The Sound Of Jets
Overhead Breaks
The Calm Of Reason
Joanna Hannigan-Gaither

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <>
To: "joanna hannigan-gaither"
Subject: Re: I'm okay, hope you are, too
Date: September 13, 2001 10:04 PM

Last night, about one or two in the morning, what sounded like a dozen huge jets broke our airspace in Portland, Oregon. The cats that had been outside even wanted to come in. Shaken once again to the core of how I felt on Tuesday, I went outside and watched for others to turn on their lights. Nobody did, so I went back inside realizing that I just happen to be a bit jumpier than most people.

Then the ubiquitous sound of the downstairs neighbor's too-loud television set rumbled up through the floorboard and reminded me that most of us are a bit jumpier than we were on Monday when we rightly assumed we were safe from harm's way.

The "let's get on our knees and pray" thinking has never been divorced from the "let's go do violence" attitude. In fact, "let's do violence" has almost always been preceded by an invocation to the deities for the strength and fortitude to vindicate the tarnished name and reputation of said deity in avenging His Good Name and squashing His enemies who would dare to challenge His Sovereignty.

Whenever religion has abandoned the "let's do violence" thinking, it has always put in its place a subservience which would allow any enemy to place its finger upon our forehead and give it a little nudge: that's all that is ever required to topple a people given over to the "turn the other cheek" mentality.

Only human reason has been able to look at previous situations and determine which courses of action would likely bring about various results. Passion only plays a role in helping us decide what we want in addition to inspiring us to carry out those decisions. Even then, passion plays only a limited role, always able to be overridden by the cooler heads of calculated reason, but only so long as we recognize passion to be the subservient emotion that it is.

This is why it would pay for us to establish counter-myths that would help us become familiar with certain potential situations as well as with the resulting goals that we beforehand decided we will want. It would have been good for us to have sat down when this was simply a very real possibility and decide our plan of attack should something like this ever pan out. Then we would make this response known to the world.

Jimmy Carter did this when he sent the Ayatollah Khomeini a secret message: "If you put any of our hostages on trial, I will [interfere in] all commerce between Iran and the outside world. If you injure or kill a hostage, I will respond militarily." [2] After that, the Ayatollah never made any statements about injuring or killing a hostage or putting any on trial because Carter's response was known beforehand. The results of specific actions were laid out in plain terms for the Ayatollah to anticipate and thus to help him decide what he would do (or not do, as the case may be).

This is a case where President Carter was able to work not in a completely relaxed state but in the relative calm of before tragedy strikes (the trial or death of a hostage) versus responding after this had happened.

Carter's mistake, if you would call it that (I don't), was to play up the American value for individual life. This message probably saved the lives of some of the hostages, because the Ayatollah knew what the bottom line was. Nevertheless, this message did not serve to end the crisis in an expedient manner. However, since Carter's clear goal was to preserve the lives of individuals, I would say, in retrospect, that sending this message probably contributed to this goal.

Most of all, though, to create, rehearse, and be acutely aware of what we want to be our "well-reasoned" plans of response to various potential crisis situations will help us to remain in focus with our "well-reasoned" intentions during those times when catastrophe has uprooted our abilities to reason and left us mostly with pure emotion with which to make decisions. If we can anticipate and plan out some of these decisions beforehand, while reason is yet able to prevail, then we will end up making wiser responses regardless of our emotional state at the time of crisis.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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1. During the crisis on Tuesday, Cliff was having a very difficult time emotionally and had dispatched Randy's column, "Heroic Stories," along with requests for readers to help him out by describing how they were coping with the news of the crisis. Cliff stated he wouldn't post any responses without express permission, and many granted permission to post (although these, for the most part, have been silently removed from the postings). Cliff obtained permission to dispatch the "Heroic Stories" columns, but his agreement with Randy does not provide for posting them on the Web.

2. CNN: The National Security Archive, "An Interview with Jimmy Carter."

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