Saturday, December 6, 2008

To Sin

The human urge to judge and place limits on the unknown, I find mysterious, even though I sometimes do it myself. A young man was asking all sorts of questions about my past.
I'm living in an Inuit village of five hundred people. They're as curious about me as I am about them. I moved here after becoming severely disillusioned with society. Moving to a village in the Arctic, literally on the tundra, on the edge of an endless water system, gave me energy to keep going at a time when I didn't think I could go on.
Nature came to the rescue and offered consolation, comfort, inspiration. To be in a village far from the familiar set up had a powerful effect on a mind tormented with worry, regret, guilt and shame. It's amazing to live alone, in another culture, where people speak a different language. In some ways, it's like being a space alien, arriving on another planet. It takes some time to understand the ways of a different society. Respect, or the patience and willingness to understand what lies beyond the boundaries of one's conditioning or personal opinions, is key to understanding.
The other day a man asked me all sorts of personal questions and in response to one of my answers said: “That's a sin. You sinned.”
And I thought, wow, there are still people on the planet who believe what a group of men wrote long ago in a book and then inflicted on western society for the next two thousand years. It's quite ironic to leave western society in order to live with aboriginal people and then to be confronted with such a loaded statement as sin. Sin, wow. The guy obviously never read Nietszche or listened to Einstein. Of course, simple minded ideas of right and wrong exist all over the world. A friend phoned me from Arkansas to tell me how in her town, where she was hired to teach at a university, people hate you if you're not Christian and if you're an immigrant who speaks English with a foreign accent. And of course, racism flourishes, even though a black president was elected.
The man respected me and didn't mean his comment as an insult. The fact that I married twice and got divorced each time means I'm a sinner. I need to beg Jesus Christ for forgiveness and then be saved. I watched people being saved during healing sessions, led by evangelists invited from the south to provide a little old time religion. Afterwards, I met some of the men from the healing session in the bar in Kuujjuaq. Some of those men and women got drunk and wild, beat each other up, harmed themselves and the children, but they could always go back to church and be saved, which would make everything all right, as long as they don't commit a sin. It's a sad situation, involving a lot of confusion. It blows my mind.
After living for several years in the north plateau region of Montreal, a region populated by artists, musicians, dancers, writers, actors, intellectuals, eccentrics, slackers, bohemians, professors, a region rich in culture and free thinking, I forgot what it was like to be confronted by old time religion. I grew up choking on the stuff. As son of a preacher man, I read the Bible, cover to cover and attended church for twenty years. It was an oppressive, suffocating experience. Going to art school helped free me from a lot of the restrictions imposed by the religious milieu. I experienced first hand how people could project authority on to objects, such as a book, and to ideas and then become fanatical and aggressive. They had no hesitation about telling me when I sinned or went too far. It was like growing up in a cage, or being tethered to a rope. Religious dogma put walls around my world. I was forbidden to go beyond the limits prescribed by god and my father. That meant, if questions arose in my mind, I should stop asking and turn to Jesus and then everything would be all right.
But it wasn't all right. In spite of Jesus Christ, Bush sent troops into Iraq, unleashing horror on innocent men, women and children. Bush apparently read the Bible and prayed every day. Was there nothing in the Bible that could tell him to slow down and reflect before undertaking a crime against humanity? Bush recently said he was sorry that weapons of mass destruction were not found. But God was on his side. Unspeakable human suffering is the result, not to mention the fact that the Bush administration ruined the American economy, driving the country deeply into debt. Imagine if the trillions of dollars wasted on war had been spent to help Iraq and areas of the world tormented by famine, poverty and natural disaster. After all, Jesus did preach generosity, love, kindness and compassion.
Religion, intolerance, hatred and war have a long history. It starts on the local, everyday level. Stop and ask yourself: how do you feel when someone disagrees with your ideas, opinions or beliefs? Does it make you uncomfortable? Does it make you angry? Or are you able to respect the person's right to disagree? Of course, I can't agree with ideas that condone harm. If a gangster tried to harm my family, I would phone the police and ask them to do whatever necessary to stop the thugs. Sometimes force is necessary.
I hate talking platitudes.
I was just trying to describe the strange feelings that happened when, out of the blue, a kid told me I had sinned. At first, I thought it was some kind of a joke; but then I realized, the boy was serious. Older people also told me it's a sin not to believe in Jesus and that if I don't believe, I will go to hell and burn in the lake of eternal fire, after death. I do believe that Jesus is still a powerful force to be reckoned with and that untold harm has been done in the name of Jesus and hopefully some good as well.
Of course, maybe it's not the fault of religion. Maybe it's an expression of confusion and some tendency in the psyche to close down and become aggressive when confronted by the unknown and to become puffy and arrogant when things are familiar. Which came first, confusion or religion? Maybe I'm all wrong. Jesus, forgive me; Lord have mercy! If you see Buddha on the road, kill him.
Even among agnostics, simple-minded ideas of morality persist. I've met fanatics who believe strongly in opinions and have no hesitation about expressing approval or disapproval for something they don't even understand. The non-critical, non-reflective reactionary approach of stimulus/response still prevails. I think, therefore it's true. If it makes me feel good, it must be all right. If it makes me uncomfortable, then for sure it's bad. Science can back up my feelings of discomfort. You have to be this way, otherwise that will happen. There's scientific evidence to prove that blah blah blah. Experts say blah blah blah. Therefore, it's true. You better act within the company mandate and clear your ideas through the proper channels. A committee will be formed to look into the possibility of forming a committee to deal with the committee formed to deal with vaguely stated and open to interpretation obtusly written policies, and actually quite clear, government mandates. You better be responsible and do what you're told, otherwise you could turn into an anarchist, or free thinker, out to wreck civilization. Leaving early for lunch or not filling out the proper forms could lead a person into a downward spiral. You could end up becoming a communist (wait, that was the fifties, now days we have different fears and bogey men).

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