Sunday, September 30, 2012

Religion and Reform: Behold These Ten Comments

Religiosity is no guarantee of good behavior and may even distract people from the (highly educational) earthly consequences of their (un)ethical decisions.  And yet: religion provides an important enough socializing function for many people that we should not throw out the community-building and morals-inculcating baby with the superstitious and myth-spewing bathwater. 

That’s one of the cautious thoughts that makes me in some sense a social conservative of sorts even while being an atheist (and anarchist, etc.).  The question, then, becomes whether I should put my money where my mouth is by joining one of those churchlike-without-God sorts of organizations like Ethical Culture or some Humanist Society or something (forgive me if I’ve completely misrepresented their views, but you know what I mean).

Unfortunately, those organizations, judged from afar, appear to tend to be embarrassing mushy liberal/socialist New Agey Unitarian sorts of affairs – another argument for traditionalism, though not ultimately one strong enough to overcome the fact that there is no God.  Also, I’m busy.


1. Tomorrow (Monday, Oct. 1) 7pm sees the NYSalon crowd (including some reformed Marxists) discussing the reformed-or-mushy state of American “spirituality” – with all its “I’m not into religion, but I’m very spiritual” weirdness – at a panel discussion at the New School (55 W. 13th, 2nd floor), and I’ll check that out. 

2. Dawn Eden’s talk at the First Things HQ a couple weeks ago was ecumenical in its own way, given her Jewish upbringing and rock n’ roll reporter past, despite what an admirable job she does of hewing to the rules of her adopted Catholic religion (no relativist she). 

But that was during this blog’s now-ending “Month of Reform,” whereas October shall be: a “Month of Media.”  That means more rock, less talk (well, also several interesting movies, so let’s focus on those instead of the exhausting election, in a surprise bit of counter-programming).

3. Eclectic in his own way – and bearded – is Dawn’s pal, First Things editor David Mills, who started out leftist and union-affiliated before going all Gandalf.  I suspect you will hear of him again on this blog as it navigates an increasingly strange and kaleidoscopic future.

4. Happily for the Jews (converted to Catholicism or otherwise), Sukkot tonight coincides with the Fox Animation Domination season premieres, as G-d wants humanity to celebrate, or would if He existed. 

5. Like many people, I highly recommend the gently and quietly Scientology-parodying movie The Master, which certainly captures the tension between the dangers of gullibility and the benefits (at least for those adrift) of structure, almost any structure.

6. Amidst Middle Eastern craziness from the Muslim folk,
it’s easy to lose track of the strange and conflicting (and not ultimately all that important) stories about what motivated the makers of the blasphemous faux-trailer some radicals pointed to as justification for their rampages – but after it appearing for a time that an Egyptian Coptic Christian who hated Islam was responsible, I see some reports now suggest it might actually have been Muslims mocking Muslims, either as a deliberate provocation or some sort of strange con job. 

If the mundane, non-geopolitical truth turns out to be that the filmmaker just wanted to piss people off, you have to admit it was a very successful instance of trolling.

7. On a similar note, I just rewatched South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut for the first time in about a decade, and it’s a delight to remember what a bracing surprise a singing gay Satan was back in 1999, the year that restored my faltering faith in Hollywood (Matrix, Fight Club, etc.).  Despite Phantom Menace. 

8. Parker and Stone’s Book of Mormon musical is all right, too, but I don’t think it can compete for sheer exaggeration with the portrait of Mitt Romney some of his critics now paint. 

This year more than any before, I feel as if the left had a list of labels they were planning to slap on whoever won the GOP nomination – anti-women warrior, culture-war fanatic, cut-throat laissez-faire capitalist – and by gum, they’re going to slap them on that nominee even if he’s, well, the return of the Northeastern-establishment Rockefeller Republicans and living, moderate proof that the Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, and Ron Paul “revolutions” didn’t change much. 

Despite most libertarian-leaning voters apparently planning to vote for Romney as the lesser of two evils, he’s no Gary Johnson (who I’m voting for), and Paul Ryan is no John Galt, much as I might wish otherwise.  Trust me, hardcore libertarians are even more dismayed by Romney than the hardcore leftists are by the countless ways in which Obama has disappointed them. 

And the religious right and leftist atheists alike should know that a Mormon president has a huge incentive to never, never, never draw attention to the topic of religion.  In the unlikely-seeming event that Romney wins in November, we will plainly get four years of business and politics as usual – even as the system crumbles around us – not some crazy culture war, and unless the left has been driven truly bonkers by fear for their golden child, Obama, they must know that.

9. If this country were governable enough to have anything like a theocracy or a serious culture war, I admit I’d be nervous about some of the religiony folk.  One told me last night she was under the impression that the basic legal rule regarding speech is that anything “bad” can be banned.  They ban foods all the time, don’t they?  Can’t argue with that part, but luckily it’s not yet seen to carry much weight in First Amendment cases.  Can’t imagine what’d be left if it did.  My friend seemed to think all porn is already technically illegal.  Your neighbors are all living in completely different mental universes, people. 

10. I’ll say this much for the Freemasons: this elderly member seems to be trolling the shit out of a stupid Christian videographer who thinks he’s extracting a real confession of Satanism from the man.  May the trolls and subversives win in the end.

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