Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Happy Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah, everybody.

(Because even if you don’t specifically celebrate that, I hope the next eight days of your life bring you both joy and wisdom.)

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This is not Islam

To the people of France, to the people of America, to the people of the world:

Please know that true Muslims didn’t do this. Fanatical psychopaths did this in the name of a religion which does not condone it.

True Muslims were among the first to condemn these attacks for what they were: senseless, cowardly brutality.

Let’s make sure we aren’t blaming millions of believers in a peaceful and beautiful faith for the actions of a few power-hungry mass-murdering scum.

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Let me get this straight. Supposedly there is a ‘war on Christmas’.

First, let’s dispense with that phrasing; the 109th Airborne Division isn’t conducting strafing runs on the North Pole, there isn’t a battery of surface-to-air missiles waiting to shoot down the sleigh, there isn’t a rogue elf suicide-bombing Santa’s workshop. (Though there are the makings of a pretty awesome video game in there somewhere.)

Second, let’s dispense with that notion; when you walk into just about any store, there is a veritable sea of Christmas paraphernalia and a token menorah. That’s not indicative of a war of Christmas, although I must say that the war on Hanukkah is evidently going pretty well. Even the banners which have the temerity to read “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” are usually still in the red and green we associate with Christmas.

When you get all but one slice out of the loaf, you’re not under any kind of threat of persecution.

Did you know that there is an Islamic holiday right around that same time? A Zoroastrian one? A Wiccan one? If you didn’t even know about those, you’re probably not under any kind of attack.

If your faith is so fragile that you are threatened by the design of a cup, the wording of a public message or (shocking!) someone wishing you happiness for some other reason than Christmas, it’s not everybody else who needs to get their shit together.

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So I saw a deeply distressing headline this morning:
“Tennessee Passes Bill Allowing The Bullying of LGBT Students In The Name Of ‘Religious Freedom’”

I can barely describe how sickened that makes me feel. Suffice it to say that if you really think God is okay with this, you can buy me a ticket for the next train to Atheistville.

When exactly are we going to stop using ‘religious freedom’ as a code word that somehow makes bigotry and hate magically okay? This is the 21st century, for fuck’s sake.

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I am proud of my national identity. I am English by birth, and also American by citizenship. I experience the same moment of delirious elation as many others when England’s soccer team scores a goal, the same heartbreak when the team subsequently suffers the ignominy of being eliminated from the World Cup in a penalty shoot-out. I experience immense pride and satisfaction when it is an American who wins a Nobel or a Pulitzer Prize.

But do I believe that England or America is ‘better’ than another nation? Are we morally or culturally or intellectually superior to the Iranians, or the Japanese, or the Congolese?

My answer to this is a resounding “NO!”, for Humanity is not comprised of nations, or of religions. We are people, each and every one of us, none more ‘human’ than another. America can – and often does – make a case for superiority based on its military muscle or its financial strength, but that doesn’t make David Brennan from Little Rock any more an exemplar of the species than Hidetoshi Yamagata from Sapporo or Abdul ibn-Aziz al-Rashid from Riyadh.

I am also white, male and heterosexual. Does this mean that I am more deserving of any form of recognition or respect than someone who might be black, or female, or gay? Again, “NO!”. Not in the slightest. Each of us is a shining jewel to be treasured and cherished, equally able to contribute to the betterment of our species as a whole.

It seems unfathomable to me that any subset of Humanity is considered ‘lesser’ than another in this day and age. In America, women have made immense strides toward equality over the hundred years since being granted rights which men had long taken for granted, and yet are still often perceived as inferior by some. Similarly, black Americans have made significant progress over the last half century, but still feel the sting of the ethnic divide. The LGBT community is even now struggling for many of the same rights for which women and African-Americans fought for so long. How is it possible that in the twenty-first century we are still discriminating between members of our own species?

This is not to say, however, that these differences do not matter. They matter immensely. Your gender, you ethnic and religious identity, your national origin and your sexuality are all parts of the recipe which makes you uniquely you, worthy of being celebrated. These traits may afford you a degree of insight which the prevalent majority may lack. Coupled with your intelligence, your creativity and your education, these all put you in a unique position to contribute something of immeasurable value to all seven billion of us, and I for one will celebrate alongside you as you do it.

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In a world filled with labor-saving technologies, home shopping, 24-hour news cycles and easy access to information, we like to think we have it pretty good. One thing which all of our advances have thus far failed to provide, however, is a sense of meaning. Of purpose.
We have become accustomed to the easy and the instantaneous, and yet the metanoia of our existence continues to elude us. Many people turn to religion (often to a fundamentalist degree) to fill this void in their lives, sometimes unsuccessfully. Others turn to advanced science or to prescription medication.
Others still – and indeed some of the same people – appear to have given up on a search for meaning and have instead replaced it with a search for sensation. We no longer experience the small blessings and joys of life the way we did before we understood the world outside. This, surely, is a big driver of our societal use of recreational drugs, of celebrity-worship, of breaking the law for thrills, and indeed of many of the stories we hear as the funny-yet-disturbing bits at the end of the TV news, where someone has been apprehended attempting to have coital relations with children, animals or household appliances. In the absence of meaning and purpose, we look for something into which we can put our collective dick.

Not this one.

So how can we rediscover the path toward meaning? Once again, as I so often have, I turn to the wisdom of America’s founding fathers, and their triad of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Happiness is not a momentary thrill, a passing sensation, but a lasting condition attainable by making a positive change in yourself, in another person, or in the world at large. As we better our own lives and those of our neighbors, we can rediscover that sense of purpose and meaning.

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Since the dawn of time, humankind has felt that, despite a lack of incontrovertible, tangible evidence, there is a higher power at work in the world. Whether we name it God or Gaia or the collective unconscious or any of countless other names, most of us believe in something greater than ourselves. For the purposes of this post, in the interests of avoiding unnecessary circumlocution, I shall call it God.

For millennia, God has nourished us, guided us, taught us. We have not always listened – far from it! – but that presence has touched most of our lives across the eons.

It strikes me, however, that the nature of God’s guidance may have changed. The title of this post would suggest negativity, but please bear with me and you will see that this is not the case.

Historically, the nature of God’s gifts was simply that of adding something good into our lives – a fruitful harvest, a child or spouse, a favorable environment in which to sell our goods and services. We have had a space, and God has filled it.

And yet…

juxtaposed plus and minus signs

There have always been a select few among us who simply saw the world in a different light than most. These people had the imagination and the drive to create something new. For these few, God needed only provide the space, and allow THEM to be the ones to fill it.

From ancient times through the Renaissance and down to the present, the number of these people have grown exponentially. In a sign, perhaps, of God’s changing philosophy, or his view that Man has become worthy of greater things, more and more of us are in a position to be able to fill the spaces, if only God will grant them.

This is true not only of technological innovation, but of great change within ourselves.

I’ve heard people talking about God sending them trials to test their faith, and I think more people are failing those tests than realize it.

When God sends a Southern Baptist family a gay son, this is His gift. The test is not to stand fast against what has been given, to try to cure it, or – worse still – to cast the child out. The family’s test is to grow within themselves, to grow the capacity to love and to understand a facet of the world that is beyond their  knowing.

When God sends an earthquake to a country woefully unprepared for it, perhaps this too is a gift, though one tempered with individual tragedy. The test in this case is not to cling to a belief that the afflicted people have somehow sinned beyond redemption but to bring the rest of us together, to allow us to show our generosity of spirit and our greater community.

If you believe – whatever you believe in – define your faith rather than letting it define you. Examine the hits you have taken and see the opportunities to fill the holes in your understanding. Really look at a person outside your race, gender, class, sexuality or religion, and see the person, the human being.

You probably won’t surprise God, but you may well please Him. And you may yet surprise yourself.

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I know that the use of language in today’s mass media is geared toward a fifth-grade (or thereabouts) comprehension level. Surely, though, the folks we elect to serve in the highest offices should be at least a little smarter than a fifth grader. Perhaps we should have Jeff Foxworthy come and test the entire lot of our nation’s politicians for actual fitness to serve.

Jeff Foxworthy
Our nation’s savior?

Allow me to illuminate a few things for all of you in national politics.

1. Bush was not a Nazi. Obama is not a socialist. Labels of ‘fascist’ (which few of you appear able to spell) and ‘communist’ are similarly inapplicable to either of them – though it is inordinately amusing to hear words like these applied to two men of quite different ideology. Less amusingly, I believe anyone who has suffered under the rule of such regimes as those of Hitler and Stalin would be rather offended to hear the comparatively trivial measures taken by these Presidents compared to the savagery they were forced to submit to.

Enough name-calling. If you have an issue with a President’s policies, come up with a reasonable alternative and we can all have a civilized debate. If you can’t do that, then keep your mouth shut.

2. Stop talking about whether there is too much God or too little God in the running of the country. Both of these are meaningless. The country was founded in part to ESCAPE the notion of any kind of state endorsement of religion. I have no problem with people worshipping according to their beliefs and legislating according to their values, but don’t use confuse the two and use religion to justify your political acts. In a nation whose founders specifically tried to avoid mixing religion into the law, such actions are hypocritical and offensive.

3. Related to the above: if you’re a bigot, just man up and be a bigot. If you have a problem with blacks, or Muslims, or the poor, or women, or gays, or conservatives, or any other group, just say so. Don’t get into the “un-American” line of bullshit. They’re just as American as you are. They love freedom just as much as you do. (Not that you even know what ‘freedom’ means, if you’re trying to deny it to anybody else.) Last but by no means least: any right which you would claim for yourself, you should also accord to them, whether it’s specifically spelled out in the Constitution or not.

4. Keep your promises. Don’t tell the public one thing and then do another, unless you also give us a damn good reason for the change. Don’t tell one group something and another group the opposite. We live in the Internet age, and we WILL find out. When it happens, enjoy your retirement money. We won’t vote for you to keep darkening our doorsteps.

5. When you watched movies as a youngster, remember how you cheered when the schoolyard bully got his comeuppance. Look at America’s standing in the international community around, say, 2006-7. If elementary school parable is indeed the limit of your understanding, maybe it can at least be allowed to guide foreign policy in years to come.

6. The national media have provided you with a means of understanding whether you are acting logically – whether you identify with the right or left. His name is Jon Stewart. If your name is mentioned on his show more than twice in any given month, you might wish to take a look at your priorities. Jon Stewart, you see, IS smarter than a fifth grader.

7. Perhaps above all, remember this quote from former President Harry Truman – another individual who was smarter than a fifth grader:

“Don’t piss in the soup, boys – we’ve all got to eat.”

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Well, perhaps musings re: “Laodicean”, since neither meaning of the word applies to me.

I have to congratulate 13-year-old Kavya Shivashankar for winning this, especially with an obscure word that I didn’t know the meaning of until I was into my 20s.

The word in question makes me wonder, though, about the inclusion of such a very religion-specific word in a secular contest of this kind – and whether the bee also contains words which are derived from religions other than Christianity.

While “Laodicean” has to some degree been appropriated for use in describing a certain political sentiment (or lack thereof), it is more easily found in the book of Revelations than anywhere else – excepting perhaps a work of Thomas Hardy which still uses it in its religious context.

Can anyone – pardon the pun – enlighten me as to my wonderings above?

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(Note: This was actually written in a paper notebook (you know, those $1.19 laptops) about a year and a half ago, and I just recently refound it. I’m posting it here to test a theory.)

One of the strangest things about being dead is how long it takes you to become aware of it. You lie there waiting for a feeling of peace, a spectral figure with a scythe, a choir of angels, the promised fruits of your martyrdom. None materialize.

Of course, it is perhaps a malapropism to say ‘materialize’, since the first thing which /does/ strike you  is that you are no longer material.

It is roughly at this point that you begin to understand just what has happened, and there swiftly follows the shock of realizing that neither your doctor nor your lawyer nor your therapist will see you. You can literally walk into their offices, jump up and down and scream at the top of your insubstantial lungs, and they will not see you.

So where is St. Peter, where are your 71 virgins? Where lies your eternal reward, be it bliss or damnation?

As with all those who have gone before, you will soon experience a wrenching of sorts as your Awareness is separated from your immortal soul, to be added to the Global Whole, a totality of understanding and insight which keeps the entropy of the Universe at bay.

Your soul will be fed back into the great system when this is done, but it will take time. During this period, you may experience the joy of making a constructive contribution to the Global Whole based on the contents of your Awareness, or the despair of the destruction which you have wrought being cast aside like unwanted chaff. It is not truly eternal, but by the time it ends, you have insufficient Awareness to perceive that.

Such, then, would be Heaven or Hell.

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