Cultures need not be competitive

Some years ago, childless couples in Australia were adopting babies from overseas. An Aussie woman opposed this practice. As she explained to the newspaper which published her letter, foreign babies bring ‘foreign cultures.’ The reality, of course, is that any foreign culture brought in would be in the baby’s nappy.

Culture refers to the ways humans behave consistently, traditionally; and the underlying values. I was brought up in a family and tribe of Hindus. Hence beef was not on the menu. We did not eat pork, although it was the main meat for our Chinese neighbours. We saw pork as hygienically unclean. Pork was not avoided because of religious beliefs, as with the Jewish faith and Islam.

During the racist White Australia era, Anglo-Australians complained about the odour of garlic, ginger, and curry spices used by Asian students in shared kitchens. The huge influx of Europeans soon stopped that. Young Aussies who had travelled overseas also took to Asian and European foods.

In the 1960s, I observed 2 young white Aussie girls buying from a food store owned by an Englishman the ingredients to be combined into curry powder. They knew exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, I bought a packet of imported curry powder. I had no idea of its ingredients. My mother had never told me; indeed, I had not been allowed into the kitchen.

Cuisine and clothing, as cultural markers, cross ethnic boundaries easily, in time. Prayer and associated religious rituals, while variable, are motivated by identical objectives – to seek succour from, and to express thanks to, God. Diversity in religious belief is not a barrier to close inter-cultural relations, as I have observed. Doctrine-bound priests may not agree.

In terms of day-to-day living, what differences in behaviour do we all display – wherever we are on the globe – which pose barriers to mutual tolerance inter-culturally?
British Malaya, with its ethno-tribal diversity during my development, was a multicultural nation-in-the-making. There was mutual tolerance, in spite of an original lack of a shared language. We lived our lives as guided by our respective cultures and, in time, through habituation, education, and some social interaction, became one people. Only politics can be a threat to social cohesion.

My own extended family includes Chinese, Malay, Indian, English, Burmese, Italian, and Anglo-Australian genes. We are the lamp-lighters to a new world based on a shared humanity, with any historical cultural tensions devoid of consequence.

 

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Reality may be non-material

I prefer the material realm of the universe we occupy to be a projection of an ethereal realm. The latter realm is effectively unknown. It is also an inexplicable dimension of existence. Yet, reality also seems to me to be more ethereal than material. Why do I say that?

Because almost everything in the material realm is subject to change. Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics, of entropy, goes even further. Nothing of substance seems to be durable. While the material realm also cannot explain the ethereal realm, the latter may contain the templates (see Plato’s ‘real’) for transient materiality.

When Heraclitus (a Greek philosopher of yore) quoted a typically unrecognised Hindu thinker of centuries before him, saying “All is fire,” he was referring to the firmament which surrounds us. All my life, I have been enchanted by the apparently infinite number of balls of fire which we see as stars.

Recently, my mind’s-eye developed this scenario. The invisible ‘smoke’ from these fires could represent an integrated ‘mesh,’ the ephemeral realm of the Universe; and the ‘ashes’ and other disgorgements from each sun which fall upon their respective planets (such as Earth) could represent the material from which life forms eventually oozed or erupted. Does this vision make possible sense?

Then, there is the material realm of which we are part; that is, we are substantially matter. We are part of the 4% of the totality of matter estimated to exist in the Universe to be visible.

What of invisible matter? Two-thirds is said to be dark matter; one third is apparently dark energy. Was the latter transmuted from dark matter, or vice versa? However, since we cannot see either, could they actually exist? Of course they can, since bees and some animals are apparently able to use certain alternative strands of the electromagnetic spectrum to go about their business.

As well, there was my first clairvoyant who could see, and describe accurately, the spirit of my uncle who had manifested himself to him. That is, invisible cosmic matter may become visible under appropriate conditions; and invisible energy may be identifiable through its material impacts.

In the event, what is the point of all the fuss we make about the minuscule amount of visible matter in the Universe, including our human material selves? Are we not a lot more than our material bodies? The essence of each human being is of far more significance than the outer shell. Should we not be investigating non-visible matter and energy in their role in shaping humanity, in order to understand our place in the ephemeral realm?

Ultimate reality seems to be beyond the visible, tangible, cupidity and crudity of much of Earthly human existence.

Institutional prejudice – is it always racism?

An employer chooses not to employ a physically handicapped applicant who is able to do the job: is that racism? An applicant for a job who has a ‘foreign’ (ie. non-Anglo) name has, as has been known for some time, reduced chances of getting even an acknowledgement in the Western world: is that racism or just prejudice? What kind of prejudice – tribal? A coloured employee in a workplace is assumed by white visitors to be a low-level worker, frequently: this is obviously a culturally-conditioned perception. Does it reflect prejudice? Not necessarily. Is it institutional racism, since the trigger is skin colour?

Australia’s Racial Discrimination legislation, under Section 18(c), accepts that words can ‘hurt and humiliate’ a complainant. The legislation deems such words as discrimination as well, although no act disadvantaging the complainant in any way was involved. Is this trivialising the concept of discrimination?

Worse still, the oral abuse may have been triggered by the headgear (a turban, skull cap, or hijab), or other apparel, which identifies the wearer as different from the abuser’s people. Is this not religious or cultural prejudice?

Hitherto, it has been the residue (dregs?) of the White Australia supremacists who have sought to defend ‘white space’ (physical or cultural) from those not like them. However, it may not be long before Australia’s multicultural society produces non-white or non-Christian residents publicly responding to the yobbos who abuse them.

The term racism, misused as it has been to cover a wide range of prejudices, will proceed from being confusing to being ridiculous. The concept of races was coined by European colonisers, mainly the British. The white race was posited against all others. This mythical race was claimed to be genetically (innately) superior to the coloured races. Its weaponry was more powerful, and its greed excelled anything previously seen in the history of mankind. The buccaneers who sought to over-run and exploit other peoples would not have known about the cultural and religious advances of some of these other peoples.

Those who create legislation in the English-speaking nations of the world are now probably conditioned to the misuse of the terms race and racial. They may experience some difficulty in splitting prejudice into its correctly-defined categories.

One can only hope that the terms race and racial will follow that wondrous bird, the dodo. There have been no races on Earth.

Ignorance or prejudice?

At a gathering of (ostensibly) religious leaders at a dinner table, a Hindu deity (a non-human) was included. The gathering was seemingly to celebrate the sharing of a meal based on the flesh of an animal. This animal is normally depicted in children’s story books as a cuddly ‘baa lamb.’ Lamb is a popular source of protein in Australia – which once rode to prosperity on the back of sheep (aged lamb).

In my early days in Australia, a great distinction was made between lamb and the less-popular mutton (the flesh of sheep). Mutton, however, provides a more tasty curry because of its higher fat content. A comparison could be made between range-fed beef and lot-fed beef, the latter containing the desired strings of fat threading the flesh.

As for the gathering of lovers of lamb meat from diverse faiths, which I saw on tv, it showed a caricature of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity. This caricature showed ‘Ganesh’ with a trunk which wiggled (in my view) like the tail of a pig. The trunk was thus a caricature of the trunk of an elephant.

Since the Hindu God, although omni-present, omniscient, and omni-powerful, is ‘unknowable,’ Hindus pray to a spectrum of deities who are manifestations – each with a predominantly characteristic attribute of relevance to humanity – of the one and only God of all mankind. Ganesha is one of these deities. He is much-preferred. My formative years included regular prayers at a Ganesha (Pilleyar) temple.

Where the Indian Government has reportedly protested that this advertisement for lamb meat is an insult to Hindu culture, I suggest that it represents sacrilege. I am offended. In the new multicultural Australia, could those responsible for the creation and approval of this advert. be so ignorant as to include a Hindu deity within a group of humans? And at a dinner table!

Further, since Hindus tend to be vegetarians, or eat very little meat, could the advert. be a form of thumbing one’s nose at a foreign faith? That is, does this advert. indicate a degree of religio-cultural prejudice? Is White Australia being re-visited?

Just asking!

Integrating ethno-cultural diversity

One can wear one’s culture loosely, like an overcoat resting on one’s shoulders, or wear it tightly, like a belted and hooded ankle-length raincoat. The latter may, to a substantial degree, be akin to a woman who prefers to be clad, in a Western nation, in a burqa in public. The latter, however, implies personal and physical separation, and a preferred isolation.

It can be argued that, in a free country, members should be free to dress as they wish, and possess the right not to be an integral component of the many, or to co-operate or congregate with those not like them. That is, such members would have the right only to co-exist (but not integrate) with those not like them.

How would such people then view the nation of which they are part? That it is quite acceptable to enjoy the identity and security provided by a sovereign nation-state without relating in a socially meaningful manner with ‘others’ in the nation?

Credibly, the foundation tribes from Britain formed themselves into the Australian people. There are no visible tribal clothing styles reflecting their origins. The huge post-war influx of Europeans then integrated themselves easily into the Australian ethos. More recently, the virulence of the White Australia policy having abated, coloured immigrants too are integrating successfully; with welfare sustaining most of those economic migrants claiming to be refugees. The latter represent the first category of entrants who are not economically viable.

More recently, we have been asked to modify our legal system to include sharia law, the first time the nation has been asked to adapt to the immigrant (rather than the reverse). We are also asked to accept that any cultural practice associated with Islam is sacrosanct. However, since suburban Australia is not exposed to hot desert sands, presumably we will not be seeing too many ‘walking tents’ on our streets.

Those immigrant tribes who seek to transpose all their traditional practices, some of which are not intrinsically tied to their religion, into their chosen nation, might simply want what the host-nation offers, but wish to retain their traditional practices unaltered. However, by the third generation, when grandpa’s edicts have been eroded by education, socialisation, and habituation, clothing styles and behaviour which separate our youth from one another can be expected to be forgotten.

Advanced immigrant-receiving nations realise that ethno-cultural diversity needs, in the interests of national identity and stability, to become progressively integrated (but not assimilated) into a coherent people.

Integration is a like a mixed salad, a gestalt, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is also comparable to the components of a rich palatable soup, giving texture and flavour to the soup, with each component making a sufficient contribution but without losing itself. Assimilation, however, is like a blended soup where all the ingredients are totally absorbed into the final product. I doubt if any immigrant-seeking nation seeks this outcome as current policy.

In time, assimilation may be the eventual outcome where there has been no input of new tribes. In the modern world, however, with so much migration, especially through asylum-seeking pressures, or because of a political integration of nations, a country composed of unintegrated tribes would not be a cohesive nation.

Most importantly, equal opportunity, if already available (as in Australia), may not be as accessible to marginal tribal communities were their members to be unwilling to modify those aspects of their inherited traditions and behaviours which are not in tune with the social mores and conventions of the host people.

Cultural adaptation would enable speedier integration, either through accessing available equal opportunities or by demonstrating the willingness of the immigrant community to share their lives more fully with others already in the nation.

All believers share the one and only Creator God of the Cosmos. Why not share the nation-state to which one belongs by choice?

 

Life after Earthly death?

Why not? Yet, there are those who say, with great certitude, that at death the body and everything associated with it – such as the mind and its memories – come to an end. Of course, they have no basis for that claim. How could they know?

Then, some church-attending friends told me that they do not accept that they have a soul, and which represents the core or essence of their existence. Indeed, in spite of their Bible offering eternal bliss in Heaven (by being with Christ), these genuinely good people do not know where they will go after death. A couple have said that an ‘essence’ of what they are may remain – possibly in the memories of their loved ones.

Those who have indicated that they fear death belong to a church which has threatened a location named hell for non-compliance with its teachings. Interestingly, it is decades since I heard reference by that Church to babies born in, or conceived in, sin; or to that location named ‘limbo.’

Yet, there are others whose religious beliefs offer – not damnation or bliss – but a continuity of existence after Earthly death; and which allows re-birth. The Western version of this belief – which I think of as ‘New Age’ – offers ‘guides’ in a location generally known as the Afterlife who – with or without any judgement about one’s past – either set a pathway for the next life or assist in choosing a pathway (always on Earth).
I have also been told of a faith whose members may move to another planet after life on Earth. Whether this offers a richer life than available after death through one of the ‘desert’ religions is not clear to me. This latter religion seems to offer pleasant surroundings and a pleasurable life.

The principal proponent of a sequence of re-births is Hinduism. Unlike some Western psychotherapists and ‘New Agers’ who refer to life between lives as something known, and who offer descriptions of the Afterlife as an abode (with some such abodes offering scope for self-assessment), Hinduism’s Afterlife offers (as told to me by a Western spiritualist) an opportunity to continue with my learning.

This may overlap another Western perspective of the Afterlife. Here one can purportedly have access to the ‘Akashic Record.’ This record allegedly covers every action ever taken on Earth by humans. Would this Record enable self-tuning of one’s next path on Earth?
So, we go nowhere after Earthly death. Or, we can, or do, go somewhere. That somewhere may offer pain or pleasure; or nothing specific. If ‘somewhere’ is a neutral place, the dead may choose their next life on Earth; or be guided to such a choice; or acquire learning; or just have a rest (slumber?) while waiting to commence the next life. For this process to be meaningful, through the principle of cause-and-effect, the next life would have, implicitly and autonomously, been shaped by one’s past lives (especially the most recent one), would it not?

How credible are those who provide descriptions of the Afterlife in both physical and sociological terms? As well, are modern-day descriptions more accurate than those going back 2,000 years or more? How would any of these writers know? If through revelation, how could one separate this from hallucinations or imagination?

The veil around Earthly life seems impenetrable.

Why are the desert religions aggressive?

All the major religions in the world have the same God, the one and only Universal Creator of all that is. Creation may have occurred all at once or through an evolutionary path. The Creator God may be unknowable, except through a deep meditative process; or knowable, perhaps through revelation. Asking what was there before Creation, or about the origin of God, are meaningless questions. (Ask the cat which looks behind a free-standing mirror for that other cat.)

Most of us need a saviour offering succour, primarily in terms of survival in our normally harsh environments. Others may have lesser needs, but which can loom large in their lives, depending on how insecure or greedy they are. Wants may be greater than need.

A significantly powerful personal need, but which can (in an exaggerated state) threaten the very existence of other humans who are also believers in God, is the need to believe that one is on the only path to God; or that one’s path to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father is the more efficient one. This Abode may offer angels, or dancing girls, or advanced spirits, or ever-lasting peace. (Or perhaps a wondrous mansion filled with gee-gaws of great value, and serviced by valets galore.)

How does such a strange need of exclusivity or superiority arise? Surely through the priesthoods. Why would priesthoods need to compete with one another? The exercise of power, or a collective ego-gratification?

Religious belief systems arose in widely dispersed regions of the world over a long period of time. Each could not have known about other belief systems unless traders from afar displayed their foreign faiths. See what happened when Hindu and (later) Buddhist traders influenced the cultures of South East Asia and the islands of the adjoining archipelago now known as the Indonesian. So many individuals there have names and even facial features which reflect this cultural infusion.

Of course, marauding armies would also have imposed a new religion here and there. Or, a ruler, by accepting a new religion, had all his people follow him.

Priesthoods would also tend to protect their reign when they control the path to eternity. As evidenced in Egypt, when Aten replaced Amon temporarily, it was allegedly the prevailing priesthood which recovered the status quo. Was this also the earliest evidence of a closed trade union?

But then, why did Christianity, which offers a loving universal god in place of a fearsome desert god, set out (through colonialism) to convert peaceful followers of the forest religions of Asia? What drove Islam, the successor to Christianity, to use the cutting edge of weaponry to convert all and sundry? Do not these religions have a record of destroying the followers of other faiths, and sects of their own religions, here and there? In my experience, these are the only 2 religions whose followers talk a great deal about their faith, whereas the others simply live their religion.

It is surely undeniable that the 3 major desert religions have been, and are, the predominant warring nations of the globe. Humans will, of course, attack one another for material gain. Our simian genetic heritage is probably responsible. But what gain is there in collecting souls? Why not take the coveted materials, and leave beliefs alone? More efficient control of the ‘other,’ using priests?

In any event, the diversity of beliefs reflects merely the diversity in approaches to the Divine. The paths do vary, thanks to differences in man-made theology and dogma – all arbitrary, and replaceable. On what basis would a priesthood claim superiority or priority?

Would not the wanton destruction of fellow-humans and their societies in the name of one’s religion affect one’s chances of finding peace in the Hereafter? Or, do the guilty deny the existence of a meaningful Afterlife?

Why not live in faith on Earth, and allow others to live with their respective faiths too? In the Afterlife (Hereafter or Heaven) all souls will surely be equal as non-entities!