Allegan County News & Union Enterprise Courier-Leader & Flashes

Life as Performance Art

I am increasingly wary of doctrine. It is an all-inclusive wariness that covers religion, politics, science, economics and beyond. I am no anar-chist but cautious of too many laws and doctrines.
Most doctrines start as someone’s idea. They cogi-tate about it until they’re convinced they have it right and proclaim it a Great Idea. After a while they con-vince others it is a really is.
From there it goes to a larg-er group and eventually leadership agrees to it. Final-ly the gavel is pounded one or twice and that’s it. The topic is no longer open for discussion.
An example of this was Ptolemy’s belief that the universe revolved around the earth. It certainly looked that way and some 400 years later this became doctrine of the Church. It stayed that way for more than 1,000 years until Copernicus, Gali-leo and a few other scientists clearly proved that the earth was not the center of the universe but revolved around the sun just like the other planets.
The church leadership, sev-eral kings and assorted rulers had a fit. Like children who discover they are not the center of the universe, they yelled, screamed, cried and stomped their feet because what science was saying con-tradicted their doctrine.
Worse, it took them and their institutions down a peg or two, so they retaliated. Galileo barely avoided being executed for heresy, as did Copernicus and others. Not until the start of the 20th century did the Church final-ly back down and say it was permissible for people to read and consider the ideas of Galileo.
Karl Marx’s economic and political theories were gob-bled up by Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin and made into the doctrine that guided Russia into a disaster for some 80 years.
The Bavarian corporal pla-giarized a lot of the worst of previous centuries’ anti-Semitism when he wrote his only book. By telling the “Big Lie” over and over in an ever-louder voice, Hitler convinced the Germans to join in.
Once he was legally elected and took control, his doctrine led to millions of deaths and the ruin of many countries.
That’s the danger when doctrine is proven wrong, but people still cling to it like wreckage of a ship. When they are challenged, they don’t do enough laughing to stay sane.
“No one tells any jokes in Russia,” said American hu-morist Will Rogers. “You tell a joke and they give you a one-way ticket to Siberia. This country will be all right as long as we poke a little fun at our politicians.”
Humor is important but engaging our brain before we sign up for goose-stepping lessons is more so. Asking questions is essential, no matter how much it may irritate people. Mother used to remind my sister and me our heads were meant as more than a place to put our hats.
First, pause and stay calm, she said. Think it through. If a doctrine contradicts sci-ence and logic, it’s probably time to relegate it to history books.
Today’s doctrines often come in the form of political correctness. Either go along with what a small band of militants are saying or suffer the consequences. Use the right words, they warn, or we will not just object and pro-test, but “cancel” you.
To make certain a dissident is “de-platformed, as the British say, he or she is si-lenced, deprived of a chance to speak or write, and his or her fans and supporters are treated just as badly.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling recently experienced the heavyhanded treatment when she didn’t use the right words and phrases in discuss-ing gender politics. When others had something good to say about her, they were canceled.
There are also those who reject out of hand anything new or different. As some seem to say, “Don’t try con-fusing me with the facts; I’ve already made up my mind.”
It’s not pretty when the two sides meet up with each oth-er.
The ultimate attempt by these staunch defenders of their chosen doctrine is terri-fying others into silence. Say-ing or acting upon one’s be-liefs about anything contrary to the “correct” one will be punished, and people know it.
Going back to Ptolemy, many ancient people who observed the sky would have said the same thing. He wrote his ideas to share with others, but people leapt ahead and said they were the absolute truth. When scien-tists proved him wrong, those in authority refused to listen to proofs did not coincide with doctrine.
The same thing happened when physicians developed anesthesia. Clergy and their constituents railed against it because rendering a person unconscious would allow the devil to creep into their mind and take over their soul.
It happened again when surgeons began performing appendectomies to save lives. Clergy and lay people screamed that doctors were “playing God” because if it was the stricken person’s time to die no one should intervene.
Scientific and technological advancements have always been confronted by ancient religious and philosophical doctrines Even when doc-trine may not be set in stone, commonly-held beliefs are used to control others.
A century and a quarter ago, many people thought women were too empty-headed or emotional to vote, own property or have finan-cial credit and bank ac-counts in their own names.
The doctrines of rac-ism, many of which were converted into the infamous Jim Crow laws, discriminated against minorities and have resulted in many of today’s social problems.
When President Truman in-tegrated the armed forces, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, the NFL had its first African-American quarter-back and far too many other times, there was resistance. Usually it came in the form of disbelieving anyone other than a white male could make good decisions or think fast enough.
Even the visual and per-forming arts are challenged by doctrinal beliefs and ac-cepted ideas of what is right or wrong. For example, the the French Impressionist painters’ works were consid-ered so decadent and ugly they were often denied gal-lery space. Ravel’s “Bolero” was decried because it didn’t fit the norms of classical music, as were compositions by many others.
Even the story of Bambi was savagely attacked in Germany during the 1930s. because the hunters were depicted in brown clothing, and someone came up with the idea this was a cleverly hidden attack on the Nazi storm troopers.
Just a couple weeks ago, members of a Baptist church in South Carolina voted to get rid of a statue of Jesus because it looked “too Cath-olic.”
The latter serves as another example of how polarized we have become. It is an ancient battle that continues to this day. How we resolve these battles will determine will determine whether we live in the Modern or the Dark Ages.

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