By Fabian Carballo

2014 was a very interesting year, full of ironies and reoccurring themes. Here are some of the biggest stories that consumed our national attention for better or worse.

10) "Could it beSatan?"-Church lady from SNL

2014, The year of Satan

Satan's popularity seemed to grow in proportion to religious stories published this year. You can't have a big year for God without mentioning, albeit in a lesser light, his nemesis, Satan. In October, an Oklahoma man desecrated and later ran over the Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma Capitol grounds. He said the devil made him do it. His family said it was out of character and that, "He would never deface something that meant so much to him. He takes the Ten Commandments very seriously"(1). This incident came after a New York group of Satanists pledged to erect a monument in honor of Satan at the same site as the Ten Commandments. The American Civil Liberties Union agrees that equal access of religious expression would merit such a monument. The original Ten Commandments monument was erected in 2012 and made headlines due to its spelling errors (2). Those have been corrected and the monument stands today.

9) "Gott ist tot"–   Friedrich Nietzsche

2014, The year of the Atheist

Nietzche's oft-quoted statement that "God is dead" is seldom followed by his more telling next few sentences, "And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves?" (3) Atheism has been on the rise for years. However, 2014 has proven to be the year in which Atheists redefined themselves. Since late 2013, fueled by social media, atheists have been meeting in megachurch-like settings to fellowship and sing (sometimes Beatle's songs). Atheists have transferred their unbelief into a congregation of skeptics who attend Sunday rallies for fellowship (4). Who said that fellowship, potlucks, group meetings and discussions are only in the realm of Christianity? Indeed, making the transition from Christian Pastor to unabashed atheist is easier and more appealing than initially perceived as former Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Ryan Bell proved in his "Year Without God" project. Bell set out to live an entire year without the rituals and daily exercises of his former Christian faith. Close to the end of his journey, in a very recent interview, Bell was asked where he was in his belief journey. He said, he does not believe in God any longer and therefore the "Year Without God" will continue. This was front page news. He added, "I would definitely do it again! And I'll go a step further: I think others should do it, too."(5) If someone who went to theology school and earned a Doctorate in Ministry can become an atheist, so can you, seems to be the message.

8) "Reaching out means not remaining indifferent to destitution, war, the violence in our cities, the neglect of the elderly, the anonymity of many people in need and marginalization from the little ones." -Pope Francis (6)

2014, The year of the Pope

No Pope has ever received so much press coverage as the current Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis. The first South American Pope and darling of the press seemed to come up with better quotes as the months went by in 2014. Surrounded by controversies in the Vatican due to his internal reforms, Francis has clearly delineated himself as a Social Justice, anti-capitalism Pope. Disliked by conservative Catholics and beloved by the poor and destitute worldwide, this unconventional Pope has done more to increase the Catholic Church's positive image than many of his previous Pontiffs put together. And, he's on Twitter. His message has been radical and, we thought we'd never say this, mostly biblical. His lifestyle is austere and modest. His behavior has been antithetical to the golden trimmed walls and frescoed ceilings of the Vatican. Evangelicals have reached out to the Roman pope and rumors of ecumenism have swirled around religious blogs. Expect even more shocking developments coming out of the Vatican in 2015.

7) "Usually my self-esteem is evaluated by where I'm seated at a funeral."-XM radio personality Howard Stern on celebrity funerals.

2014, The year of Celebrity Deaths

Every year, the loss of celebrities becomes newsworthy depending on the magnitude of the celebrity. This year had very notable deaths including Joan Rivers, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Lauren Bacall, Maya Angelou and Luise Rainer. "The Graduate" Director Mike Nichols also passed away, as did music icons Tommy (from The Ramones), Joe Cocker, Phil Everly, and folk-protest-singer Pete Seeger. Most notably, Robin Williams committed an apparent suicide. One of Williams' most inspiring roles was in a 1998 film called, "What Dreams May Come." In the film, Williams plays a character that died and went to heaven. The result is a creative surrealism that ponders the afterlife from a post-religious perspective that is not divorced from spirituality. And it was very effective in facilitating a discussion of what happens when we die. At the time, film critic Roger Ebert had remarked, "This is a film that even in its imperfect form shows how movies can imagine the unknown, can lead our imaginations into wonderful places. And it contains heartbreakingly effective performances by Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra" (7). In addition, 2014 witnessed the overdose death of talented actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman's most recent and important role was in a 2012-released film known as "The Master." In "The Master," Hoffman plays a charismatic leader of a religious movement known as "The Cause." Due to the film's plot similarities with the Church of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard's real life, Producer and Director Paul Thomas Anderson had to quell surrounding controversies by denying that it had anything to do with Scientology. Nonetheless, the film is very well-made and offers a glimpse into the creation of a cult and what is required of a follower.

6) "I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy, Woh, I always feel like somebody's watching me. Tell me is it just a dream?" Rockwell, 1984

2014, The Year of the Government Surveillance

Although not a new policy, 2014 witnessed the most shock and public disdain for the government's surveillance program. Certainly, the Central Intelligence Agency was founded in the 1940s with the supreme intent of spying on citizens and collecting data. The reasoning was that, in order to stamp out several decades of Left-wing Socialist "conspiracies" as well as anarchist activity, a government-sanctioned agency needed to be created in order to keep "tabs" on potential dangers. This year, the American public was treated to the alarming fact that thousands of U.S. citizens have been spied on for no particular reason at all. In the post 9/11 W. Bush era, the Patriot Act, passed and later renewed by Congress, allowed the government to view and collect regular citizens' communications via email, phone texts, phone lists, etc. Under the Patriot Act, an individual's library book records may also be scrutinized by the government. In addition, the NSA has been authorized to monitor mosques and churches that may be considered radical. The revelation that over a decade of improper data collection was obtained by the National Security Agency first came to light with former analyst Edward Snowden's whistle blowing and, most recently after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (8). Apparently, the land of the free is not so free, at least when it comes to privacy. Oh yeah, and our government agencies DID torture US citizens in the past decade much to the approval of former US Vice-President Dick Cheney (9).

5) "The problem is that I'm the President of the United States. I'm not the Emperor of the United States." President Barack Obama (10)

2014, The year of political hypocrisy, quotes taken out of context, and Memes that don't require much thought but generate much debate.

When President Obama stated, "I'm not a king. I am the head of the executive branch of government. I'm required to follow the law," (11) he was referring to the immigration system. He would proclaim himself on that subject soon enough (see #4 The year of the Immigrant). However, his non-imperialist, non-monarchist presidency took a weird turn a few weeks ago while the president was on vacation. It was reported last weekend that a couple's wedding ceremony had to be moved to another site because the president was playing golf at that exact moment. Not too shabby if your sole objective is to provide fodder for your biggest critics. And who are the president's biggest critics, you may ask? The Republicans, of course. Not to be undone by the President, two recent stories have proven why the Party of Lincoln is not the Party of Theodore Roosevelt. There is a widely-documented penchant for ethics and legal violations from Republican legislators (12) . Of course, Democrats are not immune from the same behavior but we expect more from a "Holier than Thou" regime who constantly accost the President as if they were better behaved. Last week, New York Republican Representative Michael Grimm resigned and pleaded guilty to one count of federal tax fraud and perjury (13). This is after a short career of stealing lines verbatim from "A few Good Men," (14) and threatening a reporter on camera to throw him off the rotunda balcony and break him in half "like a boy" (15). Classic. Also last week, House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, admitted to speaking at a gathering of white supremacists. The Republican Party went on spin control until the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, stated, ""If Scalise is going to be crucified – if Republicans want  to throw Steve Scalise  to the woods, then a lot of them better be looking over their shoulders," (16). The revelation that there may be other Republican elected officials who are simpatico with white supremacist groups comes amid race riots in Ferguson, MO, Oakland, CA, and New York City. Too bad Stephen Colbert won't be there to skewer faulty politicians anymore. After 9 successful years on cable television, our generation's most brilliant satirist and faux pas conservative is retiring the character and moving on to network television. The irreplaceable Colbert has sparred with President Obama, grilled President W. Bush at the Correspondent's dinner in 2006 (watch it here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7FTF4Oz4dI ), and made light of every important cultural, scientific, religious, and political development of the last decade. He will be missed but definitely remembered.

4) "We all know there is a long tradition of great nations importing foreign workers to do their farm work. After all, it was the ancient Israelites who built the first food pyramids." -Stephen Colbert

2014, The Year of the Immigrant

The US Homeland Security and Border Patrol agencies began the year with an alarming number of unaccompanied children filtering through the country's southern border. Most children were not even of Mexican origin. The situation escalated when a number of them were taken to a Murrietta, California processing center until the INS decided what to do with them. In that instance, a mob of anti-immigration protesters threatened and blocked the bus carrying the children from arriving at its destination. These sad images reinvigorated the immigration debate nationwide. In October, President Obama pledged to do something about immigration reform since Congress had not provided him with any legislation (17). President Obama then ceased deportations and promised further help to immigrant students (dreamers) and families. In California, 1.3 million undocumented immigrants are expected to apply for a Driver's License in 2015 due to the passing of AB60 (18). The new license, however, will not be counted as a federal form of identification and will be especially marked to denote its status. After decades of failed immigration policy and the politicization of the issue, the President's bold move will change immigration policy and immigrants as a political demographic for years to come. The issue will continue to be controversial as Republicans attempt to muster some Hispanic votes in order to stay relevant in the next election cycle. Surely, the latest developments have been good news to people of faith. Movements such as the Sojourners, whose leader, Jim Wallis, led a "fast for families" and a "circle of protection" over the immigrant population (19), rejoiced with the news that the "least of these," will have a place at the table. At least for the time being, a cautious stability on the immigration issue seems to be in order.

3) "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" -Pope Francis (20)

2014, The Year of Same-sex equality

Although Pope Francis' comments above and his recent dismissal of a US, anti-gay, high positioned cleric, may reflect a rather radical stance for a Catholic leader to take in the context of the world church, same sex marriage, as an issue of equality, has taken the forefront in the United States. Gay marriage is now legal in 35 states in addition to the District of Columbia. This is up from 17 states in the previous year. In addition, the Supreme Court, in 2014, has refused to hear any pro-heterosexual marriage (and we now must make the distinction) cases from lower courts. The cultural war continues but it seems that the United States has shifted heavily towards same-sex equality. Even Presbyterians voted to allow gay clergy while Methodists were vindicated after marrying gay couples. Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists held conferences on homosexuality and heard from specialists and experts on the subject (21), (22).

2) "We will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice." -Vice President Joe Biden (23)

2014, the year of international crisis

Right when Americans began to believe that the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and other terrorist groups around the world were pretty much eliminated, a more ruthless and menacing group with a penchant for decapitation emerged from the darkest corners and depths of the shadows of Syria. ISIS, or ISIL, or simply the Islamic State, started out as a rebel group in Syria and then spilled across the border into Iraq where they purportedly crucified, tortured and beheaded Christians or anyone who did not pledge allegiance to their brand of Islam (24). On the surface, the conflict seems like a simple case of extremists waging a dirty war on those they dislike. However, several videos, authenticated by the US government, have emerged throughout the year that depict an American or Western journalist who gives a speech criticizing Obama's foreign policy and then is beheaded. All of the captives were kneeling down and wearing an orange jumpsuit for effect. Their executioner was also known as Jihadi John, some dark reference to The Beatles (25). For his part, president Obama has vowed to defend Americans from the jihadists but has refused to negotiate with them including, but not limited to, paying handsome ransoms for their safe return. The story has dominated the news with both sides of the political aisle condemning ISIL and their violent actions. US involvement in the Middle East continues to be a complex quagmire.

1)"The dogs, the tear gas It haven't gotten no better," James Cias, 61, who grew up in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era (26)

2014, The year of racism

Racism, or the perception thereof in America, has been the top story of 2014. Racially provoked riots in Ferguson, Missouri and the killing of unarmed young black men, chiefly the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York, have fueled a not-so-healthy conversation on race issues. There are those who say that the police, primarily white officers in predominantly black neighborhoods, use excessive force and continuously target young black men for no reason. Then there are others, such as Fox's Sean Hannity, who believe the media is responsible for race-baiting and that there is no evidence that these cases are about race (27). Certainly, the massive protests and riots that ensued must be taken at face value. If people who don't live in our cookie-cutter suburbs and don't have opportunities for gainful employment or a fighting chance to navigate the country's higher educational system say that they are systematically oppressed, and the statistical pipeline of high school drop outs that end up being incarcerated prove that sentiment, then we must accept that something must change. It seems that the gangsta rappers from the late 1980s might have had a point: You main not like our message of "F— the Police" but you don't know what it's like to be young, poor, and black in the streets of Compton and South Central LA. No one should pretend to know and no one should deny the fact that police officers go to work every day with the occupational hazard of not knowing if they will return home that night. Two New York City cops didn't return home a few weeks ago. Both were gunshot victims and it may be directly linked to the ongoing anti-police animosity. The cops who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner were exonerated in Grand Juries which provoked public outrage. The cops who were murdered in New York were laid to rest at the beginning of 2015, as a sign that sets an ominous tone for the new year. This situation is quickly spiraling out of control and not even elected officials can politicize this into a boring collage of media blurbs and one-liners. We might be headed to a very bad place indeed if the wounds of mistrust between the police and the people are not soon healed. William J. Bratton, New York police commissioner, put it best when he said, "One of the unfortunate realities of policing is that you put that blue uniform on and you become part of the thin blue line between us and anarchy" (28). Will 2015 be the year of anarchy?

  1. http://www.koco.com/news/ten-commandments-monument-smashed-to-pieces-near-state-capitol/29316430
  2. http://atheists.org/legal/current/oklahoma
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_is_dead
  4. http://guardianlv.com/2013/11/atheist-mega-church-welcomes-everyone-except-god-video/
  5. http://chrisstedman.religionnews.com/2014/12/29/year-without-god-pastor-im-no-longer-believer/
  6. http://ncronline.org/blogs/francis-chronicles/pope-s-quotes-reaching-out
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Dreams_May_Come_(film)
  8. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/26/nsa-spying-report_n_6382572.html
  9. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/12/dick_cheney_defends_cia_s_torture_republicans_angry_at_obama_s_executive.html
  10. http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/obama-the-problem-is-im-not-the-emperor-of-the-united-states.html
  11. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2014/11/18/obamas-flip-flop-on-using-executive-action-on-illegal-immigration/
  12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_federal_political_scandals_in_the_United_States#Legislative_Branch
  13. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/appalling-career-michael-grimm
  14. http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/09/08/tim-mak-u-s-candidate-runs-for-office-on-jack-nicholson-platform/
  15. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/is-michael-grimm-man-enough-to-serve
  16. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/31/david-duke-ex-kkker-gop-back-steve-scalise-or-else/
  17. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/2/obama-sets-firm-timetable-immigration-reform/
  18. http://www.latinpost.com/articles/29723/20150102/immigration-reform-news-2014-1-4-million-undocumented-immigrants-expected.htm
  19. http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/11/12/fast-families-call-immigration-reform-and-citizenship
  20. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-gehring/the-year-of-pope-francis-_b_4482650.html
  21. http://www.adventistreview.org/world-news/2014-in-review-an-unsettling-year,-with-religion-in-a-starring-role
  22. http://www.adventistreview.org/cape-town-bulletins
  23. http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/joe-biden-on-isis-we-will-follow-them-to-the-gates-of-hell-u#.nf1yBvJE05
  24. http://www.news.com.au/world/isis-fanatics-publicly-crucify-nine-men-in-syria-as-rival-militias-in-iraq-prove-just-as-brutal/story-fndir2ev-1226971690908
  25. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11235801/If-my-son-is-in-Jihadi-John-beheading-video-he-should-be-executed-says-father.html
  26. http://www.newsweek.com/photos-quotes-ferguson-missouri-265502
  27. http://www.mediaite.com/tv/hannity-to-brown-family-attorney-give-me-any-evidence-that-this-is-about-race/
  28. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/20/us/new-york-police-officers-shot/

Fabian Carballo is an Advanced Placement Government, US History, and Principles of Democracy teacher at Bloomington High School. He serves as the current NARLA – WEST chapter President and earned a Master's degree in American Studies from California State, Fullerton in 2005.

 

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