Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Critique of Religious Thought as a Response to Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

I'm dipping deep into my personal unpublished archives today. This is an essay I wrote when I was 21, back in the ancient days of 1998. I was deployed to Bosnia, had a lot of time to read, and fell into an Aldous Huxley kick. My interest in his work was reinvigorated somewhat when I read and reviewed Island back in February. This essay is completely unedited and is exactly how it was written by a younger me.

A Critique of Religious Thought as a Response to Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

In Exodus 3:13, Moses asks God what He is called.  God responds with the enigmatic answer of “I am who I am.”

“I am,” when used in the second person, becomes “He is,” leading the reader to believe that God “is.”  Is what?  The Bible and the Christian faith lead us to believe God is everything.  He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-being, yet, at the same time, He is Himself.

This sort of all-inclusive individuality is also discussed in Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception.  Huxley writes of himself as being “One with all” during his experiment with the hallucinogenic drug peyote.  His “not-self,” or his being viewed as merged with the collective universe, experiences a “oneness” with the world.  He feels at peace within himself, that all the world’s objects are, simultaneously, both their total “selves” and their “non-selves,” blended in the entire universal grand scheme of things.

Could Huxley have possibly stumbled into a realm that he should not have entered?  Quite possibly.  A more probable explanation for Huxley’s feelings of all-inclusive individuality is that we have taken the Biblical Word of God too literally.

For example, in Genesis 1:27, the Bible states “God created human beings, making them to be like Himself.”  Can this be interpreted to mean God walks and talks like us?  I do not believe so.  My belief is that God gave all men the power of all-inclusive individuality, to be one with the world.  Aldous Huxley was merely seeing life as God originally intended man to.

The materialistic consequences of original sin took away our ability to view the world as Huxley had under the influence of peyote.  According to the Bible, Genesis 3:7, once Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, they became consciously aware of their material environment.  The serpent in the creation story told Eve that by eating the forbidden fruit she and Adam would be more like God.  This is in complete contrast to the truth.  Adam and Eve were more God-like prior to eating the forbidden fruit, for they were unaware of their materialistic environment.

Ideas of nonmaterialisticness are concurrent in many aspects of Christianity.  Examples of this are found on both sides of the Christian spectrum.  Satanists believe that by indulging themselves in material things and satisfying every physical desire, they will remove themselves from God.  The Christian Church, on the other hand, believes individuals should dismiss all material objects from their lives to become closer to God, hence the ideas present in the vows priests, monks, and other men of the cloth take prior to joining the holy life.

There is more to getting closer to God than the aforementioned, of course.  Unfortunately, Christian churches seldom directly preach the objective of oneness.  However, in order to achieve and maintain the level of oneness that is so elusive yet so important to our existence, one must focus one’s mind outward onto a higher level of consciousness.

Examples of individuals reaching this higher level of consciousness are witnessed during forms of spiritual worship.  Outward signs of worship- chanting, preaching, singing, etc- sometimes lead people of faith to proclaim, whether truthfully or untruthfully, that they were “possessed.”  In actuality, during these times, people of faith have completely let go of their conscious thought and reached the higher level of the mind.  Sometimes the actions of these individuals while on this higher level are construed as super-human.  These feats are not super-human; they are merely what the mind was created to do normally.  Humankind’s self-constricted intellect and need for material satisfaction have blinded it of the open-mindedness needed to classify these actions correctly, and to see them for what they truly are.

If man was created to normally perform feats classifiable as super-human, then what should we think of Jesus Christ?  According to Scripture, Christ could routinely perform super-human feats.  Could Christ have been the “perfect” human being?  A sample of what we would have been if not for original sin?  Again, maybe we have taken the Biblical Word of God too literally.  If Christ is the Son of God, then as God’s Son, He is God’s offspring, His creation.  Therefore He must be similar to the creation of man in the Genesis story.

Christ was a pure creation of God, the first since Adam and Eve.  Quite possibly, Christ’s mission during his brief tenure on earth was twofold, to show humankind how it could have been had original sin not have occurred and also to show how to become closer to God.  Similar to the actions in the story of original sin, humankind did not listen to God’s message and acted as it so desired.  The Romans crucified Christ, killing His physical being.  Yet when one lives not on the physical substantial plane but on the higher mental plane, the killing of the physical being matters not.  This is evident in the Biblical story of Christ’s resurrection.

So how can one reach this “higher plane” of being?  How can one attain peace within his or herself and, at the same time, become “one” with the universe?  In his book Heaven and Hell, Aldous Huxley suggests two methods: hypnosis or ingesting a chemical substance (i.e. mescaline, lysergic acid, etc).  There must be more ways than this.  For if someone lets go of his or her entire materialistic being then maybe, just maybe, they can break the barriers of the mind, the “doors of perception,” and attain a new level of consciousness.  A level of consciousness that would allow them to reap the benefits of all-inclusive individuality, being “one” with the universe.  Which is, as Huxley writes, the closest we can get to Heaven before our physical being ceases to exist.  He could not have been closer to the truth.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Somali Songman

So I recently met another local writer. Despite her talent, she has been relatively shy about putting herself out there and sharing her work (even though she has a people job). After our first of many conversations about writing, she threw down a gauntlet: she challenged me to write a sestina.

When I said I'd never wrote one, she posted one she wrote on her blog (yes, I think I'm the writer person she is referring to).

Of course, not one to back down from a writing challenge, I took a few days and created my own. The subject matter came both from a blog I recently got into called Rebel Frequencies and a morning listen to Nas and Damian Marley's Distant Relatives album.

Songman of Somalia

He would sit patiently and listen to life
Early peace before the sunshine
He knew the winds of change would move
And Somalia would again fight
The morning hustle played an easy beat
And closed eyes could lead to death

It wasn't hard to see death
In a Somalia where no one values life
The reaper played games no one could beat
In the city rain or his village sunshine
But his home had been spared the fight
Allowing his mornings without a move

From the west the Rebels made their move
Men with guns dealing death
Bullets flew for those who tried to fight
Trading valor and pride for life
Women and children screamed in the sunshine
While ignorant armed thugs could not be beat

The man survived but was badly beat
Hurt, broken, and afraid to move
The 100 degree heat burned in the sunshine
Nothing left, he wished for death
There was no village, no family, and no life
No desire, no courage, and no fight

Eventually he found a way to fight
Writing words in the rhythm to a beat
He sung songs about joy, peace, and life
Songs that made people dance and move
They would forget Africa, guns, and death
And bask briefly in his musical sunshine

His words illuminated like sunshine
Willing people to stand up and stop the fight
And sing songs that never spoke of death
But celebrated Somalia and the African beat
From village to village, he would move
Avoiding Rebels and singing life

They caused his death and spilt his blood like sunshine
As it always has done with life, Somalia won the fight
Death ended the beat and hope ceased to move

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My second commercial for TampaBayNightLife.TV

I did another commercial for TampaBayNightLife.TV. Once again, I hyped local disco/funk cover band Disco Inferno. I like how this commercial turned out.

In case you are wondering what it is I am dancing to before the music starts, to quote George Carlin, "Those who dance are considered insane by those who can't hear the music". So there.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Adventures of Afro Girl

Among the many awesome people I met during my journey to the Tampa Bay Rays home opener last Friday was my new friend Brittany Ward (she's on twitter). Like most women, Brittany loved the 'fro. She loved it so much she wanted her own. Together we decided to test out the power of female persuasion under the guise of a three foot afro. Hence this short film entitled "Afro Girl Gets a Beer".

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Review: The Dharma of Star Wars and Star Wars and Philosophy

Like I said before, I’ve been reading a lot and recently finished two books that take a deeper look at the actions and underlying beliefs of the Star Wars Universe.

This is going to be a quick review but I wanted to give my two cents on both Star Wars and Philosophy and The Dharma of Star Wars as I thought they were both good and interesting reads.

Star Wars and Philosophy

Star Wars and Philosophy is a compilation book written by several college professors, most in the philosophy field. They explore ethical challenges and moral conundrums and dilemmas in George Lucas’s universe, such as “are droids are type of slave?” and “why do Jedi always have to wave their hand and manipulate people to get their way?”.

Star Wars and Philosophy also touches on the religious aspect of Star Wars, namely the behavior and attitudes of those in tune with The Force. There is a chapter entitled “The Far East and Star Wars” that goes into depth on the Buddhist leanings of the Jedi. This chapter is an interesting one, especially when paired with The Dharma of Star Wars, which I will get into shortly.

Perhaps my favorite chapter in Star Wars and Philosophy however was “Moral Ambiguity in a Black-and-White Universe” by Richard H. Dees from the University of Rochester. Dees changed my entire of view of Lando Calrissian in less than five pages. Whereas I once thought of Lando as a scoundrel and individualist, not unlike Han Solo, Dees argue that in The Empire Strikes Back, Lando is stuck between a rock and hard place the moment Darth Vader arrived. As Dees writes, “No matter what Lando does, Han will be captured by Darth Vader: either he will surrender Han to Vader or the stormtrooper will capture him on the their assault of the planet”. Not a good position for a leader to be in. Dees concludes that by immediately joining the Rebellion and leading the attack on the second Death Star, Lando is actually one of the most morally courageous people in the Star Wars saga.

Lando, if you read this, I’m sorry I misunderstood you all these years. I owe you a Colt 45.

The Dharma of Star Wars

Written by Matthew Bortolin, an ordained member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, The Dharma of Star Wars takes a different approach than Star Wars and Philosophy. Whereas Star Wars and Philosophy was an exploratory look into ideas and notions, The Dharma of Star Wars is more of a guide to a way of life.

In The Dharma of Star Wars, Bortolin parlays his wisdom of Buddhism with his knowledge of the Star Wars Universe. He discusses key elements of The Force such as meditation, patience, and oneness. As each of these are also prominent in Buddhism, Bortolin compares and contrast the practices of a good Buddhist with those considered a good Jedi (Obi Wan, Yoda, Luke Skywalker, etc.). Bortolin also compares the actions of Jabba the Hutt and Jar-Jar Binks to those who do not practice the teachings of the Buddha.

(Here is a great interview with Bortolin about the book. He also has a personal blog on the website.)

My personal favorite part of The Dharma of Star Wars is the second to last section, the "Padawan Handbook: Zen Contemplations for the Would-Be Jedi". Here Bortolin re-writes several Zen koans and makes them applicable to the Star Wars universe. I am fan of Zen koans and have several books of them, so I thought this section was particularly interesting.

Among Bortolin's contemplations are thoughts on life, desire, wisdom, time, and several other concepts. Although there are many good lines and words of wisdom in this section, as there are in the entire book, my favorite specific line is in the "Contemplation on Time": "The future, then, is unreal because it is not the present. Only the present is real; only this moment is alive."

I often hear that I take my interests too seriously. That I dissect everything I like in a way that for most people would kill the fun. But to me that is fun. And without that curiosity, I'd have never read Star Wars and Philosophy and The Dharma of Star Wars. If you, like me, like a little deep thinking in your pop culture fodder, you should check these books out.

And May the Force be with you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

AfroSquad at Tropicana Field Opening Day 2011

The AfroSquad invaded Tropicana Field to see the Tampa Bay Rays on MLB Opening Day 2011.

As I summarized on YouTube:

"My trip to Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay Rays home opener on April 1, 2011. I like to think this video fully captures the essence and environment of the Rays faithful both before and after the game. Special appearances by Tug Haines, Santa Rays, Chris Harris, the fiddler, Ferg's Sports Bar, lots of folks with crazy hair, the guy who gave me a beer, and hundreds of Rays fans."