Two score and six years ago I fell out of my mother's vagina onto a table at the last extant Automat in New York City, knocking over a sugar dispenser and causing only the Romanian busboy to barely bat a sleep encrusted eye. People, I learned then and there, are strangely unfazed by nature, truth and the glorious, random symmetry of this thing we call Life. What they are instead impressed by is the utterly inane and dubious assertion that Existence is the result of a big, bearded guy in a flowing robe performing a whimsical act of creation. I, on the other hand, sensed from the moment my umbilical was handily severed with a spork, that life would be filled with beauty and wonder; that the infinite splendor of the human experience, no matter how occasionally deranged and violent, holds me firmly in its thrall to this day. As I grew, repeated viewings of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kindom and a British documentary series called "The Ascent of Man" (back before television was a plasma, pablum-injecting brain syringe) exposed me to the perfect, thrilling symmetry of nature. Later still, a summer at a New Jersey sleepaway camp giving my first hickie to a bespectacled Robin Trontz under a blanket of stars brought me into contact with the heady combination of pubescent sexuality and the vastness of the cosmos. And in all these early experiences in which I was captivated by their awesome complexity, every revelation seemed to be accompanied by a corresponding and equally compelling sensuality. And never did I feel lonliness or abandonment or the need to put a face like mine on any of these phenomenae in order to appreciate their existence or my place in it all. I saw little need to anthropomorphize Existence.
On May 22nd I attended a debate on politics and religion at UCLA between authors Sam Harris and Chris Hedges, both outspoken and articulate critics of modern religion and religiosity, Harris being a thorough debunker of religion and all its claims, Hedges an uncharacteristically wise and high profile true believer. The participants agreed on many points and of course diverged on many more. But watching the invigorating exchange between these two formidable, passionate and accessible intellects, I was simultaneously heartened and depressed: heartened that such a public forum could take place at all and depressed that such an occurrance is nothing in this country if not scarce. Regardless of who might be perceived as having won the night, the real winner was the audience. They were privvy to a level of discourse that is not usually seen by the wider public, a conversation that's been conspicuously absent from the greater current dialogue about religion and politics. As with most of what could be described as the steady diet of pop culture upon which our country gorges (about as nutritious as the Big Macs and American Idol also contributing to its ever expanding, sloshing girth), the conversation about God and Country has been just plain bad for one's health. It has been broken down into meaningless, toxic fragments and mixed with artificial ingredients that---instead of heralding enlightenment---bring division and despair. In other words, the perfect climate to keep a business running at a steady profit, that business being America™. That this country no longer provides a valid wide-reaching forum in which a free and healthy exchange of ideas would result in certain wisdom comes as no surprise to anyone who can pry their eyes from the glittering diversionary tactics epitomized by the Main Stream Media and their corporate sugar daddies. To oversimplify the fundamental arguments regarding our own existence, to reduce it to divisive slogans and monosyllabic bromides is to chip away at all the subtlety that knowledge possesses and hurls the collective intellect of the population back to its tribal roots, and the essential prerogative to accurately analyze and ponder the more provocative issues is utterly corroded.
The quality of political discourse (as exemplified by last week's Republican debate as a recent example) indicates that its promulgators have but miniscule respect for the people they seek to supposedly represent, just as the promulgators of radical religion use the malleability of the congregation to sate their own cravings, far removed from their stated intentions. What the Sam Harris/Chris Hedges debate attested to and the Republican debate did not was a tacit respect for the evolution of thought and the necessity to see things as they need to be seen: free of superstition, deception and demagoguery, and in a forum that is widely accessible to all. Life would be so much more beautiful that way.