by Jennie S. Bev
Modern lifestyle is known to be quite monotonous and routine. Many people work, live, and even breathe on cruise-control auto-pilot mode. Those who follow the rules are oftentimes stamped as “good gatekeepers” and those who despise and challenge the rules are known as “rebels” and “dissidents.” Just like a driving recommendation by California State’s Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV), in which a driver must follow the current freeway traffic speed to avoid accidents regardless of the official speed limit, living has been more or less quite like that.
Living a drone-like existence might not be inevitable, but human beings are, by nature, restless creatures, who would need to find a balance between mind and heart, between righteousness and wickedness, between banality and pertinence, and between savagery and compassion. When it is time to choose, oftentimes theology comes into play. Without a balanced perspective between intellect and affection in understanding theology, which is oftentimes regarded as the “divine voices,” many people have been victimized by dogmatic elements, leaving helplessness and restlessness to widespread even deeper.
The phrase “banality of evil” was coined by Hannah Arendt in 1963 to describe the notion of ordinary people who have consciously or subconsciously accepted the premises of their state and participated actively without questioning the overlaying principles. A corrupt and self-righteous world that we live in today is a clear example of how the majority of human beings have accepted this concept without much reservation, or at least, without much contemplation on the true purposes of life.
And it is saddening that in this 21st century, in which humankind has proven the heresy by Galileo that the earth is not the center of the universe to be true, to hear from those who are fluent and call themselves “experts” in theology approving the killings of and hating our neighbors as if they were the only ones who are entitled to the world. Good thing is, we do not need to simply be silent and accept banality as the norm to follow without any reservation. After all, human beings are both intellect and affective beings. We think and feel at the same time and we have strong empathy towards others, whoever they are.
Karen Armstrong, a prolific author in religion once wrote in The Spiral Staircase, “The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology.”
And faith, whatever ours is, was designed to unfold our childlike innocent, positive, and upbeat qualities, regardless of our age and experiences. Good theology would assist in our journey to find our inner child. A child who is accepting to goodness and believes in the goodness of others and him or herself. After all, we were designed to operate on old-fashioned manual mode: by thinking, reflecting, and contemplating, not on cruise-control automated mode.
Whether you believe in Judgment Day, Reincarnation, or Nirvana, think before saying or doing anything. Those Neuro Linguistic Programmers (NLP) might call it re-wiring our mind through thoughts. Whatever you believe, do not disappoint yourself now or later. “You only live once, if you do it right, once is enough,” said the late silver screen actress, playwright, and screenwriter siren Mae West.
Today’s clashes of things, a terminology coined by the famous and, at the same time, notorious Samuel Huntington, might not need to occur in the first place provided that we were aware of the choices we could have made as the most intelligent creature on planet earth. And it is still not too late to criticize ourselves and to make amends when it is still possible. The clashes can and will be stopped because there are no other alternatives if we are to prevail as human race without being self-destructive.
It might be hard to criticize ourselves without criticizing others, but it can be done with awareness and peaceful opened heart and mind. Any preconceived notion of anything should not be used against our future, but should be consciously constructed to channel our inner wisdom. It certainly does not require a degree in theology to practice good theology. A simple common sense would do just fine.
At last, do not preach, just do good things. Be good ambassadors of our faiths and communities. Be aware and be mindful of consequences. And whenever you are in doubt, do not choose banality. Choose compassion.
Asia Blogging Network, April 8, 2008