Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rant – Food For Thought And The American Politics of Hate

I’d like to think I’ve mellowed, but lately I’ve succumbed to the other side of old: disgruntlement. With all this unbridled hate based on skin color and now religion, from so many Americans, I have to hold back a loud screaming, “A pox on all your houses!” Except that some houses are actually worse than others, despite the fact that most of them claim to be God’s house.

Unfortunately God, in all his or her guises, has been imagined re-imagined, co-opted, adopted, politicized, interpreted, and reinterpreted to serve mankind’s baser instincts. The so-called “word” has been translated into so many languages so many times no one really knows what was intended, not even the folks who claim to have heard the word directly from God’s mouth and transcribed it for posterity. Then again, what do we usually think about taking advice from people who hear “voices?”

What’s going on here and around the world really is a battle of the superheroes, each with their bands of often violent followers who demand you believe in their made-up story, not the other guy’s. There has been and will be torture and torment in nearly every land in the world because someone says Mohammed is the greatest, another says Christ, another Buddha, another Ganesha (my personal favorite).  Moses fits in there somehow. And then there’s that whole Zeus-Jupiter dispute, not to mention sun Gods, which kind of makes sense to me. And let me add: I think pantheists are under rated too.

There is enough confusion just in Christian circles. When I was growing up, I was curious about the seeming unexplainable.  A Catholic kid who lived a couple of houses away learned that my family was Lutheran and told me matter-of-factly that I was definitely going to hell. Only Catholics went to heaven.  I told a young friend of mine, an evangelical Christian, what my other friend said and he told me to stay away from Catholics because all Catholic schools had guns in their basements and planned to kill us all when the time was right. In my formative years I went to various churches, places where bodies were dunked in water, eventually sputtering, coughing, choking to the surface suddenly saved or reborn. I could do that at home, in the bathtub, I thought. I’ve always had an independent streak. I could save myself, thank you. I listened to those souls who testified, in a state of mind just short of a voodoo trance.  In high school, a group of us regularly met in a basement to discuss such matters without resolution or agreement, but with mutual respect and the enjoyment of a hearty discussion.  In college, nearly every night of my freshman year, often while playing euchre, was spent discussing the meaning of life, and sorting, with my friends, through various philosophies, Eastern and Western. Despite my focus on theatre and journalism, over the years I took elective courses in Western Philosophy, Buddhism and Hindu. And like most folks of my generation, I dipped into the literature of Hermann Hesse and Carlos Castaneda.

After sitting at a bar in Bloomington, Indiana with still another group of intellectually curious friends, a young man whom I’d never met and never saw again said that everyone searches for an epistemology. I asked about him later and no one in our little group heard from him again.  Perhaps he found his epistemology or perhaps he went off on a search. A third possibility was that he thought the whole idea was foolish and that his comment was far from an endorsement, more of a futile, disappointing observation.

He may have been puzzled at the notion that we need a rulebook at all.  At the time, I thought that by epistemology, he meant people needed a set of rules to live by. Most religions had them, it seemed. That would explain this extraordinary and to me silly dependence on so-called sacred text, no matter in what part of the world, or when it originated. Nearly everyone may be looking for the official rulebook, the one that would guarantee him or her not only an afterlife, but a damn fine one at that.  So imagine if you think you’ve found it and you did your best to live by it, then someone comes along and says you’ve been reading and abiding by the wrong rule book all your life you are going to get pissed. Why not just try to live a good life?  You know how to do that. Do you really need a book to tell you not to do harm to others?

There are more than 4,000 religions on earth, and more than seven billion people, (a few more than can fit in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco). So maybe we, at least here in the U.S.A., need to listen to our founders who fled religious persecution and wanted religious freedom for all. That’s who we are, as a nation. Work to protect all our freedoms and not be pro one religion and anti-another. So believe what you will, live as you like as best you can in  just manner, and keep your rulebooks to yourself.

Incidentally, “epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief,” according to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

I was looking for an epistemology, something that would give meaning to life, but something that also made sense. Whoever he was, he was right, I think.

A final note: We, in the U.S., are approaching elections to determine who will represent our interests at home and abroad. In the last few days we have experienced a slew of candidates who seek office by tapping into our fear and ignorance about other cultures and religions.  They take advantage of world events, reshape their meaning to ride the fear they have created. They skew statistics and blatantly lie. Some would revisit the tactics of the Nazis used on certain people they considered dangerous or inferior. Some would reinstate pre-Selma voting laws that would prevent certain Americans from voting. Some would deny full rights to minorities based on little more than unverifiable folktales.

Let’s put the bluster of modern–day Mussolinis to rest.  Let’s keep the old-style Klan-inspired segregationists a footnote to history. Let’s ignore those who believe this is a nation that holds a single religious belief.  I don’t regard pride as something to seek, necessarily.  However the United States of America should be proud of being a melting pot of the world. It has been our single, most outstanding accomplishment. It has been the source of our entrepreneurial energy and the inspiration for invention.  With the possible exception of native Americans — and they likely came from somewhere else, only much earlier – we are a nation of immigrants.  Many colors, many languages, many faiths. Let’s not get caught up in the cynical attempts to scare us into hate and discrimination.  

Happy Thanksgiving.

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