FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #33

Fandango’s Provocative Question #33

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding pious or self-righteous. Personally, I always wonder if I have a price too and it’s merely that no one has offered to pay it that I have managed to stay true to my fundamental beliefs. When you’ve never been tempted or at least not tempted enough, it is hard to know what your own boundaries truly are.

This question was plucked from my post, so to a large degree, I’ve answered it already. Still, it’s a valid question with many possible answers and even more questions that lie along its borders.

The question of whether morality is part of “God’s personal patch” versus being a basic human issue is old. It’s a question that goes to the heart of every religion and dogma — as well every set of personal beliefs. It’s older than our literature and for all I know, they were pondering some version of this in cave dwellings.

For at least most of my life, as a child, adolescent, and adult, I have believed that we are all born with a fundamental knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong. It isn’t something we need to be taught. We know it. Actually, Genesis essentially says more or less the same thing.

In our bones, in our brains, in that strange space we have that is neither physical or “brain matter,” but rather a special place where we preserve our personal beliefs.

That we all know what is right and wrong from our earliest youth through all of life does not mean that we always adhere to it. We have all done the wrong thing, whether it was big and bad, or little but nonetheless, wrong.

The cynical saying that “Everyone has a price” means no matter what you believe — or why you believe it — if you are offered a good enough deal, you’ll fold and do the wrong thing. It insinuates that greed is ultimately the most powerful emotion of which man is capable.

I want to believe that this is untrue and some of us cannot be bought. But do I know that? Or have many of us never been offered a high enough price? After all, the payment doesn’t have to be money. It can be power: legal power or religious power. It can make us godlike or rich beyond the ability of our calculator to count.

Greed can be the lust for knowledge, power, drugs, or land, though somehow money seems to squeeze into the equation somehow.


To quote Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good.”


Do you agree that greed is good? Or only that greed is good within limits, to a certain extent, but not beyond? That it’s okay to be greedy as long as you don’t get excessive about it?

What is excessive?

Does it mean only if you aren’t killing or crushing other people to reach your greed level, it’s okay? Or are there other issues?

I don’t believe that greed is good. The concept that greed is good offends me. I understand why greed feels good, though. I understand everyone wants to be safe from hardship and live life in comfort and dignity. I don’t consider that greedy. More like survival with benefits.

I certainly don’t think survival is greedy until you have to murder other people to achieve it. At which point you need to put down the gun and think about it.

It’s the excessiveness of greed that’s the problem. Because once you’ve broken through the comfort barrier and moved into luxury, when is enough, enough? What amount of whatever is sufficient?

When everything the eye can see, a man desires and comfort has long been surpassed, at what point do you stop? Do you ever stop? Can you stop? When you have the greedy bit clamped between your teeth, is there an end to your run?


ALEXANDER LEARNS VIRTUE
Gold coins of Alexander of Macedon

When Alexander had flown on the back of an eagle to the gates of Heaven itself, he bangs on the door until finally, a wise man answers. Because he is a great and powerful leader, he demands the right to ask questions of the wise men. These are his questions:

“Who is wise?” asks Alexander.

“He who can foresee the future,” answers the wise man.

“Who is a hero?” asks Alexander.

“He who conquers himself,” replies another wise man.

“Who is rich?” asks Alexander.

“He who rests content with what he has,” the wise men respond.

Alexander depicted on an ancient synagogue wall

Following this question, there is a story Talmudic legend about Alexander (who was a Jewish hero — a story too long to explain here), a balance scale, and a human eye.

The eye is placed on one side of the scale. On the other side, are piled mountains of gold, gems, and all other riches. Yet the human eye is heavier, no matter how many riches are put on the other balance. Finally, one of the wise men sprinkles a bit of dust over the eye. From that moment, even a feather is heavier than the eye.

Until a man is dead and covered in earth, he will always desire more. Only death can end his greed.

“By what means does man preserve his life?” asks Alexander.

“When he kills himself.” (Talmudist notes: By this, the wise men meant when a man destroys within himself all passion.)

“By what means does a man bring about his own death?” asks Alexander, referring back to the previous question.

“When he clings to life.” (Talmudist notes: When a man holds onto his passions and belongs to them.)

“What should a man do who wants to win friends?” asks Alexander. This is his final question.

“He should flee from glory and despise dominion and kingship,” the wise men conclude.

At the end of the Judaization process, Alexander is a humbled dictator. Although the lesson does not make him a wise man, the Talmudic dialectics bring Alexander the Great down a notch or two, make him a better person and a more benevolent leader.


If anyone assured me that one can be moral and hold a strong belief system without a formal belief system, my mother did that. She believed in virtue — goodness for its own sake. She believed in dignity, kindness, fairness, and equality. She was not a racist although she was positive that education made you a better person. If there was a break in her “system,” education was it.

She loved beautiful things for their beauty, yet before she died, she gave away or sold all her jewelry and art.


In the end, I do not believe anyone of any faith is incorruptible. We all have a weak spot. Something about which we feel so passionate, we would give or do anything to achieve it.

Incorruptibility is a choice. To find out if you are incorruptible, you’d need to be tempted by whatever it is that means the most to you. You would have to make painful choices and would forever wonder if you were a fool for choosing virtue over greed, especially if you urgently needed what you refused.

If you do not have a God about whom you can say, “His laws made me do it,” you will probably feel even sillier than the religious man who at least believes he is following the route God laid out for him.

A non-believer has only his self by which to gauge the rights and wrongs of life. Standing alone is hard. A good life is a hard life.

And no one ever promised it would be easy.

MOSES FOR WHOM THE GPS WAS INVENTED – Marilyn Armstrong

So, THE WAY THEY TELL IT, God wanted to get rid of all those who had experienced slavery. To accomplish this task, he made the twelve tribes walk around the Sinai wilderness for forty years.


Forty years? Seriously?

That area isn’t all that big. To keep walking for that many years, they had to have crossed their own paths repeatedly. Didn’t anyone shout out: “Hey, Moses. I’m pretty sure we’ve been here before. Levi, haven’t we already been here? Look, here’s where we put the tents. I think there are a few poles lying around  …”

By: Rick Baldwin

If the idea was to get rid of the “slave mentality,” why couldn’t they just make a nice camp and hang out until the time was up? Stop walking. Play guitars. Sing some songs. Play cards.

Why did they have to keep walking?

Was there a fitness or exercise requirement? Was it like a jail where you have this hour or two a day during which you have to keep moving? Why 40 years? That’s a pretty long time.

Garry says we have this same conversation every year, usually immediately following our ritual viewing of “The Ten Commandments.” But we didn’t watch it this year. It was the first time I can remember NOT watching it, but I think it’s possible I’m one viewing over the line, even for a Cecile B. DeMille classic.

This never stops making me laugh, please enjoy this short video of “Life with the Twelve Tribes.” I’m sorry I can’t embed the video, but it’s worth a few minutes of your time to give this a look. Not only is it funny, but it is oddly timely in this strange period in which we are living.


http://videocloud.aish.com/movies/Google%20Exodus.mp4

I know the holidays are over, but not by much, so forgive my tardiness. Whatever you celebrate, something or nothing, I hope the food was good and the company even better.

PEDIATRIC RELIGION – Marilyn Armstrong

When my first husband and I were getting married, he was something vaguely Protestant, though no one in his family knew what. They never attended church and while they were wild about Christmas, it was a very non-Christian version of it.

I’m not even sure they were Christian, but they weren’t anything else, either. I think it’s possible on the paternal side of the family, they might have been Jewish several generations back, then drifted into Christianity because they weren’t Jewish enough to hang with it.

Thus when my granddaughter was hitting eight or nine and Passover/Easter was approaching, I asked Kaity what Easter was about. She had never heard of Jesus or Christianity — or for that matter, Judaism.  She was sure that Easter was about baskets of sweets. She didn’t love chocolate (who doesn’t love chocolate?) — but always preferred the hard-boiled eggs. Funny kid.

In a Jewish family, religion comes through mom, but in Christianity, it devolves from dad. In theory, she could have swung either way.

Owen was Jewish because he had a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem. In Israel, it was the natural thing to do.

Here, in a very Christian valley with dozens of churches and not a single synagogue, it made more sense to find her a Protestant niche. Later, if life took her into “choices of religion,” she could make up her own mind.

I didn’t feel, without any backup, that I could raise her as a Jew. I don’t practice Judaism. I like Jewish food, Jewish people, and deeply appreciate Jewish law and how far ahead most of most kind of law it is (and was).

I studied in Yeshiva in Jerusalem because I needed to know more, but I knew I would never be Orthodox. This was a big disappointment to my teachers who thought my interest and intellectual involvement preceded a religious commitment. They didn’t “get”(most people don’t) that I love learning for its own sake, but it doesn’t presage any follow-up.

A couple of “studies” have evolved from “learning” to hobbies. Photography. History. Literature. Ecology. Music. Some kinds of art. Technology. Other stuff.

Thus I knew a lot ABOUT Judaism, but not much about how to actually “be” a Jew. I also know a lot about Christianity, because I studied that too and even converted to it, though I practice it to the exact same degree that I practice Judaism — which is to say, I don’t.

Happy birthday at 15!

I am religiously non-dogmatic. I am pretty sure I believe in something, but I don’t know what. Not nothing, though.

Meanwhile, Garry and I felt some pediatric religion was necessary. I didn’t expect Kaitlin to make religion her life, but I thought she needed to know that Christ was not a chocolate bunny and Judaism is a religion, not a bad word you call someone.

You can’t make a choice if you don’t know anything.

To my great relief, she is happily practicing nothing, considers herself vaguely protestant — and prefers eggs to chocolate.

BEWARE OF MAN! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC – Beware of Man!

Harking back to yesterday’s long discussion of ARE YOUR VALUES WORTH A SONG AND A MOVIE? – Marilyn Armstrong which was based on Fandango’s Provocative Question #18:

Man (as opposed to a woman) should not lead a nation. Men are unsuited to the task. A man can be seduced by the size of a breast or beer.
A woman cannot.

A Talmud Legend relates the remarkable tale of how Alexander the Great searched for and found the gates of Paradise on Earth. Upon his appearance, however, he was not greeted knowingly by the Guardian of the Gate. The story reveals that even the most powerful, well-known or ‘great’ men need to be humbled, just like all of us on Earth need to be.

The legend goes as follows:

Once arriving at the gates of Paradise, Alexander the Great knocked persistently on the doors and demanded to be let inside. An Angel finally came calmly to the entrance and asked ‘Who is there?’

Alexander boldly announced, “It is I, the Great Conqueror and Lord of the Earth. Open the gates.” The Angel (to Alexander’s surprise and disappointment), said “We know him not. This is the Lord’s gate, only the righteous enter here.”

Incapable of persuading the Angel to allow his entrance, Alexander the Great prepared to go. Unwilling to leave the gates without some sort of token for his accomplishment for at least discovering the location of the abode of the just, he bravely asked the Guardian of the Gate for a gift. Granting his wish the Guardian gave him a small valuable item and said, “Take this, may it prove useful unto thee, and teach thee wisdom, more wisdom than thou hast acquired during thy ambitious expeditions and pursuits.”

Realizing the gift was nothing more than a piece of bone, Alexander the Great was angered and threw it down to the ground. An accompanying wise and learned man hastened Alexander to reconsider the value of the gift from the abode of the just and offered to weigh it upon the scales. Alexander allowed the wise man to do so. On one side was placed the small fragment of bone. The other side was filled with gold. No matter how much gold continued to be placed upon the scale, the fragment of bone outweighed it. The more gold put onto the scale, the lower the bone sank.

Confused, Alexander asked what could outweigh the bone. The wise man proceeded to show him and covered the bone with dust from the ground. Instantly, the side of the scale with the fragment flew up.

It was realized, “The bone was that which surrounds the eye of man; the eye of man which naught can satisfy save the dust which covers the grave.”

How, then, can a MAN lead a nation when nothing can satisfy him except his own grave? Beware the greed of man. Beware man and his hormones, his endless need for dominance, his demands for power and proof of his superiority. He will never be enough. He can never have enough.

Beware the creature who is a man!

99 New: Rumination

As a Jewish woman married to a Brown man, this really hits home. This whole week has been a bit of a nightmare for me. This is personal. It’s impossible to NOT see this as the start of a new period of nationalism and murder. Remember, folks, the actual name of Nazi was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Nazi is only how it came to be known, but Nationalist was always front and center. Guess who says he’s a “nationalist?” You got it on the first try!

Red's Wrap

Anti-Semitism isn’t just the stuff of white nationalist Neanderthals. Some of your best friends have anti-Semitic reflexes.

Oh, your friends would never admit to this. They’re too intelligent, too socially conscious. They wouldn’t be caught dead showing bigoted or anti-Semitic attitudes and they’d take great offense to the suggestion that they are unconsciously anti-Semitic. But some things a person can’t control and one of them is the reflex of anti-Semitism learned when they were children.

Who killed Jesus?

It starts there. Every kid in Sunday School learns that ‘the Jews killed Jesus.’ Later, when they grow up, they sometimes sort out who did what with Jesus; grown-up minds can deal with complexity if so inclined. If not so inclined, the original notion that the Jews were to blame for the agony of Christ’s suffering on the cross gets embedded in people’s psyches. Hence, the reflex business. And the Inquisition.

Added…

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GUILTY – BUT WAS I CHARGED? Marilyn Armstrong

BROUGHT UP GUILTY

To be brought up Jewish is to be brought up guilty. I think Catholics have a similar problem. We are guilty of different things, however. Catholics have the whole “sin” thing to deal with. Jews get to be guilty about all of Our People who were slaughtered in various parts of the world because they were Jews in the wrong country at the wrong political period.

Hofstra University 2014

Often, for us, there was no right period. Until relatively modern times — minus Nazi Germany, of course — Jews were anathema to most Christian monarchies.

And all the countries were monarchies. We did our best for the long years under Islāmic rule. They were fine with Jews as long as we didn’t tread on their religious sensibilities and tiptoeing through other religious ideologies is a very Jewish thing. We got lots of practice.

When I married my first husband, he had no religion. I mean literally none. They didn’t attend any church and I doubt anyone had ever been baptized. Jeff thought he might be a Druid and planned to return as an oak tree. I was a non-practicing Jew. So we got married by a minister that his mother remembered had buried some family member.

We didn’t have a real wedding. No church or synagogue. No wedding gown. Just a little get together with a minister (Methodist, I think) and a few friends. A couple of weeks later, my mother had a reception at their house, which was nice because it was casual. We didn’t need fancy invitations. After which, we got on with the business of being married.

Our house in Baka, in Jerusalem

So, when Owen was about to be born, we had to figure out what to do about religion. We didn’t have any and neither of us were believers in dogma. I had a friend who was also a rabbi and he said he was not a believer in pediatric Judaism.

Neither were we, so we just didn’t do anything … except we had Owen circumcised which gave him a whole set of Jewish godparents … then we had him Baptized and Garry became his godfather. And that is why Owen’s middle name is Garry.

The Dead Sea

When Jeff and I divorced and I took Owen to Israel, it seemed a good time for him to be Jewish, so he had a Bar Mitzvah there, at the only Reform synagogue in Jerusalem.

He got a 6-year dose of Jewish guilt, but then he went back to the U.S. and forgot all about religion.

I got to keep the guilt. He got to be American.

Summer afternoon on the Mumford

Guilt can be a mother’s best weapon to manage recalcitrant children, by the way. Owen may not remember much Judaism, but he sure does remember guilt. Not bad at using it himself, now that I think of it.

NAVIGATIONALLY-CHALLENGED: MOSES IN THE DESERT

So, THE WAY THEY TELL IT, God wanted to get rid of all those who had experienced slavery. To accomplish this task, he made the twelve tribes walk around the Sinai wilderness for forty years.


Forty years? Seriously?

That area isn’t all that big. To keep walking for that long, they had to have crossed their own paths repeatedly. Didn’t anyone shout out: “Hey, Moses. I’m pretty sure we’ve been here before. Hey, Levi, haven’t we been here before? Look, there’s where we put the tents. I think there are a few poles left over …”

If the idea was to get rid of the “slave mentality,” why couldn’t they just make a camp and hang out until the time was up? Stop walking. Play guitars. Sing some songs. Play cards.

Why did they have to keep walking? Was there a fitness or exercise requirement? Was it like jail where you have this hour or two a day during which you have to keep walking and walking and walking? Why does the idea of walking in circles for 40 years make me laugh hysterically?

Garry says we have this same conversation every year, immediately following our ritual viewing of “The Ten Commandments.” It must be pretty funny, because I’m still laughing.

And because this never stops making me laugh, please enjoy this little video of “Life with the Twelve Tribes.” I’m sorry I can’t embed the video, but it’s worth a few minutes of your time to give this a look. Not only is it funny, but it is oddly timely in this strange period in which we are living.


http://videocloud.aish.com/movies/Google%20Exodus.mp4

Happy whatever you celebrate!