Enemies of pragmatism, friends of pragmatism

There is little room for pragmatism when your adversary has religious ideology on his or her side.

by Jake Perron

I could nearly feel the seismic undulations coming from Thomas Jefferson’s grave in Virginia after reading Osama bin Laden’s most recent message to the United States. And I can’t even begin to speculate how many of my father’s deceased ancestors would haunt my walls once they discover I’ve been ruminating on the similarities between the new bin Laden tape, the ranting of Bill O’Reilly and a predicament my father faced with two monks who thought they were Alfred Hitchcock, sans psychoanalytic sentiments, on a low-budget film set this past summer.

My father is addicted to hobbies. From fly-fishing to scuba diving, he devotes scrupulous attention to each and every hobby and strives for nothing less than excellence in those pursuits. Having been a cinephile his entire life, he recently decided to put the cigars and fishing poles on hiatus, bought a video camera and editing software as an attempt to become the next Charles Ferguson. (After spending the majority of his life in the software development industry, Mr. Ferguson recently made his mark in the film industry with the award-winning documentary “No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq.”)

The main difference between these two cinematic greenhorns is that Mr. Ferguson teamed up with a professional and award-winning crew, whereas my father’s company was a couple of monks “who want to play baseball, yet don’t have any bats and expect their gloves to fall from the sky,” as he says.

What the monks did have was a vision, and with all the time in the world on their side, they were ready to obsessively pursue this new endeavor. From the very beginning, my father’s pragmatism and devotion to excellence collided with the monks’ idiosyncratic approach to life’s demand for schedules.

“Who is the editor?” my dad queried.

“Not sure,” the monks replied nonchalantly, as if division of labor was foreign to them.

“Don’t we need copyright permission for that David Beckham poster in the background?” My dad continued.

“Not sure,” came the monks’ reply.

“How do you want this scene shot?” asked my dad, once again looking for some sparkle of input.

Naturally, these monks replied, “Not sure, but please stop stressing, Jim. Everything will work out if God wants it to.”

The glamour of his new hobby began to fade, as did his devotion to excellence, and patience as a virtue flew out the window.

Nerves were always on end with these pseudo-Hitchcockian monks, devoting the majority of their time to arguing how to dress the set with empty beer cans, and calling for infinite takes from the actress walking down a hallway. My father nearly self-combusted when these guys called him moments after the day’s shoot because they had forgotten to get a shot of the actress opening a door; they needed him to drive 30 miles back to the location. By this point, he had adopted the monks’ nonchalance and decided God didn’t want him on the road.

Much like Anne Hathaway’s submission in “The Devil Wears Prada,” my father kowtowed and put up with their farcical demands, believing the ends outweighed the means. How else would he be able to retain any sort of integrity while viewing the monks directing an over made-up amateur actress holding a pig-headed turkey pouring forth raw hamburger? Oy vey!

As pragmatic as my father may be, he was trapped by the monks’ belief that God was on their side and divine intervention was occurring on this set. There was nothing that he could say or do to entice the monks to accept the least bit of responsibility. Who would take any responsibility while believing the Omnipotent was guiding them?

I am not insinuating that maleficience is innate to religion. Nor am I accusing these monks of consciously preying on poor ol’ Dad. I do believe, however, there is a conflict when practicality and truth are subverted by piety.

Fortunately, the only thing affected by these monks’ pious approach was my father’s temperament. Unfortunately, similar abuses of religion are all too prevalent in our everyday lives, with often far more devastating repercussions.

When I read the transcript of Osama bin Laden’s most recent message to the United States, I thought about my father. Bin Laden spoke of democracy’s failures. He postulates that one resolution to end the war is for his “brothers to escalate and continue the fighting and killing.” Asking unbelievably for “Allah to grant them victory and resolve.”

Bin Laden also invited Americans to recognize the deterioration of their democracy and therefore begin searching for an alternative, “and this alternative is Islam,” the great practitioner of Islam advised.

Bin Laden’s message also reminded me of one of the few noteworthy sentences from Bill O’Reilly’s column archives:

“No nation can impose order on a population that believes God requires them to murder people.”

Obviously, these monks did not direct any orders for murder. I do believe, however, there is a similar oratorical predicament at hand. Unless you’re blessed with the intelligence of Richard Dawkins, or the wit of Christopher Hitchens, there is little room for pragmatism when your adversary has religious ideology on his or her side.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God.” But, “It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.”

For their next production, these monks will either have to pray for gloves to fall from the sky, or catch up on their Jefferson.

Jake Perron welcomes comments at [email protected]