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against the world
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
another old speech: andrew jackson and the hydra of corruption

I used a shorter version of this speech in Speech 101 and in intramural competition. I never got around to using this longer version in any competition, and this year I’ve got a much better informative speech to use, so this one has been abandoned.


 “Wall Street owns the Country”—that sounds like something you’d hear now, doesn’t it, with the recent $800 billion plus bailout of financial institutions by the government? But it was said by Mary Lease, in her Money Question speech at the Populist Party Convention in 1892. And, Big Money’s hold on the government had already come to the fore 6 decades earlier.

Andrew Jackson, our 7th President, was a laissez faire capitalist. He believed in the free market. And, he did not like the National Bank. He called it the “hydra of corruption.” In his State of the Union address, 1829, he said the Bank had “failed in the great end of establishing a uniform and sound currency.” And, as William Jennings Bryan in his 1896 Presidential Campaign Cross of Gold speech said, “Jackson stood against the encroachments of organized wealth” in standing against the National Bank.

And he wasn’t one to back down in a fight. In fact, he dueled many times. In American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Jon Meacham describes one of those duels like this: “Seven o’clock on the morning of Friday, May 30, 1806, on the Red River in Logan County, Kentucky, Jackson and [Charles] Dickinson faced each other at twenty-four feet. Jackson let Dickinson shoot first, and he hit Jackson in the chest with a bullet. Though wounded, Jackson coolly leveled his own pistol at his opponent and fired… killing Dickinson. Only later, as his boot filled with blood after he had left the dueling ground, did the extent of Jackson’s wound become clear. He carried Dickinson’s bullet in his body until he died.”

In 1832, his political rival Henry Clay set up an early recharter for the bank to use against Jackson in his campaign for reelection. Jackson’s dislike for the National Bank would put him against its strong-willed president, would win him reelection by the people and, while destabilizing the economy, would help our nation grow.

First, Jackson would be put against Nicholas Biddle, the president of the National Bank who historian Eric Foner, in his Give Me Liberty!, calls a “snobbish, aristocratic Philadelphian… as strong-willed as Jackson and as unwilling to back down in a fight.” Biddle, wielding great economic power, had bragged that his Bank had the power to “destroy” any State bank. But, Jackson would not “bow down to worship the golden calf.” In A Century and a Half of Pittsburg and Her People, John Newton Boucher has Jackson calling himself “incorruptible,” saying “the Spanish Inquisition could not compel me to worship the monster.” The monster… the Bank, Foner calls “an illegitimate union of political authority and entrenched economic privilege.”

Jackson vetoed the recharter, and in his Bank Veto Message, 10 July 1832, he said, “it is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” And “the powers and privileges possessed by the existing bank are unauthorized by the Constitution, subversive to the rights of the States, and dangerous to the liberties of the people… Will there not be cause to tremble for the purity of our elections,” he asked. Jackson believed “the country was being controlled by a kind of congressional-financial-bureaucratic complex in which the needs and concerns of the unconnected were secondary to those who were on the inside,” according to Meacham in American Lion.

Next, in making clear his stance that he stood for the good of the people, Jackson won reelection as President. According to Robert Remini in Andrew Jackson and the Bank War, Jackson wished “to buttress presidential power with mass support—something never done before.” Jackson showed that, as with his Indian Removal Policy, he believed in what Thomas Jefferson called in his First Inaugural Address, 1801, “absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority.” A hero of the War of 1812, Jackson won his first term with 56% of the popular vote. He received 178 electoral votes to John Quincy Adams’ 83. Jackson took his second term, even in the midst of a fight with a piece of his own government, with 55% of the popular vote. 219 to Clay’s 49. And, with popular support, as Meacham puts it, Jackson could be “an instrument of the people against [the] combined interests of the rich and the incumbent.”

But, now, Jackson’s veto would start us down the path to destabilizing the economy. The National Bank would continue operating until 1841. But, the federal government would no longer deposit funds. And, by 1833, the funds would be removed to State banks. Biddle would raise interest rates and call in loans. The British Central Bank would increase its deposit rate to lure investors out of our National Bank and back to England. Deflation and economic collapse would follow: the “panic of 1837.” But, Jackson would not get the blame. His successor, Martin Van Buren would. The people would call him Martin Van Ruin. And in 1841, President Tyler would veto the reestablishment of the Bank. We would have no National Bank again until the 1913 Federal Reserve Act.

Lastly, it is worth noting that our nation would grow immensely in the meantime. Lawrence Kohl argues in The Politics of Individualism that only with Jacksonian Democracy, with the veto of the National Bank and the concurrent development of “Manifest Destiny” did “a sense of an imagined community of Americans begin to solidify.” Klaus Hansen, in Mormonism and the American Experience says Jackson “made possible the creation of the modern American capitalist empire with its fundamental belief in religious, political, and economic pluralism.”

But, “will there not be cause to tremble for the purity of our elections,” as Jackson asked, when the Bank or Corporations run the government… an issue that has been around since the beginning of our nation and is still around today. In his Anti-Federalist Centinel I, October 5, 1787, Samuel Bryan said, “if the administrators of… government are actuated by views of private interest and ambition, how is the welfare and happiness of the community to be the result of such jarring adverse interests?” And, in September 2008, Barack Obama was quoted in the LA Times as saying, “the power to spend $700 billion of taxpayers’ money cannot be left up to the discretion of one man.” He meant then Treasury Secretary Paulsen. But the same, with less money obviously, could have applied to Nicholas Biddle. Or, depending on your political bent, it could apply to Barack Obama, now that he is President.

An interesting aside: all this also helped lead to “the insanity defense” according to the Gilder Lehman Institute of American History, when, in 1835, a deranged Englishman named Richard Lawrence walked up to Jackson and fired 2 pistols at him from a distance of 6 feet. Both guns misfired and Jackson was not only unhurt, he proceeded to attack Lawrence with his cane. Lawrence believed that Jackson’s attack on the second Bank of the United States had prevented him from obtaining money that would have enabled him to claim the English throne, a defense that led to his time in a mental hospital instead of jail.

In conclusion, as Robert Remini points out in Andrew Jackson and the Bank War, “historians are sharply divided: some insist that Jackson’s arrogance wrecked a splendid organization and initiated a century of unsound finance that made possible… chaotic business conditions…; others applaud the destruction of the Bank as a needed action against an overprivileged corporation that had the ability and sometimes the will to hobble business and bully the government.” Either way, it goes without question that Andrew Jackson stuck to his guns in taking a swipe at the “hydra of corruption.” As I’ve just explained, he went up against the strong-willed president of the National Bank, won himself reelection, destabilized the economy and helped our nation grow. And, maybe now, if “Wall Street owns the country,” then, as William Jennings Bryan suggested in his Cross of Gold speech, “what we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand, as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of organized wealth.”

Posted by ca4/muaddib at 11:16 PM PDT
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we are all born atheists

The following is actually a mix of an early version of my atheism speech, which got me to finals twice, and a differently structured version that I hoped would get me an actual award (though, as it turned out, I never ended up performing the newer version in competition). There is a little problem with the flow in this mixed version, and I’m pretty sure the same set of quotes appears in two different places, but I left the various sections as they were.


A metaphysical metaphor

A hypothetical semaphore

Smoke signals out your pipe

You stand there spewing that tripe

You tell me about your god

And I find it a bit odd

The contradictions all about

In that book you dare not doubt

And the point at which you weep

For the lamb who made you sheep

That’s a poem I wrote, a response to thoughts about my upbringing in the Worldwide Church of God. It’s deliberately antagonistic, but I’d like to be a little kinder to the likely Christians here today.

Bertrand Russell, in an article entitled “Is There a God?” wrote of a teapot, orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. If nobody could disprove his assertion that this teapot was there, then it would be, quote, “an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it.” If “the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity…”

In 2006, a gallup poll (gallup,com, last accessed 17 January 2009)  found that 73% of American adults are convinced that God exists, and Rasmussen (last accessed 17 January 2009) found that 54% of American adults believe the Bible to be literally true. But, for those who do not get their religious beliefs from a strict interpretation of the Bible, where do they come from? Have they been told all their lives, like I was, that God exists? That he set in stone rules to live by? That there’s a point to all this? That the ills of the world will not matter once Jesus is here to save us all…

Albert Einstein once said “the idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.” Today, I will tell you how atheism is not naïve, by looking at what religion gets wrong, then at some of the damage religion has wrought, then how to put it behind you. But, first a little background.

First, I will tell you about Atheism. In What Is Atheism?” Douglas Krueger defines Atheism as coming from “the Greek atheos. The prefix ‘a’ means ‘without,’ and theos means ‘god.’ Atheism means simply ‘being without god.’ There are generally considered to be three types of atheism:

First: Agnosticism is a concept “introduced by T. H. Huxley at a party in London to found the Metaphysical Society” according to Scottish philosopher J.C.C. Smart in her essay “Atheism and Agnosticism.” The basic tenet of agnosticism is that we cannot empirically know if there is or is not a god. My wife is an agnostic, at least until we’re in the car and I’m driving. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says “one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.” In the face of advances in science and truly extraordinary understanding of our world, it is not just religion but also agnosticism that misses the mark in my opinion in accepting and being satisfied with not understanding.

St. Augustine is quoted by Dawkins, about “the disease of curiosity… which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature,” he says. “Secrets which are beyond our understanding… which man should not wish to learn.” Religion cannot like advancing science, for if we explain all of God’s doings, we will not need God any longer to explain them for us.

The second, Weak Atheism takes this a little further in assuming there are no gods. The distinction between weak atheism and the third, strong atheism might be defined as… the distinction between not believing there is a god and believing there is not a god. Strong Atheism is the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist.

But, there is also a fourth one that could be used for outspoken atheists like Richard  Dawkins, or myself for that matter, those sometimes accused of being as rabidly fundamentalist as the Christians—nevermind that the heart of fundamentalism is you cannot change your opinion in the face of evidence to the contrary—it’s called antitheism, and, strangely enough, after thinking I had coined the term a few years back, I found that others had coined the term as well. A bit of synchronicity, it would seem, different atheists coming to the same conclusion and trying to find terminology for it. Antitheism is, by the way, when an atheist not only sees religion as being incorrect but sees it as damaging to humanity.

But, that question of terminology brings up a difficult point for atheists.

If we have our “ism” then we are not understood as having knowledge about there being no god but having belief, having faith. The term itself, atheism, is defined by the lack of god, when the default setting for anything should be the most basic, the least contrived… in this case, some new word that is the opposite of theism without theos as its root. After all, as humorist Don Hirschberg is oft quoted by atheists, “calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.”

And, now I will tell you why I am an atheist, or at least tell you about some signposts I saw along the way to realizing I was an atheist long before I called myself one.

I was raised in the Worldwide Church of God, led by Herbert W. Armstrong. According to (last accessed 17 January 2009), he was born a Quaker and became a preacher almost inadvertently, as he was a well spoken reporter who others in his congregation called upon to explain things. A self-proclaimed prophet and apostle of God, he would predict the apocalypse to come in 1936, then 1943, then 1972, then he would put it off indefinitely. His followers would go by a quite literal interpretation of the Bible, following for example Holy Days quite similar to Jewish ones, as described in Leviticus.

I attended a private school owned and operated by the Church and had Bible class every year. In the 9th grade, my teacher assigned a paper: Why I believe in God? My honest response to this question, that I believed in God because I had been told to my whole life, earned me an F on the assignment, while one of my best friends got an A for claiming he had proven God’s existence in his heart, no follow-up, no evidence, just his heart.

Near the end of my high school years, a book was published, Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Quinn draws connections between the agricultural revolution and the spread of Christianity, connections that reinforced ideas I was already having (more of that synchronicity) about the origins of our modern world. Agriculture did not spread because it was better, but because by its very nature it allowed for populations to grow rapidly. And, Abrahamic religion would spread with those agricultural populations. As Albert-Laszlo Barabasi explains in Linked, Paul’s spreading of Christ’s message depended not on the strength of that message but on the physical geography of Paul’s journey and the nexus-like cultural centers where he spoke.

A major breakup of the Worldwide Church of God happened to come when I was legally old enough to step away from attending.

Evolutionarily speaking, it is advantageous for children to believe what adults tell them. It is easier to know that touching something hot is painful or running near a ledge is dangerous without trying it out for yourself. As Paul Henri Thiry said in Good Sense in 1772, “the brain of man, especially in infancy, is like soft wax, fit to receive every impression that is made upon it.”

Culturally speaking, it is advantageous for the old to promote the idea of an afterlife, as they will be treated better as they grow old.

It is also advantageous for those in charge to promote religion in that religion promotes hierarchy. Napoleon is said to have called religion “excellent stuff to keep common people quiet.” And, “most theists see in god and devils, heaven and hell, reward and punishment, a whip to lash the people into obedience, meekness and contentment,” according to Emma Goldman in “The Philosophy of Atheism.” And, those without power are given hope by religion, are given comfort in the face of loss, in the face of hardship, in the face of the state of the world, with wars and rumours of wars, disease and moral decay.

Besides, to use a quote unfairly, “general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air,” right? You need religion to know what is right and what is wrong… But, Immanuel Kant, in his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals promotes a basic moral law akin to the Golden Rule, an almost instinctual understanding of what is right and wrong, based on a simple thesis: Take stealing for example. It is only right for you to steal if it is right for everyone else to steal. If you would not like your things stolen, then you cannot believe it is morally right to steal. “That all [this] knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt,” Kant says. But, I ask you, must this experience be told to you by your minister? Do you have to read it in Exodus or Leviticus to know it is wrong? Must it be a sin to be something you know you should not do, at least not without consequences? After all, as Ishmael points out in Daniel Quinn’s My Ishmael, “tribal law didn’t outlaw mischief, it spelled out ways to undo” it. Right or wrong does not even matter as long as we are prepared to face the consequences of our actions.

And, while some might argue that religious people tend to be good people, that religion makes people happy… and, while that may all be true, as playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “the fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” Of course, having the notion of a purpose to all this makes people happier. The promise of a happy ending…

That unfair quote before, about moral instruction needing a religious foundation—that was Adolf Hitler, speaking 26 April 1933 about secular schools.

And, Adolf Hitler brings us to the next step in today’s exploration, a look at some of the damage religion has wrought. And, I say “some” because to list all the wars and atrocities would take more time than any of us have. Whether you look at the holocaust or the troubles of Northern Ireland, while you can call some conflicts ethnic in origin, those same ethnic lines all too often are drawn with a religious pen. And, as long ago as 64 AD, by order of Nero, the Romans were killing Christians, simply for being Christian. In the Crusades, Christian and Muslim were brought again and again to war over the Holy Land, a dispute which persists to this day. Pope Innocent IV in 1252, explicitly authorized the use of torture by the Inquisition for eliciting confessions from heretics, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia online (last accessed 1 February 2009). And, according to (last accessed 1 February 2009), the current Pope, Benedikt XVI, was previously the head of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” a leftover remnant of the Inquisition. And, we could come forward to Israel and Palestine or our own involvement in Iraq, or look at the burning times, the Salem Witch Trials—Pope Innocent VIII put out a papal bull against witches in 1464, responsible for numerous persecutions and tortures of purported witches, according to Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. But, let’s briefly go backward instead, to the time of Moses. Numbers 31. “They warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males… burnt all their cities… and… took all the spoil, and… Moses said unto them… now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” If the Lord commands war, and Moses can order his men to keep the young girls for themselves, what hope do any of us have against religion that has lasted another 3000 years since?

What can we do instead of siding with that religion (or any other)? In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says “one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.” In the face of advances in science and truly extraordinary understanding of our world, it is not just religion but also agnosticism that misses the mark in my opinion in being satisfied with not understanding. St. Augustine called curiosity a “disease… which drives us to… discover the secrets of nature… secrets… which man should not wish to learn.” Religion cannot like advancing science, for if we explain all of God’s doings, we will not need God any longer to explain them for us.

So, the key is to look to science, to look for provable fact to understand the nature of the world. Here are the basics to understand two major points of contention with religion: the big bang and evolution, and I’ll keep it simple. All of the proof you need for the big bang version of the universe is covered by Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2. Energy and matter are infinite and interchangeable. That matter exists is obvious, and that is all we need to know it always has. And, as for evolution, look around. Is each and every person identical to every other? No? That is evolution at its most basic. One generation is not the exact copy of its predecessor. Trends over time in these differences lead to speciation, but it is this simple genetic change with each and every birth that is the building block of all evolution.

As Richard Dawkins is often quoted, from his article “Snake Oil and Holy Water,” Forbes ASAP, 4 October 1999, “we are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

My focus here, of course has been on Christianity, but every religion has its enemies. We are “enacting a story that casts mankind as the enemy of the world” itself, in the words of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. Religion puts us on the top of the biological ladder, a position that we prove all too often we do not deserve…

And, in conclusion, I would like to promote the idea that the default is not to side with God, even if Pascal’s Wager says you should, just in case. Religious teaching should not simply be accepted without question. Dawkins, in The God Delusion, calls, “religious opinion… the one kind of parental opinion that—by almost universal consent—can be fastened upon children who are, in truth, too young to know what their opinion really is. There is no such thing as a Christian child. Only a child of Christian parents.” As Paul Henri Thiry said in Good Sense, “all children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God.” We are born with no knowledge of… no love for… and no faith in God.

Even if you must hold to your personal belief in a creator, perhaps you can accept that the default position should be a lack of belief, awaiting evidence. We should not assume that Russell’s teapot is out there, orbiting the sun, simply because we cannot disprove it. We need hard evidence of its presence. We need proof.

I’ll leave you with this, from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “How (and Why) I Became an Infidel:” “The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

Posted by ca4/muaddib at 2:37 PM PDT
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Monday, 16 August 2010
on cordoba house, aka the "ground zero mosque"

—Having too many Muslims poses a particular threat, because their ways differ substantially from those of the majority culture in the United States: We are utterly justified in controlling and keeping low Muslim immigration in terms of numbers, because of the fact that they, in too great numbers, may undermine our way of life, our living standards, our form of religion— (1)

This seems to be the sentiment with each new wave of immigrants, each new religion that finds a foothold in America. It also isn't that unlike the attitude we had toward Native Americans when we were sticking their children in "residential schools" to indoctrinate them into being "American." As Ronald Niezen describes it in Spirit Wars, outside religions are destined either for extinction or assimilation into American society. The powers of progress and improvement are seen to be such that no primitive religion can survive intact (2). Except, that isn't quite the case if we simply obstruct and protest against each new mosque—not just the one "at ground zero."

And, make no mistake, we are not simply protesting one mosque:


  •          Per the New York Times, 5 September 2006 (3), a mosque in Lewiston, Maine was desecrated.
  •          Per WSMV-TV, 17 June 2010, a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was protested in such numbers at a public hearing that the authorities couldn't let them all in. (4)
  •          Per the Tennessean, 23 May 2010 (5), a proposed mosque in Brentwood, Tennessee was defeated through organized resistance.
  •         Per the Press Enterprise, 30 July 2010 (6), we protested the building of a mosque in Temecula, California.
  •          Per the Boston Herald, 9 August 2010 (7), we protested outside an existing mosque in Bridgeport, Connecticut.


And that's just a few examples. And, it is worth noting that this isn't only in America; similar protests have taken place recently in London and in Germany, just to name two. This is NOT some isolated protest centered on this one mosque, Cordoba House, in one city. This is NOT about the hurt feelings of the families of those who died in the World Trade Center; that is simply an easy excuse to exploit.

We call Ground Zero "hallowed ground," a "sacred" place. Yet, it remains a pair of empty holes.

Of course, those protesting this community center—just like any local YMCA includes a prayer room, this community center will include a mosque, which allows for the convenience of describing it as such, even though it has been compared (by reporters, and more notably, by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf) in planned structure to the 92nd Street Y—probably don't get the notion of a community center. After all, they couldn't fathom the idea of a "community organizer" a couple years back, and now believe their Community Organizer in Chief to be the AntiChrist, a communist, a Marxist, a socialist, a fascist, a Kenyan and/or Muslim plant intent on destroying America, or all of the above.

But, there I've made the same mistake the Ground Zero Mosque Protestors (though I generally dislike initialisms and acronyms, hereafter referred to as GZMP) make; I've lumped them all together, shoved them all into one neat package of ignorance and hate. This is what they do with Muslims. Nineteen men, and maybe a handful of others who organized them—that is what brought down those planes nine years ago. But, the GZMP lump together all followers of Islam—some 1 and a half billion (roughly 20% of the world's population)—together as evil, violent folk. They cite verses like Sura 8, ayat 12 (that's from the Qur'an, for those who don't recognize the nomenclature), which supposedly includes this order: "instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them." They take this as a commandment (similar to the Bible's ten in that it should always be followed), to terrorize unbelievers and cut off their heads and fingers. Except they miss that the first line there begins with "I will," as in, it is Allah saying he will instill terror into their hearts, a promise quite similar to those made by the Old Testament God on numerous occasions. And, that second line is specific instruction in fighting a specific battle—this particular Sura is a story about said battle, the Battle of Badr. The Muslim side in the battle is being told to cut off the heads of their enemies—quite useful in making them unable to fight back—or to cut off their fingers—quite useful in that they will be unable to hold their weapons to fight back. As far as primitive battle tactics go, that's workable. But, this verse is cited as if it is the same as Exodus' "thou shalt not kill."

The problem with citing an instruction of a certain time as if it is an ongoing ordinance, though, will bite Christians as much as it bites Muslims. For example, in Numbers 31, as "they warred against the Midianites… the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males… burnt all their cities… and… took all the spoil, and… Moses said unto them… now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” We remove the context, we pretend this is instruction for all time, and we now have permission to not only kill all males and all non-virgin women among our enemies but also to keep their virgin girls for our bidding. But, this is NOT God's commandment.

They also like to suggest that this mosque will be called Cordoba House in honor of Cordoba Spain, where Muslims had a great victory of Spanish locals. They leave out the coexistence of Christians, Jews and Muslims that followed there.

But, let's move past petty religious squabbles.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, among other things, says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This has been taken as our having "freedom of religion." We like to pretend we are tolerant of various religions… unless they are not Christian… and even Christians are in danger if they seem too bizarre (e.g. the Branch Davidians). We allow churches to be built. We allow synagogues. We allow gurdwaras, temples, shrines. We even allow mosques—there is a mosque already within a handful of blocks of Ground Zero, for example. We do not generally ask for a popular vote when it comes to what building goes where… there are zoning laws, yes, but they don't usually discriminate so specifically.

An old teacher of mine recently suggested to me that if we all had love as the basis for our decisions, then these Muslims would not build Cordoba House because it would hurt the feelings of so many people. But, if love were the basis of our decisions, then would we be lashing out at an entire religion over the actions of a few? Would we be suspecting every Imam who wants to build a Muslim community center (by the way, at least one of those Tennessee mosques mentioned above was also a YMCA-style community center that would include a prayer room, aka mosque, not a full-blown church-style mosque) as a terrorist sympathizer?

Let's be clear: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, on 60 Minutes, 30 September 2001, did say that "United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened" (8). We, of course, take offense at this, nevermind Osama bin Laden's own explanation for the attack, as retribution for our presence—in the form of a military base—in the Holy Land. Our policy of putting out military installations permanently in other countries DID lead to what happened, 11 September 2001. The cause and effect are hardly questionable. The appropriateness of the response, however—that's open to debate. Rauf's use of the term "accessory"—that's also open to debate. But, let's add some context. What Rauf said—the whole sentence as opposed to that bit I just quoted and that is often quoted to paint him negatively—was, "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened," and "it is a reaction against the US government politically, where we [the United States] espouse principles of democracy and human rights, and where we [the United States] ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries." What he also said, earlier in that same program was that "fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam" and "there are always people who will do peculiar things, and think that they are doing things in the name of their religion. But… God says in the Koran that they think that they are doing right, but they are doing wrong."


The blame for the attack on 11 September 2001 is on those who committed that act, those who organized those men. But, that does not negate their reasons. It does not remove their complaints. The men and women killed that day were likely all quite innocent in regards to the situation that led to their deaths. But, our country is not so innocent. And, unfortunately, we do not like to hear otherwise. If one doesn't proclaim loudly that America is the greatest nation there ever was or will be, then one is suspect... I am suspect.

And, I will be attacked for saying what I just did. So be it. It is the American way. We have our free speech, to be divisive, to speak out against the establishment or against popular opinion. But we also have our free speech to put down those who exercise it thusly.

Moving on, as New York City Mayor Bloomberg said, "let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans." This, per Time Magazine, 7 August 2010. He continued: "we would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else."


A person is not a Muslim OR an American. He can be both. And, as with many another religion, in coming to America, in establishing a foothold here, the religion will grow more liberal (in some of its parts, at least), less rigid in the harsher elements that frighten us so much. What we do not want in a religion we so often find ourselves fearing and/or despising is to isolate it in the Mideast, to antagonize and oppress it. We want to set it free to grow into something we will no longer find so foreign. We do not want Muslims to have new reasons to hate and fear us.

(1) This is a deliberate misquotation of a passage from Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs in America: A Short History by Gurinder Singh Mann, Paul David Numrich, and Raymond B. Williams. It has been altered to replace "oriental" immigrants with Muslims and the verb tense has been changed to the present.

(2) Again, quotation altered for verb tense and to remove the specificity of the indigenous tribes.








Posted by ca4/muaddib at 10:07 AM PDT
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Thursday, 5 August 2010
last year's 'cultural artifact' - "rambo: the spirit of america"
Now Playing: futurama

We all remember Rambo, the muscle-bound commando with headband, machine gun in hand, strap of bullets over his shoulder.

Mark Walker suggests in his book Vietnam Veteran Films that Rambo represents the very American idea that, “the right man in the right place can win any battle.” In fact, Rambo represents America itself, evolving over the past 4 decades from his leftwing roots to his rightwing heyday to his apolitical present, along with our political ideals and our popular culture.

Rambo began as a leftwing reaction to Vietnam vets’ difficulties adjusting to civilian life. In David Morrell’s novel First Blood, Colonel Trautman tells Sheriff Teasle “you tolerate a system that lets others [kill] for you. And when they come back from the war, you cant stand the smell of death on them.”

In the novel, Rambo is portrayed as an almost psychopathic killer, but the film adaptation downplays this, with him only causing one death, first because, as Susan Jeffords says in her essay The Reagan Hero: Rambo, “it would be difficult to maintain his characterization as victim…. and second, because helpless, screaming men far more effectively portray the consequences of a weakened masculinity than silent corpses do.”

Weakened masculinity to go with a weakened superpower, coming off the loss of the Vietnam War. In fact, Albert Bergesen argues in his book The Depth of Shallow Culture that “the ideal/reality gap” between the war in Rambo’s mind and the war he’s waging against the police has “geopolitical origin in the early moments of hegemonic decline.” He compares Rambo to Don Quixote, two men idealizing old ways of fighting to the point of delusion, “acting on the basis of a hegemonic code when the material base of that [code] is dissipating.”

Then came the Reagan era, a pair of new rightwing Rambo films and a kids’ cartoon.

Along with Uncommon Valor and the Missing in Action films, Rambo: First Blood Part II was one of what Siskel and Ebert called in June of ’85, the “this-time-we-win films” in which, the Vietvet, returns to fight Vietnam again. Notably, as Colonel Rhodes says in the earlier Uncommon Valor, “this time nobody can dispute the rightness of what were doing.”

First Blood Part IItriggered long suppressed emotions,” says Sylvester Stallone in People Weekly, 8 July 1985, “Suddenly apple pie was an important thing on the menuMillions of kids, too young to remember the nightly news clips of the war we lost [were] screaming and hooting at each new death” in the film.

Popular opinion was deliberately missing the point of the earlier Rambo story. America wouldn’t let Rambo be a symbol for rejecting war. Instead, by rescuing missing POWs in the second film, “a galling defeat could be turned into a symbolic victory,” says Time magazine, 27 May 1985. Hegemonic decline be damned.

Meanwhile, Rambo became the first R-rated film franchise to get a kids’ cartoon, Rambo: The Force of Freedom, in which Rambo is more superhero now than soldier. He is called in the show’s opener, “the honor-bound protector of the innocent” and “libertys champion.”

Like the shallow, materialistic culture of ‘80s America, the third film, Rambo III, couldn’t have much depth. Despite a dedication to “the gallant people of Afghanistan,” the film spends most of its time with the protagonist and his rescue of his father-figure, and little time exploring the freedom fighters he would help to victory. In fact, in response to rumors that Stallone was rewriting the film “to be more philosophical” the producers quickly countered that he couldn’t turn it into a “talky-thinky film,” according to Forbes, 1 June 1987. If he “took out the action,” they said, he wouldn’t “have a film.”

The more recent, apolitical 4th film, simply titled Rambo, puts Rambo on the side of the Karen freedom fighters in Burma, but steps away from political motivation.

Entertainment Weekly, 6 June 2008, called Rambo, “humorless and derangedly violent.” David Morrell, on his website, says the film is “spot on” in how he “imagined the character—angry, burned-out, and filled with self disgust.” In the age of so-called “torture porn” films like the Saw series, the over-the-top blood and gore of Rambo does not serve the purpose of Stallone, now directing as well as starring, to show the horror of the violence itself.

It is telling, taking Rambo as representative of America, when we have two wars going, and he says in the film, “there isnt one of us that doesnt want to be someplace else. But this is what we do, who we are.” He tells himself, “war is in your blood. Dont fight it.”

He is talking about us.

He is talking about America.

Rambo has gone from left-wing, anti-war, as America was reeling from loss in Vietnam, to right-wing, jingoist as the Reagan era reinvigorated American nationalism, and more recently, he’s fallen into an apolitical, more realistically violent quagmire, as America is stuck in two wars abroad with no end in sight.

In conclusion, Loved or hated, Rambo has stood at the front of American culture and remains to this day an icon of… the spirit of America.

Works Cited

“Is there life beyond rambo?” Forbes 1 June 1987.

“Rambo: First Blood Part II” (Review). Time 27 May 1985.

 “With a $100 million gross(out), Sly Stallone fends off Rambo’s army of adversaries.” People Weekly 8 July 1985.

Bergesen, Albert J. The Depth of Shallow Culture: The High Art of Shoes, Movies, Novels, Monsters, and Toys. Boulder: Paradigm, 2006.

Collis, Clark. “Rambo” (Review). Entertainment Weekly 6 June 2008.

First Blood. Dir. Ted Ketchoff, Carolco, 1982.

Jeffords, Susan. “The Reagan Hero: Rambo.” The War Film. Ed. Robert Eberwein. Piscataway: Rutgers UP, 2005.

Morrell, David. First Blood. …1972.

Rambo III. Dir. Peter MacDonald. Carolco, 1988.

Rambo. Dir. Sylvester Stallone. Lionsgate, 2008.

Rambo: First Blood Part II. Dir. George P. Cosmatos. Carolco, 1985.

Rambo: The Force of Freedom. Ruby-Spears Productions, 1985.

Uncommon Valor. Dir. Ted Kotcheff. Paramount, 1982.

Walker, Mark. Vietnam Veteran Films. Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1991.

Posted by ca4/muaddib at 9:25 PM PDT
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Tuesday, 3 August 2010
Glenn Beck vs Reality, Redux
Mood:  mischievious
Now Playing: Portishead
Beck's been having a go at the Weather Underground lately. They seem an easy target, a bunch of students so radical they had to break off, essentially, from first SDS and then from RYM and even had to break off of their own organization, Weatherman (or the Weathermen) when things started to get violent. But, as per usual with Beck, his version of reality is a little different from actual reality.

First, a simple factual thing—and this one bugs me because in response to Beck's claim that no one in the Minutemen ever killed anyone, I cited online the murder of Raul Flores and his 9-year old daughter by Minutemen members Jason Bush, Shawna Forde, and Albert Gaxiola. The best anyone could counter was that these men were members not of THE Minutemen but a smaller group also called Minutemen. So, when Beck claims the Weather Underground "robbed a Brinks armored car, killing two cops [and a security guard] in the process," it's necessary to point out a couple flaws:

1) The Brinks robbery was committed by the Black Liberation Front, which included former members of the Weather Underground, notably David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, who went to prison over it.
2) The Weather Underground no longer existed when this crime took place. Jeremy Varon, in his book, Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies, suggest Weatherman (known by then as the Weather Underground or WUO) "disbanded voluntarily in 1976" while a 1977 bombing of Immigration and Naturalization Services in San Francisco has been attributed, as its last, to the organization. The armored car robbery took place in 1981.

Beck's need to attribute the robbery to the Weather Underground is an important detail; Weatherman never killed anyone except for 3 of its own members in an accidental explosion. Sure, the organization dealt in violence, sure, as Beck likes to cite from the preface to Sing a Battle Song: The Revolutionary Poetry, Statements, and Communiques of the Weather Underground" [they] "rejoice at the militant resistance to war, racism and imperialism," but what's a little property damage when you can pretend they killed people?

It's worth mentioning, here, that in that preface, they also say that they "cringe at the overheated rhetoric and the bombast" in their Weatherman-era writings. They know how over-the-top they were, how radical.

But, back to Beck, and his attack on the Weather Underground [sic]. In the "manifesto" of Weatherman, the document entitled "You'd Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows," the word "dictator" can be found once, the word "dictatorship" twice. Beck would have his audience believe the goal of the manifesto and of the organization was to "their words 'institute communism and a dictator'" (Beck's tv program, 2 August 2010). Now, my quoting of his quote has a minor problem in where to place the quotation marks (red state news only quotes it just like I chose to). Beck calls them "their words" but uses a phrase that is NOT in their manifesto. For the record, "instituted" appears once and "institutes" appears once, neither one connected to communism. Some context: they refer to "the possibility of wage-price controls being instituted" and they refer to "pig institutes" needing to be "out." But, more importantly is the use of "dictator." The manifesto refers to "empire[s] and petty dictator[s]… in the long run [being] dependent on US imperialism," the obvious inference without further context being that, since Imperialism is bad in the eyes of Weatherman, these "dictator"s are bad as well. This clearly isn't the dictator to which Glenn Beck is referring, so let's move on.

In referencing the historical struggle for self determination in Vietnam and China, the manifesto suggests the first stage is "a united front against imperialism and for New Democracy (which is a joint dictatorship of anti-colonial classes led by the proletariat, the content of which is a compromise between the interests of the proletariat and nationalist peasants, petit bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie)." This "dictatorship" is the decision-making being handed over to the proletariat masses, not an individual dictator—this distinction is important, as you will see below. The manifesto also says, "some people suggest two stages for the US too—one to stop imperialism, the anti-imperialist stage, and another to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialist stage" Now, that "some people suggest" phrase distances the organization from the pronouncement, but that wouldn't stop Beck from arguing that the manifesto is calling directly for the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Let's give him the benefit of the doubt; let's say the organization used distancing phrasing but still wanted such dictatorship—it's a safe assumption. But, still, the key here is that they refer to not A dictator but dictatorship, decision-making… i.e. government by the proletariat. For the layperson in my readership, let's define that one (not to get into defining things just yet): in Marxist use—and Weatherman was a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist organization, so this would be fair use—the proletariat are those who do not own the means of production. This would mean that most of Beck's audience—not that he would acknowledge this or, God forbid, ever use the term—IS in the proletariat. The Tea Party, grass roots movement set on ousting Obama so "we the people" can be in charge—that's right in line with proletariat dictatorship. Simply put, Weatherman wanted what the Tea Party wants, for the PEOPLE to make the decisions.

But, why simplify?

On to definitions; and here is where Beck makes his play for an Emmy (in my opinion). Given the three uses of "dictator" or its variants in the Weatherman manifesto, let's take a look at what Beck had to say in his TV show, 29 July:

"The goal of the Weather Underground—this is their manifesto written in 1969—the goal was a dictatorship of a new democracy that developed into socialism… end capitalism and imperialism in the United States and replace it with a new democracy with a dictator and global socialism." Aside from his switch from "dictatorship" to "a dictator" he's getting it fairly correct.

"Now, let's—let's focus for a minute on what dictatorship really is. A dictatorship—according to the dictionary that I have but that could be rewritten now—is an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual, the dictator. Pretty simple."

Pretty simple, except for the clear phrasing the Weatherman manifesto, the "dictatorship of the proletariat." That phrase is a Marxist one, suggesting not an autocratic ruler in the style of a Roman dictator (nevermind the temporary nature of that title, historically), but something closer to direct democracy, the populace, the masses, the proletariat dictating the goings on. So, no it isn't "pretty simple" because Beck has taken one word out of one phrase out of a document of more than 2 dozen pages, and defined it… well, like a dictator would, I suppose, giving it one simple, specific, definition, instead of bothering with any of the nuance of 1) the English language, or 2) Marxist terminology. In Marxist terms, the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a response to the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie." For the layperson, the bourgeoisie, in Marxist terms, is the class that owns the means of production, i.e. the money that owns and lobbies the government nowadays, "a kind of congressional-financial-bureaucratic complex in which the needs and concerns of the unconnected were secondary to those who were on the inside" (Jon Meacham, "American Lion"). Even Beck's most devout followers would agree that, in the words of Andrew Jackson, "the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes." Beck's people like to argue about class conflict plenty. They just don't want to use Marxist terms.

"Never in America," Beck goes on to say. "It could never happen in America. That's why these people failed in 1969." Minor factual nitpick: they didn't fail in 1969; in fact in 1969, Weatherman hadn't even really gotten started. And, given the fact that the Vietnam War DID end, given the fact that the two big names in the Weather Underground, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, went free because the FBI liked to do illegal things, where's the failure? Sure, they didn't get their "dictatorship of the proletariat." But, 1) Beck would have us believe they are still working toward that, so if the process is still ongoing, it can't have already failed, and 2) even the Tea Party wants "dictatorship of the proletariat" so, wouldn't that be success, when those who stand antithetical to you want what you want?

Beck asks: "are we headed in the direction of more power going to you or the government?" Missing the point, deliberately, that Weatherman and its smaller successor, the Weather Underground, wanted more power to go to YOU.

"See, dictator is a really bad word," he says. He got that right. "But if we replace "dictator" with 'all powerful,' 'all powerful government,' well, which is it going to?" Now, he's onto his usual angle—the government is seizing all power and we the people will suffer. There's no longer any connection here to the Weather Underground, except he's done his usual segue, connecting things by juxtaposition and association. He suggests, but in question form, that we are headed toward "a government controlled by the few," except, Weatherman didn't want a government controlled by the few. Or, would Beck have us believe that the proletariat, the working people, are few in number?

Folks online love to wish for violence or death (or sometimes threaten it directly) on Obama, on Muslims planning a mosque a couple blocks from ground zero, on politicians who use Marxist rhetoric, on me, simply for saying in my Facebook profile that I have Marxist tendencies. We Americans love our violence. Weatherman, or rather the Weather Underground, went forward with its violence. The WUO stood up to the man. It's the kind of thing we should idolize in this country… if only its goal wasn't socialist.

Just gotta remember. Violence is great, when it's OUR violence. When it's their's, well then, it's an abomination.

Posted by ca4/muaddib at 9:32 AM PDT
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Sunday, 13 June 2010
Neither a Bokononist Nor a Mercerite Be [1]
The Pirahã, a people who live in a handful of villages along the Maici river in northwest Brazil, have no religion as we know the concept. They believe in energy within living things that translate generally as “spirits” but their daily lives are built around an idea called xibipíio, what author and Pirahã expert Daniel Everett [2] describes as experiential liminilality, that is, limiting their interaction with the world to direct experience. They have no origin story for themselves or the world, and have no real concept of the universe, because such things would lie outside personal experience or the experience of, say, a grandparent or parent who could tell such tale [3]. They have no real connection with the past, but don’t need one. They simply don’t experience the world the same way we might. So, they do not need to “meditate on positive imagery” to get the neurological benefits of religion, as described by “neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, therapist Mark Robert Waldman, and their research team, [who] have concluded that active and positive spiritual belief changes the human brain for the better” [4]. The Pirahã can simply laze about in the shade or play tag with river dolphins—yes, they actually do this—to escape the rigors of daily life. We need religion. Religion serves many purposes for us: it provides escape and comfort and meaning, it helps us have a sense of continuity with the past and the future, it helps form our identity and expand it into community solidarity and a cultural identity, it provides a ready ethical guide for behavioral control, and it justifies consumption and negative actions taken against those outside our religious community.


Religion provides escape and comfort and, most importantly, meaning, by providing a cosmology to explain the structure of reality, giving us a way to transcend the quotidian and find purpose in the everyday. The walls of religion are “familiar / comforting” [5]. Even when our religion has “been remodeled time / and again… the basic structure / remains the same” [6]. We know it; we find it comforting, our sense of understanding of how everything works. Religion serves as explanation, as bastion of order. Geneticist Dean Hamer has suggested that “humans inherit a predisposition to be spiritual—to reach out and look for a higher being” [7] and it is in this predisposition—which, even outside of genetics, makes logical sense, as every society throughout human history has included some sort of religion, even if only in the form of civil religion—that we can see a piece of the fundamental nature of mankind. We want to know how the universe works, and when the explanation does not present itself, we invent one to fit. And, we invent religion to separate us from the day to day, to help us transcend the mundane. The New Horizon Sanctuary addition to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia was specifically designed (with African cultural history in mind, tying into a point to come below) as a place of beauty separate from the city around it, an escape from the outside world. Similarly, the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California stands out from its surroundings, a beacon of something (supposedly) higher and brighter and better than the surrounding cityscape [8]. This separation from the everyday is vital. As Sita Wiener describes it, “as I sat there and meditated, I had the experience of transcending my body and mind, realizing myself as Omnipresent. I forgot my individuality” [9]. Finding explanation that brings us up away from the chaos of the quotidian can bring us out of ourselves, and can help us find our personal identity, and can lead to the continuity and community to be described below, all these purposes crisscrossing, fueling one another.

It is also important to realize that religion can reduce stress and anxiety. As Andrew Newberg and his colleagues found, “just twelve minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process” and “contemplating a loving God… reduces anxiety, depression, and stress and increases feelings of security, compassion, and love” [10]. In fact, prayer and meditation have been found to “permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain—altering your values and the way you perceive reality” [11]. Meditating on the cosmology in which one believes, even only inasmuch as one might meditate on it in a weekly (or less often) church meeting, can permanently alter our brains so that not only does the cosmology we’ve accepted make even more sense to us, but we can become better people… in theory.

It is worth noting (even in getting ahead of the current point) that, even as we believe we can be better people, we often “believe ourselves to be members of a race that is fundamentally flawed and inherently doomed to suffering and misery…

[We] expect wisdom to be a rare commodity, difficult to acquire… [we]’re not surprised to be living in the midst of poverty, injustice, and crime, not surprised that [our] rules are self-serving and corrupt, not surprised to be rendering the world uninhabitable for [our]selves. [12]

It helps that, through religion we have a certain arrogance of knowledge, the oft referenced “holier-than-thou” attitude, arising from the comfort and order we find in cosmology. This arrogance of knowledge adds to the altering of the physical brain; in believing that the foundations of our religion is given by a God or comes from some superior (but not necessarily supernatural) intelligence, we fuel a psychological sense that our beliefs are good and reasonable and worth keeping. And, the longer such beliefs remain, the more ingrained they can become, physically and psychologically, and the more worth keeping they seem—after all, if they lasted as long as they have, they must be working.


Religion it helps us have a sense of continuity with the past and the future. Seeking the holy, aside from the obvious comfort described above, is about finding continuity in addition to order. We want a connection to the past [13]. We want to know that the church we are attending—the physical structure, like the Old Ship Meetinghouse [14] in Hingham, Massachusetts, the oldest meetinghouse in continuous ecclesiastical use, having been originally built in the 1600s; or the idea structure, like Hinduism, often recognized as the oldest living religion in the world—has survived generations before us. We want to know that it will survive after us.

It is because of this need for continuity that the selection of the next Dalai Lama is such an important one for Tibetan Buddhists, “more than a matter of life and death” [15]. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th. His position has existed longer than some other religions have. His reincarnation keeps the religion going, keeps the order and comfort going. For Tibetan Buddhists, the selection of the next Dalai Lama, which Communist China threatens to influence, is “about who controls their future” [16].

Of similar importance (but not so contemporary) is the promise in Jeremiah, the promise that God “will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob… the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be” [17]. The passage refers to a specific people, a specific time and place, but later Christians have applied it to themselves. They reinterpret it to fit with their own cosmology, their own eschatology. It furthers their religious comfort (reiterating the first purpose of religion described above) with the notion that if they believe in God, they will be saved and receive an eternal reward. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” says the Lord. “Again I will build you, and you shall be built” [18]. The key here is that it goes beyond the comfort of the religious belief. This promise deals with putting something back that once was, connecting the future with the past through the present belief structure. It creates a bright-line through history and forward, relying on and refueling our beliefs. It is worth noting that any religion that has an eschatology—that is, a specific belief about the end—there may even be a sense that, since we are near the endtimes, certain progress is, even if potentially positive, unnecessary. Science, modernity, and progress—these are living, evolving ideas whereas religion and tradition—these are dead notions whose very stillness is what makes them so comforting and so timeless.

Another way to understand the importance of continuity in belief systems is to look at where continuity has deliberately been broken. The Tana Toraja of Sulawesi had their tao-tao effigy building practice altered by Christian missionaries to change them from seeming idols (containing the souls of the dead) to being more specifically representative statuary, more like photographs than vessels for the dead themselves [19]. Similarly, in the residential schools, a Native American boy, before even being taught one lesson in how to be a good (Christian) American, had his hair chopped off, and his name replaced with a good Christian name. Before he could be taught a new tradition, his connection to the old one had to be torn away.


Religion helps take our individual identity and expand it into community solidarity and a cultural identity. “Being part of a community with its own history, convictions, customs, and values can add richness and meaning to life,” says Judith Plaskow [20]. Finding likeminded individuals, people who believe what we believe—this extends the comfort and continuity further. It acts as evidence, as well, of our rightness, adding to our arrogance of knowledge and our sense of order.

Modern religion often makes the continuity link and the community link concurrently and deliberately; for example, the main front page [21] of website for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, includes family history links, making personal history and church history interconnected. The website [22] for the Episcopal Church emphasizes one’s public role with links for advocacy, community, and networking. By linking the personal with the communal, religion dictates all of our interactions with the world. Practitioners of a particular religion find that their beliefs color everything, altering the way they see the world, a la Andrew Newberg above; they see everything through the eyes of the community. “God is present—immanent—in community and is experienced in community” [23], says Mary Farrell Bednarowski in The Religious Imagination of American Women. Tying back again to an earlier point, the togetherness of community provides comfort even without the unified beliefs, simply by providing a sense of belonging, as described in the following passage from Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs in America:

We know what we’ve got to do… to pay respect to the Buddha and his teachings, to respect the adults and their wishes… [to] take care of the temple as if it were our home, and to take care of the younger generations in hopes that they too will see what we teenagers of Wat Dhammaram realize now. And what do we realize now? What we realize is that the temple is not [just] a place of worship, but a place where we have made lifetime friends.... We will always come back to it because at one time or another, it was our second home. [24]

Houses of Worship, specifically, maintain connections between practitioners of a given religion. They can also connect religious immigrants to one another, upon arrival in a new country, and also to practitioners back home. They come to a new country, “wishing to transfer their native heritage to their offspring to educate them about the history, culture, language, values, and religion of their homeland” [25]. They want to bring the community they had with them, to be maintained even as it is merged with a new community. What they do not want is to be isolated from either.

Connecting back to the point on continuity, to the promise of the future in a belief system’s eschatology, The Ghost Dance movement of 1890 “prophesied the imminent coming of an age when the dead would return, the whites would be eliminated in a cataclysm of selective destructiveness, and the lives of all Indians would be returned to a state of bounty and pristine purity” [26]. In the face of cultural genocide and assimilation, this Ghost Dance movement drew together previously disparate indigenous tribes into one community, giving them solidarity in hope for a better tomorrow.


Religion provides a ready ethical guide for behavioral control and consensus within the community. Emma Goldman suggested that “most theists see in god and devils, heaven and hell, reward and punishment, a whip to lash the people into obedience, meekness and contentment” [27]. And Napoleon is said to have called religion “excellent stuff to keep common people quiet” [28]. Even Civil Religion, absent the usual institutions of religion, has as one of its primary dogmas the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice [29]. Religion not only defines the boundary between the known and unknown, the knowable and the unknowable, but also the acceptable and unacceptable. It sets down specific moral guidelines and rules to live by, dictating how practitioners (and often, non-practitioners, making for much conflict) should act from day to day and moment to moment. Classical theism, according to Bednarowski, consists of an omnipotent, omniscient, unchanging monarch who rules his creation from a distance” [30], a God who sees what we do and demands that we do it a certain way.

In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argued that Protestantism fueled the rapid development of modern capitalism in the West by “legitimating individualistic profit seeking [and] justifying capitalist exploitation” [31]. Because of a resulting sense of duty toward profit seeking, the potlatch gifting ceremonies among Native Americans were seen as a cultural affront to Americanism, a “denial of the thrift and progress of an expanding economy, of the virtues necessary to build a nation” [32]. Thus, the potlatch necessitated governmental response, laws passed against such wasting of personal property. Religion (like Protestantism), even Civil Religion (like Americanism), demands adherence to the community’s rules. “By setting down an underlying theoretical matrix centered on biopower, a perversely modern style and strategy of ‘disciplining the body and of regulating populations,’ I can more from the realm of the singular body and subjectivity to that of the body politic and nation imagined” [33]. On the note of biopower, in modern biomedicine, there is “religio-magical management of the body,” in which “the doctor takes the place of priest” [34].

Rules to live by certainly make daily life easier for many, putting boundaries on action that provide as much comfort at times as cosmology does in putting order upon the universe. But, inevitably, one finds himself in conflict with the rules, or finds the rules changing over time. And, in the face of the community’s rules, an individual cannot often exercise much power. “Civilization is aggressive, as well as progressive—a positive state of society, attacking every obstacle, overwhelming every lesser agency, and searching out and filling up every crevice, both in the moral and physical world; while Indian life” and, really, all individual life “is an unarmed condition, a negative state, without inherent vitality, and without powers of resistance” [35].


Finally, religion justifies consumption and any negative actions taken against those outside our religious community [36]. As noted above, Protestantism promoted capitalist development in the West. While many, obviously, subscribe to capitalist ideals, at least in part, even some of those who adhere to capitalist notions understand that modern global capitalism does damage in one part of the world often to balance out progress in another, keeping some nations on the periphery of the World-System so that other nations can remain in the powerful core. In addition to this, and noting the aforementioned problem with religious eschatology and progress, certain religions would have no reason to try to fix any problems in the world, to curb consumption for example for the sake of the environment, because the end of time is near and all will be well long before we destroy the planet.

But, beyond consumption, religion also justifies conflict in discrimination, violence and war, relying on the “castigation of anyone who does not accept or fit within the monolithic moral order [and] justification for stigmatizing and suppressing religious heresies… brutal oppression found in colonial movements of conquest” [37]. Given the order of cosmology, the arrogance of knowledge, the justification from continuity and community, one cannot help but, in the face of differing beliefs, act to alter them or, worse, destroy them. Tolerance is “an attitude impossible for those whose personal religion is strong… no really religious man can pass the unbeliever by and do nothing” [38]. And so, we change the religious beliefs and practices of others as much as we can. It can be as simple as the aforementioned altering of the tao-tao effigies of the Tana Toraja, or the cutting of the hair of the Native American in the residential school. It can come down to laws passed, like those against the potlatch, or the Ghost Dance, all because a people are different from us and inherently, pose a threat; as Claire Boothe Luce pointed out:

Having too many Asians Orientals in her words posed a particular threat, because their ways differed substantially from those of the majority culture in the United States: We are utterly justified in controlling and keeping low Oriental immigration in terms of numbers, because of the fact that they in too great numbers may undermine our way of life, our living standards, our form of religion. [39]

We fear the alien and want to extinguish it, by either “extinction or assimilation into [in this example] American society. The powers of Progress and Improvement were seen to be such that no primitive race could survive intact” [40]. These primitive races are ones, like the Hopi, who have sacred places they do not even bother to mark, like those at Woodruff Butte (Tsimontukwi), making the bulldozing of them that much easier [41]. If their sacred places cannot be easily identified, if they don’t build stone churches on them, if they don’t worship how we worship, then such places are not worth preserving.

And, of course, it has always been this way. As St. Augustine said, “God’s providence constantly uses war to correct and chasten the corrupt morals of mankind” [42]. And, even in the Bible, we have example—many, actually—of one people warring against another in the name of God and religion:

They warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males… burnt all their cities… and… took all the spoil, and… Moses said unto them… now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. [43]

How different is this from, say, the massacre at Wounded Knee? Men and women and children, prepared to surrender, were under the watchful eye of four Hotchkiss machine guns. When one of them, allegedly, took out a rifle and fired it at the American soldiers, the Hotchkiss guns “opened fire and sent a storm of shells and bullets among the women and children…. The guns poured in 2-pound explosive shells at the rate of nearly fifty per minute, mowing down everything alive” [44]. Men, women and children mowed gathered together and gunned down because they were different, because they retained their indigenous ways instead of subscribing readily to Americanism and Christianity. “You slaughter living beings and call it religion / hey brother, what would irreligion be?” [45]

It was not all active slaughter, of course. White Americans [46] put natives into schools where they could be indoctrinated. They sought to “improve” these primitive peoples’ lives. But, “those actively trying to improve Indian lives [were] without an explanation for the self-destruction of native communities through addiction, violence, and suicide” [47]. In the face of cultural genocide, Native Americans could choose annihilation or assimilation, destruction or self-destruction. Niezen argues that European monotheism was “willing to struggle violently in both the Old World and the New against local versions of the faith in which orthodoxy was compromised by specific idols or witchcraft or creative interpretations of the origins and nature of good and evil” [48]. Native traditions were an affront to Christianity simply by existing [49].


Obviously, religion is not all bad. Nor is it all good. When comfort from cosmology and continuity leads to a community that operates in control and conflict, the math of it is so simple that one can easily blame religion itself.

Whenever we fail to take a full look at the worst, whenever we deny the imperfections of our belief system, whenever we deny the evils our theologies have created and perpetuated, whenever we deny the abuse we ourselves have caused and suffered in the name of our Christian beliefs, we risk, at the least, perpetuating the present violence and at the worst, causing more harm even inadvertently. [50]

But, it is necessary to understand that war is the product of mass action, the “cultural genocide, like the social injustice of racism, is a cumulatively created product of the many” [51]. Edward Lazarus, in Black Hills, White Justice: The Sioux Nation versus the United States, 1775 to the Present, suggests a different angle to the problem: “what the country lacked, what perhaps any democratic country subject to the pressures of popular opinion would have lacked, was the will and self-discipline to curb its own people” [52]. The Community—the group mind—makes its moves in the name of good or bad, of charity and intolerance equally. And, the people cannot necessarily keep the community from acting. Often, as part and parcel of the community, they will cheer it on, even when its actions are destructive, because what other choice do they have? To stand up to the community, to the religion, is to find one’s self alone, separated from the community and the continuity and the comfort.

Coming back to the Pirahã, they not only have no religion, but they have virtually no violence and no war. But, there are only about 300 of them left. Such a small group would not have the control urge a larger group would. It would not feel the need to make others live as it does [53]. In the eighteenth chapter of the Zhuangzi, the Marquis of Lu provided wine to a seabird, fed it meat from a slaughtered bullock and had music played for it. But, the bird was dazed and too timid to eat or drink and died in three days. The Marquis’ error was in treating the bird as he (the Marquis) would have wanted to be treated, not as a seabird would. You cannot put (by force) upon others what you think is beneficial or deleterious, as their views of such will differ from yours; there is no universal value system (yet). Until there is, we have religion to keep things going by giving us comfort and meaning, a sense of continuity, solidarity with our community, rules to live by, and justification for our consumption and any actions we take against those who are not a part of our community. It gives life structure, order. It makes life worth living, even on the worst days.


  1. Bokononism is a fictional religion, from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a religion deliberately built on foma, harmless lies that can make one a better person. Mercerism is another fictional religion, notably featured in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and also in his short story, “The Little Black Box.” I invoke fictitious religions here to draw a parallel between all sets of beliefs, however real, in connecting people and providing some semblance of connection and control and understanding.
  2. Though I am not making specific citations, all this information can be found in Everett’s book about his experience with the Pirahã, entitled Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes.
  3. Their grammar and way of life is limited to experience “seen or recounted as seen by a person alive at the time of telling,” as Everett describes it in “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã,” Current Anthropology, August-October 2005.
  5. Pam Wynn, “Religion,” 8-9.
  6. Ibid, 12-4.
  7. Laura Sheahen, “The Brain Chemistry of the Buddha,” beliefnet, It is also notable that, as Paul Henri Thiry said in Good Sense in 1772, “the brain of man, especially in infancy, is like soft wax, fit to receive every impression that is made upon it.” When we are taught religion, generally, we are not in a position, psychologically speaking, of really knowing what it is we are receiving, regardless of how predisposed our brains may or may not be to accepting it.
  8. These two church examples taken from the documentary America’s Houses of Worship.
  9. Sita Wiener, Swami Satchidananda, New York: Bantam, 1970, 88.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Daniel Quinn, My Ishmael, New York: Bantam, 1997, 40.
  13. I have a teddy bear manufactured the month I was born and gifted to my mother just before my birth, not because I require the physical comfort of a stuffed animal, or even because I necessarily have specific memories of the bear from when I was very young, but simply because I have always had the bear, and it serves as a simple constant in my life even when so much else may change, sometimes drastically, over time. For some, going to church, something they may have done every week since they can remember, is just as easily a constant regardless of any specific fondness or direct comfort a church service has ever given.
  14. America’s Houses of Worship.
  15. Richard Spencer, “Dalai Lama and reincarnation by referendum,” Telegraph 1 Dec 2007.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Jeremiah 30:18.
  18. Ibid, 31:3-4.
  19. As described in the documentary Around the World in 80 Faiths.
  20. Quoted in Mary Farrell Bednarowski, The Religious Imagination of American Women, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999, 19.
  23. Bednarowski, 66.
  24. Gurinder Singh Mann, Paul David Numrich, and Raymond B. Williams, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs in America: A Short History, New York: Oxford UP, 2001, 35. (note: page numbers for this book come from the eBook edition on a Nook reader, so will differ somewhat from those in the paperback)
  25. Mann, Numrich and Williams, 12.
  26. Ronald Niezen, Spirit Wars: Native North American Religions in the Age of Nation Building, Berkeley: U of CP, 2000, 131.
  27. Emma Goldman, “The Philosophy of Atheism,” Mother Earth Journal. 1916.
  28. This line has been quoted by so many sources that finding the original source, be it in writing or in some speech of his, is seemingly impossible.
  29. As outlined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract.
  30. Bednarowski, 50.
  31. Quoted in Timothy C. Lim, Doing Comparative Politics: An Introduction to Approaches and Issues, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2006, 107.
  32. Niezen, 140.
  33. Alexandra Minna Stern, “Buildings, Boundaries, and Blood: Medicalization and Nation-Building on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1910-1930,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 79 (Feb 1999), 52, citing Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality volume 1 and his concept of biopower, governmental control over not only our actions but our bodies, justifying laws dictating how we live on a very focused level, leading to legislation on abortion and many month long debates on governmental control over healthcare. Additionally, and relating to the fifth and final point to come, biopower justifies any action the government may take in destroying or protecting our bodies; that is, biopower, inasmuch as we as a community allow for it to dictate policy, justifies everything from jail sentences and the death penalty to wars abroad fought in our name.
  34. First quote, Bryan Turner quoted by Niezen, second quote Niezen himself, in Niezen, 95.
  35. Lewis Henry Morgan, quoted in Niezen, 51-2, and obviously interrupted by me.
  36. The latter, on our behalf, justified by the notion of biopower specifically, and religion generally.
  37. Arthur Kleinman, Writing at the Margin: Discourse Between Anthropology and Medicine, quoted in Niezen, 92.
  38. Steven Runciman, The Medieval Manichee, quoted in Niezen, 1.
  39. Quoted in Mann, Numrich and Williams, 31.
  40. Niezen, 162.
  41. As described in the documentary In the Light of Reverence.
  42. Quoted in Niezen, 13.
  43. Numbers 31.
  44. James Mooney’s reconstruction, quoted in Niezen, 135.
  45. Kabir, “Song of the Saints of India,” 8-9.
  46. Not just in the United States, but also in Canada, as described extensively in Niezen.
  47. Niezen, 3.
  48. Ibid, 221.
  49. A similar problem can be found in the lumping together today of all of Islam whenever fundamentalists commit acts of violence. But, if the whole cloth of a religion can be blamed for the acts of extremists under its aegis, then what of Christianity in the face of the Crusades, the Inquisition?
  50. Sheila Redmond, quoted in Bednarowski, 41.
  51. Niezen, 227.
  52. Quoted ibid, 153.
  53. Of course, the Pirahã do not make any effort to learn English and effectively insist that any researcher coming to them learns their language to get by, so even in such a small group, there is at least some semblance of control over outsiders.

Posted by ca4/muaddib at 9:32 PM PDT
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Friday, 28 May 2010
religion vs religion

In addition to its various Christian roots, America, quite early on, took on its own religious importance, became its own civil religion, a belief system built around rugged individualism, Protestant-fueled commerce, and stability through consensus. In the face of America, expanding into occupied territory, the natives, with their indigenous religions, “were destined either for extinction or assimilation into American society. The powers of Progress and Improvement were seen to be such that no primitive race could survive intact” [1]. How a native could survive was  to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man” [2]. But, what resulted from these attempts to make the Indian conform, to “actively… improve Indian lives” was the “self-destruction of native communities though addiction, violence, and suicide” [3]. This wholesale destruction of what it was to be an Indian [4], this cultural genocide broke the spirits of those subjected to it. So, even when they made the effort to assimilate, to fit in at the residential schools, to go along to get along, psychologically, it could be more damaging than rewarding.

The residential schools, specifically, though they were “more effective than attempting to educate [children] while they remained under the influence of their parents and communities” [5], led to a lot of psychological damage because, in these institutions, separated as they were, isolated as they were, they involved “absolute, unchecked institutional control over the powerless” which Niezen, in Spirit Wars, calls “a recipe for social disaster” [6]. Niezen suggests that Indian children were “in serious danger of severe physical and emotional abuse,” and this separate from the overt mental destruction of their native beliefs, language, and culture. Upon arriving in the residential school, the Indian child had his hair chopped off, had his name taken away, replaced with a good Christian name. Before he’d even been taught one lesson in how to be a good American, his individual identity was already being stripped away. In 1998, the Government of Canada, which put Indians through a similar process as that America used, “acknowledged the connection between its programs of Indian residential education and an immense toll of suffering still being felt in the native population resulting from cultural loss, separation from families, and victimization through physical and sexual abuse” [7]. An ongoing, institutionalized process of social and spiritual destruction led, naturally, to an ongoing process of social and spiritual self-destruction. What choice did these children have, taken from their homes and their parents and their way of life and constantly told how uncivilized and even evil those things were?

America represented the common good, regardless of what form of Christianity one followed—though, of course, one had to conform in following one form thereof, as “civilization and Christianity must go together” [8]—and Americans, as a whole and often individually, believed it their duty first to educate and indoctrinate the Indian before they turned to outright destruction like the slaughter at Wounded Knee. They believed that “even the most savage people could be improved by association with more rational beings” [9]. And, of course, they were “more rational beings;” they were the better people come from far away to inhabit, to improve, and, eventually, to embody America. By the late 1700s, they saw the “native North Americans as representative of an earlier form of life from which Europeans had emerged as the pinnacle of human achievement” [10]. This Whiggish take on history made it virtually inevitable that any primitive society would be inculcated or trampled.

Native healing and ceremonialism was seen by missionaries a “satanic,” by medical reformers as “superstitious,” and by government agents as “seditious” [11]. Any Christian notions about Indian inferiority simply fueled further American notions about which culture was dominant, and these both led government officials to find new ways to stop Indian practices, outlawing everyday practices as well as ceremonial practices, when not taking children to put in the residential schools. The Indians had to “take part in civilized life by leaving behind their attachments to ‘thraldom’ and ‘superstition’ and learning a new and better language, religion, and means of livelihood” [12].

This entire notion of the better language, the better religion, the better means of livelihood—this is inherent in any organized society, so inherent that Rousseau coined the term “civil religion” to explain the often religious way citizens adhere to and become prideful of the core ideology of their society, even when their individual religious (or not) beliefs may differ. America is the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” with no room for the primitive Indian. Canada, similarly, had God to “keep our land glorious and free” in the “True North,” its “home and native land” also having no room for the native, as long as he insists on acting in his native manner. Coming to the New World, settlers and colonists brought a very simple notion of how people should live. And, though they may have peacefully coexisted with some natives for a time, eventually, the glaring differences between how the Indian lived and how the European lived, meant one would have to change to fit the other or be destroyed… the distinction between these two options not necessarily a very big one.

[1] Ronald Niezen. Spirit Wars. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000, 162.

[2] Richard H. Pratt, Official Report of the Nineteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction, 1892. Quoted ibid, 46.

[3] Ibid, 3.

[4] Despite the racist lumping together here under the term “Indian,” I will continue to use it through this essay, as it is important to realize tribal distinctions did not matter to white America and, ultimately, were meaningless in the face of cultural genocide. In fact, reactionary religious notions, like the Ghost Dance movement, crossed tribal lines and formed, perhaps, a more cohesive indigenous whole, at least in appearance, that matched what white America already saw.

[5] Niezen, 223.

[6] Ibid, 76.

[7] Cited ibid, 86.

[8] Ibid, 47.

[9] Bruce Trigger. Natives and Newcomers: Canada’s “Heroic Age” Reconsidered. Quoted ibid, 49.

[10] Ibid, 50.

[11] Ibid, 224.

[12] Ibid, 223. And, while I only barely touch on it here, it is certainly worth noting that one thing government did was “teach the Indian to divide up land and farm it, to live the agricultural lifestyle that Americans did, taking away even the core of how Indians subsisted from day to day.




Posted by ca4/muaddib at 6:45 PM PDT
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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Hybridization as a Survival Tactic

In the face of changes in society and culture, advances in science and technology, many a religion has to alter itself to survive. When dominant religions were pushed, through expansionism and colonialism, into the same space as lesser [1] religions, these lesser religions also had to change to survive, often taking on aspects of the dominant religion and mixing those aspects with many of its own to create something new, a syncretic hybrid of two traditions. Withouth this hybridization, many a lesser religion would have gone extinct quite quickly. Some notable examples of such hybrids, with many followers, are Vajrahana (Tibetan Buddhism), Thai Buddhism, and the Macumba traditions of Brazil, and on a much smaller scale (i.e. with fewer followers), there are the examples from the first episode of Around the World in 80 Faiths: the Bugis and Tana Toraja of Sulawesi, and, even more specific examples in festivals like the Carabao festival in Pulilan and the Fertility festival in Obando, these latter two in the Philippines.

 Vajrahana brought together the magico-religion of the Bön, which could be described “in distinctly unfavourable terms as a perversion of Buddhism, a kind of marginal countercurrent in which elements of Buddhist doctrine and practice [have] either been shamelessly copied, or else inverted and distorted” [2], though practitioners of a Bön still insist their religion is the same as it was before Buddhism came to Tibet. Regardless of claims made, Vajrahana retains animist and shamanist elements not found in Buddhism elsewhere. Similarly, Thai Buddhism demonstrates “how ‘traditional’ magical, supernatural, Buddhist and other components are blended in the practices of Thai religious syncretism” [3].

 Macumba, which came, along with slaves, “directly from the sophisticated structure of the [Yoruban] mother-religion in Africa,” a religion involving “the divine interaction between humans and Living Gods” through music and dance [4]. When African practitioners of the Yoruban religion mixed with Roman Catholics in the New World, Macumba was born. The gods of the Yoruban and the saints of Roman Catholicism mixed. The Yoruban gods “have been reborn and continue to be reborn, the same, yet different” [5].

 The Bissu spirit mediums among the Bugis of Sulawesi are devout Sunni Muslims (even though Islam establishes that access to prophecy has been cut off since Mohammed and contact with spirits in this way does not happen). As one female follower pointed out [6], they can separate the two with a simple distinction: “one is religion, the other is tradition.” Except, this distinction, viewed from outside, seems, at best, a contradiction. Religion is tradition is religion. But, the Bugis don’t see it that way, just as the followers of Bön see themselves not as Buddhist while others see an obvious hybridization going on, just as practitioners of Macumba can continue their dances, with the faces of Catholic saints representing their gods. They take what they take, reject what they reject, and the result makes perfect sense, because even these new hybrid religions have now become tradition.

 The Tana Toraja used to make small effigies of the dead, vague representations of loved ones no longer around. These “tao-taos” seemed like idolatry to Christian missionaries, but they found that they could not keep the Tana Toraja from making effigies. So, instead, they got them to change the effigies. No longer vague representations, the tao-taos were now lifesize, carved and painted to resemble specifically the dead, more statuary than idol [7].

 A similar mix of traditions occurs in the Carabao festival hybridized with the Feast of San Isidro in Pulilan, Philippines. What once was a pagan harvest festival has connected to Catholic celebration, animist roots going accepted but unacknowledged, as the Carabao bull is paraded through the streets along with Catholic imagery. Similarly, in Obando, Philippines, a fertility dance ends at a Catholic church, where the crowd “dances” its “prayer.”

 In all these examples, local, lesser religions find ways to maintain at least some of themselves in the face of dominant, missionary religions. This is a matter of survival, culturo-religious desperation. But, there is, of course, a separate advantage, other than simple survival, in hybridizing a religion. Elliott West, in The Last Indian War, suggests that the Nez Perce, for example, “might draw more fully on two traditional sources of strength, commerce and spirit,” in mixing their religion with American Christianity, “and with that they could hope for greater command of their immediate world, seen and unseen” [8]. And, for what greater purpose is religion than to command—or, at least, to understand—the immediate world, seen and unseen? It is this same reason that those outside of religion, poets and filmmakers alike, still find inspiration in religion. The grand ideas, however incorrect they may be on a fundamental level, will always have appeal to the artist; they transcend the everyday, put the quotidian into a much larger, often more beautiful stage. Religious ideas make the everyday seem a piece of something fantastic, something transcendent, whether one believes in a particular religion or not. And, old traditions, among those who believe in them, have an even greater transcendence. So, of course, when faced with extinction, these ideas are held tightly, desperately, and inasmuch as they can be maintained, even as greater religions (or science) weigh down upon them, they mix and match and give birth to something new, something that can thrive between traditions, something that can, over time, become the new tradition so that, for example, Bugis attended a spirit medium’s ceremony don’t even question their only Muslimhood. They are not one thing or the other [9] but both, simultaneously.

 [1] Here, “lesser” refers not to some value judgment about any particular religion, but a simple measure of the number of practitioners a particular religion has.

 [2] Per Kværne. The Bon Religion of Tibet. London: Serindia, 1995. 10.

 [3] Pattan Kitiarsa. “Beyond Syncretism: Hybridization of Popular Religion in Contemporary Thailand.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 36 (Oct 2005): 463.

 [4] Serge Bramly. Macumba: The teachings of Maria-José, mother of the gods. San Francisco: City Lights, 1994. Ii.

 [5] Ibid, iii.

 [6] In Around the World in 80 Faiths. Dir. Rob Cowling. BBC Manchester, 2009.

 [7] In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud suggests that the more cartoonish a face (i.e. the less detail to it), the “more people it could be said to describe” (31). He writes of a “universality” of cartoon imagery, much like the smaller tao-taos, that can embody not only anyone but also ourselves as readers. When the missionaries got the Tana Toraja to add detail to the effigies, they took away some of the universality of these people’s  experiencing of death. Still, of course, the Tana Toraja  maintain what they can of their older practices; they do still make effigies (even if altered from the old way), they do still have their wild marches to the burial, they do still keep the dead around until a proper funeral can be afforded, and yet they are considered Christian.

 [8] Elliott West. The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. 38.

 [9] Except, of course, when it is convenient to specify, as followers of Bon might, where, depending on the time and place, it would make more sense to be a part of  state-sponsored Buddhism or to stand out from that crowd, amidst “sociocultural turbulence… in contemporary Thailand” (Kitiarsa, 464).

Posted by ca4/muaddib at 6:11 PM PDT
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live together, die... together (last lost thoughts part four)
currently, i choose to see it this way, so as not to be annoyed by the limbo church ending: christian, there in the church, was still the man in black, making an effort in an alternate dimension to trick all of these individuals who have remembered their lives on the island--and conceivably could be taken there by, say, desmond (or the two desmonds) to help protect us all (and all those in their dimension) from the pandora's island hellmouth being left uncorked for too long--into thinking they are actually in their afterlives, about to move on to heaven or what have you. but, then christian walks out the door into the big bright light (i.e. dimensional portal back to the island so he can have the final fight with jack that, because of some unfortunate editing, we have already seen end with the man in black dead) and the door closes and they all just sit there smiling and enjoying each other's company for a while, giving each other high fives on how they defeated evil and saved the day and whatnot, until someone has to pee and they find there's no bathroom, and then the old folks (rose and bernard) need some air, but the door to outside is locked, and the windows are unbreakable and not even magical desmond can get them out of this strangely unitarian church, where they will all live out a new series called "lost in church" in which they will only last for as long as it takes them to start resorting to cannibalism... maybe one season on a network, two if it's on cable

meanwhile, the man in black goes back to the island thinking he's won, only to get his ass strangled by jack and shot by kate, and he channels some captain hammer with a little "this must be what pain feels like" as he gets kicked over that cliff. of course, even then, the island is still shaking, so he figured the church limbo gambit has paid off

Posted by ca4/muaddib at 5:10 PM PDT
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Monday, 24 May 2010
last lost, a little more
why was aaron a baby in the church? he lived at least to age 3 or so in the real world; does he not get to choose his own image for the afterlife? and, if that wasn't aaron but, say, claire's and kate's imagined version of him, why was he still there in the church when they were ready to move on?

for that matter why was it 2004 in the flashforward?
additionally, why did david exist?
and, why was the island underwater?

the only reason for those last 3 is the same reason jin was heading to the hospital in "ji yeon"--to screw with the viewer. david served no purpose. he added nothing to jack's character or plot, so his presence tells us that the sideways universe, this afterlife they all are stuck going through until they can move on has been going on for years, long enough for jack and juliet to have had a relationship in the past and to have moved on from it... that kinda sucks for an afterlife, if you still get married and divorced and nearly od (like charlie did) and have to kill people and nearly get killed yourself (like sayid). now, if they wanted to have some sort of combination of say hindu reincarnation and alternate universes, these people could have actualy ben living their lives over again, and then again and again, and desmond could gather them together every time to go back to save the island again... but now, i'm drifting into fan fiction. back to the complaint at hand:

it is 2004 in the sideways because that tricks the viewer into thinking that blowing up jughead worked. and it convinces the viewer that the sideways universe, by some magical means, is real, and will matter to the plot

the island is underwater because it is a nice visual that, again, makes the viewer believe jughead seriously changed things. the "incident" was no longer some event people on the island survived (and that probably made it so women could no longer have children on the island) but something singularly catastrophic... except, it turns out, it wasn't

and, the show is on again now... kids watching it as they couldn't stay up for it on sunday, and i just noticed something else annoying. if the sideways stuff is the afterlife, and christian is "alive" there, then his damn cardboard box should not be having a scene at the damn airport. is that box meaningful to some airport worker we don't even know about?

Posted by ca4/muaddib at 7:23 PM PDT
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