Among the Navajos, a Renewed Debate About Gay Marriage

Among the Navajos, a Renewed Debate About Gay Marriage

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/us/among-the-navajos-a-renewed-debate-about-gay-marriage.html

I found this article interesting because it demonstrates that all people, even those who have dealt with great discrimination, are capable of their own discrimination.  

Interview With Creators of Scientology Documentary

This is an interview with the director and writer of Going Clear, the new HBO documentary coming out about Scientology.  There are also some clips from the film.  It’s a brief interview, but I think an interesting one.  What interests me about this film, aside from the fact that something as strange as Scientology is interesting in and of itself, is that from what I’ve read, and from what they say in this interview, this film provides a window in belief and religion at large.  Why do otherwise intelligent people believe in things which are just not credible?

Passing Thoughts On the Inferno

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Been reading Dante’s The Inferno today.  It is part of his epic poem The Divine Comedy.  As well as it being far more readable and entertaining than I remembered, it is also truly hilarious for the insanity contained.  I’m only about five Cantos in.  From the beginning, not only is the imagery batshit insane, but some of the ideas that are rooted in religion are as well.  Early on Dante visits the Virtuous Pagans.  These are people that were at the pinnacle of humanity, but could not progress higher in the afterlife due to the fact that they were without the light of God.  (They were born before the time of Christianity, so it was through no fault of their own.)  So it is clear that the religion of Dante’s time (and we know some of the religion of our own), valued a belief in God above any kind of great achievements, even if these achievements were the kind that brought light and understanding to humanity, even if the circumstance of their birth was the sole reason for this lack of belief.

Also there are a group within this group known as the naturalists.  These would be people that were the equivalent of scientists in our society.  Clearly these people were valued by believers during Dante’s time for the understanding of the natural world that they brought to society.  (Though not enough that they were allowed to reach heaven!)  Why is it now that many people on the religious right today do not value scientists?  Have we regressed since Dante’s time in certain ways?  One step forward, two steps back?

The Language of Death

I played a funeral this afternoon.  If a funeral can ever be joyous, this one was, with stories that had people rolling with laughter. That’s not to say there weren’t tears shed, as saying goodbye to someone is always had, but even someone like me, who didn’t actually know the deceased, was left feeling love for the man that passed away.  His memory sounded more alive and full of life than some people I know that are still on this earth!  The event was a celebration of a life well lived as much as it was an acknowledgement of death.

Other than when I was actually playing, I was standing somewhere where I could hear what had been said, but could not see the speakers.  It got me thinking about language, and how certain kinds of language can bring additional meaning to important events, or detract from them, especially religious language.  I am actually someone that loves religious language, even if I myself am not a member of any organized religion.  I can admire it from a purely poetic standpoint.  Some of my favorite writers are people like Flannery O’Connor, whose work is heavily steeped in haunted Biblical language.  This kind of language is something that has greatly influenced my songwriting.  However, religious language never seems more hollow to me than when it is part of a ceremony in church.  (Today was not in a church and I am not specifically referring to that event.  Other than a few acknowledgments of Christianity this was again more of a celebration of life than a traditional funeral.)

Language, however poetic, when stripped of any meaning other than ceremony, loses its power.  However beautiful a sonnet of Shakespeare is, if it is recited flatly and out of context, probably will have little effect on those listening.  So much religious language at the big life events, these ceremonies, aside from it being part of tradition, is detached from the real life that it is supposed to be bringing meaning to.  Even if someone is particularly religious or pious this kind of language will, unless you select the right passages, and tie them in somehow to a person’s life, and try to communicate the words with passion, still ring hollow.  So many ceremonies are just that; a set of rituals, nothing more than going through the motions.  When faced with the blackness of the void, these words of ritual are but brief whispers in the din of the whirlwind.  If you are the kind of person that finds comfort in mere repetition, then maybe they’ll comfort you.  But if you are trying to celebrate a life in the face of death, then to me they don’t do real life any justice.  For life is the sacred and the obscene and everything in between those two poles.

The only thing as greater than death is love.  Part of love is caring about someone in spite of all of their faults.  You can’t remove anyone’s faults anymore than you can remove whatever good qualities they possessed, or they will lack their true humanity.  Whenever I am at a funeral and there is someone up front spouting euphemisms, or just saying the same ritualistic words that could be said about anyone else, which is essentially the same as saying nothing at all, I feel cheated.  Even if someone were to go up to the front and say, “So-and-so was a goddamn bastard”, you would at least know that that person had lived, that they were on this Earth from point A to point B.  Ritual, by itself, if not infused with any other meaning, is worse than actual meaninglessness, because it is a facade for that meaninglessness.  It gives cover to the fact that no one really has much of anything to say at all.

When I die, if my body isn’t just rolled out into the river at night, let people speak the truth.  Otherwise, a moment of silence will do…

? + ? = Religion

Because of the press concerning HBO’s upcoming documentary Going Clear:  Scientology and the Prison of Belief, I have been reading about Scientology the last two days.  Some of the things that believers of Scientology believe in are mind boggling.  The central story of the religion seems like a bad science fiction story.  It is like if someone wrote a science fiction film with a mythology and plot so far fetched and incoherent that it was impossible to follow.  I was just reading about Xenu.  Xenu was the dictator of something called the Galatic Confederacy and the one who brought his people to earth millions of years ago.  The story of Xenu, and it just gets more ridiculous and confounding from there, is important to the creation myth of Scientology.

I mean anyone who reads about Xenu who isn’t already a Scientology believer is probably going, “What the fuck?!!!”  However, if you think about most other religions, they too have stories that defy common sense.  But why is it that many other religions seem more respectable than Scientology?

I think it is because those other religions are much older.  There is nothing like an ancient artifact or a strange stone temple to make something appear more mysterious and outside the realm of human understanding.  Even if they are things that were made by human hands, they seem otherworldly.  A parchment in a dead language with strange symbols seems like a clue to a much bigger mystery, even if all it really is is a piece of paper a priest in the olden days wrote down a bunch of mumbo jumbo on after tripping on mushrooms.  A tomb from 2,000 years ago seems a lot more mystical than some shiny new gravestones that one of your neighbors has to weed whack around, even if it is inherently the same thing.  These old sites and items seem spooky and enchanted because they come from an ancient world that we can’t completely comprehend.  We therefore allow our imagination to infuse the stories surrounding these things with a weight and a mysticism that isn’t really based in reality anymore than the story of Xenu.

So in thinking about all this today, I came up with a simple equation:

Made-up stories + time = religion

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Review in Variety

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Going Clear Review

I am very interested in seeing the new Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.  It is based on Laurence Wright’s book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.  I have seen a bunch of Gibney’s previous documentaries and they were all excellent.  I especially found Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer to be especially captivating.  Above is a review of the new film at Variety.  It debuts on HBO in March.  I find Scientology interesting because I think it casts a wider net into religion at large.  How can people believe unbelievable things?

Ideas of Value and Worshipping at Decaying Alters

I once read part of Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World.  Although I don’t agree with Ferguson on most current political issues and he can often be pompous and arrogant, there were parts of this book that were really interesting and one part in particular that stuck with me.  This was the idea that technology cannot only spread progress and enlightenment, but can also spread bad ideas just as quickly.  In the book he talks about the implementation of rail.  Rail allowed certain regions to progress economically and culturally.  Goods and technology that had not reached parts of the world were now more easily available and allowed civilization to advance.  Different people that had never been in much contact were able to come together, become more familiar with each other, and share worthwhile ideas.  However, things like racism and anti-semitism, that might not have been prevalent in certain areas, were able to spread as well.

We can see in modern times how the internet allows both good and bad ideas to spread more easily.  Not only can the internet be a place where democratic ideas can be shared, but fundamentalists and fascist corporatists are able to spread their message through the internet as well.

Earlier tonight as I drove home from a gig I was listening to Chuck D’s album The Black in Man.  On one of the songs Chuck D raps that,”There’s a difference between censorship and senseless shit.”  I’m against censorship of any kind, the banning of ideas.  However, this does not mean that ideas have equal value and should be regarded as such.  There is not enough critical thinking and bullshit detecting going on in our society.   Whether it is the right’s fear of intellectualism, because facts are often not in their favor, or the left’s fear of things being deemed intolerant, too many of the conversations we have end up being about how people respond to something and not the actual value an idea itself.

Making scientific decisions is better when science is the metric for a decision and not economics.  A culture that treats women equally is flat out better than a culture that tries to keep them subservient.  These, and others, are simple conclusions that can be reached easily when reason and critical thinking are involved.  Now more than ever, in this information age, we need people that can critique our culture in a meaningful way and that aren’t afraid to stand up and be counted.  At the same time we need these same kind of people to be unafraid to change their opinions when facts add up to something different than what we previously thought.   Utilitarianism, what benefits the most amount of people, should be a force in that debate, even if that idea in and of itself isn’t enough.  (No matter how many benefit from something, it should not be at the expense of suffering of the minority.  There needs to be clear ethical lines as safeguards to that utilitarianism.)  What gives the people the best chance to be free of fear, want, and oppression?  How do we as a society prosper and live lives of meaning without creating suffering in others?  What brings long term meaning to life?  What kinds of short term satiation of our desires makes life less meaningful in the long run?

We have all of the information of the world at our fingertips, but kids are taught less and less how to actually parse that information and decide what has value.  People on the right and the left sense their is something sick in our culture, even if they can’t agree on what it is.

In my opinion, although there is still a lot of ill in our culture due to petty tribal and religious differences, our main problem is that we have allowed money to become the thing we worship above all else.  Whatever sells wins, even if in the long run it will lead to our destruction.

As I read the news today I couldn’t help but notice all of the false gods that we worship on a daily basis.  We too often worship the god of the tribe, while allowing money and power to have their way while we are distracted at decaying alters.

I already know, before even reading over what I wrote, that it is somewhat rambling, that it possibly touches on too many different ideas.  But I can’t help but feel these are the kinds of things we should be thinking about, that these are the kinds of questions that we should be asking.