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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

 

We humans have so many differences about which we’re so angry, I find it hard to believe we haven’t annihilated each other, simply wiped the planet free. We don’t agree about religion, about politics, about race, about gender, about child-rearing, about climate change, health care, heaven, hell, happiness, ethics, education, money, motive, morality, or even movies;  for example, some may believe “Avatar” represents film-making’s second coming, while others may find it a pleasant visual experience with a couple of nifty new tricks and a paper-thin plot, not nearly as industry-shaking or mind-altering as, say, “2001” or even “Fantasia.” But I digress.

 I like to discover people who agree with me. It helps to know I’m neither crazy nor alone. But I also like healthy debate and welcome differing opinions. It makes life interesting and confirms my belief that there can never be just one, fixed way of looking at anything on a planet with billions of people. 

We’re getting better at accepting the notion of a multicultural family of man, but we’re not very accepting of differing opinions. We are equipped to locate, via cyberspace, those people who support, confirm and applaud our most cherished assumptions. We are also now used to seeing our thoughts in print. Validated and circulated, they may take on an out-sized importance. That, in turn, tempts us less to debate, where we might exchange ideas and perhaps learn something and more to fighting in order to make a point we believe is absolutely, incontrovertibly right.

 It’s so tiring, especially at this time of year because, quite apart of any religious meaning, the holiday has come to stand for the possibility of good feelings and shared humanity. That possibility can seem light years away — as indeed it probably is — but the beauty of not knowing what an outcome will be is that it allows us to hope for the best one. That’s why I can’t help myself: this time of year I invariably bet that eventually (whenever that may be)  we humans will spend more time focusing on what the vast majority of us probably want: safety, freedom from want and pain, love, a sense of purpose, and a sense of community as the basis from which to secure any or all of these things.

Wishing you the best of all possible worlds, now and going forward.

 

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The big news out of the polling world concerns the second installment of the three-part survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In the first part, released earlier this year, more than 80 percent of all Americans identified themselves as affiliated with one faith or another, principally Christianity. This new survey illustrates that these Americans are willing to concede that theirs may not be the only way to salvation and further, that there may be more than one way to interpret the teachings of their own religion. However, we aren’t all that flexible; more than half of those affiliated with a faith favor preserving religious traditions over adjusting to new circumstances or adopting modern beliefs and practices.  Still, I guess we should celebrate the fact that our country is adapting to its diversity and practicing a degree of tolerance unknown in other highly religious societies, like Saudi Arabia or Iran.

I was more interested in a poll that caught my eye last week, yet another one of those in which a majority of Americans think we’re on the wrong track. This is the latest of a plethora of polls (couldn’t resist) taken by media outlets left, right and center. The June AP/Ipsos poll indicates 8 in 10 think this country is “headed in the wrong direction” and assesses that “the general level of pessimism is the worst in almost thirty years.” This particular poll has been conducted since 2003; other similar surveys are older. The latest New York Times/CBS poll,  which began asking Americans to assess our success in the early nineties, shows a similar slide towards the dark side.

The state of affairs appears bleak, to be sure.  Not much good news on the  international scene (global warming, war in Afghanistan and Iraq, civil strife in countless African nations, it seems) and bad enough at home where the rising food and gas prices and record numbers of mortgage defaults are driving us crazy. Everything our government does – make that the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government – seems to make it worse or at least not very much better and for better or for worse, we expect better from our government.  Hard to say whether we’re in worse shape than when air raid drills and bomb shelters were de rigeur but we Americans think so at any rate – or we’ve got short memories.

The ever-so-slight upside of all this horrible downside is I’m noticing people prioritizing, that is, understanding what needs to matter most to them and to their fellow travelers, which is key. For all Dobson’s yelling and the creationists’ ranting, we seem less concerned with whether we’re reading Genesis literally than with how we’re going to get through tomorrow. That’s actually good; I’d like to put the “cultural wars” on the back burner for awhile while we deal with real problems. With the Supreme Court’s insane ruling that all of us genuinely frightened, understandably pissed off and sometimes indulgently “entitled” folks have a right to bear arms, we’re going to need the equivalent of a group hug.  More guns in more hands – oh the thought of it! Steady nerves must prevail; otherwise we haven’t got a prayer.

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I had to turn off the TV yesterday morning after being confronted with the left-side, right-side mindset following the revelation that Elliott Spitzer used a prostitution ring. The male talking heads were all about explaining how the strains of public life and the seduction of power might cause someone to use such a service without thinking (poor Elliott) the women were all about how and why men cheat (naughty Elliott) and there was the noxious presence of “expert” Laura Schlessinger (“Dr. Laura”) on the Today Show suggesting that women are to blame when their men stray (oh those inattentive spouses). All I wanted to do was sink my fist into the flat screen TV, which is probably some weird combination of left and right brain activity. No wonder I often feel as if I’m from some other planet altogether.

Anyway, I turned to other news, wherein I contemplated some recent statistics: One out of every one hundred Americans is in jail and one out of four US teenage girls has at least one sexually transmitted disease. Oh, and before I turn the TV back on and hear various pundits rant about the decline in morals in our increasingly secular society, how about this one: America is still one of the most religious countries in the world. according to the Institute for Social Research. So I wouldn’t rush to blame this craziness on a vacationing Supreme Being.

Someone looking in from, say, Venus or Mars (or even Europe) might think that Americans  are prurient, judgmental, voyeuristic, moralistic, undisciplined, self-centered, overly analytical, unreasoning, intellectually lazy and thoroughly confused about priorities. God, we’re one mixed-up bunch of people. Beam me up, Scotty.

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Come ye now and let us dwell not upon angry disagreements about the meaning of Christmas; nor spend undue amounts of time thinking of the pain of traveling cross-country to see family we scarcely know (though we may spend undue amounts of time in the airports or on the roads). Let us turn our minds and hearts away from the desperate lengths to which we will go to find a perfect gift for a loved one nor the many for whom we forgot to shop and break free of the endless cycle of Christmas specials that clutter our televisions. Instead, let us acknowledge the spirit of kindness, charity and general benevolence as exemplified by a few lovely stories I happened to spot.

  • A rumpled Chistopher Lloyd-type professor has captured the attention of Internet denizens with his endearing and zany lectures on physics.
  • In drought-stricken Africa, a creative entrepreneur has introduced a merry-go-round attached to a water pump, storage unit and tap; when the kids jump on and spin, the water flows.
  • An American soldier deployed to Iraq adopted a young boy with cerebral palsy and, against all odds, brought him to the United States to live.
  • HRM, the Queen is on YouTube!

Best of all, we have a few days (probably only two, although one can always hope) in which we won’t hear from or see the candidates tramping through the ice or snow in Iowa and New Hampshire, trailed by hordes of pollsters, pundits and whatnot.  January promises to be all-primary all the time but for now we can be grateful for the respite. Pace.

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Last evening I went to a taping of a panel discussion at Princeton University on the separation of church and state. The show was  Dan Rather’s online program on HDNet.  I wanted to see Dan, of course; I’ve been worried about him since the CBS contretemps but can report that he looked hale and hearty. I was also curious to hear what the panelists, experts in religion and the Constitution, had to say about the current tug-of-war over the place of religion in society.  Honestly, they didn’t have much to say, touching only lightly on matters like court rulings on intelligent design or federal funding of faith-based initiatives. Of course, it’s Princeton and they are legal academics, so it seemed unlikely they would do more than tiptoe carefully around the cultural issues concerning religion and society that are producing such a high level of anxiety nowadays over what is too much or too little. Is it fair to ask students to bow their heads in prayer? Is it really offensive to sing Christmas carols in school? Are Santa Claus displays as problematic as nativity displays in front of the town hall? If 85% of the U.S. residents say they are Christian, is this a Christian nation? And what does that mean, other than the fact that we now have candidates rushing to out-do each other to prove how very Christian they are, as if their faith in their (Christian) God proves their ability to lead or even demonstrates superior moral fiber.

I am comforted by the fact that regardless of what the various scholars believe about the intent of the founding fathers when it came to religion, they all believe those men intended for the government to allow people to practice their religion freely. Further, it seems accepted that the government will actually protect people from persecution and step in when necessary, which is also good to know. As to how to bridge this discomforting divide between those who feel faith is a private matter and those who fear it isn’t nearly public enough, the scholars seemed to believe that was probably outside the purview of the legal system –  thank god.

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I read today that Pakistan’s parliament voted to condemn Great Britain’s decision to present author Salman Rushdie with a knighthood. Governments and their parliamentary bodies often vote to condemn acts of other governments they deem immoral or unjust and Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses” is seen as having insulted Muslim icons in his writing. But I continue to have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of taking it further, i.e issuing a fatwah in 1989 calling for Rushdie’s death and learning now that Pakistan’s religious affairs minister has said publically Britain’s decision to honor the author justified a suicide attack. An article in the June 10th New York Times, chillingly titled “The Guidebook for Taking a Life,” tried to shed some light on how those bent on violence use their religion to support their decisions and actions. It reminds me once again that it is man, not any Supreme Being, who decides not only what to believe but how to believe it.

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