Monday, August 8, 2011

Religion, Politics, Compassion

I have never been a member of an organized religion. Not to say I don't consider myself a spiritual person, but I have found that people within organized church groups or religions tend to develop self-righteousness, and they mistrust and judge people on the outside. I was interested in one group at one time, until I happened upon their bomb shelter, which they had built for the end-of-the world based on apocryphal predictions of their leader,  and that made me rethink things. This is not to say that there aren't individuals within these groups who have universal compassion and understanding. Father Bede Griffiths comes to mind; a Catholic bishop who spent most of his life in India, and was developing an interesting fusion of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. And there are scores of others, of course.

I am a spiritual person, however my friends who are atheist or agnostic often make the most sense. I think this is because of their tendency to think thoroughly through the information they receive and put everything in context, rather than to accept things based only on faith. I have swung into that realm many times. Religion and spirituality are a bit of a moving target for me, and I will discuss this more later.

I bring this all up because of the huge attempt by the right to legislate their religious beliefs. My concern about this is that they have epitomized all that is bad with religion. They have developed a mechanized system whereby they can be hateful and mistrusting of gays, science, liberals, non-Christians (Muslims in particular), people who have divorced or had abortions, education and educational institutions, and the list goes on. These people, who have somehow gained tremendous power, are those who are the worst of non-thinking, judgmental conformists that radical acceptance of faith brings. We have seen this in the Muslim world, with the Mullahs and Ayatollahs who have entered the political system in the Middle East, and now we are seeing it here. (Ironically, the similarities between Sharia law, which the Tea Partiers in particular are frightened of, and they feel are taking hold in towns in the US, even towns that have very few Muslims in their population; and the breeches of personal freedoms they wish upon us are almost identical.)

I think the problem with fundamentalism of any kind is that it looks, blindly, at the few passages from the religious books with which they agree, and leaves out the very basic foundation of all world religions, which is compassion.

"My religion is kindness," commented the Dalai Lama many years ago, and I have taken this to be the center of my spirituality as well. As I continue to express my concerns about the religious views of the politicians with whom I disagree, I also would never wish harm on any of them, and I also completely accept their right to practice the things they believe, whatever they may be. I wish only that they would go about their spiritual lives without trying to impose their beliefs on me or others who disagree. I think our Constitution affords people these rights, but also protects me from their wrath in the political realm.

I am not a Christian, but I agree with many of the things Jesus taught. Among them when he said that the most important commandment was to love your neighbor as you love yourself. I don't have any idea what passage or book or verse this came from, I just remember I read it and thought that it made  complete sense.

This act of loving your neighbor as you would yourself is what I implore those religious fanatics in congress to do. When they read passages from the bible on the senate floor about how God promised to never destroy the world again after the whole Noah thing in order to justify that there is no climate change, they are not doing that. They are justifying the destruction of the world in their own, twisted way. And besides, God is not destroying the world, humans who don't love the earth as much as themselves are.

Today I was in the parking lot at the store, and as I was backing out, a guy walked up behind my car and stood there, reading my liberal bumper-stickers and frowning. This, I thought, was very symbolic of the individuals I am discussing in many ways. He was adamant about voicing his disapproval of my beliefs, but forgot to consider the point that he was behind a moving car coming straight toward him. My bumper stickers, by the way read "God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts," "Obama-Biden 2008," "Free Tibet," and "I lived the leisure life at Spider Rock Campground, Chinle Arizona."

I have no gripes with Christians or Christianity, or any other faith. I only have gripes with people who insist I have to believe as they do and judge me for being different than they are.

I also have gripes with this practice of the radical right to justify the ends by using tactics that are in direct violation of the things they believe. I have seen how many of these politicians lie, cheat and steal to lead the county in the direction they want. I know that "Thou shalt not lie," and "Thou shalt not steal," are two of the things they say they believe. I know that because of the situation a few years ago in a courthouse in Louisiana where a federal judge lied, cheated and stole in order to get a marble statue that was engraved with the Ten Commandments put in the courthouse and that was written there. I also know it because many of the lying and cheating politicians in congress are quick to point it out when they perceive someone else has lied or stolen or committed adultery. These are the types of things Woody Allen was talking about when he uttered the immortal words "If Jesus were to come back now and see what was being done in his name, he just would not be able to stop throwing up." Hannah And Her Sisters; Act III, Scene V, Paragraph XXVI (I don't really know the act or scene or anything.)

Compassion. I believe the single most important attribute we have have is compassion. I have seen what cruelty can do. I work with children who are severely, emotionally disturbed, mostly because of the things cruel people have done to them. I have also seen what compassion can do: I have seen many of these same children come alive again as compassionate people show them love and understanding.

I do not believe it is compassionate to take things away from the sick, elderly or poor. This is what is most upsetting about the new breed of Republicans, and the Democrats who empower them. I do not see compassion in people who have everything wanting to keep more for themselves and refusing to made minimal sacrifices to help people in need. I do not see compassion in forcing a rape victim to carry a baby to term. I don't see compassion in seeing that people who do not have health insurance don't get treatment. I don't see compassion in removing laws that impede people with great wealth and power from stealing more. I don't see compassion in trying to remove basic rights extended to those in careers based on compassion, such as teaching, nursing, fire protection and so forth.

I do not begrudge anyone their beliefs. I support all these systems. Perhaps my own inability to settle on a singular spiritual path is that there are far too many wonderful ones out there. I am of the Voltarian idea that "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I am perplexed by the faithful who behave as those described in the bible who lived in the seething, hateful city of Babylon. Isn't that what they are doing?

So if people are going to bring their religions into politics, I beg you, bring the compassionate side in, and leave your mechanized, hateful, judgmental stuff at home. After all, that is not what Jesus believed, or taught.

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