Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

"Prophetic" Christianity Naked At Last
Just recently there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth concerning some t-shirts that were (but are no longer) for sale at Cafe Press. The t-shirts indirectly express a wish for President Obama to die, and for his wife and children to suffer terribly as well. The wish is expressed indirectly by way of a literary reference.

The literary reference is not to Mein Kampf or anything like that. Rather, the reference is to a particular book of the Bible, one that is among the most beloved by both Christians and Jews, the Book of Psalms.

But the "psalm" in question is Psalm 109, an "imprecatory" prayer by David to his God, Jehovah. David, it seems, has had it with some of his enemies, and so he has decided to ask God to take care of them. In fact this particular psalm is called "A Cry for Vengeance."

As despicable as this particular use of Judeo-Christian scripture is, how genuinely out of line is it with the original meaning and intention of David's poem? As Biblical commentator Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh has written, "The problem we face in Psalm 109 is one that is far broader than just one passage, or even one book of the Bible. Prayers of imprecation for the destruction of the wicked are to be found throughout the entire Word of God."

Of course what Deffinbaugh is saying should hardly come as shocking news to anyone. Everyone knows the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the slaughter of the first born of Egypt, etc. These are things that Jehovah is depicted as openly bragging about, and his worshippers, one would assume, must approve. Indeed, it is strongly implied that it could be very unhealthy to not approve! So if one is already worshipping a vengeful, jealous, smite-happy, God, why not pass along one's own personal suggestions for additions to the Divine Shit List?

Pastor Deffinbaugh offers several examples of scriptural passages to demonstrate just how broad the problem is:
“Do Thou add iniquity to their iniquity, and may they not come into Thy righteousness. May they be blotted out of the book of life, and may they not be recorded with the righteous.” (Ps. 69:27-28)

"O that Thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God; depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed. For they speak against Thee wickedly, and Thine enemies take Thy name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against Thee? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies." (Ps. 139:19-22)

"Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, 'Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation.' O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock." (Ps. 137:7-9)

"Do give heed to me, O Lord, and listen to what my opponents are saying! Should good be repaid with evil? For they have dug a pit for me. Remember how I stood before Thee to speak good on their behalf, so as to turn away Thy wrath from them. Therefore, give their children over to famine, and deliver them up to the power of the sword; and let their wives become childless and widowed. Let their men also be smitten to death, their young men struck down by the sword in battle. May an outcry be heard from their houses, when Thou suddenly bringest raiders upon them; for they have dug a pit to capture me and hidden snares for my feet. Yet Thou, O Lord, knowest all their deadly designs against me; do not forgive their iniquity or blot out their sin from Thy sight. But may they be overthrown before Thee; deal with them in the time of Thine anger!" (Jer. 18:19-23)

"And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'" (Rev. 6:9-10)
In fact, such "imprecations" are nothing other than the true face of so-called "prophetic" Christianity. "Prophetic" Christianity is sometimes touted as if it were a kinder, gentler, liberal form of Christianity. In fact it is just a particular tone often adopted by Christians generally, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology, whenever they feel like claiming that all those who oppose them are "wicked". As discussed in this blog previously (see the post Doing the Lord's Work in Rwanda), "prophetic" Christianity attempts to replace the true underlying dynamic of monotheism, based on it's exclusive and intolerant claim to represent the one and only True Religion, with a more palatable claim, that it represents freedom and justice against oppression and injustice.

It's also worth mentioning that the exact reasons given by David for literally calling down the wrath of God on his enemies are rather vague. He seems to be especially annoyed at people who have been saying bad things about him: "wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate."

Finally, here is the complete text of Psalm 109, A Prayer for Vengeance:

109:1 Be not silent, O God of my praise!

2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.

3 They encircle me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.

4 In return for my love they accuse me,
but I give myself to prayer. [1]

5 So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.

6 Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.

7 When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!

8 May his days be few;
may another take his office!

May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!

10 May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!

11 May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!

12 Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!

13 May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation!

14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord,
and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!

15 Let them be before the Lord continually,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!

16 For he did not remember to show kindness,
but pursued the poor and needy
and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.

17 He loved to curse; let curses come [2] upon him!
He did not delight in blessing; may it be far [3] from him!

18 He clothed himself with cursing as his coat;
may it soak [4] into his body like water,
like oil into his bones!

19 May it be like a garment that he wraps around him,
like a belt that he puts on every day!

20 May this be the reward of my accusers from the Lord,
of those who speak evil against my life!

21 But you, O God my Lord,
deal on my behalf for your name's sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!

22 For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is stricken within me.

23 I am gone like a shadow at evening;
I am shaken off like a locust.

24 My knees are weak through fasting;
my body has become gaunt, with no fat.

25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they wag their heads.

26 Help me, O Lord my God!
Save me according to your steadfast love!

27 Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O Lord, have done it!

28 Let them curse, but you will bless!
They arise and are put to shame, but your servant will be glad!

29 May my accusers be clothed with dishonor;
may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a cloak!

30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
I will praise him in the midst of the throng.

31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.

peas and potato soup

(1) Cook 1/3 cup split peas together with 1/3 cup lentils with 1 or 2 bay leaves.

(2) After the split peas and lentils have cooked for at least 20 min., in a separate pan saute one medium onion and then add 1 lb of potatoes to the onions and saute together for about 5-10 min.

Combine (1) and (2) together with 1 can of peas. Cook together until the potatoes are done. Add salt to taste.

More on Freddie Mercury and Zoroastrianism

[See also: In Honor of Freddie Mercury: We Are Zoroastrians, My Friends]

The following excerpts are from Rick Sky's book The Show Must Go On: The Life of Freddie Mercury (Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group: New York City, NY, 1994). These excerpts can all be found in the com article The Religious Affiliation of Freddie Mercury.

[from pages 8-9]:
Just like Mercury himself, the occasion [of his funeral], which the singer had spent weeks planning in meticulous detail, was a bewildering mixture of flamboyance and secrecy, witnessing the collision of two very different worlds--the modern world of rock music and the ancient world of the Zoroastrian religion, in which Mercury had been brought up.

Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest and most exclusive religions. Founded by the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in 600 B.C., it has only 120,000 members worldwide and just 6,000 in Britain. Its followers see life as a battle between two spirits, Spenta Mainyu, the "Bounteous Spirit," and Angra Mainyu, the "Destructive Spirit." Whichever one a Zoroastrian lives his life by determines where he or she goes to after death. The final resting place is the Zoroastrian equivalent to the Christian heaven or hell.

As Mercury's oak coffin was carried into the chapel, covererd in a satin sheet and topped with a single red rose, Zoroastrian priests, dressed in white muslin robes and caps, chanted traditional prayers to their god Ahura Mazda, also known as the Wise Lord, for the salvation of the singer's soul. Throughout the twenty-five minute service, conducted totally in the ancient Avestan langauge, the priests used no word of English other than commands to the forty mourners to stand and sit.

Mercury had insisted on his funeral being a private, low-key affair, and the magical ancient ceremony was attended only by extremely close friends and family, as he had wished. The singer's parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, wept throughout as did Mary Austin and Elton John. Among the other tearful mourners were sixties drummer turned impresario Dave Clark, the three remaining members of Queen, and Brian May's girlfriend, former EastEnders' soap star Anita Dobson.

[pages 12-16]:
Mercury's parents were both Parsees and devout followers of the Zoroastrian religion, and it was in Bombay that the largest Parsee community in the world was to be found. In the tenth century, after the Islamic invasion of Persia, the Parsees fled to India, where they were free to practice their religion. India had a reputation as one of the most tolerant countries in the world when it came to religion, and in Bombay, with its polyglot population, many of the world's religious groups--Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Zoroastrians--lived side by side.

The Parsees were one of the most economically successful communities in Bombay. In their early days they had adopted the language and dress of India's largest religious group, the Hindus, but they later exchanged them for the customs and way of life of India's former colonial masters, the British. So the young Freddie was to receive a typical British public school education, even if it was achieved thousands of miles away from Eton and Harrow.

India, at the time the young Mercury arrived, had a population of 400 million, and Bombay was its largest city--and the world's seventh biggest. A harbor port lying on India's western seaboard overlooking the Arabian Sea, it was the country's financial and commercial center. Bombay was a fantastic place for Freddie to grow up in. He loved playing in its winding, narrow streets and visiting the beautiful Hanging Gardens in the affluent Malabar Hill area close by the Parsee hospital. He loved going to the bazaar to watch the snake charmers weave their magical, hypnotic tunes, or to gape wide-eyed at the fakirs, Indian holy men, lying on their beds of nails. In those crammed markets he would watch the traders sell the city's most exotic wares as he feasted on mangoes, coconuts, and litchis. In the afternoon he would go to the harbor and look out on a sea of ships laden with tea, cotton, and rice, ready to set off on voyages to distant parts.

Mercury enjoyed his boarding school, too. He excelled in sports, particularly cricket, boxing, and table tennis. The fast, furious pace of table tennis--involving a mixture of dexterity and speed--was something he was especially skilled in and he became one of the school champions at the sport. It was at school in Bombay that Mercury also began the piano lessons that were to be crucial to those florid, bombastic compositions for which Queen became known. The city was a bizarre musical melting pot, where the eleven-year-old was simultaneously exposed to the classics and operas that his cultured parents loved, the meandering rhythms and romance of Indian music, and a pinch of that relatively new phenomenon, rock and roll, which was slowly beginning to invade the world.

Religion, too, played an important role in Mercury's life, and he went with other Zoroastrian youngsters to the fire temples where the Parsees worship. The sacred fires are a crucial part of their religion, and prayers are said in front of them as an affirmation of a believer's faith. They are kept permanently burning--in some parts of Iran there are fires that are two thousand years old--and are tended five times a day by the priests of the temple.

At the age of eight Freddie became a full member of the Zoroastrian religion in the majestic Mayjote ceremony, during which the young initiate was given a purifying bath while the head priest chanted prayers. (The bath symbolizes physical cleanliness, which devotees regard as essential for the cleansing of the mind and soul.) Then/ in front of one of the eternal fires, he repeated the prayers of the priests, accepting the Zoroastrian religion as revealed by Ahura Mazda to Zoroaster, and was given his sudreh, a shirt made out of white muslin, symbol of innocence and purity. Around his waist the priest then tied the kusti, a cord made out of the finest and purest white lamb's wool and symbolizing the girding of the loins to serve humanity. The kusti was wrapped around him three times to remind the young boy of the three aspects of Ahura Mazda as creator, preserver, and reconstructor, and the initiate was expected to wear it for the rest of his life. Finally Mercury was showered with rice, rose petals, coconut, and pomegranate and dressed in his new clothes. Rusi Dalal, a friend of Mercury's family says of the Navjote ceremony: "It is one of the most important events in the religion and everyone from the Parsee community is invited. It is a very festive and enjoyable event."

Later Freddie was to talk affectionately about his years at boarding school. Many pop stars recall their schooldays as a horrific period that they could not wait to finish, but not so Mercury: "My time at boarding school was very enjoyable..."