NamasteThis column originally appeared as part of the Way of Politics series for the Democracy Cell Project, an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) created by former members of Kerry-Edwards 2004 blog team. The Way of Politics attempted to explore the intersection of religion, spirituality, and politics from a contemporary Deistic or secular and spiritual perspective.
I originally offered a version of this column in response to the events of September 11th, at Human Potential Left. In the aftermath of the London bombings, and the troubling religious rhetoric of the 2004 Presidential Campaign, its themes strike me as being as pertinent today as it was back then.
Humanity has yet to arrive at a collective conception of God. Each and every day, from Rome, to Calcutta, to Kyoto, to Mecca, to Manhattan, to Missoula, men and women offer praise to radically different conceptions of a Creator. This astonishing divergence of approach is both a testament to the richness of the human experience and the cause of extraordinary confusion. This confusion has a price.
For instance, the men responsible for the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon actually believed that the murder of innocent civilians in the name of Allah would result in their immediate installation in Paradise. While the clerics who endorse this deliberate misrepresentation of Islamic theology must bear the brunt of responsibility for the carnage that was the result of this teaching, they are not alone in the practice of "spinning" a conception of God to inspire dubious or crudely nationalistic action.
When Jerry Falwell inserted foot-in-mouth on the September 14, 2001 broadcast of the 700 Club, he was betraying a consciousness not far removed from that of hate-filled, terror-inspiring clerics.
“God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.
“The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen'.”
And Falwell has plenty of company. Consider that when a Democratic or Republican presidential candidate gives their acceptance speech at their respective national conventions, the first several thousand words of every speech are different from candidate-to-candidate, and party-to-party. The last three, however, are almost always the same: "God bless America".
Not God bless America and the entire human family.
Not God bless America and all the nations of the world.
Not even God bless America and its allies.
No, it's typically just "God bless America".
Can they really believe that God shares (and might reward) such a myopic, narcissistic perspective? Can they seriously believe that God loves Americans more than Iranians, or the Russians, or the Chinese, or the tribal peoples of Africa and South America? If so, as First Officer Spock (from the original Star Trek) might have put it: "that thought is completely illogical. Fascinating."
Spiritual Development, Dogma, and Separation
In my experience, the primary difference between the path of psycho-spiritual development and the approach offered through the embrace of religious dogma is that the former invariably involves a serious attempt at both eradicating the unhealthy cultural conditioning of an individual, and dissolving layers of ego – in the process, ideally liberating one's awareness.
However, the latter can amount to little more than the papering over of deep-seeded emotional insecurities or trauma, via the belief that one is now "saved" and, consequently, superior in God's eyes to so-called heathens who fail to share the same beliefs. As dangerous and absurd as this appears, this “magical thinking” is often central to the conversion process. I experienced this first hand many years ago when a relative, then immersed in a life of drug and alcohol abuse, accepted Jesus as his personal savior. I was transformed in this person's eyes from "square" to "sinner" overnight, even though I hadn't changed one iota in the interim. Let me suggest that this was not an isolated incident.
Consider that relatively mainstream Christian ministers like Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham's daughter) or Albert Mohler (of the Southern Baptist Seminary) go on Larry King Live and openly share their belief that anyone who doesn't accept Christ as their Savior can never reach heaven (assuming that any such thing can be said to exist, at least as described in the Judeo-Christian literature) – regardless of their actions in this lifetime. This incredibly illogical, and definitely unspiritual, perspective is at the core of much of the salvation theology alive in the world today – a theology that chooses to inspire instant "hope" and "healing" at the expense of transcendent spiritual insight and true emotional healing. And it is this very approach to Islam, Christianity, and other applicable world religions, that has lead to a dangerous sense of "separateness" among people, and, ultimately, throughout the ages, to murder and mayhem.
Namaste is a Sanskrit word that translates into English as "I bow to the God within you". The humble spirit of Namaste accepts that divinity exists within each and every one of us, even though the Divine may have inspired us, or our ancestors, to a particular form of worship. I believe that this ancient Yogic concept has much to offer the world today.
The implications of a widespread adoption of the simple "Namaste standard" are mind-boggling. If you accept that a living God also dwells within others, then you cannot set off bombs in buses and trains filled with innocent civilians.
You cannot launch machismo-driven, incredibly divisive imperial wars in which hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are likely to be killed, wounded, or permanently maimed.
You cannot take part in faith-fueled "feasts of blood", like those that have taken place in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Sudan over the past two decades.
You cannot demonize entire races, groups, or religions.
You cannot ignore the suffering of others.
You cannot judge that which you have not made a sincere effort to understand. The "Namaste standard" simply changes your perspective with regard to the way you interact with others. We stand on the edge of an abyss that humanity would be well advised to avoid. And perhaps the key to sidestepping this precipice lies in a single word.
Matthew Carnicelli, © 2005. All rights reserved.
Originally published on July 10, 2005, as part of The Way of Politics series.