I read the news today. Oh boy.
Looks like one of the worst-kept secrets in the industry is beginning to spring a rather unseemly leak.
Sounds like art may have been imitating life a tad too closely when Travolta, as Vincent Vega, maintained that “I’ve given a million ladies a million foot massages and they all meant something.”
Jokes aside, what a sordid spectacle that Travolta is even in the position of having to defend himself. (If any of what is being alleged is true…super-size the spectacle with a side of self-loathing.)
If, to avoid confessing (and/or confronting) the fact that he is gay, Travolta has been reduced to back-room escapades that involve coercion, money and power employed in all the wrong ways, it probably still says something more about our society than it does about him. Yes, today we can stand back and take legitimate pride, as a nation, in how far we’ve come that the biological fact of being gay is no longer something to feel ashamed or secretive about. I’m certainly not the only person from my generation who can easily recall that less than two decades ago, gay-bashing was de rigeur in virtually any stand-up’s routine. If you doubt that, just consider two of the most famous and wealthy comedians of the late ’80s: Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay (the fact that both of these guys have broken more gaydars than Ted Haggard is beside the point).
Which brings us to what happened yesterday in North Carolina.
I guess it should not be too surprising, given the recent bubble and squeak over contraception (more on that manufactured and ultimately self-defeating controversy here.). It’s still illuminating to see people so motivated by an issue that affects them, on a personal level, so little. It’s not like we don’t have an employment crisis or ever-growing evidence of global warming or, well, take your pick of problems (old and new) that we could address for our collective benefit. Or perhaps that is precisely the point: because things are increasingly chaotic and uncertain (like they where yesterday, or last year, or last century) people instinctively focus on the trivial things they control, however tenuously. It does not require a degree in Sociology or a passing familiarity with American history to make easy if unfortunate correlations between what is happening –the things being said, the ways they are being said, the circumstances they are being said under– has happened consistently in our country. Leaving religion and faith out of it for a moment, even though that’s impossible, it’s telling to note that the signs being held at these rallies (even the misspelled ones) are using the same smug certainty, animosity and illogic that decorated the signs held up during the Civil Rights movement and, before that, the Women’s Suffrage movement. Not similar; identical. Even Andrew Dice Clay could put the pieces together.
Which brings us back to the beginning: religion.
Matters of belief and actions vs. words aside, most of us can concur that religion giveth and religion taketh away. When it gives comfort, inspiration and increases the capacity for love, I can speak for myself (and many millions of others, I feel safe to presume) when I say this is all good and well. When it gives incentive –or cover– for exclusion, intolerance or increases the capacity for hate, this is what people (like me) talk about when they talk about the danger of a fundamentalist mindset (nevermind, for the moment, the myriad hypocrisies inherent in any person’s life who claims to follow the infallible word of the bible because, just to take one example, if you own the computer necessary to read these words, or are reading them on the screen you work at to make paychecks, you’ve already parted ways with Christ).
Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil…
In my personal experience, The New Testament resonates with people who are interested in emulating and not merely obeying. Indeed, the only people who read, much less seek inspiration in the Old Testament tend to be proselytizers or repressed opportunists looking to find ecclesiastical back-up for their very human prejudices and desires.
Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.
This does not leave much room for interpretation, no matter how consistently the dominant themes of this man’s teachings are neglected or appropriated for our unevolved times. This is where the scripture and the rule-following (and the rule creating) men in charge of laws and wars miss the soul of the words they claim to worship. Jesus, ideal as an inspiration if not the revealed truth. How can you not get behind this example, this idea that is larger than any individual faith, no matter how sincerely held?
Without Love I Am Nothing: this is the sort of sense you can spend many Sundays (some folks spend their entire lives) trying to understand in a church. It sounds good when you hear it, and it may even be inspiring if man on the altar conveys it with sufficient humility. But like so many aspects of organized religion, it’s when the rhetoric matches reality in the streets that it affects the soul.
And our soul, as a nation, is in need of healing –and awareness– if we continue to kid ourselves that there is a spiritual foundation for institutionalized injustice. If we allow ourselves to hide behind what is, at best, an inconsistent message that was obviously lost in translation. If we fail to recognize that those who translated these words owned slaves and stoned their wives and fought wars for land in God’s name, thousands of years ago. If what is happening today does not remind us how much has changed, and how little.