Can growing Muslim populations result in shrinking Islamophobia?

Enjoy my latest article from the Nashville Free Press.

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“Cherokee Hair Tampons” and Miss Information Teach about Western Fetishization of the East

I absolutely love this episode. At first, I wasn’t entirely keen on it, but after realizing the extent to which it was illuminating western misconceptions about eastern culture and religion, I couldn’t help but love it.

Note that the stupid, hippie, holistic moron named Miss Information is actually “misinformation.” It seems obvious but it’s amazing how many times you can watch the episode before getting that….

Is this whole episode to say that there is no value in holistic medicine? No, but it is to say that many westerners don’t really get what they’re talking about when they refer to it and they conflate ideas like “spiritual” and “natural” with “eastern” and in this case, Native Americans!

We greatly oversimplify these traditions and assume that Indians (corn Indians, not rice Indians) have some magical powers that the rest of us don’t and that they’re in touch with things spiritual and natural and the earth and blah blah blah. We assume that their religions are all nature and so simplistic, but they are, like other religions with which we are familiar, quite complex. They include rituals, beliefs and traditions far more complicated than we give them credit for because we like to fetishize them and make them into something that we can idolize for what we consider ourselves and our religions not to be.

This misguided and unhealthy approach leads to misconceptions about Native American and eastern religions and slights them rather than honoring them, as we assume. Miss Information encapsulates that element of American society and reminds us that we shouldn’t be self-righteous hippie douches when it comes to other cultures that we just don’t understand. There are many ways to learn more, but hers is not one of them.

What did you think of this episode? What do you think of holistic medicine? What do you think of eastern religions and western fetishization of them?

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Religion in the News: The Olympics Opening Ceremonies and the World’s Arrival in China

As most of you probably know and as many of you likely watched, last night the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games took place in the Beijing stadium known as the Bird’s Nest. I don’t know if you watched it, but I must say that from the bottom of my heart it was truly a spectacular event.

I cut it off shortly after the U.S. team marched (I was tired), and so I didn’t see the official opening words of the Chinese president, Hu Jintao or the words of the head of the IOC. Honestly, I would have liked to, but oh well. What I cared most about was the presentation by Zhang Yimou, an unbelievable display of Chinese history. It was one of the most sensational performances I have ever seen.

Symbolism and Performance

As many of my loyal readers will know, I love history and religion, and this performance was a masterpiece encapsulating both of those elements. Plus, the symbolism was fantastic. Many may not know the importance of the number 8 to the Chinese but the word 8 is ba, and an incredibly similar word means prosper and wealth. The Chinese pay more money to live on the 8th floor of buildings and in apartments with 8 in the number. Two 8s together (88) means double joy and happiness. The telephone number 888-8888 was sold for $270,723 in China, if that gives you any idea. What’s my point? That 8-8-08 being the opening ceremonies of the Olympics is no laughing matter or accident. Moreover, 2008 performers were in each different piece of the ceremony.

Chinese Religion and History

Westerners often fetishize eastern religions, particularly Buddhism but also Taoism. Though I’m guilty as well, I’m also slightly troubled by the fact, and thought that these ceremonies were an excellent way of the Chinese demonstrating that their religions, history and traditions have more depth than we tend to understand. Of course, it doesn’t help these ideas to try to sum up Chinese history in a few hours of performance pieces, but it was nonetheless truly a sight to behold.

Chinese characters of harmony were displayed in the most fabulous ways, calligraphy and painting were done by dancing men on an enormous moving canvas, and Tai Chi, the ancient art of body movement to enhance the flow of the chi was performed for the entire world in amazing ways. 2008 dancers in green outfits that lit up created an enormous flying dove with their bodies.

My description, as I look back, is a smack in the face of this amazing performance. Truly, you should go watch it online. The incorporation of Taoist and Buddhist thought and symbolism into multiple performance pieces designed to display China’s proud history was remarkable and makes me excited for what’s to come.

Idealistic Hopes for the Future

Those who know me may think I’m an idealist, and so might you after this next paragraph. I hope that these Olympic Games are a new beginning for China. Much of the symbolism of the performance was about opening China up to the world and welcoming it with harmony. The Great Wall was created and then replaced with flowers that symbolize this transformation.

It is my hope that this is the beginning of China relaxing its strict policies about protest, becoming more democratic, and doing the right things internationally (Taiwan, Tibet, etc.). I’m not suggesting that the day the Olympics is over all will change and be well, but I do hope that when we look back in 20 or 30 years, we look at this event – this opening of China to the world for the Olympics – just as we look at ping pong diplomacy and Nixon’s visit today. Well, even better than that.

Yes, it’s idealistic, but China is a growing powerhouse and one to be reckoned with, and I only hope that this event marks a visible turning point in its history when it realizes the value of being a part of the world order and some of the democratic values that go along with that.

What do you think? Did you see the ceremonies? What was your favorite part? What do you think about China and the future in light of these Olympic games?

Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for Zen Talk. To check out last week’s Zen Talk, click HERE. To check out last week’s Religion in the News article, click HERE.