Nic’s Manifesto – Disclaimer

October 13, 2008

Nic’s Manifesto

 

(A work in progress)

  

I’ve been inspired.  March 11th 2008, marked the launch of New York University’s Moral Courage Project at the Wagner School of Public Service.  As a result, I’ve decided to compose my very own Manifesto.

 

  

I actually had to look up the word Manifesto in the dictionary to find out what it is – Manifesto: a public declaration of Intentions, Motives or Views.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Sections of this document contain elements (i.e. Soldier’s Creed, Soldier’s Code and the Oath of Enlistment) originated and copyrighted by the United States Army Training Doctrine.  However, the Opinions expressed are the sole Views of the Writer and DO NOT reflect any Policy or View of the United States Armed Forces.  The document should be read (as it was written) in the context of a Private Citizen of the United States of America.

As noted above this is a Work in Progress.  I don’t personally believe it will ever truly be finished during my life time.  As I grow and the world changes around me, as I am introduced to new ideas, philosophies and facts not yet considered, I will undoubtedly change as will my priorities and views.

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Nic’s Manifesto – Intentions

October 13, 2008

My intentions are simple:

1) Lead by example in every action and interaction.

2) Introduce (without imposing) my personal beliefs with regard to morality and freedom in the local and global community. Remembering the paradox: Those who crusade for freedom often do it the greatest disservice – Irshad Manji

3) Live a moral life that exemplifies the following principals:
Integrity – Do what is legally and morally right
Loyalty – Bear truth faith and allegiance to the United States of America, its Constitution, my fellow soldiers and the citizens we serve
Personal Courage – Face physical and moral fear, danger and adversity
Selfless Service – Put the welfare of the nation and the people of the United States of America before my own
Respect – Treat people as they should be treated
Duty – Fulfill my obligations
Honor – Live up to all the principles listed

4) Live and follow the Soldier’s Creed:
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
     I will always place the mission first.
     I will never accept defeat.
     I will never quit.
     I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I will always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy engage and destroy the enemies of the United States in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.

5) Live and follow the Soldier’s Code:
     a) I am an American Soldier – a protector of the greatest nation on earth – sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States.
     b) I will treat others with dignity and respect and I will expect others to do the same.
     c) I will honor my Country, the Army, my unit and my fellow soldiers by living the Army Values.
     d) No matter what situation I am in, I will never do anything for pleasure, profit or personal safety which will disgrace my uniform, my unit or my country.
     e) Lastly, I am proud of my Country and its flag. I want to look back and say I am proud to have served my Country as a soldier.

6) Act with compassion rather than Re-Act with anger in order to perpetuate positive energy and counter negative. “…we are greater than the sum of our anger and the scars of our pain….   Images of hate serve only our most destructive aims – a masochistic appeasement of the worst of ourselves.” – Raquel Evita Saraswati

7) Have the Moral Courage to challenge leaders who have confused authoritarianism with leadership. An unjust law is no law at all. – St. Augustine.

8) Pursue and defend Universal Human Rights. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

9) Stand up and be counted among those who championed morality in a seemingly amoral world.  I’ve never seen the world in terms of good and evil.  To me that smacks of a religious overtone, a judgment call that we should not be making.  Instead, I see the world in terms of tolerance.  Ignorance versus knowledge.  Fear versus understanding. – Matthew Alexander

Nic’s Manifesto – Motives

October 13, 2008

My motives are less simple:

 

Years ago I read a translation of Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno (first published in 1959) by John Ciardi.  I won’t say it shaped my life because my parents already had a fairly good head start on that.  I can say however, that it impacted my life quite dramatically.  Even though I am an Atheist, I was raised Catholic. 

A great many of my opinions about morality were shaped by that upbringing.  Dante’s Inferno reinforced those opinions.  To this day, when faced with a choice between Action and In-Action, I am haunted by one passage in particular.  Ciardi’s translation of the narrative is unforgettable; it has stayed with me since my first reading.  It takes place towards the beginning of the book before Dante and Virgil (his guide) begin their decent into Hell. Virgil escorts Dante through the vestibule outside Hell proper.  There they pass the Opportunists and the Nameless.  Those doomed to dwell right outside Hell for all eternity and never enter. 

 

They took no sides therefore they are given no place…

            …These are the nearly soulless

whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise.

            They are mixed here with that despicable corps

                        of angels who were neither for God or Satan,

                        but only for themselves.  The High Creator

            scourged them from Heaven for it’s perfect beauty

and Hell will not receive them since the wicked

might feel some glory over them…

            …They have no hope of death…

            And in their blind and unattaining state

                        their miserable lives have sunk so low

                        that they must envy every other fate.

            No word of them survives their living season.

                        Mercy and Justice deny them even a name.

                        Let us not speak of them: look and pass on…

 

I understand and appreciate the presents of the Opportunists in the passage:  that despicable corps of angels who were neither for God or Satan, but only for themselves.    Having taken no sides in the conflict between Heaven and Hell, they had no right to enter either.  They are left with no place in the afterlife.  I get that.  It’s the Nameless that disturb me.  They are mixed here (with the Opportunists)…lives concluded neither blame nor praise…  They made no impact during their lives, neither negative nor positive.  No word of them survives their living season. Mercy and Justice deny them even a name.  They are people barely even worth mentioning.  Let us not speak of them: look and pass on… 

Even without the religious connotation, this passage has always had a powerful effect on me.  The implication being; to lead such a meaningless existence that you are not worth notice while you’re alive, you’ll be worth even less notice after you’re dead and gone.  To be forgotten, over-looked or ignored is a fate worse than Death.  In an epic poem that describes in detail the horrors and eternal consequences of impenitent sin in the Christian Hell (my parents believed that Hell was simply an eternity in the absence of Gods love) it is this passage alone that has left the most enduring impression. 

I still feel its presents with me to this day however; I’ve matured since my first reading of The Inferno and I’ve gained perspective.  I understand in my sober adulthood, the world is larger than me and I’ve realized there is a greater tragedy than to be personally forgotten.  Greater than leading such a meaningless life that: no word of [me] survives [my] living season.  That tragedy would be to forget my loving parents who taught me right from wrong in the first place.  It is their legacy, not mine, that must be perpetuated.  I have focused my energy toward honoring my Mother and Father by choosing to pursue the positive.  I do so in the tradition of their Christian values even though I have no God to love or fear.  My conscience and my parent’s memory are all I have to guide me.

Nic’s Manifesto – Views – Section 1 – On Religion

October 13, 2008

My views are even more convoluted:

 

On Religion – Atheists for years have attacked religion using the First Amendment as their weapon of choice.  I’ve sworn an oath to …uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States…so let me make something perfectly clear:  The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise there of….  All that means is, the Government will not Support or Advocate one religion over another and will not ban the practice or observance of any religion.  Despite what Atheists would have you believe, the phrase Separation of Church and State, appears nowhere in the United States Constitution.  I know because I’ve read it. 

While I personally prefer a Secular Government, I have no issue with prayer in schools or using the word God in Oaths of Office or the Pledge of Allegiance.  Consequently, I also have no problem with individuals using their Constitutional Right to exclude the phase under God (as I do) during the Pledge of Allegiance or so help me God from an Oath of Office if they choose.  As long as all religions are represented equally (as the U.S. Constitution intended) I have no issue with religiously inspired art or other programs on City, State or Federal property.

I’m not blind and I’m not an idiot.  Obviously, I know there are negative aspects of religious influence.  Examples of the negative energy are everywhere.  I’m not just referring to the Islamic Jihad and the Global War on Terrorism.  Both ancient and modern History are full of other examples: from the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades, to the Tate/LaBianca murders, sexual slavery, mass suicides in Guyana and in the Heaven’s Gate cult, the disaster at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas and honour killings.  All perpetuated by the likes of Tomas de Toruemada, Charles Manson, and Osama bin Laden, Warren Jeffs, Jim Jones, David Koresh and other evil men – for no other reason then to further their own twisted agendas.  However, despite all of this, I still earnestly support organized religion. 

I was very young when I began to see the world in less faith based terms and more fact based or concrete terms.  Despite my parents best effort at a Catholic upbringing I was (and still am) simply unable to wrap my head around the concept of an omniscient being that not only always existed and always will but also created everything.  As a side note: IF I am wrong and there really is a deity that created everything (as George Carlin once observed) I think s/he has a HUGE quality control problem.  But, I digress…. 

The only difference between the faithful and me is; I simply don’t believe in God.  That’s really the only thing that makes me an Atheist; the fact that I’m a non-believer.  I do however, love religion. 

By and large I believe that for the truly faithful religion is a good and righteous thing that should be perpetuated no matter what God you worship. I’ve seen first hand the good that can come from it on an individual level.  I’ve seen its positive power help people turn their lives completely around whether in the name of their newly found God or by simply renewing a previously existing faith.  How can there not be value in that? 

As far back as I can remember my family attended the same church.  Mom and Dad were very active members of their Parrish.  Dad was a Lector, Usher and a member of the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus.  Mom continued active participation for another ten years after he died as a Eucharistic Minister, teaching Catechism, singing in the choir (with both my brothers) participating in the Summer Drama Programs and was involved in the Youth Group and Confirmation Program. 

In the last years of my mother’s life (at a time when her physical body was weakened by COPD, Emphysema, collapsing vertebrae in her spine and repeated battles with cancer) she was too weak and ill to get herself to church on Sundays.  So, even though I no longer believed in God, I took her and sat with her while she worshipped.   Organized Religion united a community of people and through the power of prayer (facilitated by participation in the weekly rituals of the mass) generated positive energy that she felt quite perceptibly.  People who had known Mom and Dad for 20 years openly embraced her and offered words of comfort and prayer before and after mass.  I remember the Monsignor in particular eagerly coming to greet her and ask about her health.   His genuine kindness, humor and encouragement in Mom’s darkest moments helped her spirits immensely.  He will always have a special place in my heart.  It’s no exaggeration to say that despite her physical and emotional discomfort, she sat a little more at ease in the car ride home after mass.  It is because of this that I still consider many of Mom and Dad’s friends from their church part of my family.  Though I now live over 300 miles from the church I grew up in, I’m still in contact with the people Mom and Dad worshiped with.  I also believe that her faith in her God and her belief in the afterlife made it easier for her to let go in the end.  She did not fear her inevitable death because she truly believed that she would not only be reunited with my father and brother but, she would dwell with them for eternity in the realm of her God’s love.

Nic’s Manifesto – Views – Section 2 – On The Power of Prayer

October 13, 2008

On The Power of Prayer – I believe we as human beings have the capacity to create positive energy through positive thought.  If you think about it, that’s all prayer really is; hoping for the best outcome to whatever concerns you enough to ask for your God’s intervention.  You’re probably familiar with the statistic that says human beings only use 10% of their brains.  Personally, I think it’s a bogus statistic.  It is my opinion that science is only able to detect 10% of our brain usage.  Science is unable to prove we are not using that other 90%.  You can’t prove a universal negative.  So, that leaves 90% of our brains full of untapped potential.  I believe the power generated through prayer and positive thinking comes from that unexplored 90%.  Because of my prayer/positive thinking equals positive energy theory; I’m not above asking the faithful to pray for me.  The positive energy generated through prayer can do nothing but good. 

I remember sitting quietly (yes, I really was quiet) in church (after Dad died and Mom was sick) watching Mom and her fellow parishioners pray.  It was not only very peaceful and relaxing but, a truly beautiful sight.  Sometimes if I closed my eyes, could almost feel the human generated positive energy flowing through the sanctuary.  On days when the sun was shining bright through the stained glass windows, it was as soothing as it was inspiring.  To this day, I see that same peaceful beauty in the act of faithful prayer.

Even as civilization continues its inevitable decline, I actively encourage people to take five minutes a day to center themselves and focus on fixing their little corner of this insane reality we call life by surrounding it with the positive energy that prayer generates. 

And, if you do believe in God, don’t forget to pray for me.

Nic’s Manifesto – Views – Section 3 – On Altruism

October 13, 2008

On Altruism – T.S. Eliot wrote, the last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason. 

The concept of altruism (an unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others) echoes closely the principal of Selfless Service – one of the seven principals I’ve stated that I intend to live by.  The key word is: intend. Altruism is an admirable notion but one that I believe is ultimately unachievable.  It requires perfect purity of intent and deed.  Unfortunately, as imperfect human beings, I believe we are incapable of creating or doing anything perfect. 

As I stated above, a great many of my opinions were shaped by the Christian environment in which I was raised.  If my Dad said it once, he said a million times: Don’t ask for rewards when you do good deeds.  You will get your reward in Heaven.  He truly believed that and he did many good deeds in his short life.  He was an honest and decent man.  Mom said many times after he died that he should have been sainted.  Yet, even he was incapable of altruism.  He believed wholeheartedly in his God and that being a faithful servant of that God would earn him a place in Heaven.  It was his devotion to the approval of his God that drove him. 

I however have no afterlife, no Heaven to look forward to.  So, why then do I consistently choose to do good deeds and strive toward a goal (selfless service) I’ve stated that I honestly believe is unattainable?  Not because it’s what people expect of me, but because it’s what I demand of myself.  Is this Altruism or Self-Righteous Moral Superiority?  Neither.  I think, in all honesty it’s probably just fear.  I’m not too arrogant or egotistical to admit it.  I’m afraid and (as I discovered very young) fear is a powerful motivator.  But, afraid of what you might ask?  Certainly not God or the Devil, as an Atheist neither of those concepts pose any threat or motivation to me.  Not Jail or Prison – those who know me well have learned (if nothing else) that punishment is never an adequate deterrent.  What then do I fear?  My greatest fear in life is loosing my parents.  I know; they’re already dead.  However, what they left behind is what I still hold on to: A legacy of morality.

Albert Pine wrote:  What we do for ourselves dies with us.  What we do for others and world remains and is immortal.  Never was that quote more true than when applied to my parents.  My parent’s deeds (regardless of their misguided religious motivation) do live on in this world.  Their immortality is in the lessons and morality they instilled in me before they died.  To maintain their immortality and keep them in my heart, I must continue to live by their example.  I know there is no Heaven waiting for me.  All that remains is what I leave behind.  So, I perpetuate their legacy.  Clearly, it’s a decidedly less than Altruistic attitude.  However, if I leave my corner of the world a better place than I found it, my parents will be in the good (positive energy) that remains.

Nic’s Manifesto – Views – Section 4 – On Humanity

October 13, 2008

On Humanity – My position on religion often invites the question, “If you don’t believe in God; what do you believe in?” The answer is Humanity. I believe in the unyielding power and drive of the Human Spirit. Of course I’m not oblivious to the enormous level of evil men and women are capable of. I listed several examples in a previous section on religion. However, I also have faith in humanity’s infinite love and generosity and our ability to create and perpetuate positive energy.
When I was in high school, I saw a movie called The Man of La Mancha, a 1972 musical based on Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. It has to be one of the greatest most motivating movies ever made. In it, I was introduced to one of the greatest Humanitarians in literature; Don Quixote de la Mancha.
The story follows Quixote’s fictional adventures on his Quest to… Sally forth into the world, righting all wrongs! Though he is merely a creation of Cervantes’ mind, I think of Don Quixote as a true hero in every sense of the word. He is Fearless, Chivalrous, Faithful and Dedicated. All the qualities I look for in a hero. My favorite (and the most inspirational) moment in the film is when Quixote explains the mission he has devoted his life to, through the song, Impossible Dream (The Quest). It’s his Manifesto set to music. It’s about never giving up and staying true to your principals, your mission and yourself.

To Dream the impossible dream…
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bare with unbearable sorrow
To run where the Brave dare not go

To Right the Un-rightable Wrong
To love, pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable Star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No mater how hopeless,
No mater how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the World will be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strong with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star
– Written by Joe Darion for The Man of la Mancha

It’s a profound example of the human mind’s ability to see past the petty bull shit of everyday life and create a space for itself in which one can focus on effecting positive change. Some would watch the movie and see Quixote as insane or a fool; I see an example to live by. It’s an example of Humanity at its finest.
I’m on record as stating I believe we human beings are imperfect however, the earnest and persistent pursuit of this type of perfection is all that matters. Like my hero Don Quixote de la Mancha, I will continue my quest to dream my Impossible Dream and reach my unreachable star I call Selfless Service. As a wise man (whose name escapes me as of this writing) once said, “The attempt may be painful but, the attempt is all we have.”

Nic’s Manifesto – Views – Section 5 – On Military Service

October 13, 2008

On Military Service – First and foremost, Service is about Sacrifice.  I’m not just talking about the Ultimate Sacrifice – the Sacrifice of ones’ Life – although I am prepared to make that Sacrifice if need be.  I’m talking about all the other stuff along the way.  Service Members sacrifice Freedom.  Once they voluntarily take the Oath of Enlistment, they are bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and as such (for the sake of discipline and unity) surrender freedoms that the citizens they protect take for granted everyday.  They sacrifice financial gain by taking a military pay check for their skills rather than accepting a more lucrative position for the same skills in the private sector.  They sacrifice time – going into the field for training and on long deployments that take them away from family and friends, often from supportive religious communities and are sometimes forced by these circumstances to put personal academic growth on hold.  Reservists are required to train one weekend a month and two weeks a year.  They follow a year long training schedule made in advance without regard for the Service Member’s personal lives.  This schedule can change according to the needs of the Military and without prior warning.  Reservists are required to adapt with it.  Consequently, Reservists miss weddings, anniversaries, events for their children and sometimes funerals if they can’t be scheduled around the pre-determined training weekend.

Sometimes duties require long hours for days even weeks or months at a time and they sacrifice sleep and personal comfort.  Many are injured or weakened as a result of their service and sacrifice physical and mental health.  Some are captured and sacrifice in unimaginable ways as they suffer at the hands of their captors.

These are the realities of service.  Anyone contemplating entering Military Service needs to understand and accept these sacrifices as they are expected regardless of why (college money, bonuses, job skill training, free heath care) they chooses to serve.

If you are not prepared to make these sacrifices, don’t join the Service.

Nic’s Manifesto – Views – Section 6 – On Freedom

October 13, 2008

Edited 2010-11-06

On Freedom – I can understand the theory of wanting to free people; I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the world freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own National Security. – Gerald R. Ford

The present day military (and by extension, the American people) owe Former President Ford a huge debt of gratitude.  During his single term in office, he was instrumental in the elimination of the Draft and converting the United States Military into an all Volunteer Force.  Consequently, today’s Military is a stronger, prouder military because every single Service Member is participating of his/her own free will.  For that reason, I personally have a great deal of respect for the man despite the fact that he’s the only American President not put in office (or the office of the Vice-Presidency for that matter) directly by the voters.

Every Service Member (regardless of their chosen branch of service) takes the same Oath when they Enlist.  That Oath us to: …obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the Officers appointed over [us] according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice…

As long as I wear the uniform of my country’s Armed Forced, I strive to do so honorably.  I will fulfill the obligation of my Oath and follow all Legal Orders issued by the officers over me and my Commander and Chief (whoever he may be) regardless of whether or not I personally agree with them – as is my duty.  When I was called to deploy (for 10 months to Afghanistan) I did so with the intention of staying true to our Warrior Ethos:

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Our Oath and Warrior Ethos must Always take precedent over personal political views.  When my fellow American Service Members are put in harms way, it was my Duty and my Honor to stand by their side and do whatever it took to support their mission so they return to their families and loved ones Alive and Whole.

That being said, Freedom of Expression is the right of every citizen and is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  As a soldier, I voluntarily surrendered that right (while in uniform) for the sake of Unity, Discipline, out of Respect for (and the preservation of) the Chain of Command and to Sustain Mission Readiness.  However, while out of uniform (as a private citizen of a country I love) I believe the Military’s first obligation is to ensure the Rights and Security of Citizens in this country.  Unlike many politicians, I don’t believe it is the roll of the United States Military to police the world.  I say this in the spirit of Frederick Douglass who asserted, A true patriot is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins.

As unpopular as this opinion might be during the era of the “Global War on Terrorism,” I don’t believe the world should be viewed as a giant board game on which Politicians are free to deploy Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines like game pieces with the intention of forcing the proliferation of democracy.

Unless our National Security is directly threatened, our focus should be on our primary mission and the first part of our Oath of Enlistment: …to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic [and] bear truth faith and allegiance to the same…

I proudly wear my uniform for one reason and one reason only; to preserve the Constitution of the United States of America for the future generations.  I do so with heartfelt thanks to Former President Gerald R. Ford and in total agreement of his position on freedom.  The Oath we took means so much more to me and our men in uniform because (thanks to him) it was taken voluntarily.

Nic’s Manifesto – Views – Section 7 – On Redemption

October 12, 2008

Added 2009 Oct

On Redemption – Again, I realize this is an odd topic for self-professed Atheist to delve into however, if you’ve read the rest of my Manifesto, you’ve probably figured out by now that I really am not your Typical Atheist. It suffices to say that I see the world slightly differently.

Obviously, I don’t see Redemption as a Prize to be awarded by a Benevolent Deity. As an Atheist, in my world there is no Creator, no Higher Power from whom to receive Redemption. There is no one to whom to appeal…no one upon whose mercy to throw myself. Therefore, (in my world) we each must hold our Redemption in our own hands. I view Redemption as an Individual Goal to be achieved from within…and I believe the key to achieving that goal may lie with Forgiveness.

There was a time in my life when I believed Forgiveness was a Religious Concept. Consequently, I didn’t think it applied to me. I felt that I had no obligation to Forgive anyone. For years I harbored deep resentment and anger toward the people in my life who have harmed me in one way or another. Naturally, that resentment and anger bred an abundance of Negative Energy that I (regretfully) spewed in (almost) every direction. I ended up hurting a lot of people I loved. People who were in no way responsible for the pain I suffered…often people who were going out of their way to try and help me.

Simply put, I believe Redemption for the Negative Energy and Evil I have perpetuated in the world may require some measure of Forgiveness. I have no right to ask the people I’ve hurt for their Forgiveness. It is not my place. My place is to Forgive those who have harmed me. It is my place to unburden myself of the hurt, anger and hate (the Negative Energy) I’ve labored under for so long. Once I’ve overcome that Negative Energy…once I can Forgive…once that Negative Energy has been neutralized by the Positive Energy of Forgiveness…only then, will I be worthy of the Redemption I desire.

There is one problem however; I’m (obviously) not by nature a forgiving person. I have no idea how to go about generating the forgiveness I desire. As my Manifesto is a work in progress…so am I.