#Religion 101: Don’t just stand there; believe in something…

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The Golden Spires of Shwedagon Pagoda

We westerners like to believe in things, and that is the way it should be, I think, even if we don’t always agree with the powers that be. Donald J. Trump was elected because most of his supporters believe in something, even if that ‘something’ is a bit unfathomable to the rest of us, even if DJT himself gets rich from his policies, while many of his most ardent supporters won’t get jack…

But this goes way back in the American narrative: “We don’t accept charity,” said many a proud dusty son of Tom Joad, back in the Midwestern Depression-era ‘Dust Bowl’ that sent thousands scrambling for a better life in the California fields, orchards and vineyards, many of them only a few generations removed from the Enclosure Acts and potato famine that reduced the Scottish and Irish populations by half, from heights that will likely never again be reached, as long as there is a new frontier somehow somewhere…

…even if that frontier is conquered by settling the rapidly expanding Arctic region, or reclaiming the deserts of some Godforsaken jihad junkyard. For many, if not most, ‘traditional’ Americans, the English, Scotch-Irish, and Germans who ‘made this country great’, they simply do not want to be ‘taken care of’ by the ‘nanny state’–except for defense, of course, which goes without saying, and highways, too, ‘cuz ya’ gotta’ have cars, connecting suburb with suburb, to avoid those pesky cities…

And I agree, that government should only be responsible for those necessities that an individual could never be expected to provide himself, like health care, which for some reason is controversial, though no Republican from a red state ever complains about the ‘nanny state’ when it comes to those new highways connecting redes—networks. Isn’t that a reasonable trade-off: roads for health-care?

Why should inner-city people pay for roads they don’t use, if suburb people don’t pay for the health-care they still need? Wait a minute. But back to the point: this is what US liberals never understood about conservatives: you can’t just buy them off. That won’t work. You have to offer proof. Nor do those same conservatives understand the same about Muslims. They have principles, however flawed, most of them, anyway. Most Muslims won’t buy what sells in Dubai…

Such is the indefatigable idealism of our species, conservative or liberal, communist or capitalist, democratic or totalitarian, fundamentalist or secular humanist. We all—well, most of us anyway, have ideals. We just can’t agree on them. I wonder why that is. Is that because we’ve chosen opposing narratives for ourselves? Or is it because we’ve never questioned the narratives with which we’ve been indoctrinated?

The idea that we play out narratives or scripts that are in our heads, is an analogy or metaphor that’s been tossed around for decades, and it has always had a certain appeal to me, uncanny in its accuracy of what seems to be the story-book nature and style of our lives. But what if it’s actually true—I mean, literally true? Our little lives lurch forward so lickety-splittingly from point A to point B to point C, and so on, that we rarely have the time or the space to cross-reference our play-books with our score-cards…

For example, we never stop to wonder if our strong explicit subject-verb-object sentence structure with no inherent unspoken subjects might influence our very lives, nor whether the weaker implicit more reflexive S-O-V Romance style might influence, or be influenced by, theirs—but it likely does. They’re so romantic…

But which came first, the grammar or the lifestyle? Fried chicken or fried eggs…

And then there’s the narrative need for a three-act structure with happy ending, which is similar to narrative film structure and pop song structure. There is the set-up, the conflict, and resolution, not unlike the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis of Hegelian or Marxist dialectic of history…

Variations on that narrative structure include the dramatic five-act structure, with climax in the middle—oops, been there—and Joseph Campbell’s ‘hero’s journey’, been there, too, a more circular narrative of quest-adventure-challenge-return. And the verse-chorus structure of pop music is not so much different, with its refrains and returns, and middle-8 breaks…

So how any of this affects your life is up to you, but how it affects society is palpable. Fifty years ago American society was in an uproar over the increasing amounts of sex and violence in TV and movies. Now that level has increased many-fold, with no uproar at all. In effect we’ve become so inured to sex and violence that it’s normal, and our societies have likely suffered in the process…

The minor epiphany here is that there is now a form of ‘narrative therapy’ that helps people restructure their lives along narrative lines, something I didn’t even know existed until about an hour ago, so I feel vindicated with my hunch. This approach foregoes the preoccupation with the Truth, in favor of a relativistic pragmatic approach. If the Big Mistake of religion is confusing signs and symbols for the real thing, then this approach foregoes religion entirely in favor of therapy…

But what if some minor narrative turned out to be really real? Now that would be a Major Epiphany! Stranger things have happened. The idea that a meteor strike in the Yucatan wiped out dinosaurs was once considered laughable. Continental drift, too, and that was only a few decades ago. So what if this is the after-life already—or not yet even real life, at the speed of light, no fun intended? I like that narrative. Past lives are too heavy, like gravity. I prefer future lives, light and free, pure mathematical probability…

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