Saturday, June 14, 2014

GOD & RELIGION ~ From Confusion to Fusion

"DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?"I get asked this question quite often. But it isn't very often that the enquirer has the patience or the time to stay around for my response, which involves deconstructing the unquestioned assumptions of conceptual semantics. As far as I know nobody has ever come up with a definition of "God" acceptable to all.

The notion that the physical universe was created by an all-knowing, all-powerful, ubiquitously existing Maker is fairly common, especially among the more conservative, more traditional - and therefore less adventurous - thinkers.

When I gaze upon any object - be it a butterfly, a banana, or a blossom - it doesn't occur to me that some humanoid with deft hands wielding clever tools actually sat down at a workbench one morning and fabricated  these wondrous forms that are able to self-replicate and perpetuate their own species, ad infinitum.

I'm more inclined to admire the hidden geometries, complex architecture, and ingenious mechanisms underlying these forms which are also discernible in other forms that constitute our physical environment. A healthy appreciation for the miraculous nature of all forms ultimately leads one to focus on the mystery that is oneself.

For each of us is every bit as amazingly designed and constructed as a grasshopper or dungbeetle or seahorse or giraffe or walrus or duckbill platypus or an entire coral reef. The interlocking biochemistries and interwoven electromagnetic patterns that give rise to living forms are at once complex and simple.

Inevitably, one is compelled to marvel at the breakthrough discoveries in recent decades of the fractal nature of the holographic universe - and the curious effect that consciousness appears to have on how it evolves and mutates. It is, indeed, as cutting-edge physicists declare, "an observer-created universe."

Pioneering researchers have detected micro-macro consonances between the subatomic and the supergalactic realms, wherein the essential architecture of a single atom is echoed in that of a galaxy. This fact alone ought to qualify as a theophany that can yield an endless quantity of eureka moments - enough at any rate to induce an ecstatic vision in anyone who spontaneously comprehends the divinity and perfection of all that exists.

You could call this approach to answering the age-old question of God's existence (or otherwise) the way of the mystic-scientist. It's not dependent on culturally or genetically implanted beliefs or on faith. Rather, it is a metaconceptual gestalt formed from free associating a random sequence of sensory inputs with a variety of analogies drawn from personal experience as well as what C.G. Jung called the Collective Unconscious.

Anyone who has, by chance or design, embarked on the quest for meaning and significance must pay attention to signs, omens, auditory, visual and perceptual clues left as a legacy by thousands upon thousands of conscious thinkers who lived and died and whose insights were recorded externally in the form of artefacts - or internally through subtle alterations of the chromosomal data banks.

Each new pilgrim on the journey towards enlightenment will have a unique experience, though universal truths have a habit of recurring like strangely familiar motifs. In effect, any authentic attempt to grapple with the question of God is necessarily an individual process. Other people's narratives of "divine revelation" most certainly constitute a valuable reference - but they can never be a substitute for direct knowing, distilled from unique, personal experience.

This is why at an early age I found myself unsubscribing from prescribed belief systems passed down the generations. All the conflicting doctrines that constitute man-made religion serve merely to anesthetize the masses against the anguish of fully accepting our human limitations, in order that we might ultimately transcend them.

Religions are packaged and processed forms of accumulated mystical insight; and although there will always be precious glimmers of truth to be found in the crude ore of inherited or acquired beliefs, the unthinking and unquestioning acceptance of these dogmas is akin to condemning oneself to a lifelong diet of junk food bought off the shelves of a cosmic convenience store.

To visualize God as an eternal parent figure is to forever infantilize our apprehension of reality in simplistic terms of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. These opposite polarities represent extreme ends of the moral spectrum; but as the sum-total of all existence, God embodies the entire spectrum of possibilities and is therefore beyond categorization and classification. In analogous terms, God is not just the Father but also the Mother and  the Child borne of their primordial union.

In ancient days when the majority of humans were illiterate, an elite corps of Scribes arose that took it upon themselves to interpret on behalf of the others what was purportedly the Word of God. This special breed of human we call the Priesthood. In India the priests established themselves as the Brahmin caste and exalted themselves above the ordinary folk.

An effective division of labor developed wherein the priestly caste collaborated with the kingly caste to form the earliest governments. The priests took on responsibility for the spiritual affairs of men while the kings ruled over the material domain, as evidenced in the political pact between the Bishop of Rome and the Emperor Constantine.

In the Book of Exodus we saw the same partnership in action with the brothers Aaron and Moses: Aaron took charge of administrative and logistical matters, while Moses played the role of divine visionary, receiving direct instructions from on high.

To this day the Mormon church classifies its membership as either of the Aaronic or the Melchizedek lineage. Those of the Aaronic Order undertake the day-to-day management of church affairs, like the raising of funds and the construction of temples; and those of the Melchizedek Order propagate the spiritual message of the founder, Joseph Smith, who received his revelation through an angelic messenger named Moroni.

What I'm waffling on about, then, is the sheer futility of identifying oneself with any particular religious doctrine. Our understanding of life matures with experience - or, at least, it ought to. It's fine to believe in Santa Claus when you're five years old and thrilled to bits at the prospect of finding a stack of prettily giftwrapped presents under the Christmas tree. However, by the time you're fifteen, you really ought to have realized that the fat guy in a red suit is actually your own dad - or some guy hired by the department store to lure kids and their parents into a ritual shopping spree.

I'm not going to denounce or deconstruct all the institutionalized religions in our midst. It's generally a waste of breath anyway. Many people cling desperately to their beliefs because they fear the bottomless abyss of uncertainty. Some will violently strike out at or even kill anyone who attempts to shatter their faith or so much as joke about it.

With some folks, loyalty to the faith into which they happened to be born can be even stronger and more fanatical than their loyalty to a favorite soccer team. Just as there are soccer hooligans at every game, you will encounter violent mobs of the religiously intoxicated. Best to stay clear of them rather than attempt to engage them in rational discourse.

These mobs constitute what you might term the bottom rung of consciousness. Everybody goes through such a phase - though many today express their fanatical urges via ardent hero-worship of a particular popstar or screen actor. Left to their own devices, most people eventually outgrow these obsessions.

I'm absolutely convinced that Malaysians of all creeds will co-exist in sweet harmony when jingoistic politicians stop stirring up the shit. Is there any way we can compel them to cease their pseudo-religious rabble-rousing? None that I can think of, short of maintaining some barbaric law like the ISA for exclusive use against those who exploit racial and religious differences for their own political advantage.

Nevertheless, I don't advocate such quick-fix methods. Censorship of any kind is anathema to me. I'm utterly convinced that when people are regularly exposed to all kinds of ideas - no matter how lunatic or extreme - they will swiftly learn to discern what's palatable and what's poisonous in the way of opinions.

So, instead, of cringing at the absurd utterances of rabid religious reactionaries, all we really have to do is ignore them. And, if they refuse to stop after a decent interval, we could simply pull the plug on them, switch off their microphones, so to speak. That harms nobody at all - and they will eventually fall silent when their voices grow hoarse from shouting at the wind.

And in that brief silence the first seeds of wisdom just might germinate.

[First posted as "Where Malaysia Is Headed (Part 5)" on 18 April 2009]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reading the news makes me angry and sad... but why can't I stop?

Every day there's no shortage of news reports that either make me want to kick some lying butthole in a custom-tailored suit - or press a red button that will consign Homo sapiens sapiens to oblivion.

Why don't I just stop monitoring the news, I ask myself? Well, it's addictive - like cigarettes, facebook, and wanking. We all suffer from one form of addiction or another - it could be nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, adrenaline, endorphins, cannabinol, crystal amphetamine, benzedrine, or ephedrine.

Usually, the anger or amusement I experience from scanning the news quickly evaporates. Often, it's enough to just leave an incisive and witty comment by way of feedback. Remember the sad old analog days when we weren't able to ventilate our immediate reactions to whatever news was fed us? What a blessing the internet has been - at least we can strike back instantly at those who annoy us (except on certain priggish news portals like The Malaysian Insider which appears to have instructed its bots to delete my comments the instant I submit them; they must have blacklisted my IP).

Anyway, I wasn't going to rabbit on about my pet gripes. What prompted me to write a new blog was this story by Murtaza Hussain I found on AlJazeera. It made me feel like reaching for the red button and putting the human race out of its misery.

Read the whole piece yourself and then ask: why does Guantanamo still exist? Why was it even built in the first place? I'll tell you why: it's because most folks who fancy themselves educated and to a certain degree enlightened continue to bandy about stupid catchphrases like "conspiracy theory" instead of seriously investigating what 9/11 was really all about - that's why!

Guantanamo Bay detention camp opened in 2002, prompted by 9/11, to imprison and torture
"suspected terrorosts" detained without trial in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Chronicle of a death foretold

Two weeks ago, the Pentagon quietly released a statement that another Guantanamo detainee had died in custody, the ninth since the prison was opened in 2001. Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 32-year-old man from Yemen who had spent eleven years incarcerated, was found dead in his cell on September 8.

The cause of his death has been recorded as unknown and may never truly be known, but Latif had long suffered from feelings of extreme depression during his time in jail, having made several suicide attempts in the previous years.

Latif had long complained of abuse by prison staff and of his deteriorating physical and mental condition during his imprisonment. Two years earlier, he had written that guards "entered my cell on a regular basis. They throw me and drag me on the floor... they strangle me and press hard behind my ears until I lose consciousness". In 2009 he slit his wrists in an attempt to end his life, writing about the incident later to his lawyer to say that his circumstances in Guantanamo "make death more desirable than living".

Latif was initially captured by Pakistani bounty hunters in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when a mixture of confusion and desire for vengeance resulted in the effective labelling of any military age Arab males found in Afghanistan and Pakistan as potential terrorists. [Read the full report here.]

"I am happy to express from this darkness and draw a true picture of the condition in which I exist. I am moving towards a dark cave and a dark life in the shadow of a dark prison. This is a prison that does not know humanity, and does not know anything except the language of power, oppression and humiliation for whoever enters it. It does not differentiate between a criminal and the innocent." ~ Guantanamo inmate Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif in a letter to his lawyer, dated December 26th, 2010

People of the world, it's time to put an end to savage misrule by evil men in dark suits who sit around boardroom tables and talk through their humanoid masks about "security" and "stability" and "dangerous anarchy."

[First posted 24 September 2012]

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tunku Vic ~ tribute to a true prince among men (revisited 2 years later)

Y.M. Tunku Aamash bin Tunku Adnan (6 June 1954 ~ 27 May 2012)

Tunku Vic relaxing at his beach house in Port Dickson
The original Prince Charming, Vic ~ a good friend to all!

27 May 2012 was another of those days I found it impossible to get out of bed. There were no visitors, so I was able to indulge myself. By the time I finally forced myself out of bed it was already 4PM - I broke my own record for sluggishness!

First word I heard about the sudden departure of my friend Tunku Vic was from Bernard Khoo's Zorro-Unmasked blog (Bernard himself checked out 4 April 2014, we suspect to party with Vic and another beloved friend, Jane D'Cruz who left 4 days after Vic). I was stunned, to say the least. Last time I saw Vic was on 28 December 2011 in Port Dickson, at a grand beachfront birthday party he kindly hosted for Mary Maguire. He was in top form, beaming good vibes and making all his guests feel relaxed and welcome. We didn't converse much on that occasion. We rarely have to. Tunku Vic of the Negri Sembilan royal house is a soul-brother - and one of the few royals who carries his lineage with dignity, intelligence, wit, wisdom and integrity.

I first got to know Vic through RPK, one of his childhood buddies. Vic really loved RPK and was extremely supportive throughout the trials and tribulations of the maverick Blogger King. When RPK was miraculously released from Kamunting on 7 November 2008, a maroon Rolls-Royce was waiting outside the Shah Alam Court to whisk RPK and his wife Marina directly to a big celebration hosted by Tunku Vic.

Subsequently I kept bumping into Tunku Vic and his exquisite consort Tengku Sharifah Mahiran (a princess from Perlis so friendly and unassuming she insists on being addressed by her nickname, Ms Mo) at various by-elections and every time there was an Abolish-the-ISA candlelight vigil or an event like the Bar Council's Walk for Liberty. These were true aristocrats who felt strongly about restoring civil liberties, human rights, and social justice to Malaysia. They were appalled by the corrupt practices and heavy-handed injustice of the Umno/BN regime - and were unafraid to show their support for the rakyat.

This is why the untimely demise of Tunku Vic is a deep personal loss to me, as well as a major loss to the entire nation. I didn't know that Vic had been diagnosed with leukemia some weeks ago. At some level Vic probably suspected his days were numbered but, stoically, he never once displayed the slightest signs of anxiety - at least not in public - and was irresistibly charming, good-humored and warm every time we had a chat.

Vic, I do wish I had been informed that you were ready to leave. I would have liked to hold your hand and bless your generous heart for showing us what being a true aristocrat is really all about. 

May your ongoing adventures be endlessly joyful. Your friends and family, and all your descendants, will remember you with pride and profound love.

[First posted 27 May 2012]