Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Email Fisticuffs

  • Author's Note: This is an edited and expanded version of one of my posts in an email exchange with a... well, someone with whom I disagreed, who had been enthusiastically equating Islam with terrorism (the exchange for me was an attempt to build a bridge rather than yell across the chasm... predictably destined for the futility file for all I got back were loud insults):

This is where we agree, I think: we both oppose people who harm others, who want to dominate, deny liberty, lie to make themselves look good and others bad, deny people their rights under the constitution and the bill of rights and also our rights under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed I think by all member nations (this latter item provoked immediate condemnation).

This is where we disagree, I think: the things that we agree on up there should be the focus, we should hold ALL citizens to those principles. It isn’t ALL Muslims who violate them and it isn’t ALL U.S. citizens who follow them. We need to go after those who violate those principles whether they are in Saudi Arabia or the U.S.
And by we, I don’t mean the U.S. I mean anyone on the planet who cares about those principles. And by “going after” I don’t mean with violence. I mean with law and persuasion, and patience for we ourselves are not so enlightened that we might not be violating the rights of others without being aware… and if we are patient and prepared to listen as well as speak we might be persuaded and change our behavior when we realize we are mistaken – if we expect it of others then we must expect it of ourselves.
I started out to itemize where we disagree, now I’m finally getting to it. The source of the malaise and economic insecurity felt across our culture is not illegal immigrants, nor “lazy minorities”, nor lack of prayer in the schools or the ten commandments displayed at city hall, nor a liberal press and government. It’s not even Isis. It is in the long struggle between democracy and tyranny, typified in this country by that portion of the wealthy class who pour resources into undermining democracy and favoring oligarchy. It can even be argued that Isis would not exist were it not for the policies that have grown out of the success of these oligarchs.
Were it not for so-called free trade agreements, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), GATT (Global Agreement on Tarriff and Trade) etc; immigration from the south would not be so unmanageable. NAFTA favored U.S. subsidies to agriculture, driving small farmers in Mexico and Central America out of business. They then flocked to the cities to try to find jobs in the sweat shops, created by the same agreements, or took the more appealing option of getting to the U.S. (the belly of the beast) where sweatshop wages have not yet prevailed.
The oligarchic response is to instruct their media pundits (actually to hire select personnell based on their capacity to anticipate the correct line) to demonize these victims, blaming them for taking “our jobs.”
When in fact what has taken our jobs is the wholesale migration of once profitable industries abroad, seeking the greater profits of cheap labor and loose environmental regulations. This is a runaway situation where once started it becomes not only more profitable to relocate, but uncompetitive to stay. William Greider points out in his book, One World, Ready or Not, a strong country like the U.S. could take the lead and demand environmental and worker protection. Instead, it goes with the flow, downward and off-shore.
This brings us to another point of disagreement. One doesn’t have to approve to understand the capitalist’s reasons, profit after all is what they are by definition about. But why would agovernment betray its own people in this manner?
Government is by for and of the people, right? Well, wrong. It’s by, for, and of corporate and wealthy “citizens.” Given the way politicians are required to raise money for electoral campaigns, given who donates and supports or opposes their campaigns, and of course, who the elected then owe. Whose telephone calls do you suppose they return? The politically active portion of the 1%, by and large, according to Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, are ideologically committed to ends that are far from democratic and basically reduce to the advancement, as they see it, of their interests, which basically reduces to money. The whole world as Third World to the oligarch for some reason beyond my psychology, seems to be the best of all worlds.
A completely ridiculous and modest proposal: why not put our great brains to work figuring out how we can divert the energy presently going into chasing money into creating a system that provides food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare for all the inhabitants of the planet, in a way that doesn’t despoil the life system on which we all depend?
Outlandish as this proposal may seem, if we don’t make it our main priority, along with a commitment to non-violent resolution of conflict, then we will have war and with the kind of weapons available and developing, the planet and its people will perish in nuclear holocaust, if not directly then in the aftermath when the life-system breaks down, from radiation, nuclear winter and also from the pollutants that our life choices are more slowly but definitely disbursing – are we on the same page or are we still in different books?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Atheist Believers: A Religious/Existentialist Wedding

The meaning of the word God, in my congregation during my formative years, was conventional, literal biblical, bearded guy in the sky taking notes, who’s been naughty, who’s been nice. This got challenged, or should I say devastated, when I walked into a design class in art school conducted by Myron Kozman – think Richard Dawkins mischievously assailing received wisdom.
The standard response to information that conflicts with one’s point of view is either denial or point of view adjustment. My congregation, confronted with Professor Kozman, would have chosen, hands down, the denial. Migrating from Lutheranism to Bohemia made the paradigm adjustment choice feasible for me, still received wisdom I suppose but more thought out this time: Existentialism – Dylan’s line in “Visions of Joanna” sums it up, “We’re all sitting here stranded, doing our best to deny it.” As did Sartre and friend’s bleak take that there is no God, or s/he’s dead, no supernatural, a big NO to all that. Earth is a rock in space. Isolated individuals are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, and the nets of chance… and especially there is indifference, if not hostility, from a lifeless backdrop and a ruthlessly competitive economic system mirroring Darwin’s fitness test.
Glimpses of an enlarged, more appealing perspective began to appear in the 60s, at least in the West, in the form of Eastern thought, Buddhism and Hinduism, delivered by Hesse, Huxley, Alan Watts, the Beats, LSD and The Beatles. But these remained occasional, not always consistent, hazy if intense glimpses untilEckhart Tolle’s books brought the various strands into sharp focus. Others may have arrived at this view before Tolle, and as clearly but I’m not aware of them (Huxley’s book Island comes close). And the point is the view, not who gets credit for it.
The three phases I’m describing, that I went through, could be thought to be incompatible, irreconcilably antagonistic, or they could be seen as paraphrasing each other, pointing at the same thing. The language of Christianity (or any other religion) could be metaphoric, standing for or pointing at a difficult to describe reality. Existentialism could be seen to be pointing directly at the reality itself. Both views must jettison some baggage to arrive at a happy marriage: Religion must recognize the Mythology of its language, dropping the literalist interpretation that renders it ludicrous; Existentialism must quit its pessimistic and arbitrary conclusion that reality is horrifying. When the marriage is consummated we are in the Great NOW where the barricade of mind chatter is set aside, leaving a non-narrative presence, a felt recognition of interconnection, of Oneness, with its healing component, the peace, as the preacher says, that passeth all understanding.
I once said to a friend that all the religions are saying the same thing, just different language. I could see him process this and hesitatingly agree. I added, “Even atheism.” which he clearly could not accept. I wasn’t even sure what I meant when I said it. Thinking it out I reached this explanation: the story of any religion, say the Jesus story, is designed to bring one to an awareness of being, an awareness where interconnection is self-evident. The story serves the same function as ritual, the church service, saying of the rosary or chanting. That makes the story not literal history but a parable or myth. But how could atheism serve this same function? Well theism is belief in god. The fundamentalist idea of God is certainly at odds with atheism for an atheist considers that notion wishful thinking or projection without foundation. But if we define the word God as the intelligence obviously characterizing reality, none but a fundamentalist, atheist or not, could disagree. We might prefer a different word for it but IT is self-evident. And then it’s not a stretch to note that discreet moments and entities come into and out of existence and so postulate a source out of which they come and to which they return, call it essence, expansive continuum…. or whatever words satisfy, even God. Thus we pronounce this couple, Existentialism and Religion, joined in, if not holy then wholly, matrimony.
Post Script:
What comes after life? Same thing that comes before life. What’s that? It can really only be felt but it can be pointed at with words. There is what some in the East call “The Ground of Being” out of which all of what we call existence emerges, appears and disappears, dust to dust, ashes to ashes… to the degree that we identify with fleeting physical reality, the illusion of temporality, fear of death will dominate. What is happening here is thoughts (identifying with illusion, seeing/thinking it passing, seeing/thinking it leading to personal pain and extinction) creating emotions, fear, feelings of vulnerability. When you still the mind’s ceaseless chattering you can feel interconnection, the ONEness of the great NOW which is your essence, out of which flows the illusion of passing, sequential time. Attempting to picture an afterlife is part of the wish to extend the illusion, part of the identification with form as opposed to essence. Essence can only really be felt. It can be thought, that is, words can point at it but to know it is to feel it. This has been called prayer, meditation, connection, heaven, oneness, peace, insight… words pointing at the felt interconnection, the eternal oneness of reality. The key is, when the mind is still, one’s essence can be felt and that is the ultimate reality, that is who you are, your real self. As Eckhart Tolle has it, “To feel and thus to know, that you are; and to abide in that deeply rooted state is enlightenment.”