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Vision of Hope
Archive >> December 2007
file under: transitionfrom hate to hope 29 Dec 2007 11:14 AM
Are Clean Hands Possible In a World So Filled With Dirt? Posted by Nissim Dahan
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto filled me with sadness, and reminded me of the sense of hopelessness that permeates much of the world.

 

I am not a student of Pakistan's history. And I have been made to understand, of late, that in the past, Mrs. Bhutto represented a mixed bag with respect to the aspirations of her people. Yes, there are persistent charges of corruption, and accusations that she supported the Taliban. But I can't believe that her legacy will be defined only by her negatives.

 

There are several things to consider when we seek to judge her. She was a woman who defied the odds and was twice elected to lead a country that was not predisposed to elect her. Yes, she was driven out on charges of corruption, but, and this should not be underestimated, she chose to come back home. She was not naïve. She knew she faced a grave threat to her personal safety, a point that was driven home when she just arrived. And yet she chose to come back to compete in the political arena. Could blind ambition, alone, explain that? I think not. There must have been some noble aspiration on her part that compelled her to take the risk. Perhaps she learned from past mistakes and wanted to set things right? We can only guess.

 

In addition, how do we explain the immense popular support she enjoyed among her people? Are people totally blind? If she was so corrupt, and so indifferent to their aspirations, how then would they continue to support her so enthusiastically? They must have seen in her some hope for their country, and decided collectively to forgive her at least some of her past sins, for the sake of the hope she inspired in them. Aren't people entitled to decide accordingly? Isn't that the essence of democratic rule?

 

Was she a saint? Probably not. But then again, we've all been complicit in creating a world where saintliness doesn't cut it. The weak are crushed by the strong. And even goodness itself has to find a way to maneuver in the midst of evil.

 

The world is filled with moral vagaries. If a political system is corrupt, are you morally right, as a leader, to play the game, if doing so will give you the political power to do some good? Can we afford the luxury of a clean conscience, at the expense of not delving into the dirt; for fear that our hands may become dirty as well? How do we orchestrate the interplay between good and evil and still be able to look ourselves in the mirror every day?

 

Whatever else may be said of her, Benazir Bhutto was one hell of a fighter. She may or may not have had dirt on her hands; a clouded past, and a mixed bag of intentions, but she came back, sleeves rolled up, ready to fight. And at the very least, she said the right things, the things that inspired a sense of hope in her people. For that, she should be remembered well, even as we hold her accountable for past sins.

 

There are lessons here, but it is difficult to muddle through them, much as the truth is hard to decipher in the midst of all the nonsense which surrounds it. A political system which is corrupt will produce corrupt leaders. But leaders who wish to do good may have to play the game if they wish to make a difference. It is not enough to know that your hands are clean. It is sometimes necessary to get them dirty for the sake of the greater good. And in the final analysis, it may well be up to women of courage to save the world. Men may have become too full of themselves. It may well be up to women to use their God-given common sense to dispel some of the myths which hold us all back, and to really protect their babies by making the world safe once and for all.

 

We have allowed the sad state of affairs in today's world to cloud our thinking, and to taint the purity of innocence. It is hard to see things clearly, and to imagine the possibility that our leaders can be true to their most noble aspirations. We live in a cynical world, where the very possibility of goodness is held hostage by the reality of evil. And yet we have no choice but to hope that things can get better, and that it is our destiny to make it so.

 

What we see in the life and death of Benazir Bhutto is the playing out of many aspects of the human condition. We look at her, not quite sure of what conclusions to draw, and not at all confident in any judgments we choose to make. And yet we see in her a life that came and went, a life that made a difference, and a life that was cut short before realizing its full potential. What that potential would have been we will never know.

file under: religioncommon sense 7 Dec 2007 5:06 PM
The Legitimacy of Belief Posted by Nissim Dahan
Sometimes I wonder: What is harder, waging war, or making peace?

 

Waging war is not all that easy. In war we kill, and die, and suffer the devastation of wartime injuries, both physical and psychological, not to mention the loss of national treasure. But to my mind, as hard as war is, making peace is that much harder. Why? In war, we fight for what we believe. And we all feel good about fighting for our beliefs. It gives us goose bumps just thinking about it.

 

But for peace to happen we often have to give up some of our deeply held beliefs, in a search for something we can believe in even more, like peace. And it's hard to let go of our beliefs. It's like letting go of a part of ourselves, because to a great extent, especially in modern times, we are what we believe. Not that it had to be that way, and not that it was that way for most of our existence as a species, but it is that way today.

 

And so it seems that our beliefs are at the heart of issues of war and peace. What we choose to believe will very much determine whether we head toward war, or toward peace. The question arises, therefore: What are the legitimate grounds for belief? Or put another way: How do we know that what we believe is true?

 

Would it be too much to suggest that most of us come to most of our beliefs by sheer chance? Let's take religion as an example, since religious beliefs are often a cause of violence and war. Isn't it the case that most of us adopt our religious beliefs due mostly to the families we happen to be born into? For the most part, we are Jews, or Christians, or Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists because our families are. A Jew could have been a Muslim if only he were born into a different family. Once in a while people convert, but for the most part, that is the exception, not the rule.

 

Does it make sense that the accident of birth confers legitimacy to our beliefs? And what kind of legitimacy are we talking about? We're talking about the legitimacy that would have us kill one another in God's name, no less, because somebody else's beliefs are different from our own. Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this picture?

 

Maybe we can point to other sources of legitimacy for our beliefs, sources which can truly confirm the validity of our beliefs. Maybe we can point to Holy Scripture as the confirmation of God's truth. The trouble is, however, that all religions contain scriptural passages which are not palatable to the modern mind. In Judaism, for example, the book of Deuteronomy tells us that if a man marries a woman, and she turns out not to be a virgin, he is supposed to kill her on her father's doorstep. I think it's safe to say that Jews, throughout the ages, chose to ignore this passage. Why? Because it makes no sense. That's why. And take a look at the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. That's a trip if ever I took one. And what about the "72 virgins" in Islam? If I'm not mistaken it's a mistake in translation. It's really "72 white raisins."

 

Why do I bring into question the legitimacy of religious belief? Am I against religion? No. I consider religion as a legitimate pathway to God. But as with all other pathways; we need to stick to the path to get to where we're going. And when we sense that we're heading in the wrong direction, we check our compass to get back on track. And to my mind, the best and only compass we have, when it really comes down to it, is the universal moral compass of Common Sense.

 

Because so much is on the line, we may no longer be able to afford the luxury of false belief, whether religious, or any other belief, for that matter. False belief will embolden us to go to war for the wrong reasons. We may have been able to get away with it in the past, but only at the expense of scores of millions of corpses left behind in the wake of false ideologies. But the potential devastation of modern weaponry makes the consequences of false belief too costly to bear.

 

And so, I submit to you, for your consideration, the possibility that there is only one source for legitimate belief, and that is our shared notion of Common Sense. If an idea makes sense to you, then believe in it. If it doesn't, then let it go. We can no longer afford to let the accident of birth, or the content of scripture, or the persuasiveness of religious leaders, to convince us of the truth, when deep down we know that the truth is to be found elsewhere.

 

As between reason and faith, I prefer to believe in what makes sense. And I have come to believe that only through the language of Common Sense does God actually talk to us. The rest is pretense. And pretense will give us only the semblance of truth, but never the real thing.