How Clarissa Found Religion, Part III

And to conclude this series, I wanted to mention that I’m living with a man who is agnostic, of which I’m extremely respectful and which I would never try or want to change.

If we do have a child, I have already prepared the answer to a question about religion. I’d say the following:

“I believe A. Daddy believes B. Grandpa and Grandma believe C. There are some people in Israel who believe D. And some people in Egypt believe E. And some folks in India believe F, G, and H. And also there are people called “atheists” who believe I. The great news is that you get to decide for yourself what you want to believe. Or you can start a completely new system of beliefs. And you can change your mind at any time. Isn’t that neat?”

How Clarissa Found Religion, Part II

On the subject of Christianity’s compatibility with feminism, I can say that this religion is a fantastic vehicle for feminism. Mind you, I’m not suggesting thatĀ otherĀ religions aren’t. I have no knowledge that would enable me to make that judgment. I also warn you that when I say “religion”, I mean a system of beliefs. The fact that many people choose to do weird things and call that “Christianity” is as relevant to me as the actions of confused folks who call themselves feminists while doing decidedly unfeminist things. So, please, refrain from laying the blame for any horrible things that some churchy people did at my door. Do you think that if some men rape then all men are rapists? No? Then I’m not guilty for anything Rick Santorum has to say.

So why do I say that this is a powerfully feminist religion? Let’s look at a small excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

And there is more in the same vein. Are you seeing any gender divide here? Any suggestion that rules are different for men and women? Of course, you don’t. Because it’s not about that at all.

Then, there is also the famous,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

No male or female, got it? The message couldn’t be clearer. I don’t even know what else could be said on the subject. In the eyes of God, men and women do not exist. Gender is meaningless and immaterial. That’s precisely the extent of my feminism, too, which is why I read these quotes as the perfect feminist manifesto.

Choose Your Religion

I consulted this great chart I found at Hattie’s web, and it suggested to me that I should be a Jehova’s witness:

All I know about Jehova’s Witnesses is that they distribute little books with creepy-looking kids, so that did not attract me. I decided to pretend that I was indifferent to bacon and the chart told me I should be a Muslim. Of course, I could give up hummus, too, and become a Jew, but life without both bacon and hummus looks bleak. So Islam it is for me.

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Have you considered him who calls the judgment a lie?
That is the one who treats the orphan with harshness,
And does not urge (others) to feed the poor.
So woe to the praying ones,
Who are unmindful of their prayers,
Who do (good) to be seen,
And withhold the necessaries of life.

Can anybody disagree with these beautiful words?

Riddle

I shared this story with a colleague at lunch today and decided that it would make a great riddle.

When I first moved to Canada from Ukraine, one of the things that shocked me the most was something that I saw happening at a bus stop. When I saw it for the first time, I thought that maybe I was misunderstanding something. But then I kept observing the same scene at every bus stop I passed.

“Wow, these Canadians truly are different,” I decided after the fifth bus stop in a row had presented the same strange scene to me.

Question: what was it that I kept seeing at bus stops and that seemed so incredible to me after living my entire life in Ukraine?

P.S. Russian speakers, shush! I know it’s easy for you to guess but I’m trying to mystify non-Russian speakers here.

>Communism As a Religion

>

“Religion is the opium of the people,” Marx said in his Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right published in 1843. (I looked this up on Wikipedia and I’m not ashamed of confessing it.) The Communist leaders of the Soviet Union took this statement to heart and invested the Soviet brand of Communism with very obvious religious overtones.* This made it a lot easier to convert a very backwards, ultra-religious country to a new Communist religion.
Just consider the following facts:
Just look at this picture that in the
USSR we saw on a regular basis. Does
it remind you of anything?
1. Communist ideologues were always presented as a kind of a Holy Trinity where, instead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, you had Marx, Engels and Lenin. 
2. Holy remains of saints were always central to religious practices of the most backwards denominations. When Lenin died in 1924, his body was embalmed and preserved in a mausoleum so that people could visit his remains and pay their homage. It was considered a duty and a privilege of every Soviet citizen to walk by Lenin’s remains at least once. I’ve done it and I don’t know any other person who grew up in the Soviet Union who hasn’t. The Russian government still spends a significant amount on preserving Lenin’s remains because there are too many people who oppose interring the poor guy’s body (or whatever is left of it). Lenin’s remains still have pride of place on the Red Square. When Stalin died, his remains were also embalmed and added to Lenin’s in the Mausoleum.**
3. In a Russian Orthodox home, there was always a corner called “beautiful” (which carries the same meaning as the word “red”) where religious images were located. After the October Revolution, religious images were removed from these right-hand corners and substituted with images of the Communist Holy Trinity. Just like with the holy images, people would light candles in front of the triple image of Marx, Engels and Lenin (or Marx, Lenin and Stalin.)  The number of “inspirational stories” we have read about young Pioneers (you do know what it means in the context of the Soviet Union, right?) removing an old grandma’s religious images from the right-hand corner and placing Lenin’s portraits there was overwhelming. And, come to think of it, very Derridian****, too.
4. In a profoundly Pagan culture that was forcibly converted to Christianity (as all Slavic cultures that still preserve their Pagan customs and allegiances were), it was important to offer people Communist equivalents of their Pagan deities and traditions. This was done very successfully in the Soviet Union. As we all know, Pagan  sexuality is very happy and exuberant***, while Christianity was always very repressive sexually. The official Communist ideology would snag people with their “a sexual act should come as easily as having a glass of water” propaganda of the 20ies, only to collapse into an extremely Puritanical culture of the 60ies and the 70ies.
The main reason that the Communist ideology was so successful with the backwards and ultra-religious people of the Russian Empire is that it managed to inscribe itself so neatly into the all-important belief system  promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church. It isn’t for nothing that Stalin was so eager to turn the Church leaders into happy collaborators of the regime. For decades, the Russian Orthodox priests collaborated with the KGB and informed the authorities of whatever it was that people revealed in the confessional. Today, the Russian president and prime-minister flaunt their fake religiousness which is made easy for them because of their KGB credentials that they share with the top officials of the Russian Orthodox Church.
*If I somebody reminds me, I will one day blog about why this project failed so spectacularly in Cuba.
** I also want to write a separate post on how Stalin’s death was perceived as an enormous tragedy even by the most intellectual and refined Soviet people. It is especially curious to examine the case of Jews who weeped over the death of a guy who was in the process of exiling them all into Siberia. There are so many topics to blog about that one feels overwhelmed.
*** I’m also dying to blog about Slavic Paganism in the hopes that a Western Pagan (Pagan Topologist, maybe?) will point out similarities and differences.
**** If I need to write a separate post about it, just say so.

>Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution: A Review, Part II

>Among other things, Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (The Terry Lectures Series) is such a joy to read because of his brilliant deconstruction of Christopher Hitchens’s obnoxious God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything: “Hitchens seems to hold the obscure Jewish sect of the second-century BC known as the Maccabees responsible not only for the emergence of Christianity but also for the advent of Islam. It is surprising that he does not pin Stalinism on them as well.” Eagleton is absolutely right when he suggests that atheistic fundamentalism is in many respects an exact copy of religious fundamentalism. It is just as intransigent, dogmatic, reductive, and obnoxious.

Everything I have said so far might produce the erroneous impression that Eagleton is trying to create a defense of Christianity. This is, of course, not true. The critic is opposed to a unilaterall dismissal of this complex and intricate worldview but he recognizes that “Apart from the signal instance of Stalinism, it is hard to think of a historical movement that has more stupidly betrayed its own revolutionary origins.” Apart from Eagleton’s unintelligent characterization of Stalinism as stupid, this statement could not be more true. Many people’s hatred of Christianity has nothing to do with Jesus’s teachings but is rather addressed to what many of the proponents of this religion have done with it: “Far from refusing to conform to the powers of this world, Christianity has become the nauseating cant of lying politicians, corrupt bankers, and fanatical neocons, as well as an immensely profitable industry in its own right.” (I swear to God in heaven, that if I ever learn to write half as good as Eagleton, I will die happy.) Are the actions of many of its followers enough, however, to discredit Christianity once and for all?, Eagleton asks. Haven’t the tenets of Liberalism, the ideals of Enlightenment, the central points of Marxism suffered the same fate? Does this mean, then, that we should abandon all of these ideological and intellectual movements in their entirety?

In his brilliant analysis, Eagleton hits upon an absolutely wonderful definition of Christianity that I have been searching for my entire life: “Any preaching of the Gospel which fails to constitute a scandal and affront to the political state is … effectively worthless.” It is amazing that a Marxist like Eagleton has been able to understand the very nature of the New Testament so much better than all the quasi-religious freaks out there put together and multiplied by five.

One of the things that make Eagleton’s philosophy especially endearing to me is his passionate defense of the values of Enlightenment. He enumerates the ways in which Enlightenment has come to defeat its own basic propositions but still maintains that the task of Enlightenment is far from over. Just like Christianity, Enlightenment has been discredited by the atrocities done in its name by its misguided, unintelligent followers. This is why so many people today fall over themselves in their rush to abandon the Enlightened philosophy as wrong, evil, and outdated. These thinkers are just as wrong as the wholesale deniers of the value of religion. Eagleton himself was guilty of Enlightenment-bashing on more than one occasion, and I am glad to see that his position on the issue seems to have shifted towards a greater degree of reason (pun intended.)

One of the most fun characteristics of Eagleton’s writing is the way he pokes fun at Americans: “For some in the USA, the C-word is ‘can’t.’ Negativity is often looked upon there as a kind of thought crime. Not since the advent of socialist realism has the world witnessed such pathological upbeatness.” Eagleton defends his way of voicing his critiques that soem people may stupidly deem offensive: “Societies in which any kind of abrasive criticism constitutes ‘abuse’ clearly have a problem.

Once again, let me reiterate that this book is fantastic. If you only read one book of philosophy this year, let it be this one You are going to have a blast reading it. It is one of those books where you feel extremely sad to turn over the last page because you want the jouissance to continue.

>Reason, Faith, and Revolution by Terry Eagleton: A Review, Part I

>In April of 2008, Terry Eagleton gave a series of talks at Yale University. Since I was in the process of looking for a job, I only managed to visit the last lecture in the series. Eagleton’s brilliant lecture on religion and the subsequent reception made two things very clear to me. First, Eagleton is an amazing lecturer and listening to him is one of the greatest intellectual pleasures one can experience (especially at Yale, where intellectual pleasures – or actually, pleasures of any kind – are few and far between.) Second, Eagleton’s personal life is pretty contemptible and makes one wonder how it is possible to be so brilliant and so daft at the same time.
I was very happy to discover that a book based on Eagleton’s lecture series has not only appeared in print but has also been made cheap enough for me to buy it in Kindle version. This collection of essays is written in Eagleton’s incomparably beautiful style that is funny and incisive at the same time. The theme of the essays is fascinating: Eagleton offers an approach to religion from the Left that is neither reductive nor stupid, as similar books often tend to be. The playfulness with which Eagleton talks about religion offers a beautiful contrast to the usual deathly gravitas informing the style that academics both on the Left and on the Right employ to discuss religion.

With his incomparable sense of humor, Eagleton makes fun of the entity he calls “Ditchkins.” This is his new term for referring simultaneously to Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Eagleton ridicules Ditchkins’s reductive and simplistic vision of religion that forces them to enter into an unproductive science versus religion dichotomy: “Unlike George Bush, God is not an interventionist kind of ruler. It is this autonomy of the world which makes science and Richard Dawkins possible in the first place.” Religion, says Eagleton, deserves an analysis that is at least a little bit more profound than the usual all-religion-is-bad approach taken by many Liberals. In their defense of rationalism, the critics of religion often demonstrate an irrationalism which is as strong as the one they keep denouncing: “This straw-targeting of Christianity is now drearily commonplace among academics and intellectuals – that is to say, among those who would not allow a first-year student to get away with the vulgar caricatures in which they themselves indulge with such insouciance.

Eagleton doesn’t stop at destroying the pseudo-rationalist piety of the so-called progressive scientists. He also demonstrates – in his inimitable, hilarious way – the ridiculous nature of the US fundamentalist Evangelicals and their utter failure to understand pretty much anything about the religion they claim to hold in such a high regard.

Of course, as happens with every good book, there are things in Eagleton’s essay collection that I find unconvincing. Eagleton surmises that the resurgence of the importance of religion in the late capitalist society is a postnationalist phenomenon. I am a lot more weary than Eagleton of accepting the very existence of post-racism, post-feminism, post-nationalism, and the likes. In the US, for example, virulent nationalism and fundamentalist religiousness walk hand in hand and do not exist without each other. Evangelical fundamentalism has become the national idea of the US for the lack of any other set of beliefs or concerns that can possibly bind this country together. Whenever somebody begins to talk about post-nationalism and post-racism, I know that this is either a fan of the Oprah Show or an academic hiding deep within the ivory tower.

It is impossible to read this book by one of the greatest living philosophers and literary critics without having uproarious fun on every single page. If you want to indulge yourself by reading a philosophical treatise that is exceptionally well-written and that will make you laugh until it hurts, Eagleton’s new collection of essays is perfect for you.