Friday, May 18, 2007

I looked in my mirror and Jerry Falwell winked at me

(Editor's Note: This is a reposting of my original entry. An alert reader pointed out to me that the comments function on my original post was disabled. This was due to a coding error -- not a Freudian blip of the keyboard. Sorry!)

When I heard the news this week that Jerry Falwell had died, my first reaction was primal. The world has one less right-wing fundamentalist nut case to deal with, I thought.
And that's the family-friendly version.

I could never be that ignorant and intolerant a human being, I thought. I could never be that parochial in my views. I could never be that sanctimonious, that inflexible.
And then I examined my own moral compass side by side with Falwell's.

Falwell famously blamed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on gays, lesbians and feminists.

I often point to what I consider insipid pop culture, rampant corporate and personal greed, the dumbing down of our school curricula, the failings of our foreign policy, a general lack of respect in society these days for people and their rights and, ironically, intolerance as reasons for me to conclude that as a nation, maybe we deserve what we get (not terrorist attacks, but the just desserts resulting from our behavior).

I can rationalize this comparison of Falwell and me all day and say that what separates us is a fine line between sanity and insanity, between going off the deep end and coherently expressing angry but understandable, even "justifiable" views.
It's a question of degree, my ego coos soothingly. He's a reactionary, I'm a commentator.

The fact is, at the root there is no difference between us. He and I have dualistic, discriminating viewpoints expressed in much the same way.

My ego demands that I insert a disclaimer here stating that if you examined your own thinking, you, too, would find examples of hypocrisy. But the priest who leads the Zen sangha to which I belong discourages such speaking in the third person. When we use "I," she teaches, we accept responsibility and accountability for our own actions and leave others to deal with theirs. Besides, when I say "you," it's usually just a face-saving way for me to say "I" in the first place. It dissipates reality. (And presto, I've just gone and done that.)

She goes on to teach that the vast potential for good and evil is present within each of us. We're all killers, saints, heroes, cowards, people of great compassion and people who are hopelessly uncaring. So, it shouldn't shock me when I find myself acting in ways, however subtle or obvious, that I would never ascribe to myself.

Learning that we are all inextricably interconnected with one another is the hardest task I've ever undertaken.
My ego rails at every step.


Arne Paul said...

I always thought Jerry Falwell was a despicable person, an opportunist whose main marketing tool was bigotry, more specifically selling the fear you would be consumed or "contaminated" by other types of different people, who were really out to get you as well as the people and things closest to you. He sold the most universally accepted and time honored solution, salvation through religious doctrine which, if you follow it as he claims it means, you will be granted chosen status, thus appealing to the narcissism of the obtuse and fearfully insecure as well as a desperate need to justify and whitewash personal crimes and unseemly behaviors.

Did I hate him personally? Not per se, much like christians say, I guess I hated the sin more than the sinner. I disliked what he stood for and was greatly disheartened by the fact that in this modern world of vast amounts of literature and real educational possibilities open to just about every one in the US, there were enough dim and fear driven thoughtless people for him to have a vast numbers of followers who carried forth and implemented through their voting and shouting some rather atrocious policies that harkened back to the Dark Ages and clearly crossed the line between church and state, enforcing "faith based" (nonsense) policy into the public forum and curtailing personal freedom in the process. And no matter how many years pass and how much intellectual realizations I have as to the limited intellectual abilities of the average person or as a collective, the masses, I still have to stop and incredulously wonder "Do people STILL really believe this archaic, superstitious nonsense?" As to their level of sincerity of belief, that can be open to much debate and interpretation but the depressing fact is that the prima facie picture is one of relatively devout theocratic belief among the general populace.

If I had met Falwell in person I think like Larry Flint experienced I may have found him to be a personally engaging man and would have had some interest in exploring the underpinnings behind his tenacity and ambitious nature. I don't think he was a man of true belief however, but rather just a profiteer. No different than any other overly ambitious salesman, he was just selling a still (sadly) most easily salable good, religiosity. Which is probably the second oldest profession next to prostitution. Perhaps it was because he hated competition as to why he preached against prostitution or anything else that wasn't his interpreted vision of regulated rules to live by.

So as to the question will I miss him? Well, actually I feel a great deal better that he is no longer around. And though I realize the masses with their minds made of silly putty (impressioned by the latest cartoon) will never turn into truly rational, thoughtful human beings, at least there is a possibility that Falwell's death may be symbolic of the pendulum swinging back away from faith based nonsense and toward rationality and science and general thoughtfulness. If that is to be the case, then I am VERY glad that Mr. Falwell has passed.

Michael said...

Hi Arne,
I appreciate your take on the man, but I think you missed the point of my post.

Michael said...

... or did you?

oxeye said...

Great post Michael.. I too never cared much for the Rev. Falwell, but still noticed and was a little shocked by my own mental reaction to the news of his passing. Let’s say I was not unhappy..
The truth be told, I am probably more like Falwell than Shunryu Suzuki, a man I claim to admire. It is telling that when Jerry Falwell and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flint finally met after years of bickering they found that they were not quite who they imagined each other to be. I would guess that the real Falwell probably wasn’t as scary a monster as the one I had in my head.

Michael said...

I jump to conclusions sometimes, too. We all have more in common than we'll likely ever know -- or admit to knowing.

Arne Paul said...

Well, Michael, one of the reasons I don't really hate him is that we're all capable of committing and selling some not so very pleasant things. Unfortunately like everyone else, I can often (much too often) revel in emotionalism, particularly righteous emotionalism where I'm hating a hater. But when I really allow the peace that is within to seep through, what I realize I am often despising are those same elements within myself, the weaknesses and negative sides of being human. When we are at our best we realize we know so very little and have few, if any, convictions beyond kindness and compassion, when we are at our worst we are filled with the most feverishly compassionate brutal convictions. Like all of us most of the time I too look quickly away when I see that mirror, lest I catch glimpse of something hideous. We are all essentially the same and when I think the solution to the intolerant ones is to fight with a greater fury and fire, then I have sadly missed the point, and more importantly, my own peace.

Michael said...

And that, Arne, would be pretty much the point. Very nicely put. ;) :)

east village idiot said...

I understand your point - who could argue with it conceptually.

But the line between you and Jerry Falwell is not thin. It's as wide as the ocean.

Anyone who has lived through the nightmare of AIDS - the hell decade of 85 to 95 and beyond - will never forget the suffering and hate Falwell subjected people to. Especially those gay and AIDS victims in the evangelical areas of the country.

I guess my choice is to fight with fury and fire against people who advocate for hate.

In my head, I know that you and Arne have an excellent point but in my heart and in real life I just can't agree. Which is why I would get totally booted out of Zen school and will probably have to come back for a dozen more reincarnations!

Michael said...

"Which is why I would get totally booted out of Zen school and will probably have to come back for a dozen more reincarnations!"

That's so funny!

In my case, I don't rail against gays or AIDS victims -- but I do rail against other people. The targets of our anger may differ, but the expression of anger and the dualistic thinking that leads to classifying people in an "us versus them" way is what makes us the same.

It's times such as this that I wish I was more articulate in explaining myself. Then again, even if I were possessed of James Joyce's vocabulary, I think words would fail.

east village idiot said...

Michael -

You are very articulate and your point is well taken. I'm just being irrational. That's probably why I like the movie "The Mission" so much.
It poses deep questions about love, compassion and justice and leaves you to answer answer always changes.

Zen said...

A good post!

We, as the world, are both yin and yang. depending on the time , place and context we flow from one to the other. To think that anyone is all good, or bad is a delution. We are all part of the same Force. Even J.F. had his purpose... even if not directly. Perhaps to have some other see their image... and change.

Michael said...

Flowing from one to the other -- yes, yes, I agree.