18 December 2011

A son of Prometheus.

Described as a writer "in the tradition of Hemingway and Orwell," atheist Christopher Hitchens' voice might arguably have been among the most significantly articulate for earth-spiritual people to hear and understand. His recent death, at age 62 to pneumonia as a complication to esophageal cancer, robs enlightened people everywhere of a powerful presence.

Does it seem contradictory that a man who tirelessly argued against mysticism and belief and superstition might be praiseworthy among people who, to some, might be among the most mystical and, on the face of it, superstitious in all religious communities? Pause and reflect.

In articulating how organized religion has become an abhorrent threat to thinking and free people the world over, and how religion arguably is the primary source for most hatred and violence in the world, Hitchens did more than petulantly thumbnose the icons of religious doctrines. Perhaps it was not so much that "God" was his enemy as it was what he described as the "theocratic fascists" of the world, those people whose alleged devotion to any variety of a Supreme Deity brought them down the path toward hurtfulness, hate, and control. His enemy was the institutionalization of faith and the violent discord, from any number of doctrines, that such organization seemed to inevitably let loose upon the world for centuries.

Judeo-Christian theologians, particularly fundamentalist Christian media pundits, loved attempting to take Hitchens to task. Consistently, they found themselves intellectually unarmed however, as Hitchens' humanistic genius found itself coupled with his inexhaustible literary experience as a journalist, critic, essayist, editor: an analyst of words and its power. But as they attempted to defend the merits of their beliefs, many of these same monotheist theologians seemed to miss a consistent underlying point within almost all of Hitchens' arguments: that it is the imposition of belief, not the individual presence of belief, that is a danger to society.

This is a point which, I desperately hope, all Pagan spiritual people can agree with.

Hitchens was not, as some of his detractors would have you think, entirely unawed by what some people might characterize as sacred. In one interview, he agreed that holding his infant children filled him with enough awe that he asked himself if it were possible that some supernatural comprehension could exist. Speaking during one of the many symposiums he gleefully participated in, he implied that any belief that could found itself on the empowerment of women might actually succeed in bringing more good than harm into the world. In both voice and written word, he reminded us, again and again and again, that any institutionalization that contributes to divisiveness, discord, and disharmony in any way whatsoever ultimately only contributes to anguish in the world.

No community of religious or spiritual people is entirely homogenous in its understanding and celebration of whatever it is it identifies as "sacredness." Even among One True believers, there really is no such thing as a one true belief, as the feral complexity of both the human spirit and imagination is simply too expansive. Hitchens himself, a militant atheist, did not acknowledge any sort of anthropomorphic personified divinities, and he happily ridiculed that any such personification could be acceptable to intelligent people. Most theists would cry out in angered frustration.

Yet many deists (and here, arguably, I could include pantheists, panentheists, and henotheists) can appreciate the broadness of scope that arguments like Hitchens' could contribute to spiritual discourse. Even if one were to completely disagree with Hitchens' atheism, the bedrock of his arguments nevertheless aid enlightened and thinking people into powerful directions of thought. These directions demand that everyone, spiritual or nonspiritual alike, fearlessly examine the nuances and messages and repercussions associated with whatever belief system we've chosen.

Ultimately, how can any compassionate person anywhere, participating in any community, not find merit and importance in reflecting upon that? We may find ourselves uncomfortably "doubting" foundations of belief, but then that would beg the question: is it wrong to "doubt" a belief that, upon critical observation, is fundamentally hurtful or hateful or divisive? When does a healthy message become superceded by an unhealthy method? And if the message itself can be found to be unhealthy, how long can it expect to be sustained, and what might it suggest about the people who would choose to so sustain it?

30 June 2011

Changing the world.

I really like my 2004 Honda Accord sedan. I do. I like the leather seats, the sunroof, the kickass air conditioning, the barleycorn interior colour and the way it classily matches the rich phthalo green exterior.

I'm cruising around the city, running errands for a barbecue party that I'm planning for the weekend. It's warm, so that air conditioning is blasting away. ...Oh, wait: I need gas.

I pull into the nearby Shell station where I pump my $1.27 per litre into the tank. I tug my debit card from my wallet, insert it into the so-modern kiosk, ignore the brightly coloured advertising pleas encouraging me to buy some chips and candy as well, and enjoy the breeze after I punch the keypad so Shell can take my twenty dollars.

And then the little grey screen flashes just before posting a message before me.

help us change the world

My first reponse is to smile. Change the world? Sure! I'm all about that. Aren't I? Changing the world, yeah, that's a great thing. Damned right.

And then, just after I gun that fine 240-horsepower engine again, I start thinking. Help Shell change the world. Yes, I just did that, didn't I? After all, I just gave them my money in return for their gasoline product. For my car that I love.

I helped Shell change the world by selling unregistered pesticides that violated EPA standards. I helped Shell change the world by bribing Nigerian customs officials. I helped Shell change the world by stripping the Alberta tar sands. I helped Shell change the world by participating in our addiction to fossil fuels, raising global warming to such a threatening stage that polar bears, coral reefs, and Gods know how many other species are rapidly facing increased risk of extinction.

But man, I sure do love my 2004 Honda Accord. Did I mention its neato shade of green? Damned right.

I drive it down to the market next. I'm hosting this barbecue party this weekend, you know. It's Canada Day weekend. Yeah. So many Torontonians will be driving the cars that they love too, driving to cottage country where they'll be hosting barbecue parties also. All those cars driving to scenic, rustic cottage country because all those driving Torontonians want to spend time in those great outdoors. Yeah.

You know, those great, pristine Ontario outdoors that used to be teeming with black bears and wolves and mountain lions. But, hey, they're gone now because the little fuckers get into our trash, don't they? Like those goddamned raccoons back home in the city. Might as well beat 'em with a gardening spade, huh? Yeah, that's what that guy in Cabbagetown did. Damned right.

In Ontario, the stag moose and the saiga antelope are extinct. The Eastern elk is too. The Labrador duck. The Lake Ontario kiyi and several species of trout. But, hey, you've eaten one trout, you've eaten them all. Damned right.

I'm in the No Frills Market. I drove here. About five blocks from the Shell station. I'm squeezing lemons. Were these lemons trucked to this market from somewhere far off? Two young, probably non-union, workers are organizing the tomatoes. Where are those tomatoes from, anyway? I'm sure some migrant workers in some blisteringly hot US state were thrilled to make their forty cents, if that, to pick them for us folks here in Ontario. How many litres of $1.27 per did that trucker burn to get it here? Because, nah, we can't be growing lemons or tomatoes here in Ontario. Nah. Bad for the economy. Damned right.

"Heard you got your car back," one No Frills worker says to the other.

"Yeah," the second replies. "Didn't have it for a whole day. I thought my life was over."

Yeah. We're all doing our part to change the world.

Damned right.

06 January 2011

Don't you dare let go.

Recently, I found myself taking a look at a child's parochial grade-school notebook that had come across my path. To my surprise and amusement, this particular notebook included notes and lesson plans from a class on comparative world religions.

My first thought was how fantastic to know that a grade-school was offering such a course, and to see that at least some children in the region were being introduced to the ideas behind not only Christendom, but of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Paganism, unsurprisingly, was not included in these studies, although there were numerous references to "humanism," which really can't be all that bad.

But as I read through the child's chicken-scrawl and the assorted teacher's remarks more closely, I came upon a test essay question that raised my eyebrows. "As distressing as it is," read the question, "religion is in sharp decline. What outcome might we expect from this?"

What struck me was the completely subjective value judgment behind the query. Granted, the purpose of this particular class was to introduce youths to various theories and maxims of various world religions, that in itself being a huge leap in educational pluralism since when I was a kid... but the question's structure seemed to reify the concept that religion is a vitally necessary component to human society.

What if we disagree? What if 'the decline of (organized) religion' was not necessarily perceived as something "distressing"?