Religious Relativism

I have spent many Ramadan’s in Dubai. When I was 15 my parents took me on a trip to Egypt and part of the tour we visited Coptic Cairo. We visited a church and a synagogue near each other. The church contained a basement where Jesus, Joseph and Mary reportedly stayed during their escape to Egypt. I was amazed to see the diversity of Christianity and how certain sects have even designated new popes as the heads of their churches. I believe by understanding the differences in these sects including the Shia and Sunni sects of Islam are fundamental in achieving peace in the Middle East.

I consider myself agnostic and somewhat of a religious relativist. I believe that the earth is so diverse and that different societies have such different belief systems that a benevolent god wouldn’t punish someone simply because they were born into a different religion. In other words, I understand that if I was born Tibetan I would most likely have been Buddhist and not somehow miraculously find my current Christian God. Despite this realization, I still find myself turning back to the teaching of the Methodist Church. I like to express my gratitude to God for certain things fate has given me. So along with being a “religious relativist” and “agnostic” I also consider myself a Christian because I believe Jesus is the Messiah sent to die for my sins. I understand that these ideas seem to be relatively contradictory and I am still trying to figure them all out myself. By better understanding the historical and cultural foundations of Christianity I hope to better understand my own believe system.

The Longest Summer


First Stop Houston

   I had contacted one of my best friends since childhood and asked if I could crash at his place. My friend Jake and I were opposites in a lot of ways his father was a truck driver and he had lived in the same comfortable house in Jersey Village a suburb of Houston his whole life. We had grown up together and we had been to pretty much every one of each other’s birthday parties up until I moved away. I remember playing with squirt guns in his backyard and bouncing on his trampoline. I’m one year older than Jake and we sort of have a brotherly relationship. I would often amuse him with my stories about the world and try to teach him about foreign cultures. He is always particularly interested in Dubai and the Arabian culture. My ability to travel and fly around the world seemed unimaginable to Jake as he had never even been on a plane before. I respect him a lot and I know he will do great things if he sets his mind to it. I often wonder what my life would have been like If I never got the chance to travel to Dubai and leave Houston. I often put myself in Jakes shoes and become immensely grateful for the opportunities my circumstances have afforded me. Much like Jake I had grown up in an upper middle class neighborhood and had a pool in my backyard. Most of the people my family associated with had pretty much the same social standing and culture as WASPS (white Anglo Saxon protestants). Luckily for me my mother had gained a job in at an expat boarding school made up of mostly Asian and Sub-Continental kids along with a few folks from just about everywhere, called the Village school and enrolled me in it. I gained a much more diverse friend group and was able to see and understand divergent perspectives that were far different than mine. The long and the short of it is that I’m glad things worked out the way that they did and after living in Dubai in a culture alien to mine I gained a bravery and lust for adventure that I cannot emphasize enough.


Second Stop Mississippi

   After waking up on jakes couch with his cat Maggie sitting on my face I was ready to begin the long drive to my next stop. My plan was to drive East to Mississippi then North up to Indianapolis. My good Friend Ruairi O’Connor whom I had spent freshmen year with in Dubai and then visited him in Singapore, was living with his grandmother in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Ruairi and I had a lot in common we were both gingers and both from the Southern part of the States. We both behaved like cowboys and both had struggled to fit in our new environments. Ruairi is extremely active and never really did well academically in high school. We both lived on the Palm Jumeriah in Dubai and would kayak to each other’s houses after school. I lived in an apartment on the trunk of the Palm and Ruairi lived on Frond C it was about a thirty-minute row. I also accredit Ruairi with getting me into running. He would show up unannounced at my apartment every night with his dog, an adopted desert saluki named Bronte and we would all go for 30 minute runs. I also consider Ruairi a brother except in this case he is the older one.

   I figured I would use the mandatory road trip to my advantage and see as many as my friends as possible. It was also a perfect way to see the beauty of America and bid the states goodbye for a while. Another plus was that I could avoid paying for hotels. Ruairi had flunked out of college and was working for a lumber company and waiting on his acceptance to the U.S. Coast Guard. I always pictured Ruairi in the military because of his patriotism and love of all things mechanical. I was happy that he had a plan for his future and wanted to see him before he left for boot camp. I drove through the wet swamps and marshes on the border of Texas and Louisiana. I flicked through the radio stations until I found a good ole’ Cajun station blasting some zydeco. I thought about how random it was to have French speaking cowboys in the middle of a swampy marsh. I also wondered if I was in KKK territory and pondered on what they would think of me and Yuki’s relationship. After driving all day, I had finally gotten to Ocean Springs and parked my grey Mazda in Ruairi’s Grandmother’s driveway. I wasn’t expecting Ocean Springs to be as pretty it was, the old oak trees hung on every street with their mossy leaves. I also dug the Cajun feel and the French look of the architecture. Ruairi showed me his sail boat that he had purchased and we both joked and chatted about the progress of our lives. We then hopped in Ruairi’s pick-up truck and headed to a sketchy Mexican restaurant. I used Ruairi’s I.D. because we look so similar and joined him in having a couple margaritas. We then went back to his grandma’s trailer and played some Call of Duty. Ruairi’s family are staunch Catholics and his uncle is a priest at a beautiful church in Biloxi. The next morning happened to be Sunday so we drove through Ocean Springs over the causeway that had been devastated several years ago by hurricane Katrina. We ended up listening to a nice sermon about Mother’s Day. I savored the sermon and church experience knowing that I probably wouldn’t go to Church again for a while in Dubai or Japan. Later that afternoon Ruairi and I went to the Biloxi beach and soaked up some rays.


Alabama, Tennessee and Pennsyltucky  

   I rolled of the couch at six o’clock bid Ruairi farewell and wished him the best of luck in the Coast Guard. I drove hard that day and listened to some Paul Simon and Johnny Cash. I also learned that Hank Williams was from Alabama. During the summer there was a viral video of a boy yodeling a Hank Williams song in a Walmart, so I thought that was a funny coincidence. As I drove North through Birmingham, I thought of Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. I recalled how Dr. King had eloquently dismantled the Vatican’s stance on Civil Rights in the U.S. He outlined how it was ironic that the Christianity had started as the religion of the oppressed and how it had become a tool of oppression (in the case of civil rights). He compared the plight of African Americans to the plight of early Christians in Rome. I also turned on my radio and heard a Black reverend talking about an incident that had happened at a church he was familiar with in Birmingham. Apparently, a predominantly African American church had put up a sign saying that white people were not welcome in the congregation. I believe that the church had decided to do this after a series of instances of police brutality. The reverend was talking about how Dr. King would have been ashamed at the sign and that the community in Birmingham was taking steps backward, according to the Reverend “we are all God’s children” and that segregation is a worldly concept. I agreed with the Reverend and thought about how in Heaven there would be no divisions. It’s truly amazing how much you can learn about a city or state by listening to the local radio. That night after nine hours of driving I had finally hit Tennessee and crashed at some random Holiday Inn.


   Once I had finally arrived with my uncle Phil in Indiana I was happy to stay in his comfortable apartment for a bit. My uncle having a master’s in History from St. Andrews in Scotland he also happens to have a near photographic memory, so he loves teaching me about things and I love listening. He told me about how the Air Force headquarters in Dayton, Ohio only a two-hour drive from Indianapolis. We hopped in his car and headed over the state border. I also learned that the Wright Brothers were born in Indiana so there are many aviation themed restaurants and shops around the border with Ohio. Luckily for use it also happened to be Veteran’s Day so the National Air Force Museum was having a special event. People were dressed up as soldiers and were recreating a WWII military camp. People were displaying military jeeps, rifles, uniforms, and radio equipment. My uncle and I are military nerds so we were both thoroughly impressed by all this. The museum itself is split into several sections between massive aircraft hangers including WWI, WWII, Cold War, and the Space Age. One particularly interesting exhibit is the Boxcar which is the plane that dropped the “Fat Man” nuke on Nagasaki. I remarked to my uncle that it would be interesting seeing the plane and then visiting the peace memorial in Nagasaki itself. My uncle and me then split up because he moves very, very slowly through museums. It was a very interesting and American experience that I am very fond of considering that I am strongly considering joining a branch of the military as my post graduate possibility’s.

My uncle and I                                    The Boxcar                    Rest Stop in Kentucky


Indianapolis                                                               The Wright Brothers Birthplace

Wilkes Barre Penn

   After we returned to Indianapolis my father contacted me telling me about how my grandmother had become gravely ill and that he was returning to Pennsylvania from Dubai to visit her. He asked me to come along as well and visit her. My grandmother on my father’s side had had a history of mental illness and I had heard stories about her from my father’s siblings. At young age my parents made the executive decision to keep me away from her. My father describes her as a manic depressive with bipolar tendencies. She had indeed been hospitalized against her will at a psychological institution. I was somewhat frightened to see her and of what she might say to me. I felt a little guilty about never seeing her as much as my grandparents on my mom’s side. My dad told me it meant a lot to him that I come so I bought a plane ticket and flew to meet him from Indianapolis to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.

   After I got off the plane my father and I headed over to Wilkes Barre General Hospital to visit my grandma Gretchen. When we walked into the room she lit up in excitement and seemed overjoyed to see us. I smiled and hugged her she couldn’t really speak properly because she was on a lot of pain medication. She asked me “Why I had shave my beautiful red hair?” I replied by explaining to her I was going bald. Me and my father grabbed her hand and sat with her a bit. I told her that my dad turned out to be a great man and a fun father and that she should be proud of him. She seemed really happy and I was glad that I was able to see her. My uncle Bill had also drove up from Ohio to see my grandmother and visit with me. She didn’t seem so sick to us and my dad had faith that she would recover. My dad said that his mother had been healthy her whole life and didn’t think that this was her time to go. After the visit my father took the opportunity to show me where he went to elementary school and his childhood school.

   My uncle Bill is also an avid hiker and naturalist and he wanted to take us out to one of his favorite hiking spots. Wilkes Barre has an abundance of natural beauty me and my father even saw a black bear while driving on the highway. The next day my uncle Bill took us to a beautiful hiking spot called Ricketts Glen. My grandfather Joe who passed five years prior used to take them there as kids. I could tell that being back in Pennsylvania and being with his brother Bill stirred many memories within my father. As we hiked up several waterfalls Bill educated me about the various flora and fauna in the region. The whole trip seemed surreal to me and the fact that I had ended up in Pennsylvania visiting my estranged grandmother was crazy to me. It was a mere fifteen days earlier that I was telling Yuki goodbye at the Austin Airport. I certainly hadn’t expected for my dad to come all the way back from Dubai and give me a tour of his childhood home.

   The next day my dad visited my grandmother again for several hours. We said goodbye and he told me he would see me again soon in Dubai. The very next week my grandmother passed from her illness, so it turns out that the trip was worthwhile, and I am thankful to have the memory and to have said goodbye.


My father and his family Grandmother Gretchen in the middle



   Finally, after two jam packed months in America I made it to my parents’ house in Dubai. But as soon as I arrived my parents decided they needed to get out Dubai which can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius in the summer. In my opinion Dubai is literally synonymous with hot as hell in the summer. The air is thick with moisture, sand and who knows what else which makes me feel like I can’t breathe in the sweltering heat. So, I was pretty much on board for going anywhere else to kill some time before my internship started at Emirates Airlines. My mom has family in England who needed us to house sit so we took over their house for a bit. We saw my British family whom I hadn’t seen in ages. A Lot of my family members are veterans of the British military and have very interesting antiques in there house. My uncle Roger is a very posh and lovely old man. His wife is named Ingrid and they met while he was stationed in Dusseldorf Germany. Ingrid is famous for making us tea and cakes everytime we visit, her motto is “you vill eat it and you vill like it!”. She consistently reminded us that life is too short not to eat cake. My family from Luton also came up to visit us. My cousin Steven happens to be a champion clay shooter so he took me and my dad out to shoot some clays. We had a fantastic time and also toured around much of Thetford and Norwich. I was surprised by how quickly people rush past us on tiny narrow roads. I’ll go into specifics on the sights that we visited in future posts.

Dubai & Emirates Airlines  

   I can’t really go into too much detail about this, as I had to sign non disclosure agreement but I will say what I can! I was working at the Dubai international airport at the Emirates security offices there. I had managed to score this internship thanks to some lucky nepotism and my interest in international security/relations. As I went in I was assigned to Maya a Lebanese woman who would oversee my tasks at the internship. I was given a lovely seat with a window view of the Dubai international airport runway. I also got to see several of the security systems that are in place to ensure the safe transport of valuables and prevent any dangerous goods from entering the country. My task included finding suitable speakers, venues and topics for an aviation security symposium called AVSEC. I had to compile a list of speakers who had undergone security situations. One of my most interesting finds was an Ethiopian Pilot who had been hijacked 3 times and hit in the head with an axe but survived the crash landing. I also contacted several cyber security experts. The internship was good fun and lasted about a month. I was the only American there so people were quite interested in me. I had several lovely conversations and interactions with people I can’t say the names of due to security. I was also given food vouchers for the Indian curry restaurant downstairs. I had butter chicken curry and mutton roganjosh almost everyday and boy was it good. My days would consist of waking up at 5 a.m. driving to the airport then going home and working out with my friend Trishul. Trushil was the only other person I had met close to my age and was the Nepalese gym attendant at my parents apartment. Most people get out of Dubai in the summer if they can and all of my friends I went to High School with are at universities in the U.S. We ended up having long conversations everyday after the internship and he taught me new workouts. The internship was good because it gave me some work experience and helped me pass the time in extreme dusty heat of the Dubai summer. 

my lunch break and Emirates and me hanging out in the Dubai desert with Trishul

We went to Oman for a week after I finished the internship I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

Hiking in Wadi Shab

4 Countries and 10 states later…


Please feel free to follow me on instagram @ redheadkid for more cool pictures of travels around the world. As always thanks for reading my story!

Media in War

The importance of Media in War

Media and the public perception of wars is what allows societies to determine whether a war is virtuous or unjustified. In the twentieth century, Western countries had fought wars that easily portrayed them as the “good guys”. When the United States went over to Europe it was in the name of stopping the tyranny and fascism of the Third Reich. When the U.S. dropped the horrible power of atomic bombs in Japan, they did it to stop the advancement of a barbaric imperialist system that swallowed up smaller countries and enslaved its peoples. These wars were easily displayed as necessary and justified. One could even say that there were a clear goals in mind and adequate illustrations of how the war would come to an end. However, in the period following WWII the reasons for going to war would become increasingly muddled. The German military theorist Karl von Clausewitz stated that the ultimate goal of war is the subjugation of the enemy and “bending them to your will”. For the concept of old physical warfare the idea is brawn over brains but in new wars that are fought between superpowers and small countries media and perception is key.

The Cold War

The proxy wars of the Cold War era were no longer as easily justified as the goal of stopping Fascism or Imperialism but instead enlisted the flawed domino theory. The domino theory was used to justify the Vietnam and Korean conflicts by stating that if one country falls to communism surrounding nations will follow. It added a justification as to why a nation such as the United States could interfere in civil conflicts within countries such as Vietnam. Presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson would reiterate the idea that by keeping communism out of Vietnam or Korea the United States was in effect protecting all of its Asian Allies along with itself. At the beginning of the war in Vietnam victory seemed assured for the United States. Surely the United States had the resources, power, money and advanced technologies to take over a poor unindustrialized country like Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese knew very well that they were outmatched so changed the Strategy from all previous wars that came before. They focused on psychological manipulation and the influence of people rather than physical warfare. They wanted to make the war impossible for the U.S. to justify and prolong the conflict as long as possible. Once the U.S. started the draft they had already lost in the hearts and minds of its people. Vietnam was in a far-flung part of Asia that most people hadn’t heard of until the war started. The fact that the power of Vietnam did not pose an existential threat to the U.S. increased the difficulty of how to justify a proxy war to the public.


The Gulf War

“The Gulf War Did Not Take Place” as written by Jean Baudrillard expressed how important perceptions of war have actually become. Baudrillard described how the U.S. and other Western countries were fed pictures and news reels of slick tomahawk missiles and advanced fighter jets gracefully striking their targets. Western audiences were sparred gruesome images from the effect of these bombing but instead saw inhuman infer red images of Iraqi soldiers being struck by “smart” bombs. The U.S. knew that the public was still reeling from the experience of the Vietnam war and needed convincing propaganda to send people into feelings of war fervor. One such now infamous event was the “weapons of mass destruction” campaign launched in the U.S. to portray Saddam Hussein as being in possession of WMD’s. While whether WMD’s were present or not, intelligence agencies have admitted that evidence was not conclusive. Another lessor known event was when a fake news story spread about premature babies being removed from incubators in Kuwait by Iraqi invaders. It is clear that on the hierarchy of victim’s premature babies are by far the most defenseless. The Events of the Gulf War display how the U.S. had learned from its mistakes in Vietnam and made sure to make the war palette-able for the American public. America accomplishes this through concepts of “risk free” warfare, war fervor propaganda, and intense reiteration of justification for the war. Risk Free warfare refers to the images of soldiers safely piloting unmanned weapons in locations relatively far away from the battlefield. In effect the Gulf War was sanitized for the consumption of Western audiences.

If I have learned anything in University it is to question all media sources including the ones you trust. The Military industrial complex is real and every source of media is biased. Everything is said a certain way… to make you think a certain way.

The purpose of this post was just to write down some of my thoughts from my War and Media class. I hope you found my thoughts about the correlation between war and media usage interesting.

Not In Kansas Anymore

Paper View
Plain Text View

One of the more shocking moments I experienced was that in my class titled “Culture and Society of the Asia Pacific”, we were having a debate over female circumcision. Which many in Western societies including myself find abhorrent and cruel. I was shocked to discover that many Indonesian students had actually undergone female circumcision and advocate for the practice. This was one of the first moments I felt that I had a vastly different world view than some of my fellow classmates. After living in Dubai during my High school years and in japan during college I have come to realize that cultural relativism and ethnocentrism is a huge aspect of how people behave. Once an individual can break away from these constraints sociological behaviors and differences in cultures can become more easy to understand. One of the personal things that has happened to me is becoming more and more secular throughout my travels. Personally I have realized that the reason I am a white christian from Texas is no more than mere happenstance. I could have just as easily been born into a Tibetan Buddhist family. I choose to maintain my cultural affinity for the Baptist sect of Christianity but view it more of a philosophy and cultural habit than a religion.

I believe that ethnocentrism and religious zealotry are some of the biggest problems facing societies today. If any individual form the Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist groups is willing to commit violence in the name of their religion then certainly they have a very ignorant and selfish world view. Respect for differences and tolerance towards all peoples regardless of race or creed is essential for a harmonious world.

Particularly in Japan I have found that I enjoy the study of Buddhist philosophy. I enjoy pondering the parables and thinking how each anecdote or lesson can apply to my experience. The Buddhist ideas about reincarnation also reinforce my assertion that concepts like racism, ethnocentrism and religious zealotry are tribalistic and ignorant ideals. Unfortunately, I have found that humans as a species are tribalistic but through deep contemplation, education and travel these unfavorable traits can be broken. Going back to my previous point about female circumcision, I would hope that after education about the importance of the clitoris to female sexual pleasure and contemplation about how this ritual developed based on sexist preconceptions I believe that rational individuals could be swayed. However it is also important to remember my place and remember my own cultural relativism.

Occasionally, unfortunate sociological rituals and behaviors must take time to be rooted out of a society. Also in relation to the host culture, Japan has undergone a period of intense fascism and militarization during WWII. I am currently reading a very interesting book written by a member of the British occupying force who collected various war propaganda and advertisements to highlight life during Showa Japan. I find it incredible fascinating how the experience of extreme misery after the WWII has transformed Japan into a country that advocates for pacifism. The experience of the War has also led Japan to embrace one of the most mature outlooks on violence and warfare I have ever seen. Japan does not glorify modern violence at all (excluding pop culture and samurai history) and museums about WWII do not focus on who was right or wrong but mostly on the horrors of warfare in general. I am impressed by the Japanese outlook on the importance of peace and the suffering that war can cause.

It is very special indeed to be at a place like APU where all cultures can easily intermingle and exchange ideas. I told Yuki that APU reminds me of Singapore because there are people gathered here from all over the world. Sadly I have discovered that these groups also tend to stick together for example Indians hang out in the Indian group and Chinese stick to other Chinese. Being at such an interesting a diverse university I would hope that individuals can branch out and define themselves. With people and cultures whom they are unfamiliar with.

Comparing Cultural Norms Between Japan and the U.S.A.

One of the many cultural differences between the United States and Japan is that Japan has very homogenous society and most people who identify as Japanese have the same ethnicity. Many Japanese also seem to be more financially similar than in the United States. The U.S. is very heterogeneous and there are many races religions and ethnicities who identify as Americans. Also foreigners or “gaijin” in Japanese are fairly rare outside of urban centers in Japan. I am a large redheaded man so many people stare at me while I’m on public transportation or walking down the road. I’ve had many people ask me if I dye my hair. I try my best to understand their curiosity and try to greet them with a smile and phrase from my rudimentary Japanese.

One of my expectations of being a Texan is that people enjoy friendly chit chat while waiting in line or for transportation. Many people in Japan are quite shy and reserved. I have said good evening “konbonwa” to many strangers and occasionally received confused stares. I have also learned that a common stereotype many Japanese have about American people is that “we are always happy”. I suppose this stereotype must have to do with our friendliness or loudness. I was also quite startled with how many media sources and businesses objectify women. Of course, the U.S. has the same problem but not on the scale or openness that it is used here. I was surprised to see signs featuring completely nude women. This is quite different for me especially after spending my high school years in Dubai where women are supposed to dress modestly under Islamic custom. Speaking of nudity one of my most interesting cultural experiences was visiting an onsen (hot spring) where people are expected to get completely nude and bathe together. Being American I was quite unnerved by this at first but relaxed once I realized nobody seemed to care. I then enjoyed my warm soak in the sulfur rich water.

I have a keen interest in Japanese History especially concerning WWII and I have met an older Japanese gentleman who was able to tell me about the bombing of a rail train he witnessed when he was a child here in Japan. I am also very interested in the Battle of Okinawa and the last stand of the imperial army on that little island. I find it inspiring and intriguing how japan was able to thoroughly reinvent itself after its defeat in WWII and become a cultural and economic powerhouse.

Before coming here, I took Japanese lessons for two years at St. Edwards. My mother and grandfather also lived in Japan during their twenties so I was able to hear many stories about Japan. My grandfather was stationed at an air force base in Morioka and my mother was a model in Iwate. I am currently taking Japanese lessons and a Japanese history course. I also intend to travel extensively while I’m in Japan. I am very excited to get a firm grip on the language because I believe that will provide a steady platform to continue my study of the culture, society, and region. Like other East Asian cultures such as Korea and China Japanese society is based on buddhist and Confucian structures. I am studying these belief systems more closely and currently reading several books on the matter.