Words, Books, Memory

As a Jewish atheist I enjoy the rituals of my people. While I don’t enjoy laying t’fillin (putting on phylacteries)—although I remember how—I’ve always had a visceral sense memory when seeing or touching the prayer book my dad used.
I have the second one he had in my lifetime. The first, a Shiloh edition daily prayer book, was made of relatively normal linen paper, had almost disintegrated by the time I was ten. It wasn’t really unusual: kiddush with my dad entailed dribbling at least a little wine on the pages, and havdalah, when separating from the Sabbath, adds wax to yet more wine.

My current one, with whatever chromo paper was extant in the 1970s or 1980s, doesn’t shy from absorbing the waxy fats of the Havdalah candle, nor the dribbles of wines wending from horrific Manischewitz to actual red, dry wines.

Seeing, feeling… even smelling these remnants of my former life, my belief life, trigger more than just memory. They bring to the fore, for me, the belief that we can strive to be better than the species. That we can transform the anger, hate, trivial, niggling, negative feelings into something… more. Something that elevates us, as humans, as homo sapiens sapiens, from the troglodyte slaves of hateful religious dogma to individuals of thought, laughter, and action bringing up the level of humanity, instead of sinking what we find to some lowest common religious denominator ensuring that all lose to guilt, anger, and anguish.

Instead of experiencing the transubstantiation of plebeian thought to anger and tempora mores, let’s see if we can’t bring to the fore those flutterings of love from that which brought us happiness, and joy.

Because the alternative is the cataloging of sin, transgression, and propinquity instead of the formless, incalculable, effervescent moment of thought, pulled from the past to the present.

Thanks to Choir! Choir! Choir! for the acoustic background to this piece. Ground Control: we’re still here (although they didn’t do that, they did this).


The Golden Compass Can’t Find North

As a firm disbeliever in anything dogmatic, and one who rarely takes things “on faith,” I initially snorted at the Catholic League’s well-reasoned denouncement of The Golden Compass. (Okay, the trailer, with a sinuous Nicole Kidman and very impressive graphics also more than held my interest.)

I read the first book, then saw the movie. Then read the other two books.

Cinematically, the movie of the first book in the Dark Matter trilogy is badly reminiscent of the Harry Potter movies. If you haven’t read the book, the movie barely skitters across the time alloted, and does not do the book (or the author) justice. It was clear that, aside from any well-publicized crises of angst by the director, that Hollywood definitely bent the book. Almost severed it (that’s an inside phrase, and a spoiler).

The second and third books of the Dark Matter trilogy definitely bear out the worries of those representing dogmatic, doctrinal religion. I can’t see Unitarians griping about it, but hierarchical religions should definitely see this as an attack not only of their system of governance, but on theism itself.

I have more objections to this series, aimed at children, than the Narnia books (to be fair, I’ve only read the first two in the series). In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one can choose to ignore the Christian references in the book: it’s a lion, pretty vs. ugly is a Hollywood prejudice, who cares how many days the lion lies injured/tortured… It’s not much different from Starman, which is much more the prototypical Christian story than even Narnia. But greatest stories ever told (whether the “original” was fiction or not) are common movie riffs.

In the Dark Matter trilogy, Pullman makes a cogent case against theism. It’s not just calling for deicide (killing of god) — it brings in negative stereotypes like the almost successful pederast priest and the essential evil of those charged with teaching morals. It mocks angels, portraying them as gentle, delicate, homosexual lovers.

There are many reasons to poke fun at religion, to question it, to question one religion over another. But Pullman’s books take the dark matter of theologic dogma to the edge — and then distastefully over it, to the level of ‘discourse’ similar to portraying Islam’s Mohammad with porcine qualities.

My only hope is that Hollywood manages to as effectively neuter the second and third movies as “well” as they did the first, since clearly this first movie was only a portent of things to come, and not a work that stands on its own — unlike even the least of the Harry Potter movies.