Why Can’t We Leave the Sentinelese Alone?

Why can’t we just let these people be?

There are very few unexplored places left on this planet, unless you count the bottom of the Marianas Trench, which is about 36,000 feet under the sea. But even in that unwelcoming environment, scientists keep trying to make inroads to find out what’s down there. We just can’t seem to stay way.

I get that desire to discover, to learn, to broaden one’s horizons against all odds, to answer those unanswered questions. I really do. And in most instances, I say go for it. Curiosity is one of my favorite human qualities. However, I make one exception: I genuinely believe that uncontacted people should be left alone, unless, of course, they make the first move.

The people from North Sentinel Island, way out in the Indian Ocean, have been left to their own devices for at least 60,000 years. They have not developed past the stone age, and have rebuffed all attempts to contact them. They shoot arrows at approaching boats and planes. They turn their backs. They shout aggressively. More than once, they have killed those who have deigned to trespass. As far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty much all we need to know. These people want to be left alone. So let’s leave them alone.

Fortunately, the government of India currently agrees with this philosophy. It is illegal to get within 3 miles of this island. This has not always been the case, but it is now. Why isn’t that good enough? Why can’t we just let these people be?

Most recently, just last month, an American missionary, John Allen Chau, decided that these people need to be converted to Christianity. The arrogance. The nerve. How dare any of us think that we know what’s best for an entire group of people who have never asked for our opinion? How dare we launch what amounts to a religious missile into their midst, knowing full well it would change their entire culture forever?

Not only is it foolhardy to approach an isolated group that has no immunity to our diseases, but it’s criminal to barge uninvited into a land that they’ve occupied for thousands upon thousands of years. Have we learned absolutely nothing from history?

Chau was promptly killed by the Sentinelese, as he stood there spewing his scripture at them in a language they did not understand and do not care to know. His body will never be recovered. Its mere presence there, with its unknown disease vectors, may cause the death of the last uncontacted people on earth.

In the past 130 years, this island has been invaded by the outside world at least a half dozen times. One time, by a group from the National Geographic. Whether their intentions were good or not, these contacts have never ended well. Not once.

We know virtually nothing about these people. We’re not even sure if they number 15 or 500. No one knows their language. There’s even strong debate as to whether they are capable of making fire. But one thing is clear: They want no part of us. So let’s leave them in peace. Our curiosity does not trump their right to live their lives as they see fit.


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Child Witch Hysteria

Every day in Africa, hundreds of children are declared to be witches. Once this happens, their lives are effectively over. They are tortured for confessions, abandoned by their families or murdered by villagers. Schools will no longer teach them. Hospitals will no longer treat them.

These children are blamed for any family misfortune. Disease, miscarriage, unemployment, death in the family…all these things surely must be because the most vulnerable among us is a witch. You can also be considered a witch simply by virtue of being born with a deformity. It is claimed that these children feast on human flesh. They are stigmatized, feared, and cast out by society.

This practice has experienced an extreme resurgence this century, mainly thanks to the movies put out by the Liberty Gospel Church, an extreme Pentecostal sect in Nigeria that combines a weird brand of Christianity with ancient cultural beliefs in witchcraft. One of their movies, “End of the Wicked” goes into graphic details about these witches, and claims that this information is in the bible, and that these things are all facts.

A lot of the adherence to this practice probably has to do with the extreme poverty in which these people live. They are unable to support these children, and witchcraft is an effective excuse for society to abandon them. It’s really the only “acceptable” excuse.

To exact confessions from these kids, people will beat them, deprive them of food, put acid in their eyes, force them to sit on fires, or drive nails into their skulls. Once a “confession” is exacted, many of these children are buried alive, or have stones tied to their legs and then are thrown off bridges, are abandoned in the bush, or are poisoned.

A big industry has grown up to take advantage of those parents who do not want their children to suffer from this stigma. Unscrupulous people claim that they can exorcise the witches, and it will “only” cost a year’s income. If the parents can’t pay, these evil people will hold the child captive, torturing them all the while, until the parents pay up.

According to Wikipedia, this practice is common in Angola, Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Ethiopia. This movie on Youtube, entitled Dispatches: Saving Africa’s Witch Children, will tell you all about the practice in Nigeria. I have to warn you that it will also break your heart.

I cannot stress enough the importance of education to combat these horrible beliefs. Until then, though, these children need to be protected, housed, educated and treated so that they can reclaim what little childhood may be left to them.

If you would like to help these children, please join me in donating to Safe Child Africa. Since it’s a British-based organization, your donations will be in pounds, not dollars, but they do accept credit cards.

If you are reading this on a computer or another electronic device, chances are you are much better off than these children will ever be. Take a moment to appreciate that. And please help if you can.

The “witches” of Africa thank you.

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Good God, He’s at it Again.

Just when you think that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty can’t wander any further out on the lunatic fringe, he does just that. This time he ranted not about homosexuals or AIDS or hippies (Are there enough hippies left to rant about? Apparently so.) but what he appears to consider the most evil creatures of all: atheists.

It seems that this silly, ignorant old man equates atheism with a lack of morality. As far as I can tell, his message boiled down to this: without a belief in a judging, Christian god, you cannot be afraid of consequences, and therefore can run wild and give in to your baser instincts.

But here’s what really gave me the willies about his speech: he showed the world exactly what his instincts would be, and even for someone as desensitized as little ol’ me, who is a true crime documentary addict, his scenario was chilling. I won’t go into detail about it. You can read it here if you’re so inclined. But suffice it to say that his violent, sadistic story would make the most diehard serial killer gasp. It takes a special kind of twisted imagination to come up with a plot like that. I wouldn’t want to run into this guy in a dark alley, just in case his god was off duty that day.

I’m not an atheist, but neither am I a Christian. I have never equated my moral compass with my spirituality. In fact, this recent study shows, and history bears it out, that religion doesn’t make people more moral.

I always strive to do the right thing, not because I fear going to hell, but because, well, it’s the right thing to do. I don’t behave decently out of fear. I behave decently because I’d like to think that others will do the same. Otherwise we could not have a functioning society. You can believe in the golden rule without believing that the bible is the voice of god.

If anything, I think that the more you are taught to question, the less dogmatic you are, the more moral you will be. If from birth you are force fed the concept that there is only one right way, and all other ways are wrong, it would be so much easier to stray from a path that you consider to be righteous, and once you’ve done that, once you decide that you’re a bad person, all bets are off. On the other hand, if you are taught to think for yourself, to consider your options, and to realize how your actions will impact those around you, you will be much more apt to care about the consequences of your behavior.

Yes, there is evil in this world. It spans across all religions and every philosophy. Some people are just sick, and I think Phil Robertson’s latest speech demonstrates that he’s one of those people. That’s all there is to it.

Phil Robertson

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Whether or not you believe that Jesus was the son of God, his mother apparently did. Can you imagine the pressure, raising the son of God? I mean, kids are a handful as it is, without them being divine.

How did Mary handle the terrible twos? How do you discipline God’s son? Did she and God debate parenting styles? Did God take an active part in his upbringing? Did he show up for his Bar Mitzvah?

Was Jesus informed of his parentage right away, or did Joseph, like other adoptive parents, wait until he was old enough to understand this news? Did strange and important people like the Magi keep showing up at his door throughout his life, or was he pretty much left alone to grow up?

And if he did know, how did he interact with the other kids in the school yard? Was he involved in sports? I suspect he wouldn’t have been the short stop. Did he play games? Did he always win? Did he always let everyone else win? Was he popular?

Most importantly, how did Mary prevent him from having a massive ego? I mean, if God were my honest to… uh, God… father, I’d have a hard time not feeling superior. “My dad’s holier than your dad.” How did he view the adults around him? Did he feel lonely and set apart?

The Bible doesn’t really go into detail about these things, and unanswered questions like these are why I struggled with Christianity as I grew up. I prefer to take what wisdom I can from all the religions I encounter and go from there. There is a great deal of knowledge all around you if you care to look for it.

Baby hand in father's palm

[Image credit: healthofchildren.com]

Important Story, but Wrong Angle

It seems that a man in Oklahoma beheaded a former coworker. When you read about this, much is made of the fact that this guy had recently converted to Islam, and was trying to convert others as well. Apparently authorities are investigating his background.

When you read about this story from a variety of sources, several words and phrases jump to the forefront. “Muslim”, “Islam”, “Sharia Law”. What you aren’t seeing, and what seems blatantly obvious to me, is “Mentally Ill” and “Untreated”. Why is no one talking about this? This guy is a nut job. He needs help. Pure and simple.

The fact that his particular brand of crazy was focused on twisting a religion and taking it to a violent extreme is not, repeat, NOT an indictment of that religion. Yes, he spouted a lot of religious stupidity on his Facebook page. He could have just as easily decided he was the next messiah and that the rapture (another twisting of a religion, not mentioned even once in the Bible) had to be brought on through his own personal actions. He could have decided that he was an alien from outer space, and that it was his job to turn us all into the Venusian version of chicken pot pie.

The real story here is that he is yet another mentally ill individual who was showing all kinds of warning signs, and yet nothing was done to help him, with horrifying, tragic results. This could be an opportunity for the media to delve into the problem of mental illness in this country, ways to increase security in the workplace, and come up with a more effective system to get people the help they so desperately need.

Instead, this horrible story has been twisted into an attention grabbing sound bite about the evils of Islam. More and more, news is taken into this strange corporate machine, is twisted, bent, embellished and turned into a product that will draw attention, incite fear, and further an agenda. I long for the days of responsible journalism. If they ever really existed.


Jesus, Man…

In a recent chat with one of my blog friends I was reminded of this guy who used to walk hundreds of miles up and down the coast of Florida during my childhood. He wore a brown robe tied with twine, and sometimes wore sandals, but was often barefoot. And he dragged a HUGE heavy cross. He had long hair and always looked like he went weeks between baths. For all I know he covered other states, too. But I did see him in several parts of Florida over the years. We called him the Jesus Man.

I never spoke to the guy. We always assumed he was mentally ill. I mean, who does that? Sometimes he’d be walking in the pouring rain or the freezing cold or more often in the blistering heat. He was always alone.

I tried Googling him just now in hopes of attaching a picture. I didn’t find him, but what I did come across was rather eye-opening. There are several guys who do this. One has done it all over the world, apparently. And while their beliefs do not fall in line with mine, they don’t seem to be mentally ill. They’re just very, very dedicated to their evangelism. I certainly can’t fault these people for that. Their commitment to their cause is really impressive, to be honest.

I just hope that for the sake of these guys today, they are a little more PR savvy than the Jesus Man of my childhood was. He spent days and years and miles dragging a cross, and never spoke to anyone or got any publicity or seemed to further his cause in any way. Maybe people who were already Christians were heartened by seeing him, but I suspect no non-Christians were converted by observing this dirty, sweaty, grubby man grimly dragging a cross in the hot sun. Most of them probably thought the same thing I did: “Jesus, man, you’re crazy.”

At the risk of being relegated to hell, I have to say that there are lots of creative ways to get your point across. In this day and age it isn’t hard to reach a whole lot of people without half killing yourself in the process. Work smarter, not harder. There are also times when you’re simply beating your head against a brick wall. Continual wall beating is not dedication. It’s nutty. And I’m willing to bet Jesus would prefer you focus on his teachings rather than his martyrdom, but that’s just my non-Christian opinion. I suppose it depends on what kind of return you are seeking for your investment.


[Image credit: anniewald.com]

Exploring Seattle — Part Two

This past Sunday I went to the local Unitarian Universalist Church in hopes of making new friends. I happen to be a UU myself, so it was a good fit, but I honestly believe that regardless of your creed or religion, if you want to meet people who are welcoming and open minded and non-judgmental, find your local UU church. In fact, whenever I travel on a Sunday I look for one, because you get a much more personal, less touristy experience that way.

One of the basic tenets of UU is that there are many paths to the divine, so they are very welcoming of a wide range of philosophies from Athiesm to Humanism to Paganism to Christianity to Buddhism to Hinduism to Judaism to Islam. The only thing UUs have a hard time with are fundamentalist charismatic types who try to force their beliefs upon others. It’s also why you don’t hear much about UUs. We don’t recruit. We don’t believe in influencing others. So you’ll never hear us saying that our way is the only right way. You’ll never hear anyone criticizing your race or your sexual orientation either.  In fact, we don’t have a single way. And that’s what I love most about this community.

When searching for a local congregation, I was thrilled to discover that there were many, many, many to choose from. In Jacksonville, as large as the population is in the area, there were only two. Jacksonville is a hyper-conservative stronghold. So when I saw the abundance in the Seattle area, I got really excited.

The minute I walked in the door I was made to feel very welcome. And the service was all about embracing change. That’s what my whole life seems to be about these days, so I had to smile.

After that, many UU Churches have something called “Joys and Sorrows” or “Cares and Concerns” in which you can stand up and share the good or bad in your life. I hate public speaking, but I stood. I told them that I had moved all the way out here from Florida, and that I don’t know a soul. I told them I was looking forward to exploring this amazing city and state but that I am also quite lonely. That was hard for me to say. Really hard.

After the service, everyone was on me like ducks on a junebug as we like to say in the South. They were giving me phone numbers and e-mail addresses and telling me I was very brave for having said all that. They also recommended veterinarians and dentists and doctors and mechanics in the area, and fun things to do and great places to walk my dogs. They invited me to the women’s group and the book club and the yoga classes.

So there you have it. I have found my first foothold. I hope that eventually my work schedule will settle down so that I can take advantage of it. Baby steps.


[Image credit: uui.org]

On Being a Unitarian Universalist

For most of my life I was without a spiritual home. My mother was a member of the Congregational Church, but I can only remember setting foot inside one a handful of times as a child. As devout as she was, as a single working mother her time and energy were limited. I remember her trying to get me to go to Sunday school one cold Connecticut winter day, and we walked about a block and then turned back. It was too cold and I was too resistant to the idea. I think my mother gave up on the concept for me at that point.

Even with my limited experience with Christianity, I knew it wasn’t a good fit for me. It just never felt right. It didn’t feel logical or like a valid part of my everyday life. It always seemed out of date and based on the knowledge of the world as it was 2000 years ago. We know so much more now. What did the words of Jesus, however wise they might have been, have to do with a world in which we’ve walked on the moon and can talk instantly to someone on the other side of the planet?

That’s the thing, though. In many religions, including Christianity, I do find pearls of wisdom. In many ways that only adds to my confusion, because I’ve also seen the dark side of religion. The intolerance. So many religions assume that theirs is the only way to salvation. If you don’t believe exactly as they do, then you’re not one of the chosen, and you’re going to hell.

I can’t subscribe to the notion that a Bushman of the Kalahari, for example, who follows the religion of his parents, is condemned to hell by virtue of the fact that he was born in the “wrong” place, to the “wrong” people. I just can’t buy it. And if it is true, it’s not something I want to be a part of.

Why does my spiritual path have to be the only right one in order for it to be valid? That seems too simplistic to me. There’s too much variation in nature for there to be no room for a variation in philosophy.

So I cast about aimlessly for many years, feeling kind of alone in the wilderness, until finally I found Unitarian Universalism. In this conservative religious world of ours, I find a liberal, all-inclusive church to be a refreshing change indeed. The UU Church believes, as I do, that there are many paths to the divine. On any given Sunday you might find yourself amongst UU Humanists, UU Christians, UU Pagans, UU you-name-it-they’ve-got-it.

For me, most of all, Unitarian Universalism seems to be a place where people who have experienced mainstream religion and have been turned off by it, but still want community and fellowship, can find a home.

And lest you think we’re some lunatic fringe group, here are some Unitarians, Universalists, and UUs you may have heard of:

  • Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft
  • Writers Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Horace Greeley, Ethan Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Sutton, Herman Melville, E.E. Cummings, Margaret Fuller, and William Carlos Williams
  • Other recognizable names include Paul Newman, Rod Serling, Adlai Stevenson, Linus Pauling, Paul Revere, Arthur Schlesinger, Albert Schweitzer, Daniel Webster, Pete Seeger, Frank Lloyd Wright, Neville Chamberlain, and Clara Barton

So what is a typical service like? There isn’t one, really. We often discuss various religious philosophies, cares and concerns, current events, or basic concepts about everyday living. Here’s a list of topics that were discussed in various UU churches recently:

  • The Communion of Life: Climate Change and the Unitarian Universalist Response
  • How Do We Know?
  • The Neurobiology of Compassion
  • The Road Not Taken
  • Moderation and Balance: An Islamic Perspective
  • America’s Religious Experiment
  • The Origin of Love
  • Questioning
  • A Glimpse Into the Heart of Terror
  • Joining the Drum Circle: Ancient Rites
  • Celebrating Community
  • Ground Hogs, Possums, and Mockingbirds. Reflections on the human need for control and certainty in a world where there is little of either.
  • Effective Altruism: Saving Lives from the Comfort of your Desktop
  • The Hidden Face of the Divine Feminine
  • The Adventure of Forgiveness
  • Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration

One thing that can be quite disconcerting about a UU Church is that rather than adhering to one dogma or creed, rather than being expected to conform or walk in lockstep with all the people around you, we UUs can’t seem to agree on ANYTHING. But the beauty is that we respect each other’s right to disagree. Here is something we all agree on, however. The seven UU Principles.

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Because most Unitarian Universalists find it unpalatable to recruit people, or risk being perceived as trying to convince people to change their ways, you won’t hear much about our religion. Not from us, anyway. We are loathe to cram anything down your throat. But you are always welcome to come to a service and form your own opinion. To find a congregation near you, go here.