Tuesday, January 30, 2024
Friday, March 24, 2023
My mother was born in 1914 in a village in Lithuania. She emigrated to England as a teenager, in time to avoid the horrors that would be visited upon Lithuanian Jews not too many years later. Her mother and many other family members were not so lucky; they were still there in 1939 when World War Two began.
When the Nazis’ Endlösung der Judenfrage, Final Solution to the Jewish Question—i.e., the Holocaust—reached Lithuania along with the invading German troops, the locals, told by the Germans that they were free to murder their Jewish neighbors, responded with such enthusiasm that even some of the German officers were disturbed. To the locals, this wasn’t something new, and they had never needed anyone’s permission to slaughter Jews. Jews had lived in terror there for centuries.
Lithuanians, at least in those days, practiced the tradition of Easter drumming—loud, round–the–clock drumming from Easter Friday to Easter Sunday, to commemorate the Crucifixion and (or so my mother was told) to help awaken Jesus on the third day. By itself, this sounds simply annoying and silly. However, during those long hours, the local Christians, filled with grief for their dear Lord and anger against those they blamed for killing him, worked themselves into an even greater frenzy of antisemitism than usual. Sometimes, they acted on their fury. The Jews huddled in their houses, terrified, hoping that this Easter would pass without an outbreak of mass murder. Any Jew unfortunate enough to be caught outside had a good chance of meeting a violent death. My mother always remembered the ominous drums and the long weekend of fear.
I think about this every year when, even in this supposedly civilized and enlightened country, people post “He is risen!” on social media. I imagine the drums and the seething atmosphere of hatred and violence. To me, it’s all one and the same: Christianity equals murder.
“Oh, no!” some Christians will protest, resorting immediately to their own version of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. “Those weren’t real Christians! Jesus preached love. Also, Hitler was an atheist, so there.”
No, Hitler was a Christian, and his life, far more than that of the mythical Jesus, shows us what Christianity has really been throughout its long and evil history. Of course there are good Christians, many of them extraordinarily good, but that is only to say that there are good people, many of them extraordinarily good, who are also Christians. They are good despite being Christians, not because of it.
Almost from its beginning, the church preached—indeed, commanded—murder: murder of pagans, murder of Christians of the wrong flavor, but most especially murder of Jews. Christians have always been happy to do as the church commanded, at least when it comes to murder. To be fair, calumnies against Jews and mass murder of Jews predate Christianity, but the church raised both to a new level and spread them throughout the world. The church also added a vicious twist to Jew hatred. It told the faithful that by hating and killing Jews, they were avenging the death of their Savior; they were being good Christians.
But what about all those sweet, goopy things the fictional character named Jesus is supposed to have said? Isn’t that the true nature of Christianity? No, the true nature of Christianity is what the great mass of Christians have been doing for thousands of years, which very much includes hating and murdering Jews. Words, however pretty, don’t matter at all when they are ignored. Words are nothing. Deeds are what count.
Those deeds, the centuries of ostracizing and killing, culminated in the Holocaust, the greatest pogrom of all, one carried out with twentieth–century technology and organized with German efficiency but also participated in by vast numbers of non–Germans using whatever tools, modern or primitive, they could find. We think of the Holocaust as something uniquely evil and apart from history, but that’s a mistake. It’s very much a part of history—European Christian history.
So it is that when billboards and social media posts proclaim “He is risen!” I see past the smug Christian moral posturing and self–congratulatory back–patting, the arrogance and sense of superiority posing as humility. I think of those bloody centuries and hear the primitive drumming and sense the bloodlust that is the foundation of it all.
Thursday, December 08, 2022
I wonder if Christians realize how strange and creepy their manger adoration fixation looks to an outsider: adults on their knees, smiling half-wittedly while worshipping a baby who glows with an eerie light; wise men or kings or whatever they’re supposed to be traveling a great distance to bestow gifts on the same baby, guided by a striking celestial phenomenon not recorded by the many ancient civilizations that studied the sky and scrupulously recorded anything novel therein.
Meanwhile, Mary looks on with even more saccharine goopiness than one normally expects from a new mother. How quickly she has recovered from giving birth! Did she not writhe in pain during the process, shrieking at Heaven “I hate you!”? Perhaps giving birth to a godling is different from normal mortal birthing. Perhaps it’s an exquisite experience rather than an excruciating one. Perhaps the Blessed Virgin writhed, not in pain, but in ecstasy, shouting, “Oh, God! Oh, God!” I believe the Gospels don’t say, but possibly medieval Christian theologians discussed this matter, although without recording their conclusions.
Now I’m wondering what other aspect of newborn care might be different when the newborn is God himself. Never mind painless birth. What about His poop? Did Little God’s diapers smell like roses? Even that seems wacky for a godling. Perhaps he didn’t poop at all. Or pee. Or eat. How can a god eat—or need to eat—human food or nurse at a mortal breast? And if he does, you don’t want to make him eat what he doesn’t want to eat or deny him that breast when he wants it. The consequences could be awful. Don’t cross that baby! If he wants to stay up late, let him! If he wants to put something in his mouth, don’t tell him it’s dirty or dangerous. Let him!
If luminescent Baby Jesus did poop and pee, not only must the output of his godly bottom have smelled, well, heavenly, but it would also have been extraordinarily valuable and deserving of reverence. Never mind bringing gifts to the divine infant; people would have been fighting viciously for the infant’s gifts. Perhaps there’s a hidden storeroom at the Vatican containing all of those soiled diapers, a secret room where only the Pope and the most cardinal of the cardinals may enter to worship the ethereal nappies.
Oh, but wait! The sanctity of His shit wouldn’t have ceased with infancy, would it? That room must contain all 33 years of his infallible feces. And pee. And presumably any vomit and perspiration. That’s a big room.
That room must also be very well smellproofed. The odor of the divine dung, etc. is surely not only indescribably lovely but also of godly power, intensity, and reach. Thus the room must be smellproofed appropriately, for otherwise, treasure hunters would have only to follow their noses in order to find the hidden brown gold. Or, having done so and found—and smelled!—the paradisiacal poop, would they have a religious experience, fall to their knees, and promise to be exceedingly good thenceforward? Probably not. Better to smellproof the room really well.
Putting that aside, let’s get back to the nauseating weirdness of that adoration of a baby. I’ll admit that I start with a strong prejudice against any sort of adoration—of a celebrity, a politician, an athlete, an entertainer, etc. Such adoration puzzles me, and from puzzlement I usually move quickly to contempt. So when I see manger scenes or hear a Christmas Carol such as “Adeste Fidelis” (quite a beautiful song if you hear it in Latin, but in English the lyrics are nauseating) or hear references to the sweet little Baby Jesus, contempt comes quickly—contempt for the cringing servility of it all, the belly-crawling, boot-licking doggishness, the subjugation of the human spirit to an imaginary superhuman monarch, and moreover one in the form of a mere infant.
Religion is inherently nauseating, but Baby Jesus adoration is one of the weirdest, creepiest, and most nauseating forms it takes.
That’s even without the super poop.
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Friday, November 25, 2022
Behold the Cucumber God.
He is surrounded by His adoring worshippers. The crowd is so dense that some of those in it must stand upon others so that they can be bathed in the effulgence of His divine stupendiferousness as he spews his seeds (of wisdom). Sadly, there seem to be some doubters among the tomatoes.
You might notice that the god is made up of two conjoined aspects. How can this be? How can He be both one and two?
This is a deep mystery that can be understood, to the extent mortal mind can understand it, only by those who have studied deeply the ancient writings, the Cuke Canon, and the centuries of exegisis performed thereon and extrapolation derived therefrom by generations of cucologians, cranky fellows crammed together in stinky little rooms, performing their sacred labor while their wives and children labored to provide food and shelter for their families.
For us ordinary mortals, it is sufficient to know that He is the bigod. When a person thinks he is saying "By God!" he is in truth offering a prayer to the only true god, the bigod. Or should that be the bigods? It is a bit confusing.
Sunday, October 16, 2022
I've long been puzzled by certain aspects of Midsomer County, the supposedly fictional English county with a shockingly high murder rate.
First, there's that murder rate itself. So many bodies in such a sparsely settled, idyllic setting! Why is the UK national press on the case? Why aren't the notorious British tabloids permanently ensconced there? Why aren't questions being asked in Parliament?
Second, there's the strange unimportance of time within Midsomer County. Murders there are often the result of events decades, generations, even centuries in the past. Past and present almost seem to coexist within the county.
Third is the question of the exact size and location of Midsomer County. It's a bucolic place, for the most part, with small villages and lots of farm country and open meadoes. Despite that, the total population, based on the number of different characters we've met during the life of the series, must be enormous. Our detective heroes drive over to Reading to get information and then return for the day, and there are residents who work in the City, so we know it's in the south of England, probably one of the Home Counties (but not included in any lists of them!). However, there are people who have lived there their whole lives who nonetheless speak with pronounced Northern accents. There is at a Welshman, DS Ben Jones, who nonetheless grew up there and whose grandmother lives there and knows local gossip from long ago.
Then there's that shapeshifter DCI Barnaby, who is really the same Barnaby throughout the series, despite changing his first name and family members. (Perhaps you see where I'm going with this.) (Perhaps not.) He's always accompanied by a companion, a detective sergeant, who also changes outwardly but not in essential nature.
And finally, and perhaps the most important clue of all, there is this astonishing list of people who have appeared, using different names, in both Midsomer Murders and another popular, supposedly fictional British television series:
In a blinding flash of insight, I realized that Barnaby is a Time Lord and Midsomer County is inside a TARDIS!
Somewhere along an obscure country road outside London stands what appears to be a blue police box. Inside it -- vastly bigger on the inside than the outside -- is Midsomer County, drifting randomly in time and all over the island of Great Britain in space.
How the tabloids would love to get inside that box! But of course, they never will.
Thursday, December 23, 2021
A Heartwarming Story for the Holiday Season
© 2021, David Dvorkin. All rights reserved.
It was the morning of December 25. The sun shone down from a cloudless sky, its light sparkling on the pure white snow that covered the town. Dogs barked, children shouted, giant birds with terrible talons circled above, looking for small animals to swoop down on and tear limb from limb for food and fun. It was God’s beautiful, perfect world.
Little Timmy Goldstein made his way carefully downstairs. His eyes shone in anticipation, while he held the banister tightly with his left hand and his crutch with his right. He couldn’t wait to get down the stairs, but he didn’t want another tumble like last week’s. That would truly ruin the holiday spirit.
For today was Chrismanukkah, the name his blended family had invented for their joint celebration of his mother’s Christian and his father’s Jewish heritage. To simplify matters, and because in America Hanukkah had long ago been transformed into the Jewish Christmas, Little Timmy’s parents had agreed to limit their observance of the Jewish festival to one day and to shift it to Christmas Day.
Little Timmy didn’t really care about those details. He just liked the special foods, the lights, the music, the family togetherness, and the gifts.
And there it all was, waiting for him when he finally struggled his way to the bottom of the stairs! A Christmas tree! A Hanukkah bush! A plastic Santa lighted from within! A plastic menorah ditto (with all its candles lit)! Piles of presents! Lots of lights! Shallow holiday music! Bleary–eyed parents! Food remnants everywhere! Innumerable siblings breaking their presents and stuffing their faces! The big morning celebration was over because poor, crippled Little Timmy was always last on the scene, but he didn’t mind. At least he was here, in the bosom of his loving Americo–Judeo–Christian–traditional family.
“Hello, family!” he shouted. “I love you!”
He ignored their distracted responses. His gaze had been caught by the two paintings that loomed over the living room from opposite walls.
One was a painting of a simpering Jesus with blond hair and beard, eyes raised heavenward. Across the room from him, a fearsome armored warrior glared at the family. This man was a bit darker, a bit more Middle Eastern. It could have been a gift from his mother’s side of the family. They were conservative Republicans and seemed to think of Jesus as an armed mercenary in the employ of America’s wealthiest classes, but Little Timmy had always assumed that this painting was his father’s property and that it depicted Judas Maccabeus, ready to smite him some Greeks real good, and perhaps the wimpy, flaxen–haired Jesus across the room, too, while he was at it.
Suddenly a new and disturbing thought struck Little Timmy. He wondered why he hadn’t thought this thought before.
“Say,” he said, thinking this thought aloud, “isn’t it odd that we spend so much time and money and brain juice and emotion worshiping Jesus, who probably never even existed, and at the same time making a fuss over Judas and the rest of the Maccabees, who attacked other Jews who worshipped foreign gods such as Jesus? Anyway, it all comes down to the idea of God, which is a silly idea to begin with, right? And what’s with all the lights and stuff? When you look at them objectively, they’re really very tacky. Also, most of the music is really bad.”
Silence fell on the room.
His parents rose from the couch, and his innumerable siblings stood up, abandoning their presents and food, and all of them began to advance upon him, hands held before them, fingers curling like claws, eyes blank.
“Kill,” they said in unison.
Moving as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast but fortunately was faster than his suddenly mindless family, Little Timmy opened the hall closet, pulled out his heavy winter coat, his gloves, hat, and boots, and exited through the front door, slamming it behind him. His family lost interest in his existence and returned to their mindless holiday doings.
Little Timmy stood irresolute for a moment. Then the cold struck him and he donned the winter garb he had fortunately taken from the house. He felt it wise to put distance between himself and what had been his home. He went carefully down the icy front steps, once again holding the railing with his left hand and his crutch with his right, and then on to the sidewalk.
Again he stood still for a moment, wondering what to do next. Had he truly just lost the only home he had ever known? Where would he go? What was he to do next? This was the worst Chrismanukkah ever!
Nearby, a rabbit screamed as something ate it alive. Apparently, God’s eye, being on the sparrow, was too busy to watch the rabbit as well. Or possibly the Lord and Creator of the Universe was answering a prayer uttered by whatever it was that was tearing the rabbit to pieces. What a conundrum! If the fox prays for a rabbit to eat and the rabbit prays that it will not be eaten by the fox, how does God decide which prayer to grant? This is one of those mysteries that are beyond the ability of the mind of Man to comprehend.
That rabbit’s having an even worse Chrismanukkah than I am, Little Timmy thought. I shouldn’t stand here feeling sorry for myself. I know! I’ll go to Georgie’s house! They’ll take me in. They won’t mind what I said about Jesus and Judas. Not that Judas. I mean the other Judas.
Georgie and his family were atheists. Georgie had often invited Little Timmy to come to his house to escape what he called all that religious stuff. “If you ever get tired of it,” he would say, “come to my place. No one at my house cares about God or any of that silly nonsense.”
Little Timmy had visited Georgie’s house more than once, but not to escape from religion. In the past, the very idea of escaping religion had seemed sinful. Now it didn’t. Now it seemed to be just what he wanted. Also, it was very cold outside.
He walked the two blocks to Georgie’s house, shivering increasingly, walking carefully because of his crutch and spots of ice, eager for a welcoming place, warmth, and the absence of all things Chrismanukkahish.
When he got to Georgie’s house, Little Timmy was surprised to see a wreath tied with a red ribbon on the door. It gave him an uneasy feeling. Nonetheless, he rang the bell.
Georgie opened the door, greeting him with cries of delight and pulling him inside.
Little Timmy said, “I had to get away from—”
That was as far as he got.
“Of course you did!” Georgie’s father said, laughing his wonderful big, booming laugh.
“You’re always welcome here, away from all of that,” Georgie’s mother said in her lovely, musical voice.
Georgie’s brother and sister chimed in with similar charming sentiments.
Little Timmy felt warm and comfortable and safe. He did have some questions, though. “I was surprised to see a Christmas wreath on your door. Why—”
“It’s not a Christmas wreath,” Georgie explained with an indulgent smile. “It’s just a holiday wreath, a decoration for the holiday season.”
Little Timmy pointed to the decorated Christmas tree in one corner. “What about that?”
“That’s just a traditional symbol of the time of year,” Georgie’s father said with a chuckle. “It’s originally a pagan symbol, you know. The Christians stole it, so we’re taking it back from them.”
“And all that music?”
“It’s cheerful,” Georgie’s mother explained with a condescending smile. “We like it. This is a family time of year, and the music helps with the mood. It’s not religious,” she said while “Adeste Fideles” played in the background.
“Axial tilt is the reason for the season,” Georgie’s brother said, looking down his nose at Little Timmy, which was easy to do because Little Timmy really was quite little. “We’re celebrating the solstice.”
“That’s pagan, too,” Georgie’s sister said, a bit impatiently. “The Christians stole that as well, and we’re reclaiming it.”
“But you’re not pagans,” Little Timmy said. “And paganism is also a system of religious belief, so it’s just as silly as the stupid stuff I’m trying to escape from. It’s all just a bunch of nonsense. If you just want to celebrate family togetherness, why are you doing it at the same time as all the religious people around you are doing it, and with the same symbols and music? I think you’re just not strong enough to truly break away and chuck all of this nonsense out the window.” He spotted a half–eaten cake on a nearby table and felt suddenly hungry. “You’re trying to have your cake and eat it, too.”
Silence fell on the room. Georgie and his parents and siblings started walking toward Little Timmy, hands reaching for him. Their faces were blank, and together they droned, “Kill.”
He fled, slamming the front door so hard behind him that the non–religious, purely holiday–season wreath jumped from the door and landed on the ground.
High above, inaudible and invisible to Little Timmy, a warplane streaked by on its way to bombing the bejesus out of some recalcitrant brown people, who would be having a very bad Chrismanukkah indeed.
Little Timmy hobbled away as quickly as he could. Where would he go now? He had no idea.
While he pondered, he was approached by a man dressed in wretched, torn clothes who limped badly. He looked like someone whose every Chrismanukkah was a rotten one.
“Could you give me a dollar or two, sir?” he asked Little Timmy. “Or three? Or fifty cents? In the holiday spirit.”
Little Timmy gritted his teeth in annoyance at the last few words, but he did reach into his pocket to see what was there. He found a few coins, took them out, and dropped them into the man’s outstretched hand.
“What happened to your leg?” he asked the man.
“I asked some guy coming out of church for money, and he kicked me.”
Little Timmy felt around in his other pocket, found a few more coins, and gave those to the man, too.
“God bless us, sir, each and every one!” the man cried in delight as he took the coins.
“And this,” Little Timmy said. “I no longer need it.” He held out his crutch, which was, after all, just a metaphor.
Little Timmy watched in satisfaction as the panhandler hobbled away, leaning heavily on the crutch.
Standing up straight on his two sound legs, no longer quite so little and no longer quite so cold, Little Timmy looked up at the cloudless blue sky. He knew that the appearance of a dome holding us in is an illusion created by the diffusion of sunlight. The sky is gas, thin and tenuous, and beyond it is the vastness of the universe: stupendous numbers of galaxies, stars, planets, and surely civilizations. The immensity of it all is incomprehensible to the human mind, but it’s all just matter and energy. There are no gods.
Probably, Little Timmy thought, there are a great number of silly religious ideas out there, just as there are here on Earth, but there must also be many sensible worlds, many intelligent species that have liberated their minds from the absurdity of religious belief and religious celebration or were perhaps never subject to any of it in the first place. How wonderful it would be to live on such a world!
If only I could visit them, he thought. I never will, but it’s wonderful to think that they’re out there and that there are probably many other Little Timmys, alien in form but not in mind, looking up and thinking the same thing, and all of us freed from silliness.
The future would be difficult. He had no idea what lay ahead. But he did know that he was free.