Some female priests of the Church of England are reportedly advocating that liturgical texts ought to be changed to sometimes refer to God as “She,” instead of “He,” on the basis that God has no gender, and that to consistently refer to God as “He,” as has been traditional in Christianity, conveys the idea that maleness is somehow more divine, and that women are therefore lower on the spiritual ladder. Continue reading God: She, He, Or Gender Fluid?
Tag Archives: God
God’s Q & A
Pew Research Center study just came out finding a decline in the percentage of Americans who say they follow an established religion, and an increase in the percentages who claim to be either atheist or agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
I doubt that I’m the only one who spotted a tone of triumphalism in the resulting media headlines, such as: “Study: More Americans than ever spurning religion” (CBS); and “The Rise of Young Americans Who Don’t Believe in God” (New York Times). Continue reading God’s Q & A
Leonard Cohen on Being Jewish
Speaking of unnecessary yet needed things, Leonard Cohen (now an octogenarian) has just released a new album, titled Popular Problems. At a press availability in London (parts of which can be heard on BBC Radio 6), he was asked among other things about religion, and specifically how close he feels to his Jewish roots, and how that might manifest itself in his writing and his music. He answered:
Well, I grew up in a very conservative, observant family, so it’s not something that I ever felt any distance from, so it’s not something I have to publicize or display, but it is essential to my own survival. Those values that my family gave me—Torah values—are the ones that inform my life. So I never strayed very far from those influences.
It might actually surprise many to hear him speak in this way and also so directly on this, although perhaps it is uncommon for him to get asked the question so directly. Continue reading Leonard Cohen on Being Jewish
Heschel on the Need for the Unnecessary
In 1949, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a book called The Earth Is the Lord’s on the culture of the Jews of Eastern Europe; i.e. on a culture that had then been all but wiped out. It was the first book he had published in America, having himself escaped there from Europe during the war.
In writing about the joy that was to be found in the culture of the Hasidim for pure ideas, for endless study and restudy of the Talmud, he says this:
Concepts acquired a dynamic quality, a color and meaning that, at first thought, seemed to have no connection with one another. The joy of discovery, the process of inventing original devices, of attaining new inventions and new insights, quickened and elated the heart. This was not realistic thinking; but great art likewise is not a reproduction of nature, nor is mathematics an imitation of something that actually exists.
Allowing that it might be easy to belittle such impractical and unworldly preoccupations, he goes on:
But what is nobler than the unpractical spirit? The soul is sustained by the regard for that which transcends all immediate purposes. The sense of the transcendent is the heart of culture, the very essence of humanity. A civilization that is devoted exclusively to the utilitarian is at bottom not different from barbarism. The world is sustained by unworldliness.
So it would seem that it is in fact the unnecessary that, finally, we need the most.
Heschel’s quotes stand for themselves, and perhaps one can see how they have enormous bearing on so much of what goes on in our lives.
But I can’t resist the temptation to relate it to one thing that has recently generated a flurry of news stories, and that is the scientist and writer Stephen Hawking’s recent blunt statement that he is an atheist.
The astrophysicist said that the creation of the world is a scientifically explainable phenomenon and not something that has to do with “God,” pointing out that his theories about the origin of the universe are not compatible with the idea that the world was created by a supreme being.
“Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation,” Hawking said in a video posted by El Mundo.
Well, leaving aside whatever scientific holes there might be in his certainty (and just as Stephen Hawking claims not to believe in God, I claim not to believe that Stephen Hawking is God) I would suggest there is a philosophical vacuum at the heart of the belief that because a God appears to be unnecessary, therefore a God is not needed.
You could dismiss this as mere doubletalk, but to me it’s a real point. People need God, as a quick look around the world and at human history shows, notwithstanding the relatively few like Hawking who claim not to. People need the transcendent, and sometimes in their pursuit of it they wind up with perverse or dangerous views on it, but this doesn’t put an end to the pursuit. Why do people need God, or the transcendent? Why be hard-wired and driven so pointlessly to find that which does not exist?
Some passionate atheists would claim it is simply a flaw that that we need to eliminate in ourselves, or something that humans need to evolve beyond. But if we as humanity truly need to eliminate something so fundamental to our nature, then, well … God help us.
Heschel’s book The Earth Is the Lord’s is still in print, and is a quite short, beautifully intense, and utterly inspiring read.
Natural Wonders and Belief in God: Important New Research
Once again, scientists have directed their telescopes and most advanced instruments upward, have spent long months studying the data and spending their grant money, and emerged to deliver their important conclusion: The sky is blue.
The story this time is in the UK’s Daily Mail: “Natural wonders increase our tendency to believe in God and the supernatural.” Doctor Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College and Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California announced their findings based on studying the reactions of human subjects to awe-inspiring natural sights, and have concluded that such sights increase the tendency of people to believe in God or the supernatural. Amazing. Continue reading Natural Wonders and Belief in God: Important New Research
Mariano Rivera and a Gift from God
Mariano Rivera, born in Panama City, Panama, is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball. No serious person will argue that point, I think. He has arrived at this status as a result of being a reliever—mainly the closer—for the New York Yankees, for nearly twenty years now.
Being a New York Yankee fan by birth (born in the Bronx even if I grew up largely on distant shores) those few times that Rivera blew a big save naturally loom unnaturally large in my memory, but taken as a whole his achievements defy explanation or even praise. What can you say about someone who is so beyond-the-norm of excellence?
2013 is to be his final year of pitching for the Yankees, at the age of 43, if the amazingly-stellar year that he’s having so far (30 saves, 1.83 ERA) does not compel him by acclamation to return for yet another year. There is much being said and written about his career and his character. He is clearly one of the most loved and respected players in baseball, by both friends and opponents, and by both players and fans. Continue reading Mariano Rivera and a Gift from God
Knight, DeJesus and Berry: A Statement (and a Message Obscured)
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held captive in a house in Cleveland for about a decade. A man named Ariel Castro faces trial for their kidnapping and abuse and also for aggravated murder in the death of a baby which one of the women conceived during that time. I think it’s reasonable to say that most of us can only imagine in our worst nightmares what these women experienced during that decade of captivity. Most of us would also maintain that we’d rather die than face such an ordeal. Today, a video was released which features these three brave women thanking the public for the help and support that they’ve received since being freed.
Aside from being a compelling story on its own merits, it is also interesting to see how their message is being summarized in much of the media, for those who do not stop to watch the full three and a half minute video. In a portrayal that I’ve found typical today, TIME.com has this:
In an inspiring, yet heartwrenching statement, Michelle Knight, who went missing in 2002 at age 21, said:
“I may have been through hell and back but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my head held high and my feet firmly on the ground … I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation.”
What’s interesting to me is what is left out by means of those three dots in the middle (and the same words were left out by USA Today and the BBC and others). Read just as it is there, it seems that Michelle Knight is crediting a personal sense of pride and self-regard for her strength and her survival. But there’s a little bit more to it than that, if you listen to her full statement (embedded at the bottom of this post). Here is the bulk of it, as transcribed by yours truly:
I just want everyone to know I’m doing just fine. I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and with my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground, walking hand in hand with my best friend.
I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred. With that being said, we need to take a leap of faith and know that God is in control. We have been hurt by people but we need to rely on God as being the judge.
God has a plan for all of us. The plan that He gave me was to help others that have been in the same situation I have been in. To know that there’s someone out there to lean on and to talk to.
I’m in control of my own destiny, with the guidance of God.
Continue reading Knight, DeJesus and Berry: A Statement (and a Message Obscured)
Time, Prayer and God: Heschel
The following is one of those passages from Abraham Joshua Heschel—extraordinarily common in his writing—that is fascinating when considered as philosophy, penetrating when heard as theology, and quite moving and beautiful when simply read as poetry.
Common to all men who pray is the certainty that prayer is an act which makes the heart audible to God. Who would pour his most precious hopes into an abyss? […]
The passage of hours, almost unnoticeable, but leaving behind the feeling of loss or omission, is either an invitation to despair or a ladder to eternity. This little time in our hands melts away ere it can be formed. Before our eyes man and maid, spring and splendor, slide into oblivion. However, there are hours that perish and hours that join the everlasting. Prayer is a crucible in which time is cast in the likeness of the eternal. Man hands over his time to God in the secrecy of single words. When anointed by prayer, his thoughts and deeds do not sink into nothingness, but merge into the endless knowledge of an all-embracing God.
Those lines are from his book Man’s Quest For God.
Perhaps it’s something to do with aging, but I happen to be increasingly preoccupied with questions of time. Not so much the lack of it (which is very obvious and about which I can do nothing) but the nature of it, and in particular the difference between our time and God’s. It doesn’t matter that this is unknowable; if we ceased wondering about things which are unknowable I suppose that we would be very bored and very boring indeed. But you wonder—and I know that all humans, atheist, agnostic and devout, wonder this—why most seconds, minutes and moments just tick away like a great impersonal and unstoppable clock, and why there are other moments in our lives which may be incredibly brief on the clock but the duration and weight of which seem almost boundless to our experience. These moments can come in a wide variety of contexts, but I think they are often those moments in which we involuntarily shed tears, or at least are very deeply moved by something inexpressible. I think that we are certain, in such a moment, that what is happening matters a great deal, and that it will not simply pass on into the void but will somehow be remembered, and not only by ourselves. Are we wrong, or are we in such moments receiving a tiny glimpse of the eternal? Continue reading Time, Prayer and God: Heschel
Washed away but holding on
There’s a single vignette from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in a piece by Corey Kilgannon of the NY Times about a 68 year-old musician named Kenny Vance, who lived on Beach 137th Street in the Rockaway section of Queens, New York. He’d gradually built his home into a veritable museum of his decades in music, intersecting with the careers of many others. He’d had no serious problem in previous storms—never even getting water in his basement. Then Sandy came along and pulverized everything in a matter of hours. Kenny Vance (who was traveling at sea when the storm hit) lost prized musical instruments, photographs, and many irreplaceable original recordings and master tapes. In fact, he lost his entire house and everything in it but a few scraps and shreds he’s managed to dig out of the sand.
Reading the story, I think it’s fair to say that he never saw it coming. And why would he? We build up our homes and collect our memories, our souvenirs and our treasured possessions, and they look safe in our cabinets and on our shelves. We don’t do it with the thought that one day they will be turned to ruin or swept out in the surf. In the case of a lot of us, the grim reaper that claims our possessions will be rather less dramatic, but maybe even more depressing: it will be the garbage truck that takes away the accumulations of our lifetime from the curbside where our next-of-kin deposited them. Not a cheerful thought, but at least we don’t expect to be there to see it, as opposed to when you lose it all in a disaster.
The whole thing brought to my mind some verses from a psalm recently encountered in a Bible study. The very first part is quite famous; the succeeding lines are heard less often. It’s Psalm 146, verses 3 and 4:
Put not your trust in princes,
nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth;
in that very day his thoughts perish.
That last statement is one to pause on because of its surpassing finality and grimness: “in that very day his thoughts perish.” It’s bad enough to think about dying without being reminded that your thoughts will perish too. Every plan and dream, every intention, every cherished belief and affection: gone. It’s merely echoed by the fate of our possessions, which likely had such meaning for us in life, yet are destined for their own destruction. So, the psalmist says, don’t put your trust in a man, “in whom there is no salvation,” but in God, “who made heaven and earth … who keeps faith forever,” and in whom there presumably then is salvation.
Salvation is not the easiest word to define. Different religious orthodoxies have different thoughts on it. But perhaps at least this much could be said about salvation: you know what it is when you need it. Continue reading Washed away but holding on
This evening, at a Thanksgiving Eve service at our little chapel in the wildwood, we heard a beautiful performance of a piece called Dank sei Dirr, Herr, sung by a mezzo-soprano accompanied by only piano. I was not familiar with the tune, but it was credited to Siegfried Ochs (1858-1929) in the service guide, and a little checking suggests that this is the widely-accepted accreditation these days, although it used to be believed that Handel had composed it.
Anyway, I was quite struck by it, both the beauty of the performance and the composition, and also its moving aptness in a Thanksgiving service. I’m embedding a version via YouTube at the bottom of this post, a grand performance with a singer named Gundula Hintz. The lyric is in German (which I’ll put below the video) but the translation is as follows:
Thanks be to Thee,
Lord God of Hosts:
Thou broughtest forth Your people
with Your mighty hand
Israel safe through the sea.
Lord, like a shepherd
Thou hast led us;
Lord, Thy hand protected us
in Thy goodness tenderly as in ages past.
The words sound reminiscent of any number of songs of praise and psalms from the Bible, but I don’t know a precise source, if there is one. The last few verses of Psalm 77 could be one.
Yet, the message is beautifully historic and specific and at the same time up-to-the-minute, relevant and universal. You might paraphrase it: Thank You, Lord God, for protecting Your people in the past, and thank You for protecting Your people now, every moment of every hour.
Some of us might just add a prayer that we indeed count among God’s people. Continue reading Thanksgiving
From the Complete Rolling Stone Interview: Following Up On Dylan & God (etc)
The new issue of Rolling Stone containing the full interview with Bob Dylan by Mikal Gilmore has now hit the streets. It is a riot: a wildly entertaining romp, in my opinion, and well worth handing over a few of Caesar’s coins to the newsagent in order to read in full. To what extent it is more than merely entertaining is going to be a matter of debate. Dylan is capable of giving very thoughtful and sober interviews; you can dig out the books and read them. This one, by and large, didn’t turn out that way, I think, although it has a few moments, especially the interlude regarding the U.S. Civil War.
If you’ve read the whole interview, you’ll know that Dylan goes off on a big tangent about a notion of “transfiguration”: his own, somehow connected with the death of another, different Bobby Zimmerman in a motorcycle accident in the early 1960s (mentioned very briefly in Chronicles, page 79). Rolling Stone unabashedly makes this the centerpiece of the article, highlighting it in the intro as a story “much more transformational than he has fully revealed before,” etcetera, etcetera. Well, you be the judge. Personally I’ve never seen anything that is more clearly a riff, a lark, and big fat red herring. I mean, I have no doubt Bob was struck when he first read about that other Bobby Zimmerman who also liked motorcycles, but as to the rest of the meaning of it … let’s just say that if I’d been eating anything when I read it I would have joined young Bobby Zimmerman in the afterlife by now.
In any case, I started something with a previous post on Bob’s seemingly easy and offhand expression of faith in an early excerpt of the interview, and it behooves me to follow up on that subject. Specifically, that was when he was complaining about being called “Judas” for playing an electric guitar, and he remarked: “As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified.” Continue reading From the Complete Rolling Stone Interview: Following Up On Dylan & God (etc)
FDR’s Speech and Prayer on D-Day, June 6th, 1944
President Franklin D. Roosevelt went on the radio to speak to the nation on D-Day (June 6th, 1944) and to invite the nation to join him in prayer.
And today being the anniversary of that event, it certainly seems a good day to thank God for answering all of those prayers.
My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest—until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violence of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home—fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them—help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too—strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment—let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace—a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
God’s Problem with Bob Dylan (and with Us)
Late last year, author Ron Rosenbum gave a lecture at Stanford University titled “Bob Dylan’s God Problem—and Ours.”
More recently, he wrote an article in The Chronicle Review titled “The Naked Truth,” reexamining what he said during that lecture. It had to do with the problem of how we can believe in an all-powerful God who is totally good when there is so much evil in the world. (In philosophical circles the consideration of this problem is known as “theodicy.”) Rosenbaum was in particular looking at how the problem seemed to be considered by Dylan in his work, and the lynchpin of this lecture was apparently a few lines that he had recently found in Bob Dylan’s 1960’s book of poetry and stream-of-consciousness writing called “Tarantula.” Specifically:
“hitler did not change
history. hitler WAS history”
(Found at the bottom of page 23 of my own paperback edition from St. Martin’s Griffin.) (UPDATE: See all twenty lines of the poem at this link.)
I don’t want to linger too long on the Bob Dylan element, because there are (believe it or not) questions that seem more important to me here, but I have a few thoughts. Ron Rosenbaum sums up his reaction to encountering the lines this way:
Whoa. Those eight words: “… hitler did not change history. hitler WAS history”! Where did that come from? In the 10 years I spent writing a 500-page book called Explaining Hitler (Random House, 1998), not one of the historians, philosophers, artists, or other sages I spoke to or read ever made as white-hot an indictment of humanity as that. An indictment, implicitly, of God as well.
Well, I think Rosenbaum had an experience that maybe all Dylan fans have, usually when listening to his music, when we hear something that pierces right into an area of great relevance to us. It seems uncanny that he’s thinking just like us. (And it is uncanny, don’t get me wrong.) As someone who spent ten years writing a 500 page book on Hitler, and is currently writing a book on Bob Dylan, Rosenbaum was struck as if by a lightning bolt by the confluence of these two great subjects. Here was Dylan making a piercing observation about Hitler, albeit only eight words in a jumbled collection of sometimes incomprehensible “poetry” (which for the record and arguably to my shame I’ve read more than once in my life and re-consulted on numerous occasions). But Rosenbaum’s take on it as “an indictment of humanity” and “implicitly, of God as well” is his own. I take it as a simple statement of fact rather than an indictment, and one that in theory could be made by an atheist as easily as by a devout believer in God, albeit with different import. Obviously, given that it’s just eight words, and given the context in this book “Tarantula,” one’s first instinct is to avoid attaching too much weight to it at all, but at a minimum it surely is a comment on human nature, and one that is not inconsistent with the view of human nature that permeates Dylan’s body of work: People are capable of anything. Corruption is a constant. Hitler, in that sense, was only an especially gigantic personification of the presence of evil in history and the capacity for evil in human nature. Continue reading God’s Problem with Bob Dylan (and with Us)
Man at Last Seeks God [Particles]
I was just reading the latest about what’s being discovered by the use of gigantic particle accelerators around the world, like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi Accelerator and the CERN in Switzerland. It is said that “tantalizing hints” of the theorized Higgs boson particle, otherwise known as the “God particle,” have been seen. The Higgs boson, if it exists, isn’t very much; it’s merely the particle that enables other particles to have mass. Without mass, things would be much the same, I suppose, except considerably lighter. Obesity would hardly be an issue at all and public schools in America could focus more on reading, writing and arithmetic versus tinkering with what children are eating. Continue reading Man at Last Seeks God [Particles]
Israeli Jews and Belief in God
I find this heartening, I must admit: a survey in Israel by the Guttman-Avi Chai foundation says that a record number of Israeli Jews currently believe in God. That number is 80%, and by “record number,” reference is made to other surveys dating back to 1991. Continue reading Israeli Jews and Belief in God
New York ban on church use of space in schools upheld
For some years now, a number of religious congregations in New York City that were short of worship space have taken advantage of unoccupied public school buildings, and paid a fee to use such space for their services. Other community groups and organizations do similar things. A win-win, you would think. However, the City of New York has long been suing to prevent churches—and only the churches, mind you—from utilizing public school space in this way. Something to do, I guess, with the terrible danger to innocent kids of merely knowing that the space they’re sitting in might have been occupied the evening before by a person who professes belief in God. Continue reading New York ban on church use of space in schools upheld
No God, But New York City Public School Students Have “KARMA”
Below are two very recent headlines I grabbed:
“School shut down by Board of Ed for teaching secular Bible course.”
“Court says teacher must take down patriotic banners mentioning God.”
You see these kinds of stories all the time, with schools or teachers running afoul of what is characterized as “the separation of church and state” (which is a phrase some people mistakenly believe resides in the U.S. Constitution, but no matter that now). God doesn’t belong in a public school classroom, we are told, and that goes double for the Bible, which is a manifestation of that specific Judeo-Christian God.
Although I’m not personally an advocate of this idea of actively expunging religious concepts from the natural life and thought that would take place in schools, I do understand the concept. It’s why, when passing a public school in my New York City neighborhood, I’ve raised my eyebrow at a sign that has long hung over the main entrance. It says: “Robert F. Kennedy Students Have KARMA.” That’s PS 169, of the New York City Public School system.
The students have KARMA? I think most of us know what the word means, but let’s go to Merriam-Webster for an official definition: It is “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.”
PS 169 is neither a Hindu nor a Buddhist school, but is, as mentioned, a New York City public school. So this is why my eyebrow was raised. Still and all, you see a lot of things in New York City, and you learn to keep walking. It was only one poster.
Recently, however, I had occasion to visit the same school on other business (voting). Walking through the lobby and hallways, I couldn’t help but notice that this “KARMA” concept was repeated. Again and again. It seemed to be all over the place, in fact, and in a myriad of different incarnations.
One posting says “GOOD KARMA,” with a picture of a scale, and the exhortation, “BALANCE OUT THOSE NEGATIVE VIBES.” We’re assured that “P169 HAS GOOD KARMA.”
Another (my favorite) says that “STUDENTS WITH KARMA REMOVE HATS GIVE ALL CELLPHONES, IPODS, ETC. TO MR. REEVES.”
Another sign—this one quite elaborately constructed in three dimensions—presents each letter of KARMA as the first letter of another word: Kind, Appropriate, Responsible, Mature, Accountable. There’s a big smiling sun perched alongside.
So, that’s the root of this. Further research found evaluations of the school on an official New York City government website, and documentation regarding the “KARMA” behavior modification program, which has apparently been in place since at least 2006. As in this report (.pdf):
The school’s philosophy is that achievement is inextricably linked to behavior, so to that end the school has implemented the ‘KARMA’ initiative in school, standing for kindness, appropriacy, responsibility, maturity, accountability. All activity in the school is linked to ‘KARMA,’ from clarity about which behaviors are expected in which location in the school, to a rewards and sanctions system, in which students can “buy” such things as leisure time on the computer, book bags and pencils with the rewards of good behavior. This is reinforced in every lesson, every classroom and by every member of staff.
“KARMA” is an acronym for these behaviors and attitudes that the school wishes to encourage. Clearly, though, the use of the term also plays on the original Hindu/Buddhist concept of consequences for ethical choices. In all, it’s really very clever.
However, imagine if instead of “Robert F. Kennedy students have KARMA,” the signs said, “Robert F. Kennedy students are filled with the Holy Spirit.” Maybe someone could come up with qualities worth promoting which corresponded with those letters; let me see … HOLY: Happiness; Orderliness; Levelheadedness; Youthfulness; SPIRIT: Sensitivity; Patience; Irony; Readiness; Imperturbability; Tolerance. (I make no claim to be an expert at this but you can get one for the right price.)
Or imagine if the signs said (God forbid!): “Robert F. Kennedy students follow the Ten Commandments.” Think of the heads that would explode. Picture, if you will, the ACLU helicopters swooping in to rescue the students before their helpless and innocent minds could be contaminated by such thoughts.
KARMA is assuredly a concept that has entered the common lingo, especially since John Lennon’s big hit record, but the same can certainly be said of concepts like the Holy Spirit and the Ten Commandments, which have been around for 2000 years and more. “Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Yet these words are proscribed in the public schools, while KARMA may be promoted?
It also needs to be noted that to the same degree as KARMA is a concept born of Hinduism and Buddhism it conflicts with Judeo-Christian beliefs. KARMA presumes a cycle of existence, of incarnation and reincarnation, that just doesn’t square with the Judeo-Christian belief in reckoning and justice from a particular God: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God Jesus called “Father.” The idea of reincarnation and KARMA appeals to New-Agey kinds of Westerners who are more comfortable worshiping an impersonal creation rather than a personal Creator, but for believing Christians and Jews it is plainly unbiblical.
Therefore plastering the idea of KARMA all over a public school is not a neutral act. It displaces Judeo-Christian thought and symbology (although those thoughts and symbols have already effectively been banned).
So, where does this all lead? Am I writing this because I want KARMA stripped from this school and any other school that might use it? No. Personally, I’m not greatly incensed by the cutesy use of this term in a program intended to improve student behavior. Maybe the program works. It’s not the use of the Hindu/Buddhist concept that bothers me, but rather the zero tolerance afforded to the Judeo-Christian God and related concepts. It’s the double-standard.
Another posting I came across in the school was a quote from Malcolm X: “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”
No big argument here. But it also brought to my mind another old aphorism (often attributed to G.K. Chesterton but apparently from a Belgian writer named Emile Cammaerts):
“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.”
It’s merely my fantasy, of-course but I sure would like to see that posted prominently in the school. I think it might balance out a little of their KARMA.
More Abraham Joshua Heschel: on the Law, God’s Timing and Man’s Readiness
From his book God in Search of Man:
Man had to be expelled from the Garden of Eden; he had to witness the murder of half of the human species by Cain out of envy; experience the catastrophe of the Flood; the confusion of the languages; slavery in Egypt and the wonder of the Exodus, to be ready to accept the law.
Continue reading More Abraham Joshua Heschel: on the Law, God’s Timing and Man’s Readiness
Angry at God? Get in line (with atheists)
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is said to show that virtually everyone feels anger towards God at various points in their lives, especially after the loss through death of a loved one, or a diagnosis with a serious illness. The interesting thing is that this includes self-professed unbelievers in God. In fact, according to this study, they get angrier Continue reading Angry at God? Get in line (with atheists)
Christopher Hitchens on Ricks, Bob Dylan and Bach
In a previous post I mentioned the writer Christopher Hitchens, who is suffering from some serious cancer, and posted a clip of an interview with him which was bookended by Bob Dylan’s song “Gates of Eden.” Thanks to Sue who responded with a note titled “The Two Christophers”: Continue reading Christopher Hitchens on Ricks, Bob Dylan and Bach
Region N11 of Large Magellanic Cloud (and Psalm 8)
Pictured here is just another breathtaking image from the Hubble Space Telescope, recently released. It is of a region called N11 of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The sciences of physics and astronomy tell us that what we’re looking at is a nursery of stars. (More images and more details are at this link.) Gases are being compressed and compacted here and nuclear fusion is sparking and bringing forth bright new spheres of light and energy which will shine for billions of years, like our own Sun. What planets might they light, what frozen or perhaps boiling vistas on strange and beautiful worlds that human eyes will never see?
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers
the moon and stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
When I was younger, there was a very difficult-to-resolve conflict here. Continue reading Region N11 of Large Magellanic Cloud (and Psalm 8)