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.