Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Giving Jesus the Third Degree

The following text, written by Deepak Chopra in December 2005 as a blog posting on the Huffington Post, seems a good synopsis and was likely the creative seed for his latest book, entitled The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore, which hit bookstands this week. Little wonder his Antichrist Google ratings have gone up in recent weeks.

Taking the Bible literally makes no sense to moderate and liberal Christians, and one of the most urgent tenets of literalism, that Jesus will soon return to Earth to render judgment and save the righteous, seems like a fantasy. Secular society has no need for Jesus to return. It leaves each citizen to privately choose a religion, or to not choose one, and all other matters fall outside the realm of faith.

So it came as a shock to secular society when millions of people couldn't take their minds off the return of Jesus, so much so that Judgment Day colors everything else they think about--family, relationships, morals, business, politics. Speaking for myself, I came to terms with this issue in the following way: We are indeed waiting for the return of Jesus, and in this "we" I include those non-Christians who want to live in a tolerant, compassionate relationship with everyone. But if Jesus returns, there are three choices of who he will be.

The first Jesus was historical, a rabbi living in first-century Palestine whose life profoundly changed religious belief in the West. The second Jesus is the core of a religion, which has its particular dogmas, rituals, priests, churches, and scriptures. These two Jesuses are undeniably real, but the second one--the Jesus of organized religion--has been subject to human whim and change. Right now, if you are not a fundamentalist, he seems to have been hijacked in the service of intolerance, bigotry, and war. A religion that began in the name of love has reached almost its exact opposite--not for the first time, of course.

The third Jesus is not rigidly sectarian. He falls into the world tradition of spirituality. This Jesus speaks for peace and love; his morality includes all peoples; his Father is a universal deity. I was well acquainted with the third Jesus as a child in India. I could love and revere him. It never occurred to me that he would ever become an enemy. This Jesus doesn't speak of non-Christians as pagans. He raises human nature to its highest ideal, along with the saints and sages who have guided humanity for centuries.

I don't think that well-intentioned fundamentalists mean to pervert the third Jesus; I suspect they've never heard of him. He has one great disadvantage, however. You can't own him. You can't say "he's all mine and nobody else's." The third Jesus won't work if you need to justify a war, if you need evil enemies, or you want to brand "them" as godless.

Sadly, many fundamentalists need Jesus for all these purposes. So the third Jesus might not return to them, but if Christianity is to survive among moderate and liberal believers, who used to be the mainstream of the religion, won't it take the return of the third Jesus? The first one is long deceased, the second has fallen prey to politics and narrow-mindedness. What alternative is there? Loss of faith and a slide into deeper and deeper meaninglessness. that would be a terrible fate for all of us, not just the Christians.

Hmmm.....what would Jesus think of all this fuss and debate?

Monday, 11 February 2008

Blood, Guts & Glory

I donated blood a week and half ago for the first time ever.

To be honest, I was a tad nervous about doing so, giving my pusillanimity towards needle poking and such. Nothing like a couple of amnios and epidurals to breed an irrational aversion to needles. But phobic apologetics aside, I lived to die another day, although my arm still sports a rash and is sore even today.

Holy Daughter wasn't so sure about this. I'm not certain what she thought said donation meant to my health in the scheme of things - I suspect she assumed my donation was a life & death, quid pro quo economic equation - my pint to help save another life must somehow mean I was risking mine.

She made a point of telling everyone within earshot that day that her Mom had given blood, and she went to great lengths to ensure I was drinking my fair share of water. She also harboured a morbid fascination with wanting all the gory details - did it hurt? did I watch the blood drain out? how much did they take? what colour was the blood? When I told her it was more burgundy- rown than fire engine red, she was completely grossed out.

Bloody. Well. Rite.

In religious terms, blood is like that. Sacred, sacrificial, economic, taboo, impure and infinitely profane. It is the holiest yet potentially, most polluted river of life.

Tertullian said it best in this regard when he declared that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." In fact, if you look closely at the foundation of every religion, you'll find blood (or the absence of, as in the mythos of virginal birth) to be the very ink stain of the prophets.

Shi'ites flagellate themselves each Feast of Ashoura in bloody commemoration of their holy martyr and great Prophet's grandson, Hussein. Arguably, Jesus the Christ wins poster boy fame for blood sacrifice in religion, in that he is offered up (posthumously) in synocdoche for the sins of humanity. The blood ritual continues today, as Christians partake in communion by drinking the Eucharistic red wine and thus, not figuratively but literally, consuming the transubstantiated blood of Christ.

Sacrificially, bulls, goats and lambs figure prominently in the formation, and indeed, syncretism between ancient Egyptian and Vedic rites and the mystery cults of the Greco-Roman Empire, such as Mithraism, as well as the later pagan, Ancient Israelite, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Hindu religions.

The sacrality and profanity of these rites explain, in part, the prohibitions of Acts 15:29, which suggest staying away from food sacrificed to idols, as well as abstaining "from blood." In fact this passage becomes the justification by faith and revelation that JCs will use and cite when they allow their offspring to die rather than undergo a life-saving blood transfusion.

Consider also, Judaism. Jewish dietary laws prohibit the consumption of blood because the life and soul of an animal is believed to be contained in its blood, and also because blood is believed to be the body's polluted rivers, of sorts, which becomes the dumping place for any bacteria, viruses or impurities upon the animal's final moments.

Leviticus 17:14 states ~ "For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, 'You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.' The link between myth and ritual here is murky, most especially because this core belief in blood as the life sustainer and more importantly, soul keeper, dates back to those prolific philosophers - Pythagoras and Plato - and their views on the transmigration of souls.

This life sustaining, soul-keeping notion is prevalent in myriad religious worldviews to the extent that blood is both revered and reviled. The Indian goddess, Kali, is renowned for her insatiable appetite for blood, and inspires an almost fanatical blood and fertility cult that continues today, albeit minus the live sacrifices. She is the divine bitch, mother, child, lover and redemptrix.

Blood's fertile and sacral properties are richly entwined in history and etymology, such that links can be found between the ancient Sanskit word for ritual, rtú and the advent of winter as the approaching or 'cooling-off' season of menses. Owing to its fertility links, blood from the womb was thought to have great animating prana or creative, life-force energy, and indeed, it does, for arguably, blood also indirectly spawned the birth of ethnomathematics. Female blood is a prime example of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans phenomena which Otto, Eliade et al allude to, wherein the idea of the holy is a force that is both fearsome and fascinating.

Indeed, in some tribal societies, such as the Kalash Valley peoples of what is now Pakistan, menstruating women are deemed untouchable and are still sequestered away in menstrual huts in moon-phasal fearing fashion. Said impurity and male fear of womanly power lies at the root of most patriarchal, Vedic and axial-age religions - blessings be to Zoroastrianism, the ancient Aryan rulers and countless tribal kings the world over who were responsible for shifting the cult of blood from the macro to the micro.

The fertility cult of blood alive and well in matriarchal/goddess religiosity (theme song: I am Woman, Hear me Roar), with its mythic and universally animistic imaginings, no longer suffices. In its place comes a decidedly more controlled, contested and personal religiosity of blood, wherein blood is no longer sacred so much as profane in theopolitical terms. Blood becomes a theopolitical bath and body works commodity for he-men (theme song: I'm the King of the Castle) in search of divine kingship and immortality.

Such is the lot of woman - the whole mysteriously, bleeding lot of us - misogyny continues to be alive and well, even, or might I suggest, especially today. Of course, modern science paints a different, revisionist canvas, and indeed, so do many resourceful femme artistes, who use menstrual blood as their chosen painting medium, but time will tell how well such things as menstrual stem cells and the bleeding arts are received.

Socio-cultural and gender issues aside, blood continues to be highly symbolic and in many ways, metonymically understood in many cultures.

In Aryan times, the bindi or red tikka mark on the forehead was a ritualized seal of marriage, signifying the newfound chattel status of bride unto husband. A red powder is the modern substitute, as is its more auspicious purposes of luck (warding off evil) and wisdom (tantric/sixth chakra link).

Holy Blood, Holy Grail

Blood is inherently perceived to have this power, which is why it is oft associated with many tribal coming-of-age ceremonies. The memetics of blood ceremonies find their way from occult practices and necromancy to modern Western schoolyards, with pinky swearing and cross my heart performative utterances. I defy most adults of a certain age to deny having performed a secret blood brother or sister ceremony with a best friend circa 60s and 70s or neighboring decades pre/post to that.

The magic and mystique of blood as the great alchemical potion and holy grail elixir, is a cup that runneth over into literature and language, thanks to Dracula lit and lore. Leeches (blood suckers) have come to symbolize a lowly-life form, with vampires at the helm of the food chain; just as crimson/red and passion/heat and murder/redemption have their place as symbolic stand-ins for poetry, prose and post-modern lyricism, where loves often lies bleeding on Sunday bloody Sunday.

Blood is to artery as branch is to tree. It connotes family ties and loyalty because it's "thicker than water," it is the remains of the day in times of sport, war, battle and gruesome death; it suggests toil and sacrifice along with its other bodily fluid friends - sweat and tears, it hints at fear when mixed with chill, it is linked to money, thirst and lust; and it has entailed much medical letting in past centuries, as doctors sought to temper human dis-eases and ailments. Interestingly, in Ayurvedic terms, bloodletting is called rakta moksha (rakta means blood and moksha means spiritual liberation in Sanskrit).

And, in that it is the last of the four humours, blood comes to be associated with the season of spring, sensing perceiver temperament (artisan), the liver as organ, warm and moist as qualities and courage, hope and amour as ancient characteristics.

As a religious archetype, however, blood is incestuously entwined in history. One hears talk of blood in relation to one religion or another, particularly in recent history, wherein the battle for God is as contentious as ever in history. I have fundamentalist friends and relatives who like to grant Islam with the dubious honour Islam of being the religion of blood (and I do not mean blood in prophetic lineage terms), yet obviously, all religions may lay claim to said fame.

From time immemorial, Mircae Eliade insists religious (wo)man has been participating in the "primordial divine act" of blood sacrifice in imitatio dei, by reenacting the cosmogonic and mythic birth of humanity ~ one that more often than not cross-culturally, entailed creation by sacrifice or dismemberment within a culture.

Arguably, blood continues to be a mainstay typology, mythically and ritualistically speaking; and if this ongoing clash of religious civilizations we bear witness to is any indication, I would venture to guess it will remain so for some time to kingdom come, thy will be done.

On earth as it is in heaven, or so our hierophanic imaginings would have it.

"My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle."
D.H. Lawrence

Friday, 8 February 2008

Eve, Prey, Loaf: In Defense of Religious Hedonism

I was reading The Revealer this morning, as per my daily bread, and I caught paused to read this snippet, which contains this bit of cynicism and that snide commentary on the blindness of faith.

I snickered at the last link, because she expresses doubt that anyone who reads Christopher Hitchens would never read Eat, Pray, Love. Ummm, forgive me, Calahan for I have sinned - I consumed and loved both and lived to tell of it.

To be fair, I feel bad for any author such as Gilbert, who registers their blip in the Opracentric solar system, because it invariably means they start orbiting around her and becoming subject to the perils of shooting stars, falling meteors, wayward satellites and all other manner of space junk and garbage matter that gets hurled around the galaxy.

I know it's a stretch to feel sorry for someone whose seemingly unassuming memoir gets catapulted to international bestseller lists because it bears the magic O mark, but there is so much bad and ugly that comes with all that good. Namely, the anti-Oprah crowd and the kiss of intellectual death that her recommendations seem to bring.

What can I say? I loved Eat, Pray, Love. I remember closing the book and saying, Amen, sistah. I blogged as much here. Sure, she comes across as narcissistic (but what memoirist doesn't), she doesn't take herself too seriously, she writes a smarter breed of chick lit than the coffee and bonbons variety, she admits the ashram was cult-like, and moreover, she brings us a book that is apropos of 21st century mid-life female crisis and the dawning of this post-new age of Aquarius ~ where spiritual travel and messy life journeys are definitely where it's at.

I was reading another spiritual memoir (Swinging on the Garden Gate) at the same time, which was way better written, and in many ways, more deserving of accolades and praise. Eat, Pray, Love was the lighter read, to be sure, and a fun and voyeuristic glimpse into another person's religiosity - imperfections, blemishes and all. Was it the best book I ever read? No. But of course, the O stamp sets up huge expectations.

There are those who will go out of their way to avoid reading a book on the Oprah Book Club list and that's fair. But as with all matters of excess, anything labelled Oprah must be taken with a few grains of salt (adding a lemon wedge and a shot of tequila doesn't hurt either). Obviously. We need only think James Frey here to realize that.

Yet heaps of titles included in the OBC bookshelves are indeed worthy of their placement there. Night by Eli Wiesel is stunning, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is absolutely one of the best books I've ever read, and others like Anna Karenina....well, what can I say except to espouse that classic literature of that sort looks almost tainted and tacky sporting the O stamp on its cover. Of course, nepotism is alive and well with the likes of Toni Morrison, Sidney Poitier, and Bill Cosby in the group, however, such is the reality of book clubs. They are not always very democratic and holistic in their selections.

But back to the crux of the matter.

Does Oprah lean new-agey? Well duhhh. You could clearly see the spiritual evolution of Oprah, circa brand new millennium, back when she first had Gary Zukav appear on her show. His brand of metaphysics was clearly eye-opening for her, and it was apparent this was the first time she had given serious thought to the metaphysics behind the much-bantered mind, body, spirit buzz she was so fond of espousing. Since then, we've seen a parade of spiritual gurus and self-help experts grace and dance upon her couch, to the extent that her programming underwent a conscious shift to all things spiritually woo-woo and feel good.

I thought it might have culminated last year when she hurled The Secret into the cataclysmic nethers of outerspace - a rightful place in many ways, if only because Rhonda Byrne's writing was lame at best, and her ideas but a sad, and in many ways, erroneous carbon copy of others. Suffice to say, the secret wasn't a secret, except to the 'unenlightened,' I suppose.

Which is where Oprah enters, lowered on the wings of her OWN angel network unto her church stage, front and centre beneath her pulpit, to preach to the unconverted. I'm kind of surprised the apocalyptic types haven't latched onto her as the new anti-Christina, but alas, a quick Google search reveals they have. A long time ago. A host of blogs and sites are dedicated to warning the masses of her Satanic ways. I won't link them here for fear I might elicit the wrath of, inc. onto the sanctity of my holy place in schmidtland.

Her latest book club pick, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle, a fellow Canuck, may well be the spark that ignites the Christian soldiers methinks. Oprah will be teaching an online class with Eckhart in order to enlighten her followers of this new world order.

Having said all that, I'll read Eckhart's new book, if only because I think he disseminates complex Buddhist thought in an engaging and accessible way. And because curiosity killed the cat and I once owned cats.

But if, as Maureen Callahan-channelling-Hitchens asserts, this reeks of "Western fetishization of Eastern thought and culture," then so be it.

'Kool-Aid' kumbaya may seem kooky and krazy to my acquainted brethren, the Über-secular humanists of the world (with whom I sometimes flirt, God have mercy on my soul), but gene counting isn't exactly a multi-sensory festivity we're apt to confess we wish we had done more of upon our deathbed.

I say bring on the big plate of linguine, sprinkle it with a liberal dose of Sanskrit chanting, wash it down with a bottle of two of Chianti and chase it with a shot of carpe diem and a late night snifter of amore. It'll probably cause a cosmic burp or two but what the heck? When we sit down in the penultimate moments of our life to watch that epic cinematic adventure movie called This is Your Life, we might as well make sure there's some PG-13 and R-rated, popcorn worthy moments.

And don't forget the extra butter and salt, and wait a minute: did someone say salt? You might as well bring on the tequila, too, then. And since this is the final shot, make sure it's the good stuff when you slap life's ass and declare in your best Chaucerian accent that, "upon the rump, God save you, I am done!"

Because let's face it: pasta, puja and punta dancing, not unlike their distant cousin, beer, are indeed theological proof that "God loves us and wants us to be happy," or thus spoke Benjamin Franklin.

Amen, brother Ben. Pass the communion wine. I'll drink to that.

Holy Thought of the Week

"To live fully is to let go and die with each passing moment, and to be reborn in each new one."

~ Jack Kornfield ~