Tag: religion

Bigfoot

Photo by Eric Goud

Bigfoot is real. I saw him, his pecker in his hands, last week at Big Sur.

I was eating a breakfast burrito on the coast, overlooking the mist-covered cliffs and crashing Pacific waves, when several kilometers in the distance, there he was, squatting on a rock with his back-end hanging over the ocean. The Pacific Ocean, Bigfoot’s toilet. I was far away, so it could have been a walrus, a sea lion, a humpback whale, a rogue sequoia tree, or beach trash. Or, as I prefer to believe, Bigfoot relieving himself.

When I told a friend of my sighting, she scoffed and told me what I saw was just an amalgamation of seaweed and driftwood, propped up by high tide and made look real through morning haze. She proceeded to show me a very recent UFO video from Kazakhstan. Real, undeniable proof.

Another friend told me to watch out. That the wormhole of bigfoot and UFO videos is a dangerous place for people already uncertain about reality, which is a common symptom of anxiety. She then proceeded to tell me about the peaceful tenets of Buddhism.

Begrugingly I have recently come to admit that what I saw was not, in fact, Bigfoot taking a shit. But rather, simply, my desire to see Bigfoot exposing himself to the endless wonders of the bright blue ocean. But if someone sitting next to me, looking at the same cliff at the same time, believed that they saw him, truly believed that Bigfoot was there, I would support their belief. The reasons they believed with conviction could have something to do with their eyesight, their hunger levels, the animals they saw in the forest when they were children, the movie they watched the night previous, the TinTin yeti episode they saw as kids, or previous sightings of Bigfoot himself. Their previous life events made them more likely to believe, and since Bigfoot’s existence is still truly an unknown, this does not make them any less rational.

Most people’s beliefs are based on secondhand accounts, old books, or internet video footage. Stories told by credible friends over a bonfire. A belief based on a feeling they have that they cannot explain. The same for belief in ghosts, or the resurrection, or of yoga, or in science, or in nothing.

Some create elaborate hoaxes—a tall hairy figure with massive strides saunters towards a body of fresh water to wash his/her own personal holes—but their commitment to false evidence does not disprove the existence of a bipedal woodland creature. Some, presumably most, film what they believed to be the outright truth, an accidental stumbling across the unknown. Discussions of incredulity of people’s beliefs, denouncing what some hold true, break down any level of human connectedness. But people’s absolute conviction in the existence of Bigfoot, or their utter insistence on the excessive nature of his legend—people’s certainty and what they will do in its name—will forever impress, entice, and scare me.

Their desire to be part of something, whether it is the glorious triumph when scientists find the first Bigfoot skeleton in northern B.C. or by pointing and laughing when it is proven to be an elaborate folktale, is the same unexplainable, at times unproductive desire that is a side effect of the destruction of real communities, the same desire that concretes people to a sports team, a country, a tax bracket, a t-shirt company, that is, the human desire—opposite of Bigfoot’s desire to be solitary, separate, unseen, anonymous—to be part of a greater whole.


 

I visited the Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wandering around, haggard and tour-worn, I noticed the disproportionate number of attractive women aged 20 to 25, the flags of their home nations pinned to their blouses, welcoming wayward, lonely travellers in dozens of languages into the many ornate buildings of Mormon history. I was drawn to the domed Tabernacle where an organ rehearsal boomed triumphantly, peacefully. There I sat, recent non-believer, truly thinking how lovely it would be to fall in love with a Mormon girl, accept the general tenets of her faith, and start a simple carefree life as a closet Mormon in some foothills town in Utah, the ‘Life Elevated’ state. Sometimes, like this time, I would be elated to hand in my anxieties, loneliness, my overthought, for the absolute certainty that some can hold, and the happiness and joy that comes with being part of the greater whole. But in order to do that, one must believe.

Compliance or Complaints

The CarpetI used to think selfishness was the basic flaw in most of humankind. That all problems in the world could be cured with a cure for selfishness (see How to Cure a Man, in this award-winning piece of horseshit). This hypothesis is perhaps too flattering to the human species. Selfishness takes the presence of mind to know what a person wants, whether it destroys another human being or not in the process is irrelevant. Selfishness is bold. It is daring enough to step over an injured child on the side of the road to catch a fluttering $5 bill in the tempestuous prairie wind.

Obedience, a compliance or submission to some form of authority, real or imagined, takes nothing. It takes cowardice and brainlessness. It takes cowering in a corner and an inability to think for one’s self. It takes the physical ability to nod.

When I consider the ghastly orders obeyed by underlings of Columbus, or of Aztec priests supervising human sacrifices, or of senile Chinese bureaucrats wishing to silence unarmed, peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square only three years ago as I write, I have to wonder if obedience isn’t the basic flaw in most of humankind.

-Kurt Vonnegut, Sucker’s Portfolio, Episode Seven – The Last Tasmanian, p132

As young mushroom-hair-cutted brats of 1998 (photographed above) we were taught to be compliant. Schools are dens of obedience. Being conditioned to work well with others, to finish projects without accessing the portion of your brain that requires questions that make the teacher do more work. Being conditioned to keep quiet and not to ask stupid questions. Conditioned to see the virtues of obedience as opposed to those of knowledge. To avoid sounding too conspiratorial, I will avoid using the term ‘the system’, but the molding of impressionable sock-footed suburban kids is done intentionally to make a smoother transition into the system of obedience. (Dammit, I said ‘system’.) When we come out as full-fledged adults, procreating in healthy uteri or test-tubes, spending money and buying dinnerware, we are well-prepared to nod our heads when told what to do by the prevailing order.

We are taught to obey politicians, those brave and intellectual souls who do what is best for their country without even a thought about themselves or their friends’ corporate interests. We are taught to obey societal and relational norms and end up reclusive, in debt, and lonely. We are taught to obey the market, the ultimate form of democracy, the system that leaves no one behind. We are taught to obey the status quo.

Without rebellion from the opinion of corporate powers (even as minor as voting yes), souls will continue to be crushed by the forces that originally indoctrinate children with obedience. Without disobedience, creative thought would cease to exist. Without disobedience, those in power will continue to rape the land without end. Without disobedience, the population, you, will be complicit in everything you hate.

In works such as On Power and Ideology and Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky has, more than any other American intellectual, charted the downward spiral of the American political and economic system. He reminds us that genuine intellectual inquiry is always subversive. It challenges cultural and political assumptions. It critiques structures. It is relentlessly self-critical. It implodes the self-indulgent myths and stereotypes we use to aggrandize ourselves and ignore our complicity in acts of violence and oppression.

-Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, Chapter 2, p35

Obedience is death.

Deciding which is a worse human abomination, selfishness or obedience, is maybe an impossible task (like Oprah vs Dr. Phil, or politicians vs lawyers) and wouldn’t accomplish much. We are naturally selfish, and this is something that we will never grow out of. We are taught to be obedient, however. It is easier to unlearn something learned than to override a natural instinct.

Blind obedience is foolish. Selfishness is barbaric.
The fool is cowardly, while the barbarian doesn’t know better.

It doesn’t really matter which is worse, it matters that we can acknowledge both in our own person. Let us unlearn, then let us defy natural instinct. Our children’s haircuts will be all the better for it.

Thou Mayest

I sat at the Housing Strategy Public Forum at noon on Thursday. I listened as four city representatives justified a plan to fix a city, scrambling to answer questions from dozens of disgruntled citizens about housing in various forms. Providing housing for the masses is a priority, they said. Just not as serious of a priority as making a lot of money, they neglected to say. The citizens’ sole chance to have their say in a hotel lobby with free cookies and Fruitopia. Democracy works.

I wondered whether it counts as having a voice if you are speaking to those do not have ears.

So mom said this, “I think sometimes for your own sanity you have to believe that people will eventually do the right thing.” I genuinely do not believe that people will eventually do the right thing. I only have so many years of life to impatiently wait. What I do believe, for my own sanity, is that people can do the right thing. They have the choice and this puts me at greater ease. Because I expect nothing. Because I am not waiting with fried nerves for the sun to explode. I’ve got to believe at least this or I will give up, and giving up is a cardinal sin in anyone that matters. I’ve got to believe this or I might kill myself. I’ve got to believe it whether it is true or not. My cynicisms no longer reach as far as believing in an inherently evil humanity. I have passed that point in my perpetual anger. If that were the case, we would have starved long ago.

“Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed-out soil.”

-Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chapter 51.2, p568

Though we may not be an evil people, we are still not inherently good. We are inherently selfish, and this to me seems concrete. As animals we instincually make decisions to ensure our personal survival. This is not news. Humans can, however, break this conditioning. There is still a choice.

In East of Eden, Lee studies the story of Cain and Abel.

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”

“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in the sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interefere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph…

“…This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that gilttering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed because ‘Thou mayest.’”

-Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chapter 24.2, p301-302

I still question the effectiveness of a political process that is so inane as a public relations exercise with five different types of cookies. I question the point in trying to penetrate the infinitely-layered inclined mountain of bureaucracy. But possibilities arise. Thou mayest triumph over sin. Thou mayest triumph over ignorance. Thou mayest triumph over selfishness. This, Steinbeck says, is what makes man great. He still has “the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

It doesn’t matter what others do—I must remind myself of this. Letting the poor decisions and monumental mistakes of others disrupt your progress along the line of choice is foolish. Thou mayest. Or thou mayest not, and it doesn’t fucking matter to me what the innumerable morons of the world decide to do. As long as I remember that both they and I had a choice.

Because ‘Thou mayest.’

Losing Faith

Nenem

I recently received this in an email from a friend in India:

Do you still remember my youngest sister Nenem, you may take her to be your wife if you have any interest. But it would depend upon your choice only though I say anything. Actually young girls needs a trustworthy, abled man for husband and they should be loyal. A lot of marriages are broken causing a lot of problems consquencly.

Directly after receiving this email, I booked a flight, moved to India, and took Nenem as my first wife. She is currently cooking rice and tending to our Kama-Sutra-conceived children while I sit in a mango tree, my feet being massaged by jewelled monkeys, my scalp being pampered by one hundred barbershop gurus.

And just now, as the basement furnace powers up and blows cold air at my feet, I am transported back to my cobwebbed corner in my hole in the frozen ground—left only to the gurus of daddy-long-legs and head lice that pamper my once routinely- and professionally-kneaded head.

Sweet India. Land of many faiths, land where I lost my own.

The last time I returned from India a new man. It wasn’t I-lived-in-an-ashram changed, nor I-tried-forty-kinds-of-marijuana changed, or even I-was-almost-raped-three-times changed. I came back with a newly-filled gap in my mind. I came back with no interest in the functioning church in which I grew up, and which I partially went to support. I lost complete interest in proselytization or evangelism. I lost my faith and replaced it with a set of values. I became so fed up with the culture of organized belief, the culture of changing people’s beliefs, and the language of faith that inhibits people to speak in the realm of reality—reality, where suffering occurs but where nothing is done because of often blinding visions of a possibly non-existant afterlife utopia—that I handed it in and haven’t really looked back. My friend, Nenem’s brother, was unable to speak of anything but the Glory of Our Lord and the financial support he required to live and to preach. I didn’t write a list of for and against. It wasn’t an immediate disbelief in the resurrection that made me never return to church. It was part of a constant evolution of the mind that peaked while travelling alone, as it tends to do.

It is a mysterious thing, the loss of faith—as mysterious as faith itself. Like faith, it is ultimately not rooted in logic; it is a change in the climate of the mind.

-Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, p249

Propagandhi’s Supporting Caste coincidentally came out during my last trip in India, and I somehow managed a minor miracle to download the album off of Indian iTunes. It was my only friend while travelling. One night, after calling home on my prepaid Indian cellphone, sitting on the beaches of Cochin at night, after four months of solo-travel, I finally realized that the greatest moments in life are better when shared. I have been able to enjoy things alone, but having the ability to acknowledge the greatest things with someone else, is the creation of joy. Joy isn’t a seasonal shopping opportunity at the Victoria Square Mall. Joy isn’t a faith-only feeling. I realized this again over the last few nights when watching my favourite band of all time. I enjoyed parts of the set alone, but the moments I was most elated were those when I sang aloud in the arms of good friends. Imagine the everlasting joy I would have if I actually just took part in arranged marriage to a conservative Christian girl in a village in India. Never-ending, tantric, yogic, conservative joy.

My faith was replaced with something else. Something no less powerful. It was replaced with some sort of logical desire for decency and equality in the real and tangible world, both rooted in my Christian upbringing and my love for socially-conscious punk rock. Not that values didn’t exist in my life beforehand, they just sat at the back on my brain, washed out by uncertainty and contentedness. And as much as it pains my father to hear it, my faith was partially replaced with many of the tenets of a Winnipeg punk band. Neither the band nor the church would quickly agree that (what I would identify as) their basic doctrines line up—absolute equality, that the “unifying principle of this universe is love” (Propagandhi, Duplicate Keys Icaro). I connected my early life in the church basements in which I had grown up, to the realities of poverty, inequality, and hypocrisy that I had seen while travelling, and filled that gap with a set of discernible values that I seemed to lack previously. A serious respect still exists in the utmost for people who adhere to systems of faith, as it is another means to the end I am constantly seeking, and it helped mould my values to what they are now.

The smell of glue was the answer to her prayer. She did not know this. She did not reflect, consciously, that the solution to her difficulty lay in accepting the fact that there was no solution; that if one gets on with the job that lies to hand, the ultimate purpose of the job fades into insignificance; that faith and no faith are very much the same provided that one is doing what is customary, useful, and acceptable.

-Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, p295

A man of faith is the same as a man of no faith, as long as both are acting positively in regard to humanity. Both are inevitably flawed. One puts hope in the unknown, one puts hope in something else—science, humans, another form of the unknown. Perhaps I put my hope in myself, not in a self-righteous, superiority-complex kind of way, but in the way that I am the only thing that I know can make an absolute change in, and hope things can move on from there.

This is no where near the first time I’ve been proposed to, or propositioned, by someone in India, but it has been some time. Though I am flattered, though I wish I could get fifty-cent haircuts in India once a week, and though I think it could potentially work out better than a love-marriage, I will not take him up on the offer. This man, Nenem’s brother, is still a friend. And though many of his thought-processes irritate me as anti-productive or misdirected, I do not see my new vague set of values as greater than his faith. Mine will waver and transform as does anything philosophical. I merely lost my faith a while back, replaced it with something new. If he forgets his ultimate purpose, and I realize that I don’t have an ultimate purpose, and we work together to help those we know need it, then we can be mutually productive. The fact that he offered me his sister without her even knowing it, or likely even speaking English, is another issue that we’ll have to sort out after the marriage. Curry feast to follow.