|Russia’s FemPunk Pussy Riot. Can Art overcome Ignorance? Probably Not.|
I was 21 years old when I finally decided to dispense with the belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. The decision was precipitated by a “mystical” White Light episode which led me to two mistaken beliefs that (1) I was somehow “special” and (2) that what we call “God” was something that could not be contained within any religious vocabulary. The more I studied and compared religious ideas the easier it became for me to scoff and ridicule people I saw still locked within their accepted belief systems. All they had to do was read the same books I had and they could see for themselves that their precious religious beliefs were based on a cultural transmission based on nothing more than hearsay.
I have been following the Pussy Riot trial story in the media for a few weeks now. The story is simple yet one heavily laden with of supreme postmodern irony.
The “trial” of three members of the band was precipitated by a 51 second anti-Putin performance at an altar of a Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow in March 2012. The three ran off and only after a video of the performance went viral on YouTube were the three members hunted down and arrested. The Russian state prosecutor wants three years in prison for the defendants for… wait for it… “abusing God.” Not sure if he meant Jehovah or Vladimir Putin, but like I said earlier, what supreme irony. Lenin and Stalin must be spinning in their graves.
While the performance was unquestionably brave and the closing statements of the defendants worth reading, I’m afraid they won’t be ultimately effective or triumphant in their battle against the religious and political systems that have been arrayed against them. There have been many, many examples of how fruitless a career being a religious rebel actually is. Most probably one would lose their head or their life. The biggest danger for a religious rebel is to believe that the battle can be won by virtue of their will and intelligence. But as we have seen throughout history, ignorance is far, far more formidable than knowledge or intellect. And one overarching reason why ignorance, especially religious ignorance, is still so pervasive is because people are hard-wired to defend their ignorance to the bitter end. People who claim knowledge of spiritual matters actually only speaking as if they know in fact that what they speak of God or spiritual matters is true. The priests only need people who are even more ignorant in these matters than themselves to make the enslavement complete. When one of the Pussy Riot members complained during the trial that, “(t)he biggest problem is that nobody listens to us,” one may be forgiven to hear the faintest note of disappointment or puzzlement that their art is too incoherent for public consumption.
The character role of the Spiritual Rebel has its antecedent with the figure of Jesus Christ, the archetype of all religious rebels. And we all know how that fucking story ended, and more importantly, how it failed to bring about any kind of decent world in its aftermath. It seemed that nobody listened to or understood what Jesus said either, and merely reacted to what they imagined he must have meant and twisted, diluted and distorted his words until they came out as so much nonsense. No wonder the words of Jesus could never be lived by people who call themselves “Christians.” Jesus’ words (what little remain) of love and peace must forever be destined to be incoherent. The members of Pussy Riot will not achieve anything by playing butterflies being tortured on the rack. It’s already been done. Nothing was proven and nobody cared. If only the human ego was not so tied up in preserving religious fantasies, but let me tell you, it is the rare person who will admit to what they previously believed in was wrong. Let me say that I “get” what Pussy Riot is attempting to do. But in attempting to shock or rouse their fellow Russians from their acceptances and allowance, Pussy Riot is bravely going down a fruitless path. But what good is bravery when it’s wasted on actions that do not effectively get people to question their scene? Better to work on one’s self-transformation and be an example to society before taking on society.
“A man’s goodness is truly measured by what he is, not what he does.” – Deepak Chopra.
This nonsensical piffle is probably taken very seriously by resident Chopraholics and it seems this guy is not afraid to say something incredibly silly and lack the insight necessary to be justifiably embarrassed. But just for the heck of it, let’s deconstruct this sagacious-sounding fiddle-faddle and explain why such utterances like this should be wholly avoided like the plague.
Apparently in Deepak-Land it is possible to “truly measure” the “goodness” of someone by “what” a person “is” rather by what a person does. Which begs an important question – how can anyone say anything about what another is without mentioning that one’s actions?
“You know, that Jimmy is such a great guy. A real good person.”
“Oh, yeah? What exactly does he do that makes him so great?”
“Hey, you can’t truly measure the goodness of what somebody does, only by what they are.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Dude, don’t you read Deepak Chopra?”
“Reading? Don’t have the time. Takes me away from playing my video games.”
Since, according to Chopra, a man’s goodness can be truly measured by who he is and not what he does – we should ask whether Chopra’s New Age calculus equally extend and apply to the works of man’s evil? Is not evil that which causes harm, destruction or misfortune to others? Not for Chopra, apparently for him evil is simply “a matter of perception.” In that Huffpost article, Chopra insists that evil is a problem largely based on perception and that evil can broken down ” into smaller components that can be solved,” and then gives some incredibly dubious examples on how to achieve that. ” Abused children can be helped and loved.” Yeah, well the number of abused children that die from malnutrition each day is only 22,000. But I guess they are beyond all help and love. “ A church congregation hijacked by intolerance can be filled with new members who feel otherwise.” That would be nice, but even if every other church in the world accomplished this, we’d be no closer in ending the inequalities and suffering of the world, basically because religion is part of the problem. “Guilt and shame that you feel in yourself can be healed with therapy.” Why? We’ve got a lot to be guilty and ashamed about – and therapy is no substitution for rectifying the problem.
But beyond that, Chopra also claims that if evil doesn’t directly affect you, then it doesn’t exist for you. This seems to be a rather curious takeaway – and unfortunately I have heard this echoed by many New Agers and spiritualists over the years. They seek to remove their responsibility for the existence of evil by claiming that it isn’t a part of “their reality,” or that those who suffer from the evil acts of others give their approval for their suffering as “lessons to be learned” from this life that will advance their spiritual development.
But let’s cleave to the matter at hand – this mangled, garbled aphorism of Chopra – it needs to be refuted, exposed and disregarded, over and over, until, hope against hope, he stops talking such bullshit and influencing others to become passive slaves of metaphysical nonsense. What a person does – and thinks – whether it is known to others or not – is a very important measurement of who one really is. And since the world at large is a true reflection of the inner essence of humanity as a whole, I’d say that Mr. Chopra needs to reconsider his scene and wake up to reality before it is too late.
I have been baptized a total of five times. I don’t know if there is a Guinness Book of World Records regarding the most times a person has undergone baptism, but if there is, I’d like to throw my name up for consideration.
I don’t recall every detail of each baptismal event, but I do recall the similarities and the feelings I experienced undergoing them. The first occurred when I was 6 when I was baptized in a Catholic ceremony in the North Toledo parish of the St. Vincent de Paul church. I would also attend the parish school for the next three years. I recall being very excited and pleased about having the priest make such a solemn fuss over me as he murmured in Latin and gently poured a small dish of water across my forehead. It was a moment that I always compared my subsequent baptisms to, and all comparisons failed to impress.
The reason why I had to require four more baptisms is simple. I am not certain why we stopped attending St. Vincent’s as I have never asked my mother about it, but my father is the son of a minister who led his own church at Zion Church of God in Christ, so there may have been a compelling reason to bring that religious stream into our lives as well. In any case, to be fully recognized as a fully – fledged member of my grandfather’s church, I and my sisters would have to be baptized again. At this I resisted. Why would I have to be re-baptized? Didn’t God recognize my first baptism as valid? But as a child these thoughts were pushed aside and I relented, although a bit offended, and allowed myself to be dipped into the pool of cold water behind my grandfather’s pulpit. Everyone in church was very pleased.
Fast-forward several years. My parents split up. I still want to attend my grandfather’s and I do at various times in my teens, but my mother doesn’t feel comfortable there, so she takes us to other churches in the neighborhood. I had to endure further baptisms to gain admittance in each church, and the ceremony quickly became tiresome and absurd. I became to doubt the efficacy of baptism itself, and certainly became very suspicious of churches in general. The questions kept coming. Did God really care that I had to be baptized into every church I attended to be acceptable in His sight? Or was this some requirement dreamed up by the pastor to fulfill some church quota or something? What did Jesus have to do with all these desperate and worn out black faces that I observed every Sunday who came here worship Him and His Son? Nobody here was alive when all these stories about Jesus were told. What if it was a joke? What if none of it ever happened? These thoughts would produce a nausea in my stomach and I quickly pushed them away, and I tried to get back into the sermon being delivered by the preacher.
But I was never satisfied. The priests and ministers I had to listen to were nowhere as memorable as the Latin Mass at St. Vincent’s or my grandfather Reverend. T.T. Thomas’ dignified orations. In fact, I found subsequent ministers more outlandish and even crazy. But with each church I had to attend I also had to be formally introduced with being dressed in white and plunged into an ice-cold pool of water. With each drenching a payment of new doubts entered my mind.
Have you heard of “salvation?” It’s something that happens to you when you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You are “saved” from an eternal fate of damnation and separation from God through accepting the story of Jesus’ blood-sacrifice as true. And if that was all that would be required of a Christian, the story would be easier to believe. But one also has to gain the favor of the Holy Spirit as well, according to the Pentecostal doctrine of my grandfather’s church. Of course, the Pentecost refers the to singular event in the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit is said to descend upon the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire that allegedly appeared above their heads, causing them to “speak in tongues,” sometime after the death of Jesus.
Since I had been tormented by the scary stories about the End Times according to the Book of Revelations from childhood, I very much desired to “have” the Holy Ghost. I was led to believe that this was crucial in being saved. I had witnessed various saints, always women, it seemed, “speaking in tongues.” I was told it was the language that the angels spoke, and it sounded like a frightful convulsive string of elongated and abbreviated vowels and stuttering. The people speaking in tongues never knew or remembered what they were saying. Their bodies and faces were contorted in painful ecstasy and a kind of possession. It was weird to witness and marked for me a major difference between the Catholic and Protestant churches I attended. It was also “proof” that the Holy Ghost was indeed valid and real, and thus their Christian faith was valid and real, at least to the believers.
One night while having been forced again to attend another tiresome mid-week church service, I was led to the front of the church during a call for new members who were wanting to accept Jesus into their lives. The music, shouting and clamor were especially raucous this hot summer evening, and somehow I found myself standing before the congregation in tears. Apparently, this made me “saved.” An old black man was overjoyed as there was seven of us standing before them, “one saved soul for each day of the week.” One the ride home I was completely still within the knowing that I had not been changed or transformed in any way. I had fooled them without intending to deceive. They couldn’t tell I was the same as before. It was all a joke.
In any case, I longed to have the Holy Spirit, to cease my curious mind from doubting so much. Often I would pray to receive the Holy Ghost. But nothing ever happened. I was told to receive the Holy Ghost was a life-changing and beautiful experience. When church members would ask me if I was going to be a “preacher like your granddaddy” (whom I strongly resembled in appearance), I often didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t have the Holy Ghost, so until that happened, I couldn’t actually say I would be a preacher. I wanted to be. But I didn’t have it.
One night I witnessed the choir’s organist, who was bad-ass on the organ and piano, being called to come to the altar to repent his sin of homosexuality. He pitifully broke down and repented. But it was obvious to me that he was still going to be gay, just as he was still going to be a bad-ass organist. It was just who he was. I didn’t understand how that kind of separation his sexual identity could occur within salvation. But this caused me to pray to receive the Holy Ghost even more fervently. But I never received it. And I gave up. For some reason, it was never gonna happen for me. I was either unworthy of the Holy Ghost, or it didn’t exist.
My experience as an African-American within the African-American religious tradition that I just recounted here is not unique. Although I did not realize it at the time when I was a teen, similar experiences were reported by other important African-American authors like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and James Baldwin , among others.
At the time I could not understand why the Holy Ghost had seemingly chosen to forsake me. As I further delved into college textbooks and became more aware of the subject of comparative religions, the more I began to lose touch with the religious framework (which seemed to all be based on unverifiable stories first told in the dim past). I realized I had no more at stake in defending the reality of God any more than I had to defend the reality of say, Neptune or Hercules. Yahweh, Neptune and Hercules all share one point: they have all been created and given existence through the consciousness of human beings. And it is through this conscious creation that all manners or evil and cruelty can be committed and justified. It will be a better world when religious ideas are set to the side by a mature civilized world. I don’t know how we will get there, but since nobody fervently insists that Hercules or Neptune be worshiped today, there is a chance we might be able to dispose of all religious superstition if we can make it through this bleak existential gap of insanity and despair.
 2.1. When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. English Standard Version (ESV)
 …”being in the pulpit was like being in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion worked.”… “If the concept of God has any validity or any use,” he wrote, “it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of him.” James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)..
I received this comment from a reader and I want to place this as a new blog post because it reflects an argument that I’ve seen many times before from various religious devotees. In my earlier post a reader claimed that I was picking on Buddha for and his followers for no good reason.
Reply from esantipapa
““Enlightenment” is a fraud. It is a deception that assumes to know and understand more than it can. Enlightenment doesn’t fail because you’ve applied it incorrectly, or because you are not worthy of it. People throughout the ages have sought it and it and only a few have dared to claim that they have attained it. It would be one thing if Enlightenment actually changed the world for the better for all of us. We can easily see that is not the case.”
Enlightenment is a personal journey. No two people have the same path to it. And as far as it not changing the world, that’s beyond ridiculous. Those who strive for deeper compassion and kindness (to their fellow humans), as a path to Enlightenment, do great things because of their compassion and kindness. Sneering at individuals who aim for deeper understanding of their fellow human, deeper compassion for all peoples, and greater personal-outward kindness is not praiseworthy or intellectual by any measure. It makes me sad to know you do not see how you are right on the core issue, but wrong on the examples, as you demonstrate here:
“The solutions are all here on Earth, not locked away in some inaccessible region of consciousness but within understanding who we are and choosing how we are going to relate with ourselves and each other.”
That IS essentially the concept expressed by the whole of the Dharma (and it is put so eloquently by you). Why are you arguing against Buddha when you express ideas that are virtually identical to the Dharma? You may want to read more about the current Dalai Lama’s life story, he’s had a much better set of translators than those of antiquity, and uses almost the same language you use here. That our compassion is derived from our sameness, and how we see each other. That we have all the tools we need here in this life to further understand one another if we choose to use them.
You say enlightenment is a “personal journey.” I have to challenge that assertion. Have you gained enlightenment? Do you know someone who has? How would one even verify that someone, or anybody, including Buddha achieved it? All we have are stories of individuals gaining it, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding, and there’s no proof that anything like “enlightenment” or “karma” or “the wheel of reincarnation” exists the way the Buddhists say it does.
If people as a whole strove to gain a “deeper understanding of their fellow human, deeper compassion for all peoples, and greater personal-outward kindness” through the application of Buddhist principles and that resulted in a far more sane and rational world, then that would be an entirely different thing. But the Buddha attached a spurious metaphysical component that ended up creating a void where self and the material world is negated. I understand that in principle the Buddhist is to follow the Middle Path, but metaphysical fence-sitting has not brought about a better world for everyone.
Buddha’s starting point within attaining enlightenment has been so ineffective in dealing with the world because the criterion, the foundation, is suspect. Instead of establishing a world based on egalitarian terms, the focus was placed on eliminating anguish and suffering, which are not causes, but the effects or symptoms of the poisonous relationships between people. Did Buddha, as a member of the royalty, denounce or taught that such a social order was beneficial or detrimental to proper relationships within the world? I doubt that he did. Instead, the Buddha focused on meditation and mental stratagems in removing self from the world, which he considered an illusion, anyway. Look at India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, Thailand; all the countries that have followed Buddhism to one extent or another. The people who live there have caught hell for a long time. Karma must be something that is defective, because it allegedly is supposed to equalize the human experience towards good and proper ethical relationships. Yet unspeakable poverty, injustice and exploitation exists in conditions that are worse than ever. How would the Buddha explain that?
I do not “sneer” at people who are interested in making this world a better place for everyone – such a goal is what I’ve always been about. People like myself have been diverted and mislead by religious, spiritual and metaphysical principles that have proven to be ineffective, dubious and actually harmful to our cause. Following religious principles and chasing after gurus and special Ascended Masters has made us into dumbasses that has allowed the elites to be able to run slipshod over us for so long. You don’t see them worrying about samsara or dharma, do you? Their lineage continues and continues as if karma only rewarded their efforts to dominate, exploit and destroy.
It takes action to change the world, not sitting on your ass under a bodhi tree until you are an ass-ending master so you can teach others how to ass-end.into their minds. I mean, it just hasn’t worked. Achieving inner peace at the cost of separating one’s self from the world is only separation. This practice has obviously been a defective, impractical and self-interested approach to the problems it alleges to “solve.” And don’t bring the Dalai Lama into this. He is completely irrelevant in the affairs of the world while he sits in a saffron robe placing guru-seekers’ heads in the clouds all day. I mean, don’t equate what I am saying as a personal attack on your belief system. Take it for what it is, facing the truth, as I have faced – that all religious systems lead to one point: deception. We don’t need God, Buddha or the Dalai Lama to tell us the proper way to relate to people. We don’t need meditative states or following gurus or attaining an enlightened state to realize that suffering in this world can be stopped. We only need to release our desire to chase after things we can’t verify and embrace the common sense of universal equality. If the Buddha had spoken about that, I’d be all over it As it is, we have to let it go, because what Buddha represents has not been worthy of following, as the world has entertained the Buddhist perspective for centuries and it has failed completely.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 27,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
[Edit] Total views for this blog in 2011 was 29,950, up from 2010’s total views of 6,270. Nice. 2012 will be even more numerical…
Top Five Posts that were viewed in 2011:
My personal favorite Top Five post for 2011:
Actually, the better question could be why God create so many religions? There are so many religious movements that it is impossible to name them all with any certainty, since there are so many divergent groups within each religious movement, and we are not even talking about the religious practices in the past that are no longer being followed, like Zoroastrianism, Mithraic or Orphic religions. I will use the Oxford dictionary definition of religion to illustrate this point. Religion is, “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods. This is mostly in line with the 17th century British author Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe who described religion as “the Worship given to God, but ’tis also applied to the Worship of Idols and false Deities.”
So religion can be shown to be created by God as a way to feed God’s ego. I mean, place yourself as God for a moment and hear me out. You are God. The source of all creation seated in perfect and complete knowledge. But you’re bored silly because you are all alone. So you create our of your being – or out of nothing – worlds and galaxies and beings! Over time these things begin wondering where they came from and what is their true place in existence. Now as God, you have the power to tell them yourself or see if they can figure it all out with their limited, flawed instruments they call “consciousness.” But you as God understand that they will never agree on what You as God really are. It will be as Kurt Vonnegut said in Breakfast of Champions, as if they were yeast molecules theorizing about their place in existence and never coming close to their reality of being inside a bottle of champagne.
If you’re God, that kind of shit must be awfully funny. Especially all the more so when you realize that God gave you so many religions to choose from. Maybe God gave us so many choices because if the human race held only one conception of God as ‘true,’ there would be no such thing as free choice. I mean, that’s the reason the religionists give when they excuse the existence of evil. Evil is here because God wanted us to choose freely between belief and unbelief. It just wouldn’t do if everyone was certain that God existed or that everyone was aware of God’s presence. It is strange that God – or whatever is behind all the different versions of God – would require not only we believe in Him, but that we must pick the correct version of all the Gods that are worshipped on Earth. OH, and you have to pick the correct INTERPRETATION of the correct version of the religion because nobody can really agree how God should be thought of and worshipped.
But if you are God, why would you need to be worshipped? Wouldn’t that put a crimp in your alleged “omnipotence.” You are the center of the Universe. What would be the point of craving some sort of formal expression from your creatures? Doesn’t that sound a least bit wack?