Wednesday, December 23, 2015

stupidity can be beautiful

My rantings on religion are not meant to suggest that nothing worthwhile comes of it.  Some of the most beautiful art and music in human history has been inspired by religion.  When I went to shul for the high holidays, there was lots of singing, and some of it was certainly very moving.

..and then I'd read the translations.  I found that what was actually being sung was almost entirely nonsense.  This doesn't detract from the artistic quality of it.  Of course great art can be based on nonsense.  Some of the greatest works of literature brazenly admit to being outright rank fiction.  There is nothing contradictory therein, but that beauty is no excuse for celebrating nonsense as anything ideologically substantial, when it just isn't.

I don't feel like getting into why people find religion so inspiring, and whether that in itself has value, but Sam Harris goes into some depth on that, here:

I would however like to take a moment to chastise anyone who takes my below post too literally.  A post in which I rant about how literal people are.  Not that it was meant metaphorically, but it was drunkenly rhetorical and hyperbolic.

I know that most of the Buddhist world takes concepts like rebirth and karma very literally.  I know that includes some of their greatest leaders, throughout history.  To be more precise, I'm just less interested in focusing on that aspect of it, and find it less worth worrying about, because no one is being beheaded over said literalism.  It's nonsense, but almost entirely harmless nonsense..

Unlike concepts like talking snakes and martyrdom, I think there's a whole other side to it that is ideologically valuable.  A grossly racist bigoted thing to say, I suppose, as apparently, we're supposed to respect all religions equally, but my respect for an ideology is directly proportional to how much potential its ideas have to make sense.

That I refer to religion as an ideology underscores a common root of disagreement, here.  That I view religion as ideological at all, while many of its defenders insist that the ideology isn't important, or so malleable as to be irrelevant.

Fact is, religious ideology has been very important to me.  I can see how important it is to ISIS.  I can see how important it is to the Dalai Lama.  That it isn't important to you, isn't going to change any of that.

Monday, December 21, 2015

taking it out of context

Wait, hold on, hold on.  You're butchering that quote about the turtle.  That was a quote from the Majihima Nikāya on your chances of being born a human!

Right.  We're supposed to take that literally?  What else would I be born as?

I am a human.  Are there lots of sea slugs cursing their luck, for not being born humans?  Seriously, WHAT THE FUCK are you talking about?

I refuse to believe that was meant literally.  No one with the intellectual rigor much better than that of a sea slug would believe such a thing.  Not just because it's absurd, but because like so many Buddhist concepts, when you look at them metaphorically, they can become extraordinarily profound.

What, that's just chance?  You can look at any religion metaphorically, and..?

I've tried that. The old Torah, or New Testament.. at best, looking at it metaphorically just neutralizes it.  You take utterly batshit crazy concepts, and render them virtually meaningless.  There is nothing profound in Judeo-Christian scripture.  Or Islamic scripture.  As if the Qur'an isn't bad enough, the Hadiths are just fucking horrific.  I think I can speak with a fair amount of confidence when I say, fuck you, it's garbage.  I've tried to look at it all sorts of ways, and no, it's just garbage on every level.  Looking at it metaphorically just makes it slightly less evil garbage.

Look at the words of people from Hillel to Pope Francis, and the only time they say anything worthwhile being when they cut it from whole cloth.  Even then, it's about all the profundity of, "be nicer to people," and "stop fucking with everyone." They're at their best when they deviate from scripture entirely.  There is nothing of value to be found therein.  It's not even good fiction.

I'm a terrible person, I know.

See?  Mindfulness.

Still, I put forth that some religious philosophers were different.  Some of them actually had really good ideas.  Some of those ideas were expressed metaphorically, trying to use the religious language of their times, but people are idiots and took them literally. I base this on my experience of finding such incredibly mind provoking concepts in these metaphors, as well as on my experience of people, and their incredible ability to misunderstand just about everything.

Have you ever tried to use sarcasm on the internet?  I mean, holy crap, people are stupidly literal.  and literally stupid.  People are idiots and they distort everything.  Human history is like a vast game of telephone.  Sift through it all, piece together how it just might have been originally intended, and some of it actually makes a lot of sense.  Some of, still not so much.  Or put another way, you're just missing that yoke by hundreds of miles, you fucking sea slug.

This is probably why the 5th precept advises against indulging in fermented drink, though.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I've been feeling really lousy the past few weeks.  Sleeping later, can't get to sleep at night, haven't felt like cooking, my apartment's a mess, keep procrastinating laundry, shopping.  I haven't been running.  I even run out of beer, and just go a few days without it, rather than restocking immediately.

Essentially, I feel like my old self again.  Like my Omnitrope suddenly stopped working.  I keep thinking maybe I got a bad batch.  Maybe they didn't refrigerate it at the pharmacy.  I keep thinking I'm just grasping at straws, making excuses.  More likely just relapsing, back to my lousy baseline, because this is who I am.  Now that the novelty of my new apartment has worn off, I'm just stagnating, like I always have.

It wasn't until today that I remembered, I forgot to refrigerate it myself, when I first got it.  I'd left in my coat pocket for a few hours, before an "oh crap!" moment, when I remembered it was there, and jumped up to put it in the fridge.

I remember thinking, it's just been a few hours, right?  I'm sure it's fine.

Maybe it'd been a few more hours than I'd thought.  Maybe it goes bad more quickly than I'd thought.  It's $1400 worth, and I don't even have an endocrinologist yet, to check my IGF-1 levels - that would prove whether I'm right about this, or just a whiner.

Still waiting on the referral for that, should be any day now.  Maybe a week or two.  In the meantime, I'll have to use up what I've got anyhow, and see if I feel better by spring..

Sunday, December 6, 2015

religious teachings (sometimes) matter

Why have I latched onto the discussion of Islamic conservatism, terrorism, and human rights abuses in the Muslim world, coming to closely follow writers from Sam Harris to Aki Muthali?  More to the point, why do I harp on Islam?  Even if we can agree that it's a serious issue that needs attention, certainly, there are so many other issues that do, too?

Why not climate change, or gun control, income inequality, or systemic racism in America?  Why not any issue specific to America, over something that's really more of an issue on the other side of the world?  While I do touch on all these other problems, I can't deny that my fixation on Islam seems questionably disproportionate.  I think it's partly an issue of scale, and awareness of global proportions over ethnocentrism, as well as having some perspective on differing degrees of severity, but I'm not so sure these are quite the sparks that motivate me.

I think about what draws me to a writer like Sam Harris in particular, and the similarities of his own disproportionate focus.  He didn't start out picking on Islam, and has even said that he'd really like to get away from doing so.  Like myself, his background has more to do with philosophy and world religions, from ideologies, to studying meditation, to appreciating the spiritually uplifting quality of music and ritual.  We both come from a background of thinking that these things matter.  That these things actually matter a whole lot.

Would anyone say that Buddhism is all about what you bring to it?  That bodhicitta can be all about peace, or all about violence, depending on the practitioner?  That The Four Noble Truths are just tabula rasa for whatever we want to make of it?

No, it's only ignorance of these concepts that might make it appear that way.  Maybe if you think religion is all about colored robes, funny hats, candles and incense, and all manner of words in other languages for family get-togethers.  These cultural trappings of religion are of course part of it, and for many cultural adherents, the much larger part of it.  From your average nominal Buddhist in Myanmar to their Islamic counterpart in Iraq.  People just living their lives, following the traditions of the religion they grew up with.  Not really the sort to do all that much navel gazing over it, one way or another.

That's fine, I don't mean that as any sort of critique.  I just mean to say that's not the whole picture of what religion is about, and it is not the direction I'm coming from.  When I delved into this stuff, it was very much a quest for ideas, new ideas, new ways of thinking about the world, and what I should consider important.  Which religious concepts might hold some truth that I wouldn't find elsewhere.

I didn't read the Tao Te Ching, so that I could shape Lao Tzu's words to fit what I already believed.  Concepts like anatta made no sense to me at first, and took quite a long time for me to really grasp.  I was looking for ideas that would be new to me, that would help me make sense of this life.  I was looking to build on my personal ideology, not just embellish it with culturally appropriated bells and whistles.

So yeah, I'm not too keen on this idea, espoused by the likes of Reza Aslan, that religious teachings hold no meaning of their own, that they're just ideological clay to be shaped by the practitioner.  That is incredibly antithetical to my own experience- and I know, antithetical to the experience of many others.  Some people adjust the concept of their religion, to fit what they want to believe.  Others look to religion, to help them figure out what to believe.  I don't know how anyone can seriously deny this.

We often read these works to figure out how they might have been originally intended, with the idea that they might hold wisdom of utmost importance.  How our lives might be shaped by this reading can be so very different, depending on whether we're talking about Leviticus, or the Dhammapada.  I've read a whole lot of this stuff over the years, and I guess that's why I find the idea that 1.6 billion people might approach reading the Qur'an similarly.. to be gravely concerning.

At least some of them are all too understandably going to come away with the belief that groups like Boko Haram and ISIS are absolutely right.  My focus on Islam really comes back to my appreciation of religious significance in general.  In this context, a context that has pervaded most of my life, Islam does appear to be uniquely and exceptionally harmful.

"The motherload of bad ideas," if you will.  As is most religion, really, but those ideas are especially dangerous, when we're talking about an Abrahamic religion, prior to any sort of broad reform movement.  In time, I'd even go so far as to say that I've come to feel more akin to Muslim atheists, than religious Jews.  We've gone through our respective nonsense, to see it for what it really is.  That's how important ideology is to me, and there is only one ideology I see wreaking the sort of global havoc and misery that Islam does.

I'm sorry if that hurts feelings, but those hurt feelings don't rub me the wrong way, quite like the sort of hardcore human rights abuses that are rampant to the Islamic world.  That shit needs to be dealt with, and I find it far more pressing than whatever asinine thing Donald Trump's been saying lately.