Friday, April 6, 2007

Pigs, PETA, Porky's, Pesach & me.

Or, the Consolations of Philosophy. My hours of Good Friday-meets-Passover afternoon chock full o'thoughts begin with a painted pig on a swap meet wall and wander long into Big Questions to stumble again into pigs and kosher.

From the Blue Line as it stops at Vernon station, La Michoacana swap meet stands overlooking Long Beach Boulevard along the tracks. On my train rides a couple of years ago, I used to notice most the painted signboard above the little entrance "LITTLE KIDS: Articulos para todos los ninos." (I can't add the tilde.) Still under the litigious aim of a certain Walt D's fighter planes manned by lawyers intent on obliterating any unsanctioned trace of certain quasi- anthropomorphic animated characters known to billions as one of their first identifiably named toddler sights, Mickey M and Donald D drive toy cars under the large lettering. Now, however, I tend on said commute to ponder as the train halts the few seconds where the window frames the other side of the sign. CARNICERIA. Not much needed here for explanation. A steer looks out from the right-hand drawn circle; a pig from the left. The pig, white, gazes patiently, wistfully.

Vernon, if you go up Soto, passes on the right the Farmer John slaughterhouse. Vin Scully used to assure us during pauses in the Dodger games that their products were "easternmost in quality, westernmost in flavor." See, the West always has this inferiority complex. Analogy: America is to Britain as the Western US is to the ___. Still, we get the snazz (a word I discovered yesterday comes from sneachta, snow in Irish and by extension "polished" surface dazzling viewer turned admirer) if not the craft in typical fashion also extending my analogy.

On the entire side of the building, you see only a vast mural: green fields with cavorting children, black and white, and pigs frolicking, understandably eager to stay out of reach of the pursuing lads. This makes me every time, which is rarer now than when I taught in South Gate and used this route to get north through East LA back to Echo Park and then our other truer Eastside home being east of the LA River, wish I had the fortitude and the palate to be a vegetarian, or at least a non-meat muncher. I can't say I have much compassion for fish and chickens; birds don't move me much either. But quadrupeds prove often more expressive, less bulging dots as eyes and rounder, again humanized gazes.

However, Clarabelle the Cow was an early failure in the Walt D ratings. Cows and the like did not tug the cinemagoers' hearts and tickle urchins' chins as did mice and ducks. Porky was from the rival W. Brothers, yes-- a studio more aggressive and smart-ass than the prissier Walt D's. (An aside: yesterday an unlicensed illegal immigrant (don't know, stern PC-ers, if he was working "sin papeles" as "undocumented") with .024 alcohol in his system drove his SUV in the wrong direction at 2:30 a.m. to kill on PCH a film director and his son. The Times had a typical LA moment: headline on the second page of their article: "Director of Classics 'A Christmas Story' & 'Porkys' Dies in Accident." This whole "Crash" scene sums up much in my hometown today.

What adds to this scene is that the article explained that director Clark based "Porky's" on his own 1950s teenaged reminiscences growing up (sic) in Florida. In less fevered scenes, I did grow up as "Kennel Boy," in my spouse's estimation, in surroundings not dissimilar to the industrial zones in which slaughterhouses, tool-and-die shops, or concrete pre-fab walled blocks churn out whatever widget has not been sent off to be made in China for a twentieth of the price to send back to us. So, what's my point? I'm getting there.

Anybody who shares my predilection for "spontaneous divination" (a mental activity I had no external verification of until I read Yukio Mishima's "The Sound of Waves" where the protagonist bases his decision on whether crows he happens to glimpse up at will touch down on telephone wires at a certain moment or not) may understand my madness' method. (As I type, a Northern Irish punk-metal band, Therapy?, sings "Jesus without the suffering" as Good Friday enters the second hour of its three-hour afternoon period of introspection.) I came home thinking about the painted pig. I then was mulling over the fact that I had not eaten much meat lately, enhanced by the modifications that Pesach exacts from our regular fare. Niall came home and I showed him his junk mail, a PETA questionnaire with two "gifts" inside. I told him that his mother (unlike surely both grandmothers of his) always followed a rule that she would not avail herself of such a gift unless she contributed to the cause sending the "gift."

I suggested that he fill out the questionnaire, for if he wanted the address labels and stickers, it only made sense as The Right Thing to Do. He did, and he and I both pondered the predictably phrased questions to which certain yes-or-no answers appeared, to say the least, very unlikely. Especially considering the target demographic. It reminded me of some Orwellian trap or the litany of inquiries offered to passersby of Hollywood Blvd. or a related site on the former Berendo-meets-Sunset corner of LA. The choices seemed as predetermined as a yes-vote for the Politburo or Saddam or our local gerrymandered Latino Democratic pols. Leo had recruited his brother into the ranks of the newly evangelized making a stand for PETA against cruelty to our animal companions during big brother's brief coming out as a Non-Meat Eater. I did admire the effort that he stuck to this conviction for a few weeks last summer after he came back from the Minnesota State Fair shaken by gazes similar to that of the painted pig.

Little brother has not finished the survey, or at least did under mom's supervision upstairs out of my earshot, but it's magnetized to the fridge today. We were not sure how to send the dollar he wanted to donate. His parents feared entering a demographic niche that opened us to telephoned, e-mailed, and perhaps personal doorstep earnest methods of sophisticated market research (see previous blog entry on Claritas, for example) assault by implied consent.

To think that my dear spouse on one of our first if not the first farings of fare featured at her little Echo Park cottage offered me, as her druthers then, a veggie repast I could not literally eat. You know me and lettuce and the like and my (thanks to son number one inheriting said trait and the concurrent mid-1990s-era proliferation of billable medical conditions now called Sensory Integration Disorder rather than my wife's term "simply being an asshole") reaction.

I tried, I really tried. If I could live on pasta, bread, granola, and grains I would happily forego meat. This reminds me. I have been making my own giant jar of trail mix for my own SID-enhanced taste buds. Cheaper than the speciality bags at TJ's, and most nuts tend to irritate my lips. I guess I pioneered the now-rampant epidemic of childhood food allergies. I shake up the sum of a bag or so each of pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, macadamia nuts or soy nuts, blackcurrants or raisins, dried cranberries or cherry bits, and last batch packing-materialish chunks of dehydrated pineapple and strawberries as a healthier if not less fattier snack mid-day rather than roaming for cookies as is my lifelong want. This is only my second batch ever. The first was saltier and had the mac nuts; I opted for this one to have more fruit and nearly no salt. Diet demands discipline.

After the break, I regain energy. Here come the Big Questions. Curves ahead.

The questions I ask myself today of why I diet, why I follow the rules I impose upon myself although they are not of my invention lead to larger concerns. I cannot say I regard any truth beneath what we humans fumble about with as a window into the ineffable and the "event horizon" of our impending individual and eventually universal oblivion that seems our realm's likely fate. We live in a universe that is .4 visible matter, .26 dark matter, .74 dark energy. Astronomers now doubt we can find out much, as opposed to guessing and sadly calculating about the 96% we cannot see. They tell us we may simply have to accept our inability to know it all. By our very nature we are limited.

Universes could have popped in and out of existence without any prime mover or uncaused cause, contrary to Genesis or Aquinas or Aristotle. Scientists more skilled in these matters than the writers of Leviticus tell us that there are 125 billion galaxies in our universe, the one that our ancient forebears conceived of as fixed stars and rotating planets in a heavenly ceiling, a firmament revolving about us like the panorama above us at a darkened planetarium. Loss of a human-centered or God-centered world leaves us bereft. I sound like Beckett. (Read concerning this existential condition John Calder's thoughtful and poignant book "The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett"-- of course it's reviewed by me on Amazon.) Three thousand years later, our cosmology charts not a tidy sphere sheltering us but a vast universe 70 billion light years across, judge of our immense insignificance, our accidental existence, our fragile planet.

I sense as I write this how far I have travelled from the afternoons I stood in a cool and fragrant church before a veiled altar and covered statues to kneel and kiss an extended cross. More and more I admire those who do have this belief. Of all people, I read Maeve Binchy in a recent "Irish Voice" interview lament her own loss of faith, suddenly, forty years ago. She told the interviewer she was not liberated, rather regretful, that this absence had entered her life, but she could not deny it. Why do we persist in our rituals, our reconstruction of Celtic tree calendars or lunar charts adding up full moons to align our drifting selves along some plumbline? Even if we are holding each end, or our ancestors, or our fellow congregants rather than angels or the aura of departed Cú Chullain or the well-named Ein Sof. More and more I share perhaps for my mental health and spiritual stability if not as a theologically consenting witness in what my dear wife has also acknowledged, the Shekinah, the feminized presence of a divine force.

Fitting that in sex and longing and dreams and reveries and happiness and doubt this force arises most powerfully. It may not be generated beyond the sum whispers of our gliding prayers, our sighs, our endearments and our own curses. I don't know any more than you do. Some of you may have faith as I once had. Many of you probably don't, perhaps as the cliché goes God has not moved away but we have moved away from the divine. Do I still have the "gift of faith," as aptly phrased, or not? Is my fascination with what Rudolf Otto in "The Idea of the Holy" called the "numinous" my evidence of belief, or only my wish for such? But, as when a pothead claims to have entered the doors of perception and viewed the ultimate truth, how do we know that any vision we generate is beyond the feeble pulse of our own minds, however chemically altered by endorphins, THC, or enlightenment? I think the Buddhists were on to it, the more I age. Getting ready for your annihilation rather than your salvation. Helping others along the way into this emptiness if needed as a generous gesture of shared humanity rather than divine commandment before you too plunge into the unutterable. Accepting the wheel.

Boethius, waiting for execution in a Roman prison, at the start of what he would not have called the Middle Ages, after offending his supposed "betters,", wrote the Consolations of Philosophy. He urged one's acknowledgment of one's limits, physical and spiritual. For him philosophy gave bow to her better, Theology, in good Christian etiquette. Still, he gave more credit than the first five centuries of Christianity often had to her Greek forebears' own considerable effort in working out the same problems I and you must about our existence and our predicament as mortal prisoners facing our own green mile, neither knowing the time or the hour or even being able to choose our last meal, except in rare circumstances that Socrates or Gary Gilmore shared.

This late Roman and early medieval bureaucrat was one of the popularizers, in his own diligent effort to escape if not the actual than his metaphysical fetters, of the image that symbolized what the Rotam Fortunae promised medieval man: regnabo regno regnavi. I reigned, I reign, I will reign. This depiction showed the Queen of Fate. Back then her hand may have been seen to have been in turn a marionette under control of the Almighty Master. Now we may see Fortuna as the whirling of the string-theory and quantum-physical universe of time and space. The man lowly raised himself as the wheel spun and then by no power of his own the wheel lowered himself and his fate again shifted, and all the litanies and novenas and devil's pacts mattered not.

Romanticized or dramatized, however, nearly all of us possess an awareness beyond ourselves. This does not prove its divine origin, much as I wish it did. I recognize without condescension that billions out there hold the opposite view, that our wish speaks to its inevitable fulfillment. But there is a sense that wafts above all of us, around us, in both our inspired and our infernal moments. Whether this emanates from a divine origin beyond our .4% verifiable perspective or not is impossible to tell. Does it matter if I believe in its extra-terrestrial source? My belief or its lack will not conjure up or extinguish the unseen Creator of the Universe one way or the other. Whatever we fail to see may be perpetually or at least temporally beyond our ken, from the inconceivable .96%

John Hick, who has thought about the questions of the ultimate similarity of the faiths many share and developed over a long theological career the concomitant denial that any religion holds the key that alone will unlock the door to a reward, earlier wrote a classic study, "Death & Eternal Life." (I think of Hans Kung-- umlaut needed-- and his more realistic title "Eternal Life?") He suggests the thought-experiment of two souls, or whatever they are, after they die. One believes in immortality, the other doesn't. They round the perceptual corner. One is proven right. Either the New Jerusalem, the Celestial City, awaits as the desired prospect or nothing looms at all. Only the void. A Buddhist once assured someone as fearful as me: were you afraid before you came into this world? No. Therefore why should you be afraid of what is to come?

Yes, but does this not depend upon a post-mortem awareness anyway? I know Hick works this into his argument. He's only human. How else can we grapple with a moment we do not know exists or ever will, much as we hope it will or insist upon its culmination. Hick's merely delaying the moment of death and imagining from our .4% desperation the moment that follows, a moment that consumes itself into extinction, a non-Teilhardian event-horizon without a noousphere. Paleontologist and Jesuit: the right combination for his eidetic model. He hoped for our absorption, evolving as beings into the Other's embrace at last. Abbé de Chardin knows now if the Celestial City beckons. Or he knows nothing, and can know nothing. Rest in peace, Father.

Contrast this to an earlier French thinker. Blaise Pascal's wager always struck me as insincere. If God is out there, why would such a power condemn us for not acknowledging what we cannot know truly in our .4% state? Einstein cautioned that "God does not play dice," that the universe follows rules. So, does this not upend the Pascalian thought-experiment that tries to outwit God as if "He" is the Devil and we are a backsliding, finger-crossing Faust trying to renege on the eternal deal and find an out? Pascal suggests we believe if only because otherwise we have a lot to lose, and if we're wrong, there's no problem anyhow. Clever as a philosopher should be. But this does not prove anything. In that sense it is a more "modern" answer than Boethius could have at least outwardly dared to suggest, even if he was already doomed! On the other hand, why should we merit eternal life among the mites and lice and dogs and pigs who we claim decline into dust while we somehow in our rarified semi-divine essence are given the chance to become better than all the life around us, to rise up into resurrection and fulfillment in a manner denied simpler and less embittered or less deluded forms of life evolved over 1.7 billion years of our own universe one among many?

This is news to nobody. We all have to work out our own narrative arc, an ending we will never know even as we act as the protagonist against the antagonist whose victory we cannot thwart. In the meantime, during our few decades, most of us enter into the arc and complicate it mightily with 613 mitzvot and a decalogue and 113 sura or 900 names of God. It's a game that some of us find we like to play as children and many of us keep playing as adults. A natural game, like our imaginary friend once invited us to enjoy. This mental invention of a religious superstructure that springs out of our projection outside of ourselves into a greater entity that solves what we cannot seems to be a natural neural construct,. At least according to Daniel Denning's recent "Breaking the Spell." (See my Amazon review! I don't agree all with Denning or Sam Harris-- in my review of his "The End of Faith"-- but both studies provoke and upend as they are meant to do in Voltaire-like fashion the conventions of the regime we live under.)

Now, why then, Denning asks, has the religious impulse survived then, if it is not "objectively" true? He suggests it gives us an advantage in grappling with our mortality, bonding with others for altruism, and attracting others of a healthier mindset with whom we can mate and breed similarly tending offspring passing on this trait. Harris wishes impossibly that if each parent could tell his child the truth, there would be no more religious dissension or metaphysical delusion. But how could each parent step out of his or her own belief system to grasp some objective, rational, Penn & Teller, assertion of the falsity of the supernatural? Denning perhaps, although it complicates and confuses his argument, at least allows some common ground with the authors (See my reviews!) of the misleadingly titled "The God Gene" and "Why Religion Won't Go Away." These books counter that we have an in-built tendency that does not reveal the lack of a religious plane but instead explains why we generate one. Despite the titles of the last two books, neither one claims this "proves" any divinity, although foolish readers who cannot see past the titles (good for marketing, naturally as they caused me to peruse them!) fell into this predictable, and perhaps for the authors and publishers lucrative, trap. Frank Tipler among others has posited that we may rather live in a universe designed for our emergence and understanding of our selves within it according to an anthropic cosmological principle, but this seems to my feeble imagination a version of Anselm's ontological principle in that it sets up a deity in charge of it all to make its point while failing to prove that deity itself.

Religion sets up for us all, theologian, scientist, or mere blithering blogger a tremendously varied set of holes at a professionally commissioned luxury golf course for us to face. Religions: what are they but cleverly man-made obstacle courses? They are designed often long before we enter the scene. We often know little of their designers and few if any have met them who we can talk to. Hearsay and wishful thinking and rumor swirl about the intents of the architects of these vistas we face. These expanses ahead may take many years to trudge, and the eighteenth hole never seems much closer than when we started. The overall map of the course is hinted at but nobody's sure of what it really looks like from a firsthand view. Many think they have guessed the setup. The course challenges us to overcome our handicap and eventually despite sand traps of reason and watery graves of logic and dense thickets of doubt to beat these back and somehow hold out for the gold medal of redemption? Surely a more admirable goal than gold.

Did not Paul himself speak of running the race for such a prize? Paul also came to reject his people's practices on such days as Passover, replacing the tangible evidence of the seder with the transubstantiated sacrifice. Peter Wilson in his "Ideas" (see my review!) cites evidence that ties Greek resurrection and immortality concepts to Orphic cultic practices that may have entered into Pauline thinking. He also intriguingly if tenuously connects yoga with earlier quests to enter immortality and also wonders if magic mushrooms, more or less, fueled Orphic and earlier Middle Eastern journeys of bodies into their imagined souls in the Otherworld. In turn these too encouraged Greek and indirectly Hebrew conceptions by the Axial Age of immortality, salvation, and mystic transport into a higher form of existence. For Paul, in a vision, a blanket full of treyf was offered him to partake of. The Torah was superseded by the Eucharist. But is eating your god, as in Orphic and Orpheus devoured by the harpies, any less confusing than abstaining from camels or shrimp? I intellectually know the arguments that Jews make order, boundaries between categories. I admire Mary Douglas' seminal "Purity & Danger." She states that some of us try to impose clarity and distinctions, illogical as they may seem to an outsider. They have an internal sense even if it or because it goes against the norm of everyone else. Religions thrive on martyrs.

Apropos, the arguments over the Real Presence have felled many forests. Objectively, each holy action that we re-enact by definition is nonsensical. So with most religion-- isn't that the point? Beyond reason? Paul again urging his followers who also must have been jeered at to become "fools for Christ." Francis of Assisi as jocularus Dei. Hermits on mountaintops. Ss. Felicitas & Perpetua entering the arena singing hymns as they, barely women and at least one pregnant, face the lions. Hasidic rebbes posing as shetl loonies to make their parable's point sharper.

Silly as not eating pig or mixing meat and milk may logically be, it does remind one that not all the body or spirit longs for can be satisfied. The Jew and Muslim think the Mass a mumbo-jumbo of imaginary legerdemain. We ask the Hindu how they can see Vishnu in a cow. Wicca's claim that forces may be felt and reckoned with beyond our sight compels many to brand it devilish. The Christian cannot figure out what's the big deal about shellfish or beer. A certain entity calling itself a church for tax exemptions (not the first however) eschews psychiatry. But, billions go along with such restrictions. Some think they risk eternal expulsion from the comfort of God for violating even the fine print, let alone the posted sign. Many do not, but they still lend their support, nod their heads, go along half-wondering out of politeness, bemusement, loneliness, loyalty, love, fear, or indecision.

Think of all the grown-ups who persist in following practices even as they do not wholeheartedly and with "mental reservation" (as certain clergy recently were counselled in withholding information about molestations in our own Archdiocese, so as by canon law to protect the interests of said Church) sanction their divine origin. Is this the Pharisee prattling about in public and not the Publican going to his room to pray in private? The old look at hypocrite Tammy Faye or lying Jimmy Swaggart attack, the reflexive distrust of the message if its messenger falters, the Donatist heresy renewed? Are we guilty of adherence to the letter and not the spirit of the law? That old Christian canard against the Jews or anyone who wasn't their particular and ever-fragmenting Jesus-faithful, Gospel-truth, Magisterially-loyal denomination?

Or, is it a mature order in which we moderns assemble-- even if unaware-- our priorities? We follow that which has no reason not to be unreasonable but to witness to our inborn tendency towards that beyond reason. Why else do we get hungry? Why give in to momentary pleasure that results (until the Pill, gift of a Catholic Dr. John Rock in 1961!) in a lifetime of care for another weaker (at least for a decade or two) than us? Why adopt children, on the other hand, or bother to care for the frail? Denning may explain these drives for food and sex. Now unlike our biblical legalists we know these urges are rooted in actions 1.7 million (ability to take stones from quarry site and carry them to a site a mile-and-a-half distant to be made into tools showing future-oriented thinking's arrival) or (like our sweet tooth shows "sugar me animal want" and this spreads the seeds of the plants by crazed consumers further for dissemination in animal feces) 500 million years ago. But, logical as we otherwise pretend we are, we go along with the game. Character-building, that's the rationale we give for Little League and Sunday School. Parents tell their children their own version truth, even if this is not Harris' vision of a world of perfect atheists secure in their existential plight. Pilate to Jesus: "what is truth?"

(Even Jewish "non-Jew" Harris confesses in his book his admiration for Buddhism and meditation-- back to the one religion that denies God and therefore furthers its usefulness for many non-theistic or iconoclastic modern Jews-- secular or otherwise! I do wonder how Jews reconcile all those colorful statues of copulating deities., grimacing demons, and sinuous bodhisatvas with a desert-harsh Abrahamic practice shared with Islam of rejecting any idol or image of the divine presence, but I admit ignorance. My wife's correspondent Mr. Gould-Saltman, esq. might enlighten me. It may be akin to my distinction between worship of God versus veneration expressed by a parishioner to a Catholic saint or Mary, in plaster or idea.)

Back to my main point, we find ourselves drawn outside our own limits. We assemble often with others to bond in drawing a "fence around the Torah," to stock a church with statues and tapestries, to fill the office of a Jewish atheist with figures of the Buddah, or the determined invention (see a naturally reviewed J. C. Hallman's "The Devil is a Gentleman," a really misleadingly titled study of William James and American 20c religion's fringe movements) of new cults that may or may not grow into established religions. Hallman notes that atheists have their own symbol to put on military dogtags or their related graves, the letter A within an atom. Even non-believers, as Hallman studies well, create their own forms of organized observance. I guess Dennett (also a Jewish atheist I recall!) is right, not Harris? Denning might like Harris' suggestion to come true, but as we are hardwired, it may be impossible to evolve for a few million more years. (Arthur C. Clarke mused that in a thousand years, anyone professing belief in a deity will be committed by his stoic peers into an insane asylum.)

My fittingly if maddeningly endless expanding thoughts threaten to increase entropy in you the reader, by now, so I will retreat from the edge of my universal flight into infinity and beyond. Down to our insignificant planet and a few forms of its people's models for how the universe works under the rules we come up with, the debates between Sunni and Shiite, Sikh and Hindu, Episcopalian and Anglican Communion, do not shrink into inanity for me. Many think they do, but I confess we need a side to cheer for, no matter our team. We all bond, as Hallman documents, as American Atheists, neo-pagans in Seattle, seekers of UFO-laden Urania, as the monks of New Skete, or beatniks and hipsters defying everyone else as the Church of Satan!

Thus we prove our devotion to rules of the game. Worshipers or fans, we all are no less die-hard. We Dodger fans (except "play fair" spouse who should read what an uncaring, utterly immoral thug morally as well as mentally Mr. B. Bonds is in today's LA Times, non-Sports, front-page section feature) jeer Barry Bonds by we Dodger fans. Cubs fans pray for a pennant. Irish football fans along with me quiver over a Cup chance; the lowly Lions of Millwall-- a fan of which I am tangentially one by curious atavism-- actually managed as a true miracle if not to best than at least to play Man U in a Premier F.A. Cup 2004 Final. The reviled Memphis Grizzlies earned my affection after I saw them at my first and I hope last Lakers game take on LA's tawdriest. strutting, whorish, prima donna squad and at least hang in there, considering the hapless expansion team has the worst record in the NBA. Pakistan's cricket manager's murdered after Ireland (!) defeats the national team. My wife and I untangle the finer points of an article by Jane Kramer in the recent New Yorker about "The Pope and Islam." I take the pontiff's side rhetorically to argue against her! Even though I agree. Thomas Aquinas would have agreed with my methods if not their conclusion.

By these actions you will know us, in our bickering, sinful, idealistic, and fight-to-the-death combative spirit. We are as quick to condemn as commiserate, it seems. Few of us can nourish the cultivation of the peaceful and detached unless at an ashram or monastery, but nearly all of us know the respite such moments of fleeting insight give. Expulsion from the garden: a common story. How we got in the mess we're in. But we all recognize that submission to a power or lure none of us can explain. It impels us towards a goal always receding into the distance, as elusive as that Cubs Series win, or the Cleveland Indians for that matter. Why, then, keep trying?

We celebrate a pilgrimage for which no historical evidence exists. Passover and the flight that inspired Walt D's Dreamworks successors, who at least in surname remained MOT's, to voice Moses by Robbie Benson in admittedly moving animated and CGI'd magnificence as "The Prince of Egypt," is as legendary as the ancestors Queen Scotia of Egypt and Nial the Scythian scion who married that daughter of the cruel Pharaoh. Horrified at what he was doing to the Hebrews, Scotia fled her native land and with Nial sought the deserts of North Africa. And, as you can read in Bob Quinn's maddeningly argued but intriguingly suggestive "The Atlantean Irish" (you know where my review is), my tribal engenderers strayed along the Mediterranean until their offspring engendered my clan that eventually made it from Iberia northward. (For more lore, you can also look up my article in (gen. ed.) Seán Duffy's Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia under "The Jews in Ireland.")

So, Sam Harris, you who know not only philosophy but neurology, what do I tell my children about the truth of the Hebrew's origin myth? Professor Dennett, millions of the remnants of your own attenuated but still extant people still tell a story every spring that no book outside the Bible can document. Jews are told to enact the Exodus as if it happened anew, so as to renew it each of hundreds now of generations. What's the point, beyond a cheap Woody Allen joke?

Practically, if not verifiably, we need such hero stories. My more liberated bog-ancestors found them in our Connacht queen Medb so hungry for men's thrusts that thirty lined up "one in the shadow of another" could only slake her formidable lust. Cú Chullain with his complimentary orgasmic warp-spasm, Fionn Mc Cool and his Giant's Causeway, Scotia and her lonely grave in Kerry, Amergin's terrifyingly raw paean to nature's powers after landing as the first man on the shores of Erin: these are as powerful to me thousands of years later as are to my Jewish family the equally antiquated accounts that fill scripture. Passover recounts at the seder that old Jewish stubborness. The seder emphasizes the defiant, suicidal refusal of Moses to capitulate to the cruelty of the Pharaoh. Other times, we may recall Judah Macabee who cut down the Greek elephant as he was trampled in freedom fighter style that a "Celt" could understand, Judith who vamped Holofernes only to behead him, or Esther who similarly seduced Aheshvarus so as to win freedom or at least a chance for a bit of Stern Gang retribution against their Persian satraps. I will refrain from mentioning some arcane interpretations that rabbis gave to certain non-missionary activities they sanctioned between themselves and their wives. Suffice it to say the Hebrews (and the Irish once, hard as it is to believe until again recently, in a rapidly secularized nation) possessed much more catholic with a small c acceptance of the many ways two bodies can connect their spirits and their limbs than later Christians and Muslims allowed.

The truth has many forms, and not all of them may please the demands of academics like Dennett or rationalists like Harris. As an academic manque, I understand the requirements of scholarship and science. But, as an quondam Irishman once removed at least, I hearken to other needs for my own knowledge that defy facts and figures. So, back to ancient stories. Why do I return to them? Why do I study literature all these decades, as I lean towards non-fiction anyway? There's a yearning that only my imagination can kindle to warm my shrunken soul. Pesach, as Lent and fish sticks, or a theoretically non-alcoholic Saudi Arabia or a burger-less India or the Loma Linda Adventists with their nutburgers, reminds us of our mortal fragility.

My deep thoughts on metaphysical matters must pause for the body's satisfaction. I began this at 12:30 early in the three hours that Christians pause to reflect upon the Crucifixion, a day halfway through the Passover refrain from leaven and all those products somehow if illogically dragged in as being dreadfully liable to water-kisses-grain-spawns-yeast, the signs of moral determination mark millions today no less than they do banners and suspiciously-worded surveys from PETA. My fitful thoughts took longer to communicate than Jesus hung on the cross. I ended it at 5. But I did pause twice for mix-- the re-drawn fence around the Torah allowing sensibly and not illogically nuts being at last as of last year pesadik-- it being long past midday. Consummatum est.

1 comment:

Layne said...

Husband, I have never posted a comment on your blog before and I am surprised that you have a censorship thingie in place and that you will have to approve this before it is posted. What the fuck are you afraid I am going to say? That after all that warm and fuzzy waxing about bovine eyes you enjoyed for dinner tonight a steak the size of your head? Note to Miss Templeton--sadly, nothing as useful as a massage therapist, just an underemployed frequently grumpy man of letters.

And I have not finished reading this extraordinary essay which is so rich I will have to divide it to savor into small servings.

Plus I still expect you not to be an asshole before during or after party.