A Tempest in a Teacup

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As an avid tea-lover, it has not escaped my attention of the growing surplus of tea drinking.  I’m actually gladdened by this considering most people drink coffee for purposes to stay awake.  I never cease to be amazed how many people that drink coffee never actually like the taste of it.  But I digress.  Tea may contain caffeine as well as coffee but there is another implication to tea that makes it special and that is its charming simplicity.

One of the best books discussing the importance of the drink is The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo from the early 20th century.  Discussing the social, spiritual, and historical accounts surrounding tea, it’s an interesting look at how the view of the beverage is percieved from differing viewpoints.  From its origins, tea was an aid to spiritual undertakings by Buddhist monks to help them stay awake durig long meditations.  Kakuzo calls the appreciation of simplicity and the common through the use of the drink, “Teaism” which has its roots in both the Buddhist sects of Taoism and Zennism.  It is treated as a religion on its own with the Chaking by Luwuh as the holy scripture and the tea room as its temple.

However, while the East saw the drinking of tea as a unification of the wealthy and the poor to realizing the highest potential of beauty, when tea came to the West there was actually a stronger distinction in the socioeconomic status of those who could afford tea and even the way you drank your tea.  Not everyone could afford tea when it came to Europe.  Only the rich could manage to have tea on a regular basis.  In Jane Austen’s England, tea was so expensive that family’s kept their tea locked away in a cupboard with the keys carefully hidden so that servants would not steal it.  In Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, at one part he shows how the dregs of Victorian Russia would drink their tea with a lump of sugar between their teeth because the notion of dissolving sugar in one’s tea was a luxury reserved for the upper class.   So instead of being a force to bring people together, it actually was a cause of tension between social classes.

Tea can be revolutionary.  It was through a demonstration of tea that the American Revolution was started.  You have to remember: the Bostonians LOVED their tea.  So to sacrifice it all in protest against Britain was kind of a big deal.  However, as time has gone on, I’m a little ashamed at what has happened to the Americanized version of tea.  Where once tea was bought in loose leaf form and was brewed and served in the beauty of china teacups, now we buy non-specific brand tea in plastic water bottles for easy portability or in huge two-gallon milk jugs for party purposes.  Also the fact that tea is sweetened to the point where it seems you’ll get diabetes from one sip is also a little distressing.  It makes me cringe.  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s gotten a little better with stores selling higher quality teas, but we’re nowhere near giving tea the respect that Kakuzo spoke of.  Americans are struggling to learn how to slow down and smell the roses.

The tea today has remnants of the centering aspect and admiration of simpleness that Kakuzo spoke of when it was in antiquity.  In the West, a large majority of people drink tea only for the health benefits it supplies or, more commonly, for the caffeine content it supplies to help them get through the day.  I know I’ve been guilty of that a couple of times myself (Taylor’s Scottish Breakfast tea man, it just keeps you awake longer after a lack of sleep the night before!).  But there is something else that goes with tea, it helps you to slow down and appreciate even the most trifle of things.  In a world where we are constantly plugged in to technology and are told that “faster is better”, we may lose sight of the leaves changing colors, of the beauty of the clouds, or simple fact that life is so amazing that it is worth living BECAUSE of the beauty that is so often taken for granted.  A simple cup of tea taken in the right way can help us realize this as we slow down and take a moment to watch the grass grow.

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The Voice of Graffiti

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I think most people can agree that graffiti is a messy topic when it comes to really defining it.  It’s so diverse that some people would call it art, vandalism, propaganda, gang-related territorial markings, and so on depending on your background and point of view.  I personally love the grey-area concept of street art, it makes it a great topic of controversy (not to mention I myself am a novice yarn-bomber).  Argue as much as you want concerning it’s artistic merit or its legality issues, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that graffiti is one of the major forms of cultural/counter-cultural free speech.  I mean think about it, images and pictures either positively or negatively depicting a social issue or such is probably an opinion by the creator of the piece.

Modern graffiti as we have today really took off in the 1960s where instead of images and pictures, graffiti writers were concerned with “the Name”.  To them, the Name was like a logo, telling the world who you were and that you existed.  From the 1970s graffiti wars of New York to today, graffiti has evolved to the strange dilemma of being treasured and also hated.  Graffiti culture has lost its edge in a way actually.  Where before it was supposed to piss people off and be rebellious, now in some places walls are being torn down to preserve and auction off works by Banksy or Shepard Fairey.  In America, graffiti has become a part of the culture, influencing the styles of clothes we wear, commercials, spiral notebook covers, shoes, etc.

Now I’m not saying that all graffiti has been reduced to what may be called “kitsch”.  To be quite honest, I always think the religious icons are some of the most interesting sub-genres within the graffiti culture.  Images of the Virgin Mary or the Dalai Llama are always some of the most interesting I think, especially if they’re controversial.

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Okay…….so maybe Surfing Madonna isn’t the best example of controversy, but you should understand what I mean.  So anyway, people have used these religious icons as a part of their intention to say something.  Could this be a suggestion for more moral behavior in interaction with others?  Religious images on public walls, like most other kinds of graffiti, demand the attention of the public as they pass by.  There has been one group that has taken advantage of this concept and that is the Gospel Graffiti Crew.  This is a Christian Based group that spreads the word and love of Jesus Christ by tagging moral messages on….legally allowed areas.  I’m sure graffiti purists at this point may be clutching their computer screens or tablets screaming, “NO! IT DOES NOT COUNT AS GRAFFITI IF IT’S ON LEGAL WALLS!!”  But if looks like graffiti and is on walls like graffiti, the public will just assume it’s graffiti regardless of the ramifications.  But a part of me wonders, at what point does this become propaganda?

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I mean, street art also makes an impact in other countries in looking for change in their government.  Look no further than the Berlin Wall, where most of the graffiti was on the western side describing the need for freedom in East Berlin from the U.S.S.R.   Graffiti has become a very common form of protesting against authority, especially in the Middle East.  In Egypt, the large youth-driven populace began to protest against the ruling military regime that ran the country, mainly by tagging city walls.  This enabled citizens to be aware of political ideologies within the country.  In Tehran, graffiti has been attributed to the youth underground that has to hide itself.  Under the rule of Ahmadinejad, the religious police have been under strict control to rid the city of youth rebellion.  In all of these cases, it seems with the right words, any piece of graffiti can instantly become a piece of propaganda to influence the minds and hearts of the people.

So say what you will about street art.  It’s a medium that is utterly confusing to understand yet makes complete sense to those that make it.  Try as you might though, it will never be suppressed for very long; Mayor Lindsay tried, Ahmadinejad tried, governments all over the world tried but every time they fail to destroy the graffiti movement.  It is the voice of the people in times of change.  It may embody what we fear to give actual voice to.  Whether we like it or not, graffiti will never go away completely, not as long as something need to be said.

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The Evolution/Creationism Conundrum

I know these sentiments have been recycled time and time again, but I cannot help but speak out concerning the place of creationism and evolution in schools.  Most people are adverse to one or the other, but what if (and this is when I ask the reader to entertain a thought) we were in fact to teach both but only under certain conditions?  Evolution has everything to do with biology so it seems justified to be taught in a science class.  Creationism on the other hand could be taught and incorporated well into a philosophy class.

Evolution is one of the core elements needed to understand the nature of biology.  Because of mutations in the genetic code, a new trait may come about such as a better form of camouflage or an extra appendage.  If the organism with this mutation is able to survive and reproduce well within its environment, then the trait is carried on.  Evolution is really a look at what may happen to DNA and specific cells and their functions for survival and homeostasis.  Now some people would object and say that Evolution completely undermines religion and the divine nature of human beings and the earth in general.  This has not always been the case.  Actually, when Darwin first put forth his theory of Evolution, the Church LOVED it because it “proved” the existence of God.  If creation was ongoing, then that meant that a higher being was there to make sure this creation continued, according to the Teleological argument.

I actually think the concept of Creationism could be accurately taught in a philosophy class for many reasons.  Mainly though, philosophy is a topic where you may question and explore some of the deepest fundamental questions that mankind has been faced with such as “do we have a soul” and so forth.  Creationism has a direct correspondence with arguments for the rational grounds of God’s existence, the problem of evil, the mind/body dilemma, and freedom and determinism.  Especially with the problem of evil though, philosophers take into account the creation story in Genesis and how if God is all-being, all-loving, all knowing, all-powerful creator, how can evil exist if a perfect creator created a less than perfect world?  Also, how could this creator punish animals for something that man messed up on?  It just raises several questions.  Creationism is more deeply rooted in faith than empirical evidence so I don’t think it would be justified to be included in the field of science.  How could it be in the same field as physics or chemistry?  It’s too deeply rooted in faith.

Quite frankly, the biggest issue I have with this are the politicians who claim that if you teach both, students are going to get confused because they go to church on Sunday and then go to school and are taught evolution.  First of all, you’re assuming that all public school students are  Christian which is NOT accurate.  Second, you’re saying that all students are mentally impaired, so they can’t think for themselves.  Any person with a two-year-old can tell you that they are curious with incessant “why” questions.

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The Problem of Being Female

I have always felt a little strange with the whole idea of placing women upon a pedestal. And yet with all its glory and idolatry, women continue to have diminished roles within society due to lasting traditional views and criticisms.  Really more than anything though, there continues to be a struggle in the minds of men and society as to the image of women.  It’s as if they don’t really know how to define them, as if they are an enigma.

Women are typically put into archetypical roles such as the “pure”, “saintly”, “virginial” maiden (who is most commonly put upon a pedestal), the nurturing mother figure, the spinster, the temptress, the witch, etc.  The list goes on!  Women are idolized yet hated at the same time.  How can this be logical?  For so long in the Church, women were the instigators of evil thanks to Eve, yet in the middle ages and the times of courtly love, women could be idealized as the personifications of the soul; they were the gateways to salvation and the ultimate Truth.  The best example of this is Dante’s adolation of Beatrice and his entire journey to seek the redemption of his life in the Divine Comedy.  Yet at the same time, women are the “embodiment of evil” in so many other cultures and religions that they are forced to be in minimal, perhaps miniscule roles within their society.  In India and other countries, female infanticide are still prevalent because girls are considered less than people, but the authorities don’t do anything.

Being regarded as a demi-god is no better though.  In the Middle East, women are “sacred” and therefore strongly discouraged and sometimes barred from going to school and getting an education because they will lose their holy natures.  So in the midst of being “sacred”, they have to submit and obey the strict rules of a male society while not knowing any better.  Even if you entertain the idea of woman being “sacred” in such a way, it still comes across as ridiculous.  If something is sacred then how can it be justified that men (who are not divine by nature) have rational grounds to be in control of a concious sacred thing?  Apparently there’s nothing more sexy than a goddess in servitude…

Women are perceived as symbols for their actions, or rather the projected virtues of another person upon them.  Carl Jung said that,

“[…] a symbol loses its magical or, if you prefer, its redeeming power as soon as its liability to dissolve is recognized.  To be effective, a symbol must be by its very nature, unassailable.  […] it must also be sufficiently remote from comprehension  to resist all attempts of the critical intellect to break it down; and finally, its aesthetic form must appeal so convincingly to our feelings that no argument can be raised against it on that score.”

So then, if we apply the idea of women as symbols to Jung’s description it can be shown that women cannot possibly remain as such.  Not only can women possess flaws (or losing their “redeeming power”), but the degree of their beauty (physical or inner beauty) varies from each person that meets them.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is this: women as a whole are not perfect, neither are they evil.  I guess it just bothers me  that there is so much inconstancy in the view of women to distinguish them as things rather than people.  History has shown the mindset that being female is synonymous to being property, sexual objects, and whatnot.  It’s only been recently in the 20th century that women have been given a voice to vote and even then that’s okay in a few democratic countries.  There continues to be issues regarding women’s rights.  I really hate that title.  I understand the concept that’s being expressed, but the fact of the matter is that the term “women’s rights” serves as yet another way to seperate women from being considered human and a part of society.  You never hear about Hispanic rights, Native American rights, or African American rights, or anything like that.  They are all unified under “civil HUMAN rights”.  To exclude a group of people from this term alienates them so that they feel at odds against society.  Gloria Steinem illustrates this point so perfectly in her satire piece “Womb Envy, Testyria, and Breast Castration Anxiety: What if Freud were female?” with the gender roles in society being flipped so that it is a matriarchal society where men are seen as the inferior and weaker sex.  By this reversal of gender roles does Steinem show the level of injustice towards people being treated in this way.

So I say this as a woman: yes, we are biologically different than men, but that doesn’t make us evil or divine, or more susceptible to either of those two respectively.  We are neither goddesses nor demons to be abhorred and suppressed.  We are human.  Yes, we have implications, just like everyone else, but it should not be brushed aside or heavily emphasized to make us feel like a separate entity of the world.

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Education Crisis

I’m still continuing  to further comprehend the extent of the scope of power that the establishment clause of the first amendment possesses.  It emphasizes that government should not establish a national religion and favor one religion over another.  One of the biggest hot topics that this includes is the presence of religion in public schools.  Now I’ll admit I’m a little biased because I went to a private Christian school but I’ve observed students that left over the years to go to public school and their performances there, not to mention the overall performances of public schools across the nation.  I may be completely wrong in this, but a lot of people, if they are able to afford it, are putting their children in private schools, regardless of their religion, because private schools are providing better educational opportunities than public schools.  Is it possible that the people that do put their children in public school care more about the child’s religious freedom rather than their education?  It just seems there is an overwhelming theme of “should we have prayer in public schools” rather than being concerned if our students can do basic arithmetic or read.

Even now, there are controversies here in Texas on teaching creationism or intelligent design in public schools so that students won’t feel discriminated against because of the theory of evolution, which I actually think is really stupid.  This sounds like the government giving preference to a specific kind of religion which is in direct contrast with the first amendment.  In many ways, Texas politicians seem to think that the only children that go to public school are Christians which is presumptuous on their part.  The point of public schools are that regardless of religion, they are supposed to provide a foundation of education that will enable them to survive in the workforce and society at large.  With the way public education is nowadays, there is no challenge or a motivation for students.  Besides, rather than teaching students to do well and actually retain knowledge, they teach to the TAKS test (or another version of the test depending on what state you’re in).  Most of the students that slacked off and got lousy grades in my private school went to public school and got straight A’s.  That tells me something.  There are loads of other issues going on as well that may contribute to this.  There is a great documentary called “Waiting for Superman” that goes further into the dilemma of the educational system in America.  Among the problems are the teacher’s union and cutting of funds that go toward public education.  I also like to think that the the lawsuits concerning religious disputes in the schools are another issue that drains further funds from the schools as well.

Private schools on the other hand have an established religion and are typically not funded by the state (there have been exceptions in history to this) but they have the initiative to actually educate students and send them off to college.  More and more people are realizing this and are sending their children to private schools because they want their children to be more successful in their careers and in dealing with the world.  It didn’t really matter what religion you were.  It was an Episcopal School, but a lot of the classmates in my high school were Baptist, Jewish, Islamic, even some Atheists.  They tolerated the Episcopalian overtones knowing that they were getting a better education.  Also, we were never taught Creationism.  No, we were taught Evolution because they did not want us to close our mind from other viewpoints.  We are rapidly approaching the fact that we as a species are growing into a global community.   The rest of the world is superior to us in education and that’s a problem to us as people.  From a lack of education do people do terrible things that endanger both them and make the world into the cesspool that it already is.  I know that sounds pessimistic, but if we are not able to amend the religious and educational issues going on within our public education system, a large majority of people are going to cripple their own lives and the lives of others.

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Government Restrictions on Religion

In my religion and politics class, I have recently come across a statistic in my textbook that concerns the public’s view of the government and the relationships between church and state.  Apparently in 2007, the same number of people that approved of the FBI to keep a watch on cults (nearly 57% of the population) were similar to the number of people that wished restrictions on Krishnas and satanists.  The first thing I thought was “okay, why Krishnas and Satanists specifically?”  Why not Wiccans or Scientologists?  Those groups are so different from one another on a religious spectrum.  Then I took another look and saw the wish to restrict satanists was actually lower than Krishnas (maybe 3% lower).  By this viewpoint, it sounds like American’s have more issues with Krishnas than Satanists which blows my mind.

I am no expert on either religion, but Krishnas do not strike me a particularly dangerous and Satanists are more Atheistic.  If you go to their respective religious homepages  iskcon.org and churchofsatan.com, you can see that they are not inherently evil religions, yet they receive a bad reputation as cults perhaps due to the fact that they are minority religions in the U.S.  People seem to think that Krishnas are trying to brainwash others to join their religion through their literature.  I think it’s true that they are an evangelical religion and like other evangelicals of other faiths, they enthusiastically want to share their faith with others because it holds a truth that has improved their own lives.  Satanists are a little different because they don’t really reveal themselves in the public eye like the Krishnas do and therefore are more mysterious and likewise potentially dangerous to the majority religions.

Perhaps the statistic I saw only used Krishnas and Satanists as an example of the relationship of the inherent mistrust that larger, well accepted religions feel about smaller obscure ones.  Take Catholicism for example.  Even though the Catholic church was the original form of Christianity which all other denominations stem from, Catholics were largely regarded early on in America and even to today as a cult and called “Mary-worshippers”.  The first amendment of the constitution obviously states free speech but also freedom of religion.  In the free-exercise clause it clearly states that the government will not prohibit one from practicing the faith one possesses.  If the government did this, it would be favoring a specific religion, and make them hypocrites, liars, and an un-reliable system of democracy (regardless that they may be already).  The free-exercise clause ensures that minorities have a chance to participate and actually survive in this nation.  Going back to the statistic, if more than 50% of the population wants restrictions on these groups, regardless of the ideas of whether or not they may be cults, how is that not the government favoring certain kinds of religions over others.  It sounds like a violation of the free-exercise clause.  If you put a restriction on a religion, ANY religion for that matter,  is it really freedom of religion or free speech at that point?

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Jonathan Edwards and Slayer: a Match made in Hell

Back in high school for my AP English class, one of the texts we had to read was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. Naturally we had to dissect it and try to figure out how it was a good example of persuasive speaking for that time period.  One of the prominent things I remember thinking was, “wow!  This would make a sick heavy metal song!”  I am one of those people who are so lovingly referred to as a “headbanger” so hopefully my ideas won’t seem too farfetched when I make comparisons.

So my question is this: why is it that Jonathan Edwards’ sermon has been so influential to politics and Christians for so long yet both Christians and politicians alike are more hasty in censoring Slayer even though their lyrics are really not all that different from Edwards’ sermon?

When Edwards gave this sermon, he was a part of a congregationalist colony where the laws of the church were synonymous with the laws of the government.  When the Puritan system was starting to shake up from religious revivals thanks to preachers like Whitfield, people like Edwards had to devise a new way to keep their church members and their citizens in their proper place in society.  Apparently the best way to do that was to use a super strong scare tactic.  If you seriously sit down and read this thing, it’s pretty freaking terrifying!  For instance, this passage:

“If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.”

That’s…..pretty brutal.  The graphic nature of this passage would have been one to strike fear into most churchgoers because, let’s face it, being crushed by an omnipotent being and having your blood splayed onto him like Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is terrifying.  But that is what makes it brilliant rhetorically.  Edwards knows his audience are Christians in the colony who only want to learn the right way to live, therefore they can be easily swayed by messages that may be more appealing personally.  Yeah it may be nice for the individual, but the Congregationalist Church being in power at that time did not want to lose the influence it had held over the people for some time.  This was Edwards’ way of winning back citizens  to the classic Puritan fold.  He told people that if they did not change they’re ways, God would hate them forever and  then all of Heaven would come together to watch them suffer in the abyss of Hell:

“Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might, and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable strength of your torments. You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty.”

This sermon is what has sealed Edwards’ place in American History: his use of language that was able to win over churchgoers and citizens of the colony in one fell swoop.  I think this has been very influential for fellow preachers and politicians alike throughout the years.  Who hasn’t heard a politician speak so adamantly about the tenets of his political platform as if it was their religion?  Are not politicians preachers for civil law and order amongst a group of people?  Edwards goes to show that imagery and language are key to entering the minds of the populace in order to gain control of their “vote” towards what religion should be in power.

But what about Slayer?  Like Edwards’ most referenced and taught sermon, they speak of very graphic imagery of Hell.  One need not doubt this after reading the lyrics of Behind The Crooked Cross.  However, they were affected by the wishes of the PMRC (Parents’ Music Research Center) which was founded by several wives of senators who wanted to censor music for the graphic violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use that may be present in a song.  They succeeded enough in getting the Parental Advisory Sticker put on albums with questionable content.  Ever since, Slayer has come under intense criticism for the political nature and anti-Christian nature of some of their songs including Cult, Angel Of DeathJihad, and Hell Awaits.  The band itself has been called Satanic, regardless of the fact that Tom Araya, the lead singer, is Catholic.  Once when questioned on the lyrics shown below, Tom Araya stated that God doesn’t hate, they just make great lyrics.  Here is the beginning of Disciple:

“Drones since the dawn of time
Compelled to live your sheltered lives
Not once has anyone ever seen
Such a rise of pure hypocracy
I’ll instigate I’ll free your mind
I’ll show you what I’ve known all this time

God Hates Us All, God Hates Us All
You know it’s true God hates this place
You know it’s true he hates this race”

From a certain perspective, how is this no different from the words of Edwards telling his congregation about the fickleness of their actions and the intense anger of God?  Slayer also achieves to pervade itself onto the mind of their listeners with the help of fast paced riffs and pounding drums to emphasize the rhetoric of their message in the lyrics.  The sound of the thunder and rain at the beginning and end of Raining Blood is there to effectively transport the listener to the greater reality that is Hell.  Is this not like Edwards as well who wants the citizens of his colony to see the horrors of Hell if they do not turn away from the teachings of people like Whitfield?  Only in intent do they differ.  Slayer says this to raise a point about the danger of extreme religiosity and its effect on people.  This is why they come under attack from church goers and religious politicians in general because it offends them and, like the accusation of Socrates, is the corrupter of youth.  Yet are these the same kinds of people that proclaim Edwards to be America’s greatest theologian?  I would love for them or any other metal band to condense Edwards’ sermon and make it into a metal song just to see if it is strongly criticized for its content.

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