25 April 2009

Gore Vidal on religion . . .

Posted by at 2:20 AM

This made me smile.



24 April 2009

blurring the frame . . .

Posted by at 1:29 PM

I attended a couple of performances in the past month, one an afro-pop concert (Angelique Kidjo at the Mesa Center for the Arts), and the other was a live theater performance (the SITI Company's Under Construction. Dissimilar though these events were, they had one thing in common. At both shows the audience was encouraged to join the performers onstage. At the concert about a fifth of the audience went up there, which is no mean feat considering this was a sold-out 500-seater. Seeing all ages and all races dancing and laughing together in one place was a very moving experience. I made a mental note of rhe joy that was concentrated into that moment.

So when a couple of weeks later I went to the theater, this moment was recalled when, at the very end of their very fine performance, the members of the cast invited the entire (!) audience up on stage to interact with the stage props. Most if not all did. It wasn't a 'joyful' thing in the same sense that the concert was, but it was still a lovely interaction between art and audience. My part in this gentle moshpit happening (it was very sixties): I circled a few times, counterclockwise, on the outer rim of this galaxy of people, looking at the various fotografs and assorted bits of americana strewn about the stage. One of the actors had made a cool piece with cigarette butts standing on their tips. I wanted to take one of the cigarettes and give it for Rob to smoke, and thus blur the frame between art and life further. Would have been cool, but I didn't dare. I mean, they're not my cigarettes, y'know? Two of the actors were playing guitars and singing the Simon and Garfunkel song, "America" (. . . "let us be lovers. we'll marry our fortunes together . . ." Every time I came to the place on the stage they were standing, I found the same guy, middle-aged, balding, resplendently joyful, right there next to them, singing along with abandon. He knew all the words and the harmonies. I couldn't help picturing him as the guy in the other song . . . "Hello lamppost . . . whatcha knowin? . . . I';ve come to watch the flowers growin . . . ain'tcha got no rhymes for me? . . . doo doo ta too dah feeling groovyyyyy . . . ."

On the flip side of allowing for audience participation . . .

Peter Gabriel, who used to allow himself to be carried on his back over the audience at the front of the stage during all his concerts, stopped doing this because he was bitten one night.

All it takes is just one maladjusted jerk.




22 April 2009

$3 at Bookman's in Mesa . . .

Posted by at 4:56 PM

A ceramic figurine/plaque I bought.



self-identity #7 . . .

Posted by at 3:14 PM

Reading along . . .

Here's another expression of self-definition on the part of Reform Judaism.

The Philadelphia Platform

The Philadelphia Conference
3–6 November 1869

Statement of Principles
  1. The Messianic aim is not the restoration of the old Jewish state under a descendant of David, involving a second separation from the nations of the earth, but the union of all the children of God in the confession of the unity of God, so as to realize the unity of all rational creatures and their call to moral sanctification.
  2. We look upon the destruction of the second Jewish commonwealth not as a punishment for the sinfulness of Israel, but as a result of the divine purpose revealed to Abraham, which, as has become even clearer in the course of the world's history, consists in the dispersion of the Jews to all parts of the earth, for the realization of their high-priestly mission, to lead the nations to the true knowledge and worship of God
  3. The Aaronic priesthood and the Mosaic sacrificial cult were preparatory steps to the real priesthood of the whole people, which began with the dispersion of the Jews, and to the sacrifices of sincere devotion and moral sanctification, which alone are pleasing and acceptable to the Most Holy. These institutions, preparatory to higher religiosity, were consigned to the past, once for all, with the destruction of the Second Temple, and only in this sense—as educational influences in the past—are they to be mentioned in our prayers.
  4. Every distinction between Aaronides and non-Aaronides, as far as religious rites are concerned, is consequently inadmissible, both in the religious cult and in social life.
  5. The selection of Israel as the people of religion, as the bearer of the highest idea of humanity, is still, as ever, to be strongly emphasized, and for this very reason, whenever this is mentioned, it shall be done with full emphasis laid on the world-embracing mission of Israel and the love of God for all his children.
  6. The belief in the bodily resurrection has no religious foundation, and the doctrine of immortality refers to the after-existence of the soul only.
  7. Urgently as the cultivation of the Hebrew language, in which the treasures of the divine revelation were given and the immortal remains of a literature that influences all civilized nations are preserved, must always be desired by us in fulfillment of a sacred duty, yet it has become unintelligible to the vast majority of our coreligionists; therefore, as is advisable under existing circumstances, it must give way in prayer to intelligible language, which prayer, if not understood, is a soulless form.
The conference also passed resolutions on marriage and divorce, and whilst accepting the matrilineal principle for determining Jewish status, emphasized that the child of a Jewish mother was Jewish, even if an uncircumcised male. This makes me think of some footage of a dialogue between Richard Dawkins and a clergyman (Alister McGrath?) that I recently watched, where the topic of the 'religion' of children came up, Dawkins' main point being that just as there are no 'republican' children and no 'unionist' children and no 'terrorist' children, there are also no 'Christian' or 'Muslim' children. These are labels that we project onto them through our own paradigms. Dawkins even goes as far as to call fire-and-brimstone-type indoctrination and initiation of children into the cult of their parents a form of "child abuse." A bit extreme, perhaps, but point taken. Imagine the uproar that would be caused if there were "Reagan Camps" alongside the Jesus Camps of documentary fame. White-Separatist Camp? Just how far does the right to screw up your kids extend? Unfortunately, no limit is defined for this 'right', and it will likely never be.
What to do when a problem whose solution is self-evident becomes unsolvable because the solution is deemed naive and untenable given human selfishness tendencies and traditions?
I guess this is what inevitably happens when you give the Word to the monkeys, eh?

... anyway, back to self-identity . . .

Some notes on these Reform platform points:

It seems to me that most of the enumerated points are clearly reactionary affirmations against—a defiant rejection of—Christianity. I find it hard to digest this newly (at the time) defined "world-mission" of the Jews without seeing it through the lens of the dominant Christian culture within which these reformers found themselves surrounded.

In fact, on a personal note, the explicit desire for the conversion of the whole world is a big red flag to me for precisely the same reasons that those of the Christian creeds and the Mormon creeds give me pause. I simply cannot process the possibility that God (whatever that might ultimately be) mandates such 'world-missions'. The psychology that insists, "I am chosen, and I want you to be like me—nay!, you WILL be like me someday! . . . it is written!," seems a highly unattractive and ultimately delusional one to me.
Nevertheless, and returning to my focus, :P .. . THAT was the way that an highly influential group of Jews of the mid 19th century defined itself (at least in North America).

Finally, I see irony in the last point (#7). For a sentence which presumes to call for an end to all dissembling language in our religious practices, it sure is a vaguely-worded convoluted monster of a sentence, ain't it?

Is it just me?

As usual . . . just more food for thought . . .



21 April 2009

the scruples of Abulafia (how to convert a pope) . . .

Posted by at 2:38 PM

Reading along . . . I came upon the figure of Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291(?). Abulafia was an ecstatic Spanish mystic who is credited as the first to develop a systematic mysticism based on the characters of the Hebrew alphabet, which he viewed as an instrument of revelation. According to Abulafia, "all things exist only by virtue of their participation in the great name of God." He called his system 'hokmath he-tseruf' ("science of the combination of letters"). All jots and tittles, in this view, all curves and lines, have underlying symbolisms and meanings and functions that transcend their lexicographic utility as human language. The mathematicomusical aspect of Torah as a distinct and paralell expression of the divine was as real to him as the words the characters spelled out to tell the stories of God and his people. The Word of God was to Abulafia a music that permeates and transcends the entire world, with rhythms and harmonies and resonances and even thematic developments. It's very deep shit and he took it seriously.

Abulafia wrote:

"The Kabbalistic tradition is divisible into two parts... the first occupied with knowledge of the deity, obtained by means of the doctrine of the sefirot ("eminations," the ten spheres of the tree of life), as propounded by the sefer yetzirah... the second and more important part strives to know God by means of the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, from which together with the vowel points and accents, those names are combined, elevating Kabbalists to a degree of prophesy, drawing out their spirit, and causing it to be united with God to become one with the Deity."

So into the ubiquity of the music of the spheres was he that he eventually set out to erase the boundaries that divide Jew, Christian, and Muslim, to sit them all in the same orchestra pit, so to speak.

Armed with a colossal quixotic näiveté and with the God-drunk temerity of irreproachable certitude, he set off to convert the pope. That's right. The pope!

In the Fall of 1280 Pope Nicholas III was vacationing in his palace in Soriano, near Rome, when he got the news that Abulafia was on the way to affect his Holiness's' conversion. Nicholas responded with the order to "burn the fanatic" as soon as he arrived. Indeed, the post to which he would be tied was erected and prepared at the city gate to celebrate his arrival.

Still, undaunted by the pope's threats to treat him to his own vivicremation, Abulafia arrived at the castle on the 22nd of August (the day before the Jewish New Year 5040). While entering the city he learned that the pope had just died of a stroke so that his execution order was never carried out. Abulafia was incarcerated for a month, after which he went south to Sicily and gathered a sizeable following which reportedly had explicit Messianic overtones and was involved in even more scandals yet.

Anyway, I had never heard of him before and I find him such a fascinating historical figure that I had to write about the man who dared to try to convert the pope to Kabbalah. It's rich.




17 April 2009

religious self identity #6

Posted by at 3:14 PM

Moses Maimonides (Rambam, b.1138–d.1204) was the first Jewish scholar to attempt to formulate a Jewish creed, perhaps because of the need to draw clear lines in the face of Muslim and Christian attempts to convert Jews during those tempestuous years of conquest and crusade that he lived in. His 'thirteen principles of the faith', fist formulated in his Commentary on the Mishna (c. 1160):

I believe with perfect faith that:
  1. The creator is Author and Guide of everything that exists.
  2. The creator is One; His unity is unlike that of anything else; He is our God and exists eternally.
  3. The Creator has no body or physical characteristics, and cannot be compared with anything that exists.
  4. The creator is first and last of all beings.
  5. It is right to pray to the creator, but to no other being.
  6. All the words of the prophets are true.
  7. The prophecy of Moses is true, and He was the father (that is, the greatest) of all prophets, both before and after him.
  8. The Torah now in our possession is that given to Moses.
  9. The Torah will not be changed, nor will the Creator give any other Torah.
  10. The Creator knows the deeds and thoughts of people.
  11. He rewards those who keep his commandments, and punishes those who disobey.
  12. Though the Messiah delay, one must constantly expect his coming.
  13. The dead will be resurrected.

I'm still wondering what kind of analogous parallel creed, even tentatively, could have been enumerated back in the first century. Would this later listing reveal any continuity between the two different eras?



16 April 2009

theater at ASU's Galvin Playhouse . .

Posted by at 6:27 PM

ASU Gammage BEYOND present SITI Company's:

Under Construction

Saturday April 18th @ 7PM

Norman Rockwell's idealism deconstructed through short stories and song—an exploration of our nation being forever under construction.

$10 Students/$30 all others
Tickets at ASU Gammage, &

06 April 2009

Einstein on lemmings . . .

Posted by at 4:41 PM
He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt.
He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.

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