Tuesday, August 31, 2010

12. Context

This time I smelled C. W. before I saw him. He was approaching me from the windward side and I got the unmistakable whiff of the chronic homeless person. I was sitting in the park and enjoying the first cool day in a long time when he neared me, odor and all. He was in the shape of a young man in his late twenties or so, with course black hair extending in all directions. He was dark-skinned and appeared darker still because of the dirt and grime that encrusted him. He wore cheap sneakers, jeans and a reasonably new T-shirt with “Thank you for not sharing your hate” emblazoned across the front. He stopped for a moment to ask a stranger for money, accepted a rebuff, and then wandered over.

“Jimmie,” he said, taking a seat beside me.

“Jesus, C. W., I said. “You stink.”

“Try not to judge people by your sensory perceptions,” he said. “I have often observed that they can mislead.”

“How so?” I said.

“By confusing the context.”

“Say what?”

“Just as you did now,” he said. “You miss a message I might bring when you deny it due to the context in which I appear. It’s called ‘shalowaraten++’ on my planet and it seems to be a mental linchpin in most of your religions.”

“Shalowaraten, tsk, tsk?” I couldn’t mimic the clicking sound.

“Yes, saying ‘black doesn’t mean black when I wish it to mean white.’”

“I’m confused.”

“Haven’t you noticed that your so-called religious commandments never mean what they say?”

“How so?”

“Well, if a prophet says: ‘Give all your money to the poor,’ his followers who wish to keep their treasures to themselves say: ‘Oh, you’re taking that out of context.’”

"I see.”

“The command to love our enemies really doesn’t extend to those who really irritate us. It’s a command that almost always is …”

“Taken out of context.” I was getting the picture.

“ Precisely, and if the prophet says says, ‘Kill all apostates,’ the followers say …”

“I know, ‘You’re taking it out of context. He didn’t really mean that. Ours is a loving religion.’”

“Yes, and so on and so on. It seems to allow those who allege themselves to be devout to maintain their sanity.”

We were interrupted just then by a motorcyclist who stopped to yell at C. W. “Go back to Mexico you dirty Muslim.”

He took on a look of eternal sadness. “One can always spot the truly sanctified, can’t one?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“My son, I despair at times as I mingle with your species.”

I didn’t respond.

Then he said: “Perhaps you could tell me one thing.”

“I’ll try.”

“Why are “In-context” religions so rare on your planet?”

“I really don’t know,” I said. “Perhaps it’s a matter of some evolutionary need to retain our options.”

“Peace be with you then,” he said, as he rose to leave. As he walked away, I saw the message printed on the back of his shirt.

“Critical thinking—Our only real hope.”

This from a filthy beggar who stank to high heaven.

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