Smile Politely

Love believes all things (1st Corinthians 13:7)

The way we are all programmed by society, by the virus of language, well before we know what is happening to us, and then to remain submerged in mystery our whole lives, encourages the idea that the movie The Matrix is a documentary film. Without all the gooey pods and flesh jacks.

The human capacity for self-deception is virtually bottomless. Nobody knows what is going on and nobody ever has.

I think I’ve written this before. I don’t remember. I may have written this entire column before. I may be in a time loop, something dreamed up by J. J. Abrams, an outtake from Star Trek. It’s just me and William Shatner together on the cutting room floor, shuffling cards.

Seriously, once in the 1970s, I was driving down a country road just north of Mahomet when I saw my younger self passing me in the other direction, driving the old blue Ford Falcon that was my first car. I probably shouldn’t admit that to anyone. But there it is.

I grew up in that area north of Champaign. I went to a country church just outside of Fisher and at the time I turned three years old, this large congregation was undergoing a serious ideological split. The church had two pastors. The elder pastor became involved in the issue of faith healing. The younger resisted the notion.

“I have been praying that God would reveal to me my error if I am wrong,” said the younger pastor in his final sermon to the church. “I have prayed that God would bring (the two of us) to a common belief. We are both conscientious I am sure but we cannot both be right.”

If I had been capable of speech at the time, I might have stood up in the pew, waved my Cheerios stuck on a pretzel, and begged to differ. “Actually, you could both be right, absolutely right,” I would have argued. I then would have quoted America’s greatest poet, Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892), from “Song of Myself.”

“Do I contradict myself?,” the Good Gray Poet asked, shrugging his shoulders. “Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Our minds are so small, not to believe that two sides of a contradiction can both be accurate.

Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick and Paul Kantner (who, granted, were probably high on mushrooms at the time) sang in “Eskimo Blue Day,” “Consider how small you are. The human dream doesn’t mean shit to a tree.”

Sometimes I’m fascinated by the attempts made to classify and quantify and qualify reality over the centuries. People seriously debated how many angels could stand on the top of a pin. Human heads rolled — including some belonging to own my ancestors — because groups of Christians disagreed about the age at which people should be baptized. Everybody wanted to be right without realizing that, well, maybe they were anyway.

As religions go, Taoism always struck me as more pragmatic than magical, although the text is counter-intuitive in many cases, just as are the words of Jesus. The gentle overcomes the rigid, emptiness is what makes the cup useful, the meek shall inherit the earth, overcome evil with good…

Some young Muslims I talked to expressed astonishment that Christians think of Christianity as a religion of peace, since the primary symbol is a bloody cross, we worship a man being tortured, and we drink his blood and eat his flesh.

Hinduism, on the other hand, always struck me as one of the more obviously bizarre mythologies, with elephant headed gods like Ganesh and millions if not billions of years of histories and reincarnation tales. But the guru industry in India is still going strong and it worked for George Harrison. And is it really more weird than the Rapture thing or the talking snake with the magic apple?

The recent atheism movement is more banal and boring, with proud and sometimes pompous atheists eager to shoot down religions for literal absurdities, and thus — to my mind — missing the whole point. Atheists can’t define the real and the true any better than the biggest Bible thumper on the soapbox.

I have a shady hammock in my backyard, surrounded by trees and vegetation. I find this place for my daily retreat almost as nice as a week in Aruba. This year, my summer reading will include a book published in 1970, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, an academic work by John M. Allegro, which currently sells on Amazon for $168.75. So don’t ask to borrow mine. In it, Allegro — a former theologian and linguistics scholar — wrote that Jesus was the product of a fertility cult’s experience with mushrooms. “Every aspect of the mushroom’s existence was fraught with sexual allusions, and it its phallic form the ancients saw a replica of the fertility god himself. It was the ‘son of God,’ its drug was a purer form of the god’s own spermatozoa than that discoverable in any other form of living matter. It was, in fact, God himself, manifest on earth. To the mystic it was the divinely given means of entering heaven; God had come down in the flesh to show the way to himself, by himself.”

I’m just saying. It sure beats some of the religious rationalizations I’ve heard over the last decade for torture and killing and invasion under the sign of a bloody cross. For me, this summer, reality is just a swaying hammock in the shade.

Tao Te Ching, verse 78

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

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