Saturday, 23 January 2010

Muslim and Christian Fundamentalists - peas in a pod.

Fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Christians have so much in common.

Both believe that their scriptures, the Koran or the Bible, are without error.

Both are willing to give total religious authority to a leader – an Imam or a Minister.

Both believe that humans should submit to the will of God without question.

Both have no truck with human reason, and are skeptical about science (or reject it outright).

Both believe in exclusively male leadership, and that women should be subservient to men.

Both believe themselves to be the only true, authentic, and genuine expression of their faiths, and despise those (either) muslims (or) christians who are not fundamentalist.

Both believe that this human life is nothing more than a dress rehearsal or preparation for the real thing: -  life in paradise or heaven.

Both are utterly opposed to freedom of thought by individuals.

Both believe that human governments should be theocracies, governed only from the precepts and commands of their scriptures.

Both welcome martyrdom as a sign of authentic faith.

Christians believe that Jesus is God’s final word to the world.  Muslims believe that Mohammed is God’s final word to the world.

Although they may use differing words and theologies the end product is the same.  Muslim and Christian fundamentalists are infantilized by their submission to absolutes.  Neither is able to move from infancy into the glorious questioning of adolescence, or into the mature and exciting arguments of adulthood.

Friday, 22 January 2010

I am happy...

… because my two cats are so very beautiful.

…. because my dog is intensely loyal to me, and because she loves to walk. She flirts with every person we pass. If I were in the market to marry an elderly widow, my dog would be quite the “chick magnet”. (Excuse sexist language please!)

….. because I have such good friends, three of them had dinner at my home tonight. I was there too, and we ate my home-made lamb and barley soup, with an orange and beet salad, followed by pecan pie topped with Devonshire cream!  (The real thing, imported from Devonshire)

…..because in retirement I have time and opportunity for educational and cultural enrichment - a lecture last Tuesday at New College of Florida, an organ recital on Wednesday at St. Boniface Church, a juried art show last evening at the Sarasota Art Centre (with two of my friends exhibiting their work).

My happiness leads to gratitude.

Recipe for orange and beet salad:

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Humour in the Bible (6) and final

As I have tried to identify some humour in the bible I’ve also come to realise that there are but a few references to laughter or laughing in holy writ.

Those references most  often have to do with the Lord laughing at his enemies, or the fear that G-d’s people will become a laughing-stock.

References to human laughter are rare.  The most wonderful exception is the laughter of Abraham’s wife Sarah, when she is told that she, in her 90’s, will conceive.  Genesis 18 v 12 says that “Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure’”

I like to think that this is a full belly laugh; that Sarah is tickled pink that she and her 100 year old husband will again enjoy sexual intercourse, and that she will become pregnant.

Other interpreters would say that her laugh is the laugh of a cynical woman who had long since given up the hope of bearing a child.

Much later in biblical chronology Jeremiah has good things to say about what will happen when the people of Judah are restored to their homeland.

Jeremiah states that in this restoration the streets will be filled with “the voices of those who make merry” (Chapter 30), and “the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness” (Chapter 33). 

“Making merry”, “mirth” and “gladness” certainly imply laughter!

Psalm 126 also states that in the restoration of the people after exile there will be laughter: Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing”

My series on “Humour in the Bible” has this far draw only from the Hebrew Scriptures (the “Old Testament”).

I think that there are also references in the Gospels which would lead us to understand that Jesus was a very funny man.  But I must draw my breath for a few or more days, before I blog about the humour of Jesus.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Humour in the Bible (6)

My mini-series on “Humour in the Bible’ was triggered when a parishioner (J.T.) “caught” a reference which I made in my Jan 10th sermon at St. Boniface on Siesta Key, Sarasota, FL (That sermon may be read on this blog).

J.T. is astute. He understood that I’d referenced a biblical pun from Isaiah 56.

Puns are a wonderful/dreadful form of humour.

Here is the Isaiah passage. Can you find the fabulous pun (regarding eunuchs?).

Isaiah 56

3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say,
"The LORD will surely exclude me from his people."
And let not any eunuch complain,
"I am only a dry tree."
4 For this is what the LORD says:
"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant-
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will not be cut off.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Humour in the Bible (5)

Ridicule can be an amusing and funny way to point out some foolishness in a situation, or in a belief, or in a lively argument.
It  is a form of humour which must be handled with care. In many situations the humour can be expressed in gentle teasing, but there is always a risk that such teasing can slip over a line into destructive mockery.   Exposing ideas to ridicule can be worthwhile. Ridiculing people is destructive.
There are a couple of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) which use ridicule to great effect. Here is one:

Psalm 115  3Our God is in the heavens;
   he does whatever he pleases.
4Their idols are silver and gold,
   the work of human hands.
5They have mouths, but do not speak;
   eyes, but do not see.
6They have ears, but do not hear;
   noses, but do not smell.
7They have hands, but do not feel;
   feet, but do not walk;
   they make no sound in their throats.
8Those who make them are like them;
   so are all who trust in them.

One can almost imagine the people chortling with glee as the writer teases those who make idols and trust in them -  mouths which do not speak, ears which do not hear ... etc
Here’s another:
Jeremiah 10
Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. 2Thus says the Lord:
Do not learn the way of the nations,
   or be dismayed at the signs of the heavens;
   for the nations are dismayed at them.
3For the customs of the peoples are false:
a tree from the forest is cut down,
   and worked with an axe by the hands of an artisan;
4people deck it with silver and gold;
   they fasten it with hammer and nails
   so that it cannot move.
5Their idols* are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
   and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
   for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
   for they cannot do evil,
   nor is it in them to do good

This passage is very similar to the Psalm.  In it Jeremiah ridicules the idea of giving obeisance to an object, an idol which you have just made.  I think that the passage is supposed to be funny. Don’t we all grin when we read that hilarious imagery: Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field”.
It’s not been my intention to be preachy as I write this series on biblical humour.  But it did occur to me that we too “bow down” to things we have made.  We render service to the “idols” of our own “weapons of mass destruction”.  And we pay obeisance to the latest big screen television, or huge S.U.V  as we describe them with words of awe.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Humour in the Bible (4)

There is a form of humour which is quite unintentionally. It arises when a person realises the ludicrous nature of a tale which is being told.

Often the “tale” is nothing more than a big “whopper”. A child might be “caught out” in some mis-behaviour and he/she will tell such a huge whopper to explain the situation, that the parent or teacher can do no more than to burst into laughter.

The laughter is rooted in “do you expect me to believe that!”

There is a gorgeous example of this “big whopper humour” in the book of the Exodus. 

The people are in the wilderness, but their leader Moses has disappeared. He is off on one of his “terribly important consultations with God”.

The people have lost confidence in their “leader in absentia”, so they prevail upon his brother Aaron to fashion them new gods.
Aaron gets them to surrender their gold, out of which he fashions an idol - a golden calf.

When Moses gets back from his “retreat” he is royally ticked off, and demands an explanation from Aaron.

Then comes the “whopper”: Aaron tells Moses that the people gave him their gold, and that he threw it into the fire, and (all innocently?) Aaron says “then out came this calf”.

It’s a fabulous lie, one which is so brazen that we can do nothing more than laugh.

Here is the story from the bible. I have chosen the King James (Authorised) Version because of its lovely older English.

Exodus 32
1And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
2And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.
3And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
4And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 

Later in the story

21And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
22And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
23For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
24And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.

See also

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Humour in the Bible (3)

The Book of Jonah is the funniest book in the scriptures.  The entire tale is a set-up.

1. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it.  Jonah isn’t interested in this job prospect.  He runs away from God.

2.Jonah boards a ship bound for Tarshish.  God creates a storm which almost sinks the ship. The ship’s captain awakens Jonah, and tells him to call upon his god.

3.The crew casts lots to discover which person should be held accountable for the storm.  The lot fell on Jonah.  He fesses up that he is running away from God, and tells the crew to throw him overboard.

4. That being done, the storm ends.  It’s not the end of Jonah.  The Lord made a great fish to swallow him.  Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days.

5. Jonah prays in the belly of the fish.  The fish vomits Jonah up on to dry land. God again offers him the Nineveh gig.

6. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches judgment.  Led by the King of Nineveh the people repent.

7. God changes his mind and decides not to destroy Nineveh.  Jonah throws a hissy fit and whines at God for sparing Nineveh.

8. Jonah leaves the city and sits down to see what would happen. God makes a special big plant to shelter Jonah.  Jonah is happy.

9. God makes a special worm to attack the plant, which dies. Jonah is unhappy.  He wants to die. He is sad that the plant died.

10. God asks Jonah “if you can be sad over the death of a plant, why can’t you understand that I would be sad if I’d had to destroy Nineveh.

It’s all so implausible, and that’s what produces the comedic effect.

Literalists miss the meaning of the story in their insistence that it all truly happened just as the book says it did.  They ooh and aah about the miracle of the fish, and insist that Jonah must have been in the belly of the fish for three days, because “the bible says so”.

That literal reading fails to see the great humour of the book.

Those of us who treasure it as a bit of biblical fiction can giggle with glee at the humour, and understand that it’s all a satire which is directed against the notion that God only cares for people of one particular religion.

We are quite content to assert that the book of Jonah is entirely a work of fiction, for we understand that fiction is a most wonderfully subtle way of telling us things that are profoundly true.