A Death and Life Wish

Terry Mattingly of GetReligion likes to talk about ghosts--hints of religion--in news story.

There's one in this story about BASE jumpers - people who parachute off of Buildings, Antennas, and Spans (or bridges).

Reporter Charles Duhigg of the LA Times followed BASE jumpers Karin Sako and Jeb Corliss to a bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, as they prepare to leap off. There's a 1 in a 1,000 chance they'd die, compared to a 1 in 82,000 chance of dying while skydiving.

So why do they do it? Sako and Corliss won't say, at first.

Ultimately, Sako and Corliss claim, simply asking the question means you cannot understand its answer. It is a response cliched, inevitable and, ultimately, as dangerous as Adam and Eve's challenge to God.

Duhigg tracked down a psychologist at Temple who gave this explanation:

"The line between empowering risks and catastrophic risks is pretty fuzzy . . . Especially for someone who is seen as brave or a leader because they've taken risks before. Overcoming a fear makes you feel powerful. It becomes central to how some people see themselves."

But little by little, Sako and Corliss reveal themselves. It turns out that Sako's boyfriend, Dwaine Weston, was killed in a base jump with Corliss a few months earlier.

"Since his death I've wanted so badly to feel happy," Sako told Duhigg.Then she ends with this.

"When I'm falling, it's like I've managed to hold life in my hands
and compress all the beauty and the pain into one split second. Nothing else matters. It's like he's still alive."


Wouldn't You like to be a Terrorist Too

Psst. The Pope's a terrorist. The President too. Mother Theresa, Doris Day, Jerry Falwell, Jim Wallis, Archbishop Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr, Billy Graham--the whole lot of them. And that Bono guy, he's definitely one.

I know this because Robert Reich told me so. (You can't find Reich entire column online yet, but there are bits quoted is responses here and here.

Here's the main point. Believe in that life's not all about your or in life after death? You're a terrorist. Read the Bible (or Koran)? A terrorist. Think that your religion has something to say about the public arena? Terrorist.

Actually, you're worse than a terrorist. Thought you might want to know.

He really did say it:

The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face.

I worked on coming up

Charlotte Allen of the Inkwell
wrote this response for the LA Times.

She notes, for example, that leaders of the anti-slavery and civil rights movements were motivated by their religious beliefs:

Religion was not only a "purely personal" matter but also one of grave public import.

That is as it should be. Religion, by nature, is a public thing, because it acknowledges a reality that is outside the private realm of the inner heart. Individuals' faith and religious experiences are private matters, but religion itself, whether it be Wicca, Buddhism or Roman Catholicism, is shared and communal. Those who would banish religion to the realm of the strictly private in effect contend that religion has no relevance to public life. This notion fatally trivializes religion by treating it as essentially meaningless.

Reich is fearful, as he has a right to be, of anyone who would want to make the US into a theocracy (like Iran)--a system of government ruled by people who think they are God, or at least, have God's endorsement of their every move.

He might want to consider being afraid of those who make the state or human science and logic just as almighty. That kind of moral certainty--divorced from the humility that comes from knowing we are not God--breeds disaster.

Allen again:

More important, religion recognizes there is inherent meaning, order and purpose in the universe. It thus induces humility, a recognition that our puny ideas about how things are and ought to be may not be the final word. The horror of 20th century totalitarianism was the insistence of atheistic, militantly secularist intellectuals, from Germany to Russia to China to Cuba, that they had a right to impose their pet utopian schemes at the point of a gun or threat of the gulag. Professing "allegiance … to a higher authority," as Reich puts it, is a check on such murderous egotism.

On a related note, this piece on the Parliament of World Religions, highlights some of the new faiths joining the parliament. It includes this quote from Catholic theologian Hans Kung:

"You can't say this religion is real and this one is false . . . Religion is a personal thing."

OK, so what do we need theologians for then?

I'm probably nit-picking but this kind of a quote reduces religion to a do-it-yourself mental construct, where intellectual wrestling with questions of faith or religion is irrelevant. And that bugs me.


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