I downloaded Sam’s book after re-reading some of Christopher Hitchens’ texts when he sadly passed away in December last year. I was never a great fan of “Hitch” as I felt he found more joy in provoking crazy Christians than actually moving the issue forward and I found Richard Dawkins dry humor more powerful. Please have a look at Hitchens in action here: http://bit.ly/z2EIM4
Still Hitchen was a healthy counter balance to the mad anti intellectual religious fanatics in the US, but I felt I needed some balance to the sometime “theoretical” approach so I wanted to find the best fanatic I could find, and I found Sam Childers. It took me a long time to read it as it is not really my kind of book, but trying new things is healthy.
It would probably have been good for Sam Childers to encounter someone like Hitchens, as he had the same kind of raw energy that Childers also seem to have. But while Childers have brute force as a fanatic, Hitchen had it in intellectual sharpness focused on individual responsibility.
Now to the book:
The book is interesting as it can be read in at least four ways: 1. A story about a person coming from a very difficult background can change life path 2. A story about change and tools used to ensure change 3. A story about a foot soldier that do not know/understand the broader context or the long-term 4. A story about an American Taliban that pulls no punches and how western society reacts to it.
1. From the first perspective it is an optimistic book. Sam came from a background that is really horrible and that someone so young can experience the things Sam did (and did the things he did to others) should make us all ask ourselves what priorities we should have in society. Still Sam managed to get out of his situation with drugs and violence. To move from a situation where he was living hurting innocent people he found himself in a situation where he wanted to help vulnerable children. This is the positive side of the story, unfortunately it is very little discussion about how he came to the decision. Sam use god to explain most of his actions so we never really get to know his thinking.
2. The world lost a violent drug addict and got a violent “machinegun preacher”. Would it been possible for Sam to find a more peaceful path, and if he did would it have become a path where he got recognition and support the way he got now? Why are there so few books and even fewer Hollywood movies about those using peaceful means to solve important challenges? There are many doing much more important work and that are more brave than Sam, but as they are not violent or “charismatic” for media they get little attention.
Still there are parts in the book that are very interesting. As Sam comes in with fresh eyes he becomes frustrated with institutional hypocrisy than many of those working tend to forget/ignore/suppress. He mention everything from how the US focus more on access to oil than peace and how many NGO’s focus on what the media wants in desperate attempts to get a message out.
3. One thing that is fascinating is that Sam wants his world simple and black and white. He even writes that he likes war. As an example he writes the following “One of the reasons I like war is that you don’t find many people arguing on the battle field”. While many NGOs, business and policy makers argue way too much, the other extreme is even more dangerous. The fact that so many support what Sam is doing is quite freighting. I would expect some groups to help him and show how he can use his energy and focus to deliver results in a way that is not based on violence (would be nice if it could be based on compassion instead of faith in god, but that might be too much to hope for).
4. I think it is healthy with a book about an American Taliban that is almost as mad as the terrorists that use violence to spread fear and realize that so many people do not see the double standard. Obviously he is not doing anything different compared with many governments (engaging in assassinations around the world), but still it should trigger some discussions about ways to approach challenges.
The problem is not Sam Childers, the problem is a world where those with the resources are not guided by care for people or the planet, but by short-term economic interests.
After reading the book I could not decide what of the four ways I fund most interesting and I’m happy I read this book, and it made me happy that we don’t have more fanatics than we have. It must be tempting to hide behind a god and even though many horrible things happen this book made me realize that we are lucky to live in a time when not believing in old scriptures and explore paths with intuition and science is perfectly OK.
"To fight the darkness do not draw your sword, light a candle" - Zarathustra