Two (relatively) religious incidents, separate but parallel:
1) Leaving Hurley's Cantina the other night, where I was sharing a late-night drink with an old university colleague of mine and Al Rockoff, the photojournalist that Malkovich portrayed in The Killing Fields (and who still spends six months of the year in Phnom Penh), I was slipped a religious pamphlet by a young American traveller. ("Just a little something as you travel through Cambodia," he said, smiling. They're always smiling.)
What if you had only five minutes to live? it asked. Inside was the usual yada yada yada, information about saving my soul and accepting Christ and avoiding Satan. All the stuff I've yet to do. (Just haven't gotten around to it.)
I stuck it in my wallet, hopped on a moto and went home.
2) While typing a post on my blog at Galaxy Web a monk wandered over, looking for money. This in and of itself is nothing new; monks often patrol and glide their way through the businesses around town each and every morning, asking for money, because here, in Cambodia, it's considered a common courtesy to slip one of the purple-robed ones a few thousand riel every now and then. (Gives good karma, and all.)
This time, though, was different. And annoying. The smiling monk (they're always smiling) carried a ledger book, pencilled into which was a fee. For me, one thousand riel. (About twenty five cents.) It was a little odd, a little formal, especially from somebody supposedly on the Middle Path, but whatever. When in Rome. I pencilled my name and gave him the riel and went back to my blog.
My acquiesence was matched by another foreigner's fury. (Well, perhaps 'fury' is a bit too strong; let's just say he was royally, possibly galactically, pissed, and leave it at that.)
Why? Well, the donation 'fee' that came after mine, which the monk smilingly insisted that he pay, amounted to five US dollars. The foreigner -- maybe Italian, maybe Belgian, decidedly not Canadian, because we're meek, which means I guess we'll inherit the earth, although when is anyone's guess, and probably not until the NHL strike is over, anways -- reacted sharply. He didn't swear, no, but his bulging eyes and red cheeks made swearing redunant. He said a few sharp words, insisted that the owner of the Internet shop pay the monk simply to get him the hell out, and lectured the monk, who spoke no English, about how ridiculous this whole escapade was.
Here we have two (admittedly) minor incidents spaced twelve, thirteen hours apart, each of them involving individuals trying to force their religious views on others. (One involving pamphlets, one involving money.)
These don't bother me so much as they make me sad. Make me, I don't know, disillusioned.
I don't know if there's a god. If there is, I suspect that we haven't grasped his/her/its true shape and form and, most importantly, intent. This is a cosmic issue that is so vast and deep that to have it reduced to pamphlets handed out at riverside bistros, or donation-fees
pre-determined in a Buddhist ledger is, well, profane.
There's nothing inherently wrong with what the Christian or the monk were doing; one was spreading the word, one was accepting donations (albeit expensive ones). They were both doing what they felt was right. (Unless the monk was not a real monk, only dressed as one to scam money, which is not entirely unpossible.)
With all the fundamental questions that horrific events like the tsunami necessitate regarding the nature of a Higher Being (like for example if there is a God, and he/she/it has given man free will, and we are responsible for our actions, right, got that, then why the hell did he/she/it inflict, or at the very least not prevent, something like a tsunami, which is something that is most definitely not man-made, unless you argue that man has not yet devised a detection-system, thereby we're all at fault, which is straining the point a bit too far), it just seems, I don't know, mundane to have such noble and worthwhile questions cheapened. To have warnings that I'm going to hell in five minutes unless I repent, or that I must pay what a monk says I must pay because he, well, says so, and all of this given a plain and simple form on rather-cheap paper, ends up robbing me of whatever spirituality the saint and the monk are trying to convey.
If there is a God, I think he/she/it is above all of this kind of stuff.