. Walnut Valley has four stages going simultaneously from 8 am until late into the night, as well as national championships in guitar flat picking, finger-style guitar, bluegrass banjo, mandolin, hammer dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, autoharp, and old-time fiddle.

I can’t close without mentioning the Carp Camp. A huge proportion of those who attend Walnut Valley camp in the area adjacent to the fairgrounds where the festival is held. The campground area is known as Walnut Grove. Within Walnut Grove, different groups of musicians gather nightly to sip tea, imbibe in other preferred indulgences, and engage in jams of various degrees of structure. Carp Camp is one that is more highly structured, and has been ongoing since 1985. It is most enjoyed by those who access and download their homework material prior to joining the group live.

Do we prefer toxic fumes and noise pollution to the crunch of fallen leaves beneath our feet?

The more we innovate, the more we harm ourselves and our environment.

There’s a lot being written against the use of leaf blowers currently.

Maybe I’ve just become a grumpy old man, complaining about every little thing, but I don’t believe that applying technology to every work effort is good, especially if that technology involves fossil fuels and noise. But if they advertise it, we will buy, common sense be damned!

Thrust from the Void

The darkness had been absolute. Complete silence remained undisturbed. Nothing approached thought, sensation, emotion, or awareness. But it wasn’t eternal. And when conception suspended the void a spectrum of memories from previous disturbances rushed in on the noise and light to fill the individual consciousness unit. At that moment the unit became aware of the other units, also thrust from the void by some conception of some creature somewhere on Earth in some random period, awaiting its eventual delivery. So the cycle goes. Some would be lucky, spared the burden of material existence and returned to the luxury of the void by virtue of a miscarriage or abortion, but most were now awaiting a brief sentence of life on Earth not knowing what balance of pain and pleasure to anticipate.

The units had not existed in the void. They had been nothing. But at the moment of conception each entered a state of more than nothingness but less than life, and could remember a few of their previous material excursions before their most recent respite to the void. And during this waiting period between conception and delivery, and only during this period, each consciousness unit could share thoughts and memories with the others.

“Oh, here we go again,” unit one spoke. “Where to this time?”

“Welcome to the waiting room,” unit two greeted unit one. “Just a quick hello, as I think I’m about to be delivered. It’s only a guess, but I think I’m a bird this time. It’s not at all the feeling I had when I was sentenced before as a sea urchin.”

“Dream on,” unit three teased. “Try an earthworm.”

“Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it,” unit four said. “I don’t know how far back it was, but of all the sentences I can recall, an earthworm was the best. I never even knew humans existed in that round. It only lasted a few years, and it was as close to the void without actually being the void as any sentence I can remember. I never heard a sound, never saw light, couldn’t think, and was hardly different materially from the medium that supported me. It only could have been better if some bird had eaten me right away.”

Unit two laughed. “Not that much different than my sentence as a sea urchin.”

“Please, please, don’t let me be any kind of sea creature this time,” unit three said. “Oil slicks, sonar, nets, constant search for cooler waters. No thanks.”

“I’m not sure a bird will be much better,” unit two chimed in. “Flying through clouds of wildfire smoke, passing over expanding cities looking for suitable nesting sites. Even if you’re not arboreal, if you’re a waterfowl your habitat’s all desert now. If you’re a land bird your nesting grounds are all flooded and under water. And it doesn’t matter what you eat – seeds, insects, berries, other birds – humans have poisoned them all.”

Unit four thought for a moment. “Maybe vultures are going to have it pretty good for a while. Of course, you’re all talking about a sentence during the human era. We don’t know where in time we’ll be placed. If it’s before humans, then the waters and skies are still pure. And after humans, well, if the planet’s had enough time . . .”

“Isn’t this the worst?” unit one shouted. “Being thrown from the void. Why? Why? I know that every sentence has its mix of pain and pleasure, but I’ll take absolute nothing over even the greatest pleasure any day. Why isn’t nothing forever?”

Unit five spoke up. “Not all conceptions result in delivery, you know. A unit can get lucky. Sometimes humans even choose to make sure a conception doesn’t result in delivery.”

“I should be so fortunate,” unit one said. “Right back into the peace and quiet of not quite eternal nothingness.”

“I’ve not been sentenced as a human recently enough to be sure that I ever even have been one,” unit two offered, “but I was something close – a gorilla or a chimpanzee or a bonobo or maybe a baboon. OK, maybe I was a chimp, and the chimps could be pretty nasty, but it wasn’t bad. From what I understand, the arrogance of humans has them thinking that they evolved into a higher form of life from the great apes. But it looks to me, from all my sentences as other creatures, that humans are the least suited for life on Earth. They can’t survive on the planet as it is. They have to build shelters, wear clothes, adulterate their food sources, eliminate other species that compete with them for habitat, and turn the planet inside out to entertain their greedy brains. My understanding of evolution is that individual creatures of a particular species randomly change in tiny ways, and the changes that help them better survive among conditions on Earth stay with them, becoming qualities common to the entire species. Maybe the great apes once were humans who evolved to be better suited for life on Earth than their hairless, poorly adapted large-skulled upright cousins.”

Unit six had been listening to the conversation and finally offered this. “My most recent sentence was as a human. It was the worst of all the sentences I can remember. The arrogance, the greed, the violence, the constant arguing among different factions, the dependence on superstition and tradition rather than on reason and evidence. They all claim to worship life but every word, every action, every belief seems to confirm their commitment to emptiness. They are bent on self destruction, and are taking all the other species with them. Worst of all, they seem to think that their lives are just a trial to see if they qualify for some kind of reward after death, but that reward can only be earned if they proclaim their belief in that reward. It makes no sense.” Unit six thought for a little longer. “Oh, and when I was a human, they were overpopulating the Earth, destroying the habitat of other species, crowding each other out, and killing each other off with communicable diseases that they knew how to control but refused to. And they knew how to control their population growth, too, but also refused to do so. They are truly bent on self destruction.”

Now unit seven spoke up, breaking his silence up until this point. “By far my best sentence was as a human, so unlike what you describe. I was among humans eager to learn about themselves and the world they inhabited. They were respectful and protective of the other living things on the planet. Of all the creatures whose forms I’ve taken, they’re the only ones capable of self awareness, of accumulating knowledge and passing it down from generation to generation, of building communities and helping each other survive through compassion, sympathy, and understanding. Where they saw ignorance they taught each other, where they saw disease they healed each other, where they saw hunger they fed each other, where they saw confusion they sought understanding but were wise enough to reject superficial answers. Where they saw contempt they offered love.”

The other units looked at each other skeptically. “All my sentences have been confined to creatures on Earth,” said unit one. “Maybe you were delivered onto a different planet?”

“Or some time period that I’ve never seen,” another said.

“I’ve never heard a human sentence described that way,” added unit two.

“Yes, the void is better than any life sentence,” declared unit one, “but especially preferable to a human sentence.” All the consciousness units except unit seven voiced their agreement.

Consciousness unit eight waited to have the final word. “I can recall nearly half a dozen human sentences. Each was different. Most were torture, much like that described by unit six. But humans have lived on Earth a long time, in many places, under many circumstances. Rarely have they lived up to their potential, but unit seven and I have both seen glimpses of it, so we must not despair. And remember, the void always awaits to provide respite from each and every life sentence, regardless of whether that sentence be to a form that is bacterial, reptilian, ichthyic, avian, canine, bovine, feline, primate, or whatever. Why the peace of nothingness is not eternal is a mystery, but it seems we must accept these intermittent conceptions and thrusts from emptiness. And may we wish upon each other sentences with species other than humans as often as possible, but where not possible, let us hope for times and places closer to those experienced by unit seven than by unit six.”

Consciousness unit two was about to speak but suddenly vanished, presumably to be born into the form of a bird. Or perhaps the egg from which the bird was to be hatched was used for an omelette, or eaten by a nest-raiding predator, or blown from a tree by the wind, thereby carrying unit two gently back into non existence. Or perhaps unit two was not destined to be a bird, but rather a human, and was delivered into one of many societies or cultures that comprise human existence on Earth. Or perhaps conscious unit two was due to be born from a fetus that was aborted and returned to that perfect state of nothingness, only to eventually be thrust from the void again until some future sentence in the form of some future unknown incarnate.

She said she won’t get vaccinated because “I believe in Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, and he gives me protection over all of this . . . And I can’t even believe some of my Christian friends went along with it [vaccinations] because they’re not firm in their faith, and it’s like . . . Praise God that he protects me.”

Disease, Medical Technology, Earth, God

I heard this quote on an episode of “Tooning Out The News,” a show available on CBS All Access that parodies top news stories and also interviews real-world guests. Most evangelical Christians have strong beliefs that are contradictory and mutually exclusive. For example, they claim that everything that happens on Earth is God’s will, and that God is all loving and merciful. If God is all loving and merciful, why are there natural disasters and pandemics? Why do children die and people around the world suffer for lack of food and shelter? When confronted with these disparities fundamentalists often claim bad events are the work of the devil, not God. Doesn’t this contradict the assertion that everything that happens on Earth is God’s will? While the woman who is quoted above believes that God protects her, she also said she had a weakened immune system and that over the past year she had suffered two of the worst colds in her life. Why had God allowed her immune system to become weakened, and how had the cold viruses that infected her slipped God’s attention? In spite of God being all loving and merciful, evangelicals believe he insists that we believe in such things as the immaculate conception, the resurrection, Jesus’ ability to turn water into wine, Jesus’ ability to feed a crowd of 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus’ ability to raise the dead, and Jesus’ ability to walk on water before he will grant any favors to us. He will punish and eternally condemn those who do not flatter him by believe these things.

But let’s suppose just for a moment that those who oppose vaccinations on religious grounds are correct, and that events that happen on Earth (at least with regard to pandemics, natural disasters and other occurrences that are not the result of human behavior) are God’s will. If we then assume that vaccines contradict God’s will, we should also assume that all medical interventions to treat disease contradict God’s will, since, like the pandemic, these diseases are of his design and part of his grand plan. Would this logic also not hold for applying any scientific knowledge toward technological advances in the interest of making life for humans on Earth more comfortable, and more survivable?

One way of describing science might be to say it is the slowly improving process of looking around at the ways things are and making guesses as to what we see, and then testing whether those guesses are right. One way of describing technology might be to say that it is taking what we know about the way things are and using it to try to make life better. With regard to vaccines, our greatest minds have taken past knowledge and current information about viruses and the human immune system to develop chemical compounds that protect the human body from infection. This is modern technology. If, according to evangelicals, this is wrong today because we are supposed to allow Jesus to be our lord and savior when it comes to disease, has it always been this way? Have we always been going against God’s will when we’ve applied any form of technology in the interest of public health? For that matter, have we always been going against God’s will when we’ve applied any form of technology in the interest of convenience, comfort, or efficiency?

I would not argue that all applied technology is good. Those who have made millions and billions of dollars by extracting and burning fossil fuels still argue, whether they truly believe it or not, that the benefits continue to outweigh the environmental harms. They manage to keep half of the U.S. population believing the same through advertising, political lobbying, and control of funding to develop alternative sources of energy. Yet anyone who keeps an eye on air quality alerts, rising global temperatures, and associated changing climate and weather patterns must be concerned about the harm this technology is causing. Our petroleum-based lifestyle could not be possible without science, so it is true that the application of scientific discovery to technology, despite its benefits, has dangerous unintended consequences, and throughout history the application of medical technology, by improving health, survival, and longevity, has allowed humanity to thrive to the point where we dominate all other life forms on Earth and we have subsequently changed the environment in disastrous and deadly ways. We’ve wiped out many species and many more are on the brink of extinction, and some argue that climate change is on an irreversible course to wipe out modern human civilization.

Science and its application to medical technology has provided us with the tools to voluntarily control our runaway population and our destructive consumption of fossil fuels, but just as with vaccines, we have as of yet ignorantly failed to reach a consensus on the practicality of birth control, wind power, solar power, bicycles as popular forms of transportation, and other innovations. But I wonder if evangelicals who believe that God’s will controls events on Earth might consider pandemics and natural disasters as God’s attempt to undue the environmental damage humans have done to their planet through the misapplication of technology? What it we let COVID-19 run its course without masks or vaccines? What if we didn’t heed the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts? What if developing a vaccine and effective treatments had not been top priorities of scientists since early 2020? How much of the world population would we have lost by now, and how many more would be dying still? Does God want us to return to our pre-civilization state, where we survive on a hunting and gathering economy? Consistent logic on the part of evangelical thinking would say yes.

If science had never taught us that certain substances were poisonous, that unclean water made us sick, that we could build shelters to hold in heat, that we could lift and transport heavy objects with the aid of a lever and a wheel, that certain diseases were communicable and stricken people needed to be isolated, that infections could be cured with topical treatments and later with antibiotics, and that we could teach our immune systems to resist diseases, civilizations could never have developed and lasted. Were all these advances against God’s will in the eyes of anti-vaxers? If so, do they think we were never supposed to advance into thriving communities in the first place? Again, consistent logic on the part of evangelical thinking would say yes, but I doubt there are any evangelicals who would agree.

We are at a critical point in history where the application of science to energy and medical technology has created a planet overrun with humans and fouled with toxic air and water. I believe God, however it is defined, is indifferent to life of Earth, but science can help humans reverse our polluting ways, stabilize our population, and enable humans to live healthy, educated, productive, aesthetic, loving lives. Ironically, by ignoring the applications of science, and/or by continuing to apply them the wrong way, we will revert to a state much more like hunters and gatherers than creatures who have landed vehicles on Mars. But by pretending to be overseen by a vain, vindictive god who requires passive submission we run the risk of forsaking all the beauty, knowledge, and understanding that history has bestowed upon us.