“Rumor Has It, They Don’t Grow   Religion in Their Land” by Tini Ngatini

Traversing Narrow Margins

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When I first came to the Bồ Đề Pagoda to see this fish release ritual in person, to observe each religious gesture and object involved in it, to listen to the invocation of the divine name, to hear them telling me the story of the ritual and reasons behind it, I already knew what it was. I had studied it back then in graduate school. Yet, I was still taken aback. Not so much by the ritual itself, but more by the fact that it occurred in Viet Nam, a country which I imagine closely followed Marx’s warnings about the potential of religion as ‘opium’. That is, put simply, as a tool by which masses are distracted from seeing suffering and the conditions which produce it.  Such was the dominant picture of religions in Marx’s time which preach suffering as something ought to be accepted as preconditions for eternal and/or future happiness. Marx’s religion as opium, I believe, is the basis for Lenin’s view of religion as that which Ronaldo Munck called a ‘competing ideology’: a means through which the ruling class maintains its control over and stupefies the masses.  In my mind, either Marx or Lenin’s perspectives would make it unlikely for the country to grow religion in their soil.

This piece aims to engage with Marx’s thoughts on religion as opium of the people, his suggestion that it generates a kind of inverted consciousness and, by implication, his call to abolish it.  As someone who is both pretty religious and fond of Marx’s work, this is a topic that I am, by default, extremely interested in. I aim to explore what Marx actually means by his aforementioned thoughts on religions; and, ultimately, what he means by abolishing religion and why such measure is needed. Through a Buddhist group I recently worked with, I want to see whether Marx’s thoughts and religion are compatible in society. But first, I wish to understand why religious people often strongly disagree with communism.

Growing up, my mother used to tell me about her experience pertaining to communism in Indonesia when the Suharto’’s reign committed themselves to combating the movement. My mom’s older brother, who was actually a member of an Islamic party, was accused of being involved with communism and was imprisoned for a year by the government. The whole raid was rather rough. Although his name would later be cleared, it deeply scarred my mother; it left her with an intense despise of communism. She even equated communism to anti-religious agency and atheism. She still thinks it is only natural for pious Muslims to see communism as inherently evil.

Until that Sunday evening when I visited the Bồ Đề pagoda in Ha Noi, I thought such ideas had surpassed me. That the experiences she shared over many dinners  had no effect on altering my personal views. After all, I spent most of the time finding excuses to leave the table as soon as possible. Moreover, though I am quite religious, I am friends with many Marxists, and have a keen interest in works on Marxism.

However, as I researched a little into the area, I found that my mom’s glib idea of communism being anti-religious was not entirely unfounded. Historically, despite Marx’s view of mid-nineteenth century religion as being ‘opium for the oppressed masses’, communism has periodically struggled to get along with religion. You may recall that event when British strikers carried poster images of Karl Marx alongside Pope Leo XIII, after Leo defended the right of workers to strike for better wages and conditions in Rerum Novarum in 1981. In addition, Ronaldo Munck’s work Marx 2020: After the Crisis points to a few examples of this internationally. Albania in 1976, where Enver Hoxha declared religion as ‘alien’ to Albanian culture and was subsequently banned. China, too has held similar attitudes toward religion that was not controlled [recognized] by the state.  Munck also points us to the fact that the Soviet Union, after the early 1920s was very hostile toward religion.

But Munck’s examples appear to represent the view of religion as a “competing ideology” in society. This view I think is more of Lenin’s [yet it is indeed built upon Marx’s religion as opium of the people], the idea that religion is used as a tool by the ruling class to maintain their exploitation and stupefaction of the proletariat. Lenin, a somewhat infamous Marxist thinker, certainly created a society in Soviet Russia that was very hostile towards religion. His interpretation of Marxism was one where religion had no place in communist society, and thus took measures to remove it. However, Lenin was famously extremely anti-religious, which may suggest that there were factors external to his interpretation of Marx’s work that informed his ideological beliefs.

That religion appears as a competing ideology to many communist countries may indeed remain the case.  But the way some of these countries relate to religion obviously, to a varied degree, better (although still cautious) than it was in the period between the 1920s and 1980s. Viet Nam seems to be a country that has taken such an approach. When it comes to Viet Nam, the whole treatment of religion cannot be dissociated from the memory of the historical events between 1963 and 1966 laid out in Sallie King’s Socially Engaged Buddhism. During this time, The Unified Buddhist Church of Viet Nam organized an anti-war movement in South Vietnam and fought against the Communist North, with the latter winning the war and unifying the nation. The anti-war movement involved actions ranging from strikes, boycotts, refusals to serve in the military, massive demonstrations demanding freedom to practice Buddhism, to – most importantly – the self-immolations of Buddhist monks, nuns and laypeople, etc.  Perhaps that is why, Viet Nam now has a Ministry of Religious Affairs and religion unit within their police department. They exist principally to ensure that religion is not used to provoke riots, as a policeman I met told me. Yet, within this seemingly cautious watch, religion appears to grow pretty well in Vietnamese soil.

Returning to my mother’s stance on Marxism as anti-religion and, thus, inherently evil, I think there has definitely been a ‘softening’ approach of communist countries towards religion. In fact, Marxists such as Ernst Bloch in 1970 and Lucien Goldman in 1950s attempted to show the compatibility of communism and religion. And Misbach -an Indonesian-Muslim public figure-  was actually in agreement with communist thought in terms of fighting against oppression, though such knowledge remains hidden from popular minds. This is perhaps one of the reasons why you would still find people like me and my mom with a misunderstanding of Marx’s thoughts on religion [and communism].

Again, related to my mother’s particular case, religion has only ever divulged to her its social function to empower people for good ends, especially to help them survive difficult times socially and individually. Religion has undoubtedly been part of the process of alleviating poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, etc, through the schools, universities, hospitals, nursery houses, orphanages, minimart which her religiously-based organization have set up. In this environment, it’s easy to understand her insurmountable conviction of religion as a positive entity. She, of course, has heard about this alternative narrative of religion, in which religion often backs the oppressive ruling class who claim to champion social peace only to place the burden of that peace on the oppressed, and in turn advocate the workers ‘acceptance’ of suffering. Nevertheless, her view of religion as a fundamentally positive entity remains. 

Below, in this scene from the British Television drama North & South [2004] episode 3 is an example of how religion covertly appears as advocating the oppressed to accept the sufferings and calling them on finding ways to cope with it. This scene is from the brief exchange between factory worker Higgins and the clergyman Richard in relation to the death of Higgin’s daughter and the terrible working conditions of the factory:

“ .. My poor Bessy, she lived a life of a dog. Hard work and illness. She never had one moment of rejoicing”, Higgins said.

Clergyman: “She may not have had an easy life but she will find comfort in the next [after life].”

“I’m not saying I don’t believe in your God. But I can’t believe he [god] meant the world to be as it is; the masters ruling over us; the rest of us left to live a half- life in the shadows…” , replied Higgins.

Clergyman: “..he gave us the world and our wits and intelligence to discover the grace and beauty in Harlem…,”

“ ..to believe that he gave some more than others and that was his will?” , Higgins cut in.

Clergyman: “ it’s our duty to make peace with others. It’s a pity that you seem to think in terms of war and strife. I know the suffering and I know there are cruel and greedy masters but surely it would be better for people of goodwill on both sides to sit down and share ideas of how to do God’s will to live together in peace and harmony”.

In the remark “She may not have had an easy life but she will find comfort in the next [after life]”, I sense what Marx meant by religion as opium of the people: that religion indeed is used to both distract from and help people survive the sufferings and difficult situations they were confronted with on a daily basis. Religion does such function by interpreting the sufferings or difficult times as a necessary thing to go through in order to go to the next ‘stage’ (heaven) and achieve eternal happiness. In such an eschatological view, suffering or difficult situations is seen as either a test of one’s faith, redemption of one’s wrongdoings, a necessary stage to pass through before the promised land, or simply an inevitable price one must pay for what he or she desires.

Within such an understanding of suffering, one’s duty is likely to find a way to cope with it, to get through it, including finding the beauty in such sufferings. In the case of the TV show, it is quite obvious that such eschatological reinterpretation of the sufferings is meant more to ease pain than to deceive it for the personal gain of the clergyman. In the last half of nineteenth century, when labor conditions were characterized by low wages, child workers, unsafe working conditions and so on, one could understand and accept such an argument the Clergyman makes. As in the cases of communities with severe religious persecutions I worked with, seeing terribly painful times and conditions from such an eschatological view is indeed helpful for them to survive and to move forward with their lives.
But, such an eschatological view is very unlikely to remove the conditions which give rise to such misery. In other words, the oppressed is only surviving. They still work in the terrible working conditions mainly to meet their bodily needs. Such is insidiously violent if only because it holds back the oppressed from necessary work to manifest their potentials as ‘thinking” beings. from their genuine freedom, so to speak. I guess it was this kind of stagnancy Marx felt unsatisfied with. He desires for the underdogs to have genuine freedom and happiness which would enable them to live as thinking as well as corporeal beings. Religion, and philosophy or intellectualism, especially in Marx’s times, often stand in the way to such freedom he envisaged, in that they often stand on the side of the oppressive ruling classes, justifying oppressive conditions which give rise to suffering for the disadvantaged groups. That is one of the reasons why Marx sees religion as the opium of the people – it distracts the oppressed from seeing the real condition and doing the necessary works to end it.

For Marx’s elaboration of how religion and philosophy /intellectualism have contributed to such sufferings (and what he really mean by that) one can check Marx’s works Social Principles of Christianity [1847], the Reformation and the Pauperization of the Masses, Religion and the Material Condition of Society, on Working on Sabbath, Protestant Persons and the Population theory, the Decay of Religious Authority, Religion and the Monetary System, early Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts [1844], Economic Original Sin, the Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism [1844], Critique of Hegel’s Dialectic and General Philosophy [1844], Concerning Feurbach, German Ideology and Ideology in General [1844-446], and Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right [1844].

Those works are crucial for one to better understand Marx’s later view of religion as a form of opium for the people, of inverted consciousness of the people/ the world, and, by implication, his call for the abolition of religion. That being said, I do think that we would do Marx a form of injustice if we define him as purely against religion before reading the aforementioned works or, at least, Hegel’s works and Feurbach’s with which his views of religion are heavily based upon.

For now, I hope it suffices to say that one of the aspects of religion and philosophy which Marx was against is this sort of ‘top-down’ approach. The tendency to generalize, to diagnose and treat certain social and/or religious issues by applying formulaic understanding or theory without taking into account the actual and particular aspects surrounding the object of the study. Such a method seems inconspicuously dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, it is alienating in that those which are seen as do not fit the established religious or social theories/ understandings/ standards, will automatically be place in the “heretic”, “social outcast” box; or even as a threat to public stability/ safety to be dealt according to established standard of theirs.

In Addition, to the degree that generalization is a form of Hegelian absolutism, it implies a thought of sufferings resulted from oppressive conditions as acceptable, as well as the thought that they can be solved simply by the oppressed changing their view about it. This is the view which I think causes the idea that sufferings and oppressive conditions are a natural part of one’s journey to be coped with, not challenged. As such religion and philosophy are being uncritical, Marx would say. The philosopher, intellectualist, or religionist is also being uncritical in that it stopped only at the level of thinking, at the level of understanding the suffering per se; not ending it.

For Marx, I think, being critical means understanding the sufferings and oppressive conditions, and taking concrete steps to end it. The concrete action will include tackling the conditions which give rise to the sufferings, including the intellectual or religious systems which may have preserved such conditions, as he discussed, especially in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right [1889]. This critical approach is indeed challenging to adopt mainly because it seems to be on the borderline of being radical- if not already in that space. As such it often demands total elimination of the causes of suffering to its very root. Not to mention the demands of complete, abrupt change of the old systems with the new one. In doing so, it may portray us as waging war against religion or other representations of established systems and values. That is to say, to come off as defiant, and worse, as “public enemy”. You see when we criticize the established systems and values -which have deeply ingrained in the mind and body of our society and is believed as the true path to “happiness [good life], we essentially rock the very path of the happiness of general society. As such we cause them anxiety; we put their certainty of happiness in danger.

Nevertheless, it seems that there is not much we can do to avoid it. In my view, popular-based movements tend to be radical, perhaps because they are often fueled by and ground in the very experience of pain and suffering. The suffering resulted from the failure of attending to the corporeal and non-corporeal needs which are very fundamental and often demand immediate fulfilment. In addition, the object to fulfill the needs are often very few, thus, competition with one another in all its form is inevitable. Nonetheless, I think the degree of intensity of that competition is varied depending on many factors.

Finally, the ritual I saw that Sunday evening in the Bo De pagoda is actually an attestation to the power of religion as beyond the opium. That is, as a source of power to sort of creating the kingdom on earth itself, in here and now by responding to the social issues of poverty and animal abuse and conditions from which suffering / obstruction to God’s kingdom arose. But, as you’ll see in my next discussion, it is not the one with the highest criticality [radicality]

 

***********        To be continued             ***********         

 

 

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Simone’s Sermon by Jennifer Chukwu

Visitants

 

Simones Sermon

Before judgment, I am obligated to inform you of Heaven’s updated terms and conditions. Humans keep killing each other at unprecedented rates, and to help with our population surge, angels like myself are working unpaid overtime to pilot a new program.

In the past, if you tried your best with your childhood and other circumstances, you would have been granted entrance into Heaven. Back then, we believed your soul and its experiences were the best indicators for salvation; however, we were too lenient. After the Salvation Board reviewed our population data, they realized by 2049 Heaven will have reached capacity. Therefore, the board has put me in charge of deciding who will and will not enter Heaven.

If I feel you represent humanity’s potential for evil or if you wasted your time on earth, you are going to Hell. If you have any questions or complaints, after judgment you are allowed to submit a ticket to HR. If your ticket gets reviewed, it is then escalated to the Salvation Board, where you might gain entrance into Heaven or a second chance at life. Now that we have reviewed the new terms and conditions, Brian, Sister Scholastica, and Elaine, I need all of you to line up in that order. Let’s begin before my lunch break.

 

book of brian

Book of Brian

Often your classmates asked, “Why are you so Black?” and your only response was to bury your head deeper into your algebra book until your nose touched the pages. You learned this tip from HALP.org, your favorite anti-bullying site. The users called it “turtling,” and it was great for ignoring bullies, teachers, and parents. You learned to trust the HALPers, but only after ignoring their initial advice. At the beginning of your freshman year, you tried defending yourself.

Your head shot out of your book and you said,

“’Cause Black is beautiful.”

“Not when it is covered in acne,” a classmate responded, and the class laughed.

After school, your parents asked questions they believed were encouraging. Was today better?” “Are you at least getting straight As?”  “Are you thinking about re-trying out for the basketball team?”

You nodded yes and no answers and headed to your room, but before you made it upstairs, your parents reminded you of your upcoming appointment with Dr. Lanning, the dermatologist.

When it came to your skin, they were desperate.

Your parents hoped that if the acne went away, then you would start looking better. From the infomercials, they heard of a new drug: Radoxin. It did wonders for people with acne. There were possible side effects, things like hair loss, feelings of depression, or severe skin rashes. But, all the pimples went away! Your appointment was the next day. At first you were excited, but after reading the side effects, you became terrified. That fear was for good reason. You became the third wrongful death lawsuit.

 

The day before you started your medication, you stared at your ceiling, waiting for daylight to disappear. You tried dreaming of your future, but you could only imagine ways to survive another school week. That week, you had already survived Thursday and only Friday remained. Fridays were great because there was pizza and Ms. Elaine, the associate teacher, always gave you a slice of pepperoni even though your parents only paid for cheese. Sometimes, if you had the courage to ask, you got a free soda, too. Ms. Elaine understood your pain. After her haircident in elementary school, she was never the same. Things became a bit better when she started following her favorite social media star, Lissa Evans’ accounts and her Inspirational Monday Message.

I know…humans will believe anything another human creates, but ask them to believe about God and angels and they say “LOL.”

Anywho, whenever she saw you, she hoped one day you would also find your cure.

After Fridays, it was the weekend, and you loved sneaking out the house. The first time your parents caught you sneaking out you told them you were meeting your girlfriend. They were too thrilled to question. Your dad gave you a condom and then winked at you. Your mother said you were becoming the man of the house.

The truth: the few times you talked to a girl happened when she wanted to play connect the dots. You were excited, even when she started tracing your pimples with her fingers. Once, she could’ve sworn she found The Big Dipper on your left cheek. Your simple ass laughed along with her.

Instead of meeting up with a girlfriend, you waited by the sides of the streets, bored. During these bouts of boredom, you thought about your options. You were not good at sports; last time you tried to shoot a basketball, you hit the coach on her head. You were a straight Bs student, the definition of average. Killing yourself was not an option—the lead chatter in HALP said so. Also, it took too much effort. You would have to pick a place, and then a thing to do it with, and you did not want to be a news story like the school’s secretary, Ms. Denora Johnson.

After you finished wandering and thinking about your options, you visited your friend, Mr. Elt, who lived between First and Pleasant Avenue. He was only seven years older than you, but insisted on the title of Mister because he was an “experienced” man. You trusted him because he looked like you and understood your struggle. Together in a coffee shop, you counted his earnings from playing overturned buckets as drums while cars waited in traffic. For his friendship and wisdom, Mr. Elt asked for a favor.

Lately, New Yorkers had been stingier than usual, and he needed an income other than playing drums. Per Mr. Elt’s request, you told him whenever you spotted a woman with a purse walking alone. Things were fine until one day a teenager caught him and called him an “ugly son of a bitch.” He had been called ugly before, but this time was the last. In his eyes, this woman was no Beyoncé, and you agreed.

You went over to help the woman. She did not recognize you, but you knew her. She was a senior at your high school. She was never particularly mean or nice to you. She reminded you of all the girls in your school. You figured getting revenge on one would right all the wrongs. By Mr. Elt’s third incident, you started having fantasies about hurting women. You imagined pushing them in front of buses.

After Mr. Elt’s fifth incident, more women you spotted started appearing on the news and your fantasies became darker. The reporters told women to travel in groups and look out for a man that matched Mr. Elt’s description. You should have reported him, but instead you listened to his shitty and depressing advice. He told you it did not get better. Your face would not change. The only hope was to treat women the way that everyone had treated you. Eventually, the goal was to trap a woman and make her feel like she was nothing without you. He told you that you had to achieve this goal by any means necessary.

Know what, this review is dragging, and a bunch of killed clubbers were just added to the Heaven queue. Brian, here are your take aways: you had a growing resentment for women because people made fun of you, if you are lucky and get another chance at life, read Chicken Soup for the Soul and How Not to Be a Sexist Pig, and turn in Mr. Elt. Before your acne medication killed you from Steven-Johns Syndrome, you enjoyed hearing about his exploits, and started planning ways to become just like him. At least you died before you completely followed in his footsteps.

 

book of scholastica

Book of Scholastica

At 8:30 AM, the school bell rang. At 3:00 PM, your students stampeded toward freedom. Both your and your students’ days were repetitious. When the children left, you remained seated at your desk and repainted your paddle’s handle. Since you were young, you wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by friends in Heaven. The moment that Jesus saw all the souls you saved, you knew that He would do the right thing and make you the new Right Hand in Heaven.

Oh, Honey, what were you thinking? That was never going to happen. If it makes you feel better, I think you have a great chance of being Lucifer’s Right Hand.

While still believing in this impossible dream of being the Lord’s Right Hand, you joined the covenant and then became a teacher at Sorrows Academy. At the beginning of the day, you picked up the wooden paddle and had your third-grade class recite John 3:16. The uniform sound of their voices uplifted your soul. Though they were children of God and angelic at times, you felt that they needed a guided path toward salvation.

When you first started teaching, you thought the path was paved by stern lectures, group prayers, and reduced recesses. But for months, the children would not behave no matter what you did. They drew on their desks, they swore when they thought you were not listening, and terrorized you with crude jokes. In your darkest hour, another older Sister talked about her glory days in the 70s and recommended the paddle. After this recommendation, things were never the same.

In your eyes, every day became blessed.

The children listened, prayed, and obeyed. At times, children were children, and they tried to revert back to their playful habits. During those times, which happened once or twice every school day, you tightened your grip on the paddle. Whenever you struck, you made sure the forces of Heaven and Hell were behind you. Whenever the child howled, it was for God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. These children learned how to cry out for mercy and repentance. The Old Testament workbooks and Father Cooke’s sermons failed them. The children were young and still had terrible lives to live. Nothing could save them but God, and paddling them was the only path toward redemption.

 

Your classroom had the dumbest rules:

First rule: No doodling in your workbooks.

From seven years of teaching, you learned that children doodle foul pictures—such foul things would not be tolerated in Heaven. Children who wanted to doodle in their workbooks could either go to Hell or to transfer to Sister Angelica’s class.

Second Rule: Outside was outside. Inside was inside.

News, unless it pertained to the Pope, did not belong in the classroom.

Third Rule: Bad behavior is never rewarded.

 

Your students were two hours away from dismissal and before they would escape, you decided to teach Elaine, one of your students’, a lesson. In order to save her, you needed to ensure that she understood her transgressions. While you sat behind your students during Mass, you caught Elaine playing with her pigtails. You heard rumors that Elaine allowed classmates to play with her hair and braid it in exchange for free juice boxes, cookies, and sometimes the answers for the day’s Tree of Knowledge question. To match Elaine’s light brown skin, she had long brown hair that all her classmates, especially the boys, marveled over. You worried for Elaine. If this behavior continued, what type of woman would she become once she left Sorrows Academy? She had no respect for her God-given soul and body. Not only did she distract herself from Father Cooke’s sermon, but allowed the students to buy her happiness. These were actions only allowed by future Whores of Babylon. You spent the weekends checking every single lesson plan to make sure the Devil never had a way of accessing your future friends through careless words or mistakes. But somehow, right under your nose, the Devil had attached himself to Elaine’s hair.

While tapping your pilgrim shoes, you ordered Elaine to walk to the front of the classroom. Your students’ hands twitched; they wanted to cover their ears. However, after the second blessed day, each of them learned that covering their ears was bad behavior. In order to completely understand their fellow classmates’ depravity, they needed to hear the screams of repentance. Your students’ hands gripped their desks. Elaine closed her eyes and her pigtails swung forward. The children watched them, the pendulums of her sin. You refused to stop until Elaine reached salvation. This child needed to learn her lesson or lose her soul.

Elaine said, “Please stop.”

You replied, “I cannot. John 15 verse 9. ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.’”

Elaine began screaming and you smiled. You hesitated for a moment. Perhaps Elaine finally learned her lesson and could return to living in God’s light. But in that moment of hesitation, she ran to the door and out of the classroom. The students looked at you and did not know whether to cheer or beg her to return. You set your paddle down, and walked after Elaine. This was not the first time one of your future Heaven-friends tried to escape. You fixed your habit and walked to the classroom across the hallway. There, you saw Elaine banging on the locked door of Sister Teresa’s classroom. Her class was away at recess, a spoiling reward for all her students getting above an 8/10 on the Tree of Knowledge quizzes for an entire week. With a calm smile, you took her by the hand and both of you walked to your classroom. You placed your paddle back into your desk drawer and grabbed a pair of scissors.

“You must remain in my love,” you said as you snipped off the two pigtails, and then tossed them into the trashcan. When Elaine returned to her desk, the other students tried not to look at her. Visibly mourning Elaine’s pigtails was bad behavior and would result in all being brought to the front of the classroom. The students watched you as you picked stray hairs off your hands.

So, you are definitely Hell-Bound.

 

book of elaine

Book of Elaine

Ever since your haircident with Sister Scholastica, your hair never grew back, and you never felt the same. Bless her soul, but your mother never wanted a child and did not understand how your hair worked. And then, your father, though Black, was not interested in teaching your mom about Black hair. The only hope was Mr. Marc, your hairdresser, but the bastard kept you in the Ringo cut.

After the haircident, you begged your mom to change schools, but Sorrows Academy was the best in its district. Also, she was secretly happy your hair was shorter and much more manageable. After a few fake sick days, you returned to school. Your haircident became legendary, and for years, your classmates stayed away from you. Partly out of fear of Sister Scholastica, partly because of the terrible haircut, and lastly because you were your grade’s suspected lesbian. Things changed a little in college—you found a different hairstyle.

After college graduation, you realized how much you owed in student loans, and decided to become a teacher. You returned to Sorrows Academy because they enjoyed hiring alumni, paid for your masters, and every other job said “No.” You figured you would protect students. Though you were overworked, underpaid, and somehow in even more debt, you were able to remove Sister Scholastica from Sorrows Academy. The principal and the Father knew about her disciplinary methods, but they overlooked them because of her classroom’s consistently high test scores over the years. After your independent investigation, you exposed the truth: Sister Scholastica gave students answers on test days. She believed the only test that mattered was the test of faith. She was fired that day. She was so bored during her forced retirement that she died earlier than expected.

As a reward, your roommate and “best friend” convinced you to finally use your vacation days for an eat, pray, love trip. Her reasoning: you were exhausted, recently dumped, and she was tired of listening to you cry through the walls. For your eat pray love trip, you went to NYC, then New Orleans, and then Vegas for some lovin’.

One day, while waiting for your margarita at a bar, you saw your idol—Lissa Evans. Two years ago, she moved to Vegas to work as a social influencer. She had dedicated her life to helping people like you. She posted photos of her daily adventures at clubs, exclusive restaurants, and expensive stores, with captions like, “Be your best self,” “Life is your adventure,” and “Beauty is subjective and you are always the subject.”

She had 6 million followers, and they worshipped her. She was beautiful, free, and made you feel like you could be that, too. Following her on social media for a year made your vanity return to what it was before the haircident. During your trip of self-love, you took on her philosophy and emptied your savings. You bought things and took pictures with things to show your worth. While in Vegas, you hoped to spot her but never imagined meeting her face to face.

After two years of living in Las Vegas, Lissa met fans like you everyday. To cope with how boring the day-to-day became, she came up with a set of routines to start her morning. While your mornings started with liking her most recent pictures, hers started at 11:00 AM with inserting her CD “Summer Loving” into her entertainment center. The only song on it was “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry. After listening to it endlessly, she left her apartment and drove down the Vegas strip to watch the gamblers, beggars, and vacationers stumble down the street. Eventually, when she finished observing, she parked her car and joined her favorites at the bar to talk them up. After she saw you snapping pictures in front of every store on the strip, you became one of her favorites.

When she sat next to you at the bar, you wanted to take a picture with her as proof you met your idol, but Lissa told you put your phone away. She said,

“A day like this you want to barely remember.”

Though you did not understand her, you listened. She was your idol, and taught you how to live your life. While together, she told you that you were beautiful and you became comfortable, wanting to do everything she suggested. You left the bar and went clubbing. The two of you danced together. Although there were moments that you felt uncomfortable, you overrode your fear because this vacation was becoming the perfect story. You would not only nod yes or no when your roommate asked if you had a great time; finally, you would have a fun story to tell that was better than all of hers combined. Five minutes into this friendship, you called Lissa perfection. Fifteen minutes in, you cried about your recent breakup that was caused by your insecurity-fueled paranoia and your ridiculous work schedule. After twenty minutes, she got bored of you and your compliments, and after thirty, she knew you served part of her purpose. She grabbed your hand and asked,

“Are you here with anyone special?”

You tightened your grip and said,

“I’m by myself. This is my own eat, pray, love trip. I went to NYC, then New Orleans, and now I’m in Vegas, baby.”

Woman to woman, you should not have said that.

Lissa became even more excited than before.

You were another Vegas Virgin, and the fourth eat, pray, love girl that she had found in the past two months!

She ordered another round of drinks, and then left for the bathroom. With the stupidest smile, you swayed back and forth on the dance floor to the latest hits as you imagined her freshening up. In reality, she key-bumped in the stall, and then stared at herself in the bathroom mirror as she savored the minutes before her next steps.

For Lissa, last night was good not great. She killed you. She killed you with kisses, a plastic bag, and a spool of nylon rope. Before the night reached its climax, she sat you down on the couch and said it was time to try something different. She put on “Summer Loving” and tied your hands together with rope and placed a plastic bag over your head. She promised that when you tapped her back, she would take the bag off.

This moment was intoxicating so you put your fear away. While the bag was over your head, she ate you out and her lips became slippery with your cum. You gasped. Banged your fists on her back. Then you stopped.

Your roommate filed a missing persons report because you did not pay rent. She is still looking for you, but you are decomposing in the trunk of a car. You should have loved yourself, been more cautious, and etc. I am not sure if you learned your lessons and I do not have time to keep lecturing.

 

book of judgement

 

Book of Judgment

Sister Scholastica, Lucifer has been expecting you since the day you were born. Why are you looking surprised? I already told you that you were going to Hell. Then Brian, your death means two blonde girls in Manhattan live to text another day; so, I won’t have to deal with their paperwork until they die of toxic shock syndrome or alcohol poisoning. Brian, stop crying, trying to use your victim card will not help here because somehow in in Heaven every human is some sort of victim. Elaine, honestly, I don’t have time to fill out the paperwork for your second chance at life or onboard you to Heaven, so I’ll send you to Hell. Once I’m back from lunch, it is the round up, and all of you will go down together.

“May I please speak with another angel?”

Elaine, do not interrupt me. It is always the same with you humans. You come here pleading; meanwhile, we constantly save and are overworked while you destroy and indulge. Then, we have to explain why what you are doing is wrong. You all are violent, brutal, and ugly. It is in my professional opinion that Heaven needs to close its doors, but that is above my wings.

If anyone has a problem with this judgment, please direct yourselves to HR. I am not answering any questions. It is my lunch break, and today the cafeteria is serving milk and honey.

 

Understanding The Islamic Concept Inshallah Through Psychogeography by Tini Ngatini

Traversing Narrow Margins

Image by Morag Rose.

Travel has always been illuminating for me—every place I visit presents me with experiences that shed light on things I was previously unable to fully understand. That this is so, is only natural to Mrs. Trang, an urban planner from a university in Hanoi. She introduces me to Psychogeography. Psychogeography is an urban planning concept which suggests that our geographical surroundings have a psychological impact on our emotions and, hence, our behaviors. According to Mrs. Trang, when designing a city, urban planners must first know the kind of feeling(s) they wish the inhabitants to experience. Only then will the urban planner be able to determine such things as building design to the kinds of trees and flowers to be planted. All of these elements, she says, will allow a city to emanate certain vibes—“Every city has its own personality.” These vibes are designed to affect the way people think and act. Therefore, it should be no surprise if people are to some extent different whenever they change their geographical locations.

Internationale Situationniste “Naked City” by Guy DeBord

Psychogeography is also a concept that allows me to better grasp the concept of Inshallah, a religious concept central to my own personal and professional life. The term Inshallah simply means “God willing” or “If God wills.” Muslims ought to say it, instead of “I will,” whenever they agreed or “promise” to do something in the future for another party. Looking at the practice of Inshallah from Arendt’s perspective, it appears as a social transaction of advanced request for forgiveness from the party who makes a promise, and a guaranteed release of forgiveness from the party to whom the promise is made. This social transaction of forgiveness would be important when the first party, for whatever reason, is unable to keep their promise. Such failure produces certain effects such as distrust or contempt which is, to some degree, damaging to the relationship between them. However, within the Muslim community, such negative effects are likely mitigated because forgiveness (understanding) has been given upfront, i.e. when they say “Insha’Allah” (“If God allows me to do so”).  Accordingly, the practice Inshallah offers a remedy for the damage that is not even there yet.

The practice of Inshallah does offer an insight into the irreversible and unpredictable nature of human action and its redemption, as Hannah Arendt mentioned in The Human Condition. Once a certain deed is performed, the consequences exceed time and space and are unforeseeable and impossible to undo. If the consequence is negative, it prevents the related parties, especially the wrongdoers, from moving on with their lives.  The way to free them from such an imprisonment, Arendt says, is through forgiveness. That way, the wrongdoer may release the guilt and the offended party is free from grudges. Then they will be able to interact with each other again, or at least, moving on with their lives. Finally, I should also like to say that to merely use the term Inshallah without genuine efforts to meet the promises is an irresponsible act that would also be damaging to social relationships.

One of the effects of the change in location that has always troubled me was that people are more likely to fail to meet their promises. Having many encounters of just such an experience, I lost my ability to trust people and their promises.  But, after four years of psychological, religious and physical homelessness, I think the Psychgeography concept has just dissolved the grudge I have for people and promises. It helps me to see that there are many factors at play in the failure in meeting promises including pyschogeography. Thus, releasing my resentments and people I despised become a natural and personal process which does not need the presence of remorse, nor request from the offender, and, that is I think what Derrida meant by giving yourself the gift of forgiveness. Finally, pyschogeography has shown me the intelligibility of Inshallah, which is helpful in better understanding the dilemmatic religion vs. science relationship.