Monday, October 06, 2014

Loving the Alien.

So, here, I think, is the culmination of many of the past few weeks' posts. Perhaps you should start by watching this video, where Reza Aslan, a professor of religion and author of Zealot:The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, rips apart some spectacularly poor journalism and the lazy, cheap comedy of Bill Maher. On the other hand, perhaps you'd like to wait until the end of this post. Either way, I recommend watching it.
There are fewer things in life more depressing to hear than lazy generalisations, especially from people who should know better. It's a vice which I have been guilty of in the past and one which I try to remain entirely on guard against. I rarely, if ever, take things on face value (again, see my posts on advertising regarding this), and I will question, probe, doubt and ask for evidence. So when I watch and hear some of the vile nonsense decked out as fact when it is little more than opinion, as it is in the video above, it brings me to the edge of despair. There's an old adage, well-beloved of demagogues everywhere: A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.

And right now, everywhere I look, I see lies sprinting hither and yon.

Another image comes to mind: a great circle of people, standing in the half light, whispering something to the person in front, he message becoming increasingly distorted as it goes around this infinitely large circle until it is little more than the meaningless sussuration of bees, meaningless yet freighted with the meaning that each whisperer within the circle confers upon it.

Some of you who read this will, I know, be saying 'Well, religion is a lie itself - are you going to defend that?' Others among you may be thinking 'Well, yes, [insert religion here] is a backward/barbaric/[insert any negative adjective of choice] worldview'.  Some of you may want to remonstrate - 'Let me tell you, I've read/seen/researched [insert subject here] and I find that it is [insert suitable epithets here]'.

So I ask you: What do you know?

Not what you think you know, but what do you actually, solidly, concretely KNOW?
Not what someone in a newspaper, or on TV, or in a magazine, or on Facebook or Twitter says they know, what do YOU know?

I know my own answer to this. More importantly, I hope that I am honest enough with myself to be able to accept the limits of my own little knowledge and accept the darkened seas of non-knowledge that lap the shores of my thought.

If now you are asking what my answer is, I refer you back to my question above.

Seeing as I have put this post in the context of the current soi-disant Clash of Civilisations, let me bring in a few examples, although I will fare badly against Mr Aslan's succinct summation of things. If you're a Christian, or possibly a 'Christian', or if you just happen to come from the 'West', and like a mince pie and a singsong at Christmas, or an Easter egg at, er, Easter, I want you to think of three or four things you associate with Islam.

Off you go, now. Don't censor your thoughts.


Odds on at least one thing on your list was pejorative. But why? What do you actually know?
OK, another question - what are the tenets of Islam, and what are the traditions of cultures that happen to have Islam as part of their culture?
In fact, there are only 5 things you need do to be a Muslim -
State that you believe that there is only one God (and Allah - Al-Ilah - literally translates as 'God' in the Judeo-Christian sense);
Pray five times a day (way down on the requirements of some of the more bampot versions of Christianity);
Give to charity (via a tax called Zakat - similiar to Tithes);
Fast during Ramadan;
Go on pilgrimage if you are healthy and wealthy enough to do so.
 - And that is that. Not a beard, a burqa, a niqab, a tesbih, or an aversion to booze in sight (although I know that there will be muslims who will disagree strongly with that statement). Follow the five pillars of Islam, and that's it - you are a Muslim.
Now, what kind of Muslim you are - that's a different matter entirely, and as Mr Aslan says, religion is essentially what people bring to it. And if what they bring is shadows and fear, then that religion, or that culture, or that political system, or that civilisation, will be one of shadows and fear.
Now, just to give a bit of balance to affairs, another question: What are the tenets of Christianity?
Well, just two really - That Jesus is God and the son of God, and Love Thy Neighbour. That's it. No hellfire, no Ten Commandments, definitely no Leviticus, and not a sign of Sandals and tofu bicycles.

Yet how many nominally Christian people, or perhaps I should say those who protest their faith a little too loudly, do you know whose grasp on faith is, shall we say, a trifle wobbly at best?
Tony Blair, for example. Or George W Bush.
Or....well, the list is compendious.

Moving the spotlight away from faith for a moment, we can see that this tendency to fall into the habit or relying on cliche is pervasive. It's there when people start blaming immigrants for a loss of housing, or jobs, or benefits; It's there in the way President Putin calls the Ukrainian Government 'fascists'; It's there when gays and lesbians are attacked,imprisoned and murdered in Nigeria and other countries where there are laws banning certain sexualities; It's there when someone says 'All [insert group of choice] are...'; It's there, even, when we come to believe of ourselves that we are useless, or worthless, or less than good because someone else has bullied us.

How do we not do this? How do we love or understand what we do not know? How do we respond to the easy whisper in the ear, that hasping sound so full of doubt? How do we love the alien?

By reading, by questioning, by doubting all - by looking, first, to know what is in ourselves, because, I think, we have to first love the alien within us before we love the alien without.

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