I despise hypocrisy. In myself, most of all. (Yes, I admit that I am a hypocrite from time to time, but when I catch myself at it, I am very annoyed, and try very, very hard to root the hypocrisy out of my soul.) Anyway, the most hypocritical person I am aware of, the very Mother of All Hypocrites, would undoubtedly be William Bennett.

I remember Bennett very well. I was a 30-something year old Evangelical Christian during the first Bush presidency, when Bennett was appointed Drug Czar. We were all very impressed with Bennett in my Christian circle. His books were for sale in the bookstore at the mega-church where my wife and I attended. I think I even bought a copy of the Book of Virtues, but when I tried to pile through it, I found it to be too dense and dry for me to absorb. It also seemed very preachy, legalistic and moralistic (no surprise). Anyway, I did not read much of it, but I will certainly admit that for a time, I thought that Bennett was a great guy, and I agreed with his goals and actions.

Eventually, though, the media broke the story, and, like many other Christians, I got the bad news: Bennett had been concealing a sordid side of his life. He frequently travelled to Las Vegas where he engaged in high-stakes gambling. In the process he lost millions of dollars. Eventually, but only after the story broke, a contrite Bennett swore that his family had never been put at risk, that his gambling days were over, etc.

Now, aside from the obvious embarrassment, the truly astounding thing (at least to me) about all of this was that the entire time Bennett was addicted to gambling, he was the chief persecutor of the substance known as cannabis (or marijuana as it is frequently called). Under Bennett’s watch, prosecution of non-violent drug offenders skyrocketed. At it’s peak, Bennett’s Drug War had imprisoned 640,000 black men, about 1 in 4 black men in the US, and more than twice the number of black men in college, during the same time. The vast majority of these were for marijuana, a substance arguably less damaging than alcohol. And certainly not anywhere near as potentially damaging as a severe gambling addiction.

Not that there is any trouble finding hypocrisy in the War on Drugs in this country. Take the Reagans. Nancy Reagan famously coined the term “Just say no.” I remember this stuff as well. I loved Nancy at the time. She looked so proper in her beautiful dress giving her Just Say No Speech.

What I did not know at the time, though, at least according to the tell-all books by the Reagans’ daughter, Patti Davis, Nancy abused prescription drugs the entire time that she was living in the White House.

Like I said, hypocrisy is not hard to find in the so-called War on Drugs.

Black Like Me

My mother was black.

Well, technically, I suppose she was multi-ethnic. Her father, James Acker, was a young black man when he was shot to death by the police during a shoot out in Houston, Texas. He had just escaped from Huntsville prison, where I was later in the prison ministry for several years. It took my Mom many years to find her father’s grave. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Houston. My mother was seven months old at the time. She never got to meet her dad, who would have been my grandfather.

Back to Mom. She passed for white as a young woman. But her mother, and likely her stepfather, knew the truth. It was the Big Dark Secret.

I met her stepfather several times. Covey Clay was the most evil, racist, ignorant man I have ever known. He terrified me. Most of all because he terrified my mom. Given that my mom was what Covey would have called a “little nigra girl”, and given the attitudes that he expressed to me more times than I can recall, I have no doubt about my mom’s fate as she grew up in that house.

She was raped. Probably daily, or at least very frequently, by her stepfather.

In the light of this knowledge (I only recently figured this out), I can understand my mother better. When I was growing up, she was pretty much crazy. I never had a single conversation with my mother that I was not acutely aware that she was  not all there. (The famous quip from Ace Ventura comes to mind: “The engine is running, but no one is behind the wheel.” That was my mom.)

Periodically, my mother’s dysfunction would take a much darker turn. She would become extremely depressed, withdrawn and moody. Her connection to reality would shred. She would become very delusional, having many conversations with people who were not there. Eventually, she would attempt suicide, but always unsuccessfully. I never understood if she was genuinely trying to kill herself, crying out for attention, or simply out of control of her actions.

In the light of her childhood trauma, much of my mother’s bizarre life makes more sense. My parents repeatedly told me the story about how they met when my Mom was only seven, and my father was only 14. According to both of them, they decided to get married within a few minutes of meeting each other. That seems creepy now. A 14 year old proposing to a 7 year old? That would never pass muster today.

In the light of the times (the Great Depression), and the incredibly dark story of my mother’s racial background, that kind of makes sense. It took my dad 7 years to get her out of there, but eventually he did marry my mom when she was only 14. He was 21.

During their early years together, my mom passed as a white woman. Thus, I was raised racially and culturally white. We were taught as kids to hate one group in particular: Rednecks. Bigots, Racists. Men like my step-grandfather.

Eventually, by the time she died, my mother looked completely African. I almost outed her as a middle aged woman when we were living in Taiwan and my dad was a U.S. Air Force officer. I asked her if her father was black. (I had met my grandmother and knew that she was white.) She was completely flustered by my question. Eventually, she got my dad involved, who insisted that, no, my mother’s father was white. (Which is obviously a lie, given my mother’s appearance by the time she died. Whatever.) Even then, I told my mom I did not believe her. Her distinctly African features were already beginning to emerge.

So how does that affect me? I no longer self-identify as white or caucasian. I am a multi-ethnic person. I am beginning to embrace the African American side of my heritage. I have become much more interested in current African American culture such as rap, hip-hop and the like. I still look pretty much like a white guy, but the black man is leaking out.

More later.


One of my dear old friends submitted a comment to my blog post I Am Not A Sinner which ended with:


In other words, what happened next? Good question. That’s the purpose of this blog post, to talk about the aftermath of my spiritual tsunami. I described the event itself in my earlier blog post (also annoyingly entitled I am not a Sinner, go figure).

Anyway, as I described earlier, I eventually came to the conclusion that the entire concept of religion is rather preposterous. The idea that the Creator of the universe with all of its wonder has an intimate relationship with me, in which He (She? It?) monitors my very thoughts (including this one!) in real time. I mean, really.

After all, every spiritual experience I have ever had has been completely subjective. Can I really trust my own experience? I knew all too well how thoroughly I am capable of deceiving myself. I therefore decided to chuck the entire question of God as a meaningless, silly question with ultimately no answer at all.

Fundamentally, I finally understood that I am alone in the universe. That life actually has no purpose, meaning or significance. That I am, as the old song says, merely Dust in the Wind.

Now, that sounds depressing. Let me tell you: For me it was incredibly liberating.

An interesting side effect: I became much more humble. I know what you are thinking: There you go bragging about being humble.

No, not really.

You see, I now understand how truly broken I am. And how fundamentally I really know nothing. Nothing at all.

That’s the thing about doubt: Once I understood, I mean really understood at a gut level, that I really don’t know anything for sure, then my faith collapsed, and I became humbled.

Interestingly, faith made me kind of an asshole. I heard a piece on NPR once about a woman who wrote a novel in which the main character was someone she described as:

A white, wealthy, middle aged, conservative, Christian man who thinks he’s good but he’s not.

And why was he not good:

Because he had empathy for people like him, but no one else. People of his gender, race, religion, culture, social status, sexual orientation and political views. God forbid that he would ever talk to or treat a homosexual, feminist, Democrat, or such like a human being.

That was me. For me, faith was a form of hubris: I was completely and totally convinced that I was right, that there was an ultimate truth, and that I could know it. That I had the line on the truth, straight from the mouth of God.

That hubris has collapsed. In the process, I began to do things very differently.

Like a couple of weeks ago, when I was in San Francisco, I found myself sitting down on a park bench with homeless guys, and hanging with them for a while. I had some incredibly sweet conversations with really decent men, who were simply homeless. I have been homeless too. My momentary success, and apparent financial wealth, have simply served as a barrier between me and the homeless. Once I remembered how much we struggled when we were living in Texas during the 80s, I knew: I am not different from them. I am the same. Only our circumstances are different.

The barriers fell away. I became open to people I have never even considered talking to. Like a young, black, homosexual hairdresser from Vallejo who I met on the Muni. We became fast friends, exchanged emails and are still communicating. Before my tsunami, there is no way that I would ever become friends with someone that different from me. No problem now.

And of course there is my most important relationship: My marriage. At first, my wife resisted my spiritual journey. She wanted me to remain a Christian! However, I persisted. Now she constantly tells me that I am, by far, more loving, kind, gentle, compassionate, and sensitive than I have ever been. She would not go back to the old Jeff, that’s for sure!

The key, at least for me, was understanding that there actually is no purpose. That life has no ultimate meaning. That the quest for understanding and significance is another form of delusion. That all we have is this present moment, the very breath that I am taking as I write this.

This moment. Now. There is nothing else.

So, how shall I then live? Optimize the moment. Which for me is simple: Be as loving, empathetic, sensitive, and such as humanly possible. Allow my feelings to express themselves. If I am sad, allow the sadness to wash over me. Understand that it is simply a feeling. Like the weather, it will pass. And then there will be another feeling in that moment. And so on and so forth in a constant progression of moments.

Will I survive in some way when I die? I have no idea. The issue does not bother me though. I suspect that the software just stops running. That won’t be so bad. I certainly won’t be there to care about it.

Ultimately, in a few thousand years at most, I will be utterly forgotten. And then a few billion years after that, the Earth will be destroyed (by the Sun if nothing gets it first). If our species has not escaped from this rock by then, every single thing that every human being has ever known will be lost forever. And that includes me.

Shall I then by any action of mine affect the lifespan of the universe? Shall I somehow change the fate of all mankind? Doubtful.

I can then be free. I am free of religious delusions. I understand now at last who I am and what this life is all about. And that pleases me.

More later.