Human society appears cloistered around the notion of the Benevolent Stranger. Beginning in childhood for most in the so called civilized world, this notion has been proffered, promoted and perpetuated with almost otherworldly reverence as one of our most vaunted traditions. It exists as the foundation of religion, which means that it exists foundational for most of us, for even the nonreligious are killed by the bombs of the pious.
It is a most odious notion in that while purporting to promote generosity and benevolence, it actually breeds cruelty and intolerance. It takes our most decent behaviors and turns them ugly and self-serving, in the process fostering unenlightened self-interest as a positive social attribute. As the underlying premise of virtually all of our modern cultures, its efficacy as a medium for harmonious co-existence is clear: the Benevolent Stranger is remarkably homicidal.
For those unfamiliar with our ‘friend’, allow me to acquaint you to Him. In fact, if anyone reading this doesn’t know of at least a couple, I’ve clearly left the constraints of Mother Earth (in which case I must insist on approval of all interplanetary translations). The Benevolent Stranger does good deeds for people out of pure generosity and love of humanity. He (and it’s usually a He) is not motivated by personal gain nor driven by self-interest – He’s looking out for you.
He appears in many incarnations, each one more ludicrous than the preceding, each rebirth even more improbable than the last. Initially He only offered wisdom and a side of salvation for those properly appreciative, but as wisdom became more readily available He had to do tricks and finally offer bribes. Sadly, the purveyors of the Benevolent Stranger appear incapable of seeing that as each new incarnation is compelled to outdo the former, the impossibility of delivery highlights the improbability of premise.
This, I suspect, is what we perceive as the demise of our society.
In fact, this being the case, our society is actually in no more demise than it ever has been, beyond the psychological disconnect the Benevolent Stranger demands of us, evident from His inception. This disconnect becomes more difficult to reconcile in an age where information is readily available to a mostly literate populace. Mostly. So the demands upon the Stranger and requirements of those who believe in Him intensify as the premise becomes more preposterous.
For then as we wait for the loving-kindness of the Benevolent Stranger to assuage our roiling tempers, we are compelled to contend with His opposite: the Malevolent Stranger. While the benevolence of the Benevolent Stranger is always a consummation devoutly to be wished, the malevolence of his opposite affects us in the present. Malevolence it appears possesses more appeal than beneficence – at least to humanlings. We are no strangers to malice.
We are confounded by this in that we are taught that evil comes from within (driven by base demons) but redemption must be given from another. While not blameless for our transgression, we’ve all danced with the Malevolent Stranger and thus understand his beguiling temptations. The Benevolent Stranger is a conundrum as most have no frame of reference for His purported largess and certainly question their individual qualifications for such an esteemed consideration.
As we know no truly benevolent associates, such behaviors necessarily must come from a stranger. And as we know no true benevolence ourselves, we understand that only a stranger would be able to consider us worthy of generosity as those who know us certainly know better. It is easier to impress a stranger than a friend or associate.
We remain as children, utterly beholden to the idea of some external force (mommy or daddy) for our salvation, yet ultimately blameless for our transgression – “The devil made me do it!” We accept no direct responsibility for our good or ill behaviors; in our minds another will bail us out just as another still will take the blame. Our salvation increasingly becomes preservation in the present rather than deliverance in the next go-round. We demand tangibles, tokens, toys.
Matt 18:3 ”Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
An interesting admonishment from the carpenter turned shepherd known as the Christ. (Messiah – Christ is Greek for Messiah.) A messiah is one, a stranger, who offers salvation to those he deems properly pious. That piety, of course, determined by the messiah on a case by case basis.
When you think about it, that’s pretty nice, offering a total stranger salvation and all – downright benevolent if you ask me. Considering the number of people about, one would imagine time consuming as well. As Biblically represented, Jesus was a Benevolent Stranger. He not only offered salvation in the afterlife, but made with goodies and goodness during His brief ministry: He gave sight, so we are told, to the blind; helped the lame ambulate; fed multitudes from morsels; turned water into wine for a party. He even reanimated the dead. Hell most wouldn’t even help bury them, though one can see reanimation as a way to preclude that necessity.
Which leads one to ponder on the primary requirement to enter the Kingdom of Heaven: piety? Benevolence? Strict scriptural adherence? How about death? Though it is rarely touted as the only real way to attain that particular placement, to the best of my knowledge, Heaven isn’t a place for the living. You have to die to get to Heaven. Perhaps then the carpenter’s admonishment was more a warning – if you wish to die, behave as children.
But historically the concept preceded the stories about Jesus, in Judaic tradition with their perpetually absent messiah as well as their prophets, and further East with the guru. The guru were/are the pious men of the Eastern faiths, primarily Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, who offered wisdom and blessing upon those who offered them succor. Wisdom for a scoop of rice? Quite the bargain. (For those seeking Moksha/Nirvana, some chores and light housekeeping may be involved.)
It was pretty much the same with the Hebrew prophets: make with some dinner and the prophet offers wondrous tales, vague predictions and medical advice, free of charge. Other than the food and all, perhaps a room for the night and something to wear, if you’ve got a few shekels lying around, you know. Occasionally the people these prophets hit up were so poor the prophets drained their entire food supplies feeding them. One would imagine a decent prophet being able to at least prophesize where the food was.
Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason suggested that the prophets of the Bible weren’t so much fortune tellers as singer/poets and the prophesies were their songs. In one story, Saul, God’s first choice for King of Israel, strips naked and cavorts all night with some of them. Real leadership. Regardless, the show being predicated by dinner and lovely parting gifts kind of removes the benevolence and points out the self-interest; thus our stranger is certainly stranger than most but not entirely benevolent.
As migration occurred, knowledge came to be distributed more widely and the vague prophesy or simplistic homily diminished in interest to the amusement-jaded citizenry. Enter the magician: now dinner came with songs and a show, something worth opening the larder for, especially in lean times. So many lean times. And as such, as the pickings got slimmer the beg for them had to become more appealing still.
Salvation. Sure you live in Hell, hell, we all live in Hell. It’s a hell of a thing. But apparently God created humans to make Paradise into Hell so He could then appoint certain men to tell people how they could get back into Paradise. Which is right here on all three sides of us.
So the old cults proffered notions of a messiah, a truly Benevolent Stranger who would free us all from the hell we’ve made our lives here in Paradise. He would set things right and lead us unto the light. And all we would have to do is willingly suspend our disbelief.
That was it, well, at the beginning. That suspension of disbelief is called faith and by accepting ideas based upon nothing more than that someone espouses them and that you or we accept them, we can have salvation. Get right back into Paradise.
Which we would presumably turn right back into Hell.
So now they had something to force people to get behind: the Church. A monolithic hierarchical organization based around the unquestioning belief in someone so unimpressive that nobody wrote about Him during His lifetime even though He was truly benevolent.
Abraham, Gautama, Moses, Krishna, Jesus: all men of faith, meaning there is no actual evidence they existed; no writings by them, no writings about them until they were long gone, men who can only exist through the imaginations of the faithful. Of course most will dispute this, suggest that the Torah was in fact written by Moses, a man so meticulous he forgot to circumcise the entirety of the Hebrew collective for 40 years, wandering around pillaging in the Sinai. The first actual composition of the Tanakh (Old Testament) came about during the Babylonian captivity 6th century BCE about a thousand years after we are told that Moses freed the Israelites allowing them the joyous lives they presently entertain.
Gautama (the Buddha) left no evidence of personal writings and no contemporaneous writing about him appears to exist. Some of the oldest Buddhist teaching is found in the Edicts of Ashoka which were wisely carved in stone. Gautama came of riches, which suggests a possibility of literacy, and, even if not, his family could have provided an account of his life; but as with all of them, it came after his demise leaving only post existential accounts: history. Mythology.
In fact, according to Biblical scholars (who all agree on everything owing to the simple clarity of text)-(they don’t), the first writings about the one known as Jesus came from Paul of Tarsus, who started a letter-writing campaign about Him perhaps 20 years after His death. It is also notable that Paul never met Jesus but instead claimed to see Him in a hallucination on the road to Damascus, which is presently being turned into hell by many of Jesus’ followers today (and Moses’ too).
The problem with salvation is that it is great conceptually but very hard to deliver on in the here and now. Not that the Church in any of its global incarnations has ever balked at sending their followers and others into the loving bosom of the Paradisal Caretaker, but the notion of benevolence is usually diminished through evisceration or even cleansing immolation. The Stranger needed upgrades.
To start with, the Church, in addition to its conversion of pagans and anyone with stuff they wanted (under threat of evisceration or cleansing immolation), found that to really sell it they had to give something back: charity. This is a delightful concept: the Church takes money from those who can’t afford it to bolster those who live in palaces (called churches) who then decide, on a case by case basis, who among the poverty stricken that enrich them can enjoy what remains.
If poor people didn’t have to give 20%-80% to the king and 10% + to the Church they wouldn’t need the help of the king or Church to get by. Instead the poor pay the rich who then admonish them for their poverty and throw them a bone if they are good enough little doggies.
So the Benevolent Stranger in the Church looks after your afterlife while the Benevolent Stranger in the other castle, the king, protects you from bad guys in the here and now. Just like in the here and now, they care about total strangers. And they have convinced us of this to the point we have convinced us of this even though it flies in the face of everything we know.
Why would we go along?
The reward of the lie. It starts young. Western kids are teased with fairly improbable Benevolent Strangers early. And how! We are told of a mystical Fat Fuck in a bright red suit and flying caribou who is so fucking benevolent He actually breaks into people’s houses in the dead of night and delivers trinkets and consumer items to those who are good enough. And He knows because He watches all the time, though the indication is He only knows when we’re awake while actually watching us sleep. Creepy.
This guy, this benevolent voyeur, is welcomed into the homes and brains of millions of kids all over the everywhere. He is socially drummed into our brains with such fervor as to overshadow the actual pretend guy Tubby represents: Jesus.
The problem with kids is that salvation means nothing to them. Frankly, it’s a concept too complex for adults, as we seek it while behaving abysmally towards each other, so to demand kids to be persuaded by it is too much to expect. And as beating children into piety has fallen out of favor, they, as all of us, must be bribed. And they, as all of us, are cheap. Behave all year for a toy truck or growing hair plastic mini-mannequin? Really?
Today, the patron saint of pederasty has to dig deeper – consumer kids demand iTrucks and Smartdolls. And the consumer kids don’t even have to behave to collect. The Benevolent Stranger’s standards are slipping, the price of infinite escalation in a culture desperately awaiting the next thrill while steeped in hypocritical morality. Soon, rewarding good behavior devolves into rewarding behavior that isn’t bad, and kids get awards for showing up at school, which of course should actually go to their parents who readily dump them there.
The problem of the Benevolent Stranger is the lie. He doesn’t exist. He’s never existed. He doesn’t live in you or me or anyone else. Each of us can be amazingly benevolent at times. Each of us can be amazingly selfish at times. Most of us tolerate each other because we don’t care enough to hate each other. We’re neither particularly giving nor particularly selfish around others. We’re very generous to those we like, not so much to those we don’t.
This is natural.
But when we’re young we learn the benefit of pretend. We understand that as soon as we stop believing in Santa Claus, the Fat Fuck stops bringing us gifts. A first hard reality to kids suckled on His massive furry teat: lose your faith and lose the rewards of it. A simple but very easy to grasp lesson to children. A lesson we as adults have clearly learned and embraced – pretend to believe in the impossible in order to receive tangible benefits.
Over time this becomes delusion. Adults cannot make the distinction between fact and fantasy, surrendering their very lives in order to prove how much they believe in that which intellectually they know to be impossible.
This leads to duality: the rational mind arguing with the delusional mind over issues of little practical import. Salvation? In what form? Happy-happy joy-time in perpetuity? Groveling before the Divine for eternity? Supplication in Paradise?
People are starving to death right now. Because they don’t have money? No, because they don’t have food. Yet there are billions of tons of food thrown into the trash each year worldwide. We are in escalating war, everybody shooting everybody in the name of their gods, still, to this day, in the fucking 21st century. To be as children…
Political leaders, religionistas, newscasters, actors, sportscasters, celebrities, business leaders and advertisers all lie to us with our willing acceptance. They lie because in that lie they get to have really great lives. They will lie straight to our faces, to the faces of those they purport affection for, right into their own lying eyes with nary a thought.
We accept it because we believe that somehow the Benevolent Stranger will show up and put it right, and forgive us for perpetuating the lie and for all of our selfishness in the face of struggling humanity. But until He does there’s no reason not to have dessert.
People who don’t give two shits about each other still wait for the arrival of someone completely unlike them to embrace them and invite them to bask in comfort and joy for the whole of eternity without ever wondering why. Why would a truly Benevolent Stranger seek you, of all the billions of people here, to reward? Would benevolence embrace pettiness, vituperation or self-pity? A world at war, people dying so some people can have a bunch of made-up money, resources squandered and habitation destroyed as we struggle to maintain the lie – is this benevolence?
“It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.” Thomas Paine – Age of Reason
To be worthy of this benevolence we so crave, demand, feel entitled to, as children on Christmas, hoping hard for their iTruck or Smartdoll, wouldn’t it be logical to be benevolent? Do kind and generous people hang with selfish assholes? Do men of peace associate with people who are always fighting, warring? For a while, at least until we kill them. I suspect no stranger will save us as long as we continue killing those we know – our friends, family, community and world.
Why would He?