Friday, May 9, 2014

Edgar and the Fundamentalists

Note: Edgar Markham is my alter-ego; the protagonist of a novel I keep threatening to write, in which, in an apocalyptic world, Edgar launches a  rapidly growing movement known as Dharma Gaia Circles, who are groups actively practicing and promoting both Dharma Practice and Earth-healing activities--restoring ourselves, our communities, and our planet simultaneously. His antagonists are as follows:

  • General Erwin Stanfield, a kind of Pinochet-clone who, in the name of Glomart, takes over the US government and imposes a mandatory caste system based on wealth and utility to Glomart: the Owners (1%), Consumers (middle class suburbanites), Cheap Labor,and the Unclassified Others--the latter, including the homeless, the destitute, criminals, and "terrorists"--destined for elimination;
  • "Brother Randolph" Masterson, a popular Christian televangelist and fundamentalist zealot; and
  • Raoul Gomez, a former gangleader turned Marxist Revolutionary, organizing both the Laborers and the Unclassified Others for armed resistance against Glomart and the Stanfield regime. From time to time, I will upload excerpts from this work-in-progress. Here is one.

Edgar and the Fundamentalists

One central purpose of Edgar’s Dharma Gaia movement was to get beyond preaching to the choir; to reach out beyond those naturally receptive to his message—Buddhists, secularists, and environmentalists in particular—to more resistant audiences, and he knew well that no audiences would be more resistant than Christian fundamentalists, for whom “gaia” was a dangerous pagan deity, Buddhists were going to Hell for denying Christ, and “tree huggers” were all damned as well for “worshiping the Creation, rather than the Creator.” So when Brother Randolph, a Fundamentalist preacher, agreed to invite Edgar to attend a “debate” at his megachurch as an exercise in what he called “Christian Apologetics,” Edgar readily accepted.  As the “debate” opened, Edgar addressed the audience briefly as follows:

“First, while this event is called a “debate,” I am not here to debate Reverend Masterson or anyone else, for you are all welcome, as I am, to believe whatever you wish, and I have no desire whatsoever to dissuade you from those beliefs. In fact, I acknowledge only one criterion, one litmus-test, by which to evaluate anyone else’s belief system, since I have never been inside any of your heads. And that criterion is one given by none other than Jesus Christ, when asked by the disciples how they could distinguish true from false prophets: “By their fruits shall ye know them.” So I would judge all of you; so I ask you to judge me—regardless of our personal beliefs.

"What am I?  you might well ask. First, I am a human being, just like you. Like you, I breathe air, drink water, and eat food. Like you, I have hopes and fears, and like you, I have opinions about things that matter to me. Unlike you, perhaps, I do not choose to label myself as a “Christian,” but nor am I, in any sense, anti-Christian; in fact if, by “Christian” you mean a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, count me in. Similarly, though many call me a “Buddhist,” this, too, is an arbitrary, question-begging label. The Buddha was a man, not a deity, and while we cannot know much about him, we do know that he never used the word “Buddhism” just as Jesus never used the word “Christianity.”  Like Jesus, the Buddha was a truth-seeker, within the cultural frame of reference into which he was born. I don’t know who was “better” or “worse,” or who was “authentic” or “false”—nor does it matter. When the Dalai Lama was asked, by a group of Christian theologians with whom he was having a mutually respectful dialogue, what Jesus meant to him, he responded, without hesitation: “Jesus was a Buddha.”  Because the word “Buddha” means a thoroughly awakened being—something all of us have the potential of becoming, and a few—notably the Buddha and Jesus—actually made it.

"Now many of you may be shaking your head, saying that I am equating Jesus with the Buddha. Well—perhaps, but I really don’t know. For you, Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God, or God Incarnate, and for that reason, any comparison of him with anyone else is, ipso facto, blasphemy. If so, I am sorry to have offended you. And while the notion that “Jesus died for our sins” or that “whoso believeth in Him shall have eternal life” may have deep and profound meaning or significance for you—please forgive me if these notions do not register with me at all, one way or another.  It is not a question of whether I “believe” such statements—I simply do not understand what they mean, and so they have no meaning for me at all, good or bad. If on the other hand, such beliefs give you inner peace and make you want to be a better person, who am I to challenge them?  So I won’t. You are all entitled to your own beliefs, and I would only ask you to return the favor.

"But there is another issue here besides the question of what we choose to believe, for this is ultimately a personal matter. And that is the simple question, how are we going to eat? Most of you have seen or heard on the news that topsoil depletion and erosion worldwide have dramatically increased due to climate change and intensive mechanized farming, and that food prices are skyrocketing. Some will, perhaps, take comfort in such dire facts as evidence of End Times, when God will strike down the wicked as they deserve, and “rapture” away all true believers—and perhaps you are right—I cannot say. But the question remains: in the meantime, how are we going to eat?  And equally importantly, as disciples of Jesus—a status I share with you despite any difference in our beliefs—how are we going to follow his example by feeding the hungry and healing the sick?

"Here is where I seek your collaboration. I have started a new movement, for Christians, called the Mustardseed Project, based on Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed, in which I am encouraging all Christian churches everywhere to start growing gardens, and to organize your congregations to do likewise, collecting food scraps from restaurants and composting to rebuild the topsoil, and using greenhouses, wherever possible, to grow food in winter as well as summer—not only to feed ourselves nutritious fruits and vegetables, but to distribute the surplus to the needy within our communities.

"Just imagine how many churches there are in the world? What would happen if all the faithful, all who claim to follow Jesus, were to follow him in fact, by planting your own “mustardseeds”—your own vegetable gardens—starting where you are—and to build fellowship and community among yourselves and with others in the process? When we share meals—when we break bread together—we can also learn, as Jesus taught us, to love our neighbors—even the Samaritan “others”—as ourselves, and in so doing, create the Kingdom of God right here on Earth.

Thank you for your time."