A little quiz question for today, what do the Pope, the Queen, David Cameron and Bono have in common?
Well, if you said the Pope is head of the Catholic Church, the Queen is the head of State for Britain and the Church of England, David Cameron is the head of the present Government, and Bono has a big head, then head would be the connection and you might be right, and actually that is a right answer too, when you think about it.
But that’s not the answer we’re looking for today, so, sorry if you said that but good thinking just the same.
The answer we’re looking for today is this one, and this might surprise some people, but the correct answer is, they all say or think they are Christians but in reality none of them are, which might surprise some people since two of them are heads of Christian Churches , and at least one of them thinks they are God.
So, how is that the right answer, I hear you say? Well, I was at mass a couple of weeks ago and the priest was talking about the reading that day, which was the one about how it would be ‘easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it would be for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God ’ (or heaven, anyway, same thing). And he went on about wealth and poverty, and I was sitting there thinking ‘well what about the Vatican ?’ I almost got up and said it, and if it had been another priest I might have, but this priest is old and retired and then I thought, ‘well he’s not Rome so why harass him about it’. And then yesterday we were back on the money question with the story of the widow's mite. Now, I go to mass, I consider myself Catholic, definitely not a Roman Catholic but Catholic in the original sense of the word, which comes from the Greek and means ‘universal’, and that is how I consider myself. I am a member of the ‘universal church of humanity’.
I was in Rome a couple of years ago and while there was a lot to see, from an historical perspective, I didn’t particularly like the place and I certainly didn’t feel too inspired by the ‘Christianity’ of the Vatican, and wouldn’t be in a hurry to go back any time soon. When I was there, I was hoping for some profound spiritual experience, and the nearest I got to encountering anything like that, was looking at Michaelangelo’s Pieta, which is in St Peters , and is a stunningly beautiful piece of sculpture. If you ever go to Rome, I couldn’t recommend this highly enough.
The other big attraction was the Sistine Chapel, and honestly, I felt a bit let down by it. Firstly, it’s not really a chapel, as you would imagine, it’s just another room in the Vatican, and by the time you get to it, you have passed through so many rooms painted from floor to ceiling with angels and the like, that your eye is a bit tired of it all.
I had the same thing in the Rennaissance section of the Louvre, I remember coming out and thinking, ‘If I see one more picture of the dead Christ…..!’ And for the record, the painting of God and man touching, which I had always imagined was this huge painting across a domed ceiling is in fact a small panel in the centre of the ceiling about 5ft by 3ft. (it probably is bigger than that, but perspectively, that is how it appeared).
Anyway, what got me about it, was the wealth of art in the Vatican museum and also the fact that the Pope lives like an earthly king. He lives in a palace, is surrounded by lackeys and riches, he is dressed in expensive robes, waited on hand and foot and is separated from the people. He is supposed to be Jesus’ representative on earth, how is that anything like Jesus? And here’s another thing, he is supposed to be infallible, says who? I would like to know, where that idea came from? He can’t be infallible, he is a human being, it isn’t possible, all humans are flawed and imperfect, it’s the most interesting thing about us. Just think how boring it would be, if we were all perfect and flawless?
When you look at it, everything about the Pope, goes against everything Jesus preached about. And the same goes for the Queen, it is a complete hypocrisy to have a Queen as head of any Christian church, and the same applies to David Cameron and Bono, you cannot be that rich and be a Christian, it just isn’t possible, you may perform Christian acts now and again, but as long as you are sitting with all those millions (and avoiding paying tax) you are not, and never can be, a Christian, in the truest and only sense of the word.
And since we’re on the subject of Churches and religion, any religion that differentiates between men and women is wrong, especially if the Bible is a big part of the religion, because one of the first statements in the Book of Genesis says, that God made them, male and female, both equal. That’s it, equal, no more, no less, equal. Not the Animal Farm kind of equal, where ‘everyone is equal, only some are more equal than others’, no not that one. There was no qualification to it, all equal, no argument.
And if you really believed in the God of the Bible, you couldn’t regard any human being as not being your equal, (or as discussed in previous blogs, of equal value), because if you believe God made everything, then to say that a woman is something less than a man, is to insult God. If God made them equal then who is any human being to say that Her/His/ It’s creation, woman, is something less, when they are both human. The value for what He/She/It has created, then extends to everything, because if you truly believed that, then you have to consider that every thing that God has created, is of value to God, otherwise it would not exist.
Which makes it very arrogant and insulting to go traipsing around claiming dominion over other lands and other human beings, and treating them badly, or as your own personal property. Because if everything is God’s creation, then maybe it’s time we started to really think about that and consider how we are living and how we treat other people and the planet. Maybe it’s time we cleaned up our act and started taking care of what we have been given because whether there is or isn’t a God, and whether you believe or don’t believe in a God, we only have a short time here so why don’t we do our best to live well and respectfully, and try and make life better for everyone.
I mean, does the Queen, and David, and Bono, and all those other millionaires and billionaires really need all that money. They can’t spend it in a lifetime and it won’t buy them another life, and they can’t take it with them, so what do they need it for, to feed their egos and make them feel like they are successful, that they are better human beings than the rest of us?
Sorry, but the bad news about that is, if you can sit with millions or billions in a bank while on this planet another human being is dying for the want of something as basic as food, then you have failed in the most important area of life, you have failed as a human being and you have certainly failed as a Christian.
I mean, what are we here for if not to live, life is supposed to be lived is it not? Why does it always feel that life is something to be endured or survived, why can we not just live it and live it well? We speculate and ponder the meaning of life and maybe it is something as simple as that, to live it and live it well.
Comments as usual, are always welcome.
Watching the Olympic opening ceremony the other night, I realized that the soundtrack of the opening, was also the soundtrack of my life. While I was born, and still live in Northern Ireland , I identify with a lot of aspects of British culture.
I mostly watch BBC television and listen to BBC radio. David Bowie was my first crush and Led Zeppelin my favourite band. I recognized the films clips from Kes and Billy Elliot, they’re both in my own film collection, and of course, I can thank the OU, for knowing all about Glastonbury Tor. When I thing about identity, or what country or people I identify with, then there are so many influences that have shaped me that it would be almost impossible to identify with one country or one group of people alone. I would have considered myself Irish growing up, but realistically there are many aspects of Irish culture that I can’t relate to at all, especially the drinking culture.
Politically, the group I identify most with are the working class, but I also identify with women across the globe, especially those in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan in their struggles against male domination. I can also identify with the black man’s struggle against racial bigotry, Malcolm X is my one of my political heroes and I often think his assassination was a greater loss to the American people than Dr King. I also identify with the Native American community in their struggles to survive after the loss of their land, and the ongoing problems that alcohol has caused in their communities.
Spiritually, I identify with their idea of the Great Spirit, but I also identify with the Chinese philosophy of Taoism and Tibetan Buddhism. Christianity, is the faith I was brought up in, and I also have a lot of regard for the teachings of Jesus. There is a school of thought, that believes that Jesus studied Eastern philosophy, part of this comes from his saying, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’….because Taoism translates as the ‘way’, and of course there are many other similarities between both philosophies. (I prefer to call them philosophies, not religions, because at their core, they are about seeking truths about how to live morally, and ethically)
When I consider all of these things, I can’t stand up and say I am one thing and one thing alone, I don’t belong to one homogenous group, to the exclusion of all others. I am a sub-culture of many different places and peoples, and when you think about it, aren’t we all a sub-culture?
We eat the food from different places, are influenced by other peoples ideas and ways of living, we have been shaped by so many different things, that when politicians start deriding multi-culturalism, I often wonder how interesting it would be, if all the people in the country who had a parent or grand- parent from a different country, went out on strike for a day. I think it would be really interesting to see just how multi-cultural we all are, and I’m sure there would be a few surprises among them all. Even the Queen is descended from Germany on one side of the family.
And there was another thing about the Olympic opening, when the athletes were coming in, there were very few countries that weren’t multi-cultural. I have often said that time will prove Darwin right, and all those people of dark skin who came to live in traditionally white countries, and all the white people who have moved to places like Africa and Australia will eventually have descendants with different coloured skin. It won’t happen overnight, it’ll take a few generations, but I remember the first time I saw a picture of Eugene Terre-Blanche, the leader of the right-wing National Party in South Africa . I remarked that it was strange for a black man to be leading a right-wing party, when I was informed he was white. Well, he didn’t look very white to me, and that was what got me thinking about it. If the Theory of Evolution is right, it follows logically, that is what should happen, as they adapt to their new environment. I discussed this with a friend one night, whose parents were originally from India, and he had to agree that his skin was lighter, and he noticed when he went back to India on holiday, how much paler he was compared to his relatives.
I have done a bit of traveling in the last few years, and what I have noticed over and over again, is that no matter where you live, or what political or religious philosophy you subscribe to, the fact is, there is only one human race, and the vast majority of us are just trying to make our way in the world. We want to be happy, we want a reasonable standard of living, we want to watch our children grow up in peace.
We’re very lucky in this part of the world, in spite of our social and political problems, that most of us have a roof over our heads, most of us have enough to eat and the truth is, most of us live like kings compared to other parts of the world. We have a lot to be grateful for, and yet we take so much for granted, we throw away our lives and chances with drugs and alcohol. We have eyes but we don’t really see the great beauty that is all around us, in nature and in people. We have ears but when we are out and about, they are usually plugged into an ipod or suchlike, and we never stop and really listen to the birds singing, or the wind soughing through the trees. (Great word that, soughing)
Western society has us tied in knots, we have been burdened with the stuff of capitalism and consumerism, we feel cut off and alone, most of us don’t even know our neighbours. Those who rule over us, are so out of touch with our basic reality that it makes us feel powerless to effect any sort of meaningful change. We have grown tired and cynical as we have seen politician after politician, promise us the sun, moon and stars, only to watch those same people, once elected, become another political clone, the grey man in the grey suit who helps fill the pockets of the rich, while ignoring the plight and reality of the rest of us. We yearn to be part of something, to unburden ourselves of the debt and pressure of modern life, we want to live simpler and better lives. We don’t need to be millionaires or billionaires, but is it really too much to expect a reasonable wage for a reasonable day’s work?
I read this in Steve Hagen’s book, ‘Buddhism, plain and simple’ - ‘Henry Ford after he make his first billion dollars, was asked how much more he wanted. He said he wanted just a little more’.
Henry Ford was also a bigot, and ferociously anti- Semitic, he advocated expelling all the Jews from the US . So for all his wealth, it doesn’t seem that Henry was a very happy man but it does allow us to see the thinking behind those who have so much wealth. Governments have advocated the ‘trickle down’ effect as way of re-distributing wealth. The idea is that if we allow the rich to become even more richer, then the wealth they create will trickle down. Unfortunately, the rich and the very rich, or ‘the haves and the have mores’, as George Bush so succinctly put it, like to keep all their money for themselves that’s why they are rich to begin with!
History will judge us, and history will condemn us, for the simple reason that those who had so much, were allowed to keep it, while others were left to starve to death. We can’t say we didn’t know because we do know, and while most of us are not millionaires or billionaires, and are limited in what we can do, governments are not. We need change, and we need it at the top, because that is where the power is. We need to think about who we vote for, and why, Do we really subscribe to the tenants of the religious faiths we belong too or we all just too worn out and tired, trying to make it from one working week to the next?
Change will come, whether by choice or circumstances, the global capitalist system has failed, although governments across the globe are still desperately trying to prop it up. We are now living through the last days of global capitalism. This way of living is coming to and end, it was never sustainable anyway. The economy is contracting, and India and China are experiencing an economic slow down, as well. (One thing the recession has done for me, is that I realized how few of the trappings of consumerism, I really need. I was out of work for a year and living on the dole certainly helps focus the mind on what you really need, as opposed to, what you want)
Capitalism is sustained by two things, oil and consumption. Oil is a finite resource and there are those who say we have already reached peak oil production, so it’s going to be all downhill from here. When I look around my house, as I’m sure you can too, ask yourself, just how many more products do you really need? When every room has the flat-screen tv, there are two, or maybe three, cars parked outside, your wardrobe is stuffed with clothes, and shoes, and all the incumbent accessories, and you probably only wear the same 3 or 4 outfits, again and again. The bathroom is overflowing with lotions and potions, the kitchen is the same with all the gizmos and gadgets, and around the TV in the living room, there are so many electrical items that a six- plug extension, - with surge protection of course - can barely cover it.
We need to really start thinking about the future and sustainable living, because if we don’t start planning now, then we are in for some very tough times ahead. If we don’t start preparing for a world without oil, then we’ll be facing a future of famine and war. There is a lot of talk around electric cars, but how are they going to be built when manufacturing depends on oil, not to mention the tarmac needed for the roads? And what about electricity, how are we going to be able to provide the energy levels that we enjoy now?
These are all questions that need to be taken seriously and we need to start looking for the answers. In looking forward, we need to look back to how we lived before we all became part of the capitalist system. I have always envied and admired the Native Americans and their lifestyle before ‘old whitey’ landed. They lived sustainably and didn’t desecrate the land the way we do. Christopher Columbus didn’t have to wade through rubbish dumps, or slum housing and ghettoes when he landed in the Americas . The first Europeans thought they had found the Garden of Eden, as the land was so pristine and abundant with food. We need to find some middle way between our technology and our resources so that we can take all the scientific and technological achievements and marry them in such a way as to create a society that can sustain itself and work for everyone together not just for those at the top. And to be able to do it without ravaging the planet, because this is one area where we will all be in it together and if we don’t start making real plans then there are some very dark days ahead for our children and grandchildren.
(The Native American communities are being ravaged by alcohol. The Lakota Sioux in South Dakota are trying to raise money to build a healing centre to help deal with the problems that alcohol is causing on the reservation and to care for children when their parents can’t. It is called Oceti Wakan, which means Sacred Fireplace. If you wish to donate you can log on to their website, just type in Oceti Wakan and you’ll find it)
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