Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Maybe I Really Should Become a Buddhist
I have decided that spending some time reconsidering my meta assumptions about the universe would be well spent. No, this is not an invitation for creepy evangelical Christian fanatics to start stuffing my mailbox with informational literature.
Rather, I was really saddened by the death of Marc at Voyeur Nation. Many other bloggers knew him well. I, though, had not really encountered his blog until a few days ago. From what I saw of him, he sure seemed like a kind, funny, well-meaning guy. In his memory, he asked that readers make a donation to their local cancer society. His loss at such a young age strikes me as, well, unfair.
Here is the deal: even though every four-year-old learns that life isn’t fair, I still, deep in my subconscious, refuse to let go of the idea of cosmic fairness. This perhaps explains why I am so often disappointed.
Marc's death also made me think that my own minor troubles of trying to dump a house and getting over a liar ex (who told many lies) are both extremely common issues and also shamefully petty. Then I felt like a shit for making his death all about me.
Well, since I have started down the road of Drama-Queeness, I might as well complete the journey. We all seem to struggle with how to deal with the difficult things in our life. Sure, there are people who have trouble grappling with the happy things in their life as well, but usually that’s just because the rest of their life has sucked so bad that they aren’t used to good things.
I consider myself a quasi-spiritual person, but not particularly religious. Things and forces exist in the cosmos, it seems likely to me, that humans simply can’t comprehend. As a result, humans have come up with all sorts of different ideologies to organize and make sense of what surrounds them. Religion and science are just two different means of accomplishing that same goal. Neither has my absolute faith. I tend to be suspicious of anybody who thinks that they have all knowledge figured out (Christian, Jewish, atheist, or whatever). It also matters little to me what other people believe.
How we come to think about our position in the world strikes me as an intensely personal thing. As a result, I try to respect people and their belief systems and expect the same in return.
As we have discussed before, though, Christianity’s current manifestations, particularly in the United States, leaves me astounded. Time and again, I saw students at my Texas university praying for an “A” on an exam; or praying to do well at an athletic event; or praying to see that their closets miraculously organize themselves. The parting of the Red Sea would pale in comparision to waking up and finding their wardrobe sorted in R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. order. That level of hubris left my jaw swinging.
Under this theology, their god didn’t care about starvation, war, poverty, and death in the world. Rather, he filled his days by ensuring that they did well on their intro history exams. “Really?” I would think quietly to myself, “God takes such an interest in you that he micro-manages your life like that? Really? ‘Cause I just read your history exam and God doesn’t like you nearly as much as you think. Either that or Jesus needs to brush up a bit on FDR’s Court Packing Bill himself. Those answers he slipped you were totally whack.”
Maybe I just respond like that because of my own childhood indoctrination. The Catholic god of my youth promised to bring as much suffering (if not more) to your life as happiness. Catholic god always wanted to test you to the breaking point. He was a regular SAT quizmaster, that Catholic God. Complaining about it only meant that he would just bring even more unhappiness to your life. Like most patriarchs, Catholic god always seemed to respond to complaints by saying, "Stop crying or I will really give you something to cry about." Catholic god was a mean son-of-a-bitch. My extended family, in particular, had (has) a dour view of the day-to-day because of this belief system. They firmly believed that “work makes life sweet.”
Trying to figure out how to have perspective about our personal problems verses the pain felt by others seems like one of the main struggles that we all face. On one level, most people who live in the U.S. have a much greater standard of living than many, many, many people in other parts of the world. We can all agree, for instance, that losing an arm in a bloody civil war is worse and more painful than having your heartbroken in U.S. suburbia. Still, if we create that as a standard where we can only feel pain if we lost an arm, than I think we are also setting ourselves up for some serious problems.
Whether we believe that larger forces exist or not, part of our goal in life should be to learn and appreciate the greater varieties of pain that exist in the world. Learning to empathize with our individual biographies, it seems to me, would go a long way in improving how we relate to each other.