Monday, November 19, 2012

"COEXIST" Set to Popular Music

When I think about comparative religions the first thing that comes to mind is that ubiquitous Co-exist bumper sticker; a slogan which implies (in essence) that all religions amount to the same thing. Interestingly, some of these bumper stickers even include ideologies that are not technically religions at all (like the symbol of sexual equality), which, I think, points to the problem of simply comparing every important idea about life to a religion. In one sense this is understandable because one's whole worldview is a kind of religion. In another sense, however, it is completely ridiculous, for it reduces religion to a mere sentiment. Thus, the flying spaghetti monster of the Pastafarians becomes as reasonable a candidate for religion as any other under this criterion. In this post I will not focus on the mockery that men have made of religion, but instead focus on those ideas that have genuine staying power; those ideas which time has apparently endorsed as authentic responses to the mystery of life. It is true that some of the following are more a matter of philosophy than religion, but due to the attention they have received over the course of time I feel it would be foolish to overlook their influence. Are all religions essentially the same? I will let you decide.

Across the Universe (Fiona Apple) - Taoism

For one who follows the Tao or "The Way", balance and nonintervention is the key to living in accordance with it. In other words, the best that we can do as humans living in the world is to allow the forces that are beyond us to operate without interruption. In Taoism there is no good or evil- only complimentary principles like, light and dark, male and female, night and day. And in order for the Universe to be harmonious these forces must work themselves out until there is some kind of cosmic equilibrium. Thus, when we see bad things going on in the world, they are perhaps not what we think they are, but rather some necessary shadow which is merely accompanying the light. The goal of each man is to achieve a kind existential stillness, and to abide in the world without upsetting the balance of these forces (like a stone which falls in the water but makes no ripples). For this reason, I have selected a cover of Across the Universe (originally written and performed by the Beatles) because I feel the video alongside the music, offers the perfect juxtaposition. I suppose it is no big surprise then that Lennon and the Beatles, who for a time were so enamored with Eastern religions, would reflect such sentiments in their music. Nevertheless, the two things to watch for are the chorus; "Nothing's gonna change my world", combined with Ms. Apple's complete and utter detachment from the craziness that surrounds her.

Imagine (John Lennon) - Buddhism

To begin with, I did not use the happy fat guy as an image for Buddha, because, despite what many think, that is not in fact Buddha. The figure that individuals generally associate with Buddha is actually a figure named Budai, whose image is meant to represent contented happiness in Chinese culture (and besides, does it really make sense that Buddha would be fat? Nowhere in the Buddhist philosophy is there anything about gorging yourself). As alluded to before, the Beatles dabbled in eastern mysticism. To all appearances, both Lennon and Harrison were the ones most interested in it. Even up until the end of his life Harrison was a great proponent of "Krishna Consciousness", which is a version of Hinduism that tends towards a more personal idea of the Deity rather than the impersonal Brahmin (they are like the Hare Krishna's). On the other hand, Lennon possessed (at least for a period of time) a more Buddhistic approach to things. The first thing to understand about Buddhism is that it takes no position whatsoever on the existence of God. The aim of Buddhism is not holiness but rather enlightenment and liberation. We are not to be in the world, we are to transcend the world by emptying ourselves and annihilating any attachment to it. The best way to accomplish this, according to the Buddha (which means "enlightened one"), is not to engage in extreme fasting or penance, but to attain it through a kind of "Middle Way", or moderate approach to the world. Use the world without using it, they might say. Obviously Christians agree with this philosophy up to a point, however, most Christians do not take such a throughly negative view of the material world. From a Christian point of view, the aim is not to regard the world as simply a lie and an illusion, but as something good that has been misused and perverted. The Christian is not so much to transcend material attachment as he is to restore it to its original meaning. The following song (and video) I believe captures the distinction I have attempted to make between the two. Indeed, in a certain sense there can really only be one Buddhist song, for the aim of Buddhism is to reduce to "nothing" all that we regard as something in the world.          

   Bullet with Butterfly Wings (Smashing Pumpkins) - Hinduism

Hinduism is more like a religion than Buddhism. However, one might also argue, as did the Buddha, that in some ways it is far too religious. What I mean is that Hinduism is/was a tangle of any number of mythologies which aren't necessarily consistent with one another. This is no doubt due in part to their syncretistic view of religion. In fact, they are really the only world religion that regards (up to a point) all religions as valid paths to God and/or enlightenment. From a contemporary standpoint, this is a very appealing position to take, and if we were talking about our favorite colors or preferred ice cream, I would be right there with them. But what we are talking about here is the meaning of our existence, not what appeals to us in a superficial way. So, for example, I do think it matters whether or not the material world is an illusion or whether it is real. I do think that it matters whether or not the body is a good thing, or essentially amounts to a disposable napkin. And I do think that it is valuable to distinguish between belief in a god like Kali (the Hindu Goddess of Destruction as pictured above) or one that is more like Jesus. These are undeniably valid questions and simply reducing them to a matter of personal disposition, doesn't get us anywhere. The song I have selected does not encapsulate all of the spirit of Hinduism. After all, Hindus believe in benevolent deities as well as wicked ones (but then again so did the Greeks). Even so, I do think that this Smashing Pumpkins song does embody in a general way their philosophical worldview. When it comes to humanity, one thing is certain, everyone that is alive is subject to an endless cycle of suffering and decay, which, for a Hindu, is a just reward for karmic ignorance. According to Hindu belief, this karmic punishment will play itself out over countless lifetimes (perhaps millions), ceasing only when one fully comes to the recognition that we are not, and that there is no "I" in I. At this point, assuming one is fully enlightened, one then returns to the indistinguishable impersonal sea of being known as Brahman. From their point of view, we don't need to be saved so much as realize that we are Brahmin. In an odd sort of way, grunge is the perfect medium for this kind of spiritual cynicism. Whether it's Nirvana (a very Hindu/Buddhist name), Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, or any other band of this ilk, what they all seem to have in common is a great love affair with death and despair. In "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", Corgan declares that the "world is a vampire... sent to drain." Indeed, even the guitar hook has a kind of circular hamster wheel-like quality to it. And appropriate to the spirit of re-incarnation, there are several points in the song in which Corgan describes himself as little more than an "animal" or a "rat" in a cage. Ironically, he does compare himself in the song to the Old Testament figure Job (poor little Corgan), though I would argue that what he describes is more of a Hindu-like Job, than one looking to be consoled by the God of Israel.

Desert Rose (Sting) - Islam

The last three religions on this list technically derive from the same origin. In other words, all three worship the God of Abraham. However, that is precisely where they all diverge. Islam believes itself to be a restoration of the Abrahamic faith; a return to the old religion. In certain ways Muslims do share many similarities with the Christian and Jewish faith. Yet in its attempt to go backwards, there really is an element within Islam that is redundant. You could argue that some of this "redundancy" is necessary, but you cannot say that Islam originates it.  Mohammad is the final prophet, but Islam offers no Messiah to look forward to, only the promise of a return to the tribal world of Abraham. Subsequently, what results in Islam is not a greater intimacy with God, but simply a reestablishing of the yawning chasm that exists between God and man. Muslims do not deny this fact, for when they talk about the afterlife it does not involve, like the Christian, a face to face encounter with the Deity. God is so far beyond our comprehension that the just man can only go to a kind of earthly paradise, while the divine abode is forever inaccessible. In many ways the music of the Middle East seems to echo this sentiment. And while I would never dare pretend to be any kind of expert on music in that region of the world, the music that I have heard has a very distinct character to it. When I listen to it I cannot help but to think of desert convection and the burning hot son looming high above me, relentless, like some divine drill sergeant. Perhaps this is what inspired Sting to hire Cheb Mami to sing a song about longing for a garden in the desert. I'm not a huge fan of this glorified car commercial, however, I always listen to it if only to hear Mami do his classic middle eastern chant. Vocally, it is one of the more odd forms of vocalizing. Unlike most singing in the West- where the vocals proceed outward from the throat- this form of singing involves an eerie kind of swallowing of the notes. It sounds to me like someone falling into a bottomless pit, or someone reaching upward towards a God that is forever retreating from him. Haunting is the only word to describe it.


Alleluia (Leonard Cohen) - Judaism

Though Leonard Cohen claims to be a Buddhist, his poetical instincts are more reminiscent of his Jewish heritage. Of the monotheistic religions, Judaism is the only one  that can rightly claim to be the spiritual father of them all. Nevertheless, Judaism is in many ways a cliffhanger without a next season, a verse without a chorus, a joke without a punchline. By its own admission it is a religion that is yet to be fulfilled. For Jews, the Messiah has not yet come. What is most interesting to me about Judaism is how it maintains an intimacy with God (especially in the Psalms) while at the same time preserving the infinite disparity between the two parties. The song Alleluia embodies this spirit of Judaism well. If I were to compare it to a hymn I would compare it to "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel". The song offers hope, but it is a very muted hope. Indeed, the "rejoice rejoice" feels more like melancholy than enthusiasm. There may be joy awaiting you, but it is not yet here. Both the lyrics and the music embody the aforementioned spirit. The first two verses are about David and the tragic manner in which he "achieves" his Alleluia. The verses that follow shift their attention to the songwriter, who also discovers that love is not always a "victory march", but rather a "cold and broken" Alleluia. The music itself builds as it reaches the chorus, but when the chorus arrives, the music descends as opposed to ascending. Just as in "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel", the moment when the words are most uplifting is precisely the moment when it becomes most somber and mournful. Redemption is on the way, but redemption has been delayed, and until it arrives our Alleluia can only be one of longing and anticipation.

In Your Eyes (Peter Gabriel) - Christianity

The primary contention of the Christian Faith is not that man has found God through his philosophical formulations, but that God, through a remarkable act of self-abasement, has condescended to find us and lift us out of our own basement. God in former times made a promise to save his people, and that same God delivered on the promise in the person of Jesus Christ. The longing that was found in the "verse" of the Old Testament, has its fulfillment in the "chorus" of the New Testament. Perhaps this is why it is the only religion that demands that its followers spread the message, for it is not so much a philosophy, as it is an announcement; "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!" The truth is philosophies are great, admonitions are wonderful, but when you're down in a black pit of misery you really don't want either; you want to be saved. Whether or not you actually believe that Christ saves is another matter, though I do think it is important to note that he is the only founder of a religion that claims to accomplish this. It is also worth noting that the whole idea that music should reach some kind of resolution, or have a specific narrative arc, is something that finds its roots in the Christian West. For example, if you look at most world music it is more dedicated to a feeling, or an atmosphere, rather than a specific story that has a beginning, middle, and end. By contrast, when we look at music in the West, we see all sorts of examples of this- in opera, classical, and contemporary music. In Your Eyes embodies this Christian spirit in an undeniable way. The verses are a bit somber and melancholic, though never in a despairing way; "Love, I get so lost sometimes. Days pass, and this emptiness fill my heart... I get so tired working so hard for our survival. I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive." In essence, the verse describes man in his attempt to climb the mountain of God and persevere amidst every manner of uncertainty. However, unlike in the previous song, his perseverance is not met with a distant hope that his suffering will eventually amount to something beautiful. No, his prayer, if you will, is answered. The chorus is truly a release and a resolution in both a musical and lyrical sense; "In your eyes, the light the heat, (your eyes) I am complete, (your eyes) I see the doorway to a thousand churches, (your eyes), the resolution of all the fruitless searches." Indeed, this talk of feeling "complete" and of "resolution" is both the point (and the joy) of the Christian Faith (not to mention the point and pleasure of the song). We all love a good chorus, but a chorus without the necessary build up is a bit anti-climatic. And in the same way, Christ's coming without the requisite ache of Israel would have had the same practical effect. Interestingly, at the end of the Peter Gabriel song, he introduces African tribal chanting which gives the song an ancient, if mystical, quality. The sentiment he is trying to express at this point is meant to go beyond words. This is important in the context of what the Christian Faith says about other religions, for it does not reject anything that is true in them. To the contrary, she seeks to give greater meaning and context to the wisdom and insight that men have gleaned throughout the ages. Thus, the song embodies what is true and beautiful about the Christian faith, while at the same time affirming the natural instincts and insights of men. As for chant itself, it truly embodies a timeless quality, but since the Christian Faith is also a religion rooted in time, it is most appropriate that both sentiments get a hearing.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The 10 Worst/Best PETA Campaigns

Is it wrong to be grateful for an organization like PETA? I cannot say. What I can say is that without this organization's willingness to take their philosophy to such extremes, no one would believe that such absurdity were possible. However, thanks to their willingness to go completely off the rails, everyone can now observe first hand what happens when you worship the wrong things. From PETA's perspective, they are simply representing reality as they see it. For the rest of humanity they are (or at least should be) a mirror of what life would look like if everyone believed that animals were humans. In fact, in many ways, these modern day Manichees have reversed the order of dignity, perceiving man to be the great obstacle and enemy of an otherwise harmonious and utterly benevolent ecosystem. Like any heresy of thought, it is not one's regard for a certain idea that is problematic, but rather the exaggerated sense of importance that they place on it. For example, PETA worries about cows being exploited for their milk, but strangely they take no position on abortion. One might even ascertain from their behavior on these matters that they are down right antagonistic when it comes to human concerns. At any rate, below you will find a most spectacular list of examples of what transpires when you manage to liberate yourself from what animal rights group call "speciesism", and instead regard chicken, fish, and other tasty meated creatures (I'm getting hungry already) as the moral equivalent to human beings. The question is if the PETA people really believe that Auschwitz is going on everywhere (yes, that includes even your local KFC), then how do they even get out of bed in the morning? I will leave that to the PETA experts to explain, and instead consign myself to presenting what they themselves have presented to the public.

10. Caged Wisdom

It is no secret that PETA people like to get naked in order to make their point. I am not sure what point they are trying to make other than "Look at me! I'm naked and good looking, oh and also don't exploit and/or abuse animals." Of course, it is alright for humans to exploit themselves for such advertising, but please love animals because they are naked. On the other hand, maybe the nakedness is the result of these brave individuals standing in solidarity with their animal buddies who themselves are clearly naked (though some animals do wear fur, which I think should be prohibited in the animal kingdom). But whatever the reason, what this particular campaign seeks to do is to associate the people in the cage with the animals that find themselves in the same position. Quite often such individuals will paint their bodies in the pattern of a cheetah, or some such creature, and move about the cage behaving like one. I don't know what is more amusing- adults in a cage imitating wild animals, or the seriousness with which these souls perform their feral duties.

9. The PETA Coloring Book

Former "Clueless" star, Alicia Silverstone, is evidently so dedicated to the PETA cause, that she feeds her little baby boy, Bear Blu, like a mother bird feeds her nestling (I wonder why she doesn't just feed him like a bear, but I digress), masticating the food, and then placing it in the mouth of her child; "He literally crawls across the room to attack my mouth if I'm eating." It is one thing to proselytize to adults about the evils of a carnivorous diet, but when such propaganda is geared towards children, it just really gets weird. The above picture is taken from a PETA coloring book which is of course targeted to little children. Nothing like a coloring book in which you ask children to skillfully color an elephant that is at the present moment receiving shock treatments from his trainer (though based on the above photo, they both look as if they are receiving it). I'm not saying that I approve of the methods that circus' use in order to train their animals, but neither do I approve of children weeping as they attempt to color various pictures that depict animals being tortured. This tells you just how serious this group is about their cause, for who else would seek to expose children to such brutality unless they had first consumed every last drop of that infamous Kool-Aid. Imagine asking children to color a picture of one boy "tazing" another as a means to raise awareness about the cruelty of bullies. I fear that they might enjoy it just a little too much.


8. Clofu

In another lame attempt to "sexify" the idea of vegetarianism, PETA declared that they would take samples of George Clooney's perspiration (au de Clooney) and use it to make a magnificent batch of Tofu. I'm no expert on the making of Tofu, but I never would have suspected that the secret ingredient was human sweat. I guess vegans are willing to try just about anything in order to make something so bland and flavorless (as Tofu clearly is) the slightest bit more palatable. At any rate, it doesn't say much for Tofu that it must be marinated in sweat in order to give it appeal, even if that sweat does belong to the great George Clooney.  

7. Got Autism?

One of the things that makes PETA so great is their complete disregard for any form of good taste. However, you certainly cannot accuse them of inconsistency, for they carry their animal logic about as far as one can possibly carry it (though they seem strangely aloof to the animal known as "human"). But if you thought that they were only focused on the killing and/or torturing of animals, you would be wrong. PETA also concerns itself with the exploitive practice of stealing milk from cows (which is to PETA the equivalent of stealing candy from a baby). Whereas most people would regard this as an ethical use of animals, PETA views this as a violation of their hanimal rights. But it is not enough for them to simply reject this "unethical" practice, rather they have to offend everyone else in the process. I am not precisely sure which studies show that the consumption of cow's milk causes autism, but my guess is that such insignificant details matter very little to the PETA people. The only thing that matters is convincing/scaring people into thinking that if they break one of these taboos they will be cursed with some terrible disease. Not since the religious pamphleteer Jack Chick, have I seen such divine bombast directed towards potential converts. But the milk campaign does not simply end here, for PETA has also targeted the famous Ben and Jerry's and encouraged them to permanently swear off cow's milk. What do they recommend as a replacement? Human breast milk.

6. Sea Kittens and Fish Memorials       

When it comes to fish, the people from PETA are no less passionate. Recently in California there was a truck carrying a large quantity of fish that got into a three car collision. Were the drivers OK? Who cares! From PETA's perspective, it is not sufficient to simply lament the death of these poor little fishies. No, one must also demand that government officials put up a sign memorializing the date on which these innocent fish were brutally slaughtered. As part of a similar campaign to protect fish, they have also sought to draw an equivalency between kittens and fish sticks. Unlike the above photo which utilizes the grotesque to make its point, these so called "sea kittens" look like something out of Finding Nemo. With an image such as this they may not be seeking to change the hearts of the dedicated fish slaughterers, but they do hope to persuade people that have never thought about how eating a grouper was like chomping on a batch of little kittens. I suppose I do find it a little ironic that they are trying to prevent us humans from eating fish, but in the mean time equating those fish with an animal that would love nothing more than to get his paws on one.


5. PETA and Jeffrey Dahmer

It speaks for itself.

4. KFC and Crippled Babies in a Bucket

Just to let you know how serious they are about protecting chickens, PETA recently brought their traveling band of lunatics to a Trappist monastery. Why? Because the monastery was supporting themselves, at least in part, by the production of fresh eggs. This was unacceptable to PETA, and seeing an easy target they brought their noisy parade to Mepkin Abbey. Seeking to preserve their silence, the monks understandably succumbed to the wishes of this human scream machine. Therefore, we should not be shocked to discover a rift between PETA and that dear old man named The Colonel. Indeed, according to PETA, not only is this man a remorseless redneck chicken murderer, but he apparently even puts crippled baby chickens in those magnificent buckets. I have never personally had that particular combo, but I suppose it could be on the menu. Once again, the great irony here is that if The Colonel put real crippled babies in a bucket and fed them to people, PETA would have very little to say about it (in fact they might regard it as good for the environment), but when it comes to those crunchy little crippled baby chickies, it is an abomination beyond all others. You may think this an exaggeration, but don't. This week I received a special e-mail from PETA (their spies must have noticed that I have been searching for information on them) granting me the opportunity to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Mind you, not the human victims who are still suffering beyond measure, but rather only the animals who have been displaced or abandoned. PETA is in truth a satire killer. They have stolen about every single joke that I could possibly make simply because they have already made them.

3. Chickens and Jews

This particular campaign is also about chickens, but I felt it deserved a category all its own. A riddle: what is more offensive, suggesting that chickens are equivalent to Jews, or that Jews are equivalent to chickens? The answer is yes. Such a correlation should prove to everyone once and for all that PETA really doesn't care who they offend. They may care about "what" they offend because to them what is who and who is what. To put it in perspective (which is the opposite of what is being presented above), there is obviously room to be appalled by some of the conditions and/or treatment that chickens receive. For example, it is not wrong for anyone to suggest, as PETA did with the Jeffrey Dahmer campaign, that one who takes pleasure in torturing animals as a child is not likely to be much of a humanitarian. Where they go off the rails is when they ascribe human rights to animals who themselves have no desire or capacity to adhere to those very same principles. Thus, even as PETA disregards human concerns, they admit the dominion (or if you like, stewardship) of humanity by reifying animals with concepts that would not exist were it not for humans. What we have here in this particular campaign is a sanity test. Admittedly, it is a low bar to pass, but it is simply this: if you look at the above image with a sense of horror, shock, and dismay, or at least with a sense of laughter at the absurd nature of it, you still have some marbles left. On the other hand, if you look at the image and nod in solemn agreement, then I don't have to tell you just how far you are from a full box of crayons.            


2. The KKK and Dog Shows

I'll give PETA this much- they are not in the traditional sense, "politically correct". Whereas most extremist will go out of their way only to offend certain groups- while skillfully avoiding others- this cannot be said of PETA. They really have no regard for any humans whatsoever (except themselves). So when it comes to comparing racism to what goes on at a dog show, why should it matter that they have single-handedly managed to trivialize the historical experience of blacks (I wonder if they have ever considered a similar campaign in order to rail against those who dare to ride horses)? Yet this is more than racially insensitive, but rather racism in the truest sense. After all, are they not equating the black man with a dog? Indeed, not even our president is safe from the ever watchful eye of PETA, for during an interview a few years back, he dared to swat a fly while appearing to take pleasure it. Consequently, PETA immediately rebuked him and expressed their dismay that he could not have found an alternative to this blatant form of insecticide. All the same, I think it would be inaccurate to call them racist in their behavior, for their bigotry seems to reach across all races and cultures. I would prefer describe them as egalitarian in their misanthropy.

1. The Unhappy Meal

I'm not sure exactly why this is my favorite PETA moment, other than the fact that I think it represents in the most basic sense what a kill-joy PETA is. I mean, is there any pleasure in life that is safe from this organization. What about that cruel creature we call the Easter Bunny, who goes about stealing eggs from innocent chickens and then winds up selling them to greedy children who paint them with blood red dye? Or what about SANTA CLAWS, that wicked fat man who has clearly gorged himself on various seasonal meats, not to mention all of that virgin cow milk he has put down his gullet over the years? And of course, how could we possibly forget that wicked clown that everyone recognizes as Ronald McDonald? As for myself, I am not much of a clown man; nevertheless, it is not so much the clown that they are interested in as those glorious "happy meals" which children of all ages clamor for (I think it's the toy inside that makes it so magical). Oh PETA, can we have nothing sacred except cows? Must every childhood pleasure be subjected to the McCruelty test? Thank you PETA! Because of  you the last vestiges of my childhood innocence are officially gone. Mission accomplished.

A few bonus photos for your viewing pleasure:

This ad was in response to a story about a Florida man losing his leg to a shark while fishing. Seems like a reasonable response, doesn't it?