Monday, 12 January 2009

Fiddling with the Truth.


I know my last post was a little frugal when it came to profundity. This is the thing: my grandparents on my father’s side were 2nd generation East End London Jews. They came from (my Grandmother) Russia; near Odessa and (my Grandfather) Poland, Krakow. Originally my father’s surname was Shimansky, a name with great history, meaning and magic. The Shimansky’s were healers and wise people.
My grandfather was working in Shepherd’s Bush market when the Second World War broke out and was advised by the British Government, as were all East European Jews in the forces, to change the name to something a little..less..well obviously ‘yid’.

The family looked around and said, ' Oy, so we have a shop in Shepherd’s Bush Market called Bush Stores..lets keep this simple for the punters already,’ and my father became a ‘Bush.’

Note; this was my father.

The Jewish line is matrilineal and my mother was to the immense fury of my grandparents, not one of the Chosen people. This means I am only Jew ‘ish’ in the way that woman is a member of a golf club i.e. I can partake in the festivals and hang out at the reform synagogues but am not expected to really understand the implications of the religion.
I do feel a deep connection nonetheless. My genes jangle when I listen to a cantor’s singing, when I hear the ancient blessings, when I break bread on the holy days. I know almost all the words to Fiddler on the Roof.
(On the other hand I also know all the lyrics for Jesus Christ Superstar and will regularly sing it with my Jewish cousins at Passover. We draw the line at ‘Evita’.)

Many of my relatives disappeared into the fires of the holocaust and this resonated with my father’s generation and down the line to us. I am chilled to the bone by what happened only 65 years ago. I understand why Israel needed to emerge like a phoenix from the ashes of The Final Solution. I can still smell the fear and my subconscious is riddled with the cancerous images of concentration camps and mass graves, exterminations repeated endlessly through history and slamming into the present; Eastern Europe, Rwanda, Congo, Sudan. It is what the fundamentalist fringe of the Muslim world claim they want to do again to the Jews. Exterminate them and those connected to them. Would I and my family once again be faced with death for being Mischlings (semi Jews)? If you were faced with people screaming for your blood would you not, given the historical precedent, arm yourself to the teeth and fire first, over and over and over again?

On my mother’s side, my grandmother dabbled in all kinds of Christian based faiths including Christian Science. She ended up a Christina evangelist living out her days in a bizarre commune in Zimbabwe. She gave all her possessions away to the commune including any responsibility she might have had for her children, (others in the family may read that differently but that was the impression I had as a child.) She praised Jesus with every breath and I hope she found happiness doing it but I couldn’t be sure. The commune made people confess and repent in public a lot and even as a grubby child I felt that it was used as a form of bullying and control. Everyone judged everyone all the time. How tiring that must have been.

At my C of E boarding school the churches we were forced to attend each Sunday were huge, impersonal, cold and painfully, dreadfully dull. My class learnt to swear in sign language as we were not allowed to speak to each other through the service. My older sister found something deeply moving and personal in them though.. My older sister is now a vicar in the Church of England.

So what exactly do I believe in? The Force, of course, Narnia, Rock and Roll and the fact we really haven’t a bloody clue about what is going on or why we are here. I’ve been evangelised by Scientologists, The Jesus Army and worse. I’ve seen people running from witchcraft, healed by magik, comforted by atheism and made stronger by a profound belief in dark matter, quantum physics, Ganesha, Buddha, and the number 42. I need to believe in the power of constancy and kindness and yep..sorry..but I do very much have to believe that love is vitally important because otherwise someone will start building those gas chambers again. It is bound to be someone who purports to be religious too…so one thing I don’t believe in… I don’t believe in religion..


14 comments:

Val said...

i am with you totally on this - and the elephants are awesome .. as ever. V

fush and chips said...

Hey Tanvir,
I'm with you on the 'don't believe in religion' pluck. Watch Religulous and Jesus Camp. Alarming stuff.

Miranda said...

Well this post made up for any frugality with profundity (?) that you say your last post had (although I thought it was great!). And yes, I'm with you on the religious thang. Each to their own - a mishmash of the lot or of whatever you fancy with love , compassion and kindness at the fore.

I live right next door to this reeeeally scary church that has a massive microphone and they shout HALLELUYAH literally 60 times non-stop. And lots of gobeldegook. And on Fridays they start at 6 at night and go on til 6 in the morning. They crazy! They certainly drive us crazy! These churches are all over Arusha and I heard last night that someone tried to pull the plug out of the megaphone one day and got locked up in a container ALL DAY by the people in the church. She had a really bad bladder infection and they wouldn't let her out.

Anyway, I digress....bla bla bla. Great post. xx

tam said...

Profound, wise, beautifully put.

Yes, kindness, love. Both forces which, in my humble opinion, elephants have in abundance. But just like in humans of any religion, enough trauma will cause them to hate and destroy.

we live in interesting times indeed, and i b'lieve we got a chance to make it different.

thanks, clever T.

tschaka said...

Interesting, you argue an experience of religion and this gives you ground not to believe in it, your reasoning being that it has generated confusion and harm. Fair enough, I can't argue with that.

But I do feel I should question your understanding of 'religion'. For example do you question what is it that drives people together spiritually and why is this confusing and harmful? Or why people believe what they do and whether it makes sense? There are more questions to be asked.

Your analysis seems simplistic to me - you argue 'I've had some experience, it doesn't work therefore I reject it as true'. But if you read a book and its advice doesn't work out do you decide that you don't believe in books?

I was drawn to your post because you mentioned the Jesus Army. I'm sorry if my church seems scary to you. Very sorry. But there is more to any faith than a superstition that hurts people. It feels irksome to write people off as such.

I am convinced that the supremacy of Western individualism is what makes people believe that religion is a source of evil (and concentration camps) rather than reasonably concluding that any power system (religious or otherwise) needs checks and balances so that people are not vulnerable to abuse. The problem with the individualistic mindset (everyone doing their own thing) is that it actually leaves people vulnerable to just following the crowd (note how all previous comments simply reinforced your opinion). But actually that was the main issue with the Nazis: few united to stand up to them - that resulted in not just a religious persecution of Jews, but of the disabled, the political, the elderly, the racially and sexually different. To suggest religion was uniquely to blame for their reign of terror is simply false.

We face a world today where there is a constant clash of ideology. But it is fear of another culture that causes the friction. We fear the rulership of an alternative value system and we point the finger at religion because it most obviously represents something other. But the teaching of various religions is often unity and care for others. How does this correlate with your view that religion is harmful? Or are we divided by a greater human evil that we cannot see?

tam said...

[she waits and watches for the author to respond. This would be the polite thing to do.]
[she returns again. She interjects, cautiously]
erm, mind if I butt in here?

Tschaka, I certainly didn't form the impression that she was claiming that religion was to blame for the Nazi reign of terror. But I think you must surely agree that many atrocities have been committed in the name of organised religion?
btw, if I read a book and don't like the advice, I'd tend to avoid that particular author, not books per se.
I don't understand your logic - an individualistic mindset leaves people prey to following the crowd, and this is why there was no united stand against Nazism ? Huh?
Where do you propose that those 'checks and balances' come from if you discourage individualism?
You yourself say that religion is a power system. I have a problem with that. I prefer to communicate directly with the divine. When people give up that direct relationship and ask a system or a group of humanoids to act as the interface, yes, it is open to abuse, because that is when the all too human tendency to stop thinking and stop taking responsbility comes into play.
I think there's a distinction between spiritual community and organised religion based on dogma. Dogma interpreted and translated by humanoids.
Where do the checks and balances come from? Thinking individuals who trust their own relationship with the divine. I believe Jesus Christ was one such individual.

[she inhales.]

Sorry, Chimera. just passing by.

Chimera said...

Hi there Tchaka and thank you so much for coming over to this blog and spending time discussing this issue which is so vital especially right at the moment! Thank you! I am kindof glad I've been away for a while as Tam seems to have responded eloquently and in more ways then i might have to your questions.
I assure you I am not advocating anarchy - but I am not sure you are right about the individual being left to decide their own fate leading to them following a specific crowd! ( People commenting on this blog I promise you are none of them followers of ANY mindset ANYWHERE!! )I know many people with great deep, beautiful faith and deep spiritual life but who do not force it on others or presume they are superior, better or 'saved' because of it. They seem happpier then I am and i would love to be also be able to share their strength and their faith and I would learn from them when i could... but it is not based around a fenced off, dictated doctrine or a prescribed set of mantras. The 'religion' I am talkiing about, and Tam too I feel, - the one I do not wish to take part in - is that of uniform and judgement. That which uses the commandments to crush rather then to explain
I am pleased that you came to my site following the Jesus Army tag. You are right that i did write them off and I am sorry for that. I should practice what I prattle in this blog and I have not done enough research into your particular church recently. I was confronted ( I do use the word with care) a couple of time in Leeds and Edinbrough in the 90's and was surprised by their ferocity and refusual to discuss ideas not based on theology. As most of the people they were haranging at the time did not know their bibles inside out this was already a hopeless debate that was obviously ending up causing hurt and anger. It was a long time ago tho' and i am sorry too if I have caused the same to you. it was not intended. Please come back and comment and discuss on more of my ramblings. You are ALWAYS welcome. And thank you Tam too for speaking so beautifully too.

'Where do the checks and balances come from? Thinking individuals who trust their own relationship with the divine. I believe Jesus Christ was one such individual.' (Tam)

Love love and lots of the stuff!
T xx

tschaka said...

Great! Well, I'm glad we've got a debate on. I'll try to explain my thoughts a little more - it's totally up to you if you agree or disagree. And I hope I'll learn from the chat too. But today is a busy day so I'll come back another time. Thanks for the kind welcome Chimera. 'Uniform and judgement', hmm, I'll need to ponder that.

Suzie said...

And Alf looked like such a goy too...NOT. You'll always be my jew-ish cuz to me

Suzie said...

Im sure that made no sense. SOrry I am sick

tschaka said...

I guess I need to respond to points raised.

In Chimera's concluding criticism she drew an unfair link between gas chambers and people with a religious leaning. Undoubtedly Hitler seemed to have some sort of Christian idealism and certainly the historical emnity between Christians and Jews forms part of the context. Still, I don't really think it was religion that motivated Hitler to slaughter millions. But yes religion has been a catalyst for many attrocities.

I think the analogy drawn between rejecting religion and rejecting books completely, rather than individual authors, should stand. The idea puported here is that there is little useful about religion per se so religion as a vehicle of thought is spurned. I don't think this is right, hence my question about what we truly understand about what religion is. Does it make sense to reject all religion, even all organised religion as wrong? Tam is correct, reject the single author not the medium, and so if a religious practice doesn't work, you should discount that particular religion and not all religion in totality.

People do reject organised religion but they are often stillquite spiritual. They are trying to hold onto what is good about the divine. But this is where my concern about individualism comes in - when we choose what we want about religion we are left wide open to deception, primarlily because we prefer to believe what we feel is right rather than actual truth. A society of thinkers has more chance of what reality actually is rather than someone left alone to their fantasies.

My point about Naziism here is that individuals are far more subject to propaganda and fear because there is no alternative culture to question the mores of the dominant thinking. Consumerism is perhaps an easier example - it is in every part of our culture - who can stand against it except those who opt into a different economic system? It is the same with religion. And it's probably why most of the humanitarian initiatives have had their source in religious belief. Religion influences us to think differently about the world.

I don't discourage individualism, but I argue that we shouldn't reject religion per se. Individuality is an important check on religious power, but there are others too: spreading authority to various leaders or committees, accountability to outside organisations, implementing level playing fields and open channels of feedback, making sure that nobody is untouchable and beyond questioning. I've no doubt that many religions employ some of these systems. It's wise to assess the good religions do do before we attack them. Jesus Christ worked both within and without his religious system.

There is a lot that is ugly about religion, there is much that is beautiful and powerful too. My main belief is that a body of believers are able to embody community and love in a way an individual never can. Essentially they have the potential to show the best and the worst of humanity at work. And I'm an optomist, I believe in the best.

Reya Mellicker said...

This is a fabulous post! Wow. My ancestors lived in a shtetl close to Lvov, Poland ... except now it's in Ukraine, but anyway, close to yours.

Some people can manage a lot of spiritual energy, but for most folks, it undoes them completely. A little religion? I'm all for it. Too much will make you nuts, so nibble on it but do not feast. Or else!

Nao said...

Yep, you have got a point darling. I think John Lennon would agree with you...after all, "all you need is love," and then Imagine, "no religion too."

Maybe we should all become Beetles fans?

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