Over the weekend, thanks to the miracle that is the Internets, I found out that I was quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press in an article about a newly opened Buddha Bar in that fair city. Funny, I thought to myself, I don’t recall having been interviewed by anyone from the Winnipeg Free Press, or ever having traveled to Winnipeg, let alone to any Buddha Bar. But, there I am. Waxing philosophically about the evils of capitalism and everything that’s wrong with a drinking hole named after the founder of my religion.
I was in a board meeting yesterday for a committee at the GTU (to protect the innocent, I’ll leave out the name of said committee) during which one of the members mentioned something about contextual theology. Now, the GTU is by design an interdisciplinary and multi-faith institution, which means that folks routinely drop discipline-specific terms in ways that folks from their same discipline understand while leaving others, like me, sort of scratching our heads. Not that I’m bothered by that; each of us uses language in this contextually specific way. Were I to say “Critical Buddhism” at a meeting of the International Association Buddhist Studies, I’m sure the folks the room would immediately get the reference while, sitting here, decontextualized in this paragraph, it may not be immediately clear to others.
But what this person said about contextual theology struck me, so I thought I’d do some quick digging. Unfortunately, there’s no Wikipedia page about it (which may mean that it doesn’t really exist), and the few articles that did pop up in my one-and-only Google search were pretty specific to a Christian theological context and, as a result, were either over my head or not interesting enough for me to really want to spend the afternoon doing any further research. If I’m going to spend an afternoon doing further research, chances are it’s gonna have the word “Buddhism” in it!
In my last post on this issue, my overall point was two-fold: (1) there are real differences between Buddhism and Christianity that aren’t being discussed in the Brit Hume kerfuffle; and (2) that Brit Hume exposes a deeper religious double-standard in our country that may be the better target of our discontent. In this post, I’d like to talk about a related but separate issue, that is, how the mainstream media represented Buddhists in their response to Brit Hume’s comment.
I’ve wavered back and forth quite a bit about whether or not I wanted to weigh in on the whole Brit Hume thinks Tiger Woods should be a Christian thing. But I think there are a couple of points in all of this that are worth bringing into the spotlight, so, albeit a little late, here goes.
First, some disclaimers.
For starters, I think Marcus is right. Our outrage is no doubt better served by protesting actual atrocities committed against Buddhists the world over rather than the vacuous comments of one talking head on a network not generally known for being particularly fair or balanced. Moreover, I think that we’re right in spending our energies on real human suffering, such as that in Haiti right now, and that, in the grand schemes of things, Pat Robertson deserves far more ire than Mr. Hume.
But I also think that some of the commenters on Marcus’ post are, at least partly, also right. This was something of interest to us here in the States, and it is worth talking about to the extent that, to borrow a phrase, media matters (it is the message, after all). So, while I respect the fact that we should all be doing Other Things right now, I’m going to talk about some of the buried messages in this little event, take it as a teaching moment, a way to shed some light on how the media operates, and what it has to tell us about the state of religion and religious discourse in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Just after the new year, Jerry Kolber contacted me to ask if I wanted to write a guest post over on the One City blog. I have deeply ambivalent feelings about this. I have ambivalent feelings about this because One City has been criticized by people whose opinions I deeply respect. So, part of me feels like a sell out. On the other hand, I have to respect the fact that the editors of that blog are reaching out to a ne’er-do-well such as myself which suggests that they’re willing to entertain alternative viewpoints, an idea I want to support.
I wrestled with the piece that I ended up submitting to Mr. Kolber. And I’m not 100% satisfied with it, truth be told. Part of me wanted to write a massive take-down critique of the whole thing, a snarky, sarcastic “everyone’s wrong but me” sort of post complaining about my usual irks (privilege, diversity, commercialism, the “Buddhism isn’t a religion” crap). But lately I’ve found myself feeling less irritable. Or, more to the point, I find myself tiring of complaining in those terms about issues that I’ve been complaining about for over six years in this space. If my readers really want to know why I think Buddhism is a religion, I’ve covered that territory. And I’m tired of being a critic for the sole purpose of being a critic. There are, at present, other bloggers out there who are better, wittier, and possibly hotter than me. Let them have that lime-light.
So, in the end, while I’m not 100% satisfied, with the piece, I’ve got to keep it in perspective and remember that it’s (a) only a blog piece and (b) does fulfill my primary aim, one that I doubt I’ll grow tired of any time too soon, i.e., reminding everyone that there really is diversity within the broader (American) Buddhist community, that this is a good and necessary thing, an idea that I’ll defend till I’m blue in the face.
But in the interest of space (I got the impression from Mr. Kolber that shorter was better) there was something I ultimately cut out of that piece that I really wanted to leave in. I cut it out because it was only tangentially related, not directly and obviously related, to my main point. And every attempt I made to make it more directly related seemed forced. And I loath (my own) forced writing. What I really wanted to include was the following: I love Oakland.
I lieu of anything more profound, on a general interest or even, dare I say it, Buddhist topic, and in lieu of a long-winded diatribe about the general hypocrisy and double standard in American media whenever a Muslim, a person of color, a non-Chrisitian in short, a non-white heterosexual middle-class male does anything, I offer the following.
I’ve been thinking about the tragedy at Ft. Hood, and I’ve been actively boycotting the media ever since I heard an interview on NPR NPR of all places! of an Army chaplain who happens to be a Muslim. They were interviewing him and asking him asinine questions because another person who also happens to be a Muslim went on a sociopathic shooting spree, as if there’s something about being a Muslim that makes one predisposed to being a sociopath or that there’s something about being a Muslim that makes you able to relate to all other Muslims. And I found myself thinking, after another sociopath who happens to be a Christian gunned down an abortion doctor earlier this year, did NPR seek out the nearest Christian clergy member and ask similarly inane questions about Christianity? Or did they just assume, rightly, that that one lone sociopath was indeed a sociopath, nothing more and nothing less, who happened to use his religious views as justification for his behavior? It’s a fine line. But it’s a line worth keeping in our minds. I’d like to call that line: “Sociopathic behavior is bad no matter what; but just because said sociopath happened to belong to marginalized group X does not mean that all members of marginalized group X are sociopaths.”
Won’t somebody please think of the children!?!