Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Closet Monster Whispering In Your Ear

It was Richard Jeni who said that wars over religion was like two groups of people fighting over the best imaginary friend. There have been so many events that have happened throughout history and were spurred on by religion that have caused immense amounts of pain and suffering. By claiming to do anything due to your religion can lead to all manner of reactions and could just seem silly all the way around.

I was scanning through the news this evening and I found a headline that I knew I just had to check out - "Roberts Says God Forced His Resignation". For those of you that haven't heard any of the previous reports, Richard Roberts, the son of Orel Roberts, had been sued over excessive spending from what wound up being school funds for things like shopping sprees, buying a stable of horses and paying for a daughter to travel to the Bahamas aboard the university jet. Since the school is currently running at a $50 million debt, it would really be bad for this suit to show that there was something going on of an illegal nature.

Richard Roberts had spent all of the time since the original filing of charges claiming innocence and saying that God told his to fight the charges and not resign. There were a bunch of press releases, interviews, and even a stopover on the Larry King show for him to work this side of the discussion. Most of the interviewing was of the easy kind for Roberts and it seemed like he had slid along pretty easily. I'm not sure if there was something coming that he couldn't wiggle out of or he just decided to give but he made a statement that he is going to resign after all.

The reason that he gave for this decision? God told him to do it. I'll give you a moment or two to let that sink in.

At first, I was kind of amazed that he would say something like that. You are asking the public to believe that God felt the need to listen just to you to advise you on your legal situation. There aren't any more important things going on in the world that God should be dealing with. It's all about that legal problem and that's it. It seems that it would be the only way to really get out of it since he said that God was the one that originally told him to fight the charges. At least that way he wouldn't be irritating any possible higher power by tendering his resignation.

All humor aside, this event kind of goes into one of the problems that I have with most organized religious groups like the one that the Roberts managed. By saying that God tells you to do certain things, it takes away a chunk of the possible guilt that you might have in some people's eyes. It's almost like some kind of universal naughty deoderant that has "Rub on to remove all possible guilt over what you have done" as part of the directions for use. It's not right to do something that you know is wrong and then turn around and claim that God is advising you on how to deal with your actions. If you did the deed, then you should be ready to accept the consequences when caught and tried.

My mind wandered back for a moment to another religious figure who had to explain his misdeeds to his congregation. Unlike Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert got up on stage and actually admitted to doing wrong. He did not blame anyone other than himself and stated that he had failed and sinned before his God. While I don't really trust much of anything that Mr. Swaggert says to be the gospel truth, it was nice then and would be great now to hear some of these televangelists taking responsibility for themselves and not passing the buck off to what their inner voice told them was right.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Questioning The Thoughts Of Fear And Courage

Last Friday, I was housesitting for my sister and got to enjoy all of the wonders of their high definition television. Two of the cool channels that they have are the HD feeds for HBO and Showtime which meant that I got enjoy movies in a mighty nice definition indeed. Even the crappy movies can be watched when they look that good.

I stumbled into watching ERAGON on Friday afternoon and thought it was an okay fantasy type movie though it's not something that I'll be running out to buy on DVD. It played like a standard sword and sorcery film though there were a bunch of odd nods to other films and books that seemed more of ripping off than paying homage. It'll work as a good weekend afternoon matinee kind of thing.

There was a line of dialogue that left me kind of confused. This confusion came more from my own mind than any content errors on the part of the filmmakers. On the verge of the big finale battle, the lead character and his dragon were talking while doing final preparation. When the hero said that he was frightened of what could happen, the dragon's reply was that there can be no courage without fear.

In the framework of the film, this line worked fine and it was a nice way to show how conquering your fears can be a good thing. It took about a minute for me to think about a line from a different film that seemed to contradict the one in ERAGON. The movie in question is STAR WARS: EPISODE I and it comes out of the mouth of the character that most everyone thinks is the biggest brain of the Jedi - Yoda.

While the Jedi Council are evaluating Anakin for whether or not he can be trained, Yoda has an interesting reaction to Anakin stating that he's scared. Yoda tells Anakin, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." From the way that Yoda sounds, it seems like the Jedi are under the belief that the specific emotion is linked to the dark side as a cause and effect relationship and you have to avoid it at all costs.

A Jedi seems to be set up as the equivalent of a monk in the world that they live in. A Jedi is required to divest themselves of all emotions and simply follow the Force and not deviate from the programming. Your whole existence as a person is to serve the group and not let your emotional mind take over and play into your reactions.

For me personally, this idea of monastic existence would be a bad idea for a group of people that spend a lot of their time helping to protect the universe from evil. Emotional connections with the people around you would be of a help in times of great stress or hinderance because you wouldn't give up on what you're trying to do. Those emotions can be a great help to move someone into the hero that they can be.

It might not be the best fantasy film of all time, I do think that ERAGON has the correct idea when it comes to the idea of using fear to give someone courage in a stressful situation. Letting a person's emotions have all control over their actions can definately be a bad thing but you lose a lot of your power when you have to divest yourself of emotions entirely. Focus your emotions the right way and it can help to lead you to be the hero that you can be.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Would Jesus Have A Nipple Ring?

I had kind of an odd moment while shopping at a local mall. It wasn't a bad event but it was something that opened my eyes to a creative new clothing medium. The fact that it took so long for me to realize what was going while in the store that I have to admit to thinking that this was a very brilliant version of a kind of viral marketing that you don't tend to see in the world of religion.

Most of the time walking around the mall was spent walking past most of the stores without a strong need to go in. It wasn't until I saw a very interesting looking clothing shop that looked like a Hot Topic. All of the standard displays and colors were prevalent and, for a moment, I thought I was actually in a Hot Topic store. This place was near where they used to have a store so all I could think of was that they just moved the store from one place to another.

Upon entering the store, I poked around the hoodies to see what they had but my friend pointed out a tshirt rack nearby. She held up one of the shirts that had "I *heart* JC" on it. Picture the classic New York City shirt and you'll understand. We looked at it for a moment before speaking.

"Do you know what the 'JC' means?" she asked.

My reply was, "Do they mean the guy from NSync?"

She gave me a quick look of confusion.

"Maybe Jesus Christ?" I stated.

We kind of looked at each other for a moment and then kind of walked around the general area. It was only at that point that I started to read what was written on the hoodies that I had been looking at. All of them had all manner of Biblical text on them. My brain took it's time hitting the final realization and it didn't go all the way until I scanned the large board near the front door with all of the car decals for sale on it. The last choice? The 29th Psalm. Trust me when I say that you'd need a pretty large rear window to fit all of it on it.

My friend walked over to me and we just kind of looked at each other in an odd mix of understanding and confusion. I went into the store expecting a Hot Topic experience and this wasn't what I thought that I'd find. We headed out of the store and then looked up at the store masthead which read "NOTW" in neon. A quick scan of the window displays gave us the full name of "Not Of This World". A momentary pause for complete realization was followed by walking away to go to the store that I had intended.

This whole event left me laughing at how amazingly brilliant I thought that the creator of that store was. Until I took the time to totally scan the whole place and pay close attention to the details of what was being sold, I never even knew that I was in what amounted to an alternative Christian clothing store. I've been so used to going into a store that looked like that for my "alternative clothing" store that I had no clue of the whole story until I had been in there for a couple minutes.

All of this led to me thinking about what Jesus would think about something like that. The art in most of the Biblical paintings and films make Jesus seem like the world's first hippie but most of the religious scholars are carrying around the idea of Jesus being this figure of the establishment. If you go by their views, it's really hard to think of Jesus rocking a hoodie and baggy pants while listening to Jars Of Clay. Their version would never be seen like that and might not even associate with them at all.

If you actually read the Bible and don't force your own ideas of belief onto the text, the personality of Jesus is really not the establishment at all. What his words seem to be saying is about the idea of acceptance and trying to bring in as many people as they could. The only feelings of dislike that can be found tend to come from Jesus reacting to the evils of people like the moneylenders. He spent more time with the people that would both then and now be considered the dregs of existence, like the homeless, prostitutes, and the sick, than he did with the ruling elite.

The creation of the store might be a way to prostilize in a new way to a younger audience but I'd have to give it a compliment just for the idea alone. Any group that requires their members to be as bland and regimental as the current religious elite will find that they will quickly find their numbers shrinking and shrinking. It's a benefit to everyone to bring in all of the various different groups and their list of interests. You just need to be careful that you aren't selling off your beliefs to make a trendy buck.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Defining The Difference Between Right And Wrong

My brain has been kind of buggy all week about the torture discussion running through the news media for most of this week. There are all kinds of secret memos and other paperwork being leaked that points the proverbial smoking gun at all of us over what it seems that our government has been up to with it's prisoners. After some thinking and a little soulsearching, I've come to the conclusion that I just can't trust a group of people that stop torturing by changing the title of the form of questioning to make it sound less painful. If you're doing this supposedly in my name, then you don't get to change the rules to spite the game.

There are all kinds of new terms showing up these days. You've got "intense interrogation" and "aggressive questioning" for starters and I'd bet good money that there will be a new term by the time I finish writing this. The terms about have the benign feeling of government doublespeak that clouds the reality of what they are talking about. Acts like waterboarding do not have anything to do with intense or aggressive anything. These acts have everything to do with causing the person being acted upon to seriously think that they're going to die. That moves way past those terms into a place that makes a normal sane person question their actions or at least I hope that it does.

To add into this miasma of backtalk, you now have people being interviewed and answering questions in ways that make them sound either wickedly uninformed or just plain rock stupid. For example, there is the interview that Rudy Guliani gave to FOX News during the last week where he was asked about his views of waterboarding. His response, which included changing every reference to waterboarding into aggressive questioning, stated that there are a lot less members of the Mafia on the streets of New York thanks to his aggressive questioning. Given the fact that they really didn't need to be aggressive with their questions due to the fact that they had bugged one of the mafia member's homes and had extensive tape recordings or the fact that city DAs don't actually question suspects, the answer that Guliani gave made it sound like it was something that he had done himself. It would be seem like a long stretch to think that there is a secret waterboarding room somewhere in police headquarters but then again this is also the person that has a candidacy based around what was primarily a failure of his management of the city he was mayor of. It all just makes the man look like he doesn't have a clue what he's actually talking about.

I am not one of those people that thinks that the government of my country only does good and has never done anything that could be looked at in a questionable way to protect me. With threat levels the way they tend to be at that level or business, many people on all sides get chewed up by the machinery of war and politics. That being said, it disheartens me and leaves me with a worrisome feeling in my stomach when I think about how it feels like we're allowing members of the current administration to kill off some of the principles and ideals the country was founded on. By trying to manuever around the truth with distorting language, all it does is makes us sound like we're trying to excuse away the naughty things that we've done. Sending someone off to a foreign country to be aggressively questioned or strapping them down to a waterboarding table in Guantanamo is the same thing. It doesn't matter what you call it. It all comes out the same in the light of simple logical truth.
Thinking About Listening To Orders

I've kind of realised over this weekend that I need to get my brain rewired a little to do work in a contractor ideal. All of my past business experience has been your standard office jobs. You walk in at the start of the day and the you do your job or your boss tells you what to do. While you're in that room, office, building, or wherever it might be, you know that you've got assorted jobs to get done during the day and you really can't leave until they're done. This is where my brain currently is.

But that won't really work when it comes to a contractor job. A job like that requires a person to keep track of the comings and goings at their own speeds and be ready to drop into the work day at a moments notice. It could be first thing in the morning or when you're making dinner but you need to observant enough to know when the time to work is and switch over to get it done. I might be overreacting a little but I think I might not have reacted as I should this weekend.

This position is still kind of in the feeling-out period so I hope that I have time to fix any possible screwups on my part. It's a job that will allow me to do something that comes naturally to me - to write. All I need to do is attach the right plugs to the right sockets and not leave an opening of questionable action on my part.