Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Third-Party Guru

So yesterday was our so-called "Super Tuesday" here in America, the day that most of the country has its preliminary round of voting before the official election. Often, it's a day that campaigns make final decisions as to how far they are going to be run, and candidates can either make a definitive statement that they fully expect to be the official candidate for their party, or they drop out and declare their work to be done. I suppose sometimes a losing candidate can be happy to simply have made it through a lengthy campaign without any major scandals. Although you may have not heard it on the news in the midst of talk about, there was another campaign afoot that had a major contender who dropped out of the race yesterday. I am of course talking about the death of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

It's a fascinating thing to me that to a great extent, religion and politics have a lot in common. Despite the efforts of various interest groups here in the U.S. such as the so-called "Moral Majority" (I say "so-called" as some have pointed out that this is a phrase like "Christian Science" in which two words are used to describe something in which neither word describes it at all.) there is not an easy mix between religion and political ideology, the now-defunct Natural Law Party notwithstanding. Even in ancient societies, we see struggle between religious movements and political movements: In the New Testament, Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sadducees represented differing religious viewpoints, but struggled not just against one another, but against political powers such as the Romans and the Herodians. Today, even in a country that supposedly supports freedom of religion, we argue about whether a Mormon or a (falsely-rumored) Muslim is fit to hold national office. Many have chided the silliness of the notion that somehow putting one's hand on a Bible while taking a vow makes that vow somehow more unbreakable. While the Bible is of supreme importance to a Christian, physically, it's just a pile of paper, and the moral law within a politician's heart is infinitely more important than the moral law under his or her hand.

But what of the Maharishi? Why do I bring him up, other than the fact that he has recently passed the way of all humanity? Well, although I don't really know so very much about the man, there was a comment made about him in the news report of his death I heard this morning that struck me as fascinating. It is very rare among either politicians or religious leaders to go through their entire career without being plagued by scandals, but the Maharishi is one of those rare individuals who seems to have done it. Other than an alleged sexual advance on Mia Farrow that seems to be unproven (and considerably less of a scandal than it would be for a Christian political leader, as Hindu sexual standards are somewhat different), his life and the Transcendental Meditation movement he founded seem to have a pretty clean record.

I remember that there was a TM center near the place where I grew up, and there was a teacher I had in junior high school who often passed on rumors to her students that these weirdos were somehow dragging off young impressionable souls and brainwashing them. I always found the stories rather improbable, myself, and whereas another Christian teacher I had in high school later was definitely part of what inspired me to look into Christianity, this particular Christian teacher was the sort that made me say, "If that's what Christians are like, I don't think I need to have anything to do with it, thank you." There's no doubt to me that as a Christian, there is a certain disdain one must have for all that is not of Christ, but choosing to see the deepest evil in any religious activity outside of your own narrow views isn't so much Christianity as paranoia. Later in high school, I had a friend who had a part-time job as a janitor at the TM center. His view on these people was that they were a bit odd, but mostly friendly and honest, and they never tried to push their views on him, an atheist.

I think that honesty and good-natured kindness that seems to have always been very present in the Maharishi and his followers is admirable. Sure, we may disagree with their spiritual beliefs, but when we look at their aims as a group, I can't find anything to criticize. The Maharishi believed that his methods brought not just peace to the practitioner, but also to the world around the practitioner. The Maharishi and his followers, although surprisingly influential for such a small group, don't seem to have been self-seeking, living modestly and quietly.

As a Christian, I suppose I am obligated to call the Maharishi a "cultist" or an "infidel", and technically, either or both descriptions fit. Still, on a personal level, as someone who tries to look at the world both from within and without my religious belief system, I'd have to say that if all cultists and infidels--and even many Christians--were more like the Maharishi, this world would be a much better place for it.

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