Archive for the ‘judaism’ Tag

Fundamental Flaw

children playing

The spirit of the law

The first words I heard this Easter Monday morning were Allah Akbar. They blared their way at 5am across the fields from Jisr az-Zarqa, across the stream from which it takes its name (bridge over the blue [stream]), along the Roman aquaduct which flowed right down to Caesarea, and through the flower-lined streets of Bet Chananya where I am staying. In my half-sleep I lay wondering: What did God actually ask? Presumably he never mentioned electronic amplification in the Koran. I suppose he said something along the lines of get up high and call the faithful to prayer. No speakers. No microphone in the Holy Book I’m guessing. Just the human voice. So why the need to broadcast beyond the call of the human voice?

I’m just back from the streets of Jerusalem, from the Via Dolorosa to the Wailing Wall. On Good Friday I saw the faithful carrying wooden crosses into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of Calvary. It coincided with Passover this year and of course shortly after the resonant hour of three o’clock the Jewish Sabbath kicks in. At the hotel where I was staying the electric revolving door was switched off for the Sabbath and you had to push it around manually. The reason the electricity was switched off is because switching on electricity has been interpreted as constituting work. Presumably electricity doesn’t get a specific mention in the Torah. But you end up with your shoulder to the heavy revolving door doing the bovine work of pushing your way into your temporary crib. So interpretation ends up achieving the opposite of the spirit of the law.

And anyway, what’s that Orthodox Jew doing carrying two bulging plastic bags across the lobby on Sabbath afternoon? He’s not even supposed to carry money in his pocket – that’s work too apparently. In North-West London near where I live, the Orthodox Jewish community tried to or actually built a network of thin, high wires around certain streets of NW11 to create an ‘eruv’ which seemingly constitutes some kind of enclosure which would permit Orthodox Jews to have money in their pocket or push a pram on the Sabbath within its near-invisible confines. Religions have this habit of finding ways and interpretations to get round their own rules.

Heading West to Holland Park you’ll find the sumptuous Arab Hall in newly restored and just reopened (yesterday) Leighton House, home of the prominent Victorian painter Frederic, Lord Leighton. He was a keen collector of Isnik and other Islamic tiles. On the walls of the Arab Hall, setting off its central fountain and latticed windows, are tiles depicting birds and natural beauty. But Muslims, like Jews (and technically Christians), are forbidden from creating “graven images”. It’s right up there as rule/Commandmant No. 2: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath”. So birds are a no-no. Look carefully at the tiles though and you’ll see a line has been scored across their necks in the glaze. Apparently that gets you off the hook with God.

So there’s the spirit of religion on the one hand, and the question of human interpretation and institution on the other hand; there’s the human voice and the cycle of work and rest, and there’s contemporary applications of religious rules and the predominance of the letter of the law or the interpretation thereof over the spirit of the law.

A few days ago – ironically on St Patrick’s Day – on Radio 5 I heard Steven Nolan interviewing a certain Monsignor Dooley, a senior representative of the Irish Catholic Church. He asked him whether he would report a priest to the police if he knew he was abusing  a child. His reply was that he had no legal duty to do so …nor, indeed, any moral duty.  This was from a close colleague of the churchman who was reading out that very day in Armagh Cathedral the Pope’s apology for the abusive and deviant behaviour of his Church in Ireland – the apology which ended up with a call on the (increasingly appalled)  Irish Catholic congregation to do a year’s peninence for the sins of… of whom … of  the representatives of the Pope’s rotten institution in their country.

In some religions to become a priest or community leader you have to be married, preferably with a family. The Catholic Church will remain rotten at heart as long as it enforces celebacy of its officials. Supressing sexuality and natural urges obviously just misshapes people, and wherever it finally bursts out of some resultant kink or deformation, like a hiss of burning sulphurous steam, it causes pain and stink. I’ve met angry Catholic priests. I’ve met obviously gay ones, who either don’t realise it or don’t want to be honest about it. I’ve met ones over the last couple of years whose faith has clearly been shaken by recent events. I’ve seen, I’ve smelt those whisps of suppressed and displaced feeling.

In Richard Price’s excellent novel ‘Clockers’ he describes in unforgettable fashion what his cop character calls “the Cycle of Shit” – basically how abusive behaviour and its consequent damage transmits from generation to generation in a vicious, downward spiral. Which begs the question, what in God’s name has been happening to those priests in the seminaries and institutions in which they’ve grown up and trained?

It turns out the voice that abused my ears this morning wasn’t even a real person. It was a tape recording. The officials of religion that feed these Cycles of Shit are steeped in the rankest of hypocrisy. Not that I’d have felt that much better if the lazy bastard had gotten out of bed to disturb me and make me this grumpy.

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