John Lennon & the establishmentarians.

After ruminating on the Rumi nature of John Lennon's lyric in "Across the Universe" (as mentioned in a previous post), I began to ponder the paradox of John Lennon himself and his seemingly conflicting views on religion.

After all, three years after Lennon reverentially sang "jai guru deva om" ("thanks to God divine") he wistfully sang: "Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, no religion too."

But on second glance there's no contradiction. Lennon simply did not equate religion with spirituality and could explore the latter without the baggage of the former. Or perhaps more specifically, without the baggage of religious authority. (In fact, shortly after writing "Across the Universe" he wrote "Sexy Sadie" which brilliantly—if harshly—lampooned the Beatles' one-time mentor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.)

I think this also says something about the nature of musicians. As I will explore in a forthcoming book, rock & rollers in particular seem to have a healthy disregard for authority in general. (This is a trait that modern business teams would do well to emulate in a disruptive global economy—as I will elaborate on in a future post.)

This disregard for authority usually extends to the domain of religion as well—which I endorse. I'd like to think we can explore our spirituality independently of religious hierarchies which often try to think and speak on our behalf.

And we can question the "exclusivists" who maintain there is only one correct interpretation of centuries-old religious texts (especially when elements of those texts are of questionable validity to impartial scholars) and question the establishmentarians who characterize those with different perspectives as heretics (or infidels) and seek to punish them for their heterodox beliefs.

(In my own country—the US—people seem unaware that at its founding the national government "disestablished" religion in reaction to 150 years of religious violence—including torture and execution, Christian against Christian—perpetrated by the different colonial governments against those who simply held different religious beliefs.)

As a side note, I've often wondered wouldn't any "God" who displays childish pettiness or jealousy over whether we're paying enough attention to Him/Her deserve disqualification—as an insecure imposter? (This is anthropomorphism at its worst, and a topic for another occasion.)

What I'd really love to see is more independent-minded spiritual leaders and practitioners, especially those who aren't afraid to bring some fun, joy, and life to their spirituality. I've seen the effects of religious worldviews that are joyless, grim, deadly serious—usually because of their proprietary claims on the truth. Where are the Holy Rock & Rollers when we need them? And, especially now, where is Sheik Rattle & Roll?

With such thoughts rattling around in my head ("like a restless wind inside a letter box") I read the results of a major study of religion in America last week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

It turns out that nearly half of Americans are now practicing a different faith from the one they were practicing as a child—a new phenomenon in the US—along with a growing trend of those who are "unaffiliated" with any particular denomination.

Looks like a promising sign that folks—at least in this corner of the world—are finally starting to think for themselves. To put an even more American spin on it, perhaps they're simply acting as informed consumers should, in the global marketplace of ideas. To this I say "jai guru deva om."

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  1. We can use a few more independent thinkers like JL these days.

    Didn't Lennon and the Beatles leave the Maharishi in India because he was practicing something other than meditation with one of their women?

  2. That was John Lennon’s contention, though much ink has been spilled on both sides of that argument, including the theory that the 4 Lads were thrown out of Maharishi’s ashram because they were high on something other than their mantras. But I’ve been assured by someone who was there at the time that the Beatles were not asked to leave but decided to depart on their own. According to Lennon, when Maharishi asked him why he was leaving, Lennon said, “If you’re so f-cking cosmic, you know why.” So Lennon was a tad disillusioned with the old fella, rightly or wrongly, and captured his disgust in the lyrics, “You made a fool of everyone, Sexy Sadie, you’re the latest and the greatest of them all.” (By the way, that’s got to be among the 20 best put-down songs ever, along with Elvis Costello’s “Allison” and a dozen Dylan tunes.)

    But, to be fair, I think the late Maharishi should get his props as a terrific product designer and promoter. (Actually, I think he was a lot more than that, but we’ll stick with his secular gifts for now.) His “transcendental meditation”—a Hindu form of meditation he packaged and sold to the West, which spawned many similar Western approaches including “Centering Prayer”—has been the single best relaxation tool I’ve ever experienced. I never became involved with Maharishi’s organization—I tend to be skeptical of “enlightenment” claims—but for stress reduction I can swear to the effectiveness of the TM practice itself. It works far better than any pharmaceuticals, legal or illegal (from what I’ve read). I think it cost me 45 bills to learn the practice in 1968, and I still benefit from it every day. That’s pretty good price/performance.

  3. Hi John...let me begin by clearly asserting my belief in Christianity through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That said...I completely love your comments and understand well the reason so many Americans now seek various means to God. Christianity has so often exalted dogma above love, and legalism above faith, hope, and grace. God is love. This love is best expressed for me in the personage and radical beliefs and actions of Jesus Christ.

    Christ Himself was radical; It was He who said, "I and my Father are One." It was also he who said, "When you see the Father, you see Me." And it was he who prayed, "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me that they may be made perfect in one and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me...And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

    Considering the climate of that time, it would have been heretical or foolish indeed to say such things. Who has such power, to endow such things, save God himself? But what gave His words such validity is the great compassion He showed and the miracles He performed, which He professed we would perform, "greater works." Mother Teresa and others have been recorded to have done such works, even considering in hindsight her wrestles with her own faith in the recently published diaries and letters. But Mother Teresa was no different than Christ himself who asked on the cross that infamous question, "My God, why have You forsaken me?"

    The truth for me in Christianity, with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which considers discontentedness and unbelief ("Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.") is the element of our humanity, our frailties. It is also the greatness of love and faith that supercede all disbelief and doubt. We all -- Christians, Muslims, Buddists, Rastafarians, Bahaists, and Rock and Rollers alike -- are in search of the Kingdom of God on each of us. We are all made in the very likeness of God.

  4. Judith, thanks for your perspective. I wouldn't be the first to point out that the "experiential" aspect of these different spiritual paths leads us to something universal, while the dogmatic aspect leads us somewhere else.

  5. As a postscript to the discussion, I was just listening on the radio to a discussion of the Dalai Lama and his fascination with other paths (including Catholicism) which he genuinely loved to explore. Then I heard about Tim Le Hay (author of the "Left Behind" series of novels about the ever-immanent Apocalypse) trying to get the Dalai Lama to see the error of his spiritual ways. The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, believed there were many routes to God and that the same path was not appropriate for everyone, given our different cultures and backgrounds. I was struck by the razor-sharp contrast in wisdom and maturity between those two views.

  6. Allow me to add my two scents among such luminaries, it is indeed arguable that the "Left Behind" series is not scriptural based. The series is assumed to be basically fantasy. This argument is based on whether you believe in the literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations which many eminent scholars believe to allegorical.

  7. Thanks, Judith. I confess I've always had a problem with Revelations - going back to my days when I was studying New Testament Greek at the Yale Divinity School. Coincidentally I just saw an email attacking Barack Obama from Ken Blackwell (who was sued for conflict of interest when he simultaneously served as Chief Elections official of Ohio and honorary co-chair of the "Committee to re-elect George W. Bush" during the 2004 election!!). Blackwell quotes Revelations (warning us to beware of a man of Muslim descent who will deceive the nations with persuasive language) to argue that Obama may ACTUALLY be the Anti-Christ. (I'm not making this up.) And this from a man who was the Republican nominee for Governor of Ohio only 2 years ago.

  8. John..You gotta be kidding? I had a great belly laugh! This comparision is actually hysterical, in the truest sense of the word.

    There is something slightly amiss, somewhat disturbing, about this gentleman. (After the Florida voting debaucle, others may not wish to address him as such.) His extremities and blind loyalty concern me. There seems to be little basis of many of his arguments, save his perhaps personal politcal agenda to move up in the Republican Party. I don't know him, nor have I followed his career. But everytime I do happen to catch him on TV there is a saddness that accompanies my view of him. He seems lost or misguided. And I say this, not because of his politcal party, but because his words often seem to lack conviction to me.

    I do, however, wish him the best. I also wish that he would understand that unless there is a reason to keep such a seemingly brown-noser about, he has to be in a position of power or at least fulfilling a particular need. I'm not sure if he has maintained either and believe that his visible days within the Republican party are numbered or at least will be lessened. Poor guy!

    Florida worked then, I'm not sure if where he now stands will keep him in good stead in the long run. He will have to keep dancing. Sort of like, Larry Elder, who has become increasingly irrelevant and has reduced himself to great sensationalism with his latest book, Stupid Black Men. I hope he does not have any children or nephews.

    Elder's book may have relevant points in the sense that it could be called The Things Stupid People Do, as we have all done stupid things. But Stupid Black Men? Such an inflammatory title about men who have had their particular share of daunting injustice for centuries (no pity please!), it indicates self-loathing and that it is written by another seemingly brown-noser. Mr. Elder, is himself, a black man! This is a book that I will definitely by-pass. Perhaps, Mr. Blackwell's statment is in the same vein of of self-loathing and needing to become relevant again. Perhaps he cannot even write a book. Perhaps there is a bit of envy.

    Who even remembers Mr. Blackwell, save those who wish to see him prosecuted? The Florida election was then, this is now. I think the American people are wiser, according to the most recent polls. I don't think many people are paying much attention to the words of Mr. Blackwell today. And if he keeps speaking in this way, we can be assured that most will think that he is in need of serious counseling, perhaps even medication.

  9. Judith, I think you mean Ohio, not Florida, but both those states had their share of voting irregularities in the presidential election of 04. Whole forests have been destroyed in documenting Blackwell's suppression of the Ohio vote then, while he was chief election official. And now he's making SERIOUS charges that the likely Democratic nominee for United States President is actually The Beast himself. (Soon we'll be getting reports of a sulfuric odor emanating from the podium at Obama events.) How can ANYONE take Blackwell seriously after this? And given his prominence in Republican political circles I would expect that McCain's campaign is wondering how to give this guy the hook, before he causes further embarrassment. McCain is already on the defensive after soliciting the endorsement of the anti-Catholic preacher, John Hagee.

  10. Thank you for the correction. It was most certainly Ohio. The hanging chads were in Florida, right?

    McCain needed both conservative preachers John Hagee of Texas and Rod Parsley of Ohio. (He's only raised 11 million last month to Obama's 55 million.) Both have mega churches and both are very conservative. The rhetoric is very similiar.

    I don't know. Some very religious right ultra conservatives might buy the whole anti-Christ thing. Also, Blackwell may not have spoken this on his own accord. He may have been directed to say it order to fan the flame for certain constituents should Obama when the primary in preparation for the general.

  11. Hold the presses! Alan Colmes (whom I'd copied on the email from Blackwell) just emailed me saying he suspects Blackwell's accusation against Obama as the Antichrist was somebody's addition to a widely-circulated note by Blackwell that didn't include that last paragraph. In other words, Blackwell leveled many charges against Obama but stopped short of calling him Beezlebub. But that didn't stop a zealous partisan from adding his two cents to the note and recirculating it. Come to think of it, that's a more likely story, given the outlandishness of the charge.

    So, if that's the case, my apologies to Mr. Blackwell, who may or may not believe Barack is Mephistopheles. But apparently hundreds of others are already convinced. (Over 600,000 hits on google for "Obama Antichrist.") After all thousands of bloggers can't ALL be wrong. How else would we explain the reports of sulfer emissions at Obama events?

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