Once again we approach a changing of the guard. Every four years, we are subjected to a most incredible chicken fight fueled and fed by platitudes; a tapestry of disjointed quotes from historical giants (almost never in the context of what was meant by what they were saying), reprimands for not thinking “just like us”, and other such nonsense. The arguments are usually between defending the status quo (which is indefensible) and proposing some kind of “progressive” change which some fear will be like poking a hole in the bottom of the boat to let out excess water.
A dear cousin likens it to a crew arguing over what color to paint the boat while the boat sinks. When you consider the national debt, perhaps swimming lessons should take precedence over boat-painting lessons. Even if you could get the crew’s attention, you’d still be wise to watch how they’d operate bailing buckets: some would bail the ocean into the boat instead of out; others would hold their buckets upside-down accomplishing little other than an expensive and fruitless expenditure of energy, and still others might do no more than just pee in them: after all they pee in each others paint, don’t they?
Since the process involves politics, it always makes me a little nervous. I say so because religious differences make intelligent conversations on the subject difficult: some more fanatical than others. During this time, folks interject strong judgments of what people should be made to do in order to be compliant to the instructions of the Deity (in their opinion). It is carefully noted by a few (but not by the many) that the consensus of separating self-government from the control of any religious sect or denomination is sound, and even necessary in order to protect the very freedom of having such beliefs.
All religions, not unlike political parties, have within themselves divisions of those who must take to the letter of the law of their stated ideology while they argue with each other about the intent of the law. The highest estates of these groups (by reputation and status within the group) always seem set aside for those who profess (and occasionally, though rarely act) in accordance to the strictest “absolute” standards set by the beliefs of their group.
Further, the pinnacle of rank is reserved for those showing the least tolerance for any who will not lock, stock and barrel agree with them. Those who cast the first stones earn coveted merit badges. Such unwavering and steadfast positions garner the accolade of “uncompromising” as if such a bold and leather-headed point of view is always beneficial. While called “laudable and praiseworthy” by their peers, they are often referred to as “fanatical” by others who sometimes view the fanaticism as dangerous. Or at the very least, likely to cause some restrictions of liberties, which does occur whenever the see-saw gets out of balance on one side or the other.
It is in such a light that I offer (opinion) that fanatic religion is always ugly, and always wrong. Long ago, I watched a young Buddhist Monk pour gasoline on his own body and strike a match. I’m sure he was told to believe this was the right thing to do, and that he would attain immortality in the process. How very sad. He died a horrible death. Sometimes whole societies participate (willingly or not) in murderous as well as self destructive activities when they truly believe it’s the “right thing to do”.
People are often told what the right thing to do is, and are forced into compliance. Even when forced, there are disparities between what people do, and what they say they do. When compliance by enforcement gets tight, enforcers call it a “commitment to excellence”, but there is no commitment to anything other than going through the motions of enforcing compliance. It is a lie to say you can enforce commitment, but the belief that you can has a huge church.
Such “commitments” in the past brought people to the righteous moment of confessing to witchcraft. Even without the Spanish Inquisition, history is full of examples where theocratic rule exerts extreme cruelties and even murder on innocent people. Not to mention it has always retarded the intelligent growth and development of art, literature, and science. It was a political power (authorized by a religious power) that forced Galileo to recant and be imprisoned for telling the truth.
Right now, it is popular in this country to be fearful and therefore cautious of Islamic fanaticism especially of the militant fanatics. I agree that militant Islam is a bad idea, but militant religion is usually a bad idea. Those who are proud of wide-spread Christianity need to remember that it has always flourished under the authority of large armies with swords.
As a matter of fact, it has no history of becoming dominant in any land without the missionaries being backed by (either the show, or the threat) of some powerful political and military force, or by the threat of withholding protection from same.
England under Oliver Cromwell was a tragic time for the expulsion of free thought, and academically a tragic time over all (perhaps except for the empowerment of parliament, depending on how you look at it) as were the incredibly idiotic Crusades before. Even into our modern times, what has been going on in Northern Ireland since Henry VIII is a pathetic continuance of stupidity versus stupidity: grown people actually killing each others’ children in the name of Jesus, if such a thing would make any sense at all. It’s not religion: it is politics. The true business of politics, as Paul Tillich said, is simply the transfer of power.
He said further that ethics has absolutely nothing to do with it. I agree. People will lie; take bribes, cheat, blackmail, steal, kill, or whatever they think it will take to get what they want. They will pander and prostitute themselves to whoever will help them get the power they seem to need so badly. It makes no difference what morality they “profess” to believe in.
Again, according to Tillich (Who’s life and philosophy spanned the two world wars; the conflicts of science, religion, politics, ethics, authority and freedom and their effects on twentieth century thought), when the transfer of political power gets violent it’s called “war”. Historically, war is bad for farmers, and good for cannon makers. It’s usually not very kind to small children, or old people. The ecology of Earth receives very few bonuses from war outside of a slight (and temporary) population reduction.
Aside from the reality that going to war was the only way to gain independence from England, the founding fathers held firmly to another idea. It was probably the glue that held them resolutely together: they felt strongly that we were to have a complete and immutable separation of “church” and “state”, and thus, it became a principle part of the law of the land–our constitution. This principle is very dear to me. Unfortunately, it does not seem dear to those who are willing to die for their religious beliefs, nor is it likely to get any better in the near future.
The irony of this side or that calling upon the blessings of founding fathers is that often those who would quote these founding fathers are the least likely to have ever read what they wrote. Thomas Paine is often quoted from “Common Sense”. But some who will so quote him, have usually not read, and might be horrified by, “The Age of Reason” by the same author. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin also yanked a few rugs out from under liturgical lecterns, but few seem to remember that on patriotic “Holy” days.
Another thing often overlooked (from a proper 18th century Anglican point of view) was the “terrorist” behavior of certain American revolutionaries who wanted to usurp the rightful king’s power and seize control of the colonies for themselves. They shot and killed the law enforcement officers on the road to Concord; evaded legal taxes, and vandalized lawful and government-sanctioned shipping in Boston Harbor. We were never asked to look at it that way at Park Hills Elementary School.
Nevertheless, independence did happen (though not entirely in all business and banking circles), and evolved beyond the Revolutionary War through many conflicts: each time “improving” the sword and gun; adding more and more to the capacity for killing, and teaching our children to sing songs about it.
Modern man now has technology beyond the dreams of the founding fathers of this or any other country. Man can now do incredible harm to huge groups of people. No doubt, out there somewhere is somebody figuring out a way to make it worse. Perhaps they pray about it and chant “hooray for our side!”, I don’t know. I guess the world is a dangerous place right now, but I live here and have no immediate plans to move.
Recently, during a retro-throw back moment, I listened to an old recording of John Lennon singing “Imagine”. Maybe the whole world should stop and listen to it, but perhaps naïve of me to hope for that to occur. Though John sang it in English, it would be a mistake to presume English speaking people everywhere would get it.
As Mr. Lennon said, the imagining would be easy if you try. Implementation (opinion) would be nearly impossible. In difficulty, it would compare to getting the boat painted before it sinks.
On a personal note, today would have been my father’s 83rd birthday. As a younger man, he could have fixed just about any kind of boat, and painted it at the same time. He’d have accomplished this while catching enough fish for supper and a bushel of crabs for a feast. He’d laugh and sing, and still have time for a swim.
He understood about war, and also about how to treat people decently. He was curious, and fascinated about how people have behaved throughout history. Today’s political arena would have been a disappointment to Dad. But then, most of those kinds of arenas usually were to him, and are to me as well.