Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Art of Letting Go

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash.

At the time, I didn't think that a simple graphic would start the ball rolling for me toward an even deeper feeling of alienation from a large contingent of Abrahamic believers. Yet here we are. 

On Twitter, someone recently created a graphical representation breaking down support for current geopolitical causes based on where you land on the political spectrum. The user observed that the far ends of the spectrum share their support for Palestine and Russia over Israel and Ukraine in the battles raging on the world stage. Here's the graphic, along with what the user had to say about each segment of support along the spectrum.

Although I think the user mischaracterizes and oversimplifies to some extent the people who belong to each segment, I do agree with his observation on horseshoe theory, the idea that politics doesn't exist on a straight line but rather curves in on itself the farther out you go. The left and right fringes may share the same political goals; they just differ in their reasons and see different solutions to the problems we face. What fascinated me about this was that I was seeing a divide growing on the U.S. political right in the aftermath of Hamas' early October offensive against Israel, and this graphic, along with the user's commentary, characterized the split in easily understandable terms: Trumpers support Israel, while conservatives who aren't part of the MAGA contingent don't. 

And why is that? In part it's because Trumpers want to support a U.S. ally. But what it really boils down to is that evangelical Christians overwhelmingly support Trump, and evangelical Christians uncritically support Israel because they believe every skirmish in the Middle East that involves Israel is a fulfillment of end-times prophecy. In other words, if Israel is under attack, it must mean Jesus is coming soon. And that means, in their minds, that Jesus will hit the ground with a vengeance, Rambo-style, wiping the filth off the face of the planet and creating a new paradise on Earth with his chosen ones. This is really what they believe. Ask an evangelical and find out. If you've ever wondered why these folks aren't horrified by the blood-soaked pages of genocide that litter the Old Testament, it's because that's how they think Jesus will be -- as vengeful and wrathful as the Old Testament God who either wiped out billions of human beings himself or ordered their destruction through his foot soldiers on Earth. No wonder they give so little regard to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies and calls both the merciful and the peacemakers blessed.

What you end up with is a significant contingent of the American populace supporting the furtherance of U.S.-led domination of the planet through the violence of the military-industrial complex. In short, evangelicals are enablers of misery, murder, and empire. 

Just take a moment and ask yourself why the U.S. establishment supports Israel and demands that you do as well, liberally applying propaganda and censorship toward that end as it deems necessary. It has very little to do with the Israeli people and a whole lot to do with geopolitical dominance and power. Israel's interests are our interests, and it doesn't matter if we need to burn some other nation or group of people to the ground in order to protect those interests. Likewise, why do you think the establishment cares about Ukraine so much? It's not that anyone in power actually cares about Ukraine. It's that Ukraine is a convenient proxy through which to carry out a war on Russia and preserve U.S. and Western economic and military hegemony. 

If that doesn't make sense, I think this following graphic, which was in the comments of that Twitter post, really drives the point home: 

Do you support Ukraine and Israel? Then you're a useful idiot for the perpetuation of U.S. imperialism. You swallow the propaganda and do as you're told. Support Israel and Russia? Then you support bullies picking on smaller opponents. Sums up the worldview of a lot of Trumpers. But what about the top right? "Fully understands the core of international geopolitics," states the graphic. Yeah, that's me. 

And let's make one thing abundantly clear: You don't actually have to "support" any of these groups. You just have to see what it means to find yourself on one side or the other of these conflicts. Ukraine is a puppet of the West teeming with neo-Nazis. Russia is hostile toward free expression. Israel operates an apartheid government, treats its neighbors like animals, and kills men, women, and children indiscriminately. The Palestinians engage in terrorism in the name of Allah. It is possible for there to be no good guys in all of this. There doesn't always have to be a black-or-white, good-or-bad choice. 

Me, I'm just sick of seeing people suffer for the sake of preserving American empire. But I'm also sick of seeing three groups of people who believe in the same deity endlessly advocating so much hatred and violence, including against each other. In the case of the Israel-Hamas comflict, all I see are the once-oppressed Jews now acting as the oppressor, slaughtering people in spite of Moses' commandment not to kill. I see Muslims who in turn murder in the name of the same Abrahamic deity. And I see American believers in the same deity cheering on the Israelis' actions. 

For me, it's become abundantly clear that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians will never do unto others, never become peacemakers, never stop hating. 

For years, I've been trying to hold on to some thread of the faith I was raised in. There's much I like about Catholicism. I find the church buildings beautiful and inspiring, I love the history and traditions and time-honored rituals, and I find the core story of Christianity a comforting one. But I've always struggled to take any of it on a literal level. I don't know that we ever were supposed to take it literally. I think it was meant to speak to something deep within us, in order to humble us and give us a feeling of connection to something bigger than ourselves.

But it hasn't done that, has it? Instead, it has filled its followers with holy righteousness and rage. Believing they're on the side of God, Christians engaged in the bloody Crusades, persecuted people through the Inquisition, and cavalierly murdered anyone deemed a pagan, a heretic, or a witch. They've even killed each other over doctrinal disagreements. Where does it end? 

I've lately held on to my religious heritage because I thought that at the very least, traditional Catholicism would be a good ally to have in the fight against the societal cancer of wokeness. But at what cost? I know of people online who've made the jump from woke to devout Christian, and the only thing they really seem to have done is to trade one mind virus for another. The common denominator is that they seem to need someone to organize their thoughts for them, even if those thoughts are rooted in absurdities -- things that you could never believe unless you were indoctrinated into them, usually at an early age, when your mind is most impressionable. 

This is especially true of evangelical fundamentalism and the frequent naive, simplistic, black-and-white childishness its adherents portray. It springs from the exact same mindset that wokeness does, a mindset that will have people clinging to the most ridiculous ideas imaginable in a desperate attempt to find meaning in the world and feel important. They ultimately both stem from egoic desire and are exacerbated by our deepest irrational impulses and what frequently amounts to a fundamental emotional immaturity. And let's face it: If a religious person's most persuasive argument for joining his or her clique is "you'll be sorry on judgment day if you don't" -- which is what it almost always boils down to when you press a Christian, especially an evangelical one, hard enough -- then you've lost the argument right from the outset. I don't respond to threats.

I'm not necessarily advocating for atheism, mind you. Deities may or may not exist, and I won't know until I'm dead. None of us will. 

I don't say any of this lightly. I'm a minister, and I earned a Th.D. from an online seminary. I'm fascinated by religion and spirituality. I probably always will be. For a long time I've been seriously considering going one step further and receiving holy orders to become a full-fledged priest. But evangelicals and hidebound literalists make it harder and harder to want to have anything to do with the whole mess.

One reason I've clung on, however loosely, to the tenets of the faith of my upbringing was that I was wrapped up in the idea that maybe we had to hold on to these foundational Judeo-Christian ideas for the sake of the survival of Western civilization, But maybe what we have needs to fall away. Maybe it's too far gone and can't be fixed. Maybe it shouldn't be fixed. Maybe we should just brace for whatever's coming, without regard to what we think can or should be saved. These things are mostly out of the control of the ordinary, average person anyway. Maybe you should just do the best you can while history unfolds and does whatever it's going to do. Maybe that's all any of us can do, in the end.

With all that said, I do still believe there's some greater purpose and meaning to our existence. My intuition tells me that we're not alone in a hostile universe. I just don't think we know, or even can know, what might be out there. I don't think we could ever hope to wrap our brains around it. Our religions are just our feeble attempts to grasp at straws, to try to find some certainty in an existence that tends to offer us more questions than answers. Our religions aren't the Truth, as much as we might want them to be. They're only the fingers pointing at the moon. 

On that point, perhaps Jiddu Krishnamurti was right that "truth is a pathless land." But as much as I admire Krishnamurti, I think that he perhaps too lightly dismissed just how tribally minded people are. He believed that peace would come once humanity abandoned its attachments to everything, because to attach to something is to inherently separate yourself from some other part of humanity that doesn't share your attachment, which means that attachment inevitably leads to conflict and violence. And he may have been right about that. But I'm not convinced anymore that humans can live like that, embracing a state of pure choicelessness in every aspect of their lives. I'm not even sure it's healthy to live like that. Tribalism, like our deep-seated religious impulse, seems to be hardwired into us. These things play into our survival instinct. The tribe protects us, and religion keeps us from going insane in the face of the awareness of our own mortality. No man is an island, and in the end, that's probably for the best. We just need to be able to find a place where our tribes and our beliefs are enough in themselves to keep us from wanting to do battle with others who see the world differently.    

And if our religious beliefs don't give us that sense of peace, then we're doing something wrong. And that's not religion's fault as much as it is our fault. But sometimes you're just going to find that a particular religion's adherents are making things worse, not better. 

That's when you have to decide whether it's time to simply let go. 

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