Friday, April 08, 2005

The Spirit of Political Activism

I read something tonight that is having a big effect on me, I feel a need to share it with you. My currently philosophical state of mind was triggered by an article at Dissident Voice, by Joe Bageant, a Southern writer that I have great regard for.

Joe writes about people. When making a political point, it comes from the bottom up, not from the preaching top down voice, so common among writers of both the right and left. Joe finds truth and beauty in places the liberal elite write about from a great distance. Joe is having a beer with people that too many high minded writers and liberal thinkers, see as morally, intellectually, and culturally inferior.

The article in question today, is entitled "In Praise of Holy Madness", at Dissident Voice. A topic that you might imagine would be of little interest to a long time atheist, such as myself.

If you don't click on the link and read the article, you are doing yourself a disservice and what follows will make less sense. So, please read it. It's just a page. Very readable. Like most Southern writers, Joe is a good story teller and the topic is very relavent to the political and cultural reality of modern America.

A quote from Bob D., the man the article is about:
Elevating carnage to cultural protocol is very dangerous. And official rationalization of it is disastrous. Why isn't someone talking about these things? We have no examples. We have no ideals. We have only corruption and self-justifying silliness in service of capitalism as it runs further and more terribly amok.

Bob D. goes on to say:
And to the forces on the left trying to combat all this I say: The realization IS compassion." "Consciousness" and "heart" arise together. They are one thing. The compassionate try to help even their most despicable brothers. That's why it is written: "Without love, I am nothing." Yet the left throws it all away. Though the left is so often correct in principle, it becomes merely the other side of that one counterfeit coin we have been offered.

Bob D. is a massively eccentric man. He lives, with his dogs and elderly mother, in an ancient, falling down Victorian house, in Tennessee. A relic of more prosperous times. Bob is not a person many people would listen to and almost none would take seriously.
Yet, when you read his words, it is very clear that this "madman's" thinking is guided by vision, intelligence, and an open heart.

Now Bob, is not impressed with the right, the Christian right, or new age garbage for rich, greedy, self involved persons seeking spiritual justification for not caring about the state of the poor, the ill, and other social outcasts.

Bob cares a lot abut how we treat each other and the other things living on this little planet. Bob also has an understanding of the spiritual/psychological reality that forms the underpinnings of society.

Bob believes atheism is foolishness. I did not say I agree with everything Bob says. But I do agree in his intent.

His admonishment to the left is short but full of genuine wisdom. If we can not develop compassion, if our idea of conciousness is based purely on science, intellect, and a hatred of our opposition, we shall create, in the long run, something as inhumane and uncaring as what we are now opposed to. Different faces, different slogans, different rhetoric but the same old top down shit we are drowning in today.

I know that currently, the great majority of my readers are firmly situated to the left of centre line. Anarchists, socialists, liberals, and free thinkers without a set ideology. Agnosticism and atheism is rampant among us. If you have read anything by me, you know I have zero sympathy for and very little in common with authoritarian preachers, of any ilk. That disregard also includes the more authoritarian variations of 'liberation' theology.

I struggle not to hate their empty, soulless, punishment obsessed followers. You can't really understand people you hate and you will never change their way of thinking. Bob reminds me how important it is to view even the opposition with some compassion.

That's a hard one but compassion does not mean giving in or over looking evil. It means feeling for and trying to understand the internal reality of those who would kill or jail me, given the chance. There is great strength in that understanding and it may help us to not make the same mistakes as they have. It is the only way off this revolving wheel of repression, war, rebellion and then, more oppression.

I still say we do not need religion but compassion, love, and the willingness to take responsibility, as opposed to taking control, is very important. Our apparent inability to give a shit, is killing us.

I gave up on church and religion and god, a long time ago. But, I learned a lot from the Jesus guy. Although I do not accept his divinity, the direction he pointed in, could change the world if Christians could become a little more Jesus like. And less like Paul in his angry period.

No one listens to holy mad men any more. But we sure listen to the evil mad men. I suppose because they seem more normal, these days.

Bob said, again, The compassionate try to help even their most despicable brothers. That's why it is written: "Without love, I am nothing."

His madness is driven by vision and intelligence. "Without love, I am nothing" is quoted from second Corinthians. Written near the end of Paul's life, it contains the wisdom that Paul had sought, his whole life. When it came, he repented of much that he had written before, in his angry law bringer days. The modern evangelical right loves to quote the angry, punishing Paul. The wisdom seen in Corinthians II, is rarely quoted these days, except to prop up our belief that we are the 'good guys' with our hearts in the right place. Then we quickly return to punishing the poor and all who disagree with our nice middle class social values, disguised as religion.

Religion sucks. That does not negate the profound importance of trying to become a spiritually/psychologically complete human. Otherwise, in spite of the best of intentions, we just create more hell. The world could use some more of Bob's 'madness'.

The world around him may not take Bob seriously, but I bet I am not the only person to respond to him in this manner.

I'm still an atheist and I still believe compassion is the key.

But, it is a process, becoming a complete human. It is a slow process for most of us.

Once again, the article is found HERE.


At 9:12 AM, Blogger Jet said...

Thank you for writing this excellent, thought provoking post, Thomas. This is precisely what grates me about the so-called "moral mandate" and all the rest of the posturing and proclamations we're handed. When we disagree we're subject to insults, libel, and slurs; we are over-ridden by the frenzied right and their desire to control the country without responsibilty or accountability.

At 10:17 AM, Anonymous cwaynec said...

..."Elevating carnage to cultural protocol is very dangerous...."

Talk about the diamond bullet speeding straight between the eyes!!! I had to read and re-read the sentence a dozen or more times.

... "Though the left is so often correct in principle, it becomes merely the other side of that one counterfeit coin we have been offered..."

Too true.

Thanks for this insightful piece. Too often the easy categorization of all religous writers or gurus prevents us from really listening and getting the entire picture.


At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Bob D. You are precisely correct; religion sucks. But there from within all the immense suckery arises sublime art, verse and image, which reveals to the sensitive among us something greater than words will ever speak. My summary statement on the topic is at while the definitive statement on the issue of religion and culture is Merton's essay, Rain and the Rhinoceros, also published at TYB, one of the "Three Related Documents". Merton himself wrote in Raids On The Unspeakable, "Think of the unspeakable triviality of popular religion. To be saved, then, is to fall into the ludicrous and satanic flippancy of false piety, kitsch..." Yet no-one was more religious than Merton. It's interesting that here in 21st Century America we now have an officially unapologetic "evangelical sport". Not surprisingly, that is NASCAR. In my own crude way, I am trying to get past the beard to the face, eliminating the possibility of more trivialization, more kitsch. There are other essential issues involved. All of that is explained at TYB. What it boils down to is exactly what you express at the bottom of your commentary. However, that "transformation" of which you speak might be more involved than some of us immediately perceive. Religion, going deeply, is a useful tool in understanding what is authentic and what it kitsch. When I said, "Every culture has its prophets", I don't mean spokespersons for God. It's all about those who are free, objective and responsible enough to perceive the folly of the age and where it's all leading. These truths are often expressed, then, metaphorically in art, literature, film. Neruda: "Why, in the darkest of ages, do they write with invisible ink?" Every culture has its prophets. Yes, I am impaired by chlordane; I would not have seen your blog, but someone brought the url to my door. Thanks.


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