Religion isn’t always moral.
The hurricane emergency in Texas isn’t just a natural catastrophe. It is also a moral crucible by which religions are judged and national leaders are held up to the harsh light of their actions. That they are found wanting more often than not is not a new phenomenon. That their followers continue to cape for them in spite of all evidence of nefarious doings is also not a new phenomenon. What IS new is the fact that social media brings all this into our homes, available on our commutes, digested at our leisure over drinks. In print media heyday, people would hang around newspaper stands for the latest edition with breathless, sometimes stellar journalism available for our consumption. Before newspapers, broadsheets were run off by hand with the most purple prose ever written, indicative of the book styles of the day. Even the power of one strong voice to mesmerize a nation via radio while entire families listened together showed that people are hungry for validation for their feelings and beliefs, for reassurance that everything will be OK, especially if those beliefs are dominant in the prevailing culture. Now, we come to two very different situations where spiritual and national leaders were found wanting in times of great distress. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a self-styled “godman” was found guilty of rape and sentenced to two decades in jail. His followers rioted, at least 17 people were killed, and more than 120 people were injured in clashes between believers and police. At this writing, he has a pending murder investigation. We shake our heads at this senseless violence and decry the fanaticism of his supporters. Really, who are we to dismiss violence halfway around the world that has nothing to do with us in the US, when we have at least two cults of personality in the news here? Two weeks ago, violent clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters resulted in several injuries and three deaths, one as a direct result of domestic terrorism. The president did not address the violence and deaths for hours. The nation needed a strong voice to reassure us that the dominant beliefs in our nation were just and right. That he refused to denounce, firmly and without reservation that white supremacy beliefs are wrong set off a firestorm of protest. He validated Nazis by his silence, his first statement, his campaign rally and his immediate pardon of a notorious racist. His leadership skills are mob-style strong-arm tactics. “We will do it my way . . . or else.” The most recent moral failing of a self-styled prosperity gospel guru in the Houston emergency strikes just as deeply at our psyche. A 16,000 seat megachurch sat empty for four days while thousands of people evacuated, or tried to. Those of us without religious leanings were horrified and angered, not only at the egregiousness of inaction but also at flaunting, once again, of a leader’s tax-free wealth not being used to uphold every religion’s admonishments to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the stranger, welcome the poor. Those of us who are trying to live according to whatever religious tenet commands us were saddened by the deafness of a so-called leader to the cries of anguish. The fanatical followers made excuses, of course. Like all fanatical followers, their belief that Dear Leader can do no wrong rendered them blind to his behavior. This is a human failing that reaches across all races, religions, cultures, and points to a commonality of several things: cults are inherently closed systems with sociopathic leaders. Sociopaths generally don’t rise to positions of power in healthy, open systems. People who are whole, integrated into society, engaged in self-examination and engaged in making others around them better tend to see sociopaths as they are: soul destroyers, mind controllers, intent on making outsiders “the others”. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the psychopathology of followers, and don’t have the chops to do it justice. What I do know is that thinking for oneself is very hard and thinking well even harder. I also know that most people are lazy. They may work hard, play hard, go balls out on everything they do-except thinking. It’s even easier to not think with instant social media telling us what the news is, how we should see it, what we should be enraged about, what we should celebrate. This is not to say that social media and social influencers are inherently bad–most of them aren’t. Mainstream media is bound by cold hard cash. They have a vested interest in what they print, post, pontificate on. There, too, there are literate, thoughtful voices that give us information with as little bias as possible. There are thoughtful social media voices that strive to give of themselves and appreciate the gifts they possess to inform the rest of us to the best of their ability. They tell their stories, they give their experiences, but they strive to be as honest as possible: “This is me, this is my being.”
Hate is easy.
Hate thrives on fear. We fear losing our identity, our being. Why do we fear loss? Why do we fear “the other”? What is the worst thing that can happen? Remember, nobody can make us do something we don’t want to do. The law compels us to certain standards of behavior. Fear of consequences will keep most of us out of jail, out of lots of things. However, I cannot be compelled to not murder, except by fear of consequences, or by my own desire to not murder someone. There are so many people who commit murder-suicide, thereby sidestepping the fear of consequences and a desire to not murder someone else. The level of hate required to murder someone is sadly, one I understand from experience. Fear of loss is the greatest murder motivator there is.
Thinking is hard.
Once upon a time, I believed everything I was told. I rarely questioned anything until puberty. Because I didn’t have trusted adults to talk to, I went into an extended rebellion that only recently became a force for good, like popping into adulthood from another dimension. Now that I have fewer tomorrows than yesterdays, it behooves me to think even more critically and only pass judgment borne of experience, not emotion. This is my investment in facts, in truth. There is no relativity in facts. The greatest leaders in history were thinkers. It’s no accident that maturity in thought and deed comes later in life. For people who don’t think, life can be a series of difficult tasks and uphill battles. They ascribe blame. They feel comfortable in their beliefs until something earth-shattering happens. They can go two ways, then: retreat into familiar, or sit with the discomfort of not knowing anymore. Most people retreat, because thinking is damned painful. It is constant, it evolves as new information and experiences are processed, and it evolves more. Those rare people who are predisposed to thinking well know that they are on a journey of discovery every day of their lives. The rest of us can be content to listen to them, learn from them, and pass on what lessons we can learn.