Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Religion = Politics

While awaiting a table for dinner recently, I spied a guy with a plain white T-shirt that had a silk-screened message.  So what, you might respond.  The same happens in restaurants all day, every day.  This message, however, was a bit different.  I read, re-read and tossed it around in the empty cavern of my skull most of the night.  The message, boldly stated, was “Religion is the Politics of Spirituality”.  In this most desperate of political seasons, it resonated with me.  A search of several well-known computer databases to locate the author of this simple concept came up empty.  Perhaps it originated with Zeus, Socrates, Jean Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell or any one of hundreds of philosophers.  Maybe a bartender made it up.  Irrespective of to whom attribution belongs and from every direction I attack it, the conclusion was inescapable.  It seems so simple; I fear I’m the only one who didn’t know it.  If that be the case, stop reading here.

As I thought about it, though, I tried to recall the long-ago Sunday school lessons, college classes in philosophy and religious history (I perhaps didn’t attend as often as I might have) as well as subsequent readings, but over decades too many brain cells have been sacrificed on the altar of good times.  I did manage to conjure up images going back to battles between tribes of idol-worshipers (with competing idols, of course, sounding like today’s political campaigns, probably with negative ads) in 12,000 B.C., to the Israelites, through the Crusades, past the Spanish Inquisition, the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust and the more recent carnage between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland with many stops in between.  Logically enough, I ended my memorial tour with the battle being waged today against the U.S., Iraqi coalition countries, Afghanistan, Israel, most recently Russia and the rest of the non-Muslim world by a relatively small, but fanatical band of radical Islamists.  In some sick, twisted interpretation of the Koran they have created a veritable Manifesto of War against the rest of us, collectively referred to contemptuously as “the Infidel”.  Having read the Koran myself, I didn’t reach that interpretation any more so than I concluded that slavery and polygamy were fine ideas after reading the Bible. 

This battle, while being waged in the name of Allah and called by many a “jihad” or “holy war”, is in its simplest form a political skirmish, much like the ones being waged ad nauseum on our televisions, radios, live streams and in the few newspapers extant, though with a critical difference being the tragic loss of human life as a result of the former.  There is nothing “holy” about this war as it has little, if anything, to do with religion.  The T-shirt doesn’t lie. When distilled, these hostilities are simply religious politics.  The difference is that in the case of the Muslim extremists, individuals are willing (or at least brainwashed) to intentionally sacrifice themselves as “martyrs” to further the ostensible cause of establishing an Islamic caliphate or state.  Now that is either the ultimate political dedication or “holy” stupidity.  Perhaps they are one and the same.  Unfortunately, this particular “war” has already had tragic consequences on many continents, including our own, with tens of thousands of casualties and no end in sight. 

As it has so many times in history, the politics of religion has sidetracked the search by many for the spirituality they seek in an increasingly complex world.  For those who are spiritual, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Gnostic, Pagan or whatever, most believe that “god” is God, whether someone happens to call Him God, Jehovah, Allah, Yaweh or Bill.  Each who believes also strives--some more zealously than others-- to reach his or her own spirituality in spite of the “politics” that are calculated to keep us from that goal if it is sought outside of an organized, recognized religion, i.e. one that has ‘not-for-profit’ IRS status.  Not that any well-recognized and organized faith in and of itself is necessarily a hindrance to one reaching a personal peace, but again, the T-shirt doesn’t lie.  Having now thought about it in these terms, doesn’t it seem like the current political climate is much the same, i.e. it’s the politics and the surrounding debate of which particular “sect” is the true route to salvation (or vision of government) that is the root cause of the bickering, arguing and negativity (the electoral replacement for bloodshed)?  The religious belief system which purports to offer the quickest, guaranteed path to Heaven or Paradise or wherever it is to which our soul ascends at death seems to grab a majority of the attention of the flock.  It is a primary point in the religious proselytizing process calculated to retain the faithful and gain converts as larger numbers of “believers” translates to more power—and money.  Sound familiar?  It’s the same path the American electorate and its political parties travel during the “political season” and what we currently endure:  the battle for power.  Whoever offers quick, easy solutions and most important, painlessness in the process stands to gain the most.  Our Congress is full of mostly twisted individuals who care about two things:  Power and money.  The way they keep it is to keep the status quo.  Think about it.  Every election cycle we hear the cries of “Throw all of the bastards out”, but behind the cry is the whisper of “Except for my bastard”.  Think about it.  Look at the reelection percentages.  Power is the intoxicant whether political or religious.  But I digress.

If politics and striving for “religious” power are eliminated from the divine equation, the quest for spirituality would be much simpler wouldn’t it?  Instead of religious guerillas fighting in a “holy war” to find martyrdom and killing those who would dare to espouse a contrary dogma in some sort of morbid bid for recognition as the single, dominant worldwide religion, this “political battle” should be waged on a local level with clergy of all stripes assisting each individual in the quest to reach a personal spirituality and peace, however one completes the journey and achieves the goal.  The same is true with our own political process.  When the nonsense is stripped away, it all seems very simple.  About as simple as a plain white T-shirt. 

And now you know the rest of the story.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Great White Tee

I’m not one who often feels compelled to wax nostalgic at every turn, though give me 60’s Motown music over anything before or since.  Undeniably, however, growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s in idyllic small-town America, life was much simpler in just about every way imaginable.  Yeah, so we didn’t have modern conveniences like movies in the car, pizza delivery or electric toothbrushes (except that pre-historic one at the dentist’s office).  Neither did we engage personal shoppers, dispense with knives because of the advent of bagel slicers (as we’d never heard of bagels), enjoy the euphoria of heated car seats on a winter day, avail ourselves of drive-in dog washes, sip $5.00 coffee or, as God is my witness, live attached to a cell phone.  Instead we had “party-lines” with a phone shared with another household.  Really.  Somehow, though, we made do.  For the many millions of us (doomed?) to be forever classified, categorized, criticized and sometimes castigated as the single great demographic “Baby Boomers”, such was the case. 

If there would be a single item emblematic of those simpler times it was the plain, white T-shirt, be it a Jockey™, Fruit of the Loom™, BVD™ or otherwise.  Without any research I know that these ubiquitous garments are so named because of the ‘T’ shape of the body and sleeves. Back in the day, they all had short sleeves, and a collarless, round ‘crew’ neck.  These were the days, of course, before every commercial enterprise on planet Earth had its own t-shirts silk-screened.  To my recollection, back in the day these garments were all plain, white and primarily made of cotton.

A utilitarian item to be sure, a ‘tee’ was not part of a uniform per se, but nevertheless it was what we (at least the boys) wore just about every day after school (and sometimes to school) when organizing neighborhood games.  Yes, we organized our own with no parental involvement.  Shocking, isn’t it?  I digress. 

For the real tough, teenage guys, all trying to emulate the estimable James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause I suppose, nothing was cooler than rolling up a pack of cigarettes in the shirt sleeve of a white T-shirt.  This, of course, was before the inherent evils of smoking were explained to us which would likely have changed . . . nothing.  However, as fashion seems to be ever-changing, the simple T-shirt was about to undergo an evolution--no make that a revolution-- that rivals any in sartorial history other than perhaps the dismissal of the powdered wig for men.  Perhaps.

Along came silk-screening followed by even more sophisticated means of making the simple T-shirt into something much more.  All of a sudden, or so it seemed then, T-shirts morphed from basic body covering to clothing that could become anything that the mind could conjure.  They began to be available in virtually any color.  Then long sleeves were added after which both long and short were removed for the ‘sleeveless’ look, though qualified no long as a ‘tee’.  Should one be called an ‘I shirt’?  Certainly, the T-shirt became useful in political campaigns and as inexpensive advertisement for a plethora of products we couldn’t do without.  Supposedly.  And this was merely the beginning.  As the sixties exploded into the seventies, T-shirts became walking political statements of various points of view as they continue to be today.   Some are very clever and some are just instruments of ignorance and/or boorishness.  Some are vulgar and cross the line, wherever it seems to currently be drawn by a society that seems almost incapable of being shocked any longer. 

Marketing, however, is where we’ve really been duped.   Contemporaneously with this dumbing down we’ve graciously been allowed by Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan (even Brooks Brothers for god’s sake) and all the rest into paying them to market their product lines for free by buying T-shirts with their names and/or logos featured prominently.  This would be acceptable if my name were Tommy or Ralph, or the Golden Fleece was my personal crest, but whatever happened to the now-quaint idea of wearing labels on the inside of clothing?  Enough about the history of the T-shirt.  As the famous quote from the late Paul Harvey goes, “Now, the rest of the story”.  Stay tuned.

Monday, August 14, 2017


It is certainly not a new phenomenon, as I’ve noticed it for a number of years.  I thought it must be a fad or phase or craze, but it continues apace.  To what am I referring you might ask?  Well, it is this inexplicable rite that primarily women engage in when being photographed at some charitable event or for a social media posting.  The strike a pose.  Yes, we all tend to smile and even beam when the subject of a photographer’s tool.  Sometimes we even act goofy if one of a group suggests it, but this is different.  Specifically, the women I’ve seen pose for the snapshot with a hand placed firmly upon the hip, dramatically so, with the attached elbow pointing to the horizon.  Just one side, not both.  What is that?  They don’t do it, say, when have a group photo taken while skiing or at the lake.  Men don’t do the same, at least that I’ve seen.  Can someone explain?  Color me ‘puzzled’.