Category Archives: Religion

Call me Noah

Carol has recently been in contact with her mother’s brother, Bernie.  Bernie and his wife now live in Los Vegas.  Before that they lived on Long Island.  I visited their house years and years ago.  It was a nice house and they had a pool too.  Bernie also had a bug zapper that sat near the pool.  Bernie counted the bugs as they flew into the zapper and got zapped.  The house was East Coast style, upstairs, downstairs, and dark.  Small windows protect against the cold I guess.  Now they have a lot of sun in Vegas.

Bernie is pretty religious and when he heard Carol did not have a Hebrew name he gave her one.  By what powers he did so, I don’t know.  I don’t care either.  Maybe the power of an Uncle.  That’s enough I think.

Anyway, Carol’s Hebrew name is Chayva which means “life.”  I felt left out and told Carol I wanted a Hebrew name too, so Bernie gave me one.  I am now Noah which means more or less “laws of humanity.”  It’s easier to have a Hebrew name as a gentile like me than it is to have one and be Jewish.  Apparently to be worthy of her Hebrew name a Jewish person must fulfill 613 Commandments.  That seems like a lot of Commandments to me.  I don’t even know how a person could keep track of them.  As a gentile to be worthy of a Hebrew name I have only to fulfill the seven Noahide Laws. Which are as follow:

* Idolatry is forbidden. Man is commanded to believe in the One G-d alone and worship only Him.

  * Incestuous and adulterous relations are forbidden. Human beings are not sexual objects, nor is pleasure the ultimate goal of life.

  * Murder is forbidden. The life of a human being, formed in G-d’s image, is sacred.

  * Cursing the name of G-d is forbidden. Besides honoring and respecting G-d, we learn from this precept that our speech must be sanctified, as that is the distinctive sign which separated man from the animals.

  * Theft is forbidden. The world is not ours to do with as we please.

  * Eating the flesh of a living animal is forbidden. This teaches us to be sensitive to cruelty to animals. (This was commanded to Noah for the first time along with the permission of eating meat. The rest were already given to Adam in the Garden of Eden.)

·        Mankind is commanded to establish courts of justice and a just social order to enforce the first six laws and enact any other useful laws or customs

 Some of these are pretty easy.  No incest is pretty easy since I don’t have anybody to commit incest with.  I haven’t murdered—and don’t plan to—anybody.  Also I don’t steal.  But some of the others might give me trouble, especially the one about taking His name in vain.  But I suppose I could forgo His name and just say Jesus Christ, Sweet Jesus, or Jesus H. Christ  when I am pissed.  I don’t think Jewish people would mind.

Second Thoughts

On second thought, I think my theology is off re: the Book of Judas.

The book begins sort of oddly:

One day he was with his disciples in Judea, and he found them gathered together and seated in pious observance. When he [approached] his disciples, [34] gathered together and seated and offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread, [he] laughed.

The disciples said to [him], “Master, why are you laughing at [our] prayer of

thanksgiving? We have done what is right.”

He answered and said to them, “I am not laughing at you. <You> are not doing this because of your own will but because it is through this that your god [will be] praised.”

They said, “Master, you are […] the son of our god.”

Jesus said to them, “How do you know me? Truly [I] say to you, no generation of the people that are among you will know me.”

THE DISCIPLES BECOME ANGRY

When his disciples heard this, they started getting angry and infuriated and began

blaspheming against him in their hearts.

I say “oddly” because I just don’t recollect Jesus laughing at his disciples in the Bible that I read growing up.  In fact I don’t remember him laughing at all.  Satan is the Joker, and Christ is pretty far from being a merry prankster.

Christ at the Sermon on the Mount:  “Ladies and Germs.  Take these fishes! Please!”

Christ to Lazarus:  “Be leavened and rise!”

He just doesn’t have the material.

And odd too because I don’t remember the Disciples blasheming Him in their hearts.

But as to the theology, I argued that the Book of Judas was not about a guy named Judas but an attempt to work out a theological issue about God being all-knowing.  I think that was wrong.  I think it has to do more with the issue of pre-destination.  Christ laughs because the disciples are all swollen up with the idea that they are praying; when in fact it’s God’s voice working through them.  Or as the Reverend Roper of the Ora, ARP said, God laid it all down in every detail at the foundations of the world before the Beginning of Time.

Torches of Freedom

Sister in Law Teresa went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls that were passing through San Diego and found them fascinating.  This got me to thinking about all the new things archeologists are turning up using new imaging techniques.  Parchment was hard to come by and sometimes people would scrape off what was written on a piece of parchment and then write something new.  Now they have methods to see what was previously written.

I don’t think this was true of the Book of Judas.  But I started thinking that probably writing the Book of Judas was no small matter.  First you had to have the parchment and then you had to be able to write. I wonder how many people were literate in those days. 

But somebody must have felt some sort of commitment to writing the Book of Judas.  First I thought maybe Judas had some relative who was pissed off about the bad things that were being said about him and that this relative wanted to set straight things straight and clear his relative’s name.  But that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because a person was not going to reach much of a mass audience with one piece of parchment.

Back then writing a book was sort of like sending a message in a bottle.  You wrote it and maybe someday, somebody, somewhere would find it and read it.  No publisher was going to pick it up and advertise like:  Exclusive!  Book of Judas!  The Real Story!  The Record Set Straight.  The author of the Book of Judas was not going to appear on talk shows and tell people why he or she had written it.

So I took a quick look at the Book, and it’s not really about a guy named Judas at all.  Rather, Judas is a sort of symbol that is part of a larger more theological issue that runs something like:  if Jesus was the son of God, wouldn’t he have known everything that was going to happen and if so how did Judas sneak up on him and betray him like that. So the Book really was an attempt to do some reasoning on a tricky issue.

The Book says that Jesus told Judas to betray him and that in asking Judas to perform this task Jesus was showing Judas a signal honor.  You, Judas, are worthy enough to betray me.  So Judas did it.  And in a way, he was a hero for doing it, since his good name was pretty well screwed for all eternity.

So that settles the theological issue.  Jesus did know what Judas was going to do since they ask him to do it.   Indeed, God was speaking through Judas.

The downside though is that Jesus comes off seeming like one hell of a PR man.  Reminds me of Edward Bernais.  The tobacco companies ask him back in the 1920’s to figure out how to sell cigarettes to women (because there was a social taboo against women smoking).  The suffragettes were having a parade and Bernais hired a group of socialites to march along and at one moment they all lit up together.  Bernais had press on hand and told the socialites to call cigarettes torches of freedom or independence.  It was all a set up but the event appeared in papers all over the country as real; consequently the sale of cigarettes to women soared.

Of course, Bernais was not crucified, though maybe he should have been.

Blissfully Unaware

That my particular death thing may have a biochemical element doesn’t mean that there isn’t more generally some sort of death thing.  People die of course and I can’t help but see death as the central defining fact of what was called, when I was going to college, human experience, as contrasted with animal experience.

cat 

 I am fairly certain my cat is not haunted by its own morality or is in any way remotely aware of the fact that it will cease to be and is therefore unaware even that it exists.  I know my cat “is” but I don’t think she does.  

She might, if attacked, “fear for her life,” but I think really that she is instinctively afraid of damage that might come to her but not of the possibility of her non-being.  I think cats may grieve but not because something is dead but because something is gone or missing. That this missing thing, if dead, can never return just doesn’t figure into her calculations.

So death, the fact and the awareness of the fact, is something particularly human, perhaps even the central defining characteristic of what being human is.  If I may say that.  One’s death is always in the future, so death is bound up intimately with the capacity of the human brain to look into the future.  Or, let us say, since no one can look into the future, that because of an awareness of the future, human beings have long wished to look into it, to predict, by means of such things as astrology or palm reading or auguring from the guts of animals, what might be.

This awareness—that there is a future—is what has allowed human beings, not to predict it, or look into it, but to prepare, on the basis of memory, for it.  It is as if civilization or society, as a collective construction, is built to live past any particular human being and to represent in that way a transcendence of death of the individual.

We are perhaps not that different from the Egyptians.  We too build our pyramids in which to bury ourselves.

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My cat remains blissfully unaware that it exists. 

Continue reading Blissfully Unaware

Rationalization

fosterfreeze

So what with the death thing and the “serious” novels I was starting to read around that time, I began to think I was profound or deep maybe or something like that, and other people of course were not.   So while they all went off to the prom, or got drunk and drove around in their cars doing whatever, I was at home in my room alone and thinking deep thoughts, while they were off doing the trivial things high school kids did back in 1962. That was a pretty good rationalization of my social ineptness—that word isn’t strong enough—though not good enough to keep me from feeling pretty damn out of it on occasion.

Not out of exactly, just lost.  I didn’t know enough about what I was missing in the form of a “normal” high school social life to feel out of it.  So I just trucked on with the death thing like a monkey on my back.  Sometimes, I figured, though this was later on, that I was born in the wrong century.  Maybe I should have been born back in the 19th century when half of all kids didn’t make it past ten years old.  Or maybe even earlier than that, back during the Middle Ages, during the plague when people were dying all over the place.  Hell, I could have become a priest and fit right in.  I could have gone around giving sermons on the ever present presence of death and how this life was a veil of tears and soul making and so forth, and really gotten my heart and soul into it.

But in California in 1966, it didn’t look like anybody was dying.  I had at that time only met one dead person and that was my poor cousin that I didn’t like very much.  And since nobody was doing it, nobody was talking about it.  I don’t remember the topic popping up in any sort of casual conversation, as in, oh by the way, but isn’t death sort of terrible.  I couldn’t find a way to introduce my obsession into conversations about cars, sports, girls, and getting drunk.  There just wasn’t a niche anywhere in the social ecological system of high school for a kid who went around thinking about death all the time.  And since nobody was doing it—dying I mean—my bringing up the subject was likely to be taken as a conversational downer.

This is all mixed up with any manner of chicken and egg problems.  Did the death thing—since it really did exist, and I wasn’t faking it—keep me from fitting in?  Or was the death thing a kind of rationalization of my lack of fit.  Or maybe I really just didn’t fit in because I thought too much and was the only kid at my high school to have read Crime and Punishment and the death thing was a way of feeling there was something special or different in me that could justify my persistent sense of isolation.

 

That’s a picture of non-dead young people back in 1962 hanging out at the burger joint and looking as if they are auditioning for American Graffiti.

That Old Death Thing

The death thing didn’t really hit me till high school, my sophomore year, I think.  Sure I was aware of death and had some inkling of what it meant.  The A-bomb scare had scared me plenty. But that might have been more the fear of being incinerated.  Actually, while I was aware of death, up until high school I think I felt it was something that mostly happened to other people.

hghschool64 

But one day walking home from school, quite near it in fact, I am cutting across an empty lot to get to the road and I see this piece of glass on the ground and the sun hits it and makes a sparkle and out of nowhere I know that I am going to die.  Put the emphasis on the “I.”  I can still see the moment—though I can’t say when it was—in my mind’s eye, and the realization that I, one day, would not be didn’t fill me with fear or horror exactly but more with a sense of liberation. 

Freedom!  I felt there was a part of me, the part that died, that ultimately “they” could not get to.  This part—the part that went when I was gone—was inviolate and beyond damage by other hands.  I thought of this part as being microscopic.

This is a bit vague, I expect, and I bit strange considering I experienced by new aware of my death as a kind of liberation.  Maybe this was an occult form of presuicidal ideation; death was the way out, but a way with no way to get back.  Also, I want to stress, this was not some sort of feeble cognition, as in according to so and so, or feeble rumor has it: people die.  No, the awareness came with a distinct sensation; and it was not a sensation I could just call up through some ritualistic incantation. It had to come of its own accord, as it did four or five times in my first couple of years of high school.

And, then…it went away.  I have read about mystical experiences and perhaps this was a sort of inverted or perverted form of one of those—a mystical experience I mean.  If I experienced my self as safe and inviolate because microscopically small perhaps that’s because I was in touch with the horrendously large.  So according to Freud, I regressed at those moments to the oceanic feeling, itself evocative of a union with all, in the form of a return to the womb. 

This is all mixed up.  But I feel as if I summoned up a genie that I have never been able to get back in the bottle.  OK, the first few times felt strangely liberating; since then that has not been the case.  The genie now looks like a big, fat, smelly toad sitting in the middle of the room.  Every now and then, it burps to remind me of its gaseous presence.

So every day since that first time I think of death.  Sometimes more, sometimes less.  Lately.  More.

 

That’s a picture of the high school I went to.  It opened for business in 1962, the year of my mystical experience.  You can’t see it in the picture, but down by the road, off to the right was a field with weeds growing on it.  That’s where I had my first mystical experience.

God’s Frozen People

ora

I became a Presbyterian, one of God’s frozen people, before I was two years old. I went every Sunday to the little ARP (Associate Reformed Presbyterian) Church; until I was five maybe I went to the basement where Sunday school was.  But after that I had to go upstairs and sit with the adults through the service.  About the only thing to look forward to was the singing.  So as soon as I sat down I would check the page numbers up on the bulletin board sort of thing and see what songs were on for that day.

When we got to California my parents decided I should go to catechism class. I had no idea what that was for, except that it had something to do with being a Presbyterian.  My parents never bothered to explain a damn thing to me, and I had learned long before that asking them to explain an order was a sure fire way to get into hot water.  And I didn’t mind all that much.  It was on a Saturday morning, the walk there was about a mile and a mile back, and plus the class.  So if I fudged a little I could stay out of that stinking house for about two hours.  Not bad.

I was worried though that I would have to sit down in front of that red-faced Minister and answer tough questions like why do you want to be a Presbyterian, or what does it mean to be a Presbyterian, or how is a Presbyterian different from a Baptist.  I didn’t have answers to any of those questions, so when I got there I was relieved to see (of course, why didn’t I think of that) at least a half dozen other boys and girls were there and the class wasn’t run by the minister but some pimply faced high school kid.

All that was involved really was reading and a little memorizing, and on the last day we met, the minister would come and talk to us a bit and we would be catechized, or whatever it was.  I figured I would pass catechism class hands down.

One Saturday some women came.  One of them was wearing a red dress.  I don’t remember that sort of thing, so they must have really impressed me.  They started talking about these other people who said they were Christians but really weren’t.  These people were like sheep and when they went into the Church they would actually get on their knees before the top dog, and say the same words he did like they were robots.  And when it came to communion, this top dog would drink actual wine, an alcoholic beverage, and moreover he would drink all the wine for all the people and after two or three services this guy would be drop dead drunk, rolling around and braying like an ass.

I had no idea what these ladies were talking about.  But I figured I would look up the word, papist, when I got home

 

Continue reading God’s Frozen People