Religio-Politics 101: The Eluctible Modality of the Invisible

Everything happens for a reason.” How many times have you heard that? Is it accurate? Is it true? Is it even valid? Meh; that probably depends, on who or what is sentence subject and who or what is object in a life sentence with no parole. Fortunately our language structure allows for a multitude of possibilities, with its general vagueness, allowing plausible deniability. But is that what you want—plausible deniability? No, you want certainty. That’s the beauty of religion, and that’s the slice of thought that statements like this come from.

The answer is probably ‘no’, of course, that ‘everything happens for a reason’, given no reason to think that it is true, and that is, after all, the bottom line: truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… But that is the basis of life, not religion, which relies on the power of positive thinking and retrofit of spurious logic. That’s not a bad thing, and can offer more than silly smiles on sullen Sundays, reasons to push on another day. But life is more than the agreement of subject and object, isn’t it, after all? Life is neither happy nor sad, in and of itself. Any serious Buddhist knows that…

Buddhist priests rarely smile, not in public, at least, not in Thailand, unless they’re playing to a foreign audience. A good priest, like a bar girl, like a good psychologist, or maybe even ‘life coach’, can be whatever you want them to be—if it achieves the desired result, the jingle and jangle of coins in the coffers. That’s not a bad thing, either. Money at best is a symbol, not an object of worship. I lived in Thailand for a decade or so, and rarely, if ever, saw a Buddhist priest smile. Fanatics and followers frequently follow suit. The King of Thailand is famous for it: the title of a book, in fact.

My Thai stepson even put on the look, during his week-long summer-camp sabbaticals at the temple, getting all serious and holier than thou, if only for a short time. Cool. That’s what a kid should do, be un-kidly, at least some of the time. But that’s not Buddhism; that’s Islam, where surrender = discipline, i.e. hardened youth, ready and willing. There will be plenty of time to play in old age, plenty of time for enlightenment. “I was so much older then…” Disclaimer: no, I’m not a Buddhist priest, just riffing on the subject… It’s we Christians who are hung up on happiness…

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