Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Open-Minded Bigots

Barbara Walters is one of those fluffy people who I’ve never understood why anyone takes seriously.  But apparently lots of important people have wanted to talk to her, so I guess that makes her important too.  It’s my guess that they talk because they know she’s a complete lightweight, and will let them walk over her, yet she has the image of being a real journalist.  In that regard, I suppose she’s the forerunner of all modern journalists.

So I’m stuck reading a Reader’s Digest (which is so named because its contents have been predigested and all you’re left with is crap), and I come upon this article about a recent Barbara Walters television special.  But the topic wasn’t some silly lightweight piece (despite her lightweight handling of it), but rather a serious piece titled “Heaven”.  And the article I’m reading briefly discusses Walters’ taping of this piece, and is named “In Search of Heaven”.  And as the article explains, Walters went around the world interviewing lots of different religious people and discussing their view of Heaven.  And she acts as if she respects these people’s religions, but one thing is clear: She does not.

Because here’s the thing: it’s obvious that both Walters and the writer, Gail Cameron Wescott, believe religion and religious beliefs to be entirely optional.  A quaint feel-good gesture that all upright people do; akin to doing charity work or reading Hallmark cards.  And more so, they both clearly believe that you get to choose your religion.  And while they don’t say it, it’s also obvious to them that good people choose good religions and bad people choose bad religions.  They never say that, as they know that that’s bigoted and wrong; but it’s obvious that this is the case.

But there’s more to it than just that.  They don’t believe in an objective reality, and therefore, believe that this is entirely a subjective idea.  And specifically, they believe that it is wrong for one religion to believe that they are the “one true religion” with the others being false ones.  And as such, they believe that a religion is bigoted for saying that.  

But all this just goes to show how ridiculous both of these people are; and how bigoted they really are against religion.  Rather than religion and gods being real; to Walters’ ilk, they are merely devices to make you feel better about life.  And for a majority of people, that’s all religion is for.  That, plus a social organization to meet people at.  I’m sure Jesus is rolling in his grave.

Barbara Asks

I wrote a bunch about choosing religions, but it really wasn’t pertinent to the subject at hand, so I’m saving that for a later post.  Let’s get to Barbara’s interviews.

The first is with a Palestinian suicide bomber whose bomb failed to go off, and who is now serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.  Barbara asks him if he had perhaps envisioned a different life, with a wife and kids and whatnot; and he responds saying “I thought about it, but I wanted to kill Jews”.  He goes on to explain that he believes he’ll be rewarded in the afterlife, and how he “looks forward to joyous sex on silken couches amid rivers of milk and honey.”

Now, the writer of this pretends to be neutral on the issue, but belies that pretense by using terms like “chilling” to describe his words.  And when Walters asks him if she’s going to Heaven, he responds by saying “No, of course not.  You are going to Hell.”  And this, the writer tells us, is “ruthless”.

But is it?  Because here’s the thing, maybe this guy really is right.  Maybe he’s got it right and we really are all going to Hell, and even Pope John Paul II is now having red hot pokers stuck up his butt next to Stalin and Jesus.  And in that case, this guy was simply being factual.  I mean, who the hell are we to say that he’s wrong?  Maybe he hates Jews because he’s a Jew hater; or maybe he’s simply following our Creator’s wishes.  Maybe we really are all infidels deserving of a horrible eternity for going against our Creator’s wishes.  And maybe he really will be having joyous sex on silken couches while we’re being ass-raped by Satan.

But that’s not how the writer sees it.  No, she sees it as if this guy chose his religion and happened to choose a ruthlessly chilling one.  As if it was just a reflection of his personality.  As if he hated Jews and other infidels and looked around for the religion that hated them the most.  

But it wasn’t that way.  Instead, his life led in a certain direction and certain truths seemed self-evident to him and he fell in with a bad crowd which influenced him in a very bad way.  It happens to people all the time, and whether they’re huffing paint fumes and stealing cars for joyrides, or strapping on suicide packs, it’s all the same cause.  People are easily influenced and do terribly stupid things.  I’m not equating these activities at all, or excusing them.  I’m just saying that they have the same root cause; and that we should just be glad that there aren’t more people trying to convince youths to blow themselves up.  We were all terribly stupid once (and perhaps still so) and did terribly stupid things, and we should all just be thankful that our influences weren’t more terrible than they were.

And so this wasn’t a case of an evil person looking for an evil religion, but rather someone who was prone to a certain way of thinking who fell in with a bad religion.  I’m sure it all makes sense to him, and who the hell knows, it’s just as likely that he’s right as anyone else.  He’s looking forward to his reward, and who are we to say that he won’t get it?  And if anyone believes that we’re supposed to respect religion, then that means that we respect this failed suicide bomber’s religion.

And there’s another interview who I believe was intended to go into this “ruthless” category.  This time, it was Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  Walters asked if a person who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ can get into Heaven, and he was “equally unambiguous”, by saying that they could not.  But again, it is obvious that we aren’t supposed to think this guy is right.  We’re supposed to think he’s a big jerk.

Barbara Walters, the Bigot

And here’s the giveaway line on this, for both the writer and Walter’s.  The writer writes of Walters: The interviewer herself, who purposefully did not argue with her subjects allowed afterward: “There are so many ways of looking at life and death.  You just cannot say this belief is right and that is wrong.  I think one of the major problems today is people saying that only my religion is right, and if you don’t agree with me, you are not going to heaven.”

And that’s fine and dandy, and is certainly reflective of an open-minded person; except one thing: She just said that many people’s religion is wrong.  She, pretending to be giving the objective opinion on it, said that the suicide bomber and the Haggard guy, along with hundreds of millions of others who think just like them, she just said that their religion was wrong.

And if that’s her belief, that’s fine.  But she just did exactly what she said people shouldn’t do.  She said their religion was wrong.  They insist that the Creator only favors their own faith, and she said that this was wrong.  And again, what she’s confused about: She doesn’t really believe that these people’s religions dictate these beliefs.  Rather, she believes that these people are the types who disagree with others and who hate other people and who bring that to their religion.  And I kind of agree with that.  I can see that.  But maybe that’s not true.  

Again, maybe the suicide bombers are right.  Or maybe Haggard is right.  Maybe they really DO have the one true faith, and maybe the Creator really does instruct us all to do these things; and only these people are following his commands. And maybe the Creator hates open-minded religionists most of all and has a special hell for them.  Can Barbara Walters or anyone else say with any certainty that that’s not true?  Isn’t it conceivable that our Creator hates Jews and the other infidels?  

Of course it is.  I find it fairly irrational, but I also find it irrational when the Christians say that their god will allow his rebellious angel to punish me for all of eternity; and all because I expect proof  that he’s real.  That makes no sense.  But that doesn’t disprove it.  Nothing disproves it.  And that’s one reason why I think that religion is kind of silly and why I haven’t chosen one.  But…if someone says that we should respect all religions and shouldn’t denounce any of them (as Walters says), then that goes for all religions; not just the tolerant ones.  

But that’s not for Walters.  She clearly only likes the tolerant religions; and must believe these faiths to be witness to the believer’s goodness.  And perhaps that’s right.  But that’s not the right attitude of someone who respects religion.

Bad Polls

Oh, and the writer follows the Barbara quote above (which the writer clearly agrees with) by suggesting that most Americans aren’t bigots about their religion.  She writes: At least for now, that view is not predominant in the United States.  According to a recent Newsweek/Beliefnet poll, 79 percent of Americans believe that someone of another faith can attain salvation and go to heaven.

And for shit’s sake, I hope the poll wasn’t that vague.  Nope, I was wrong.  I just found the poll online, and for shit’s sake, it is that vague.  The question they asked is: “Can a good person who isn’t of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation, or not?”  And like that wasn’t a meaningless question.

First off, how many of those people consider the different dominations to be “of another faith”?  With that vague wording, it could just mean that an Episcopal believes a Catholic can also get in.  I mean, even the Haggard guy quoted in the article just says that Jesus needs to save you.  But that doesn’t mean that an Atheist or Muslim also gets in.  These words mean different things to different people.  

Secondly, the poll didn’t define what it means to “attain salvation”?  After all, the Catholics believe that anyone can be saved, even on their deathbed, as long as they accept Jesus and ask forgiveness for their sins.  That’s what salvation means to them.  But they also believe that we’ll all go to Hell if we don’t do that.  And conversely, even a lifelong Catholic who did everything right will go to Hell if they stop believing on their deathbed.  And that explains why the poll shows that Catholics are the most accepting of the idea of other people getting in.  But that doesn’t mean that they can get in; that just means that they might.

And yet I’m fairly certain that the writer of this piece was oblivious to that.  She’s so wanting to be open-minded about it, and yet she’s loading the terms up to her own definitions; and in the process, she’s watering down other people’s religions.  Why does she assume that the respondents meant that anyone of any faith goes to heaven, even if they stay in their own faith?  That’s clearly how she read the question; and yet that’s not right.  I’m sure there are many people who believe that, but it’s foolish to say that this is a majority.

And in that, she exposes her own bigotry.  Her own bigotry against eternal damnation or a punishing afterlife.  I too don’t believe in Hell, but I’m not the one pretending to respect all religions.  I think they’re just wasting their time with this religion stuff, and should just learn to sleep-in on Sundays and enjoy it.  But again, if you’re going to respect religion, you have to respect all religions.  Because if we have to consider the possibility of any of them, then we have to consider the possibility of all of them.  Including the intolerant ones.

One Last Note

Well I’ve done enough damage, so I think I’ll just wrap-up with a “highlight” of that blasted Reader’s Digest article and be done with it.  It was Anthony DeStefano, author of A Travel Guide to Heaven, who suggests that in Heaven “we’ll be able to go fishing with Hemingway, study piano with Mozart and painting with Michelangelo.  Provided, he adds, that those folks make it to heaven.”  

And uh, no.  If Mozart and Michelangelo are stuck for eternity teaching DeStefano and the other billions of people in Heaven, then they are most surely not in Heaven.  It’s more like a work-visa from Hell.  They didn’t tutor us while on earth, and I’m sure they would not gladly do it for eternity either.

Oh, and if you’d like to know which religion the writer and Walters herself prefers, but you don’t want to read the article or watch the special; I’ll just tell you.  It’s Buddhism.  They clearly prefer Buddhism.  I’m sure that neither one of them understands it any further than the self-help lesson it sounds like, but that’s the one they prefer.  And why?  Because the Dalai Lama rubbed noses with Walters and told her that the purpose of life was to be happy.  And while I could have told her the second part, as that’s something that I’ve said on many occasions; only a semi-divine being like Mr. Lama could touch that damn woman’s nose.  And I don’t begrudge him that at all.


granny said...

I think that I have three observations to make here.

1. Barbara Walters is famous because of the way she draws peoples personalities out in an interview. It is not hard news or P.R., but it is a gift.

2. Readers Digest takes orders from Lynne Cheney (that should explain everything).

3. I don't know that she showed religious bigotry as much as a neutrality that really doesn't matter much in the end as she is not the one who gets to decide and it shouldn't be a journalist's (or anyone else's) job to argue, challenge, or persuade somebody else to take God the way you want them to.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Sorry Granny, but I'm just not buying it. I'll accept the first two points, though I think her fluff journalism has done much to damage the more legitimate kinds; thus allowing folks to believe that Katie Kouric is a real journalist. But that's a matter of opinion.

But there can be no doubts on the third part. I'm sure that Walters was striving for neutrality, but it is bigotry all the same. The true neutral position is the one I take, which is that the bigoted religions are as probable as the open ones; and as such, deserve just as much respect. We may think of them as being "evil", and they well may be. But we cannot know that, and it is certainly possible that they really do represent our Creator's wishes.

And perhaps your 5:45 AM datemark is indictive of a tired mind, as you seemed to have gotten my point backwards. I was never suggested that Walters should have challenged anyone. I was saying the opposite; that Walters was biased against bigoted religions by suggesting that they shouldn't be bigoted. As I said, the terrorists may well represent our Creator's wishes, and she has no right to suggest that they shouldn't hate us. If Walters is truly neutral, she will gladly accept this fact and would not have suggested this is a "major problem", or suggested that they "cannot say this belef is right and that is wrong." That is Walters' bigotry.

And even deeper than that, it is obvious that Walters is a bigot against all religions, in that she beleives them to be feel-good gestures, rather than part of an objective reality. Sure, she's right in saying that "There are so many ways of looking at life and death." But that doesn't mean that they are all right. Maybe they are. Or maybe only one of them is right, and the others are wrong. Perhaps God will accept everyone into Heaven, and perhaps he wants us all to kill the infidels. And if Barbara can't accept that idea of religion, then she doesn't understand what religion really is; and has reduced them all to little more than feel-good rituals. She wants the ones that make us feel warm inside and wants to get rid of the ones that make us feel bad; even if they're right.

So in short, the true "open-minded" position is to accept both the open-minded and the bigoted religions. Anything else is bigotry.