Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘religion’

Bearing your cross to Cadbury

The Church of England wants people to know the true meaning of Christian faith, which is, apparently, chocolate eggs. Official church spokesmen have attacked Cadbury’s and the National Trust for conducting “egg hunts” without mentioning Easter. It’s just like when Peter denied his Lord three times, and then left his name off the adverts for his Galilee fish shop.

The chocolate-maker retorts “it clearly used the word Easter on its packaging and in its marketing”, and no greater love hath a man than to use his suffering and death in packaging and marketing. But the Archbishop of York* says that’s not enough:

The Archbishop of York said calling the event the Cadbury Egg Hunt was like “spitting on the grave” of the firm’s Christian founder, John Cadbury… He said if people were to visit Cadbury World in Birmingham “they will discover how Cadbury’s Christian faith influenced his industrial output.”

I think we can all agree that Easter is a time for all Christian believers to reflect on industrial output.

And despite the politically correct marketing gobbledegook of the Cadbury’s representatives — “We invite people from all faiths and none to enjoy our seasonal treats” — it is appropriate to expect that people should think of the Church of England when looking at a hollow shell stuffed with unhealthful, cloyingly sweet goo.

I’m reminded of the stories I heard from East Germany about attempts to rechristen the Christmas tree to Jahresendbaum [end-of-year tree] and the traditional angel on top to Jahresendflügelpuppe [end-of-year winged doll]. Christmas itself was supposed to be called Fest des Friedens [festival of peace]. I’m not sure if these were jokes, or whether they referred to genuine government initiatives — maybe both — but here is one report of these designations actually being used, and even compulsory.

* This statement really should have come from the Archbishop of Cadbury…

“Who would believe this?”

This comment from Trump’s rally to launch his 2020 reelection campaign has gotten a lot of attention:

You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening. Last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.

(I’ve repunctuated from my source, since “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden” doesn’t work grammatically.) Narrow-minded commenters have obsessed over the fact that nothing out of the ordinary happened in Sweden. (Not than anyone has presented proof that nothing happened…) But he didn’t say anything unusual happened. All he did was to ask “who would believe this?” They took in large numbers. TRUE! It’s a testimony of faith that “they’re having problems like they never thought possible”. Every day, including last night. Trump is inviting the elect to testify to their belief. “Belief” is considered a good thing in church, why not in politics? John McCain, at least, is on the same page:

“Can Americans be confident that a Republican-controlled Congress can investigate this President thoroughly if necessary?” Chuck Todd asked McCain on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

“I hope so and I have to believe so,” McCain said. “More hope than belief.”

We have to believe! We believe in congressional action unseen. Just because you’re in the Senate does not mean that you are responsible for causing the action to occur. It will happen. We just have to believe.

Don Quixote on sampling bias

Continuing my series on modern themes that were already thoroughly treated in Don Quixote, here is the passage where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza discuss whether it is better to be a knight errant or a monk:

“Señor, it is better to be an humble little friar of no matter what order, than a valiant knight-errant; with God a couple of dozen of penance lashings are of more avail than two thousand lance-thrusts, be they given to giants, or monsters, or dragons.”

“All that is true,” returned Don Quixote, “but we cannot all be friars, and many are the ways by which God takes his own to heaven; chivalry is a religion, there are sainted knights in glory.”

“Yes,” said Sancho, “but I have heard say that there are more friars in heaven than knights-errant.”

“That,” said Don Quixote, “is because those in religious orders are more numerous than knights.”

Cervantes on objectification of women

For those inclined to be too optimistic about the pace of progress in recognising the validity of female perspectives — the way an objectifying male perspective has been perniciously treated as a default and inherently valid — I note that Cervantes in Don Quixote made this point more than four centuries ago. In satirising the tradition of courtly pickup artists who stalk their fair damsels remorselessly, Cervantes allows a woman to speak at the funeral of a man whose friends furiously attribute his death to her “cruelty” in rejecting his advances:

Heaven has made me, so you say, beautiful, and so much so that in spite of yourselves my beauty leads you to love me; and for the love you show me you say, and even urge, that I am bound to love you. By that natural understanding which God has given me I know that everything beautiful attracts love, but I cannot see how, by reason of being loved, that which is loved for its beauty is bound to love that which loves it; besides, it may happen that the lover of that which is beautiful may be ugly, and ugliness being detestable, it is very absurd to say, “I love thee because thou art beautiful, thou must love me though I be ugly.” But supposing the beauty equal on both sides, it does not follow that the inclinations must be therefore alike, for it is not every beauty that excites love, some but pleasing the eye without winning the affection; and if every sort of beauty excited love and won the heart, the will would wander vaguely to and fro unable to make choice of any; for as there is an infinity of beautiful objects there must be an infinity of inclinations, and true love, I have heard it said, is indivisible, and must be voluntary and not compelled. If this be so, as I believe it to be, why do you desire me to bend my will by force, for no other reason but that you say you love me? Nay–tell me–had Heaven made me ugly, as it has made me beautiful, could I with justice complain of you for not loving me?

I am reminded of the joke about the holy warrior who is struck down at last after many grim battles. He arrives in the afterlife and is ushered into a room where waits a plain woman who proceeds to abuse him verbally and physically. “Lord,” he shouts out, “I expected, for all my service, that I would be rewarded with a beautiful virgin when I was carried off to heaven.” And the woman says, “Heaven? You’re not in Heaven. I’m in Hell.”

Backgrounds

A British politician gave a brave speech a few days ago, defying political correctness to name a pressing problem of British society that most would rather ignore. He said,

There is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other… backgrounds.

The prime minister’s response to this attack on his isolated Etonian upbringing was… no, wait, that was the prime minister himself who said it. And the words I left out — “other faiths and backgrounds” — make clear that he’s talking about Muslims. (He could also be talking about the insular Hasidic communities of London, but he’s probably not.) Those are the people in need of integration.

Sikh and ye shall find

… a primary school place.

Apparently the government’s decision to wipe out new school construction and put huge amounts of the remaining schools budget into independently run “free schools” has led to some unexpected consequences:

More than 20 pupils have been allocated places at a Sikh-ethos free school in Leeds that they did not choose, amid a shortage of school places.

The school is not a faith school, but it is run with a Sikh ethos.

As someone with a child who had little option but to attend a Church of England school, that really was a “faith school” — secular options were much further away, even if they did have places — I wonder what the fuss was about.

On its website, the Khalsa Free School stresses it is not a faith school, adding: “We are firmly committed to developing our pupils’ understanding and appreciation of the diverse world in which they live.” It says: “We welcome all children regardless of their backgrounds or faiths and we aim to help all our children develop a lifelong love of learning, which will support them throughout their academic careers and beyond.” 
“For Sikhs, education not only prepares students for work and life in society but also supports spiritual growth. Education is understood by Sikhs to raise aspirations and personal standards, encourage self-awareness and humility, and inspire all to seek a greater purpose in life.”

Humility! Purpose! No wonder parents are outraged. What impact will self-awareness have on lifetime earnings? How will humility help them get in to Cambridge? Where is the acknowledgement of the divine imperative to maximise test scores?


Abercrombie cool

I don’t know anything about Abercrombie & Fitch. I know it’s a chain of stores that sell clothes, I’m sure I’ve seen their stores, but I’ve never been inside them. Everything I know about their brand comes from an 80-year-old satire by James Thurber that begins

 I always try to answer Abercrombie & Fitch’s questions (in their advertisements) the way they obviously want them answered, but usually, if I am to be honest with them and with myself, I must answer them in a way that would not please Abercrombie & Fitch. While that company and I have always nodded and smiled pleasantly enough when we met, we have never really been on intimate terms, mainly because we have so little in common. For one thing, I am inclined to be nervous and impatient, whereas Abercrombie & Fitch are at all times composed and tranquil…

Take the one recently printed in an advertisement in this magazine. Under a picture of a man fishing in a stream were these words: “Can’t you picture yourself in the middle of the stream with the certain knowledge that a wise old trout is hiding under a ledge and defying you to tempt him with your skillfully cast fly?” My answer, of course, is “No.” Especially if I am to be equipped the way the gentleman in the illustration is equipped: with rod, reel, line, net, hip boots, felt hat, and pipe. They might just as well add a banjo and a parachute….

I was reminded of this in reading about a case that is currently being considered by the US Supreme Court, in which Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has charged the company with religious discrimination, after it refused to hire a Muslim woman, because her headscarf would conflict with the Abercrombie dress code. (As the law would require reasonable accommodation to be made for religious observance, the legal case turns on the relatively uninteresting question of whether the district manager who made the decision, and who reportedly said  “if we allow this then someone will paint themselves green and call it a religion”, is really the last man left in America so uncontaminated by media representations of Muslims that he is not even aware that Muslim women often wear headscarfs as part of their religious practice.)

According to court documents,

Abercrombie described its brand as “a classic East Coast collegiate style of clothing.” When Elauf applied for a job in 2008, the Look policy included prohibitions on black clothing and “caps”; these and other rules were designed to protect “the health and vitality of its ‘preppy’ and ‘casual’ brand.” As Justice Alito put it during oral arguments, Abercrombie wants job candidates “who [look] just like this mythical preppy or … somebody who came off the beach in California.”

From fly-fishing in an east-coast stream to a beach in California. You’ve come a long way, baby!

Come home to Israel…

Binyamin Netanyahu is back to grandstanding as king of the Jews — just days after announcing that he would be speaking to the US Congress as “a representative of the entire Jewish people” — telling European Jews that they will always be victimised by non-Jews as long as they stay in Europe, so they should move to Israel, where they can be victimised by fellow Jews instead. But at least in Israel Jews can pray in peace without armed police protecting them; because in Israel the armed police will break up their prayer sessions and arrest them (if they’re women and not Orthodox).

The Tin Woodman as Anti-Antinomian

Antinomianism — the belief that the intrinsic holiness of believers liberates them from petty concerns with moral, much less humane, behaviour — often seems depressingly prevalent. At least as prevalent as the mirror-image disposition that many believers attribute to atheists, that if there is no God to set rules, all things are permitted.

I was just reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for the first time, and I was struck by the morality of the Tin Woodman, who hopes that the Wizard will bestow upon him a heart. Of course, the running joke is that the everyone is going to the Wizard to get something that they already have. The Scarecrow wants brains, even though he repeatedly proves himself the cleverest of the company; the Cowardly Lion wants courage despite the fact that he repeatedly performs heroic and self-sacrificing deads. The Tin Woodman, although he is made of metal and lacks a heart, is the most tenderhearted of all. At one point he rusts himself through crying over a beetle that he steps on accidentally.

“This will serve me a lesson,” said he, “to look where I step. For if I should kill another bug or beetle I should surely cry again, and crying rusts my jaws so that I cannot speak.”

Thereafter he walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road, and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would step over it, so as not to harm it. The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.

“You people with hearts,” he said, “have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful. When Oz gives me a heart of course I needn’t mind so much.”

Replace “heart” by “grace”, and you see that far too many of the devout believe they have been to Oz.

Kids’ Kindness Krusade

So, there’s this president in America, and his job description definitely does not include “Defender of the Faith” or anything like that, and he’s getting bashed for having suggested that the Crusades — hundreds of years of Europeans hoisting aloft the banner of Christ and marching off to slaughter infidels and expropriate their lands, in case you’ve forgotten — might have raised some misapprehensions that Christianity is not 100% a religion of peace. He also made the (clearly revisionist) assertion, with no footnotes to back it up, that churches in the American South weren’t doing everything they possibly could to end slavery and later discrimination against Black Americans. Political and historical opponents aren’t taking these slurs lying down!
Maybe it’s because my ancestors were the first victims of lazy crusaders who thought they might as well start by killing the infidels closer to home (Rhineland Jews), but I’ve always found the Anglo-American use of “crusade” to mean an ardent struggle for a good cause — possibly hopeless, but usually a good thing (for example, the “crusade against rape culture” or against the REF), or even against equine colic). (I don’t know how it is used elsewhere. I can’t think that I’ve observed the corresponding German word used in a generic sense.
This dissonance particularly stood out for me when I saw, in an elementary school in Cambridge MA where I was doing some volunteer teaching, a poster announcing the “Kids’ Kindness Crusade”. Even without knowing the story of the Children’s Crusade (which may or may not have been a real historical event) it seems bizarre to me that people would think a “kids’ crusade” sounds like a positive thing. It seems as weird to me as promoting a “Parents’ Patience Pogrom”, or “Genocide against Germs”. Or, for that matter, “war on illiteracy and unnumeracy“.

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