Monday, August 28, 2006

Woman bites God

Politicians love to tell us about what things are like in ‘the real world’. I would like the borders of this ‘real world’ to be clearly defined, if it isn’t too much trouble. As one of the meek (all right meek-ish), I would like to see the will. I would like to be able to plan for the future by knowing what my inheritance will be now, and whether there are death duties in this ‘real world’. John Paul Getty the elder once said, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights’, so you know straight up that most of it is going in legal fees.

I’ve already had a go at Ruth Kelly and her new Commission for Integration and Cohesion and the candyfloss speech that went with the launch last week but I want to revisit one paragraph for just a moment,

‘Even within a framework of mutual tolerance, I believe that there are non-negotiable rules, understood by all groups, both new and established. We must be clear and unafraid to say that we expect these will be shared and followed by all who live here.’

This is patently not true. The basic problem of religious pluralism is that each of these conflicting belief systems makes claims to absolute truth. Although we can agree on the whole ‘each to his/her own’ ethic, what is physically impossible to do is to confer on the believer the one thing that is really important to them, acceptance that their system is the one truth. Agreeing to disagree doesn’t cover it. They can’t all be true.

Religious tolerance used to be a sort of polite joke. You’d hide from the Jehovah’s Witnesses on Sunday mornings. When a street evangelist announced, ‘Jesus is coming’ you might merrily riposte, ‘Jolly good. I’ll stick the kettle on shall I?’ This weekend two western journalists captured by Palestinian militants in Gaza were released after being forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. Of course, now that they’ve been released unharmed, they’ll do what any of us do when we’ve been suckered into downloading a programme we don’t want; hit the uninstall button. The captors knew that, right?

In this ‘real world’, we’re allowed to pick from a menu of belief choices, none of which has the quality of ‘choice’ inherent? Sounds like a Mcnugget of wisdom to me. You could be tempted to look beyond the confines of the book religions to one that accounts for the very likely possibility that this ‘real world’ is a primitive construct designed to explain a much simpler time. The big bang introduced us to the idea that there may well be a lot of nothingness out there.

Perhaps Zen Buddhism has the answer. It is true that you can’t think about nothing, well not consciously anyway. You can think about a lot of things that amount to nothing and you, yourself can amount to nothing. Nothing becomes something as soon as you start to think about it. Western philosophy doesn’t have an adequate definition for that which does not exist. There is no such thing as the non-existentialists. There is not a never-Sartre or an un-Camus or a de-De Beauvoir.

As far as I’m aware, Zen Buddhists are the only people who have even considered that there might be a valid nothingness that can be explained. The Zen concept of mui is the answer to the question ‘unask the question’. That could come in handy for those questions you wished you’d never asked, ‘Do you love me?’, ‘have you got any plain yoghurt?’, ‘is Victoria Beckham still technically alive?’ Thinking about nothing has proved to be entirely exhausting so I’m going back to pondering the existence of God(s). I may be some time.

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