Nelson Mandela and Phil Robertson: What does tolerance mean to you?

The two most significant news stories of the past few weeks include the death of one of the most dedicated freedom fighters the world has ever known and a comment made by the patriarch of the nation’s premier family when it comes to making duck calls. Both general storylines involve tolerance, persecution, and hate. They involve a minority and a majority, anger and love, popularity and dissent, freedom and expression. The world on one hand mourned the loss of Nelson Mandela in South Africa recently as we were reminded of his struggle for personal freedom, for equality for his people through the abolition of apartheid, and his support of nonviolent means to accomplish his peaceful and tolerant ends. On the other hand, many Americans are bemoaning the fact that a reality TV star in an attention grabbing interview likened homosexual practices to fornicating with animals citing the Bible as his intellectual foundation for that relationship. Which one of these happenings affected more Americans and sparked more discourse? Sadly, an unintelligible duck call entrepreneur…

So, because so many people are making Phil Robertson’s bigoted and ignorant comments a religious issue let’s fight fire with fire. The bible calls homosexuality and bestiality an abomination. In Leviticus, the bible also  claims that you can’t eat anything from the sea that lacks fins or scales. The bible dictates that if you are widowed by your husband you must live with his older brother and submit to his every demand so that he will take care of  your family. The bible decrees that meat should be prepared a certain way from clean parts of an animal. The bible claims that God is a murderer (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus). Do these seem oversimplified? Absolutely. But, Christians, including Phil Robertson, apparently have the ability to pick and choose when the nuances of historical and cultural change apply to ancient texts and when those same words should be taken literally. Based on his logic, all of the following things are the same as homosexuality in God’s eyes:

Eating Bacon

Eating Shrimp

Eating Lobster

Eating Crab (ok you get it)

Masterbation

Anal Sex

Oral Sex

Gambling

Remarriage outside the family

Consuming alcohol

Being rich

All of a sudden I’m feeling like super gay guys. Come on, let’s be serious here. Christians don’t live their lives like they or their beliefs are being persecuted because they aren’t. But, when something hits the newsprint such as this story they are up in arms about how their lifestyle is being infringed upon along with their freedom of speech because of the growing tide of political correctness. Jesus taught about love, tolerance, humility, and caring for your neighbor. How does an unprovoked bigoted attack on homosexuals constitute the way of God? And, if it does, why would you believe in him or worship the teachings that are supposedly infallible that support those hateful conclusions Phil Robertson espoused. Christians in this country are not in the minority, they never have been. Just because they are jealous of the growing support minority groups receive when they are singled out by intolerant Christians doesn’t mean the prescription to cure that situation is to claim persecution. It’s so weak and if your only defense is “read the bible” then ok, do it. You’ll find that no one lives up to this ill-conceived hodgepodge of requirements for Christian life. We live in 2013 and it should be different than 200 B.C. but when our thought processes are so primitive it’s hard to see a marked difference.

Furthermore, something important in the name of tolerance did happen recently. Nelson Mandela’s life is a blueprint for how people of all colors and faiths and orientations can come together for what is progressive and good. Ending apartheid for black South Africans mirrors the fight against true persecution that many have fought and are fighting including homosexuals around the world. Why stifle their efforts by latching on to outdated references that are divisive and bigoted? Madiba spent 27 years in jail for his cause and you are mad because Duck Dynasty has a bad reputation. Ask yourselves, what is persecution? What is tolerance? What is religion’s purpose if it brings about hate instead of love? Next time you order the bacon wrapped scallops and God doesn’t smite you, remember that the bible was a book written a long time ago by people who were very possibly intolerant and misguided. God doesn’t require us to emulate their path of hatred, but instead, we can make the world a better place by fighting hatred with the nonviolent methods Nelson Mandela employed in his heroic campaigns.

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The Power and Ignorance of Belief

Spoiler alert: This post is about religion. If your first inclination was to stop reading for fear of taking offense to the content below-this post is for you. If your first inclination was to read on with a caustically discerning eye and pick apart my logic with more precision than with which a vulture strips a carcass-then this post is for you. If your first inclination was to channel the mediator of your friend group or family that softly suggests, “Can’t we all just get along?”-then this post has you in mind. This is not meant to instigate although it is critical. This is not meant to preach for that would be antithetical. Simplicity in all things, however, should not be confined to areas in our lives that are somehow separate from spiritual and religious beliefs. Therefore, the logic and reasoning that pervade our daily decisions, our productivity at work, and that shapes our dreams and aspirations should be consistent when concerning our belief systems.

Belief is a choice. It is the choice to fill in the cracks of an ideological structure founded in uncertainty with the putty that quells the need for questioning. The putty does not make the structure stable or secure if forced to function, but the project is finished. The need for touch-ups every now and again is an acceptable consequence when compared with the prospect of rebuilding the imperfect structure to ensure continued functionality. This is a building project that we all tend to leave unfinished, because the reserves of belief putty are limitless. Conviction covers this crack and tradition makes this wall non-load bearing. “Please, anything so we can stop working”, becomes our attitude toward things that require belief to cloud the fact that questions are unanswered or the truth is seemingly unattainable. But, the purpose of this diatribe is to illuminate the inane idea that we scoff at the stability and legitimacy of other belief structures when our own process and project is equally unfinished. This elaborate and probably ‘off the mark’ metaphor can be better summarized in a short anecdote.

I was watching a documentary on The Buddha recently (yes Christians, take a minute and exercise those frowning muscles) and a Christian was in the room watching as well. The program described Buddha’s long journey of self discipline and spiritual awakening that resulted in enlightenment underneath the Bodhi fig tree. He was hesitant as to whether he should broadcast his message of nirvana when  he was supposedly visited by a God who pleaded for him to be a teacher of this unprecedented knowledge. The foundation of Buddhism was then laid and the wheel of Darma eventually began to roll when Buddha shared his experience. The Christian, when I turned in his direction, extended his hand for the remote and with a blank, exasperated expression on his face, bluntly stated, “I don’t get it” and proceeded to change the channel.

Yet, somehow, that same person believes that their savior was born unto a virgin, was crucified only to be risen from the dead, and is the physical manifestation of his heavenly father as he lived on earth. One brush up with the supernatural is somehow preposterous and another is not? Followers of Buddha do and did so because of the necessary and sufficient condition that he had attained enlightenment. Followers of Jesus do and did so because he is a member of the Holy Trinity. He must be or else he would not be worth his follower’s devotion. So, in both cases, believers are choosing to accept the necessary and sufficient conditions that justify and necessitate their belief structure. However, what they fail to realize is that all of those structures are the same. They are all self-evident. The principles and dogmas employ circular logic that work backward from an end so as to justified by the means in forms of rituals, traditions, rules, and teachings. This is not to say that there is no merit within these teachings and religious lessons, however, the point is that even belief systems seemingly so different are very much the same. It then becomes baffling to me that the Christian in this anecdote is unwilling to recognize this truth about his brethren in faith albeit a Buddhist. The two devotees have more in common than they realize.

And that is where the frustration lies. Religion is about communal strength as taught by the tenets that define a people’s beliefs. So why is it that almost to a rule different religions cannot seem to accept each other in terms of legitimacy or validity? I think that the more clear realization in this case shows that the Christian recognizes the leaps of faith a Buddhist needs to make to acquiesce to their belief structure. That same Christian however, amazingly seems incapable of recognizing the supernatural elements of large bounds of faith necessary to stimulate their own religious practices. The Christian nor the Buddhist is unique in this sense. So, wouldn’t it be easier if the world was peacefully separated into believers and non believers instead of the us against the world mentality that many major religions perpetuate?

Belief is in fact a choice. It is a choice that is manifested in a myriad of ways in a myriad of circumstances of faith driven systems. But, all those who make that choice and are believers share something in common even if they are Christian or Buddhist. Look inward and reevaluate if you are willing to accept the choice to believe that your religion begs of you. Look outward and commiserate and understand another believer’s choice that their religious beliefs require of them. After all, none of our belief based structures have completed their construction and they never will so why attempt to question the foundation of your neighbor’s structure without recognizing that the same cracks exist in your own dwelling? As someone who does not believe in belief as a truth seeking alternative, it baffles me not that people feel differently than I but that people are unwilling to truly understand their own faith building habits and hold those principles in a separate realm as compared to their neighbors. Religions of peace require more compassion and effort in order to coexist.