Sunday, September 16, 2007

Keep your fatwa off my jihad, or you'll never see your intifada again...

...and a few more thoughts on Islam, the religion of peace.

(Please allow me this one final post on terrorism—for now, pending new developments—and then we'll move on to something more germane to the nominal subject of this blog.)

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about terrorism in general, so-called "radical Islam" in particular. (I'll explain the so-called in a moment.) I began with the 9/11 Commission Report, examining it closely, including footnotes, and then trying to chase down the original source material where possible. This was not always possible, of course, because much of that material remains classified or otherwise unavailable. But even those fruitless efforts usually led me to eye-opening information. I've also been reading the work of Peter Bergen, arguably the nation's foremost "lay" expert on terrorism[1], and have looked up and digested just about everything produced on the subject (for public consumption) by Richard Clarke, George Tenet, Jessica Stern, John Esposito and others.

It is terrifying reading, on the whole. And that's because Islam—as it was apparently meant to be practiced—is a terrifying religion. (The word itself translates to "surrender to the will of God.")

Esposito and other apologists for Islam point out that America's Christian right hasn't exactly been a beacon of tolerance and good will, either. That is true. The contention that Hurricane Katrina was just a little reminder from God about His stance on abortion and gays was unsettling—if not obscene—to most of us, I think.

But Islam is a special case of scary.

This isn't a question of my being "close-minded to the religious traditions of other cultures." Not when those traditions include beheadings and public stonings—recent ones. Not given the austere and inhumane document that is the Sharia, the official code of Muslim behavior and justice. Not when leading clerics uphold, as an integral part of their faith, the mandate to kill non-believers. In truth, it's hard to interpret the Qur'an itself, which dates to about 610 AD[2] and is the basis of Islamic worship, as anything but a "friend or foe" ultimatum in which infidels have two options: conversion or death.

Which brings us back to "radical Islam" and my use of the so-called, above. Mainstream U.S. politicians have spent the years since 9/11 tap-dancing around an uncomfortable truth: that "radical Islam" is not quite as radical as we'd like to believe. Indeed, we misuse the phrase "radical Islam," as if it refers to some bizarre, renegade variant of the "real Islam." On the contrary, the people who fall into the category of "radical" Islamists are merely literal Islamists—which is to say, orthodox Muslims, who follow the religion as it was intended to be followed, if you take the Qur'an at its (chilling) word. They are no more "radical" than the Pope is a "radical Catholic." Or, one might say they're "fundamentalists" only in the same sense that Jerry Falwell was a Christian fundamentalist: They practice a literal version of their religion. (Consider the meaning of the word fundamental. It refers to the essence of a thing, a thing in it irreducible state; the "primary or original" idea.) Now, Falwell might have been overbearing and patronizing and intolerant; he might even have been guilty of feeling self-satisfied when bad things happened to those who, he believed, were outside God's circle of love. But I don't think he felt called upon to act on his intolerance; he was content to leave the punishment component to God. Somehow I don’t picture Jerry Falwell setting car bombs, or putting on a black hood and decapitating anyone, or taking pilot's lessons so that he could crash a commercial jet-liner into the middle of San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade.

You'll hear people say that Islam is a religion of peace. The Qur'an does call for peace and brotherhood among fellow Muslims; oh yes, without question, there's lots of stuff in there about how lovingly and respectfully Muslims are supposed to treat other Muslims[3]. But it is a gross and, I think, intentional distortion—rooted in political correctness and that recent American desire to "be inclusionary" to all[4]—to imply that the Qur'an instructs Muslims to love, or even tolerate, non-Islamic peoples. (The media are complicit here, and for similar PC reasons.) That is simply untrue, based on the logical inferences to be drawn from my readings. And while the Qur'an can be a puzzling, frustrating document whose twists and turns sometimes defy reconciliation, the accepted translations of certain key sections seem clear. Here's one:

"Mohammed is Allah's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another."

Or there's this section, with its cold-blooded—and highly pertinent—visual: "When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads..." (And you wondered why they seemed so fond of that tactic, eh?)

The simple fact is this: Islam, at its unadulterated core, does not expect its worshippers to live in civilized fashion among people who aren't Islamists. And if American Muslims are content to live side by side with those of us who worship other faiths (or no faith), it is because they have abandoned Islam—the essential Islam—not because they're the "true apostles" of it. They are Muslims in much the same sense that my wife, who calls herself a Catholic, believes in both "choice" and birth control, and even wants the Church to disseminate relevant information in impoverished lands. The real Muslims are the ones taking flying lessons and trying to cut deals for yellowcake.

It's hard for me to imagine anything more frightening than a 7th Century theocracy in possession of 21st Century weapons. I don't know what we can do, or should do, about it. But I ask again: How can we just let it go?

[1] Some would argue that Bergen has an agenda, as he is more closely linked to the American right wing.
[2] But like most things here, it's not as simple as that. 610 is when the revelations from God/Allah to the Prophet Mohammed (the name has various spellings) are said to have begun.
[3] though that obviously hasn't stopped the Sunnis and Shiites from trying to kill each other at every opportunity.
[4] Especially the Muslim community in America, who, as noted, largely take a "reform" view of Islam.


Anonymous said...

Wow this is ballsy Steve. Good luck, that somebody doesn't declare a fatwa in your backyard.

Steve Salerno said...

Carl, a fatwa is actually a case of an Islamic cleric or leader putting somebody on public notice, more or less--but I hear you. Thanks.

gregory said...

before i wondered about islam, i wondered about ireland, and the catholic vs. protestant thing, and before that, the history of europe for a few hundred years, which was dominated by religious wars o amazing intensity and duration...

the demands of islam are a lot tougher than other religions, there is no escape from the demand to surrender everything to god, so the only way out for the ego is to be a religious bad ass zealot... chrisitanity has the ameliorating thing of jesus and salvation and pie in the sky, takes some of the pressure off... and of course the buddhists dont care so much what you do, it is an internal thing... the hindus have some pride but so much tolerance to different beliefs that they rarely club someone in the name of god... that is mainly the provenance of the desert religions, they are all pretty scary, superstitious, and a danger to the world...

you ask what to do about it... funny question from a guy who believes in predestination, but the answer is do nothing... the charms of consumer capitalism and individual self-fulfillment and "freedom" (ok, license) will take care of the worst of the problems within half a generation...

the american identity NEEDS an enemy to define itself by, it was communism and russia, now it is islam, maybe china is next, but we dont want to stir them up too much, so we take the easier path, those dirty arabs....

i would recommend being media-free for a year, no television especially, you will find that what you perceive as your problems will all but vanish... and go live in a country with an islamic population, they are beautiful, loving, friendly, joyful people, not any weirder than the bible-belt americans....

it is a non-issue, bogeyed up by some people who think they will have a better life if they can get the american population to live in fear, and those people who are benefitting from this are americans, not from anywhere else.... ignore them


Steve Salerno said...

Now see, Gregory, your response to me here embodies the most common misperception about predestiny as well as those of us who subscribe to it (or at least who think it's the closest thing to an explanation for how life works, given our current state of knowledge). Predestiny does not, by any means, rule out the effect that we may still have on other people. For example, the fact that you were going to comment on my blog was predestined; but you didn't know it until the moment arrived, so you made the comments you made, and other people replied to those comments, and the course of that overall discussion may have an effect on people's lives that--while STILL entirely fated to happen--was unexpected and, at least in the people's minds, "changed the course" of their lives.

For the record, I don't oppose self-help on the basis of predestiny; I oppose it on the basis of efficacy, and its (too-often) habit of making things worse than they were before, for individuals and society. Now, those worse outcomes I just referred to were certainly predestined. But perhaps by going public with their tales of woe, I can cause a new generation of people to have an (equally predestined, but unforeseen) change of heart about their reliance on self-help.

That's also why I'm writing this post on Islam.

gregory said...

" but you didn't know it until the moment arrived" (from your reply above).... this is the most beautiful feeling, and like money in the bank... so many times every day i can remind myself, don't worry, when the time comes i will do what i will do, or what will happen will happen when it should... it is literally joyous, i call it living in the mystery of not knowing, every moment is a discovery.... it is a great thing, predestiny.... problems seem to arise only when we think we know how things should be, or have expectations... you are onto something, it is in the lived moment that becomes magic when we can surrender into what appears to be happening now... it is such a lovely thing... no need to think, or make plans, certainly no need to worry, just watch the movie unfold and enjoy being the witness of life... sounds irresponsible, i know, but it turns out that almost nothing is personal, just events unfolding... cassette tapes are available for 49.95.... sorry... i was remember your wondering if i am at times ironic... i am not at all in this post being so.... i think the word enlightenment, freedom moksha, that seems to result from spiritual practices, leads to a state of living in the moment in just the way we are perhaps becoming aware of... enjoy... am interested to see how the thread goes... i have posted the link to a couple of islamic sites, the comments should be flying any minute now..

Steve Salerno said...

Oh goodie. I can't wait to see the run of peaceful, loving comments. I've had them before--now I'M being ironic about the peaceful, loving part--in response to posts that were far less confrontational than this one.

That said, I would be only too happy to have those of Islamic faith (or the Americanized version of same) engage me in a useful dialogue about what can be done here. Though I have no specific faith nowadays, I was born a Catholic, and I suspect I wouldn't have been too happy with "my people" during the Crusades, either. Again, I go with Maher and Hitchens on this one: Religion has seldom been a source of true peace and comfort to the world as a whole, and in general, the more fervent the religion, the worse its impact.

The Crack Emcee said...


What do we do? We fight them. I'll say no more, except Richard Clarke's book was good too, if a bit self-serving. Try The Looming Tower.


"the buddhists dont care so much what you do"

Which is exactly why I don't like Buddhism - no ethics for life in the real world - a Buddhist can screw anybody over. And they do. And then there's this:

"the answer is do nothing... the charms of consumer capitalism and individual self-fulfillment and "freedom" (ok, license) will take care of the worst of the problems within half a generation..."

Sorry Guy, but that's not realistic, if you ask me - they're trying to kill us. We can't just "do nothing" when they're organized to do so. That's suicide. I know: any episode of I Love Lucy should be able to sway even the most rabid anti-American but we can't wait for that. To suggest otherwise is (no offense) crazy talk.

"the american identity NEEDS an enemy to define itself by, it was communism and russia, now it is islam"

What? Did you read the same post I just did? WE didn't start this - THEY did. (And it was Russia that declared "We're going to bury you" as well.) How you can stay stuck in this America-is-like-this mindset is beyond me, under the circumstances. We have every right to defend ourselves. I don't know what kind of spirituality you're into but I'd suggest you look up "betrayal" in the dictionary and see what your holy books say on the subject.

"i would recommend being media-free for a year, no television especially, you will find that what you perceive as your problems will all but vanish... and go live in a country with an islamic population, they are beautiful, loving, friendly, joyful people, not any weirder than the bible-belt americans...."

Whoo - you're way out there. Not looking at TV will make the world stop spinning? (You also suggested, in your earlier poetry, that the sun spins around the earth - that's why "ancient knowledge" is worthless) Look:

1) America has an "islamic population" many of them, spread all over the place.

2) I lived in France. Made friends with many arabs - which was considered crazy - and found them to be "beautiful, loving, friendly, joyful" and, also, about as rigid and small-minded a people as you can get. The only physical fights I saw were either between them or started by them. For the same reasons Steve said, I'll take our crazy Christians any day.

"it is a non-issue, bogeyed up by some people who think they will have a better life if they can get the american population to live in fear, and those people who are benefitting from this are americans, not from anywhere else.... ignore them"

Let me get this straight: George W. Bush, president of the United States, son of a president, from a family that's been a a political dynasty forever, started all this because he thinks he "will have a better life" if he "can get the american population to live in fear"? Crazy talk. Please, please, please, tell me you were describing Osama. Please.

But wait - that wouldn't make any sense either - he's a rich, educated, Saudi.

Like I said, on it's face, it's crazy talk.

Mary Anne said...

I have to confess that I have ALWAYS been squeamish about Islam. I would never date a guy who was raised Muslim. I am sure that if I had ever gotten involved with one, I would be dead right now. I have lived abroad and I do not agree with Gregory's comment, "go live in a country with an islamic population, they are beautiful, loving, friendly, joyful people, not any weirder than the bible-belt americans." I assume Gregory is a man that is why he sees it this way. I do not share his view of Islamic countries. Now I never dismiss anything without investigating it first. I have studied world religions and Islam in particular. I agree with Steve about it. It is not a religion that is kind to everyone and it is not too great for women either. Let us not forget female circumcision in parts of the world. I would take a Bible thumping Christian any day of the week.

The Crack Emcee said...

BTW - Steve,

Love the title of this post:

It cracks me up every time I see it.

Steve Salerno said...

Yeah, I always think I come up with pretty good titles for my paying work, too, and editors seldom use them. I think it's a territorial thing: They know they're supposed to come up with brilliant titles, so by definition they're averse to using the ones supplied by the writer. Though I admit, sometimes I do get too...cute.

My all-time favorite title (that actually ran), however, was also one of the cutest. I don't know how well-versed our readership is in electrical terms, but a business mag sent me out into the California desert to cover a start-up venture that was converting cow manure into electrical power. I called the piece "Ohm on the Range."

And if I do say so myself, that one cracks ME up every time I think about it.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Which is exactly why I don't like Buddhism - no ethics for life in the real world - a Buddhist can screw anybody over. And they do."

It would be equally valid to suggest that the true problem presently facing America is the black race, since they are shiftless, willing to live their entire lives off the fruits of others' labor, and comprise the majority of the criminals in our prisons - particularly violent criminals. Not to mention the fact that they seem obsessed with perpetuating the very stereotypes that they so loudly reject.

Yet making such a statement - which is certainly more fully supported by statistics than is the quote above - would label the speaker as an ignorant racist. Anytime a derogatory statement is made about an entire religion, culture, or race, it is infinitely clearer testament to the speaker's ignorance than to the nature of the religion, culture, or race being discussed. Sadly, such ignorance has been accepted for too long, and has led humanity into its most heinous & inhumane acts. I, for one, will be glad when we as a society learn to ignore such attitudes and deal with reality instead.

Cosmic Connie said...

Given my choice, I'd have a world without violent fundamentalist religionists of any kind. I agree that Islam, both in its writings and in its real-world practice, seems to carry its own kind of violent craziness. I am as frightened about it, and as puzzled about what we should do, as you are, Steve.

I've known individual Muslims, both men and women, who were kind and wonderful people. I even dated a couple of Muslim guys (briefly, in both cases) in my younger days. Both were good-looking, smart, and yet completely humorless. They made me uneasy. We just didn't "click."

OTOH, my ex-husband and I were friends with a Lebanese guy who was a fairly Westernized Muslim, and he was a complete delight. Obeying the tenets of his religion, he eschewed pork... but loved a good glass of wine. Or sometimes a whole bottle. He was quite a party animal, in fact.

What do we do about the problem of "radical Islam," which may in fact be a redundancy? Hell if I know. But I agree with your first commenter that this was a ballsy post.

I do take issue with CMC's statement that Buddhism is "lacking in ethics for the real world." While it's true that all too many New-Wagers have adopted a sort of bastardized Buddhism that they use to justify their own greed and narcissism, it's not only wrong but just plain offensive (even to this non-Buddhist agnostic) to say that "A Buddhist can screw anybody over. And they do." I'm sure some do. So do some Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, pagans, etc.

Just because Buddhism lacks a "Ten Commandments"-type list of "thou-shalt/thou-shalt-nots" doesn't mean it lacks ethical guidelines. I went to a site called and found a little primer on the Five Precepts:

==begin quotation from site==

Buddhist Ethics

Essentially, according to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or speech is likely to be harmful to one's self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful [sic] avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse.

Moral conduct for Buddhists differs according to whether it applies to the laity or to the Sangha or clergy. A lay Buddhist should cultivate good conduct by training in what are known as the "Five Precepts". These are not like, say, the ten commandments, which, if broken, entail punishment by God. The five precepts are training rules, which, if one were to break any of them, one should be aware of the breech and examine how such a breech may be avoided in the future. The resultant of an action (often referred to as Karma) depends on the intention more than the action itself. It entails less feelings of guilt than its Judeo-Christian counterpart. Buddhism places a great emphasis on 'mind' and it is mental anguish such as remorse, anxiety, guilt etc. which is to be avoided in order to cultivate a calm and peaceful mind. The five precepts are:

1) To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. This precept applies to all living beings not just humans. All beings have a right to their lives and that right should be respected.

2) To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given. This precept goes further than mere stealing. One should avoid taking anything unless one can be sure that is intended that it is for you.

3) To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct. This precept is often mistranslated or misinterpreted as relating only to sexual misconduct but it covers any overindulgence in any sensual pleasure such as gluttony as well as misconduct of a sexual nature.

4) To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well as avoiding lying and deceiving, this precept covers slander as well as speech which is not beneficial to the welfare of others.

5) To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. This precept is in a special category as it does not infer any intrinsic evil in, say, alcohol itself but indulgence in such a substance could be the cause of breaking the other four precepts.

==END quotation from Buddhist site==

I may be wasting my time trying to defend Buddhism, and, by extension, a certain Buddhist whom I happen to love very much... But my real point is that gratuitous name-calling adds nothing to the conversation, and in fact serves to alienate people who have made valued contributions to this blog.

gregory said...

crack emcee, may i posit that one lives in the world that one sees... i am completely sure that you have a belief structure that makes what i see as fear and paranoia seem totally justified and real for you, and i do not at all doubt your integrity and commitment to this world view... i am sure that it is rationally explained, fully justified, and seamless... i have arrived at a different understanding of reality, or the nature of existence and cause and effect.... one thing i think you may share with our islamic brethren and our national leaders is that you would die before you would change your mind, and will do everything in your power to make your world view be true... this is, for me, a more fundamental cause of the current world situation, addiction to beliefs ..

a suggestion for steve, for a future post, is there anything such as objective reality? or is it all subjective?

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I think you have to separate Islam from the rest, here, for two reasons. 1, The call to arms is present in the founding document of the religion. There are no parallels that I know of in black culture or Buddhism or Hinduism or the other major "divisions" to which you allude; no one picks up a little Sherpa boy and says, "Good morning, Tensing. You are six today, and it is my duty to tell you that from now on, you must prepare yourself to kill all those who don't believe." 2, It has reached the point in geopolitical affairs where we can no longer afford to consider such matters with philosophical detachment. We face a very serious threat here, and we have to figure out how to deal with it. That's all I'm saying. The Qur'an does not say, "Learn to pilot planes and fly them into the exalted towers of the infidels," but based on everything I've been reading, it might as well...

gregory said...

steve, what HAVE you been reading? i have no sense of imminent danger inherent in islam, clearly the world will pass them by very soon, religion isn't very relevant to modern life anywhere anymore... and where is the evidence of the practice of terrorism in the last few years? like the red brigades, and the spate of plane hijackings in the 70's, this too shall pass....

my mother often says that there is so much crime these days, and i asked her if she had ever seen a crime; she had to think for quite awhile, and then remembered that maybe somebody stole an old rowboat once from the beach... so my mother believes the mediated experiences she receives from television, rather than her own direct experience, and it seems you might be doing the same thing...

television creates an artificial and hyped reality, as does journalism, and it is increasingly difficult to think for oneself.... i admire your pursuit of understanding, but cannot figure out how you have come to such conclucsions...

i talk to muslims everyday (i live in india) ... and of course the world situation always comes up.... they feel very misunderstood, and think the the us in particular is demonizing them without justification, and they always feel very bad at the number of people murdered by america in the middle east (it is a very large number, and for what?)...

it has become a bit like the israeli/palestinian dance, there is no way out, because they each create the reality that they suffer from, intensely...

irony for sure, very human, and ridiculous beyond words... best to ignore such ignorance, in my opinion...

Steve Salerno said...

Gregory, believe me--BELIEVE ME--I hope you're right. And I'm somewhat comforted that you're saying that as one who lives in the East (though India itself doesn't wreak much devastation on us these days unless you're calling for technical support...). And I also hate to invoke George Bush, because to do so nowadays is to risk losing all credibility. But he's dead-on about one thing: They (meaning terrorists) only have to get it right once. We have to get it right all the time. 9/11 cost almost 3000 lives directly, plus the countless lives it played havoc with, and the way in which it changed our understanding of the "givens" in American life: The Patriot Act and many of the other intrusions and restrictions we today accept as the status quo would've been unthinkable prior to 9/11. Even if "radical Islam" only gets it right (from their POV, of course) two or three more times in the next decade...Is that "OK"? And what if, the next time, they come with dirty bombs instead of box-cutters? Ebola? Etc. Can you really be saying that we need to just relax and not worry about it until it happens?

gregory said... i worry more about these guys... and nice to know mr. bush just extended the emergency act for another year ....

Anonymous said...

You write Muslims must be respectful to other Muslims, well I can tell you from personal experience, even that is not so. Not if the other Muslim is female and living in a society that runs by Sharia Justice. Islam treats women like third class citizens if even as barely human, to be done with as men see fit. We saw that with the Taliban and there are so many more incidents everday in Saudi Arabia which is considered a friendly nation to the US that aren't covered in Western media. Islam is a "scary" way to live to use your word, even within itself if you are a woman.

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, Anon, someone just contacted me this morning off-blog with regard to female sexual mutilation and so-called honor killings in Islamic societies. Thank you for your feedback.

Cosmic Connie said...

I have been and remain harshly critical of New-Wage, magical-thinking perversions of the notion that "we create our own reality" by our thoughts and perceptions. However, Gregory, who seems to be writing from a Buddhist and not a New-Wage perspective, does raise some interesting points.

I won't address the larger questions of subjective vs. objective reality, since that's a bit over my head. But there is no denying that our media play a large part both in reflecting and creating our view of reality, individually and as a culture. And in some cases at least, the media create or at least exacerbate certain "realities," and the public takes those manufactured realities and runs with them, which leads to further reinforcement by the media. It's a vicious circle.

Even so, I can't accept Gregory's advice (in a previous comment) to eschew all media. And in his latest comment he writes, "television creates an artificial and hyped reality, as does journalism, and it is increasingly difficult to think for oneself..."

Or maybe it is no more difficult than it has ever been to think for ourselves. Maybe the big difference is that there are just more choices, more "realities" from which to choose. After all, before television,the Internet and other forms of modern mass media, people were still told what to think -- either by their rulers or religious leaders. It seems that as a whole, and despite the occasional rebel and free-thinker, humans have always had a problem thinking for themselves.

I welcome Gregory's perspectives and, like Steve, hope he is right. But I don't think that simply ignoring the bloodthirsty Muslim factions is going to make them go away. I do think that if we got the hell out of Iraq and quit feeding into the perception that we are trying to impose our culture and politics on the Middle East -- if we just left them to their own bloody battles -- we'd go a long way towards making ourselves safer.

Naive? Maybe. But what we're doing now only seems to be making things worse.

Anonymous said...

This is Anon again, I do feel to say something else. The fact you didn't mention at first Islam's mistreatment of women where you were talking about Muslims being respectful to other Muslims, shows how poorly understood Islam is even by those who fear it as you obviously do. It also makes me wonder if you see all life from only a male point of view, which is that you don't naturally think of women when you evaluate a society and its laws. Maybe it's ironic that women are third class citizens in Islam and second class citizens in your own thinking? I don't mean to be harsh, just raising the idea. It amazes me and saddens me, that people talk about the inhumanity of Islam after 9/11 but before that its routine inhumanity to women wasn't even an issue in the West.

Steve Salerno said...

I'm not so sure that Islam's institutional mistreatment of women "wasn't even an issue" before 9/1...but you do make a good point about me and my own thought process, perhaps.

I do find myself sitting here wondering how I could've failed to note the irony of Islam's attitude towards women when I wrote those lines about the Qur'an urging love and respect for other Muslims. Was it just "an oversight"? Even if it was, how could I overlook that? How could Islam's treatment of half its population be "an oversight" to me?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I have to admit, you've given me food for thought.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve's thought processes aside, to me it just goes without saying -- which is probably why I haven't mentioned it -- that women are third-class citizens or worse in most Islamic cultures. And that is probably the main reason that I reject Islam (quite apart from my general unwillingness to embrace any religion or spiritual path). But I appreciate the reminder from Anon.

Where women and Islam are concerned I am of two minds. Part of me wants to get involved in some activist 'rescue' efforts to save Islamic women who are in danger from the barbaric laws of their respective countries. But I recognize, of course, that this is inconsistent with the notion of non-interference with "their" culture.

There really are no easy answers.

gregory said...

i wont say that i "believe" in reincarnation, but it is a very interesting metaphor to use to explain the different social structures found on the planet ... example, souls born into islamic cultures are souls that need a lot of rules, have to be told when to pray, what the gender roles are, strong views of right and wrong .... i won't get into the why of this, but if we consider that all of us are going to school to learn something that leads somewhere, then we need all of the different classrooms that are on the earth.... it is as if there are two parallel realities evolving; one, the genetic, cultural, racial, physical, social, and the other, the souls that go in and out of the different circumstances, on the way to realization of their full oneness with all that is... both are infinitely long processes ...
you can talk to many, many women in the world of islam who treasure something about their life, strong in their gender, and in the companionship they have with each other, and in their dominance in the interior world of the home... it looks odd from this side, but this side looks odd from that one...

a useful hypothesis for living life comes from the religious world, that everything is god's grace, the seemingly good and the apparently bad ... and it fits with steve's exploration of the predetermined nature of reality, meeting each event with the certainty that it is what is needed at the moment is quite liberating .... and internal freedom is probably worth more in the long run than external freedom, in terms of joy... and of feeling secure and unafraid ..

Cosmic Connie said...

Interesting points, Gregory... and I will say that if I ever were to become a human-rights activist, I would concentrate my efforts on assisting women (or men) who clearly wanted to be helped. I wouldn't presume to try to "rescue" someone who was content with her (or his) life.

Anonymous said...

[NOTE: This is a mildly edited version of material submitted by Crack Emcee, condensed with his permission--SS]:

Wow, so much to touch on here. I'll just go down the thread and "wing it":

Rev's a Buddhist. Figures. I kept looking at that picture of this cool dude with his bike - somebody I should be best friends with - and wondering why he keeps screaming, "Somebody called me a name!" Now he admits he's a Buddhist and it all makes sense: He's a believer. He actually believes that the jolly fat man's gossamer-winged "teachings" about human behavior should be the law for all of us - so much he's willing to ram them down my throat without doing any of the introspection that's supposed to come with those lessons, to discover that's uncool. (Hell, a quick reading of Miss Manners will tell you you're not supposed to do that.) Is it any wonder Christopher Hitchens subtitled his book How Religion Poisons Everything?


There was a big controversy when What's Love Got To Do With It? came out (that Tina Turner movie) because Rappers started wearing t-shirts that said, "Be Like Ike", something more sensitive types didn't understand, considering Ike really is close to Satan himself. (I knew him from way back when, and my nephew's doing time, right now, for committing a robbery with his nephew.) What they missed was that 1) the title of the movie spoke volumes about the cynical nature Tina developed - she could have just left - and 2) after finding Buddhism she couldn't wait for a chance to clobber Ike - to be just like him - so why bother with the spiritual middle man? Her cinematic example of Buddhism did more for Gangsta Rap than almost anything Dr. Dre, or Too $hort, ever made because, it was obvious to anybody that listened to them, they never abandoned their hearts in the process. They were just "keeping it real."

And, no, atheists may do wrong things but they don't do them because they're atheists - and studies have shown they have a higher propensity for ethical behavior, better marriages, etc. Probably because there's no spiritual nonsense to get in the way. (My wife took up Buddhism - learned all those agreeable sounding rules - but, mostly, what I saw her gain was freedom from guilt for what she does.) Tough guy me, I've apologized here several times for my behavior but Rev? Nope. He'd rather take his bat and ball and go home every time. He can do no wrong that he can find because he's found "the way". Sorry but it's bogus. He's shown just as much hostility as I have.... His Buddhism should've been explained a long time ago, rather than torturing me with it.

And you're an agnostic - while you're also intelligent - why?


I'm an atheist. I have no belief structure. I'm surrounded by people with belief structures and I marvel that they not only think that's a good thing but can't see the obvious holes in them. (You actually said the sun revolves around the earth - hello!!!) You choose to believe in this way. You could also choose to stop. You said you live in India, a place that's just come to the realization that little kids shouldn't have to have jobs. A place where someone's extreme poverty is blamed on behavior in their past life, excusing you from having to help them in this one. It's crazy. India actually informed our government we'd have better relations if we'd add an astrologer to the cabinet. How can I take such things seriously?

I wouldn't die before I'd change my mind about my world view - I've had my mind changed about many things - but I'd die before I'd change my values. There's no proof for God - none - so, yes, I'd kill, or die, when faced with believing fanatics. Generally speaking, believers don't bother me - I just worked in a Jewish temple - but people who try to make me believe, or impose their beliefs on me, or even insist that I have to respect their beliefs - like the sun revolves around the earth - are looking for a fight, not me. I'm the guy who wants us all to peacefully exist in the same real world. But believers won't allow that because Religion Poisons Everything. And not watching TV won't change that.


Not only are Muslims cruel to women but any understanding of the Sunni/Shia conflict puts the lie to the idea Muslims treat each other well. (I knew the Taliban were whack when I saw them hanging TVs from tree branches - crazy.) It's all lies. The sooner we're done with it, the better.

And about women in the West: They aren't second-class citizens, any more than blacks are, they've just got a victim mentality that they've got to get over. Like Frank Zappa said, "If women want to be thought of as 'equal', they've got to take their lumps like everybody else."

As you can see, I proudly speak from "a male point of view", and I think the demonization of men is a crime. I don't like feminism, Black Power, or the idiotic idea that "We're all Gay" either. It's all cultish-thinking, set in place by trauma, real and imagined. I recently posted some stuff on my blog, about The People's Temple, because Jim Jones was into all of that stuff and all it did - once the real world intervened - was lead them to kill themselves. We should be trying to be normal. To see ourselves as equals - without adornment. Not as religious or sexual sects.

Connie (again): Screw that - we should rescue Muslim women. To do otherwise, when we know what's going on, makes us complicit. Why women, here, aren't up-in-arms for this battle tells me our so-called "feminists" are as self-serving as I think they are.

And finally - whew! - on media saturation, etc. (and I'm not changing the subject to politics, here, but speaking to the nature of people acting on their beliefs:) we've heard a lot about "No blood for oil" from Leftists regarding the war. Today, Alan Greenspan's book came out, and it's been hyped on our front pages with his words that the war was "largely about oil". This, I'm sure, gave the Left some comfort. But in an interview, today, he elaborated on his words to reveal several things:

It was his view we "had to remove Saddam Hussein". He even said "it was essential".

Oil was "not the administration's motive". He said it would've been his. He said he "talked to everybody about that".

He'd never heard Bush, or Cheney, say we had to protect the oil supply.

Regarding "Blood for Oil", the article I'm looking at (by the Washington Post's Bob Woodward) goes on to say "little evidence has emerged to support that view" though it was "one of many objectives".

Like I've said, I hate beliefs. They just screw up everything. Evidence, people, evidence. It's all we've got.

Cosmic Connie said...

First of all, you and I obviously do not see eye to eye on some matters, CMC. I have never seen any evidence that Ron is trying to ram his beliefs down yours or anyone else's throats -- not in this forum, or anywhere else. If you will look at some of the things you have written, I think you’ll see that it has been you who have been trying to force others to accept your beliefs. At least that’s how it looks to me.

Consider the possibility that you are overly sensitive about Buddhism because that's one of the things your ex claimed to be into. Even in that situation, we are aware of the fact that there are (at least) two sides to every story, and we’ve only heard yours.

As I noted earlier, I have nothing but contempt for the way many New-Wagers (including Hollywood stars and musicians) have earnestly embraced Buddhism to justify their own self-centeredness, or to absolve themselves of guilt or accountability. But Ron doesn’t do this.

As for your statement that Ron would "rather take his bat and ball and go home every time," he periodically disengages when things get too acrimonious for the same reason that he learned long ago to walk away from an obnoxious drunk who's trying to start a fight in a bar. When he was (as he describes it) “younger and stupid, with something to prove,” he would wade right in. As he matured, however, he eventually learned that engaging the drunks served no purpose beyond getting himself in trouble. And even though you have presented some interesting arguments and provocative ideas (some of which I agree with, as you know), you have also, on several occasions, been that guy in the bar who is looking to start a fight. But you don’t even have drunkenness as an excuse (I am assuming). Sometimes you seem to lash out at any and everyone here who has an idea with which you disagree. I am erring on the side of understatement here.

There were several instances in which you were, in effect, calling Ron names, but the focus of his ire in this latest exchange was your blanket condemnation of all Buddhists. Yes, he took it more personally than I think *I* would have (though I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t react the same way if I felt some of my most cherished values were being attacked). And BTW, he *has* mentioned on several occasions on this blog, on mine, and even on his, that he is Buddhist. He is not a strictly observant Buddhist (he is, for example, not a vegetarian, and although he has great respect for living things he has been known to kill roaches). But he does try to live his life by the best of Buddhist ideals – and I feel that this is because they reflect his *values*, not his beliefs in “the gossamer-winged teachings of the jolly fat man,” as you so respectfully put it.

And when I talk about ideals, I am not talking about the convoluted “ideals” by which you claim Tina Turner was living. Whether her ideas and actions were a true reflection of Buddhism or not, I can’t say. In fact, I have to admit you lost me there. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen the biopic, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” But when you say that the title itself is a reflection of Tina’s cynicism, isn’t that stretching things a bit? Isn’t the title based on the title of Tina’s 1984 mega-hit song, which was written not by her, but by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle? To my knowledge, the song was not an expression of Tina’s Buddhist beliefs; it was an expression of the realities of relationships in the 1980s.

Granted, the movie paints Tina’s public performance of that song as a pivotal moment that helped give her the strength to leave Ike (at least according to the Wikipedia entry). You ask why she couldn’t have just left Ike when he became abusive, ignoring the fact that both women and men often have enormous difficulty leaving even the most abusive relationships. You should know that better than anyone. It seems to me that what you are condemning Tina for is using a Buddhist concept – “only you are in control of your fate” – to give her strength to leave Ike. Apparently she found comfort and strength in the chant, “Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō.” (Ron, by the way, is not familiar with that chant, as it was not a part of the form of Buddhism he studied at the temple. There are, as you know, many forms of Buddhism.)

But I digress. Ron wasn't trying to "torture you" with his Buddhism. Further, he's never paraded himself as someone who can do no wrong because he's found "the way." I acknowledge – and have told him – that he sometimes comes across as a bit imperious in his responses. He’s not like that in person, but as we all know, in a forum such as this, words can sound harsher. Combine that with your own “barroom bully” tactics, and SHAMblog, we have a problem.

You seem to be asking how I can be an agnostic and still be intelligent. Are you implying that the only intelligent p.o.v. is a strictly atheistic one? Perhaps you might want to read the above paragraph about ramming one’s beliefs down others’ throats. I agree with the secular-humanist stance that a strong moral or ethical base can and often does exist without a religious foundation. I will even go so far as to agree with the idea that religion often gets in the way of morality or ethics (though I won’t go so far as to agree with Christopher Hitchens that “religion poisons everything”). In any case, atheism, like skepticism, frequently becomes a “religion” in itself, in the sense that some of those who embrace it are every bit as tyrannical and self-righteous as the most avid religious fundamentalist. I think you need to be careful of this, CMC, because when you get on your righteous high horse, as you often do of late, the best of your arguments and ideas are lost. And I hate, for your sake, to see that happen.

Now, as for your repeated assertions that Gregory insists the sun revolves around the Earth… hmmm, maybe I wasn’t reading Gregory’s comments carefully enough, but it seems to me that the man was quoting poetry written by someone who lived during the time when most people believed the solar system was configured thus.

Re your question about why American feminists and human-rights activists aren’t more up-in-arms about the Muslim oppression of women: who says they are not? Feminists in general aren’t nearly as active as they were in the 1970s when the “second wave” of feminism was new, but there are many American women who care about these issues. (In fact, it was from American feminist writers that I first heard about the atrocity of ritual female genital mutilation many years ago.)

While I admire your refusal, CMC, to play the “black victim” in the classic sense, and while I agree with your statement that maleness has in many ways been demonized in modern culture, I don’t feel that the “proud male” banner serves your ideas all that well either. But that’s worthy of a whole other comment, and this comment is way too long already. I won’t address the rest of the points in your last post; these are just the ones that stuck out the most for me. I have, in some cases, consciously striven for understatement of my own anger and frustration about some of the disagreements here, simply because I want to keep the dialogue civilized.

Believe it or not, CMC, and despite my strong disagreement with you about Ron and Buddhism, I share your general view of, if not your bitterness about, "beliefs." (And as I’ve told you before, I do understand the roots of your bitterness.) In fact, I think that one of the reasons I like the movie "Dogma" so much is because even though it is, in its own crude way, spiritual, its core message is that "beliefs" are what have always gotten humanity in trouble. Rather than embracing "evidence" a la classic skepticism, however, the movie suggests that what we should strive to embrace are *ideas*.

And that's how I see this blog: an exchange of ideas. Sometimes, unfortunately, instead of a civilized exchange, we hurl our ideas at each other, and they have poison darts in them. I for one hope Ron comes back here, and I suspect Steve feels the same. But Ron has made it clear that as long as that “obnoxious drunk” persona is around, he won’t. So I am thinking that maybe we all need to lighten up a little.

The Crack Emcee said...


I don't know what to say, and think, no matter what I do say, it's not going to make things better. I don't hold any beliefs – I seem to be totally incapable of it – and, there being so many to contend with, it's maddening because people cling so tightly to them. Until recently, I never imagined it was like this, and now, it's almost like I can see the whole of our sometimes-wretched human history, stretched out before me, and a clear explanation for why it had to be so.

I marvel at an anti-war movement that, understanding the danger, still insists on it's position anyway – before they get the facts, or even after they get them – or the bloodsport of making sure Lewis “Scooter” Libby goes to prison (a guy I'd probably not like in person) but no outcry, or punishment, what-so-ever when Richard Armitage (a guy I'd probably like) admitted he was the person who leaked Valery Plame's name. And while, I know, many (if not most) of the people who hold such biases may have more agreeable personalities than mine, I also know that doesn't mean their beliefs, or the actions they take in service to those beliefs, make any more sense or that they're not putting my neck – and my county's – in an existential vice.

You have voiced your frustration with Secretons. Ah, such “nice” people – until you (you, who's so sweet) started niggling around the edges of their beliefs – beliefs that don't add up to a hill of beans and unleash a torrent of hatred that makes you question if they've ever truly believed anything they claimed, or if they're even sane. Well, I've got that coming from all sides, and, yes, it's alienating me from everyone who, it seems, has been indoctrinated in the new wage teachings that dictate – no matter what - “Thou Shalt Not Offend” and (to achieve that goal) “Thou Shalt Not Pass Judgment”.

But that's not even how they're living. They merely drop away at the first hint of disagreement; have private meetings; pass their own judgments, which they miraculously all agree on. They have reasons for this behavior, of course: the offending party might be “putting labels” on their behavior, or – heavens - have a cantankerous personality; crimes that apparently supersede anything important they could possibly had been trying to convey. Why, if I'm not incorrect, it's probably the number one reason so many people seem to hate their fathers. And, single-handedly, go on to wreck their own families. All to the whiff of patchouli. It's so much more pleasant-smelling than the whiskey he'd been driven to by their demands.

Steve once wrote, "We've reached a curious juncture in American history where the people who reject magical thinking are the outcasts", and I couldn't agree more. It seems that I'm, literally, “standing at the cross roads” (as the old blues men used to say) waiting for the Devil to show up and make me a deal: “Keep your mouth shut and I'll let you live, prosper even, and have friends.”

But what kind of friends will those be? What will we talk about? And to serve what – or whose - purpose? Will I be spending the rest the rest of my life with a frozen smile on my face as they “exchange ideas” about problems they'll, openly, tell me they don't know the answers to - but forbid me to voice? Is that what “civilized” means now?

A very-Christian foster mother once described Hell to me as a well, that must be filled with water, but the bucket being used has holes in it. I 'got' what she meant then, and I surely understand her imagery now, but, considering she was a Christian, the one thing that always seemed to escape me was this:

Who's doing the filling?

RevRon's Rants said...

Somewhere between those "frozen smiles" and the blanket denigration of an entire group that is supported only by one's own historically-formed biases, lies the broad gray area in which civil discourse occurs. Until you are capable of perceiving the existence of anything beyond black vs. white or you vs. them, that gray area will be hidden from you, and your ability to engage in civil discourse will be severely crippled, no matter how poetically you strive to express your thoughts.

To state just a couple of examples, your assertions that Buddhists lack ethics and will screw you, or that agnostics lack intelligence, provide proof that you lack experience with either group, beyond your own limited contact with poor examples. Then again, if your definitions are so clearly and narrowly defined, even the true value of good examples will escape your notice.

The assertion that one is beset by enemies from all sides overlooks the single real common element - one's self. The paranoid individual will see only the transgressions of perceived enemies, while an individual seeking understanding will attempt to look at and beyond their own emotions. To broadly label any individual or group according to one's own issues is to proclaim that understanding is not a priority, supplanted by the need (and commitment) to protect one's self from whatever it is about that terrible "other" that is so feared. Might be an affective way to get support from like-minded peers or perhaps pity from short-sighted empaths, but it sure doesn't help anyone grow as a person.

I liken the act of disengaging from such dialog to the decision to walk out of a bar in which an obnoxious drunk is bellowing challenges to any and all who will listen. The drunk doesn't want anything except some obscure victory, borne of his own self-doubt. There was a time in my life when I would immediately wade in and give the drunk what I felt he he was asking for - which was usually not what he *thought* he wanted. And the only "payoff" for me was at best, a night in jail, and at worst, the ugly feeling that always emerges from harming another. I learned long ago that it is better to just walk away and allow the drunk to revel in his obnoxiousness. I found some satisfaction in the knowledge that in the morning, the drunk would be sober, and perhaps more capable of acting in a civilized manner.

Conversely, I get no such satisfaction from the realization that there are some people whom are so damaged by their experiences that emotional sobriety may never come to pass, and that their condemnation of things that are beyond their realm of experience may endure throughout their lives. Since it is beyond my ability (not to mention, my responsibility) to heal people who choose to revel in their dysfunction, the most logical - and kindest - act is for me to simply disengage.

In the forum of a blog such as this one, the greatest challenge is to the moderator, upon whom is saddled the responsibility of acting as a (hopefully) objective referee, to ensure that the "game" is played within the boundaries he establishes. That objectivity would - IMO - dictate that rules apply to all participants, just as an umpire applies the same criteria to all players, regardless of their ideology, likability, skill, or even their perceived fragility. To at least acknowledge a foul whenever one occurs. Despite what some New Wagers would contend, overlooking inappropriate behavior is *not* an act of fairness, much less, kindness.

The Crack Emcee said...

You tell me men don't have much intuition
Is that what you're really thinkin' - or are you wishing?

- Bill Withers, Who is he (and what is he to you)?

Rev and Connie,

First, let me say how sorry I am that we've come to such an impasse. I told Steve I wasn't going to engage Rev on the site, and, while I want to keep my word, his response does seem to require one in kind.

I'm glad you're back, Rev. It shows courage - guts - and, needless to say, I admire that. These are tough, personal, subjects - and you're a bigger man than I gave you credit for - and I apologize for that. I, also, wish I was better with words.

Guys, before all this stuff happened to me, I was just an atheist. It wasn't a crusade or anything. I had no point to make. It was personal. Most people didn't know. There was no God for me to believe in, so I didn't. I didn't write songs about it. I went to church when it was socially required (weddings, funerals, God-children) and I was respectful - I still am - I just didn't believe.

But now with spirituality, just like when I discuss divorce with people, their ignorance is galling. They talk of "divorce law" (something that implies right and wrong) when the issue is "no-fault" (something that says both parties, no matter what happened, have to take responsibility for it - meaning one spouse can be getting royally screwed, and traumatized, legally.). It can change your head.

It's easy to look at me, as passionate as I've become about beliefs, and say, "I see why such-and-such happened to him now", but that would put the cheating adulterer who said she can walk through walls, the healing hand-wavers, the homeopaths, the people who believe in The Secret, the people who believe in God - all nonsense with no evidence to support it - on the same level of honesty as the atheist who clings to, and defends, a sense of truth and reality. Is that fair? Is that cruel? I think it is.

Rev talks about "fear" born of ignorance but I speak of the actual "harm" that beliefs brought to me. Remember Steve's "horror stories"? Are those people - the collateral damage - just fearful, or do they have very-good reasons for sneering at beliefs now? Do you need to hear "the other side of the story" or is it a given that the person with the head full of nonsense did something harmful to the people who cared about them? The people who held them when they were scared? The people who said, "To see her happy made me happy"? I have been harmed by beliefs - I still am - now, merely by their existence, and the fact that people act on them. And, as I said, my wife's Buddhist inclinations assisted in that harm. (And any invitation to look deeper at it is, to me, the equivalent of asking Timmy to put his head back into the alligator's mouth.) It's the idea that a person can live without beliefs that seems to make people fearful, that makes them lash out - without good reason - otherwise why do so many have beliefs, and cause so much harm? (Anybody heard about an atheist killing lately?) I'm the one living without a net. And, as an atheist, I'm positive that net's not there.

Rev, you said you got drawn to Buddhism because you saw something in yourself you didn't like - that's not unusual. I just think your solution is as faulty as the reasoning that might have got you there. As you know, there's nothing new about Buddhism. I didn't live far from San Francisco's Zen Center. Been there many times. There's no "grey area" that escapes me. It's a belief system, like any other, with (IMO) hypocrisy at it's core, as they all are.

To me, being a man means, sometimes, one has to stand alone. I'm not even part of an atheist group. It's not fun. It's frightening, actually. America has been standing alone. But it's not a "doomed" position, as Rev stated, to single-handedly defend the right thing, if we have to, fair-weather friends be damned. It's honorable - and such tests can give it's own wisdom and strength. Also others see it. That's why, now, France is back with us, Germany's back with us, Iraqis are joining us, and bin Laden is the dye-job joke. Because America, alone, stood it's ground. I'll, possibly, find my redemption, too, and it'll probably come just as slowly. Some people are drawn to me now, wanting to know what I know. (They have friends and loved ones in trouble with beliefs - sometimes "ancient wisdom".) So, like my country, I'm wiser, but with a much clearer knowledge of who my true friends are. There's a clarity.

I knew "Rev" was into *something* just by the way he spoke - call it "men's intuition" - it just didn't fit his image. (Men, like us, just don't go around screaming "He called me a name!") I've heard the "disengage" argument before - almost exclusively from believers - and find it merely to be a way to have their way: They don't have to feel guilt, say they're wrong, or apologize, if they can walk away and plot from behind - or appeal to a higher authority - anything but admit they're trying to force a belief-based code on others, usually about behavior, with no basis. Rev, I don't think Steve's being unfair to you. I don't think I'm being unfair to you. I think Buddha's being unfair to you, making you think there's a set way we should all behave. He asks too much.

You may not like this but I have to say it this way: Buddhism isn't like Jazz or Rap Music. There's not going to be a new song, or style, or outlook, to possibly redeem it tomorrow. No matter what believers say or do, it's still going to be age-old Buddhism - another baseless, cultish, self-help, Eastern-thought belief "system" that promises to fix things that are out of it's control - featuring that jolly fat man, sitting there laughing at you. It's 2007 and, to me, what he finds so damn funny should be obvious:

You're following him.

And no "man" should ever do that.

Sincerely - and (believe it or not) a lot of love,


RevRon's Rants said...

My major issue with the ideas you put forth is that they constitute all-inclusive judgments, based upon your own limited and atypical experiences, presented with a dismissive vitriol that speaks much more to your emotions than to anything else.

You state that you were damaged by others' claimed quest for spirituality in their lives. I would suggest that the damage you suffered was the result of others' misguided and/or irresponsible actions. I have never known anyone who is truly seeking spiritual growth and following a genuinely spiritual path who would ever knowingly harm another person, especially one with whom they had an emotional bond. Sure, there are folks who act badly, justifying their actions with misrepresentations of spiritual tenets, but those people are not representative of any path, save the purely narcissistic ones that Steve addresses. To lump all seekers in with the worst is both inaccurate and patently unfair. And to deride any seeker because you have encountered those "bad apples" constitutes the worst of ad hominem attacks, in my opinion.

I a a Buddhist, and I do not screw people over. Connie is an agnostic, and is highly intelligent. These two facts alone render a couple of your more offensive implications false.

The "fear borne of ignorance" which I describe is a reflection upon your frequent blanket assessments, damning entire groups because someone whom you believe belongs in those groups has hurt you. I fully understand your not wanting to be hurt further, but would suggest that you at least consider that not everybody in a given group - be they Buddhists, liberals, Democrats, or even New Wagers - is bent on doing you harm. The vitriol you so readily heap upon entire groups will only serve to bring you more anger, not protect you from it. The only true protection you have from further abuse is to look with open eyes and mind at the people in your life, to not be so quick to assume that they are your enemies, and even to search for whatever guides their actions. I think you will find that there are compassionate, intelligent people, even within those groups you are so quick to damn.

You think that my "solution" - Buddhism - was faulty, yet you have no frame of reference upon which to reach that conclusion. As far as I know, you have never spent any time in a Temple under the tutelage of a priest such as the one who taught me. Where I once was little more than a rage and guilt-filled danger to myself and others, I became the kind of person who could actually be someone's best friend - even away from the battlefield. The transition took place because a Buddhist monk saw a spark of good in me, and made the commitment to help me see and nurture that spark. In the years since I left his instruction, I have encountered people who called themselves Buddhists who fit your description, but I have also met those who were profoundly compassionate and wise. Perhaps you will be fortunate enough to encounter such people, but not if you insist upon condemning the entire group (or any group, for that matter) according to your bad - and limited - experiences.

Furthermore, you demand that others accept your perspective, and are quick to assess any differences as being products of some form of mental or ethical deficiency - such as your statement that I am ignorant and/or dishonest because I don't care for rap music. Once again, you demand acquiescence, yet refused to even consider that something you enjoy might simply fail to appeal to everybody's aesthetic tastes. You went to great lengths to deride anyone who doesn't share your tastes, stating that if we didn't like rap, we obviously judged too quickly, having failed to really listen to rap. We hadn't heard it all, so how could we possibly make such an unfair judgment? I would suggest that you look in a mirror as you make such statements. Try replacing the word "rap" with a few others... Buddhists, agnostics, liberals, seekers... the list goes on. If one group doesn't appeal to you, you are free to look for another that does, or to come to your own synthesis of ideas and values, just as most people do in establishing their musical preferences. Just don't be so quick to dismiss and disrespect others when their tastes and sensibilities lead them to enjoy things which fall outside the realm of your own preferences.

The truth is that you have no idea what it is that I follow, and your dismissive condemnation of it - and many other things - is what I find most offensive. The Buddha is not a deity, but an example. I perceive Christ the same way. That you have a need to deride them - and anyone who strives to achieve the kind of integrity they represent - speaks volumes about your hurt, and little about the teachers' value.

Finally, perhaps we perceive what it is to be a man differently. Thirty-some years ago, I took no crap from anyone, and was the first to plant my feet and defend everything that I "knew." And a lot of people suffered because of it. Nowadays, I strive to allow others their own path, so long as it doesn't intrude upon my own. I should not have allowed myself to remain in the exchange with you until I got angry, but I did. And I don't like myself when I get that angry. I chose to disengage when I realized that remaining would serve no purpose, save to perpetuate that anger. One of the greatest lessons my teacher gave me was the awareness that the greatest strength is not in the might of one's arm, but in the ability to maintain one's own sense of calm amid chaos. That sense of calm is not protected by attacking, but by deflecting another's attack. And you know what? I find that I don't have as many enemies as I did when I planted my feet. And I'm living more true to my values at the same time. If that doesn't work for you, so be it. But you might want to at least consider that there are those who approach life differently who are not your enemies, and that their way just might be working for them. You know... live and let live.

Be well.

RevRon's Rants said...

What I should have added, but didn't, is that I truly regret that the exchange - including my part in it - became so heated. I am hopeful that a meeting of minds is possible, even if it is merely a willingness to agree to disagree. And I truly do wish you well.

The Crack Emcee said...

"I have never known anyone who is truly seeking spiritual growth and following a genuinely spiritual path who would ever knowingly harm another person"

What did I say earlier: it never works out as the believer believes. I'm sure my wife wasn't considering the harm that would come to me when she did what she did but it happened anyway. And you keep repeating that I only use "the bad apples" as representative even after I told you I've known many, many, more of all stripes. I just never had reason to focus like this before. Like the people I discuss divorce with now, I was clueless.

Sure, I can assume no one is bent on doing me harm but the truth is, like the battle between the Shia and the Sunni, they only want what's "best" and will insist on their way of best instead of just dropping the belief that dictates what best is. (That's all "my perspective" asks. I'm offering no replacement philosophy, except live your life without one.)

Buddha, Jesus, etc., aren't no "example" but merely old guys from long ago. They'd be lost in this discussion already because the concept that no one needs their ideas would be too foreign. The word "concept" would be too foreign. It's time to leave them to their age.

Rev, you got "that angry" because you can't give in. I can. I can say "I'm sorry", and "I'm wrong", and whatever else is necessary, and not feel bad about it. I think it's healthy, freeing, "enlightening" even. You will defend an indefensible position to the end - and for what? Just to get "that angry". I seem to make "believers" so angry they lash out at me - they mostly just disappoint me. The other stuff -abandonment, etc. - is a result of their anger.

There's no comparison between religion and Rap music (another idea I've heard - why do you insist, as old as religion is, and as ubiquitous as it is in American culture, that I haven't?). Religion, while as ephemeral as music in the air, doesn't become "product" released in a CD format, by an artist who may change his stripes with each new release. (Miles Davs: "I've created five new kinds of music - what have you done?") The only connection I can see is that your arguments about both, Religion and Rap, are indefensible.

Passing judgment is being discriminating, a way to tell good from bad, like being a discriminating shopper. You can't take that away from people - it's how we've progressed as human beings. And "Live and let live" is a way of saying you don't care about that progress. I do care. At this point, about my sanity as much as anything else. People's unsupportable beliefs are driving me up a wall, which, if you think about it, has to be the reason beliefs exist - to eliminate something else - just as you've been trying to harness, or eliminate, me from this blog. I haven't asked Steve once to do anything to you, though you've let loose on me pretty well. It's not my way - just as I haven't tried to stop gangsta rappers from saying their outlandish ideas. It is the ideas that matter, not how they're expressed. And it should be obvious that if someone, at some point, doesn't say this belief stuff has to stop, the believers - once they've eliminated the non-believers - are going to kill each other off because anger does seem to their only back-up plan. So much for progress.

I don't see you as my enemy. I don't see anyone as my enemy. They make themselves my enemy, just as the Muslim religion says non-believers are. I did nothing - nothing - to my wife. She just believed in something - many things, actually - that continually, or eventually, dictated that I was a hinderance to those beliefs and must be eliminated from her life by any means necessary - apparently including ways that went against her beliefs. The Secretons, etc., have said the same thing to Connie and Steve. The Christians have said it to everybody else in America. Buddhists fight amongst themselves - and all over nothing. But they all hate the non-believers the most. And we're the one "group" (if you can call atheists that) without a dog in the fight.

We just want to live.

I accept your apology - and offer my own - but I cannot go along with the (cowardly) "agree to disagree" part: things are black and white. You lose nothing by saying you're wrong - as a matter of fact, if you ask me, you gain in your humanity. Because - if through evidence alone - water can be made to burn, then (as Dawkins, Einstein, Sagan, and so many others have said) you will find there's real spirituality in atheism - just not with the all-emcompassing burden, for us all, of religion or supernatural beliefs.

I know it sounds silly but I love you, man.

Steve Salerno said...

Rev, I'm sorry, but I gotta jump in here and ask you about that line: "I have never known anyone who is truly seeking spiritual growth and following a genuinely spiritual path who would ever knowingly harm another person..."

Seriously--let's be real--how can you write that? Or are you saying that Islamists, and the guys in Northern Ireland, and the fanatical Zionists (including at least one future prime minister) back at the inception of Israel, and the Christians during the Crusade, and I could go on and on, just off the top of my head, which barely scratches the surface of this--are you saying they were/are not "following a genuinely spiritual path"? I'm sure THEY thought they were! Who gets to make the call about whose path is "spiritual"?

RevRon's Rants said...

"Who gets to make the call about whose path is "spiritual"?"

You are confusing "spiritual" with "religious." There's a WORLD of difference between the two. One is a set of ideals and values, the other is the "machine" that is constructed to give form to the ideals, and control to the authorities, and rationalization for the actions of idealists. Wars and atrocities are not fought for spirituality, but rather in defense of the machine and the minutiae that have little, if anything, to do with spirituality.

And CMC - Your "apology" is effectively negated by your need to make me wrong, or, to use your own word, "cowardly." I have absolutely no reason to say I'm "wrong" here, because you have offered no evidence to prove me so. And I don't need to make *you* wrong in order to feel right in my own beliefs. I think it's better just left alone, because it's obvious that you value "winning" over understanding. And that is sad.

Steve Salerno said...

Yeah, but aren't we sort of splitting some very thin semantic hairs here? Or not?

RevRon's Rants said...

What you perceive as splitting hairs, I perceive as a chasm. It truly saddens me that so much evil has been committed in the name of religion, when the source of religion is so devoid of evil. It's no wonder that Jesus chose not to write down his teachings, and Lao Tzu had to be begged to do so. They both realized that once their "ideas" were given concrete form, they would be destroyed in the quest for tribal supremacy, and in their name, no less.

The civilized notion of "live and let live" ends up being supplanted with the destructive and cynical attitude of "accept my way or die."

The Crack Emcee said...

"I don't need to make *you* wrong in order to feel right in my own beliefs."


Nobody's going to "make" anybody do anything - they're just words, man - and you're going to do what you want (That much is clear.). But trying to redefine everything to make you "feel right" ("it's obvious that you value 'winning' over understanding" or the repeated claim that to criticize Buddhism is proof one doesn't understand it) doesn't help your argument. I've had people into voodoo, new age, Christianity, politics, all sorts of things, tell me I'm, naturally, one of them - even a powerful teacher - until I have to insist I'm not, which is when they grow to dislike me. Unless they were all "bad apples", or something, I get the feeling I know more about this stuff than even I ever imagined. I just happen to reject it. Now, because I think it's harmful.

Frank Zappa: "The difference between a cult and a religion is the size of the real estate."

I hope you don't leave, Rev. I'll just not respond to you or anybody else. I'll just say my peace, whatever it is, and leave it at that, if that.

Good luck, man.

RevRon's Rants said...

What you have failed to see is that you have not criticized Buddhism, per se, but rather a very limited example, who may not represent Buddhism at all. You allow your anger at the one to translate into an inaccurate judgment of the whole, while insisting upon the absolute accuracy of your interpretation..

I'll repeat a question I posed earlier: When all these people from all these different ideologies turn against you, what do you perceive as the common element? From your descriptions, you seem to assume that it's the weakness in every ideology or the negativity in each of the other people. Could it not be that they are reacting to something in your own attitude and/or behavior?

I don't have any particular need to "redefine anything to make me feel right." I assumed that participation in a blog like this is borne of a desire to exchange ideas and expand one's own understanding of perspectives that differ from one's own, rather than to parade one's own thought processes as being supreme and irrefutable, and denigrating those who hold to different views. Disagreement, after all, is a rich source of further learning, rather than an earmark of ignorance or weakness.

And I have no desire to silence you. All I hope for is that you can put aside your own anger enough to learn some respect for people who see things differently from yourself. We're not all defective, and whether we become friends or enemies is in great part, up to you. Just a thought...

The Crack Emcee said...

"What you have failed to see is that you have not criticized Buddhism, per se, but rather a very limited example, who may not represent Buddhism at all. You allow your anger at the one to translate into an inaccurate judgment of the whole, while insisting upon the absolute accuracy of your interpretation.."

There's the qualifier - "may not" - when it's just as possible that I "may" be spot-on. I'll say it again: Buddhism isn't new. I've been to Thailand and Singapore. One of my best friends is a published religious professor - and I've read his books on Buddhism. Buddhists were brought to schools I attended. What am I missing? I find your, continual, unwillingness to afford me that much - that I can reject an ideology with the full knowledge of what it is - to be a major weakness in your position. As well as being a typical "absolutist" pose of people who cherish such a belief. If you understand Buddhism so well, then you have to be aware of it's hypocrisies. And if you know it has inherent hypocrisies, then why would you claim it for your own - or try to defend it? It's madness.

"I'll repeat a question I posed earlier: When all these people from all these different ideologies turn against you, what do you perceive as the common element? From your descriptions, you seem to assume that it's the weakness in every ideology or the negativity in each of the other people. Could it not be that they are reacting to something in your own attitude and/or behavior?"

Yes - that I reject their hypocritical ideologies - that's my crime. To my horror, one of the first people that came to "comfort" me after my divorce suggested - strongly - that I get my astrological chart done. Someone suggested, recently, that I take vitamin C for a back problem - and then got white-hot angry at my mentioning of Linus Pauling's name - forcing me to endure a ten minute tirade just to maintain our friendship. What am I to do with such people? You all seem to despise "knowing", preferring your "grey area" (when none exists) and even as you insist there's more than one way of knowing. There just may be, but you better have an ideology to go along with it. Again: madness.

"I don't have any particular need to "redefine anything to make me feel right." I assumed that participation in a blog like this is borne of a desire to exchange ideas and expand one's own understanding of perspectives that differ from one's own, rather than to parade one's own thought processes as being supreme and irrefutable, and denigrating those who hold to different views. Disagreement, after all, is a rich source of further learning, rather than an earmark of ignorance or weakness."

Um, I just re-read the title of this blog, and it says:

"Exposing the scams, shams, and shames of modern life."

So you may have assumed wrong, something I'm surprised the man who coined the phrase, "Hustledorks", would be capable of. Steve's pretty open-minded - as, I think, I am - but, as the band Magazine said so eloquently, "My mind, it ain't so open, that anything can fall right in."

"And I have no desire to silence you. All I hope for is that you can put aside your own anger enough to learn some respect for people who see things differently from yourself. We're not all defective, and whether we become friends or enemies is in great part, up to you. Just a thought..."

Funny how you can speak of learning, while seeming to insist you have nothing to learn from likes of me, about Respect, Rap, Religion, or anything else. Rappers, as you may or may not know - more than artists in any other segment of music - spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the meaning of respect. And the conclusion is it's "earned" - not given. But you don't like Rap - based on your taste - and I suspect that's what doesn't suit your taste: It doesn't fit well with the uncomplicated "tranquility" that Buddhism aspires to - it's determined to challenge ideas. To keep it "real" - to nail things down. My thoughts have to hold currency with guys (big guys) who can kill me - and will - if I offer them nonsense. And they won't be going behind my back, like a stereotypical "mean girl", to do it.

And, on that note, I offer you this:

See if you can find any similarities to my situation, with you and the larger community, in there.

RevRon's Rants said...

"open-minded - as, I think, I am..."

And thus is the crux of the problem. Open-mindedness is diametrically opposed to the exclusion of anything beyond one's current frame of reference. You've been to Singapore and Thailand, have read a couple of your friends' books, and someone who claimed to be a Buddhist hurt you, so you certainly must know everything about that ugly and hypocritical Buddhism. Oh... you probably know a couple of agnostics to whom you feel intellectually superior (and who probably hurt your feelings at some point), as well, so agnosticism is obviously limited to those who lack intelligence. What is truly funny is that you probably don't even see the absurdity in your contention.

And I don't like rap because it isn't consistent with my Buddhist mindset? Amazing.

Steve, he's all yours.

Cosmic Connie said...

CMC, I appreciate what you are saying and the time you are taking to express your thoughts, but you sort of lost me when, addressing Ron, you wrote, "but I cannot go along with the (cowardly) 'agree to disagree' part: things are black and white."

IMO, the decision to "agree to disagree" is anything but cowardly. It's how people can continue co-existing without tearing each other's throats out, figuratively or literally.

On the other hand, I cannot argue with your statement, "You lose nothing by saying you're wrong - as a matter of fact, if you ask me, you gain in your humanity." But the Rev doesn't believe he's wrong about Buddhism and other matters the two of you have been arguing about, and you don't think you're wrong either. So if either of you said, "I'm wrong about such and such," when in fact you didn't mean it, that would be dishonest, wouldn't it?

Each of you has formed opinions based upon your own observations and life experiences. Ron credits Buddhism with saving his life. You credit rap with, at the very least, helping you make sense of yours. The big difference that I see is that you seem to be accusing Ron of being hypocritical and dishonest, and the evidence you use to back up that opinion is that he is a Buddhist and doesn't much care for rap. By contrast, the main "accusation" he has made about you is that you seem to be categorically condemning everyone who (1) has a belief system of any type; and (2) doesn't like rap.

This could just go on and on and on and on. To me the most sensible thing at this point seems to be to "agree to disagree." That doesn't diminish you or Ron. So why, indeed, can't we just leave it at that, and turn our attention to, say, snickering about the idea of Steve as a life coach? :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Yeah, Crack-em, I'm not quite getting your extreme position on "agree to disagree," either. Now, perhaps there are certain topics where it's "black or white," and as that old hippie anthem put it, you're "either part of the solution or part of the problem." But to argue that stance as a general prescription for living? How would society function? How would ANY marriage ever hold together?

(Never mind marriage. How would that even work in the comments section of a blog--say, this one? Would the two parties have go on sniping at each other into infinity, until one person beat the other person into submission, or one of the disputants simply withdrew?)

I'm especially dubious about such a stance when you seem to attach it to the issue of manhood. So in your world-view, any man who says "we'll just have to agree to disagree," in any setting, is being a wimp about it?

Enlighten me, please.

The Crack Emcee said...


You left out the Magazine lyric. There's a difference between being/staying open-minded and being foolish. And you also left out the many other examples of Buddhism I've offered, or consider the many others I could - nor do you want to take them as a whole and say, "O.K., at least the guy's looked at it", which is very convenient. Like your questioning of my service, you're so cynical, I don't expect you to trust. You want - need - that "grey area" for an out. The great Buddhist nirvana: nothingness. Ain't gonna happen, no matter how you try to force it. You'll just stay "that angry" when faced with reality. Face it, dude: you'll get nothingness when you're dead. It's not the point of life.


There's such a thing as conceding a point. No one has to agree to disagree - they can eventually say "you're right" and look to see where their logic failed them - to become smarter. That's all it takes to avoid ripping each others throats out: maturity. People have regressed to this agree to disagree nonsense to stay pathological - to never feel guilt, or shame, or wrong, like they're inherently bad things to feel, when they're obviously one of nature's sources of intelligence that can't be blotted out without negative repercussions. Rev can "believe" anything he wants but the "fact" is all ideologies are hypocritical, so he's just being too stubborn to admit he's wrong to adopt one. Like the Secretons who "feel" they're right - so what? And, yea, that does diminish him. It has in my eyes, anyway.


I don't think, among reasonable people, such a position is extreme at all - or should be considered unusual. It's like in science: you don't win any points for agreeing to disagree but for being willing to say when you're wrong - when someone else's evidence is better than yours. Otherwise, you end up like Linus Pauling, who may have won two Nobels but still ended up a crackpot to his peers because he couldn't admit his obsession with vitamin C was (extremely) flawed. There's a famous story of a professor (I forget who told it, maybe Feinman) who, after 20 years of working on a problem, was finally shown the error of his ways and, once he conceded, he received a standing ovation from his students - for his wisdom. He was too big of a man not to admit he was wrong.

And, yea, that's a big part of what being a man is: Being an honest broker. A person of integrity. (You've made me wince, with your open-mindedness, but I admire your willingness to listen - and to call nonsense "nonsense".) Strength, being willing to fight, all that is nothing except in the service of an ideal. To use it for something otherwise - like merely being stubborn - is to be a "bad man". An unwillingness to be a fair broker is too. And to not be willing to take up the challenge makes you a woman. The Onion even commented on it, recently, with the headline:

Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does

See? There's nothing there because "everything" could be anything, challenging or not. Big whoop.

They might as well be Buddhists.

Steve Salerno said...

I'm still not really buyin' it, Crack. And I think that overall, the unwillingness/inability to "agree to disagree" has been one of the more destructive forces in human history that I can think of.

But, I guess we'll just have to, um, agree to disagree.

Cosmic Connie said...

CMC says:
"And, yea, that's a big part of what being a man is: Being an honest broker. A person of integrity... Strength, being willing to fight, all that is nothing except in the service of an ideal. To use it for something otherwise - like merely being stubborn - is to be a 'bad man'. An unwillingness to be a fair broker is too. And to not be willing to take up the challenge makes you a woman."

Now I get it. Men -- at least atheistic men who don't take vitamins -- represent all that is good and pure and noble and honest and courageous, whereas women, Buddhists, vitamin poppers and everyone else...bad! Man good, woman bad. Sounds like it could be a calypso song...

Steve Salerno said...

CMC, at the risk of being accused of piling on, let me just throw one other thing atcha.

There is no question that our own life experience is going to inform our future judgments as well as influence (if not dictate) the paths we may take. But there is risk in using those personal life experiences as an ironclad, infallible guide to the universe, wherein we claim that what we've been through has revealed certain Truths that are, therefore, valid for everyone. My youngest granddaughter had two very bad experiences with dogs when she was still a toddler, and she now assumes that all dogs are terrifying creatures. You and I know that she is objectively wrong, but you cannot persuade her otherwise, because that is the lens through which she sees dogs right now. She doesn't merely think that dogs are frightening to her; she thinks that dogs are inherently frightening, period. In her young mind, she cannot separate her own experience of dogs from the essence of dogs. I think about that a lot when I find myself looking at life in a certain way and expecting all others to see it that way, too.

The Crack Emcee said...

(Sorry, I was working all day yesterday, so I couldn't get back to you guys:)

Connie, now you're taking my words so literally (as Rev has also been, regarding my open-mindedness) that you appear to almost be willingly choosing to miss my point. I assumed that would happen as soon as I awoke, yesterday, regarding the man/woman example (It's a problem that many people still have to contend with when they disagree - especially with people who may even sympathetically acknowledge and agree that some, maybe, don't have, or have access to, the same level of education, resulting in a struggle to be articulate - that easy opportunity for an educated person to be unfairly condescending.). Because of that, I wondered if I should expand on what I meant but, the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that - while man/woman may be crude - it's still fairly accurate: Feminists (male or female) are the ones who have pushed this idea that the components of honor are worthless in modern man. (At least it is until trouble comes and "women and children first" is invoked.) Listen to Sally Field's Emmy acceptance speech, and tell me that wasn't part of the subtext of her message: Because George Bush, say (a man's man) can't "agree to disagree" with the likes of Osama, or the president of Iran - or even Europe - we have all these problems that - superior beings that they are - mothers (women) would never let happen. It's hogwash. Women fight - and, more importantly, they fight dirty - with any notions of honor, right or wrong, etc., being replaced by their desire for vengeance, expressed in a passive-aggressive way - so they can always claim to be the wronged one. "Men" don't do that: we can fight, or die, on principle - without claiming any wrong to ourselves. And, historically, that's a good thing, not bad. This all reminds me of Nora Vincent's look at male culture, Self-Made Man, where, by being serious and honest about what she found, she came away appreciating us as she never had before. More than women even, who she's described as "opposing magnets" even when they're the best of friends.

Steve, I asked a good friend of mine what he thought of the phrase "agree to disagree" (a really smart guy, with an encyclopedic memory for facts and details, who I debate with, often, because he doesn't let such things overwhelm him) and his first, immediate, response was "It's a cop-out." And, once I asked why, he followed with an explanation that included the phrase, "amongst reasonable men", which, naturally, gave me an "aha" moment. I know it's just one other guy's opinion, but I respect him, and think we're right: It's a cheat. A way to escape a recognition of reality without guilt, responsibility, shame, etc. Destructive? Possibly. But only when dealing with unreasonable ("bad") people. They're the ones who seem to believe being wrong is the worst thing in the world and will do anything to avoid it's taint.

Regarding how my experiences might dictate my view of things, I've had tons of highly-personal experiences that I would say go against my world-view (For instance, I once had a dead friend visit, and speak with me at length) but, being a rational person, I don't let such things get in the way. Not knowing how, or why, a thing may be (like my dead friend's visit) doesn't, for me, mean it has. I'm not going to allow what I know to be replaced by what I feel. A child, like your granddaughter, naturally will go there - she hasn't lived long enough to develop critical-thinking skills (regarding dogs) - too many adults have failed to do so too.

And I don't expect people to see things a certain way - I'm usually bemused by other points of view (as that writer I linked to said about men generally) but I do assume evidence should have an influence, only to be greatly disappointed more often than I'd like.

The Crack Emcee said...

Right after writing you, I ran across this review:

Theresa Rebeck sounds like one woman who understands things. And I know there's many others.