Interpretations of Faith (Covering all the Bases)

I’ve been reading, lately, about the beginnings of the religion of Islam. It appears the prophet Mohammad realized, early on, Truth was available as belief in a single all-encompassing deity that could be appealed to by each faithful man or woman. Each supplicant, through engagement in personal devotion and by leading a virtuous life would come to realize a heavenly reward.

As I think about the Christian belief in a triune but singular God and the promise of immortal reward for one’s resistance to sinful ways, I can’t help but recognize significant commonality, you know, in the way humanity seeks appeal to a higher Truth and hopes to avoid mortal extinction through adherence to a Supreme Being.

The divisiveness playing out these days as a result of fundamental extremism on both sides of the religious divide doesn’t seem to fit with the common tenets these religions share. One has to wonder if the essentials have some how been lost in the interpretations.

What’s Art got to do with It?

I’ve been reading that our brains evolved over the millennia to serve pragmatic purpose, you know, solve basic problems of survival: how to fend off dangers, procure nourishment and such. I have to wonder, if this is indeed the case, how and why, exactly, a pleasure center that responds to something as trivial as art evolved. It seems reasonable that our primeval ancestor was happy to experience a sharp and clear visual image as it would certainly be advantageous in hunting, foraging and warding off dangers, but at what point and for what reasons did our minds evolve to include the concept of beauty?

I can only imagine that at some point our primordial hunter may have been walking along a beach when his eye caught an unusually shaped piece of driftwood. Thinking about the bison pursued in the morning hunt he came to the stunning realization that this broken shard of willow resembled, quite accurately really, a large running animal. In this instant of cognitive brilliance we must assume the beginnings not only of animistic spirituality but the birth of art as well.

It all snowballed from there, I guess.

Diogenes the Cynic

The ancient Stoics were of the opinion that in order to maintain a stable and strong essence a man has to prepare a bit by voluntarily practicing austerity, depriving himself (or herself, women too, of course) of certain basic human needs for a time in order to strengthen him/herself to face the inevitable difficulties life will most certainly offer at some point, probably in the not too distant future. This means, I guess, one should suffer a bit in order to steel oneself to better face future personal disasters, which could mean turning off the phone and laptop but could be a real challenge like spending time with the homeless for a while.

This idea got me thinking about Diogenes the Cynic, who for very different and less personal reasons, voluntarily lived the life of a social outcast dressed in rags, living in a wine cask and existing on handouts. But, living the meanest of existences he feared no loss which enabled him to live with absolute integrity.
He exhibited great strength of character unaffected as he was by the cultural trappings of the day, unintimidated by the power players of the time. Even Alexander the Great addressed him respectfully. (Bob Dylan’s admonition ‘you have to serve somebody’ doesn’t apply to Diogenes).

Well, as much as I admire Diogenes commitment, I’m not about to give up all my creature comforts, but I can see the value in modest deprivation, you know, as a way to prepare for the inevitable ill winds.

Maybe I’ll go camping for a while.

The Right Way to Live

I’ve been reading, lately, about the conflicts that developed between the ancient Romans and early Christians. The Romans were polytheistic, their many gods acquired for the most part from the Greeks were represented by magnificent marble sculptures housed in elaborate temples that played significantly in their daily rituals. Through sacrificial offerings the gods were appeased whereby good fortune reigned upon the Romans (well, the monied ones anyway).

The monotheistic early Christians were reluctant, to say the least, to recognize the Roman gods much to the displeasure of the Romans, and, so, suffered some pretty nasty earthly ends for their defiance, that is, until the visionary emperor Constantine converted, tossing the ball into the Christians court. The game changed big time; churches were built, idols and temples destroyed.

Over the centuries to follow the Christians, through draconian laws and inquisitions singled out the heretics, finding ever more creative tortures to convince the pagan Romans of the truth of the Cross. Tit for tat, I guess.

Other than who or what was worshipped the rub seemed to be primarily about the right way to live. The Romans ate, drank and were, more or less, happy in their licentious debauchery, recognizing as they did, the shortness of life while the Christians lived in severe austerity forgoing anything they saw as sinful in nature, suffering this life for the rewards of the next.

Notions of how best to live one’s life have been somewhat softened these days but the dichotomy persists. I guess we’re pretty evenly divided as to which path is the best one to take. A good case could be made, I think, for pursuing a middle way.

Politics and Reason

I’ve been reading that one’s political affiliation is the primary determiner of the position one assumes regarding the hot-button issues of the day. Well, maybe not everyone’s, but the suggestion is that a political stance is determined to a great extent by social relations, how one identifies with those around her: a kind of in-group, tribal association that leads to consumption and regurgitation of the appropriate sound-bites consistent with the ‘correct’ political view.

To support such a perspective my very credible source suggests that, when questioned, most on the political fringes (which now make up around 40% of the electorate) have little knowledge of the nuances of the issues: global warming, health-care for all, world trading agreements, capitalistic regulation, the social safety-net, the plight of immigrants are all seen through the lens of political bias; which accounts, pretty much, for the divisiveness in the contemporary social dialogue: each side demonizing the other aided and abetted by profit-seeking punditry.

So, I guess the question is, how to discourage unreasoned dogmatic belief and encourage critical thinking: thinking carefully about both sides of issues and side-stepping political flashpoints. It may all be left up to a younger generation to re-find enlightened thinking; their power is growing, after all, funeral by funeral.

Populism

It appears populism has become a significant factor in world events these days. I guess the term refers to, among other things, belief in the need to protect the homeland against outside pressures and influences; the homeland being the small segment of the world where the populists reside. Ideas like establishing a world community where important issues like environmental degradation, global conflict, world hunger or the potential spread of catastrophic diseases might be addressed isn’t on the agenda apparently.

I’ve been reading that populist movements are made up, primarily of old white guys that oppose, for the most part, in-coming populations of people of other ethnicities, who, they apparently think (the old white guys, that is) are weighing too heavily on limited resources. Other fears surface as well: fears of being over-run by alien cultural beliefs and being relegated to minority status if the influx is allowed to continue.

There’s a sense here of not wanting to think too hard about the big picture, or, maybe even acknowledging there is a big picture. It seems a bit like, you know, when you were a kid, pulling the covers over your head to escape the unknown entity that is making the noises under the bed and then in the morning manning-up and informing the authorities of the presence of aliens.

Well, anyway, I’m hopeful that an enlightened view will reappear in the not-to-distant future and a cooperative, inclusive humankind will re-emerge and the light of reason will break through the momentary darkness.

Violence

I’ve been reading that, by nature of our very existence at this point in time, most everyone has been endowed with the genetic propensity to behave violently. Given the necessary provocation, or not, our ancestral drive for survival has instilled the will and desire toward physical aggression in the interests of protecting kith and kin on the positive side and for some of us who may be leaning toward the psychopathic, rape and kill for personal gain. Violence may be the prevailing characteristic of humankind given our histories of Wild West lawlessness, clannish feuds and nearly constant warring.
Passivity is, I guess, a logical reaction against having to deal with any sort of revenge perpetrated upon us by survivors of aggressive behavior on our part, who, then, would have to be back-watching for retributive response from us, which would likely create a stand-off and perhaps perpetual distrust, which would place everyone in a fairly constant state of tension.
So, I’m sticking with passivity; I’m anxious enough as it is.

And They All Lived Happily Ever After

I’ve been thinking, lately, about what it might mean to realize an extended period of calm, peacefulness and tranquility; halcyon days of pleasant meanderings through a benevolent natural world and happy encounters with grounded, enlightened people. It seems a bit of a fantasy requiring, in this day and age of political unrest and perpetual world-wide tragedy, a sort of head-in-the-sand dismissal of reality.
Maybe I’m just allowing myself to be distracted, not seeing the whole forest, lost among the trees. I suppose I could strive to remain awake in the moment, not get overly obsessed with situations beyond my control, you know, realize the world around us is ever-changing. I, perhaps, need to reacquaint myself with a Nature in constant flux and modify my sense of propriety so as not to assume it should be for everyone, everywhere.
Can right mind, I wonder, see a reality in which all live happily ever after; if not, how about a centered life free of the sufferings of expectation?

Human Nature

I’ve been reading that in France in the mid-20th century various fringe groups instigated massive protests against the government, building barricades across streets in Paris and causing as much mayhem as they could muster, which was considerable, energy being particularly high when an appropriate evil is made tangible.

Although the demands of the anarchists weren’t well articulated it appears the rub essentially was about class struggles; a class-less communism seeming to be the desired end; freedom to be equals through re-distribution of resources. The result of all the chaos turned out to be a ruthless police crack-down and excessive prison sentences where abominable conditions led many inmates to suicide, which led to more protests and civil unrest.

It all seems too familiar: the tendency toward mayhem for mayhems sake, even all-out anarchy appears hidden beneath mankind’s benign exterior. Human nature seeks opposition; someone or something to cast as enemy, the cause of their difficulties, emotions rise, factions unite, shouting occurs, and all Hell breaks loose: another revolution of sorts happens.

The human psyche being what it is I sometimes wonder how periods of peace happen at all.

Time Cycles

Apparently, in medieval times, the general consensus (among the few who thought about it), was that time was an illusion; the only reality , as they saw it, is now (or was now, I suppose, if one allows that these people lived in a past which isn’t any longer) which leads me, as I think about it, to assume it’s reasonable to find ‘now’ the only reality, since nothing has yet to come next.

Setting aside the manufactured ‘time’ we’ve come to accept which divides nature’s cycles into seconds, minutes and hours, ‘just now’ or ‘in a bit’ can be interpreted as ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow’ or even ‘a year ago’ or a ‘year from now’ if the events considered (think galactic distances and the speed of light) warrant such interpretation.

Then there’s the psychological aspect. Sometimes I find time passing rapidly, you know, when I’m engaged in a particularly interesting enterprise and other times time seems to slither along at a snail’s pace when, for instance, I’m a captive audience, trapped before an expounding orator which may have me thinking about what ‘eternity is now’ really means.

Anyway, this all has me thinking I needn’t care so much about late or early anymore.