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I am as a stranger in a strange land

I’ve been in Jerusalem for about a week. It’s sort of like my trips to Germany… I don’t speak the language (and unlike Germany I can’t really decipher the signage; except that most f them here are tri-lingual, so I can * but not with any rapidity). As with Germany I don’t mark as being foreign (I suspect the beard I’ve grown since Sept. last, married to my hat-wearing habits, has something to do with this. {photo}), so I get a lot of Hebrew tossed at me when I do things like go for my morning coffee. This means I don’t feel out of place when walking about (which I sort of did when in Korea), but am at a moderate disadvantage when dealing with random interactions (which was not true in trips to Ukraine).
Jerusalem. Setting aside any religious sentiment I might have, it’s a city pregnant with meaning.  I was reared in the USA. I am a grandchild of Europe and a student of history. That, in itself will color one’s views. When Reagan said the US was a City on a Hill, he was making reference to Jerusalem. When people use the metaphor of “Crusade” it refers to Jerusalem. For a good three thousand years the ability to control trade has meant people fought for control of the city on these hills.

That’s on top of the religious significance three different groups attached to it. Which significance led to Rome’s most troubled province, and the revolt it had the hardest time suppressing **. Jerusalem was seen as the center of the world for a large part of the history which shapes the culture Westerners grow up in.

The same way being a Native English Speaker makes London something of a mental homeland, so too does being reared with a European perspective give a strange sense of place to Jerusalem.

But it’s more than that. We are here to visit family. My wife’s cousin has a son who is turning thirteen. We are here for his Bar Mitzvah.  So Israel, which is more than just Jerusalem is place to which I have a direct connection. A connection to which my christian sensibilities also disconnects, in more than a few ways.

But I am also, in many ways, a Californian. How does that relate?  The landscape, and the weather, are like unto  that of “home” (where home is that place one feels innately at ease, just by virtue of being present).  We went to Qumran, and thence to Masada. It was a day of rarity. Neither of our guides had ever been to the Dead Sea on a day of rain.  In Jerusalem the rain came down in buckets. In the wild hills above the sea there we had some rain and the smell of water on dusty rocks. Setting aside my views of the interpretations of the totality of the Dead Sea Scrolls *** I could see myself living a moderately hermetic life in the area. The climate, the smell, the appearance are all of piece to the places in Joshua Tree where I was wont to retire to collect my thoughts, when I was living in South-ish California. The hill about Judea, are as those I lived in San Luis Obispo, and wandered when I lived in the San Gabriel, and San Fernando Valleys.  Israel looks like home.

The day before we were in the Old City; though we didn’t go to the Christian Quarter (and I am mixed on visiting it, as I was already seeing pilgrims heading into Israel last week, and next week is Holy Week; which means crowds, married to the decided risk of encountering the sort of Fundamentalist American Christians I don’t enjoy being around when they are home. I don’t know how tolerant I can be of them here ****). But we went to the area of the Hulda Gate, and wandered the layered ruins, running a mixed gamut from the Umayyids, to the Second Temple and the Byzantines, and the Outre Mer and some First Temple. My spiritual landscape piled in heaps; with bits of order in the rubble.

Standing on the far edge of the Valley of the Cross, looking at the geography all the military history I’ve read: from the accounts in Kings, and Numbers, to Josephus,  and then the Crusades, and Lawrence, and Allenby and the War of Independence; et sequelae… all of it made plain by the way the hills, and walls, control the valleys. It’s a nexus; all trade passing here is controllable. That, married to religion, has made this small patch of dirt a cockpit for not less than 3,000 years.

Which brings us back to Masada, not the Masada of landscape
It’s a lot to digest.

 

 

*which is, like a Rosetta Stone, helping me acquire the skills to decipher the signs
** which is a large, if not the greatest, reason for the anti-semitism in the Gospels. Rome was REALLY pisssed at Judea. They expelled all the Jews from the province, and renamed it Palestinia. They tore out all the trees, and gave it over to grazing, changing the landscape, creating desert and altering the climate. They were doing this while the Ur-text of the Gospels were being written. Sympathetic treatments of Jews weren’t going to be any help in converting Romans to Christianity, but I digress.

*** I don’t think they are all the work of the sect in Qumran.  I think de Vaux engaged in a lot of overreach as he ascribed all the discovred texts to Qumran, and tried to shoehorn some very divergent ideas into a coherent whole. I think either they were texts brought with candidates to the group, and so discarded as not relevant (with the option to be reclaimed if they decided the community was not for them), or they were the valuable objects of people who were fleeing the chaos further North as rebellion approached, then raged.

**** I already had to bite my tongue at Katros’ House where someone tried to engage me in the horrors of American Divisions; given that they were giving off a strong Fundamentalist vibe.

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On Kim Davis

What a shitshow.

It’s being touted, by her supporters, as a test of religious conscience.  Bollocks. She’s being compared (if one can believe it) to Martin Luther King Jr.  Bollocks.

What she did was break the law.  What she did was violate her oath of office.  What she did was hold the law, the people, and her religion in contempt.  Yes, her religion. She is a county clerk.  In Kentucky that requires taking an oath, this oath:

Kentucky Oath“…I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor affection, or partiality so help me God.

So, she had a legal duty to issue licenses.  She had a court order to issue licenses.  She was legally bound to issue them.  She refused.

 

Why did she refuse?  She claims her religious belief is so strong that she couldn’t violate it.  That it was so strong she not only couldn’t violate it herself, but that she couldn’t stand by while other people violated what she sees as God’s law.  She feels so strongly about this she is willing to break God’s law to defend God’s law.

Thou shalt not take the Name of The Lord, thy God, in vain

So there you go.  Just what is it she’s fighting for?  The right to treat one group of people differently under the law.  That’s it.  The law doesn’t demand marriage as a sacramental rite be extended to everyone.  It commands that marriage as a civic right be.  Nothing in that requires her to violate her conscience, unless her conscience requires everyone in the pruview of her office conform to her religious practice.

That’s not any form of democratic government.  That’s a theocratic tyranny, where Kim Davis is the tyrant.

So she’s in jail because she chooses to be. The judge offered her an out; all she had to do was let her junior clerks sign the forms.  She isn’t “approving” any icky same-sex marriages.  All the judge demanded was she stop standing in the way of her staff,  “faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor affection, or partiality”. She refused that.

She violated her oath, refused to carry out the job she is required to do by law.  She merits no sympathy. Even if I agreed with her argument, I can’t agree with her lack of principle.  She swore an oath.  If she can’t live up to her promise to God, that she would carry it out, an honest person would resign.

She didn’t.


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On JCW and heresy:

Teresa Neilsen Hayden asked me to elaborate on a comment I made that John C Wright has heretical views on the nature of the Eucharist, Free Will, and the nature of the divine.
This is what he said.

“I was unaware that he [Nielsen Hayden] was a Roman Catholic. This is cause for immense hope. He could go tomorrow, nay, today, to a confessional booth, receive the sacrament, and save his darkened soul from damnation. He could take the host tomorrow, nay, today, and the evil spirit of malice, greed, stupidity and sloth which had been darkening his intellect and casting such a shadow of malodorous corruption across our whole genre could be fumigated, or, to use a more accurate word, exorcised. It could happen in a moment, in a miracle. All of the last twenty years of crap that has been given awards, and all of the careers stifled or ruined by this man, all the promising books that never saw the light of day because they were shouldered aside by poorly-written uber-Leftist propaganda penned by freaks who hate our genre and despise our founding members — all that could be forgiven by heaven and not held against Mr. Hayden’s account on Judgement Day.”

There is a lot to unpack in this: and a lot of it has to do with (I think) Wright’s late conversion to Catholicism. It’s got nothing to do with his having been an atheist prior to his conversion to Christianity (at the age of 42). I think it has more to do with 1: the general nature of Christianity we see in the press. 2: that he converted to a non RC form of Christianity some five years before he joined The Church*.

Roman Catholics do not believe in pro-forma, magical, salvation. There is no certainty for any of us. In fact the baseline assumption is none of us, not laity, nor clergy, no, not even the pope, is guaranteed a place in heaven; most of us, even the most devout and observant, will still be short of the purity of spirit to get into heaven directly, and today’s sanctity is no guarantee of tomorrow.

This is at odds with much protestant (esp. Born Again) doctrine. As a general rule protestants believe those who have been “saved” go straight to heaven. Everyone else goes straight to Hell. Grace, and grace alone, is all you need. Among many of the Born Again sects, once you have that grace, it’s yours forever. Get “saved” at eight, commit mass murder at 30, go to heaven when you die.

Which brings me to the magical thinking of Wright.

“I was unaware that he {Nielson Hayden] was a Roman Catholic. This is cause for immense hope. He could go tomorrow, nay, today, to a confessional booth, receive the sacrament, and save his darkened soul from damnation. He could take the host tomorrow, nay, today, and the evil spirit of malice, greed, stupidity and sloth which had been darkening his intellect and casting such a shadow of malodorous corruption across our whole genre could be fumigated, or, to use a more accurate word, exorcised.”

What rubbish. Earlier Wright averred that Patrick was a “Christ hater”. Why? Because Patrick is not a reactionary zealot on social issues which Wright sees as horrible (things like the equality of women, and homosexuals; the use of contraceptives, choice, etc.). So Wright seems to think that if one comes to the Sacrament of the Eucharist with a clear mind. and an open heart, the mere act of taking the wafer will cause one to suddenly become a reactionary Catholic.

I can’t tell you how offensive that is to me, as a Catholic. It strips us of the thing which most shows how we are made in God’s image. We have reason. We have free will. At the risk of grave oversimplification the entirety of Doctrinal Argument, over some 2,000 years is how to reconcile those two things with the idea of a just and loving God.

At the risk of excessive digression, every time someone who is anti-religion whips out some “gotcha” question I have to laugh. I’ve yet to hear one that hasn’t been asked before. There is nothing new under the sun. If Augustine didn’t grapple with it, Aquinas did. What they glossed, Francis, and Ignatius, and Benedict, and any number of parish priests have grappled with, from the least of problems (my husband snores, my wife always undersalts the soup) to the great and terrible (why do good things happen to bad people, why to bad things happen to the good).

Some of the answers are facile. Some are subtle. Some bring cold comfort; and some uplift the soul. All of them, are the fruit of reason (filtered by belief, dogma, and doctrine). Over time those have all changed. The world is not static, and no one gets to put God on retainer†. Not only that, but Wright is arguing that if one takes the Eucharist with a properly pure heart one will suddenly be changed in a John C Wright sort of Roman Catholic.

Which is interesting, because many of John C Wright’s beliefs are in direct contravention of Church Doctrine. He has argued:

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, anything that hinders it is an imperfection. Prudence, if nothing else, would warn potential mother and potential fathers not to do the act which makes you a mother or a father until you have a household and loving union ready to rear children.

This is not what the Church teaches. 1: Birth Control is not forbidden. Contraceptive devices (in which I include hormonal BC) is a venial sin. But using rhythm isn’t prohibited (and using tools to make one’s use of rhythm more effective doesn’t count as a “device”). 2: The Church thinks sex, just for the sake of sex, is just fine. Yes, it needs to be in the context of marriage to not be a venial sin, but that’s it. Venial sin. Married people are enjoined to have sex, just for the sake of sex, because it’s good for them.

Venial sins are minor.∞ The Church divides sins into two categories. Venial, and Mortal. Mortal sins will lead one to Hell. To avoid that we have to confess our sins. We don’t need a priest (though it makes things easier). Even a Mortal sin, confessed to God, with a sincere heart, can be absolved without anyone else being involved (though the conditions in which that happens are the sort where screwing up, and not getting the confessing done are more likely, it’s a deathbed realisation one has really screwed up. Most of us have time between something like bearing false witness and our dying day, to admit we did it, and pursue making formal amends).

Moreover, what Wright is railing about are not personal actions; they are the attitudes of lots of Catholics to matters of public (as opposed to private) life. My religion prohibits all sorts of things (e.g. praying to other gods). It doesn’t prohibit other things (e.g. mixing linen and wool§). What it also doesn’t do is demand that I make my faith the law of the land. Really, it doesn’t. It abjures me to look for the divine in everyone. It enjoins me to be compassionate and merciful. It enjoins me to obey the laws of the nation in which I live. It might be taken that it commands me to be publicly opposed to some things. Even in that, the things Wright rails against, e.g. “sodomy”, aren’t things I am enjoined to persecute; even if I am expected to abjure them for myself.

The Church has some fucked up ideas on homosexuality. Not gonna argue. I think them more subtle than most outside it do; and while I understand (and sympathise with) those who, having suffered as a result are furious with Her for what She has done; and for what She has failed to do, I also know that Pope Francis has said things which should make Wright feel shame for his failure to be a dutiful son of The Church.

So, looking at Actual Doctrine, and at what Patrick has said publicly (I cannot speak to his private thoughts. I have no window to his soul**) I don’t see one damned thing to assume he is not taking communion with a pure and open heart. I have no way to know what conversations he has with his confessor. I do know that I have not seen the level of vitriolic hatred toward others of God’s creation as I have seen Wright spewing.

And the idea that God would, to make any one person happy, force the conversion of belief to some other template, that is heresy. It denies the action of free will. It tosses all of the bible out the window. It makes a mockery of thousands of years of thinking, arguing, reasoning, by tens of thousands, yea millions of people of good will.

All because Mr. Wright got his feelings hurt when he tried to rig an election. He might want to think about that, the next time he attempts an Examination of Conscience.

*I am a Roman Catholic, Forgive me my use of “The Church”, but I think it adds some context. As to my religious belief… I am a Catholic of heterodox practice. I am Quaker adjacent, an adherent of Liberation Theology, went to parish schools for portions of my primary education, considered taking orders with the Society of Jesus. Ultimately the things about my personal faith which make it useful to me, also led to my realising I have some significant differences about Doctrine, which meant I couldn’t have taken vows in good conscience. I wish John Paul I had not died so soon, that John Paul II had not been pope for so long, that Benedict has been the worst pope in modern memory (and that his effect on the Church in his role as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has done more harm to the body of the church than will be undone without great effort, perhaps taking lifetimes). I have great hope for Francis.

†That is the crux of my doctrinal difference with The Church. Ex cathedra (i.e. the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility on matter of doctrine). I don’t buy it. At a fundamental level I can’t. If it were true then the pope gets to tell God what to do or the pope loses at least some of his free will. Neither is consonant with my faith.

∞There is an argument to be made that the continued practice of a venial sin may rise to the level of Mortal Sin, but that’s a much longer issue; the fundamental question seems to boil down to, “does this harm another person”.

§NB, those are the only fibers one may not mix, per the OT. Wool/poly, not a problem. Linen/cotton, not a problem. every time that list about, “what do I tell my friend when they say” goes around to make fun of the “Fundamentalists” I cringe. I cringe for more than just that, but the thing about that line is it makes it clear it was written by someone who was mining the OT for talking points, and ignoring both the context of the Leviticus/Deuteronomy, and that some 2,000+ years of evolving doctrine have taken place on the Christian side. More than that on the Jewish side (where that restriction still applies).

**Though Mr. Wright pretends to have one into the souls of all who disagree with him: “Support for contraception tempts the weakminded to support the sexual revolution hence to support abortion; support for the sexual revolution require the normalization of divorce, then fornication, then perversion; support for abortion tempts the weakminded to support euthanasia, because human life is no longer sacrosanct, but instead merely an adjunct to human bodily pleasure. Once an otherwise intelligent and decent man is convinced all these abominations and horrors are moral, he has a visceral hatred of morality, of decency, and of honest, and he soon learns to hate decent and honest people.”


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I think this guy misses the point too.

So,  Yaakov Rosenblatt decided he needed to tell Sarah Silverman what was wrong with her PSA about the laws being passed to make it harder to vote.

He says his complaint is about her using biblical language to make her point.  I think he was upset that she said (in some pretty colorful ways) that these laws were designed to fuck people over.  But that critique was lost, in his rant about what was really bothering him… she’s not at home rearing kids and cooking supper, like a good Jewish girl ought to be.  See, if she was fulfilled by having a husband, and kids, she wouldn’t be worrying her pretty little head about things like efforts to strip people of the ability to vote; in an admitted attempt to skew the odds of one party winning.

You stand out among comedians because your comedy is sharper than theirs. It is crude and clever, simple and punishing; your perception of the human condition is acute, which is why your punch lines bite deeper and hurt longer. You have a knack for finding faults and inconsistencies in people and blowing them wide open with carefully plotted language and cleverly nuanced pauses.

If I were to be gratuitous, I would say you mock what is imperfect because you know what perfect should look like and you seek the ultimate perfection.

But I won’t be so gratuitous. You are in show biz. I am in the rabbi biz. You entertain people. I serve people. I believe I have your number.

Nope, no passive aggressive bullshit there.  His argument really is that if she were trying to have kids she’d be happy, then she wouldn’t be so foul-mouthed, and politically active.

All I ask, respectfully, is that you not use traditional Jewish terminology in your efforts. Because doing so is a lie.

Nothing you say or stand for, Sarah, from your sickening sexual proposal to a Republican donor to your equally vulgar tweet to Mitt Romney, has the slightest thing to do with the most basic of tenets which Judaism has taught the world – that the monogamous relationship is the most meaningful one and that a happy marriage is the key to wholesomeness.

What twaddle. There is no respect there.  He’s got no real basis for telling her what to do.  He certainly doesn’t have exclusive license on the use of imagery from Exodus when speaking of people being denied rights.  It’s not a lie for her to use it. People used exactly that rthetoric to overturn the last instance of Jim Crow laws meant to suppress the vote.  It appropriate to use it now.

As you might imagine this has gotten some pushback.  Silveraman’s father wrote an open letter in reply, pointing out that among other things, it’s not just “Sarah Silverman, comedian”, but that her family is observant.    Yes, Rosenblatt’s orthodox, and wouldn’t recognise her sister’s smicha even if she were a man, but Silverman knew precisely what she was doing.

None of which is all that important. It was this response which caught my attention.

When Sarah Silverman, on video, propositions Sheldon Adelson, using her doggie in mock soft-porn as substitute for the elderly billionaire — that’s humor and acceptable.

When Rabbi Rosenblatt tells Sarah Silverman to get married and have children — that’s an expression of hatred and intolerance.

The question is, why?

I propose that many of the Jewish-American commenters got so upset because the Rabbi crossed a line. But the line he crossed was not about his views on motherhood, but rather his views on the role of the Rabbi and of Judaism.

Judaism, to some of those commenters, belongs locked in a box in a synagogue, and should never be allowed out to offer any moral observations, opinions or guidelines that disagree with the most permissive of Western cultural values.

Bullshit.  It’s not that the people who disagree think judaism should be locked in a box.  It’s that they don’t.  Rosenblatt was telling  Silverman he didn’t like the way she was taking Judaism out of the box.  Rosenblatt did cross a line.  He told another adult they had no right to speak in public because it offended his religious sensibilities.  Then he told her to go back to the kitchen and make a sandwich.

UPDATE:  I am not likely to say this often, but read the comments in response to the Open Letter.