Nov 10 2009

Religious Tolerance

God?Should we tolerate religion? The question itself is weighted toward the negative before the discussion even begins. Why would anyone feel that tolerance itself is a bad thing? The idea of tolerance is typically engaged when the majority decides to abide a minority opinion. Is it likewise incumbent on the minority to respect the general view? What if the majority view is wrong? What if that view is dangerous? What if that view represents a proliferate conspiracy whose purpose is to delude, direct, and deceive the masses? Is it not then in the best interest of concerned citizens to speak out against such institutions? Is it not the responsibility of friends and family, to (at the very least) try and help their misguided neighbors? Is the virtue of tolerance worth allowing others to waste their lives blindly pursuing illusory reward in lieu of more meaningful and tangible efforts here?

All religions benefit from tolerance. Tolerance creates an environment where the tenets of faith are protected from questions, from contrary evidence, from exposure. This allows religions to peddle their mysteries from one generation to the next, without censor, without criticism, without having to produce any answers other than: belief, faith, and tradition. They label non-believers as: heretics, heathens, pagans, because it has always been easiest to label your enemies rather than understand them. Labeled enemies are easily discredited as liars, troublemakers, or just plain ignorant. How simple it is to win a debate when no argument is allowed. Today’s religious and political discourse has been reduced to this. No one argues their points anymore. People simply vomit their positions, discredit their opponents’ opinions with labels (e.g., atheist, conservative, liberal, fascist), and call the argument won. Everyone remains unchallenged within their particular realm, before the ears and eyes of their particular flock, and no progress is made. Within politics, it is fair to engage the other side(s) to a large degree. If you’re lucky enough to find an intelligent opponent, this can even be rewarding. The questioning of religion however is not acceptable. We are taught to be tolerant of others’ beliefs. Why? Why are religious beliefs sacrosanct? Why must I respect someone who believes their god died and was resurrected any more than a man who believes his tennis-shoes are planning to swallow him whole from the ankles, up? Neither can prove that they are right. Both believe things that cannot be proven. But, because one of these people’s beliefs is part of their religion, it’s unacceptable for me to call them delusional. Why?

Tolerance itself is not a bad thing. We should, to some degree, tolerate each other’s faults. We should not however, encourage them. We cannot become better people, improve this world, and hope to achieve peace, if we continue to hold onto divisive and delusional beliefs. This is not to say that people will ever agree on everything, but why hold onto belief-systems that divide us more than is necessary?

“You have two qualities which God, the Most Exalted, likes and loves. One is mildness and the other is toleration.” Prophet Muhammad, Riyâd-us-Sâliheen Volume 1:632

Sep 22 2009

Heart of Darkness

Joseph ConradToday, I finished Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. A great many things have been written about this short story by people with degrees in such things. I very much doubt there’s much that I can add to that scholarship in the minutes remaining before I go to bed tonight. Let me instead give a few impressions and sum up the story for those of you who find Cliff Notes too long-winded.

The narrative follows one man’s river journey deep into the jungles of Africa (which I don’t think is explicitly named) sometime in the late 19th century. As the continent and its people are revealed to the speaker, he learns of a “man of virtue” named Kurtz who lives deep in the jungle. Everyone seems to think very highly of this man though no one seems to know him well, least of all the person that claims to know him best. If that doesn’t seem like a complete or compelling story, you’re not alone.  As Marlow begins to tell his tale, the narrator calls the impending tale (a tale of a tale?) “one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences.”

My impressions of the book are mixed. The story is densely written so that even at 100+ pages (your typesetting may vary), the book seemed much, much longer. Conrad’s command of English (his third language, come to find out) is extraordinary. If there’s anyone alive today that can speak like this man could write, people’s brains would combust trying to follow one sentence to the next. Keep in mind, I’m not a fan of stringing words together just for the thrill of flexing one’s vocabulary (I’m looking at you, New Yorker). In this respect, Conrad sits on a throne of OED volumes at on one end of a spectrum while Hemingway and Dr. Seuss sit at the other end with six-toed cats and servings of roast-beast. This is not to say it’s incoherent, far from it… Perhaps all that filler-DNA could hold new insights and purpose upon subsequent readings, I’m not sure. This is not a book to read if you’re looking for a tidy resolution. This is a book that leaves you thinking about what you read long after you’ve put it down.

“We live, as we dream — alone.”

4 out of 5