Saturday, November 14, 2015

Simple Answers to Difficult Questions

We once had a priest who gave the shortest homilies (sermons) possible, sometimes they would consist of only two or three sentences. Somehow he always managed to get the point across in those few words better than his colleagues could with their multiple page dissertations. You might say I could learn a lesson or two from him when it comes to writing blog posts.

The truth is, it's possible to sum up the core principles of any faith, or for that matter ideology, simply and briefly. Hillel the Elder, a rabbi who lived at the time of Christ, is responsible for some of the most profound utterances distilling the true essence of faith into a few words:
If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
The legend goes that one day, a skeptic came to Hillel with this challenge: if Hillel could recite the Torah while standing on one leg, the man would become a believer. Hillel's response while on one leg was the following:
What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbors. That is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary. Now go study.
Which the man did.

The problem with religions or ideologies is that the commentary often becomes more important than the core values. To put it another way, the letter of the law becomes more important than the spirit of the law. Anyone who has ever read the Christian bible, (the first five books of which are a translation of the Torah), knows that when passages are taken out of context, they can be used to justify virtually anything.

That explains thousands of sects of Christianity, each one claiming the Truth to be found exclusively in their own interpretation, and the ultimate favor of God, only for themselves.

The same is true to varying degrees in Judaism, Islam, Buddism, Hinduism Zoroastrinism, Paganism, Atheism (which is also when you think about it, nothing more than a faith), and every other belief system that has ever been devised.

Yesterday, unspeakable acts of violence committed in the name of God took place in Baghdad, Beirut and Paris. It is my sincere belief that religion is not responsible for these despicable acts, rather the perversion of religion.

Fear and hatred are among our basest, basic instincts.. Religion, at least my own experience of it, seeks to teach us a higher level of existence, as expressed through love, forgiveness, and compassion. These things don't come naturally to us, they are taught. Hatred by contrast, does not need to be taught, it just happens. We all experience fear and hatred, and hopefully teach ourselves to overcome those instincts.

We have seen all too frequently that unchecked hatred combined with an overdose of religious indoctrination based upon ideas cherry picked out of scripture is a lethal combination.

As usual, I've gone on too long. These ideas have been better expressed in a meme that's been making the rounds of social media lately. I'm not much for re-posting these quite often smarmy platitudes on the human condition, but I did yesterday as this one seemed to be particularly appropriate. Here is what it said:
A Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Pagan, and an Atheist all walk into a coffee shop and they talk, laugh, drink coffee and become good friends.

It's not a joke, it's what happens when you're not an asshole.
Assholes above all, seek to have power over other people. It's very difficult to achieve power by affecting a great many people's lives in a positive way. It takes commitment, self-sacrifice, patience and the will to do good. It's very easy to achieve the power to affect many lives negatively, all it takes it a weapon and of course, the will.

We've seen that the sadistic assholes of Daesh (ISIS) not only seek to achieve power, but also take a great deal of pleasure in afflicting pain and suffering upon others. They do it in the guise of faith but let's face it, you don't need religion to be an asshole. Case in point, there were a whole bunch of assholes in Central Europe in the mid-twentieth century whose hatred was fueled by not by religion , but by nationalism, revenge, and political ideology. Around seventy million people died as a result. Today there are assholes roaming the streets of Chicago who apparently believe in nothing other than nothing is sacred, not even the lives of innocent children.

Late yesterday evening, a remarkable image was broadcast. It showed a group of perhaps a couple hundred thousand individuals gathered in Paris's Place de la Republique with a sign that read in English, "not afraid." That happened early this year after the massacre in the offices of the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. After that horrible event, millions of Parisians of all colors and faiths marched in the streets of that great city. Expect to see more demonstrations of a similar nature today, tomorrow and in the days to come.

Today we are in solidarity with the citizens of Baghdad, Beirut and Paris, as we should be everyday for people everywhere who want peace, regardless of their creed, color or nationality. Fortunately there are more of us than the assholes, regardless of all the attention they get through the suffering they are willing to inflict upon civilization.

We cannot and will not let them win.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Take one charismatic figure with a modicum of education and a soap box and the hoards of ignorant, impoverished, oppressed and hopeless and you have the formula for entire populations of "assholes."