Dear Zealots

Amos Oz defangs zeal, undermining it, by seeing its roots in every human being. All of us have an inner extremist. Recognising that we can become more liberal. If that seems too incremental, partial and vulnerable a response to threat, a stronger response makes us the image of the extremist.

While “no man is an island,” no one should simply be subsumed by the community, collective, Volk Umma or People. That is the desire of the fanatic, who desires our good, says Oz: made exactly like him with his understanding and outlook, we and the whole world would be blessed. I disagree, here: some Muslim fanatics want to defend the Muslims against the domination of the faithless, who must be driven back. The fanatic in Pakistan wants the blasphemer, often a Christian whose neighbours take against them and give the uncorroborated evidence required, put to death. But in each case there is a single idea of the good life which must be enforced.

Through my own ridiculous desire to call myself female, and the Jew’s dangerous desire to worship separately from the surrounding peoples, I know that the rational, obvious normal way of being can be a poison, and that allowing people to plough their own way is necessary so that we will not sicken and die.

And the fanatic view has enough power to bind together a community or cell and to continue despite oppression. That Addiction to drugs and pornography not only infuriates God but destroys the lives of the addicts themselves has a grain of truth.

My God is in my image as the fanatics’ is made in theirs: their God agrees with them about what is abominable- gender diversity, perhaps, just as my God objects to its suppression in the interests of freedom for all.

With whom do we sympathise? Oz, remembering being a child throwing stones at soldiers- the British, at the fag end of the Mandate- sympathises with Palestinian children throwing stones rather than just his fellow Israelis pointing guns at them. As a child in Jerusalem I myself was a little Zionist-nationalist fanatic- self-righteous, enthusiastic and brainwashed. Possibly his experience of the siege of Jewish areas of Jerusalem, violence against himself and those he loved, could have made him an oppressor, but rather he realised that there were more than one way of seeing things, and that gave him his open heart and capacious soul. Now he points to the source of fanaticism in his fellow Israelis, European Jews wanting to create a New Hebrew, and ultra-Orthodox fanaticism seeking to defend itself against anything different within a walled ghetto. Anti-fanaticism must begin with those with whom you have most in common.

Fanatics live in a black and white world, of clear Good and Evil. They are conformists. They want a Hero, a prophet or guide, to absolve them of the pain of thinking. Conformism, where we blindly follow, is a road to the fanatic exclusion of the Other, following celebrities or celebrity politicians like ABdP Johnson or Donald Trump, who entertain their followers rather than propose a beneficial, possible programme for government. These followers relinquish their right to a rich and diverse life, their freedom to think, to consider, to make choices and change their minds.

How blessed it is, to see the value of independent thought, however challenging or painful it might be, however inconsistently or incoherently one exercised it.

A sense of humour, and the ability to make fun of ourselves, might be a way to escape fanaticism. Or imagination, seeing the reality behind a slogan. It is easier to say “The Jews must kill all the Arabs” if you don’t imagine yourself faced with an orphan baby to kill. Curiosity might help too. Oz, the writer, tells of making interminable meetings in cafes of his parents and their friends go more quickly by imagining stories about people he saw. But others than writers might want to peep behind their neighbour’s drawn curtains, to find how they think.

But in enforcing these ways to cure fanaticism one would become fanatic- as we know what is good for everyone, they must be forced into our mould.

No man is an island, but Oz says we may be best as a “Peninsula”- close, without being assimilated. Everyone wants to influence others, and that is OK as long as we don’t force them. That balance, admitting the difficulty of drawing the line between undue influence and selfish independence, is perhaps the best inoculation against fanaticism: to admit there are no easy answers.

The image is taken from Paintings in Proust, who wrote as in the radiance of intervening light of a half-opened door, Venteuil’s little phrase appeared, dancing, belonging to another world. I love how the child in shadow looks out into light unseen, and the way the mother’s face is picked out by light against a shaded background.

Four Jews

Knowing I must act against antisemitism, but not sure how, I have been reading books by Jews. I will challenge antisemitism when I hear it, and with Amos Oz I draw the line at challenges to Israeli policy which would make the State of Israel’s continuation as a safe place for Jews impossible. So I cannot support a right of return for all Palestinian refugees. I see the reasons for the different names- if they are Palestinians, they are a small oppressed minority under the Israelis. If they are “Arabs”, they are part of the people who sought to destroy Israel immediately the UN voted to establish two states on the territory of the former British mandate.

I read Oz’s account of the siege of the Jewish area of Jerusalem in A Tale of Love and Darkness. He was eight. His cousin had been murdered in Auschwitz. He describes having a bucket of water per person, sometimes, sometimes not, and people he knew being killed by snipers. His seeking of that two State solution, his mourning of two oppressed peoples set against each other, inspires me.

I have been reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It has a vast cast of characters and a helpful list of them at the end. It includes Hitler, who ceases to be a great man as soon as his troops start losing, describing his thoughts and feelings and how his underlings see him. It includes a journey to the gas chamber from the moment of boarding the cattle truck, to the panic as people are packed into the dark room.

And it has the only account  of the joy and wonder of scientific discovery I have seen in a novel. Victor Shtrum has a conversation about politics with friends where they allow themselves to speak freely, and ever after the thought of that conversation tortures him. Is his friend’s brother an agent provocateur? Has he been arrested? But the free conversation leads to a moment of inspiration. There have been experimental results which have not fitted the current theory. Are the results merely anomalous? That evening he has a flash of inspiration integrating the old understanding with the new results, and over the following days he works on a mathematical proof of his theory.

Then he is denounced for polluting Soviet science with Talmudic speculation.

Grossman was a fearless journalist, telling the story of the troops at the front as they wished. He portrays a vile, corrupt Commissar, Getmanov, and loyal Communists interrogated in the Lubyanka. It is a brave book, suppressed under Khrushchev, surviving miraculously.

An Interrupted Life, the diaries of Etty Hillesum, are a mystic journey to service of God in love of all, including the German soldier as the Nuremberg laws bite, and a clear-eyed acceptance of reality. She describes her self-induced abortion and encounters with public spirited citizens challenging her presence in a pharmacy. Is it against the law? It is not, she explains, courteously.

And now I have started The Story of the Jews, by Simon Schama. He begins in 5th century BCE Elephantine, where Jewish soldiers serve the Persian occupation of Egypt, and are expelled when the Persian empire begins to fray. They built their own temple for sacrifice. Contradicting the Seperatist story of Ezra Nehemiah and Haggai, Schama tells another story of living in the company of neighbouring cultures, where it was possible to be Jewish and Egyptian, as after it would be possible to be Jewish and Dutch or Jewish and American, possible, not necessarily easy or simple, to live the one life in balance with the other, to be none the less Jewish for being the more Egyptian, Dutch, British, American.

These books which I love are eclectic, and I draw no conclusions from them about Jews as a whole; but I am more determined to be a good ally against antisemitism.

Bad Jesus

File:Egger-Lienz - Sähmann und Teufel.jpg

Gregory of Nyssa may have believed in Universal Salvation, the idea that all are saved. I certainly do. Lavrenti Beria, Mao Zedong, anyone. Did Jesus? Matthew 13 seems to indicate not.

 24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Württemberg und Mömpelgard Mömpelgarder Altar

Burned in Hell? Verses 37-43 make it unequivocal. Jesus says,

“The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age,and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Mark 4 and Luke 8 have some of the same parables, but not this one. It is only in Matthew. I reject the explanation. Only this and the parable of the Sower are explained in the Gospels, for the other parables and sayings we are left to make up our own minds. “I say unto you” that I do not believe Jesus believed in Hell, and if he did he was wrong. It is not the thought that people are going to burn in Hell for eternity: it is that here, now, they are weeds, sown by the Devil. Just, No.

To me the Kingdom of Heaven is here, now, and is like a man who made his plans and carried them out, and when he became aware of problems chose the better way of dealing with them, reassuring his labourers and guiding them well. And so he achieved his goals.

If the clobber passages against gay people appear horrible, they have nothing on the Blood Libel, Matthew 27:25-

Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

Antisemitic church fresco

Even if that “be” is a subjunctive rather than an imperative, they are quoted as acknowledging responsibility for killing God. It is the Biblical basis for persecution of Jews over two thousand years- expelled from England and Spain, murdered in the “German Crusade” as well as the Holocaust. It is monstrous. I reject it.

And- rejecting this, and the clobber passages, and bits implying there is a Hell, and bits justifying slavery- does not mean that I need to reject the Bible itself. I am a cafeteria Christian. I keep the bits I like.

Midsummer Camp

Despite some initial problems with the venue, Midsummer Camp is on for 2012, Daniel tells me. Hurrah.

I was putting up my tent when a voice from behind asked if I wanted help. I turned, smiled and said yes, and A. realised suddenly that he had something else to do somewhere else, and left. I am far too ready to jump to the conclusion that “it is because I am trans” but perhaps it was, in this case: the quite beautiful A. cast a spell over at least two women there, climbed into their hearts and went whistling on his way.

Cooking over wood fires is a serious risk for wigs, I have ruined two with sparks, so I was in an old wig, no makeup, jeans, shapeless raincoat- and a child said, “Mummy, is that a man?” Then Mummy explained that some men want to be women, so have a sex change, which is not how I would put it. Later, J., who is seven, said to me, “You look like a man”, which got to me a bit.

Then, later in the week, I passed him on my way to the dancing tent and he said to me, “you look like a woman now”, which six months later still makes me smile in joy. And I think of that child, whatever Sins of the Fathers were visited on his mother, it seems she is not passing them on to him. Cycles can be broken.

We were camping, in four circles, cooking communally over fire, dancing, doing comedy improv, singing together, with sharing circles each night. We built community. We had a Midsummer’s night ceremony, dressing up, singing and dancing round a fire and burning things which we wished to get rid of. I wrote “Negativity” on a piece of paper and burned that, and ten days later was plunged into my War.

For my US readers, you could come to the Edinburgh Festival, over 2000 shows in three weeks with international orchestras, theatre and opera companies; or perhaps do London, the historic sites, galleries and theatres- or you could come to Midsummer Camp, and meet the people. Live with us, and find in what ways we are different, and what the same.

I became aware that some of us there are Jewish. We had a Shabbas meal at sunset on Friday night. Which made me think of integration, and difference, and equality, and acceptance- celebration- of distinctiveness. In Recherche, Bloch is a Jew, introduced with this disgusting speech:

You can’t walk ten yards without stepping on one! Not that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool enemy of the chosen people, but hereabouts there’s a glut of them.

The Jews are separate, with their own snobberies and hierarchies, and now Bloch, a snob, attempts to get in with the Marquis de Saint-Loup, Marcel’s friend. St-Loup, who effortlessly manifests yet despises aristocratic manners, thinks himself a Socialist and reads Proudhon, is mortified at Bloch’s social solecisms, and blushes sympathetically on Bloch’s behalf. One of these is to refer to the lift in the hotel as a “lyfte”- he knows he should use the English word, but does not know the correct pronunciation. From such tiny things is Otherness established. No wonder Bloch hates it, and tries to deny it! But I do not like Proust’s portrayals of Jews: they are ridiculous, and their Jewishness is part of their ridiculousness, and their unpleasantness. Yes, Proust makes aristocratic origins ridiculous too, but it is not the same.

I do not know what to make of Hugo Rifkind, a Jew, journalist, and the son of a former Conservative Foreign Secretary, remarking in The Times on the Jewishness of Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, as a thing setting him apart from the strata of British society now. Rifkind claims he is a part of that society himself. For me, the absolute moral imperative is to think of Us, always Us and never “Us and Them”, and to celebrate diversity and difference within the in group.