If You Watch The Movies But Don’t Read The Comics, You’re Missing Out

spider-man“Spider-Man isn’t a super-hero. He’s just a kid who got his powers in an accident on a field trip.”

“No. He’s earned his place as a super-hero. He’s saved lives. He fights crime. And he uses his powers to do it.”

“Still, I mean he shoots webs and swings around and that’s about it. He’d probably be dead without his spidey-sense. You know what  would make Spider-Man scary? If he shot spiders instead of webs out of his web shooters. Criminals wouldn’t fuck with that.”

The above conversation didn’t take place in a local comic book shop. The two people talking weren’t nerds. They were high school cheerleaders on the bus I was on yesterday. If I had a time machine and could talk to the me in high school and tell him that about twenty years from now the conversations you have with your comic book friends will be the conversations cheerleaders are having I would have called future me crazy and questioned the wisdom of the guy who played Chaplin being Iron Man.

People who haven’t been collecting comic books for the last twenty-five years might not be aware of this but up until this century, if you knew something about super-heroes, you weren’t likely to be a high school cheerleader. Also, if you wanted to watch a movie based on a Marvel Comic, they looked like this.

Comic book characters aren’t only cool, they’re cooler than they’ve ever been. And it’s not just a passing fad. Both Disney’s Marvel and Warner Brothers’ DC Comics have movies planned all the way through the year 2020 with top tier talent involved. This year’s top selling movie has almost made a billion dollars worldwide and it’s a movie with Rocket Raccoon and Groot the walking tree. We are in comic book geek nirvana right now.

Characters that originated in comic books have gone mainstream. Marvel’s series of movies are literally the most successful movie franchise in history. Millions of people are tuning in weekly to TV shows like Agents of SHIELD and Gotham. And yet, if I asked ten of these people what they think about the Red Onslaught or Future’s End, at least nine of them wouldn’t have the slightest clue what I was talking about.

Let me put it another way, while I’m absolutely as excited as anyone that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is talking about Infinity Gems and Thanos and making a lot of moves that look like there’s going to be some big battle between all of the heroes and Thanos on the big screen, I also already read The Infinity Gauntlet when I was in high school back in 1992.

Since then I’ve read hundreds of stories every bit as good as any Marvel film and a quite a few that are better than any superhero movie ever made.

The reason for this is that there’s a good amount of creative freedom when it comes to comic books. That’s because it doesn’t cost $200,000,000 to make a comic book so the Powers That Be aren’t so afraid you’ll screw something up since they can always fix it next issue if you do.

Maybe you’re not sure that you’d like comics or you don’t want to spend any money to find out. That’s fine. Take a moment and check out Astro City #1/2. It’s literally one of my all time favorite comics. It’s an eight-page story available on from Amazon. And it’s FREE.

Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Astro-City-1996-2000-Kurt-Busiek-ebook/dp/B00EKN0IMI

If you’re already sold on comics and want to know how to be part of the cool kids table and where to start, might I suggest Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run. It’s modern. The art is amazing. And when Netflix comes out with their Daredevil TV series next year, you can know what standards you’re expecting out of it.

The Faith of an Atheist

damnLast week I talked about my religious beliefs and how eventually I lost my faith and became an atheist. (Not that there’s any ceremony or anything in ‘becoming’ an atheist.) There was one thing I neglected to point out and it has consistently been the thing people seem to find most confounding about me because despite my atheist tendencies, I do have absolute faith in something for which I have no objective proof.

I have faith that it’s all going to work out. This is a malleable faith but it is also steadfast. Despite whatever adversity may occur in my life, I have an overriding sense that it’s going to be alright eventually. I have had life-threatening ailments. I’ve been in horrendous car accidents. I’ve had friends die. In one six-week period a couple of years back, I was hospitalized, my (now ex-)wife kicked me out of my house, my son almost died in an accident, my grandmother died, and my friend killed himself. I’ve had the shit hit the fan in many ways and sometimes all at once. And still I had faith it would work out.

Don’t get me wrong. This faith has wavered on more than one occasion, but it’s always come back. Sure, I’ve had two marriages that didn’t work out. Yes, I’ve had unimaginably painful losses, but I’ve also had incredible luck. Just because something didn’t work out the way I thought it would doesn’t mean it didn’t work out.

If I wanted to, I could list off all of the things in my life that don’t seem to be going my way and make the adversity seem insurmountable and overwhelming. And there are times that I do just that. Then I reevaluate it and realize that certain things are true:

- I am alive

- I am not in danger of starving or losing my home

- I have a support network of friends and family who are willing to help in time of need

- I have a job and means to get another one if necessary

- I’m not done yet

All of these things remind me that not only could things be worse but I have the capability of making things better. There are things you’re unable to change, but the one thing you can change is your reaction to the situation. Making positive changes isn’t easy. It requires work and it requires faith that it’s all going to work out.

There are those who might say that it does not always work out. One could even argue that things haven’t always worked out for me (though I would disagree). However, I contend that believing things are going to work out and working towards that goal is important even when it turns out you’re wrong. As with anything else, if you don’t think you can win, then whatever chance you had of winning is gone.

Right now I have a few significant challenges. I have faith that each of them will work out. When I worry that they won’t, I ask myself a simple question: What is the worst case scenario in that situation? More often than not, it’s not nearly as terrible as I’ve initially imagined. Yes, there will be times that your world falls apart, but that’s often because there’s a new world ready to be built.

I’m sure this all sounds fairly naïve or hopelessly optimistic. And maybe it is. But if I’m right then it’s worth it. And if I’m wrong then at least the disappointment is only at the end. I suppose someone could make a similar case for believing in the Almighty. And they’re welcome to do so. I just believe it’s all going to work out and you don’t need to believe in God to believe that.

Did This Post Just Give You Ebola?

fearbolaNo, it’s not that I’ve given up on this ‘posting every day’ thing after only a week. I’ve decided taking weekends off is a good idea and yesterday I was sick and figured you didn’t want to hear all about my body doing all the things that bodies do when they’re sick.

For the record, it wasn’t Ebola. Of course it wasn’t Ebola. Ebola has killed exactly one person in the United States. That was in Texas. I’m in Washington State. There is virtually zero chance for me to get Ebola any time soon. The same is true for you.

And yet, if we go by media coverage, Ebola is EVERYWHERE and we’re all in constant danger of getting Ebola. A recent poll shows that nearly 40% of Americans are ‘very concerned’ about a major Ebola outbreak in America. In Maine, a teacher who attended a seminar in Dallas, miles from the nearest of the three infected patients has been placed on leave out of fear of Ebola. Again, there have been THREE cases in the entire country of 280 million people and only one death. To put this in perspective, there have been more Popes in the last three years than there have been deaths in America from Ebola.

Hunter S. Thompson’s final book of original material was called The Kingdom of Fear. The title refers to post-9/11 America. We are told over and over again what we need to fear whether it’s mass shooters, ISIS, or Ebola. Each of these things make for great television. They all pass the old ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ test. And they all have virtually zero chance of having a direct impact on your average American unless of course you include the fear of these things.

This isn’t to say that things like Ebola or ISIS or mass shootings aren’t bad. They are. And there are definitely things that we as a country should do about them. However, if you are not directly involved in these things, there is no reason for these things to occupy much headspace and you sure as hell have better things to spend your time worrying about.

The problem is that the news doesn’t really get anything out of telling you, “You are eight times more likely to get married to Larry King than you are to die of Ebola in America.”  At that point, any further talk of Ebola likely isn’t going to interest you all that much. Whereas going into detail on how death from Ebola happens and how there’s the faint possibility that someone on an airplane somewhere might have Ebola and they could be ANYWHERE is much more likely to make you keep watching.

So what’s to be done? A friend of mine recently asked people on Facebook where they might find an unbiased source of news that wasn’t part of some partisan agenda. No one had a good answer for them.  The solution I’ve found is simply to not allow fear to dictate your feelings on a given topic. If you find that there’s a lot of fear about something in the media, take a closer look. Do the numbers match up to the hysteria? Is this thing directly affecting you in any way right now? If not, what chance is there that they will? Rather than buying into headlines that end in question marks like “Does A Missing Passenger On A Plane Have Ebola?”  Ask questions of your own.

- Jack Cameron

In Comics When You’re Dead, You’re Dead….For A While

Death-of-Wolverine-McNiven-coverThis past week in Marvel Comics, the X-Man and Avenger Wolverine died. This happened in a four-issue miniseries called The Death of Wolverine. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise. The miniseries was much better than I expected it to be and his death was well handled.

From what I can tell the series has met with mixed reviews with virtually no one thinking that Wolverine’s death will be ‘permanent’. Cries of ‘He’s not really dead!’ can be found in any comments section on any website talking about it. Of course he’s not ‘really’ dead. He’s not real. He’s a fictional character often drawn and written by some of the best people in the comic book business and occasionally played on screen by Hugh Jackman. So no, he’s not really dead.

That’s not their point though. When it comes to comic book, death is a bit of a revolving door. Since 2007 Marvel has killed off prominent characters such as Captain America and Human Torch with mainstream publicity about each ‘death’. And both are back, alive and well. (Although recently Cap has become an old man resulting in his old buddy, Falcon taking his place and Human Torch has lost his powers, but no one expects those things to last long either.)   Heck, one of the Death of Wolverine epilogue books is about the response his old friend Nightcrawler has to his death. Nightcrawler himself was dead up until a few months ago.

Why is death so temporary in comics so often? Because it’s profitable. People buy issue where the character dies. People buy the issue where the character comes back. And some characters are just too dang popular to keep them dead.

Even in the Marvel Cinematic Universe both Agent Coulson and Bucky Barnes have been brought back from ‘death’.

For some fans the temporary aspect of death in comics cheapens the story and makes the comics less enjoyable. I understand their point. If you have a hero sacrificing her life knowing they’re going to come back, it’s not all that big of a sacrifice, is it?

As a long time comic book reader, I’ve found a way to reconcile this. Much in the same way that when I read a Marvel Comic I let myself believe a man can have a skeleton laced with the fictional metal of Adamantium, I allow myself to believe that when these characters die, they’re dead. It’s worth noting that when these characters die, none of them seem to be aware that they might come back. This is despite the fact that they’ve seen many of their friends and loved ones die and return to life. I just go along with their own belief that when they die, they die.

One time I tried to think of X-Men who have never thought dead in the 75 year history of Marvel Comics. I came up with Iceman, but I could be wrong about that.

So Wolverine is dead (and not actually for the first time). But this one may stick longer than most. Word on the Internet is that Marvel Comics is downplaying any characters they don’t have movie rights to such as Wolverine, but we’ll see.

- Jack Cameron

Life Intimidates Art

melThanks to the Internet we now know more about the people who provide us entertainment than we ever did before. We don’t just have the occasional interview. We have blogs. We have tweet. We have Facebook posts. We have hacked cell phone texts and photos. For many people, our artists and entertainers don’t only have to amuse or enthrall us, they must also match our values in their personal lives.

We no longer want Paula Deen to tell us how to make Zucchini Bread on television because she’s exhibited signs of being a racist. We don’t see Ender’s Game, a movie sci-fi fans have been waiting decades for because its author, Orson Scott Card spends his money actively fighting against the concept of gay marriage. Mel Gibson is a box office pariah because of anti-Semitic meltdowns. The NFL has recently been plagued with domestic violence problems among some of their players. And now legal crime novelist John Grisham has said in an interview that people who look at child porn shouldn’t be in prison.  (Grisham didn’t say that exactly but that’s what all the headlines will read.)

While many of these the actions or positions taken by these and other famous people are reprehensible, it’s worth noting that almost none of their actions or opinions has anything to do with their ability to make good art. Sure, one can argue that Card isn’t ever going to create a gay hero in any of his novels. That doesn’t make Ender’s Game any less of a science fiction masterpiece. At least not in my eyes.

And yet, I didn’t see Ender’s Game because I really didn’t want to support Card’s campaign against people of the same sex who love each other. Yes, I know that he got the same amount of money regardless of whether or not the movie did well, but he hasn’t sold the sequel rights yet and I didn’t want to be a part of him getting to do so.

This is something that I’ve struggled with quite a bit and I want to have a strong, informed opinion about it if for no other reason than I’d like to think people who aren’t liberal Democrat atheists should enjoy and purchase my work. Unfortunately it’s not an easy issue and there aren’t a lot of hard fast rules about it.

Charles S. Dutton is one of my favorite actors. Before he was ever on screen he got into a fight where he killed a man. He was charged with manslaughter and served seven years. A few months after that, he was sentenced to three years for a weapons violation. During his second stay in prison he found read some plays and became so interested in theater that he started a drama group. He now has over a hundred rolls to his credit and a Masters degree from the Yale School of Drama. And while I haven’t seen everything he’s done, his involvement in a project instantly makes me interested.

So where do I draw the line? Where should we draw that line? I’m not sure. As I said, I don’t have any hard fast rules and it seems to be something I approach on a case by case basis. I think contrition is part of it. If they’re willing to admit wrongdoing and aren’t currently doing or standing behind their previous behavior it’s a lot easier to support their future endeavors. Honestly another part of it is how much I like the person involved. I’m much more willing to give Mel Gibson another shot because he’s Mel Gibson and I like most of his movies. He’s also apologized and managed not to get into too much trouble over the last few years. Whereas Orson Scott Card has made it clear that he still vehemently opposes gay marriage and thinks we should ignore any political stances we might not agree with.

It can be difficult to separate the art from the artist. My girlfriend is unable to enjoy Marion Zimmer Bradley’s work because of her participation in a horrible child sex scandal. And I’ll likely never read another Orson Scott Card book again. Are there crimes and behaviors so abhorrent that the people involved should never again be able to do the job they clearly love? I’m interested in your thoughts on this.

- Jack Cameron

Big Questions

Buddy_christ

Part 1 God

As a writer I tend to see most things as some form of narrative. There’s a story in almost everything. It all began somewhere and ends somewhere. No one is born a killer or a plumber or a Christian. They were born into social and genetic circumstances, had some experiences, and ended up being who they are now.

For me, my story of my personal beliefs began with my Dad. He went to Bethany Methodist Church in South Tacoma. The pastor there was a personal friend of his. One of my earliest memories was watching a congregation engage in a responsive reading where the pastor said something and the entire congregation said something back. I was too young to read or understand what reading was so I thought that God was telling the entire congregation what to say. I wondered how that worked and I wondered why God was talking to everyone in the church except for me.

Years later we stopped going to that church. I’m not sure why. Throughout my adolescence we’d occasionally go to other Methodist churches. We were at St. Paul’s for a while. I found many of the people friendly and the free food enjoyable but I didn’t really connect with anything there. I was aware of the various Bible stories. Many of them seemed unlikely or possibly just metaphorical. While I might have called myself a Christian at the time, I don’t think I was a Believer in any real sense.

All of that changed when I was sixteen. As teenage boys often do, I met a pretty girl. She invited me to her church. I agreed to go with her. She was a Quaker. At the time, I looked like this:

jack16

I did not choose to dress up for the occasion. I pulled my 1983 Firebird into the gravel parking lot blasting Metallica with a ‘I dare you church people to attack me.’ attitude.

Instead of being greeted with scorn, derision, or even annoyance, I was met with friendly faces who were happy to engage me in conversation and that was even before they realized I had been invited by one of their members. The people at McKinley Hill Friends Church were living up to their ‘Friends’ title. This both surprised and intrigued me.

The pretty girl and I broke up after a couple of months, but I continued to go to the church. I was intrigued. Once I get interested in something, I tend get obsessive and being a Quaker was no different. I learned about their history, their pacifism, their lack of ceremony and proselytizing, and their talk of an ‘inner voice’.  All of these things were attractive to me. I liked the idea of pacifism. I liked the idea that things like ceremony and ground being sacred was a bunch of hooey. And the fact that we were told to simply behave as a Quaker and not go out trying to convert people made me very comfortable.  But the most attractive thing about being a Quaker was that we were told that we could hear the voice and will of God within ourselves. Our inner voice was the most important, most vital aspect of our religious belief. That voice was more important than anything the pastor might say. I liked that quite a bit.

Then one late evening in the early 1990s three of us from the Youth Group walked to a 7-11 late at night on the East Side while staying at our Joe’s house. Joe was our Youth Group Leader and one of the most laid back people I’ve ever met. We were attacked on our way home. One of us was knocked out. Another was hit with a bottle. I was unhurt thanks to the timely arrival of a police car. The four who attacked us ran off without getting much from us.

My two companions got checked out at the hospital and the rest of us met back at Joe’s. We prayed. Each of us said something about the incident and how we hoped our friends would be okay. And then the pretty girl who’d brought me to the Quaker Church in the first place prayed that the guys who attacked us would one day find Jesus. I didn’t say anything at the time, but it was then that I knew I had to leave the church.

From my point of view at the time the only way I wanted those four guys to ‘find Jesus’ was five seconds after someone killed them, preferably soon. At the same time I realized that from the point of view of being a Quaker, she was entirely correct and I was wrong.

Over the years I attended McKinley Hill Friends Church I had gone on a Mission Trip to Mexico, I’d gone to dozens of meetings and camps and Bible quiz competitions. I’d read my Bible and prayed. When I was in my first car accident, the first thing I did was get out and pray thanking God that no one was hurt. And yet, when someone was violent towards me and my friends, I could not possibly turn the other cheek. While Quaker beliefs are among the most flexible of all religions, not being a pacifist isn’t part of that flexibility.

I could have continued to go to hang out with my friends, but that wasn’t the purpose of going to church and I would feel like a fraud the whole time. So shortly after the attack, I left the church and only returned a few times after that to briefly say hello, but I wasn’t there to worship God. In fact, my inner voice had decided He was too much of a screw up to deserve to be worshiped.

Part 2 Faulty God

When I was a teenager I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I enjoyed arguing in favor of things I believed in and I’d heard that it paid well. During my time as a Quaker, I had thought of being a pastor because talking about whatever I want every Sunday as long as I related it to God sounded like a great job. So I suppose it wasn’t a surprise when that part of my theological studying on my own was finding unconventional ways of using belief systems.

For example, Quakers believe all ground is equally holy. This means that your local Starbucks is just as holy as your local church. However, my interpretation was that if I can make out with my girlfriend at Starbucks, I can make out with my girlfriend in church. This habit of turning things on their head resulted in my Faulty God Theory.

If God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, why do bad things happen to good people? Entire libraries of books have been written on this topic. And the answers are as various as the books. One of the more popular responses among believers is the great C.S. Lewis who famously said, ““Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Others said it was as simple as there not being any God at all. But as I entered my twenties I had another idea.

According to one of the earliest verses in the Bible, man was created in God’s image. This verse has often led to people depicting God as an old white guy. It’s also led to various faiths talking about us trying to be more God-like, treating the body as a temple and all of that. But to my mind at the time, it meant something else.

If we were created in God’s image and we screw things up all the time, then it makes sense that God screws up just as much as we do. What would happen if I was God? I may very well forget to pay attention to something like what the hell is going on in Madagascar. I might just be busy with other things. I might overlook that boat in a storm.  I might assume that you’re not going to slip on the ice on those stairs you’ve gone down a thousand times. Why do bad things happen to good people? God fucks up.

As far as I can tell, no one else had come up with this idea. Maybe because it’s a terrifying thought. Maybe because none of us could likely create anything as complex as the entire universe even if we had the power to do so. Whatever the case, my one-person Church of the Flawed God worked well for me for a number of years.

A flawed God allows for every bit of turmoil we encounter in our daily lives. It even accounts for why he failed to make us immortal here on Earth. It was an all-purpose excuse for why the concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful God fails to deliver so often even for his most devoted followers. This allowed for my living in a universe where God existed and I still had a chance in Hell of getting to Heaven.

Years passed. I didn’t attend church. I didn’t often talk to people about my personal beliefs because most of the time, I feel like personal beliefs are just that and there’s no reason to share them. And like many people, I let my life continue on and really tried to ignore asking myself any of the big questions. Big questions are scary, especially if the absolute best answer you have is that the Almighty God is a buffoon like me.

 

Part 3 No God

hubble-extreme-deep-field

The universe is big. See that image? That’s from ten years of data from the Hubble Space telescope. It’s from a tiny section of space that is essentially empty to the naked eye. Each of those lights in the image isn’t a star. It’s a galaxy. Each of those galaxies has billions of stars. Some of those stars have planets. And that’s just a tiny part of the sky.

Scientists estimate that the diameter of the universe is approximately 92 billion light years. This means that if you were going the speed of light, it would take 92 billion years to get from one end to the other. And even then you wouldn’t get there because the universe is expanding. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. So it we’re talking about traveling at the speed of light for twenty times as long as the Earth has existed.

As a guy who has always liked astronomy, when I’m asking the Big Questions, it’s important to remember the size the universe. Especially when all major religions seem to think that the Almighty God pay a LOT of attention on one tiny planet orbiting an average sized star in an average sized galaxy in an entirely unremarkable part of the universe.

Given the numbers involved there is undoubtedly intelligent life in the universe. Did God also send His Son there? If not, why not? And why, if the Greeks and the Romans and the Egyptians were so smart, how is it that they didn’t figure out who the One True God was? I mean if it’s so obvious, how did they fail so spectacularly and come up with all these other silly Gods? Come to think of it, why do otherwise intelligent people right in the here and now not clearly understand the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for all of our sins? Why isn’t everyone who has heard of this become Christian? Hell, with my Flawed God thing, was I even really a Christian anymore?

The Big Questions plagued me. My Flawed God Theory was itself flawed. If God’s just like us, He wouldn’t have made the universe so big. He wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of creating life just to put it in a tiny, tiny part of the universe. If Heaven or Hell are real places where real souls go, then given enough time, we should be able to go there using technology. We can go every other place in the Universe with the right equipment. We’ve even come up with theories about parallel universes to which we could theoretically travel or view given the proper technology. And yet, such a concept is absurd to both scientists and Believers.

Any method I could think of to verify the existence of God (flawed or otherwise) failed because it was not objective or repeatable. Using a telescope, I can show someone the rings of Saturn on a clear night. Regardless of the equipment I might have, I can’t show someone God.

I resisted. I didn’t want there to be no God. I’d rather have a screwed up God than no God at all. I started to notice that many of the people I enjoyed reading or watching happened to be atheists. I’m not talking about people like Richard Dawkins. I’m talking about people like Warren Ellis, Eddie Izzard, Patton Oswalt, and Penn Jillette.

I slowly began to accept that I didn’t really believe in God. My Flawed God Theory was really just a way of letting me continue to believe something because it made me feel better. While there had been times in my life where I genuinely felt as though God was calling upon me to do things and other times when good things happened that I attributed to God’s divine intervention, I had never experienced anything I felt couldn’t have just as easily been a combination of circumstances and luck.

Accepting that I was an atheist wasn’t easy. My Dad is still a Christian. (Lutheran now, last I checked.) Many friends are Christian. That pretty girl from all those years ago, I’m still friends with her and she’s still a Quaker. Many people I know, love, and respect are devout Christians. I have friends of other faiths as well. While I also have atheist friends, we are most definitely in the minority.

On a much more personal level though, being an atheist presents a much bigger problem: I’m not going to get to exist forever. As a Christian, even if I’m the worst guy in the world, I get to exist forever in Hell. But as an atheist when I die, that’s it. I stop existing just like every day before that day in December back in 1974. As a big fan of existing, this was a big damn deal.

Unfortunately as uncomfortable as being an atheist is, being uncomfortable isn’t a viable excuse to suddenly change my beliefs without compelling evidence.

Part 4 Christ-like Atheism

I’m not done. The search for good answers to Big Questions isn’t something I’ve completed. I don’t know that it’s something you complete.

Since accepting that I’m an atheist I’ve read dozens of atheist websites, articles, and books on the topic. Some very vocal, very famous atheists I barely agree with at all. Others seem to be on the same path as me and help in my search for answers. I find that my path aligns quite closely with Sam Harris though he and I don’t agree on everything. (His opinion on guns doesn’t really work for me for example.)

I’ve also managed to maintain friendships with those with different belief systems. This is something I’ve found many atheists have difficulty doing.

One of the reasons for this is that I’m not out to convert anyone. I’ve never been out to convert anyone. I’m happy to tell you what I believe and why I believe it, but I agree with Sting’s song, All This Time, “They go crazy in congregations. They only get better one by one.” My path is my path. It’s not yours and I’m not upset with you for not being on it. I’m not going to tell you that you’re on the wrong path any more than I’ll accept you telling me that I am.

I try to look at those with religious beliefs like live-action role players. My Dad is currently playing a game called Lutheranism. It has a rule book and ceremonies and gatherings and all sorts of things. Some other friends are Methodists or Jews or Mormons. Each has different rules and plays a different game. I used to play Quakerism. Eventually, much like actual role-playing games, I outgrew it and moved on and now I don’t play at all, but harbor no ill will towards those who do.

I’ve heard some people say that this is a condescending way to look at religion, but I contend that it’s no more condescending than proclaiming yours as the one true faith.

A while back I was talking with a Christian friend of mine. He’s very active in his church. His faith is part of who he is. He also owns guns, is pro-death penalty, is anti-abortion, and thinks homosexuals are an abomination. All of these things were true about me at one point or another in my life. Now none of them are. During one of our debates I mentioned to him that if someone were to ignore that he calls himself a Christian and I call myself an atheist and simply look at our opinion on these topics, one would be forced to admit that I am more Christ-like than he is. He agreed, but also acknowledged that neither of us is done answering those Big Questions.

-  Jack Cameron

The Truth Is Rarely Black & White

Over at my TacomaStories.com site I talk about Tacoma homicides. Every time someone is murdered in Tacoma I write about the victim and what happened. I’ve been doing this for years now. Before that I worked at the police department in police records. I used to spend my lunch breaks reading case files and talking to beat cops and detectives. These experiences have informed me and changed the way I deal with news when I hear about it.

So last week when an 18-year-old black man was shot by a 32-year-old white police officer in the Shaw area of St. Louis, Missouri, less than twenty miles from the spot where Michael Brown was brutally and illegally gunned down by another white police officer, I didn’t jump on the band wagon assuming that t his was just another example of racist, overzealous, brutal, militarized cops killing yet another young person.

Initial reports seemed to confirm people’s worst fears. There was talk that victim had a gun and had shot at the off-duty cop who’d been working as a security guard, but a relative said he had no gun and was holding a sandwich. The officer was also said to have fired sixteen shots. A local politician said that the young man had been shot in the back of the head.

This led to the following meme:

meme

The protests that resulted from this death and the online vitriol caused by memes like the one above accepted a certain narrative of the event that was all too familiar. A recent study shows that young black males are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white males. That same study shows that white cops are more likely to shoot young black males. (Although 78% of the time when a black cop shoots and kills someone, they too are young black males.) Anyone who says that there isn’t a significant problem with lethal force being used against young black males by American police officers isn’t paying attention to reality.

However, this does not mean that every shooting by of a young, black male by a white cop is automatically racially motivated or unjustified. Over the course of the next few days, we’d learn other facts about the case. Conspiracy theorists would call these revelations the ‘police changing their story’. But it’s really investigative police work.

It turns out that the police found a gun with the victim. That gun was reported stolen two weeks earlier. The 9mm pistol jammed after firing three bullets. Those three bullets were all recovered. Two had hit a hillside behind the officer and one had hit a vehicle. We also learned that the victim was wearing an ankle bracelet as part of his release pending a trial in November for eluding the police and a weapons violation.

The medical examiner would also inform us that while sixteen shots were fired, only six or seven had actually hit the victim. The latest information I could find said that they were unsure if one hole was another bullet hole or an exit wound. It was also revealed that the victim had not been shot in the back of the head. He’d been shot in the cheek.

Within a day it was clear that the meme was not only misleading, but factually incorrect. This did not stop people from sharing it without researching sources first.

By any reasonable account of the situation, an off-duty officer working as a security guard had a confrontation with an armed young man who shot at him resulting in the officer shooting back and killing the victim. Unfortunately the fact that it happened near the shooting death of Michael Brown has caused some to conflate the two incidents. This is unfortunate given that beyond the race of the participants, the occupation of the shooter, and the general geographical area, there’s little that these two incidents have in common.

It doesn’t help that our media seems more interested in stirring outrage than simply informing us. CNN.com’s first article about the shooting took six paragraphs before even mentioning that the victim was armed and had fired at the officer and typical headlines on news sites were ‘St. Louis Police Shoot Another Black Youth’.  Unfortunately things that hit our hot buttons tend to result in us clicking on them and media sites have learned that.

If you don’t get your news from multiple sources, if you don’t allow that what you think might be wrong, if you don’t allow for new information to change your mind, then it’s fairly easy to follow the narrative of outrage that some media outlets are only too happy to feed us.

We see things like the meme above and believe it’s true without paying attention to the facts of the case. When someone points out the discrepancies in that narrative or to evidence that contradicts it, we say that the media or the police are lying because both have lied in the past.

It’s good to question new information. It’s good to question the source. But when you’re only questioning information that contradicts what you’re thinking, then you’re engaging in the same sort of thought process that cults are known for.  Worse, it damages your credibility as a reliable source of information. This may seem like a small thing, but it really isn’t. When you start misinforming people due to a stubborn refusal to even entertain contrary evidence, one of two things happen: people believe the lie or people realize you’re lying. Neither option is a good one.

There are some who would say that my mind was made up from the moment I heard about the shooting and that I’m just as blind to the ‘real’ facts as the people I’m describing. I disagree. If all sixteen shots had hit the victim, if no gun or bullets were found, if no gun was reported stolen, if a hundred other things had happened instead of what the evidence shows, I’d have a different opinion about this. I would change my mind.

Why would I do this when the media and the police are known to lie? Because lies have a way of being found out. It’s how we know what actually happened to Michael Brown. Remember when there was talk that he was armed and had robbed a convenience store? That didn’t pan out. Creating effective cover ups and lies is difficult. And accusing corrupt police departments and media outlets of such cover ups assumes a level of competency that those same people never attribute to those entities at any other time.

The truth takes time. It’s why I don’t report on Tacoma homicides as soon as they happen. I wait for names to be released and the evidence to tell a story of what happened before making assumptions and creating a false narrative. I’ve also been known to change the article when new information comes to light that changes the story of what happened.

It’s good to be informed. But keep in mind that the story you’re hearing might not be the final word.

- Jack Cameron