Saturday, October 18, 2014

Semi-Coherent Observations on Religion, Stupidity and Fear

One of my wife's standing criticisms of how I spend my meager mental energies is when I ponder about the nature of human behavior. Don't get me wrong, I don't obsessively pace the floor like the fictional Sheldon Cooper fixated on some aspect of daily life that is totally alien and beyond his more abstract level of comprehension. Now I do yell and scream when the daily parade of human stupidity gets to much and I have to vent leading me to ponder the nature of human behavior. Which of course instinctively provokes my wife to point out her wish that I use some of that energy to clean up the yard or do some internal home upkeep.

My usual solution to circumvent the entire issue is to just to not watch or listen to real news –BBC America, PBS, NPR, John Oliver, John Stewart-- anymore and restrict myself to the lighter level of American journalism like that of NBC's Brian Williams evening news. It is there I receive just enough information to stay partially abreast of the dark human comedy. The last thing anyone sane has to worry about while watching Brian, or any of the other broadcast evening news personalities, getting very deep into a significant subject. Yeah, time constraints inherent to the thirty-minute shows are a large part of the problem but Brian, and his backup Lester Holt, have devoted large segments to such trivial things as George Clooney's wedding, a blatant book promotion for a washed up sitcom actress, and even Burger King's new french fry recipe. I generally attribute such “stories” to the network bigwigs not wanting to bum out the viewing public before the prime time shows start. Corporate America ain't going to sale a lot of crap with a public outraged over injustice, greed, or the other human sins.

Unfortunately, there are a multitude of other avenues besides modern television journalism for utter stupidity that regularly raise my blood pressure as I ponder just how long Homo sapiens have to survive on this planet.

The meat of this tangent begins several days ago when I discovered at work what seemed to be a print out of an historical event. History is one of my great interests and I instantly grabbed the collection of papers after reading the title and short opening paragraph. The article was a recounting of the naval Battle of Lepanto which took place near the Gulf of Corinth on 7 October 1571. Boiling it all down to the bare facts a coalition of Catholic maritime states decisively defeated the naval fleet of the Ottoman Empire preventing its further expansion along the European side of the Mediterranean.

On the surface the article appeared to a legitimate essay on military history, which I found fascinating. Then it took a turn towards the religious:

Many Christian knights, soldiers, and sailors have died defending Christendom against the onslaughts of Islam down through the centuries. Today, the borders of many European countries, Canada, and the United States are practically wide open, and the old enemy is invited to come in and make himself at home. And many 'Christians' in the West are just too busy enjoying their material prosperity to be bothered with unpleasant history. But the enemy has not forgotten history. He remembers it all too well, and he is still deadly serious about his religion. His goal over the years has not changed in the slightest, and he is very patient. The enemy within is now smiling, just biding his time. And long dead Christian knights, our ancestors in the Faith, are probably turning over in their graves right about now, trying desperately to shout out a warning. The final chapter, it seems, has yet to be written...

If there is one thing that will quickly turn my stomach sour is for someone, anyone really, to add religion to some conflict as if the battle still rages today. More to the point this article written by Robert McCullen turns conspiratorial by saying the “enemy has not forgotten history.” My first thought was of some comical secret society composed of neo-Ottomans who do nothing but plot evil plans for reviving their empire. On a side note, the fact that there are true comical neo-Confederates here in America dreaming of resurrecting the Confederate States of America does not escape me in the least.

Of course, Mr. McCullen is probably talking about Islam in general and I have to admit there are some evil groups running around today proclaiming themselves to be the guardians of that faith. But, and it's a big one, it is ridiculously easy to find Christian groups who would be doing similar terrorist actions if the forces of secular Western civilization would not hold them to account.

Truthfully this article is just another reason I find religion, all of them, less about following the tenets of some god and more about the timeless pursuit by immoral men seeking to secure power, wealth, and control. Ancient history maybe a little too far for me to go back but I do feel comfortable in suggesting the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity had less to do with his miraculous vision and more with securing his power and what remained of the failing Roman Empire.

I would be wrong to write that religious types holds an monopoly on being manipulative a-holes but over the centuries they have honed its implementation down to an art. McCullen's article does its best to suggest that Christianity is the only true religion and that everyone else, specifically the Muslims, are infidels and a danger to all true God-fearing people. Personally, while officially agnostic I generally hold the view of the fictional Amy Farrah Fowler in that I don't object to the idea of a supreme deity but am baffled by the notion he would take attendance or give a damn about arcane human rituals.

Despite being agnostic and more concerned with seeking a decent Mexican restaurant in my area than worrying about the Rapture or who is God's favorite ethnic group on Earth, I do have a spiritual side. Call me a neo-hippie, but my spiritual side is blown away by the incredible fact that every lifeform on this planet is related and can be traced back to a single ancestor. For anyone not raised in an area where the Bible is taken literally you cannot imagine the load of shit I have caught over the years for holding that view.

I guess this insane tendency for humans to try and guess the mind of God all boils down to fear of the unknown or outsider. This dread isn't restricted to religion but crosses other lines like ethnic origin and skin color. Way back in 2008 many Americans were caught up in the novelty of Barrack Obama, an African-American, being the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States. Truthfully, I was part of that group but what bothered me was the general idea floating around that the United States had turned a corner on its prejudice past and become a “post-racial society.” Never was really sure what that term meant but it seemed to imply that we had left racism behind, such sentiment it turned out was down right idiotic.

A few weeks before the November election I was driving home and listening to National Public Radio. A panel of “typical Americans” had been assembled to discuss the implications if in fact Obama won the election, which at that point seemed a near certainty. The spectrum of opinion mostly ranged from the absolutely positive at one end to the “whatever” at the other. But there was one woman, Caucasian, who expressed a dire fear that Obama's election would cause what amounted to a national riot by African-Americans seeking violent retribution from centuries of slavery and discrimination.

In my opinion I believe that ignorant woman's belief is at the core of most of the viscous hate aimed at the president since then. In fact it has manifested itself in hundreds of sickly creative ways since then.

I guess the original intent of this post, which long ago lost any real coherency and was reduced to a flatulent stream of consciousness is that it will be very difficult for the human race to push forward when we have some many people living in the past. It doesn't matter whether it is fanatical adherence to Iron Age religions in a time of genetic engineering and computers or the irrational belief that the level of melanin in an individual's skin makes them a better or worse person. What hope I have is with the young kids, my one regret is that I won't live to see what I believe will be a real turning point where all this ancient crap is finally let go. Okay, no one needs to be a buzz kill and write that in all likelihood humans will just create new and novel ways to mistreat each other.


Pixel Peeper said...

Whenever someone calls Barack Obama "black" I feign surprise, as in, "He is black??? Not white? His mother was white."

Well, yes, don't you know his father was black?

Of course I know that. Wouldn't that make him 50/50?

No, he is black.

Are you saying that black genes are stronger and more powerful than white genes?

End of conversation.

I know in Nazi Germany, they classified people as Jews, 1/2 Jews, 1/4 Jews, 1/8 Jews...sheeesh.

Life As I Know It Now said...

It's true that racism has hurt Obama's presidency. Hell any Democrat in office is going to be attacked by the republicans and by the tea party. I think racism is much worse than it used to be or maybe I've just become much more aware of it.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I've lived a long time and have lived some of my years on the front lines.I have to say that racism is not as bad as it was in the bad ol' days. Racists now have to nuance and speak in code. They're harder to call out for that matter. But the fact that they've bid driven underground by the arch of justice and history is a good, good, good thing. But they are still among us and require eternal vigilance.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

There's nothing wrong with religion. It's the mindless tunnel-visioned people who get so hung up on their own small beliefs, they can't see the big picture. It's beyond ridiculous how many wars have been fought over religious differences.

Beach Bum said...

Pixel: Yeah, right after the 2008 election one of my relatives broached the subject about Obama's victory very carefully. It was clear she hated that Obama had won but didn't want to come right out and say it. It was an extremely awkward moment given that both my wife and I fully supported him and Biden.

Life As I Know It: It never went away here in the south. It's weaker and will eventually die in a few more generations but the current political climate is allowing the cockroaches to roam out in the open now.

Doc: Like I wrote above, racism is dying a slow death. The trouble though, here in the south, is that the reactionary folks might turn to violence.

Susan: I agree, its just that nutcases think religion gives them that extra license to go to extremes because they believe God is on their side.