Monday, May 21, 2012


In spiritual endeavor there is often a lot of lamentation when it comes to "sectarianism." Spiritual effort is held up as be sweet and consoling and to a certain extent above the human fray, so "sectarianism" -- one group or individual slitting another group or individual's throat -- excites all kinds of efforts to "heal" and "soothe" and "bring together."

The fallout from gross forms of sectarianism are not pretty, as for example the report during one of the Christian crusades that "the streets of Baghdad ran ankle-deep in blood." And the Holocaust gave the wider world a sense of what Hitler's hard-ass sectarianism could nourish.

On a lesser stage, individuals too can fall victim to sectarianism, a word defined in an Internet dictionary as, "a narrow-minded adherence to a particular sect or party or denomination." What is true in so-called spiritual endeavor is likewise true on Main Street and in the marketplace: My pecker's longer than your pecker and I will beat you to a pulp if you don't agree.

"Fall victim to sectarianism ..." the phrase carries with it the disapprobation that goes with literal or metaphorical bloodbaths: If I spend all my time trying to slit your throat and you spend all your time trying to slit mine, how in the world can the corn grow? The answer is, it can't, and since eating is more serious than pissing contests, there are some pretty heart-felt efforts to heal the jagged and angry wounds of sectarianism. 

In spiritual life, people often go to extreme and convoluted lengths to escape (through 'healing' or 'ecumenism' or something similar) the lash of "sectarianism." Whether as a group or as an individual, everyone can lay claim to the greater good of growing nourishing corn. Activists can make a profession out of stilling the "sectarian" waves.

It's nice to be nice, but the results of making "nice" as a profession or a goal can be pretty nasty, pretty dishonest, and largely convoluted in self-serving ways. Like the old beer commercial, the whole exercise provides "more taste" at the same time that it is "less filling."

All this chitchat this morning is in aid of suggesting that those who fear sectarianism, whether little or large, are headed in the wrong direction. The premise that sectarianism is wrong or bad or heinous or contrary to some anointed teacher or teaching ... well, think about it.

My own thought is that the premise should be rerouted. It's not so much that sectarianism is wrong and empirically bloody, and something to tame or quell. Rather, I think, a more fruitful premise is that -- you bet! -- we are all sectarians. No escape ... we, as individuals, are nothing but a bundle of sectarianism as defined by our individual lives. Not only are we sectarians when it comes to our enemies, we are also sectarians when it comes to our friends. 

As once, I may attend some Zen center and practice zazen with others who have done the same. This may seem to depict a wider agreement, a deeper agreement, and a great and soothing consolation, a good thing. "We" agree in one sense or another ... and yet, beyond all doubt, each of us is completely sectarian in life experience, mind, heart and whatever all else. We may flee into metaphors like "we are all like snowflakes falling from the sky" or console the lonely heart with words like "we," but inescapably, the facets of your life and the facets of mine are minutely and perfectly sectarian. 

And that strikes me as a better starting point in spiritual endeavor. I am one sectarian son-of-a-bitch ... no big deal, no need to flee into a "religion" whose Latin roots suggest that something needs to be bound up or reconnected. Just adjust the focus a bit. 

I am a sectarian through and through and the reason I 'practice' is so that I can readjust the notion that somehow I might do some good and therefore run my shit on somebody else. 

Like Popeye, "I yam who I yam" and the only effort worth more than a fart in a windstorm is to investigate my "yam" and try not to run my "yam" errors on others.

It is lonely, perhaps, to be responsible and simply admit that my inescapable sectarianism is not something to paper over with sorrow or healing. It is scary to be responsible. It is not the ordinary way. But it is the only way I can think of that is likely to have a fruitful outcome.

Be the sectarian you are: Just do your best not to run your delight or despair on anybody else.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled, wise and witty, ecumenical programming. 

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