The expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the beginning of life as I know it

19 09 2010

I’m a little fuzzy on the whole sin thing.

Yes, something about disobeying God, with apples, snakes, naked people, banishment, knowledge. . . really, if I were religious, I’d surely find this all fascinating, but as I’m not, well, it just seems curious to me.

But one thing I do like about the insistence on the sinfulness of humans is that those propounding on this corruption tend to see it as all-inclusive: Everyone is a sinner, everyone needs grace.

Handy to remember that.

I’d circled this issue in the last two posts, in terms of Christians and TeePers behaving badly, but one of the things I was too angry (!) to deal with in the Wars-of-Religion post and too politically-minded to deal with in confronting Howard Beale is my basic belief that almost all of us carry almost all of the possible characteristics any human being can demonstrate. The proportions may vary, sure, but outside of the exceptional few, I think we’re all capable of the same basic range of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

This doesn’t make us all the same: there are clearly differences in the mix, as well as what each of us brings to that mix in terms of conscious effort and habituation.

Oh, crap, I’m getting too windy.

Lemme put it this way: I didn’t post the extensive quote about rampaging Christians (in response to Peretz’s claim that ‘Muslim life is cheap, especially to Muslims’) as a way of saying See! It’s not just Muslims! Christians are bad, too! Boos, all around! No, the point—which I didn’t explicitly make—is that people behaving violently in the name of religion is unsurprising, given that people are capable of behaving violently.

Yes, there are belief systems which explicitly forbid violence, but the existence of pacifist belief systems proves the point: If the adherents weren’t themselves capable of violence and aggression, there’d be little need for a system to discipline them.

Again, another capacity of humans: to restrain ourselves from doing all that we can possibly do.

But why restrain or indulge? What leads Christians in one period to slaughter one another and non-Christians and in another to tolerate and even respect them? What leads Muslims to laud or condemn conquest? What makes rightists or leftists righteously angry and what will they do with that righteousness and anger?

Ask the question instead of assuming the answer.

It’s too easy to say Christians are peaceful and Muslims aggressive (or vice versa), or rightists are patriotic and leftists traitors (or vice versa), especially when the historical evidence indicates otherwise. Nor is it enough to say that x-behavior isn’t representative of true belief, especially when—again—evidence indicates that x-behavior in another time or place was treated as the sine qua non of true belief.

Do you feel the breeze? Sorry, getting windy again.

I just don’t think we humans are better or worse than we were before, nor that we can even define better or worse outside of a particular historical context. Best simply to try to understand what we  mean by these terms, and to recognize what we are capable of.

For better and for worse.

***

Addendum: Perhaps this also the case for other creatures, and how we act towards and respond to them.





I’m not angry!

19 09 2010

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Entertaining scene.

You do know, of course, that Howard Beale is a nutjob.

That doesn’t mean he makes no sense whatsoever. I happen to like the declaration I’m a human being, goddammit, and my life has value! And as a jolt to complacency (steel-belted radials. . . ) well, here’s a common quaking ground between an agitated left and agitated right.

Anger has its uses, of course, precisely in that jolting kind of way—it can get one moving out of passivity and into action—so it’s a start, a propeller, an accelerant, spark and fuel. Fine. But it’s a shitty engine.

Which is to say, it’s a shitty politics.

I’m not a fan of the Tea Party folk (surprise!), but that kind of raging rhetoric can be found all over the political spectrum. I get it, I really do—I was known in college for yelling at the news and once smeared butter all over the dorm-lounge t.v. because I didn’t like what I was witnessing—so I understand what it’s like to be electrified by what one considers to be lies, distortions, and general injustice. (And yes, I still yell at the radio, tho’ I keep the butter in the fridge.)

But that ain’t enough; even Howard Beale noted that after everyone gets angry, ‘then we’ll figure out what to do. . . .’

So what will the Tea Party do? Christine O’Donnell, TP-GOP nominee for the Delaware senate seat, said in a speech to the Value Voters Summit that whatever the disagreements among Republicans,  “we’re loud, we’re rowdy, we’re passionate.” And Sharron Angle, the Nevada TeePer senate candidate, has spoken of recourse to the 2nd Amendment if her kind don’t get their way. Is this where the anger ends?

But what if you win, what will you do? Ms. O’Donnell notes that all of her votes will be decided on the basis of the Constitution; does she know that tax increases, spending increases, unbalanced budgets, unfunded wars, and international treaties are all Constitutional? Does Ms. Angle realize that supporting the military, cutting spending, extending Bush-era tax cuts, and paying down the national debt does not compute?

This isn’t just snarking on incoherent campaign platforms—it is a campaign, after all, and as long as you reel in votes, anything goes—but noting that these two campaigns, at least, seem to be less about any policy and more about stickin’ it to The Man.

And once that Man is dead (he won’t be, of course, you remember how Network, ends, don’t you?), then what?

Once your anger is slaked, then what? Or is the point the anger, after all?