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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Philosophy of Universal Reconciliation

I've noticed a disturbing trend on social media lately. So disturbing, in fact, that I will not be sharing these musings on my social media accounts, because someone, and likely multiple someones is absolutely guaranteed to assault me verbally with their gods-given right to outrage and hate, arguing that their hate is, in fact, better than the hate of someone else because that someone else is pure evil and who the hell am I to take that away from them?

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, but hopefully that at least got your attention.

We live in a world of hate. Of righteous (or self-righteous) hatred and rage. The right hates, well, anyone who isn't white and Christian. The left hates everyone who doesn't agree with any view they hold, and claims that they have the right to do so, because they are, in fact, morally superior. I'm sure some folks on the left are going to show up to argue that's not true, and to those people: you need to do some self-reflection.

If you've ever spent a day screaming on social media about how some person or group of people, no matter who they are, deserve to be wiped off the face of the earth, you're in the wrong and you're behaving like a monster. I don't care who they are or what horrific beliefs they espouse.

I cannot put this simpler than this: we are not supposed to punish people for wrong-thinking. 

Rejection of Hate

I have posted a quote from season 2 of Twin Peaks on my Facebook account several times recently. I'll reproduce it here:

Albert Rosenfield: Yeah. You might practice walking without dragging your knuckles on the floor. Heh heh heh.

Sheriff Truman: Albert! Let's talk about knuckles. The last time I knocked you down, I felt bad about it, the next time's gonna be a real pleasure.

Albert Rosenfield: You listen to me. While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchet-man in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking a punch and I'll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely: revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method... is love. I love you Sheriff Truman.

Dale Cooper: Albert's path is a strange and difficult one.

This quote rings so true to me these days. The more I see hate on Facebook from everyone out there in their self-rigteous, self-justified addiction to rage and anger and fear, the more I work to stick to it. Gods know I've not always been successful; I've been vindictive. I've had the urge to do violence. I've been angry and felt the world would be better off without so-and-so. 

Does that make me a hypocrite? I don't think so, and here's why: I recognize that as a failure on my part. I recognize that I failed to live up to a philosophy of love and goodness. I don't claim that my hate, my drive to do violence is okay while at the same time proclaiming to champion love. 

Therein lies the problem. People think they're entitled to their hate. 

Universal Reconciliation

There is a concept in Christian theology, popularly attributed in its earliest forms to the scholar Origen, who lived in the late 2nd/early 3rd century, CE. It's called Universal Reconciliation. This is a very complicated philosophy, but it's also at the root of Unitarian Universalism. In brief, it states this: Everyone can be redeemed, and everyone should be given an opportunity to do so. Origen had an interesting philosophy on the End Times--he didn't believe it would be a time of fire and blood, a time where there would be a great battle where the forces of Heaven destroyed the forces of Hell. Rather, he believed that the end of days would arrive when the Devil himself turned to God, bowed his head, and asked for forgiveness with true reconciliation in his heart.

You read that right: an early Christian philosopher believed that even the Devil could be redeemed in the end. 

Of course, Origen was then declared a heretic and driven out of Alexandria, to spend the rest of his years wandering and eventually be tortured under the Emperor after Christian magic was accused of bringing a plague upon die 3 years later as a result of the injuries he sustained. Cute, right? 

Hate Is Wrong

I'm going to be blunt and address the elephant in the room. 

Nazis suck. There's no way around it. They're hate-filled, violent people who espouse a hate-filled, violent and abhorrent philosophy. The problem is, too many otherwise very good people think that gives them the right, the justification and the responsibility to hate them right back. It doesn't, and that's wrong thinking. You cannot claim to espouse love and acceptance, and then say except those guys. 

Does that mean if a Nazi points a gun at you, you should sit there and get shot? No; even the Dalai Llama says that if you have a gun and another man points a gun at you, you are correct to shoot him first. That's hot hate; that's self-defense. 

You know what is hate, though? So-called "pre-emptive strikes." 

If you see a group holding a rally in the streets--even if they are screaming and shouting abhorrent things--you do not have the right to physically assault them for it. Even though their beliefs may be worse than yours, the act of you striking first makes you just as bad as them. You're not justified in punching someone in the face because they said something despiciable. You're justified in punching them in the face if they try to punch you or someone else. 

Violence is excusable only in direct defense of yourself or another person. Defense is by definition a reaction. I carry a handgun. I'm licensed to do so in the State of PA, and I only carry in areas where it is legal for me to do so. I don't carry a handgun in the hopes that I'm going to get to shoot someone someday. I don't dream of being a hero. I carry a gun and I desperately hope that I never have to fire it, except at a target at the range. 

The simple fact is, though, I live in a world where there's a lot of good people who are just so damn angry they can snap at any time, and I want to be ready to defend myself in such a situation. In fact, contrary to the "cowboy yee-haw" image cooked up by the anti-gun crowd, I'm here to tell you that between myself and the many friends I have who carry, we actually are more likely to go out of our way to avoid conflict while carrying, specifically because we don't want to have to hurt someone. 

It Won't Mean You're Weak

Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. And am I judging people who have this self-righteous hate? No, really, I'm not. I'm putting out a call to not do it, but I get it. I really do. I understand the rage. I understand the frustration, the anger. Hell, I feel it. But I won't give into it, and you shouldn't either. 

My dad taught me a lot of things when I was growing up: how not to take shit from people. How to stand up for my beliefs and for what's right. And one of the most important things he ever taught me: it takes a lot more guts to turn around and walk away from a fight than it does to start throwing punches. 

I pride myself on the fact that never once in my entire life have I thrown the first punch in any fight I've been in--and I've been in fights. I've also walked away from plenty of fights, and ignored people hurling slurs at me as a result. 

Someone's bound to say, "you're a white guy; you don't have the right to take this stance," or, "you can't understand the struggles, so you should shut your mouth." 

Did you know that, while I'm not gay, I've been inches from being gay beaten by a bunch of rednecks in a parking lot because I dressed in drag for the Rocky Horror Picture Show? I've also been threatened by a bunch of dudes attending a local hip-hop night at a nearby bar, for the same reason--my RHPS costumes. I may not face it every day, but yes, I've looked that hate in the face. 

I could go on and on and defend it with examples of times I've faced prejudice and hate, even as a white male, but the truth is, I don't need to defend the right to have an opinion about this, and violent verbal reactions to the contrary, I have a right to it. Your reaction is a reflection upon you, not me.

Earlier I talked about exceptions to the rule. Here's another song that's uniquely applicable to this day and age:

Everyone considered him
The coward of the county
He'd never stood one single time
To prove the county wrong
His mama called him Tommy
But folks just called him yellow
Something always told me
They were reading Tommy wrong

He was only ten years old
When his daddy died in prison
I took care of Tommy
'Cause he was my brother's son
I still recall the final words
My brother said to Tommy
"Son, my life is over,
But yours has just begun."

Promise me, son,
Not to do the things I've done
Walk away from trouble if you can.
Now it don't mean you're weak
If you turn the other cheek
And I hope you're old enough to understand
Son, you don't have to fight to be a man

There's someone for everyone
And Tommy's love was Becky
In her arms he didn't have to prove he was a man
One day while he was working
The Gatlin boys came calling
They took turns at Becky
And there was three of them

Tommy opened up the door
And saw his Becky crying
The torn dress, the shattered look
Was more than he could stand
He reached above the fireplace
Took down his daddy's picture
As his tears fell on his daddy's face
He heard these words again


The Gatlin boys just laughed at him
When he walked into the bar room
One of them got up
And met him half way 'cross the floor
Tommy turned around they said
"Hey, look, old yellow's leavin'."
You could've heard a pin drop
When Tommy stopped and locked the door

Twenty years of crawling
Was bottled up inside him
He wasn't holding nothing back
He let 'em have it all
Tommy left the bar room
Not a Gatlin boy was standing
He said, "This one's for Becky,"
As he watched the last one fall
I heard him say

I promised you, Dad
Not to do the things you've done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don't think I'm weak
I didn't turn the other cheek
Papa, I should hope you understand
Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man
We could go 'round and 'round about the meaning of these lyrics. Admittedly they can be used to defend either side of the debate--would it have been better for Tommy to beat down the Gatlin Boys before they hurt Becky? Maybe. Or maybe they would've just killed her out of revenge had he done so. 

Violence is a neverending cycle. No matter what your justifaction is, it tends to come back on you. If you really believe in being accepting and loving, there should be no justification. Fight to defend yourself. Fight to defend your home. Fight to defend your country. Fight to defend your loved ones or strangers on the street. But fight only in the face of an immediate and imminent threat, and not one that you're rationalizing as such. 

Some guy who lives in his mom's basement who does paintball drills in the woods and waves a red flag screaming, "Take America Back!" is not an immediate or imminent threat. Not unless he actually tries to hurt you or someone else. Until then, the best way to fight back is to take away his just walking away.

Seeking Redemption

Hate doesn't grow in a vacuum, folks. We can argue all day about whether some people are just awful human beings, but in the end, if someone hates, it's because they were taught to hate by someone else. It's a vicious cycle and it can end, often by showing the person who hates, a little bit of love. Sometimes it takes a lot of love, but everyone deserves a chance to change, to learn to be a better person.

Do I hate the alt-right? No, I don't. I feel sorry for them. Because they're horribly misguided people with a hole that can't be filled up. They're angry and miserable and nothing will ever make them happy because they need an enemy. And you know what? I'm seeing good, wonderful people about whom I care a great deal start to go down that path, and justify it with the "they started it!" argument.

The United States has become a second-grade playground.

This Isn't 1935

Someone's bound to come along and say, "That's exactly what people were saying in Germany in 1935." Folks, this isn't Germany in 1935. The political climate here isn't even close to what it was, then. Even with a douchebag in the Whitehouse, a shit show in Washington and the so-called alt-right screaming on the Intarwebz, it's not even close to that. Our checks and balances are still working--see all the Supreme Court decisions over the past several years (and the several this year alone). See Congress' veto-proof bill limiting the power of the executive office. 

The National Socialist Party in Germany in 1935 wasn't some dudes waving a flag and conducting survivalist drills in the woods. They were a legitimate political party with legitimate political power. You don't fight that by punching them in the face. You fight that here, today, by voting against people like that when they run for office. 

There's not going to be a militia coup in the U.S. Our, you know, real military is too strong for that to happen on the strength of some loser militia group. We're not moving towards a totalitarian dictatorship. If anything, this administration is just crippling us in a neverending cycle of business as usual because the people chose the wrong renegade to fix things, and after this shit show, business as usual will be a welcome return.

What Are We Supposed to Do, Then?

Nobody's saying practicing what you preach is easy. It's not. I fail as often as I succeed. But when you fall, you have to recognize you've fallen, get up, brush off, and try again. 

Instead of hitting someone or committing a crime of your own, instead of ranting on social media about how so-and-so should be killed or why aren't we punching these people, or announcing to the world that your social media posts are "taking a stand," try going out and actually doing something positive, something constructive. 

If you've got the time, volunteer to work with disenfranchised communities, at a soup kitchen, at the local teen center, at houses for humanity, the Wounded Warriors project, hell, even at your local library. 

If you don't have time to put in volunteer hours (and to be fair, not everyone does), then help an old lady (or old man) carry their groceries to their car next time you're at the store. If you spot someone who looks unhappy, stop and ask them if there's anything you can do to help, even lend an ear. Pay someone a heartfelt compliment. Tell someone they look nice today (in a respectful, genuine way). Just smile and say hello to a stranger you're walking past on the street. Pay for coffee for the guy behind you. 

That's how you change the world, folks. And we're all going to fail time and again, and that's okay. We're only human, after all. But nothing changes overnight, and the more hate and rage I see, the more determined I am to just, simply and basically, be kind to people. That's how we'll change the world. That's how we'll save it. By making a few people's day a little better, every day, one day at a time.

This is probably falling on deaf ears and outraging as many people as it's reaching, if not more, but as Dale Cooper said, Albert's path is a strange and difficult one. 

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Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom, and Mary Magdalene.

I'm not a mad bible thumper--Sophia, however, is my inspiration and always in my heart