Friday, February 12, 2010

call the police!

In Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian religious police have launched an annual crackdown on shopkeepers selling Valentine's Day chachka. This includes any items colored red.

Valentine's Day, February 14, is a western tradition -- like Mother's Day -- and is therefore somehow anathema to a part of the world that might lay strong claim to being one of the cradles of western civilization. According to the linked AP story, people celebrate Valentine's Day surreptitiously.

I'm not sure which surprises or upsets me more -- a religious police force or the fact that a religious police force surprises or upsets me. On the one hand, enforced goodness strikes me as an oxymoron and yet, on the other, which person inclined towards spiritual endeavor does not, at one time or another, call out the police?

It brings to mind Emmanuel Kant's 'Categorical Imperative' whose best-known segment suggests, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Imagine a maxim that puts Valentine's Day in the dog house...lordy!

And yet the yearning for something called a universal law is strong, I think ... some over-arching principle that explains or soothes or brings meaning to all things ... most especially my life. Who could possibly posit or long for such a law without creating a police force -- a guiding hand that is sometimes as hide-bound and smug as a bureaucrat?

I'm not so interested in the white-whining anyone might do about the social implications of a religious police force, though heaven knows there is fodder enough for 1,000 weeping essays. What interests me is the extent to which anyone might call out the police within themselves.

Spiritual endeavor, in its superficial beginnings, holds out hope to a confused and weeping world. That weeping is no joke. It's not just some philosophical Tinker Toy. People ache and are uncertain and spiritual endeavor suggests relief and reassurance and love. But hope without discipline is like living on a diet of cotton candy. Without some attempt to seek out and correct the causes of uncertainty and tears, how can the tears possibly stop?

And once having created a police force -- subscribed to one discipline or another -- it's a short step to the attempt to make that police force a universal law, whether within or without. Everyone would like to think they made the right choice, that they have not been sucker-punched by yet another of life's offerings.

And so, in search of a universal law, a universal relief, the first necessity is to search out a discipline -- a police force -- that is limited and limiting ... and anything but 'universal' or unlimited. It's a conundrum, a koan. The tears and uncertainties of the world, whether within or without, inspire a search for relief and understanding -- something wide and wholesome and kind -- and yet our police forces are rife with the danger of creating and sustaining something that is narrow and unwholesome and unkind. Our universal law can turn into a universal nightmare.

No more Valentine's Day!

The only way out of this pickle that I can see is to find a discipline that includes the proviso that discipline is not the point -- that having entered the temple of effort and hope, you will also be offered a way out, shown the exit to what you have entered. But it's not easy: How could a (wo)man going through a door marked "entrance" be expected (at the moment) to see the other side of the door, which is marked "exit?" Sometimes it is the police forces of spiritual endeavor that bust their butts to make sure no one ever sees the other side of the door.

No more Valentine's Day!

No more Valentine's Day in Riyadh and yet love insists and people celebrate secretly and persistently. Their loves, little and large, require expression, whether or not the police force frowns. And I think it is the same within: Too much Valentine's Day candy and you get sick; too little and you die.

The unlimited requires the limited. The limited requires the unlimited. Are they different or the same? Without a police force, there is chaos. But with an overzealous police force, there is only subjugation... which hardly seems like much of a relief or reassurance.

All this may be food for thought; it may all be interesting and compelling but, while you're working things out ...

Here -- have a Valentine's Day chocolate.

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