Saturday, September 25, 2010

Christine O'Donnell and the 14th Dalai Lama?

Again, I’m trying a split topic blog like I did last week. Firstly, we have the questionable conflation of Satanists with Wiccans, witches and other pagans of various stripes by GOP candidate Christine O’Donnell. Not that she doesn’t have other controversial claims, but this one is especially relevant with the consideration that the general term “pagan” applies to at least a quarter of a million people in the U.S. alone, according to Selena Fox, head of Circle Sanctuary, which associates with pagans across the world. The demographic numbers for self identifying pagans allegedly ranges from 500,000 to a million in the U.S. alone. I’m reminded of a prediction by a writer of a questionable work on Wicca and its supposed evil beliefs, Steve Wohlberg, that Wicca would be the third largest religion in the world by 2012. If that’s the case, then it’s true what Rev. Fox (yes, that’s the title apparently) says: we need to further educate people about pagans and how the vast majority are not crazies who kill animals and drink blood.

The political implications are not nearly as relevant, since most people would forgive O’Donnell for past teenage mistakes. The problem is how seriously someone would take her claim that she both “dabbled in witchcraft” and “dated a Satanist”, potentially confusing people into equating the two, when they are pretty distinct systems, holding clearly different perspectives on divinity as well as ethics in particular. The whole notion of a Left Hand Path originates in Satanic thought, whereas Pagan thought is commonly an attempt in some way to return to one’s cultural roots. This is especially true for Pagan Reconstructionism, which attempts to derive the ancient religious practices and create structures based around them to bring the pre modern practices into the modern world. I only hope that this article and the issues it has brought up become more widespread knowledge. This is especially so for those attempts of another GOP member, Bob Barr of Georgia, to illegalize Wicca in the military twice, both times failing. It’s a great accomplishment that America recognizes the diverse, but also remarkably aligned pagan tradition, represented on veteran graves by the pentacle symbol, not to be confused with the pentagram, which is a reversed pentacle, associated with Satanists and Wiccans alike, but in reality only used by Satanists commonly. Here’s to the future of paganism in one way or another, since people will always look back to the past for virtually any religious significance, be it the more mainstream religious texts or the archaeological history that is rooted in many pagan faiths. They’re both just as valid, even if sometimes people fill in the gaps with their own ideas. But that’s how religion is, an ever evolving story.

Onto more bright things, there is a manga adaptation by Tetsu Saiwai of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso’s life that I may consider purchasing. It reminds me of the collection of Buddha manga by Osamu Tezuka I’ve had sitting in my bookcase for at least a year now. I want to reread them eventually, to remind myself of what really made me like them. Historical accuracy, the legends that are injected, and the potential misunderstandings about Buddhism that people could draw from it aside, the graphic novels are astounding. I would probably spend nearly an hour sometimes without even realizing it just reading through half of a novel, if not an entire novel in one sitting. The art is presented in such a way that you feel like a kid, but the subject material isn’t exactly something a kid could really appreciate. There’s death, tragedy, a lot of really serious scenes, and literally a lifetime of a single man encompassed in 8 graphic novels, thousands and thousands of pages no doubt. With Tenzin Gyatso as a subject, the adaptation will no doubt be a shorter series. But from what I’ve read, it presents a perspective on the man’s life that will make you want to read more into his thoughts about life, and Tibetan Buddhism’s perspective as related to other Buddhist sects that exist in Asia. The book releases September 28th and I imagine Amazon will be the place to pre order or order it when it arrives in stores and in publication lists. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Community Cohesion and Catholic Censorship

While I won’t comment anymore on the wisdom or rights of building the Park51 Community Center affectionately termed the “Muslim Y”, I will say that there are 2 stories aside from the waffled Quran burning that have struck me almost speechless in relation to the big ruckus over this now 11 story building (previously 13). One is that Michael Moore has proposed that we move Park51 to Ground Zero. Stephen Prothero’s suggestion was more practical, but Moore’s idea, while economically unfeasible, since it would require shifting of resources and the like, is in the spirit of American tolerance. And in principle, it would actually demonstrate a multifaceted dimension of America. The “terrorists” would be confused; on the one hand, there’s a prayer center for Muslims at Ground Zero, so maybe that means they won; but wait, it’s a pluralistic community center and it has a culinary school, basketball courts and a pool, so they lost? It’d be as confusing as a Christian burning a bible or a Buddhist burning sutras

The other thing that strikes me as especially disturbing is how the New York community seems to have gotten some poison in its veins in relation to Muslims after 9/11. Before, there were Muslims in the World Trade Center in a somewhat makeshift prayer room on the 17th floor of the south tower. While admittedly they were a minority, they were not viewed as anything of a threat to American liberties or even the idea that Islam had been assimilated, since their culture of prayer and the like had been preserved even in a decidedly religiously diverse America where temples, gurdwaras, mosques, synagogues and churches all coexist within the same country, potentially in the same city as well. Heck, I can’t imagine how I would react meeting a Muslim in the elevator, since honestly, I’ve still been pretty sheltered in relation to Islam, no thanks to living in the Bible Belt where everything besides Christianity is a pretty observable minority. It’s not as if there aren’t practicing Buddhists, etc, but they’re just not represented on the same level, mostly because religion functions like a business in Tennessee half the time, with angry council meetings and such ruining the community and fellowship from what I’ve heard from my parents. But I certainly hope this story on the New York Times’ website is spread around some more.

On a lighter note, but still somewhat seriously warped in reality, a magazine ad from an Italian ice cream company features a pregnant nun, using the religious image to make a clever pun on words, saying that the ice cream was “immaculately conceived”. Of course this isn’t anything in relation to the actual Catholic doctrine, even though I couldn’t explain it to you for beans, but Catholics in the UK seem pretty distressed, enough to pressure the publishers to remove the ad from the magazines released. I can understand why Catholics would be steamed about yet another misrepresentation of their religion; not unlike me potentially being relegated as a Zen Buddhist to Japanese animation representations, which are potential misunderstandings waiting to happen. But on the other hand, I don’t get so offended and take my beliefs so seriously that I prevent other people from advertising and being entrepreneurial. It’s not only un-American, it’s just impractical. You’re basically hijacking even economics and the arts and tearing them apart because you’re personally offended. We don’t need to look more like the Middle East than we could potentially appear to be already in some regards with special interest groups being able to push away virtually anything if they throw enough votes or money at it. Let’s try being less like the UK in this situation. What harm does a pregnant nun do to Catholicism as long as she was chaste, hm? Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Liberty and Libertines of Faith

With Glenn Beck’s recent rally as a source of yet more politico-religious fervor and controversy, I thought it appropriate to comment on others’ commentary on the importance of the gathering that happened to coincide on MLK Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech” at Lincoln Memorial. There were obvious observations that Lincoln was not exactly the most limited government supporting president, along with the potential opportunism that Beck utilized to make his alliance of Tea Party supporters seem less racist since they are honoring MLK Jr. The civil rights leader’s niece, Alveda King, was in attendance, along with Sarah Palin, somehow rounding out the general consensus that this was a mixed bag of political minds. Beck called for people to return to God, honor and to ally together to accomplish this task. At first glance, there seem to be sympathetic ideals within this message, particularly the concluding virtue of cooperation. But the presumption that America has somehow turned from God and honor seems not only mistaken but short sighted.

The loss of honor alleged is potentially the only justified claim in some sense. Any loss of honor would be due more than likely to inaction on the part of people that tend not to care about politicizing everything that happens in the news or just don’t feel that they make a difference in the system of voting for representatives that supposedly speak for them but then turn around and do the opposite. In this way, Beck at least tried to bring back a sense of worth in the individual to try to change things one person at a time.

However, when you start shifting from political apathy to religiously censured morality, you’re just shifting the conversation from fruits to vegetables. It’s not as if people demographically have become more atheistic or generally shifted away from their Abrahamic religions they were raised in, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic or otherwise (since Beck is Mormon, which was an issue I won’t even get into). The claim that people need to “turn back to God” seems to be founded on a particular idea of how one follows “God” to begin with. Not to accuse anyone of explicit theocracy, since there is in the rhetoric of such people as Beck an equally dangerous ideology of theonomy. This is only distinct from theocracy in that it puts the power more squarely in the hands of the clergy, whereas theonomy just places the authority of the law within a sacred text instead of socially/communally derived contracts. For all intents and purposes, the two are almost inseparable. Advocating some kind of civil religion that the majority of the citizens agree upon seems to me still risky and problematic in that you assume that the minority will go along with the suggestion that even though there are groups in America that have no belief in God or no interest in God, they should just quietly sit to the side while the God believers revel in the fact that they can be so outspoken about their theism, while the atheists and agnostics are silenced either by apathy or desire to stay within social propriety, as if being a nonbeliever in God was a sentence to social ostracism or exile from the community; which by the way, it should not be at all. As one of this minority, I cannot stand by apathetically when some people take their liberties too far and abuse them to the detriment of people not like them only in their particular beliefs.

If anything, America should seek out ideals that are shared by everyone as much as possible. Liberty, equality, individualization without fear of isolation or alienation by peers, minority protection along with majority rule, as well as others I could list off that, regardless of creed or lack thereof, I imagine that people ranging from devout Christians to pragmatic hedonists could agree to being ideals that America should advocate. The fact that we can allow tolerance to the extent of permitting the practice of things we would find otherwise reprehensible outside of adherence to laws is already a legacy we should have pride in. A return to honor or God should not be the first thing we should be concerned with. Rather, a return to liberty and liberalism (particularly in the classical sense it was founded in around the point of America’s founding) should be our goal for the future. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha