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WTF and GTF

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So, I watched A Serious Man recently. I started it Thursday and finished it Friday. I liked the first hour.... and then I got irritated, and cut it off for a while. When I came back to it the next day, I was really impatient. What the hell is going on, I wondered? and when is whatever's going on, just going to END?

I admit there were moments along the way I really loved, elements I thought were great. I really liked Michael Stuhlburg, the actor who played Larry Gopnik. I LOVED Mrs. Samsky. I thought Sy Ableman was a wonderfully horrible character. I enjoyed the references to F Troop, which I vaguely remember liking when I was a little girl. I loved when the rabbi started quoting Grace Slick at the end. And there was something about the look of the film that I found quite compelling.

But the end? I had heard that it didn't really have an end, that it just STOPPED. And sure enough, it didn't really have an end; it just stopped. I was so irritated that I cut it off before the credits, which I typically watch.

And then, about ten minutes later, the meaning of the ending hit me, and I just started laughing, because I got it, and because it was perfect. I have been thinking about it all day, remembering the entire movie in a different light, and now I wish I hadn't already sent it back to Netflix so I could watch it again.

If you haven't seen the movie and don't want to read any spoilers, don't click on the "continue reading" link. Instead, just watch this terrific cartoon version of Job:

but if you want the details of the epiphany I had about the end, read on:

So Quiet You Can Hear the Ants Pissing Outside

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Yesterday I went to a screening of a really boring, unsuccessful documentary ostensibly and nominally about forgiveness. I say it that way because although the film--or rather, the first half of the four-hour film--claimed to explore forgiveness, it spent most of its time discussing the offenses and crimes that someone then did or didn't forgive. And there were some pretty horrific crimes: torture and murder in South Africa under Apartheid, the shooting of Amish school girls in Pennsylvania, two college girls out camping in Oregon and being run over by a truck before being attacked with an ax, the murder of a cop during a bank robbery.... there was so much attention to these crimes that the movie felt like some sort of investigative piece you'd see on the Discovery channel.

As for what it actually had to say about forgiveness, that was pretty trite and unsurprising. I didn't hear a single thing I hadn't encountered several times before in either a Sunday school class, a self-help book, or both. In fact, aside from grisly details about the crimes presented in the movie, the only truly memorable thing it contained was when a woman who had to forgive A) herself for being a drug addict and stealing from her daughter and B) her boyfriend for giving her HIV, told the camera that as a result of learning to forgive, she could sleep very well, and that at night her life was so peaceful "you can hear the ants pissing outside."

Unsuccessful and boring as the movie was, it did make me think that a thorough exploration of the topic is warranted--in some other forum. This project should not have been a movie but a book--a thorough, well-researched, well-documented, well-edited, scholarly exploration of the history of forgiveness and current ideas about it.

Love and Hate in the King James Bible

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This is another one of those entries I wrote years ago and have never gotten around to posting. Actually I wrote this in the mid 1990s and tried to get someone to publish it, but every editor I offered it to declined. I think it's interesting, but no one else did at the time.

One day about in the mid 1990s in grad school I decided to do a search on "love" and "hate" in the scriptures. In the LDS standard works, the word love appears 412 times; loved shows up 116 times. Hate appears 104 times, hated appears 70 times, and hatred appears 37. Approximately three fourths of the references to each are in the Bible. Hate appears before any mention of love; it is first used in Genesis 24:60:

And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.

The first time love is used in the Bible, it is in the past tense, and seems to be the romantic variety of love: in 24:67 we read that "Isaac brought her [Rebekah] unto his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death."

Love's second and third appearances involve strikingly carnal attitudes: in Genesis 25:28, we read, "And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob." In Genesis 27:4, an aged Isaac tells Esau to "make me some savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat, that my soul may bless thee before I die."

Love is mentioned only once in the ten commandments, not as a commandment in and of itself, but as an aside in the second commandment. First we are instructed that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Then comes

Talking Far Too Easily about God

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Here is an interview from Religion Dispatches with Karen Armstrong about her current project, the Charter for Compassion, which she announced in her acceptance speech of the TED prize.

I like several things she says in this interview. She points out the essential cruelty and immorality of a certain branch of Christian thought when she states that

the rapture myth... is a terrifying story--that God so hates the world that he is about to smash it into bits with some terrible catastrophic disaster. The fact that this belief is so widely held in the most rich and powerful nation in the world has profound implications--ones that we ought to be listening very carefully to.

I also like her statement that

We are all talking far too easily today about God and what we say is often facile. We often learn about God as children, at the same time as we learn about Santa Claus. But as we mature, our ideas about Santa Claus change and become more sophisticated, though our ideas about God can get stuck in an infantile mode and become thereby incredible.

This is part of what I was trying to point out in the conversation I mention here.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the interview. I signed the Charter for Compassion, and am trying to think of some ways to include more acts of compassion and generosity in my daily life. Seems about as good a New Year's resolution as any.

Divine, Transhuman Models

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I recently read a book I should have read ages ago, The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade. I've read so many works that reference TS&TP that at moments I thought I'd read it already-but I hadn't. I'm glad I've read it now, even though I found it fairly tedious. It's a general overview of the difference between homo religiosus and "non-religious man," first of all, not a detailed history of anything, so it lacks captivating details. More importantly, I personally find the general project somewhat spurious, this business of drawing a distinction between the religious and the non-religious human, as if a thirst for the transcendent is not something essential to human nature, but is instead something tacked on to us at previous points in history, and so can be collectively shed. OK, not every individual cares about transcendence, but as a species, I think we hunger and thirst for it, though we find it in different things: art, or science, or literature, or nature, and so on.

The book also assumes a homogeneity (rather than a variety) of religious experience, asserting that certain uniform and fairly rudimentary attributes are what makes one alive to the sacred, and that absence of these attributes makes one, by necessity, profane. For instance, Eliade seems to believe that one cannot be truly invested and alive to the sacred without a belief in a fairly anthropomorphic god. He asserts that homo religiosus

Loss Anticipated, Loss Experienced

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My favorite poem by Robert Hass is "Meditation at Lagunitas," which begins

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.

Pretty much.

Friday night I went to the Sunstone Chritsmas party, my first Christmas party of the season, and perhaps my last.... I was also invited to one last night, but I couldn't make it. No other parties are scheduled for the next few weeks except a few celebrations of ME, 'cause, you know, Jesus's birth isn't the only one celebrated in December.

Anyway, there was a conversation about New York Doll, a documentary about Arthur "Killer" Kane, which I wrote about several years ago in an entry that garnered lots of very interesting comments. There were people at the party who had never heard of it, and those of us who had seen it tried to explain what it was about and why someone should watch it. I mentioned what I said in my entry: that when I heard David Johansen sing "Come, Come Ye Saints" I burst into tears and sobbed until I couldn't breathe or sit up.

This struck some of the other people there are strange. "I didn't cry when I heard that hymn," one person said. "Not at all."

"You're still active in the church," I said. "You still get to sing that song as part of a community that values it. It doesn't represent a loss to you."

Loss ebbs and flows. We get over loss to some extent because we have to, and because time, if it doesn't heal all wounds, at least changes them. But our experience of loss starts not with the actual loss, but with our awareness that it WILL happen.

Celebrate Like Jesus

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I'm not even a Christian and I think this is so freakin' awesome.

Comparing the People Who See Everyone Else as Gentiles

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Sometimes when someone writes a critique of Mormonism, someone will come along and accuse the writer of bigotry against Mormons. To prove the point, they'll replace the word "Mormon" with the word "Jew" or "Jewish," suggesting that finding Mormonism silly is as bad as anti-Semitism. It happened on my blog, somewhere.... I can't find it now, and don't really care, but my response was to say that by virtue of having grown up Mormon and served a mission for the church, I'd earned the write to say things about it others find offensive, so tough shit.

But I finally found a document where *I* want to substitute the word "Mormon" for the word "Jew," to show why I'm glad to be a post-Mormon instead of a regular old devout Mormon.

Remember a few weeks ago when I was writing about various avoidance techniques I was using to help me not write? I recently rediscovered a truth I’ve known quite well and put into practice successfully in the past: the very best writing-avoidance-technique of all is some other writing project. I’m still not working on the project I committed to, but I’m getting all sorts of other writing done. Check out the January calendar here on my blog--you’ll notice that there was a flurry of activity last week. I was blogging so I wouldn’t have to work on the real project I needed to deal with. In fact, that’s why I’m blogging right now.

But back before I started writing in order to not write, I read stuff. And one of the things I read was this really scary book entitled American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges, which came out in 2006.

This book truly alarmed me, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who has ever been to church, as well as anyone who has never been to church and so doesn’t know what happens there. In other words, it’s essential reading if you want to understand one of the challenges facing our society.

This book does not mention Mormons--the word doesn’t appear in the index, and indeed there are significant ways in which Mormons don’t fit into definition of religious fascists Hedges presents. (If there weren’t, Harry Reid, the Mormon Democratic senator from Nevada and Senate Majority Leader, couldn’t exist. Also, I think the fact that Mormons tried and failed to create a theocracy in North America has left them with a little more distaste for the enterprise than a lot of conservative Christians.) But there were ways in which they do. For instance, this passage could easily describe life in the Mormon church:

Why Discussions About God Often Aren't Very Rewarding

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Yesterday morning I sat down to write a blog entry about why I liked first grade, which was something I mentioned in another recent entry. But I decided that before I did that, I'd check a few of my favorite blogs--and I got sucked into a conversation that made my original blog plans go away.

One of my very favorite Mormon-themed blogs is Main Street Plaza. There's always something interesting going on there.

Right now, for instance, there's a conversation about "god," begun when profxm posted an email he sent to his devout Mormon sister-in-law when she asked him for help with arguments for why God doesn't exist, since she had to provide some for a school assignment and couldn't think of any. (Seriously. She couldn't think of ANY. Talk about a failure of the imagination.)

The arguments profxm offers are great--if you're talking about a quasi-anthropomorphic god with volition and shit. They aren't so great if you're talking about the concept of god that interests me most--one alluded to in this post discussing Karen Armstrong's work, for instance.

I've posted a bunch of comments but a few have been profoundly misunderstood--I was accused of believing in the god of the deists, first of all, when I absolutely don't--actually, I've been accused of "believing" in "god" even though I keep saying I DON'T. I write,

As I said, the “god” I am interested in (I won’t even say I “believe” in it, because I don’t know if I do) doesn’t create anything.

and someone responds

You believe in an undefinable, unknownable, un-understandable (is that a word?) force that influences something (it must influence something, else why call it a force?).

No. I don't "believe" in it, which is why I said I didn't.

Mostly the conversation underscores for me how thoughtless we are about vocabulary. We don't interrogate or reconsider terms. I keep saying I don't "believe" in "god" and I DON'T believe in "god" in the way that I believe on faith a great many things I can't know firsthand (since I don't have the background or means to conduct experiments and observations myself): that black holes exist, that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, that birds are the descendants of dinosaurs, or that Bush & Cheney lied about the rationale for going to war in Iraq.

But I'm interested in "god." I don't believe Elizabeth Bennet was a "real person" but I'm interested in her because she has become a real force; she is a real fiction with a real presence in the real world. I have found something beneficial in talking about her effects on the world and on myself. I'm interested in the process by which she was created. I'm interested in what we learn about ourselves when we take her seriously.

Anyway. If you are interested in "god" please read the conversation and tell me what you think, either here or there.

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