The changes Bob Dylan went through always amazed me. Sometimes it seemed as if he’d changed personalities whenever he changed his outfit. He refused to be labeled a folk singer, did his own thing, and became one of the greatest song writers we’ve ever known, in my opinion. It begs the question, why would we ever try to pigeonhole an actor or writer or other artist? An odd thing to do since they are, or should be, as free as anyone to create whatever they choose without being placed in a limited category.
We’re fed a line of bullshit about finding ourselves, when we should just focus on freeing ourselves. I spent too much of my life trying to figure this out, only to realize that the more I let go of the past, and the less I hang on to who I thought I was, or was supposed to be, or what others expected me to be, the more open I become, the less judgmental, the more accepting, the more at peace, less doubtful, more hopeful. There is nothing to fit into. No cage or wall or limitation I want to be part of other than the natural laws that operate the planet I depend on.
People have often labeled me as a left-leaning liberal, and I sort of am most of the time, but it’s a label I refuse to accept and this is why. Last week I watched with mild amusement the debate about Islam on Bill Maher’s show featuring the hot and bothered Ben Affleck vs. the neuroscientist and atheist (speaking of labels) Sam Harris. Affleck didn’t come across very well, in my opinion, not because he was right or wrong, but because of his disdain and constant interruption of Harris to prevent him from making his points, which were not as horrible as Affleck was trying to point out. Affleck missed out on this because he refused to listen, and any hope of a meaningful discussion (which may or may not have favored Affleck) was lost. He seemed to come into the discussion with a set of beliefs, most likely based on his liberal identity, which meant that any idea that confronted this identity was inherently wrong.
Bill Maher, one of my favorite political comedians, has been making the point that Christianity has evolved and is therefore better than Islam, since it doesn’t so easily condemn people to death and tends to be relatively less restrictive towards women and gays and just about everything else we left-leaning progressives support.
Mostly, unfortunately, I found this debate to be a waste of my time, because ultimately I don’t really give a damn. I understand that the majority of Muslims and Christians are peaceful, loving people, who come together under their chosen religion to be and to do good, and if we are to save the human race they must be part of the solution – a difficult task since some of them believe in End Times, thus exempting themselves from having to confront their own actions, including habits that contribute to the possibility of such End Times – meaning they could be condemning us all to death.
Who is better, or worse, means nothing to me, because they’re too focused on their religious beliefs rather than the reality slapping all of us in the face. The same goes for politics – too many wrapped up in, and blinded by, their ideology to see what is happening beyond their defensive walls. Reza Aslan, who started the above Affleck/Harris debate in his defense of Islam, recently tried to sound as the voice of reason when he said that religion is a statement of identity as much as a statement of belief, that it says who you are as a human being and how you see the world. He talked about this as if it were a good thing. To which I say, bullshit. No offense to the religious, but this is the heart of the problem – taking on labels as part of one’s identity. Once that belief system is accepted and fully ingrained, any opposing belief can be too easily and wrongfully interpreted as an attack on that identity, thus a personal attack on who you are, which made it impossible for Affleck to hear what Harris had to say, and equally difficult for Muslims or Christians or Republicans or Democrats or Vegans or Environmentalists or Atheists or whatever label is chosen, to challenge or even question their own beliefs, no matter how archaic. Taking on these labels almost always leads to the creation of a wall, separating one belief system from another, each believing their philosophy to not only be superior but the only way in which to view the world.
We’re always trying to define each other in such a way that it limits who we are, probably because it makes us feel safer to be able to categorize everything and everyone around us. Christians mingle with Christians, vegans with vegans, etc., keeping outsiders at bay, because they have identified each other with their shared labels rather than who they really are (which may be why some pedophiles and serial killers have been able to hide within religious communities). I may be a writer, a biologist, an environmentalist, even a vegan (most of the time I am), and an amazing lover, and none of these labels except the last one define me (the last one being an action that just seems to hold true).
Well the world isn’t that scary, not as much as we make it out to be. Clinging to a chosen label as part of an identity isn’t necessary to feel secure in the world. Spirituality can still be explored and believed in with an open mind without the rituals and the self-created, judgmentally oppressive, ego-building, pedestal-placing tenets. Shut off the news and serial killer TV shows and the world is peaceful. It’s only us making it not so. Remove human nonsense and the universe becomes a neutral canvas on which to paint your own existence – as long as we paint within nature’s lines. Unless we learn to recognize that we are just another species living on this planet, like all other creatures, subject to its laws and limitations, sharing its resources and in danger of becoming extinct if we don’t wake up to this reality, we’ll face the consequences – the full wrath of nature’s forces – and everyone’s religion or identity will be washed away like specks of dirt on stained laundry in the natural wash that is always attempting to cleanse us of the distractive bullshit we spend so much time lost in.