Thursday, November 03, 2005

An Encounter with Relativistic Religion

I happened to bump into a highly eccentric uncle of a friend of mine a while back at a photocopying place- here's an impressionistic record of our conversation:

Gabriel: Mr. C! Good to see you! What are you working on there?
{Mr. C shows me a great number of photographs, some of flowers and landscapes, with many dual exposure nudes overlaying nature shots. Quite a few straitforward nudes. Of particular significance to Mr. C was a topless photo of a young woman with a bunch of bananas on her head.}
C: We had a little private performance art show a little while back. The bananas were an expression of her liberation from social strictures.
G: I quite like the flower pictures, and some of the dual exposures are quite good also.
C: I see your little Theology on Tap brochures. Nice design. So you believe in the sacramentality of alcohol!
G: Well, alcohol is a fine addition to any informal gathering, but it's not quite to the level of a sacrament.
C: O, yes? You believe in the sacraments then? The symbolism of communion, baptism, and so forth?
G: Well, I'm Catholic, so I believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, that it's a real sacrifice.
C: Blood sacrifices are so outmoded.
G: Modern society has lost the idea of sacrifice entirely, not merely blood sacrifice.
C: No it hasn't. Lots of religions have a notion of sacrifice... Ganesha...
G: Well, none of them have the true sacrifice of Christ.
C: That's so bigoted. All judeo-christian tradition is racist, because you allow some people to claim to have the "truth". You bigot!
G: Umm, calm blue ocean?
C: Fundamentalist!
{brief pause in the conversation}
C: I'm going to get coffee. Can I get you some?
G: Sure, black tea, please.
{longer interruption}
G: Thank you very much. So, where are you coming from on all of this?
C: I have a spiritual unity with Hinduism- of the Gandhi sort. When I was a boy, I realized that my father's religion was narrow [ed. His father was a Christian missionary in India]. I travelled the world, which opened my mind. I bet you were indoctrinated by your parents.
G: Actually, only my father was Christian when I was a boy, and I was agnostic by the time I was eleven.
C: Your religion is bloody and oppressive.
G: Umm, didn't hinduism encourage suttee [the practice of burning widows alive on their husbands' funeral pyres] until the British shut it down?
C: Suttee was a fine practice. Indian women were being just like Jesus, going to their deaths nice and quietly.
G: Uh-huh. Are you actually saying that Suttee and the Crucifixion were both forms of suicide?
C: Yes, Jesus didn't resist dying either.

That concluded the most interesting part of the conversation. I went out for a time, came back, and changed the subject to art and the idea of the human nude. Mr. C. went on at length about the virtues of nudism, but to his credit, threw in a minimalist apology before we went our separate ways.

One of the things that I don't think I conveyed in the reconstructed dialogue was Mr. C's embodiment of every bad caricature of fundamentalist Christian evangelists: he interupted incessantly, made his declarations in the most bombastic manner, as well as ridiculing ande insulting my religious beliefs rather than advance his own. But, perhaps more than any other encounter, this one illustrated the truth that most relativists aren't actually tolerant- they want everyone to be relativists, and those who aren't are bigots, racists and fundamentalists.

For the record, tolerance isn't getting everyone to accept everybody else's beliefs as valid- it is the virtue of putting up with those who you don't agree with.


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