The Jonah Effect

Every day I straddle two separate worlds. In one, I work, study, and am an activist. My days are filled with words, equations, and philosophy. I go to church, listen, and contemplate God. All very well. But at the end of the day, after I have checked the doors and windows, secured each room in my apartment and completed my tasks, I am transported to an entirely different world. When I turn off the lights, my mind wanders. I dream in blood -- fearful and wakeful -- drowning in the rivers of memories of war.

For years, understanding the Sunni insurgency consumed me, fed my intellect, and defined me as a man. As Camus aptly describes many young warriors in his essay "The Rebel," there was a great void inside me. According to Camus, there is a fundamental characteristic in humans who are faced with repressive circumstances: a tendency to lash out at the first and most obvious target. In postmodern societies, the most obvious targets are God and the government.

When I joined the U.S. Army at age 17, I had been reading the philosophers Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche. Like Nietzsche, I consciously rejected God. Like Rand, I denounced compassion as weakness, abhorring the idea of living for the sake of others.

Not only does Rand state unequivocally that greed is good and selfishness a virtue, but she discounts all "non-empirical" knowledge as worthless mysticism, claiming that love of personal gain is the only "objective" good in the universe. Rand leaves the masses of humanity to die of starvation while a chosen elite live in harmony in a capitalist utopia.

At the center of my teenage heart were grand visions of the "ontological primacy" of "empirical objectivity." If only all religion and all socialistic nonsense could be put to rest, I figured, then humanity would see that profit, greed, and personal gain could provide a framework for lasting ... well, lasting prosperity at least.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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