Friday, November 06, 2015


Techie stereotype

While friends of mine are wrestling with the abyss between the platform-developing techies dominated by young California “Asians” -- maybe we could call them Confucians, since they revere authority, success, and doing what was always done -- and the wildly Celtic hairy writers who wish only self-determination and experiment (maybe we could consider them pagans or even barbarians), the rest of us who can spare time for thinking -- though that’s a little dangerous when driving to work -- would like to consider the complex and slippery category called religion.  It’s not unlike “writing” as a category.  One of those “humanities” things that get in the way.

The first thing to get a grip on is that the terms of being human have changed -- RADICALLY.  “Radical” means going to the roots, which means in this case “survival.”  So -- for the Blackfeet in early days, that meant tribal loyalty at the family level (including the in-laws, rather guardedly) to handle aggression, and harmony with nature, the source of food and shelter.  For some grizzled old wolfer with his bottle of strychnine, it meant obsession with the wolves and a willingness and ability to do whatever was needed: a situational lack of conscience or connection, enabled by the oblivion of alcohol, meth of the time.  The pattern remains in some places so it must be effective if you don’t mind having a short life.  Maybe the terms have not changed so much after all.

Contemporary wolfer

What change there is comes through technology that gives us access to the unseen, the inhuman world in all its complexity and seething connections -- star nurseries and gut biomes -- and its challenge to prove who we are.  The Abrahamic religions, which originated in the same place on the planet as our contemporary “sand wars,” are belligerent and unforgiving.  But Jesus, like Buddha, counseled compassion.  (His God went on being unforgiving.)  The question is compassion “for whom” and Jesus’ answer was “everyone.”  I’m not sure he included beetles or supernovas.  I'm not sure Paul agreed.

Giving up all this speculative fantasy, which is a Celtic sort of affliction of mine probably related to not drinking and which leads me into a kind of speculative ruthlessness (damned Puritans), I’ll go to H. Richard Niebuhr who simply looked at the “is-ness” of the American world, its version of organized religion.  The Social Sources of Denominationalism (1929) suggests that people stick together when they understand each other and that is closely related to their economic success.  Most aware people understand that Anglican/Episcopalians are high-income, high-education, people who still shelter Brit class-categories.  Pentecostals tend to be marginal, low-income suffering people who can be ecstatic.  Then there were the denominations considered “mainstream” which were related to the values of the bourgeois shopkeepers: self-controlled, thrifty, clean, sexual only to the extent necessary to create children and consumers.

These denominations are sort of reductions of the 11th century revolutions of the major religions called “axial”, the Big Three:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam which come out of each other over time.  Karen Armstrong spent a lot of time thinking and researching about these three monotheisms in terms of ideas, and had to consider Hinduism and Buddhism as alternatives defined as being -- um -- Axial-like in terms of importance, mostly indicated by size.  There have always been smaller groups, sort of ethnic or alternative or ecologically supported groups.  

To most people “religion” is all these organizations and bureaucracies, because as soon as there is enough population density, things have to get bureaucratic and written down, which means they are pinned in place, more or less.  Forget what these various groups say they believe.  That’s embroidery.  Most of them believe in survival and, if the situation allows, prosperity.  Prosperity comes from power.  With enough of it comes corruption and decay, ineffectiveness.  This is where institutional religion is today, mostly.  Reform is no longer idealism: it is survival.  And the prosperity may be missing.

I subscribe to religion newsletters (not as many as science newsletters) and have been reflecting on two situations:  Pope Francis who comes in to an organizationally petrified institution whose power and nature developed in Karen Armstrong’s Axial religion time (11th century) and is now forced to question the terms, like money-dependent survival.  And then, curiously, the growth of the Southern Baptists (example next door to me) which was based on the importance of conversion and strong (Confucian) rules of behavior.  The shocker is that they sent out thousands of missionaries through the planet but that the potential “saved” people are now busy with their smart phones creating micro-banks.  Worse, the reward on earth the missionaries were supposed to receive (pensions and a Fifties sort of old age peacefully dominating their lawns) was spent by the denominational leaders.  The estimate is that 80,000 jobless missionaries, some of them aged, are now wondering how they will survive.  I think some of them are counting on coming to Valier to revive the church next door, but their main supporters in this town have gone to Heaven, which one hopes has not spent their trust fund of Golden streets.

New understanding of the world, which is mostly science-based, does not define evil as “anything that departs from our norm” (for instance, binary gender assignments -- either male or female and only one of each can marry the other).  It says something far more radical:  gender assignments are arbitrary, sexual attraction and identity are fluid because they are an interaction between a physical/molecular creature and the ecologically organized universe.  Marriage is an economic arrangement.  Whatever it takes, including sequential multiple parenting.  One of today’s science newsletters says that tests of gender preference and identification in women show that women do not have desire only for the opposite sex.  Maybe it comes from cherishing and protecting babies, no matter what they're like.

Hefner is 89.

It remains to understand why “men” are so linked to power as synonymous with desire, sexual or otherwise.  (“Desire” being code for domination and control.)  And why are the markers of those who are “desirable” culturally connected to the small, blonde, weak, fascinating, and transient characteristics that some cultural commentators connect to ethnic history -- like the advent of “elfin” pale aristocratic Normans coming  among the low-class Saxons, blondes much preferred by Hugh Hefner until they are of voting age. 

Power becomes attributed to appearance, not just gender but color.  Satan is red and black: Celtic or African.  Other.  (I’m just riffing here -- not making claims.  It’s all unverified speculation.)  How many Catholic or Baptist missionaries went out to convert white people, unless they were really poor and clueless people who relied on superstition.   (Excluding the Abrahamic superstitions)  And forget that the Big Three religions were all Arab, though the Virgin Mary and Jesus had that blonde elfin look in European art.  Sort of glow-in-the-dark.

There’s an age-thing in here somewhere.  Confucius aged; Buddha did not.  An aged Jesus would be as startling as black or female Jesuses have been.  Judaism, which is the oldest of the organized Abrahamic religions, accepted and admired old age from early times.  Recent mainstream Protestant religious leaders in the pulpit (not the academy) have been young men who rolled up their sleeves to show their muscular forearms and challenged Satan to wrestle.  Now we are reduced to Billy Graham’s son writing a book that he purports was written by his century-old father to support the franchise, a family empire like our American political empires now under challenge by their own patriarchs. 

Fifty Shades of Pink.

As I think about it, some of these factors are highly relevant to where the dominant style of writing seems to be female, young, blonde, sweet, elfin, and -- just below the surface -- hungry for money and power.  It’s not that the barbarians are crucified -- it’s just that they are pressed back into the forest where they won’t embarrass anyone.  Just riffing.  Just saying.  It’s all speculation and idle reflection.  But that’s writing!

Tomorrow I'll take on spirituality.  No facts.  Just riffing.  Whole different subject and it's NOT religion, which is bureaucracy and property.

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