Friday, February 18, 2011

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sharia?

(…or Christianity, or Judaism, or Hinduism, or Sikhism, or Shinto, or…)

The Role of Religion in an Age of Science - My One-Way Non-Refundable Ticket to Dante’s Inferno

“Think for yourself
'Cause I won't be there with you”
- George Harrison

“Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people Living for today…”

Don’t get angry with me.

Once in awhile, when blessed with the ability to reason and to question, one must tackle a topic of some actual weight and import. I both love and respect many a folk who hold deep and sincere religious convictions. This is in no way meant to either belittle or disrespect those beliefs. What follows is just an attempt to logically, and with a clear mind, probe and deliberate the role of religion in life and society (and really, how often am I of a clear mind?). The intent is not to offend and this will not be a Bill Maher-esque, anti-religion rant, which prove time and again that he is at least as intolerant as he claims people of faith to be. I’m merely expressing my opinion. Nothing big going on here – just attempting to dramatically alter the state of the world and the destiny of all future generations – that’s all. If you find this offensive, if you find this distasteful, if it’s so lengthy that by the time you reach the conclusion Windows 7 has been supplanted by Windows 8, please enjoy past postings where you can access a large number of entertaining and non-controversial songs and bits of fun from the archives of, “…and several butcher’s aprons.”

Through millennia human-kind has been engaged in a war over whose deity is well, basically, the most well-endowed. We’ve experienced years of a “my god is better than your god, my god is better than yours,” competition. Unfortunately, history has proven that in this contest there are no winners - only losers. And the ultimate consequence of losing a faith-based battle is far too often an early grave. Remember, just as the faithful are assuredly certain that their god, their savior, their prophet is the one and only true deity, that’s exactly how sure believers of every other religion feel as well. Clearly, one and all cannot be correct, but what if, in actuality, no one is? When you are dealing with something that is solely based on a dogma, that is utterly improvable, in which there can be no definitive conclusion there, intrinsically, can be no winners. So, thousands of years and millions of lost lives later, perhaps we can finally progress from such pointless exercises. Has any single establishment done more to deter and discourage societal progress, equality amongst people and free-thought than organized religion? What has this joyful noise contributed to our history? Or to quote Samuel Morse on the occasion of his premiere telegraph message, “what hath God wrought?” A partial list - the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch trials, slavery supported by scripture ("Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, just as you would obey Christ."), the mass suicides of religious cult-members, genocide of followers of a particular faith (the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia), the practice of "female circumcision" (more accurately termed genital mutilation), the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies due to churches’ prohibitions on the use of condoms, suicide bombings with the motivation of reaching heaven (September 11th), persecution of homosexuals, inequality of women, censorship, the wide-spread institutional protection of child molesters, and of course, Glenn Beck and Sarah (I love God so much I slaughter his innocent wild creatures at every possible opportunity) Palin. Obviously, a single person injured or killed because they believe in a different religion than someone else’s is a single person injured or killed too many.

Church-attendees aren’t necessarily morally superior to those who like to sleep late on Sunday or Saturday or Friday. Much of the populace doesn’t appreciate being told what to do nor being told that they are heinous and bound for eternal hell-fire because of whom they are or whom they love. Some people don‘t value a once weekly judgment informing them that their natural behavior is evil. As far as I can ascertain Ellen DeGeneres is not malevolent, and if she is, it’s probably not because she has married Portia de Rossi - it's probably all that dancing more than anything else. Should not we encourage people to love each other no matter their sexual preference?

If, for some reason, you can’t make your own decisions, you can’t trust your own judgment and intellect, your own sensibilities - if you need someone to tell you how to live - what to eat, what to drink, what to read, who to love, how to behave, what to wear, how to think - someone to determine your own sense of right and wrong, your own moral compass – well, that’s Oprah’s job, just ask her. (Uh, oh, here’s where I finally stepped over the line – say what you want about the world‘s great religions, but doubt Oprah? Never!) I just happen to think that free-will, open-mindedness and non-judgmental, progressive thinking is preferable to blind obedience to no longer relevant and millenniums-old rules, regulations, restrictions and prejudices. What if people were actually forced to take responsibility for their own actions, for their own decisions, for their own choices? I so long for a day when we embrace individual choice rather than blame or credit some vague notion of divine intervention. Wouldn’t the world be immeasurably better off if people abandoned superstitions and embraced personal accountability? Without the divisiveness inherent in a culture driven by religion maybe citizens, who now despise one another without really knowing why, might actually start co-existing peacefully. Kumbaya.

Mankind’s invention of religion is quite simple to grasp and goes back to our earliest civilizations. Why it still exists now in an era of scientific understanding is quite easy to explain as well. Religion was invented because, as a thinking being, early man had copious questions, and often the simplest way to resolve those queries was just to credit a god – a sun god, a water god, a god of thunder, a god of love, and so on. But now we have science, we now understand how most things work. Admittedly, nycityman was not born with a technically proficient mind, so I really know very little about how things function. I couldn’t begin to explain, for example, the genius behind my flat screen LCD/LED HDTV, but as a consequence of that lack of knowledge I do not attribute that mystery to, Samsung, the god of flat screen LCD/LED HDTVs. And with the amazing picture on that marvel of technology, there really should be a god of flat screen LCD/LED HDTVs - although, the inferior sound quality would surely be more the handiwork of Beelzebub. So then, why do we still believe in gods? We can’t accept our own mortality, we are so afraid to die and so fearful of the unknown that surrounds our demise - one of the few unanswered questions left – that for the sake of our own sanity, we’ve invented an entire mythology that we still desperately cling to. Weak creatures that we are, we can not face the fact that we are indeed destined to perish. And as egotistical as we are, we couldn’t possibly fathom the thought that life could continue without us in it. So, like gods ourselves, we have conjured this tale in which we all exist forever. Forever! Do we really know what forever is? Is “forever” a concept we can truly wrap our heads around? Can an actual “forever,” a time without end exist? And if so, is it in fact all that desirable? We know that Irene Cara wants to live forever (and learn how to fly) but do you honestly aspire to that? The universe is finite, everything is finite. How can one possibly conceive of something that does not end (this diatribe and East Enders aside)?

It’s the 21st century (not that I need to inform you of that) and perhaps time to start phasing out religion. It has provided much usefulness but very likely has outlived its intended function. We invented faiths, we even egotistically created a god in our own image – but can we now move forward? We know it’s the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, rather than the Roman god Neptune that is responsible for the tides. Is it time to start looking toward science for answers and therefore proceed in attempting to repair the mess that we’ve made of this planet and not credit developments, good or bad, as being “God’s will?”

So, is this me in the spotlight, losing my religion? Well, all this being said, and possibly much to your surprise, nycityman still sometimes finds himself, hands-folded and head-bowed, searching for assistance in certain situations - but is the motivation pure? Is it for the right reasons? Is it for faith or more likely fear or just habit and indoctrination? Is it just that minute possibility that Heaven and Hell might actually exist despite any lack of proof whatsoever? Does it all come down to the fact that in reality we still know very little about some things, and so no sane person (a category in which I place myself, for now anyway) would want to chance the possibility of spending eternity barbequing alongside Idi Amin Dada, George W. Bush, Walt Disney and Brett Favre? If you find something in religion, if you find comfort or peace, you’ve no doubt dismissed my verbosity numerous sentences ago, and so you should have. But wouldn’t it be a positive advance if people could find that very same comfort and peace with others and, most importantly, from within themselves, and no longer feel the need for external validation?

“… and no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one” - John Lennon

And now, just to lighten things up and as a reward for making it this far, “… and several butcher’s aprons,“ proudly presents - “Dramatic Cat.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm Almost Facebook Friends with... a modern tale of near fame

“Everybody’s a dreamer
And everybody’s a star
And everybody’s in showbiz
It doesn’t matter who you are” – Ray Davies

“Remember my name ... Fame!” - A large exuberant gathering of talented adolescents enraptured in the joy of terpsichore and song amongst the parked and idled conveyances on Hell’s Kitchen’s 46th Street, one score and seven years prior to the incursion of the extremely irritating… I mean, extremely gifted... cast of Glee.
(Should it strike you that “score” is a somewhat pretentious and arcane expression for a passage of time - I was involved in a conversation on that very topic just a fortnight ago, not half a league from here, and it was proclaimed to be acceptable terminology.)

“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little” - Lord Byron

“Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” - inbred American talk show participants (see also - Sarah Palin supporters and Tea Party Patriots)

Beloved “Annie,” Andrea McArdle. Punk Rock pioneer, Richard Lloyd. Professional Hanger-oner and lacker of any discernable talent or ability, Stuttering John. And Eccentric Rich Guy, Team Owner and Dancing with the Stars alum, Mark Cuban – what do these people all have in common? Fame - and, most importantly, they’re all almost friends of nycityman in the fictional fraternal franchise that is Facebook - an imaginary realm where one can rub shoulders and superficially communicate with those one would never encounter in harsh reality.

Now, not to needlessly boast, but this is no fabrication of my Facebook cred. Somehow, someway (or perhaps more appropriately “Someday, Someway,” as Marshall Crenshaw is one of the many luminaries just one Facebook friend removed from what would surely be a treasured and lasting relationship) yours truly is but a single association away from some of the leading lights, brightest stars and most creative and accomplished minds in the public eye. And most fortuitously, I myself have achieved absolutely nothing to merit any sort of alliance with such distinguished and renowned company. I am completely, thoroughly and undoubtedly undeserving of even this minute suggestion of a correlation. But such is the delight and eccentricities of the social network. So, consider this a sincere salute to those actual acquaintances, those cyber go-betweens, who astonishingly and incredulously and simultaneously link me to both Maya Angelou and Marla Maples. To Curtis Sliwa and Bill Moyers. To Brady Bunch, TV royalty Susan Olsen and British Knighted thespian Dame Helen Mirren. And, yes, like yourselves, I too am now thinking, “How can that be? “ But we shall carry on. When perusing the extensive inventory of Facebook’s, “People You May Know,” one discovers certain qualities and/or certain categories in which “your almost friends” will be classified. For example there are playwrights and Broadway performers - John Patrick Shanley, Israel Horovitz, Donna McKechnie, Brian d’Arcy James and Lea Salonga. News people - Magee Hickey, Deborah Norville, Al Roker and Chuck Todd. And many comedians - Jackie Martling, Sandra Bernhardt, Mario Cantone, Will Forte, Zach Galigianakis and Dave Attel. Then there are those who share a more unique connection, for example, I have seen Sean Hayes and Renee Taylor in person in public. I have seen Judy Gold and Carol Liefer at tapings of stand-up specials, and I have seen Dame Helen Mirren and former Miss USA and current porn… I mean, adult entertainment auteur, Kelli McCarty … in the all together. Unlikely alliances arise.

So, kids, do try this at home. This time-wasting and inevitably pointless exercise goes far further in connecting people than even Kevin Bacon could fathom. If each of your 300 friends has 300 friends - it won’t be too much longer before you get friend requests from Hosni Mubarak and Yakov Smirnoff - who, by the way, loves this country. And should you heed this advice and spend an hour or two - or eight - tomorrow, trolling Facebook rather than fulfilling your job responsibilities, thereby putting your very livelihood at stake at a time of tragically high unemployment - ponder, what does this varied and interesting assemblage of near acquaintances, famous or not, reveal about your persona, your interests or your philosophies? For me, I learned that I’m very likely a wealthy, elderly woman from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

And now, Ladies and Gentleman, once again - the Kinks!