What I Believe
I was recently talking to somebody about comedy and he pointed out that most of it doesn’t hold up, but we agreed that Monty Python and George Carlin are both still funny decades later. My “Useless Theory of Funny” posits that comedy comes from pointing out the limits of language and meta-language. A lot of comedy points out the hypocrisy of the time and as times change what is funny changes. Carlin and Python pointed out the basic contradictions of humanity and so their comedy is still mostly hilarious.
One of my favorite bits of Carlin’s was the reduction of the 10 Commandments down to two.
He ends up with 2 and then adds a third one.
- Don’t be dishonest
- Don’t kill people most of the time
- Don’t push your religion on other people
When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment he said:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love thy neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:37-40
(If you don’t believe in God and can’t read about God, substitute “a Higher Power of my own understanding” or “The Universe” instead.)
I love this. Of course this gets twisted into the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” which is fine as far as it goes but what the actual quote from the actual Bible (I won’t go so far as to say the actual Jesus since it was actually written down many decades after he died) says is that there is an equivalency between loving yourself, loving your neighbor and loving God.
Love God = Love Yourself = Love Others
Divide by Love and you get.
God = You = Others
I think it’s important to note that “love thyself” is a necessary part of the Commandment. It’s also interesting to note that this wording doesn’t appear in the 10 Commandments but Jesus rightly points out** that all the spiritual principles that he teaches and the Old Testament teaches can be derived from these three sentences.
- Love God
- Love Yourself
- Love Your Neighbor
As a side note, it also means that being a judgmental hypocrite is contraindicated by the teachings of Jesus.
Assholes, take note.
Speaking of assholes, a friend of mine has a picture of Charlton Heston as Moses on his fridge. In his hands, Heston has the stone tablets on which the 10 Commandments are inscribed. Instead of 10, there are only two.
- Be Cool
- Don’t Be An Asshole
I think this is a terrific summation of the Commandments and a fantastic guide to life. When I set out to write this post I thought that’s what Carlin ended up with. Thanks to Google and YouTube it took 10 minutes for me to find out I was wrong and then I promptly admitted it.
Speaking of promptly admitting being wrong, that brings up another list that can be reduced to a more manageable size. The 12 Steps of AA can be summed up by combining the steps into 4 groups of 3. The first three basically say “There is a power greater than myself and I ain’t it.” The second three say “I’m not perfect and I’m willing to admit it.” Step 7, 8 and 9 say “I’ve hurt people and I want to make amends for that.” The final three steps are basically “keep applying the first steps and help other people.”
One of my favorite parts of 12 Step culture is The Serenity Prayer.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,Reinhold Niebuhr
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Like everything else in today’s post, this is an edited version of the original prayer that Reinhold Niebuhr originally wrote sometime in the 1930s. I love this shortened version because it reads like a joke and yet encapsulates a profoundly simple yet powerful guide to approaching life. It comes from a Christian theologian but it seems downright Buddhist to me.
The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha are:
- There is suffering
- Suffering is caused by craving
- Eliminating craving will eliminate suffering
- Craving can be eliminated by following the Eightfold Path
One way to sum up the Eightfold Path is:
- Be Cool
- Don’t be an Asshole
Another way to sum up the Eightfold Path is:
- Develop your understanding of the world so that you can distinguish what you can change and what you can’t.
- Have the courage to change what you can.
- Accept what you can’t change.
- Be serene about it.
Sound familiar? It’s the Serenity Prayer. Did I need to point that out? Probably not. But I did.
Here’s my interpretation of the teaching of the Buddha. Please forgive my self-indulgence. It goes like this.
Reality exists as it is. Humans invented language and other ways of interpreting reality to help us survive. As a result of these constructions of our minds, we are out of touch with reality almost from the moment we open our eyes. There’s a wall of words and concepts around reality and there are illusionary mental constructions starting with our sense of self that stand between reality and our experience of reality.
I said reality six times in the last sentence.
But talking about reality is part of the problem.
Don’t look at the finger pointing at the moon. Look at the moon.
Happiness is a function of acceptance. Spiritual growth is a function of understanding that I’m not god, I’m not in charge, I’m not perfect and I have done things that have hurt people.
Interestingly, one of the goals of AA participants is to accept life on life’s terms.
So here’s the deal.
- Love and Accept God or a Higher Power of your own understanding
- This requires a daily investigation into what God actually is beyond the constructions of language and culture that probably do not accurately represent the way it actually is.
- Love and Accept Yourself
- This requires a daily investigation into what You actually are beyond the constructions of language and culture that probably do not accurately represent the way you actually are.
- Love and Accept Other People and Help Them As Much as You Can
- This requires a daily investigation into what people actually are beyond the constructions of language and culture that probably do not accurately represent the way people actually are.
- Love and Accept the World/Universe as it is
- This requires a daily investigation into what the World/Universe actually is beyond the constructions of language and culture that probably do not accurately represent the way it actually is.
Don’t Be An Asshole
- Avoid suffering by being cool (see above)
- Suffering tends to lead to asshole behavior so this is key
- Don’t be dishonest
- Don’t hurt yourself or other people or other living creatures
- Don’t mess up the world
- When you are dishonest or when you hurt people or when you’re wrong, promptly admit it and make amends
Thanks for reading! Hope there’s something in here that’s helpful.
*I spelled Principles wrong on purpose.
**I just gave Jesus props for being right. Did you notice that? Talk about arrogant.