Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Shameful Story

You might have guessed from the title, above, that I was going to talk about the Bush speech last night. But no, it's yet another shameful episode that says something about our sad recent history.

In case you missed it... here's the story in yesterday's New York Times "Arts" section that will raise any hackles you might have. A thriving vipassana meditation program for hardcore criminals at the Donaldson Correctional Facility near Birmingham, Alabama, was cancelled at the behest of the prison chaplain for fear that it might be taking a toll on his Christian congregation! So much for Christian charity. I can hardly begin to imagine what those inmates must have felt, to be deprived of what was possibly their one source of serenity in a lifetime of misery. Anyway, I can't wait to see the movie about the group, "The Dhamma Brothers," which is already winning awards on the circuit; and I look forward to the book, "Letters from the Dhamma Brothers"--a collection of letters from inmates written to the documentary maker, Jenny Phillips, and scheduled to be released early next year. (By the way, I was thankful to read that the program had in fact been reinistated--a couple of years later--due to a "change in administration." Perhaps the chaplain left. Or was fired...!)

Oh, and here's a link to what I think is a worthy petition, to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The idea, as I understand it, is to capitalize on the common humanity of the people to subvert the ideological emnities. If you care to join me in signing it... every little bit helps.

7 comments:

thailandchani said...

I would like to read that book also, once it's released. It's a good thing the program was reinstated. I could say *so* much more. :)


Peace,

~Chani
http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

robin andrea said...

I just signed the petition. The video was really excellent, very smart and well done.

Mark said...

Not to justify the actions of the Chaplain, but from his perspective, he WAS being charitable. If you think that the eternal soul can only be saved through Jesus Christ and there is a program steering people from that goal, it is right in the Chaplain's eyes to get rid of that program. While we don't share that person's views, I think it's important to try and understand the actions nonetheless.

PeterAtLarge said...

If that's so, Mark, it seems to me a very arrogant form of charity--and therefore, perhaps, no charity at all. If you're thirsty for that water you have found so restorative (Buddhism, say, in the case of these prisoners) and I respond to your need instead with a mug of (good, Christian!) beer because I claim certain knowledge that it's better for your soul, is this an act of charity?

Or consider the missionary zeal of those 19th century colonists. In their view, perhaps, they were doing those "primitive" folks a favor by converting them from their heathen ways and beliefs. But just because those missionaries so fervently BELIEVED that they were doing good, does that make it so? How much ancient, sacred human wisdom was sacrificed in this way, and lost to future generations!

Of course, there's much more to be said on this topic... Always.

thailandchani said...

Peter, you've said it perfectly. That is what I was reluctant to say. This is occurring in Thailand right now, too, with missionaries who honestly believe that they must spread their message to the "primitives".

Somehow, that puts spirituality on the same level as propaganda.



Peace,

~Chani
http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

Mark said...

I'm not saying that it is right or trying to justify his actions, but I think a lot of people act out of what they think is the best coarse of actions, which is often a very closed-minded way of thinking. Such is the way of the fundamentalist Christian and people like the Chaplain of the prison. I just think it's important to maybe try to understand that people aren't acting in ways they think are malicious. The Chaplain, I'm sure, was acting in a way he thought was proper and good. That may not be the truth in actuality, but he wasn't trying to hurt these people. In his mind, he was doing the right thing. I just don't want to outright condemn people who were, in their own minds, trying to help people.

PeterAtLarge said...

Gotcha, Mark. Good point. But here's the question: is it okay for people to do bad things just because they really, deeply, sincerely BELIEVE they're doing right (let's say, for a topical example, Bush's war)? Or do we need to expect them to go deeper into their motivation?