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Author of this essay:

Shi Ming Zhen
(August 9, 2006)

Mel Needs to Trade His Lexus In On a Magic Carpet
by Ming Zhen Shakya

July 2006 was not a good month for a lot of people, among them Mel Gibson and a few million people in Lebanon. All of them paid a price for not being what the Buddha called, "Diligent."

Buddhism insists that the "enemies without" are puny adversaries compared to the "enemies within." One of Gibson's internal enemies was zealotry - but this is a common enemy to the "saved." Every religion has its "new-convert" zealots, people who inflate with the notion that the Path they've discovered is the absolute only Path that leads to heaven. His other enemy was alcohol which he had regarded as a symptom of his former distress. It was, in many respects, the cause of it. He had assumed that his religious rebirth in Catholicism had made a new man of him, one that was not only born without those nasty genes that craved alcohol's ancient relief, but which also had given him a divine sponsor - in case he was ever tempted. Assured that he was now in control of his destiny, he felt empowered to defeat his nemesis at will. Had he taken the trouble to look, he would have noticed the dismal number of Catholic priests - and other clerics, too, who succumb to alcoholism.

No one can question Gibson's devotion to Catholicism. But it is safe to say that he confused religion's life with the life of the Spirit.

Religion is a cultural construct. The Spirit is genetically encoded. With or without any religious context, the Spirit can carry a person across troubled waters; but only diligence can prevent him from falling back. Religion requires loyalty to its "unique" beliefs; attendance to its rituals; devoted reading of its scriptures; personal service and financial support; and, above all, endless testimony to its virtues. The Spirit requires that we do the difficult work of obliterating desire and aversion, that we espouse unemotional humility, and that we "kill the fool," i.e., the ego that previously had driven us into the material world's hell.

Gibson, when arrested for driving drunk on the way to his Malibu beach compound and private church, ranted about Jews being the cause of all the world's wars. This may or may not have violated religious principles - there are many strange convictions held by the world's various religions; but it definitely violated spiritual principles. His actions were somehow pathetic. So were the negative responses of many otherwise responsible Jews to his apology. Most comments indicated that his remarks constituted revelatory truth, in vino veritas.

In fact, a drunken tirade no more reveals a person's hidden feelings than drunken driving reveals his hidden motor skills.

Gibson's films are not only successful, they are the collaborative product of persons of all religions, particularly Jews who are well represented in the film industry. (He is probably the only person who is a member of his particular Catholic sect who works on his films.) Self-righteous pledges to never again attend a Gibson film because of his drunken outburst punishes the innocent far more than it can possibly punish a man who has already made nearly a billion dollars from his work.

Still, he did not take the easy way out. On the day that he formally apologized for his "despicable" remarks, he had at his disposal a sobering excuse which few Jews would have cared to confront: the bombings in Lebanon, particularly of Qana (Cana). Gibson chose to blame only himself;; and for this reason alone, American Jews should cut him some slack.

Jesus' ministry lasted only three years. Every event in his life is therefore notable. The Gospel of John - which Gibson surely knew well - relates a pivotal event in that brief ministerial history. Mary, Jesus, and his disciples had attended a wedding in Cana. Unfortunately, in the midst of the festivities the wine ran-out, a calamity at any wedding. Mary "volunteered" her son to solve the problem. He protested that his time for miracles had not yet come; but she persisted. He acquiesced and asked the servants to fill six large 20- gallon pots with water. They did, and he turned the water into wine. It was this miracle that convinced his disciples that he was, indeed, the Messiah.

Had Gibson claimed that the bombing of places so intimately associated with Christ had unsettled him, all Christianity would have understood; and since it was Israeli aircraft that did the bombing, well... being insulted by his drunken remarks does not make a person stupid. The less said about Cana, the better.

The Intifada started on Sept 28, 2000 when Arial Sharon, campaigning for election as prime minister, provocatively led a group of his followers onto the Al Aqsa Mosque in old Jerusalem. He said, as I recall, "As Israelis we have the right to walk on any part of Israel." The Muslims did not appreciate the desecration of the 3rd holiest shrine in all of Islam. Such respectful sentiments of holiness did not apply to the Palestinian militia's occupation of the Church of the Nativity - during which they used scripture and altar cloths for toilet paper, or to the Israeli tank that used as target practice the statue of the Virgin atop the Church of the Holy Family. But it is not only Christian and Muslim holy places that have been desecrated or destroyed. The Taliban Muslims wantonly destroyed Buddhist artworks and ancient cliff-carved statues. Even Hinduism has taken a hit in India.

Being good-looking, talented, successful, and famous tends to make a person a newsworthy target. We can recall the outcry against Vanessa Redgrave, an actress of extraordinary ability, when she spoke in defense of the Palestinian people. Many Jewish spokespersons vehemently protested her having been given the lead role in Playing For Time, the true story of a Holocaust survivor, written for Television by Arthur Miller. Even the woman whose story was being told condemned the choice of Redgrave. Yet despite her brilliant performance (she won an Emmy) the attacks against her for her pro-Palestinian views damaged her career.

Lebanon had not been diligent, either. Twenty years ago Shi'ite Hezbollah, using a suicide truck bomb, killed several hundred U.S. Marines and wounded dozens more. We withdrew our forces from Lebanon and the Lebanese, in its southern border with Israel, allowed Hezbollah to establish an alien militia, one that was fully armed with thousands of missiles and was not responsible to Lebanon's civilian government. Recently. when Israel showed videos of missiles being launched directly from Cana, the Lebanese prime minister scoffed at the proof, saying on Face The Nation, "Anybody can create computer images!" - a remark clearly heard but edited out of CBS's official transcript.

Lebanon, like Gibson, had been prospering greatly in recent years. But prosperity requires responsible self-discipline. Without this diligence, a kind of religious arrogance seeps into the psyche. The same foolishness is seen in a patient who has a chronic condition and, after taking medication to alleviate the symptoms, says to himself, "I feel fine. I don't need any medication." And then he curses and moans when the chronic condition returns. As Lebanon recovered from its last war with Israel, it allowed its sovereignty to be abrogated and a hostile army to mass on its southern border, an army that did not hesitate to place its men and missiles in civilian habitation or in places sacred to another religion.

Zealotry, the hubris of the immature who are invested in religion to the detriment of the Spirit, demands solidarity. A "them versus us" mentality extends protection and support only to persons within its circle, just as it tends to dehumanize anyone who is outside its "sacred" precincts.

Recently, on American Idol, a young singer named Elliot Yasmin, whose vocal appeal had carried him to the final rounds of the contest, suddenly found his name splashed on the front page of Jewish newspapers that were urging their readers to vote for him because he was Jewish. This is the zealotry that demands cohesion. Regardless of any other consideration, a member must be supported. The American Idol contest was about singing. Why did religion intrude into the process? No other contestant's religion was known or cared about. Voters who had not considered race or religion when they voted were offended, regarding this sectarian "support" as un-American - which it was. It surely did not help Elliot.

Mel Gibson will, as Faulkner once said of mankind, "not only survive, he will prevail." Perhaps his stint in rehab will introduce him to the further Spiritual requirements of post-salvation life.

It is always profoundly gratifying to see someone recover from a long siege of depression or self-destructive behavior and gain the peace, joy, and confidence of spiritual salvation, regardless of the religion he credits with his rescue. Such deliverance is a gift beyond measure. But there is of necessity, "an imitation of the Buddha" or "an Imitation of Christ" - or whichever exalted figure has been the Guide - that must inspire the individual's soul to emulate that perfect One. That Gibson was saved in the spiritual sense is certain; but we are hard-pressed to imagine the Nazarene driving drunk down the Pacific Coast Highway, speeding in a luxury car, spouting insults at police officers. The worst effect this incident has had is the trivializing of the spiritual grace Gibson had been granted.

The moment he realizes how he squandered this most precious of gifts, he will weep... privately, without his entourage.

Religion's zealotry - the violent insanity that surpasses ordinary nationalistic prejudice - is particularly painful to witness

For some reason, the whole Middle East mess makes me remember one poignant event that now accents the enormity of civilization's loss. When the United Nations was founded and its new headquarters built in New York, every nation in the world contributed a gift to decorate the structure. Iran sent a large silk Persian rug for the lobby. The rug became a hazard. It was so beautiful that no one would step on it and so the traffic skirted around the edge of the lobby. The secretary general had to order that it be taken up and hung on the wall. It was said that when the sun struck it, the carpet glowed like jewels.

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