Fundamentalism, identity and the Word of God

avec12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:12-14)

Dear Brethren,

I must say I am always astonished by the way the Gospel gives us messages able to fit any occasion even 2000 years after it has been written.

I confess these verses, the ones of Matthew chapter 10,  are constantly coming to my mind in these days in relation to very different elements and in particular to two big problems of nowadays society: identity and fundamentalism.

I’d like to start briefly commenting the incredible period we are living, a period filled with violence, hatred, death due to the recrudescence of the self-defined Islamic terrorism (self-defined as I hope we all know that the real  Islam is very far from the Wahabi fundamentalism inspiring the deviated, desperate minds and souls of a minority of the Muslim believers).

When the carnage at the offices of “Charlie Hebdo” took place I, as many others, didn’t  hesitate to publish the “Je suis Charlie” banner on my page as a sign of solidarity with the victims of an inhuman, vile and also politically absolutely stupid attempt to apply the most extreme censorship of the most extreme and ignorant interpretation of the Shari’a to the freedom of press. I absolutely don’t regret it as I deeply believe we must all stand up for our rights against any attempt of imposition of ideas with fear and violence, with menaces and terror. Jesus Himself asks to us not to be afraid when He says: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” and, sometimes, also a symbol like a banner could be a way to “stand firm” .

However, a few hours later something  made me feel a little dizzy about that banner I had published. That something was the claim, coming from many parts, that the dead of “Charlie Hebdo” were “heroes of the Western civilization”, “martyrs of freedom”, “models for the whole world” (I am quoting randomly from different international newspapers), that the Muslim groups changing the banner in “Je suis AVEC Charlie Hebdo” were, in a way, siding the attack or, at least, not condemning it enough and that, as The Guardian published in an editorial, “satire has to shock. Being shocking is going to involve offending someone. If there is a right to free speech, implicit within it there has to be a right to offend“.

As often I am probably going upstream and I will surely be blamed by many for saying this but I deeply feel I must say it: I totally don’t agree with these ideas. To me Charlie Hebdo was and remains total rubbish, its drawings were and are in majority vulgar and just insulting and its cartoonists were not heroes, models or martyrs but just victims of the madness of the most misleading interpretation of a religion possible! That’s the way it is for me and I won’t lie.

Which doesn’t mean, in any way (I want to be absolutely clear about this), I can even distantly agree with the ones thinking that “they deserved it” or “they brought it on themselves”! They didn’t: nobody deserves to die or brings a murder on himself for a drawing and this is very clearly stated in the verses I am commenting, where the Master affirms: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. He doesn’t say: “burn their homes, kill them, destroy their towns” but simply “shake the dust off your feet” and leave them. And I suppose He says this for many reasons: as Jesus always condemns the use of violence, as any murder is the destruction of the whole universe according to that Jewish culture the Master never refused, as He speaks about mercy and love for everybody and, possibly, as mentioned, as violence is always the most stupid and counterproductive way to act. An example of this last point? Well, why not a couple as they are clearly in front of us? What about, in example, that big slice of the public opinion which, in France as well as in other countries, was front-line in blaming Israel for its political behavior and now is revising its positions  in the light of the victims of the blindest anti-Semitic rage? Or, what about the new public judgment about a magazine like “Charlie Hebdo” which, in the past, had been condemned even in courts for its lack of any refrain and was practically close to fail for the constant loss of readers?

With all the due respect for the victims, I won’t join my voice to the chorus of hypocrisy of the ones now suddenly changing their mind after the carnage! I repeat: to me Charlie Hebdo was and remains rubbish, exactly like some other newspapers and magazines from all over Europe incapable to understand the perhaps subtle but anyway existing border between satire and insult.

So, which is this subtle border? To me (and, as far as I can see, also according to many of the most important religious leaders of the planet) it stands in the defense and untouchability of anyone’s deep identity.

I try to explain. Can satire touch anybody’s actions if they are wrong, ridiculous, blame deserving? Of course it can! Actually it must! To denounce mistakes and to put in the pillory anyone deserving it, with no exceptions and no obsequiousness for any power is the real role of satire. But actions are one thing and identity is something totally different. Identity, personal identity is the root of our being and it is formed by many different basic elements, many of which not even depending on the single’s will: your ethnicity, your nationality, your family, your religious values… To offend these elements means to hit the radical core bases of a human being and, therefore, to offend him/her in his/her entirety. And there are no exceptions: it is surprising how so many tend to adopt different systems of judgment and blame anybody mocking ethnicity as racist (Dieudonné’s case is quite exemplar in this sense) but consider anybody mocking religion as an intelligent secularist and free thinker. Actually I don’t think there is any difference: exactly as much a racist satire is anyway a disgusting act of racism, a blasphemic satire is a disgusting act of blasphemy. Period.

Identity matters, my brethren: identity is what shapes us as human beings and to respect any identity, in any occasion, in any situation, with no exceptions, means to respect the supreme creation of God.

I suppose there is something very important, a very deep teaching also for the Christian Unitarians in this idea. Because, you know, to respect anyone’s identity means, as first thing, to respect our own identity and to defend it.

I think in some occasions there are very deep misunderstandings about the meaning of being “liberal Christians”: to adopt a liberal view of a religion means to distinguish between a private sphere and a public sphere, not to try to impose your idea, not to blame or attack anyone for religious ideas different from yours. In no way it means to renounce to your idea, to your belief, to the claiming of the message you perceive as true in the name of a misunderstood generic, undifferentiated love for everyone (but for yourself, evidently) reducing Christianity to the lowest level of banality or in the name of a relativistic or nihilistic cowardy  masked as a sort of “mental openness” allowing anything to be said and done without objection, even “in our name”.

Identity matters and the Master Himself expresses this concept very clearly. What should you do if they don’t accept the message you take with you?  We read that you must “shake the dust off your feet” and we said that it means not to use any violence, coercion, intimidation to impose what you believe in. We must, anyway, understand that “to shake dust from your feet” is not, in the biblical culture, a neutral act, an act meaning: “ok, do what you want as it’s anyway the same”.  Dust is symbolic of a number of things in Scripture. Man was created from the dust (Genesis 2:7) and to dust he will return upon death (Genesis 3:19). The Serpent in Eden was punished by being sentenced to a dust diet (Genesis 3:14). People would often cover themselves in dust as a sign of mourning or repentance (e.g., Joshua 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:2; 15:32; Job 2:12; Nehemiah 9:1). Dust was also associated with poverty (Psalms 113:7). Indeed, God calls Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, to “shake off your dust” and to “rise up”. In this case of Matthew 10, as one can, in example, read in “Robertson’s Word Studies”, “shake off the dust (ektinaxate ton koniorton)” is a rather violent gesture of disfavor. In the Middle East travellers would often arrive with their feet caked in dust and hence foot washing was quite traditional. The Jews made this a theological and sacred issue though. Jewish customs and traditional teaching believed that any land outside of Israel was defiling, or at least its dirt was. This presumably caused some questions of conscience and consternation for those Diaspora Jews living outside of first century Palestine. Jews were to “shake off” any dust or dirt from outside lands when returning to Israel, or even off any imported fruit and food. The dust of a gentile land was equivalent to the defiling brought about by coming into contact with a corpse.

According to the philologist Edersheim, the very dust of a heathen country was considered unclean, and it defiled by contact. It was regarded like a grave, or like the putrescence of death. If a spot of heathen dust had touched an offering, it had at once to be burnt. More than that, if by mischance any heathen dust had been brought into Palestine, it did not and could not mingle with that of “the land” but remained to the end what it had been, unclean, defiled, and defiling everything to which it adhered. This, I suppose, casts light upon the meaning conveyed by the symbolical directions of our Master to His disciples in the moment He sent them forth to mark out the boundary lines of the true Israel, “the kingdom of heaven” that was at hand: they were not only to leave a city or household not receiving them, but it was to be considered and treated as if it were heathen. Even considering the fact that the Master was often quite extreme in His words and that surely we don’t need to take the passage literally excluding any “non-Christian” from our lives, it is quite clear that, given the prevalent attitudes to gentile grit and grime one could think that Jesus was suggesting to his disciples that if their Jewish hearers rejected the gospel then they should treat them as gentiles, shaking them off, and move on to more fruitful ground.  There is no neutrality in this, no indifferentism, no relativism.

There is identity, on the other hand, identity, the identity of a message to spread and witness with no imposition but also with no fear, the identity of a faith we have, we are proud of, we live and we must peacefully defend against anything: against the violence of any fundamentalism as well as against the more subtle (but, in the end, not less pernicious) violence of any blasphemic, vulgar insult to the elements shaping our souls, of any relativism diluting our beliefs.

Adonai echad, amen.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: who is to blame?

gazaWell, I waited to give my opinion about what is happening in Gaza,

I waited for many reasons: family reasons and my love and admiration for Israel took me to support the Jewish side but, having lived for a while in East Jerusalem, my heart couldn’t avoid understanding the reasons of my Palestinian brothers. So I decided to wait and see, to try to be as objective as I can. Then, a couple of days ago, a chat with some members of my Congregation changed my mind: too many things are unknown to people just reading very partial Western press reports.

What I’d like to do is, therefore, not to give a judgment (which, to me, would be impossible as I think, like many others, that all are somehow right and all are somehow wrong in this situation) but just to give some pieces of information.

Let’s start with some history.

  1. In 1948 the State of Israel was formed in the British protectorate of Palestine. Why? Why there? An obvious answer: as the Jews needed a State protecting them and this State had to be in the Holy Land. Well, let me tell you a thing: this is the root of the mess. As first thing, the so-called “Holy land” was already occupied by another population. Honestly, the claim that that area had been a Jewish area in the past means for nothing: the past is past and to ask for a “restitution” has no meaning as, in example, the “Roman” Italians could ask for a “restitution” of Algeria and Spain or the “Macedonian” Greeks for a “restitution” of Egypt or Afghanistan adopting the same parameter. Moreover, quite clearly the “gift” of a State to the Jews was an obvious attempt to indemnify them for the “Shoa” and the inanity of Western powers to fight against a genocide. Perhaps I am wrong but, to me, the idea of a State born from an incredible carnage sounds terrible. This said, surely the Jews can’t be blamed for any of these elements and, moreover, many first generation Zionists had legally bought the lands they were occupying.
  2. The first hypothesis of an Israeli State forecast the Jewish occupation of just a part of Palestine: two States for two population had to be formed but this was unbearable for Muslim people due to the intangibility of the “Land of Islam”. So they attacked and we all know the result: three wars, all moved by the Arabs, all won by the Israelis progressively occupying new territories. Palestinians had no more a State and their reaction was what, at that time, they believed was the only way to fight for their homeland: terrorism (by the way, the Israelis had used the same method against the British occupation). And the equation Palestinians = terrorists began to exist.
  3. Fast forward. Many things (Sabrah and Chatilla included) had happened before two enlightened men (both former “terrorists”, each one by his side), Rabin and Arafat understood two population couldn’t live a perennial war and signed an agreement and a road-map to create two States. Up to here it’s difficult, almost impossible to say who had been right or wrong: Israelis and been given a land and managed to defend it, Palestinians had been taken their land and used all methods to have it back. On both sides there were “doves” (Rabin and Arafat are two clear examples) and on both sides there were “hawks”, closed minded blind people unable to overpass prejudices and (in many cases justified) hatreds.
  4. Unfortunately, after the murder of Rabin by an Israeli extremist the hawks prevailed and the hawks had a face and a name: the one of the doubly (Tel Aviv and Den Hague) convinced war criminal Ariel Sharon who became the new premier of Israel. With all my love and respect for Israel, I confess to believe that the unbalance of responsibilities between Israelis and Palestinians started here. Does anybody remember his “walk” on the Temple esplanade with “just” two hundred bodyguards? Does anybody understand the feeling of a Muslim (and any Arab in the world can tell you that the Palestinians are considered among the most moderate Muslims in the Islamic areas) in seeing a sacred place violated by armed soldiers? The result? The first “Intifada” with kids throwing stones sent to prison for years; the abortion of the road map process with the declaration by Israel of “Jerusalem perennial indivisible Israeli capital” and the ghettoization of the Palestinian territory into the two poorest desert areas of the former Palestinian territory (Gaza and the West Bank); the continuous violation even of this territory with the building of new Jewish colonies needed because of the mad actuation of a “law of the coming home” allowing thousands of people from all over the world to come to live in a strip of land just as they had a light (and often false) Jewish heritage. And, on the other side, the new violent Intifadas, the “kamikaze” bombing attacks, the Hezbollah attacks from Lebanon, the political radicalizing of many Palestinians, the “help” by Arab Countries (has anybody ever checked the number of missiles smuggled to Gaza by the Saudi Arabian government, so “friendly” to the West?!).

An here, finally, we come to the point. Let me tell you a thing: 20 years ago Hamas was nothing but a bunch of Sha’aria fanatics execrated by the majority of the Palestinians. Even among the young students of the Arab universities they couldn’t overpass 10% of the votes. What happened then? I don’t want to answer directly. I will just try to list a series of data, all certified by international organizations.

  1. If you are a Palestinian Israeli your possibilities to go to good schools and to receive a good education are less than 1/7 of the ones of a Jewish Israeli, due to a complex racist and religious school system. Anyway, even if you manage to receive a good instruction and to go to university, your only possibility to improve your life-conditions is to migrate: in Israel you won’t work in the public system, you won’t be the boss of any Jew, you won’t teach to Jews, you won’t … , you won’t …. Should I go on? Isn’t it surprising that 2/3 of the car repairers of the West Bank have a university master in “Mechanical Engineering”?
  2. If you are a Palestinian from Gaza and from the West Bank you depend on Israel. It is a matter of fact. The Gaza airport has been closed at the time of the second Intifada, the access to the Golan Springs is obviously reserved only to the Israelis, the whole West Bank is, simply, the most unproductive area of the whole former Palestinian territory, with a land productivity which is the lowest in all the East Mediterranean costal area, etc. You are, therefore, forced to move to work. Where? The obvious answer is: “to Jerusalem”. Unfortunately to move to Jerusalem to find a job you need a pass and the pass is given to you only if you can prove to have a job (already a job, I mean) in Israel. If, by chance, you manage to have a job and you are in the lucky bunch (I met school teachers working for some 200$ per month only to have the possibility to go to Jerusalem and to be a tourist guide in the afternoon), you are, anyway, everything but sure. Every morning you must wake up at 4 o’clock to be at work by 8 o’clock because you need to calculate the average two hours you need to pass the “wall check”. Disgracefully, from time to time the government decides to close the check point for one, two days, sometimes a week. Naturally, your job flies away forever and you come back in the number of the Bethlehem or Ramallah unemployed people (the highest in the whole Middle East) or of the university graduated olive wood carvers preparing small crosses and statues for the tourists and selling them for a few coins.
  3. The “wall”, yes, the “wall”, one of the most shameful buildings on Earth. Its building meant the confiscation of 157 square km of Palestinian land, the destruction of 100.000 olive trees, the closing of 57 water pits. Its building meant the incredible situation of Palestinian people living near it and needing to ask for a permission to live in their homes every year, the incredible situation of peasants of the West Bank having their fields beyond the wall and needing to cross a check point (this means a two hours queue) each time they want to cultivate them, the incredible situation of West Bank motorways without check points and open only to colonizers while the Palestinians must use dirt roads, the incredible situation of tenths of pregnant women and newly born babies who already died at a check point while waiting to have the possibility to go to the closest hospital in Jerusalem (6 km from the wall), the incredible situation of rationed water coming from Israel as the Israeli government decided that a Jew needs 350 lt. of water per day, a colonizer 480 lt., but a Palestinian just 80 lt. (OMS declared that every human being needs 100 lt. per day).
  4. And … all the little things, the little daily humiliation hard to list but easy to see at every corner if you live in East Jerusalem. The constant presence of Israeli soldiers, the check of passes every second hour, the way policemen treat you, the unfair distribution of social services between East and West Jerusalem, the arrogance of the colonizers going around with weapons, etc. Too many times I heard by English, Greek, Russian Christian religious leaders living in Jerusalem the sentence: “We are in front of an ethnic cleaning up perpetrated by the Israeli government on the Palestinians, living in such a miserable way they are forced to leave …”!

So, is it so strange that Hamas, the former marginal party of the religious fanatics gained more and more consent among a population considered the least fanatic of the Arab world? Is it so strange that Palestinians began to vote for a party helping them economically and socially, declaring to fight against the oppression while Al Fatah, the majority party tries to negotiate with the Israeli government, sometimes obtaining never fulfilled promises and many times just denials?

Honestly, to it’s not so strange and, in fact, I often wonder how it could happen that Hamas is still a minority party!

Please, pay attention: I am not saying Hamas is right. Hamas leaders are just a bunch of idiot fanatic terrorist, caring about their deviated vision of Islam more then they care about their people (just think about the refusal of the ceasefire!). I am saying they are seen by many as an alternative to a hell life and this, paradoxically, makes of the Israeli government producing those hell conditions the most important sponsor of Hamas.

Once again, please, pay attention! I am speaking only about the Israeli government, not about the Israelis. I am speaking about Netanyahu and his clique, I am speaking about the Likud, Kadima, the colonizers’ party, the religious extremists, not about an Israeli population only exhausted by living in fear and convinced by these terrorists (yes, I do consider this government as terrorist as Hamas!) the ethnic cleaning up of the Palestinians is the only solution! The Israeli population is a victim exactly like the Palestinian population closed in Gaza like in a mouse trap: the only difference is that they are victims of rich, cute, pseudo-politically correct terrorists while the Palestinians are victims of rude, ignorant religious fanatics and this is, in my opinion, what marks the difference between the 200 victims of Gaza and the only victim of the Israeli Defense Force).

Is it possible to break the spiral? I don’t know! Surely it’s late, I hope not too late! But if a way is possible this way is to change the situation of the Palestinians now! This way is to condemn the life conditions in which this Israeli government forces the Palestinians, is to put an embargo on the pluri-condamned rightist government before it fulfils its subtle cultural genocide process. In South Africa it worked against the Apartheid and here the situation is much more similar then many people think!

The difference? The difference is that in South Africa all the world agreed in putting an embargo which, at list, made many oppressors think back about what they were doing. On the contrary, in this case any U.N. resolution against Israel has been blocked by the USA government “veto” (you know, the power of electoral lobbies is so strong!). It’s an incredible thing to me: those “vetoes” are the best allied of Hamas, not forcing the Israeli government to change policy, not destroying the oppression which feeds the lines of Hamas! Will anybody ever think that the missiles on Gaza have been, somehow, triggered on the other side of the Earth?

Tribalism

xenophobiaSome months ago a person told me a minister shouldn’t speak about politics. In a way (just a partial way ..) I could also agree with him but I suppose that in some occasions to remain in silence in front of some events means to share a part of the responsibility and this is true mainly for a minister when these events touch the core of the moral values he is meant to proclaim.

Well, this morning I had a look to the results of the European elections and an element deeply upset me: all over Europe the ultra-nationalist right is advancing and gaining positions. Somewhere this phenomenon is glaring (I’m thinking about France or Denmark, in example, not to speak about the continuous growth of the scaring “Golden Dawn” in Greece). Somewhere else, it is just a symptomatic trend (and I can think about Austria, about the resumption of a xenophobic party like Lega in Italy, partially about the success of Ukip in Uk, mainly if it’s true that before or later they will ally to the NF).

We all know the one of politics is often a world on its own, that very often what looks like being dangerous now looks like being less dangerous in the long distance, in the periodic sinusoidal curve of the electoral trends. So, why to get worried?

Well, to be honest, the fact is that I can’t but link this success of the extreme xenophobic right with the anti-Semitic regurgitation of these last days, with the terrible and absurd events of Brussels and of Créteil and with many other “smaller” events taking place all over Europe. Which is the link between the elections and these crimes? In a factual sense very probably nothing links the two elements but it’s a matter of “air du temps” as the French say: if someone thought all our mental borders about races were going to be swept away by the globalization, by the melting of ethnic groups, by what we often call tolerance … well it’s quite clear he was wrong. And this is devastating, not only for the crimes it provokes but as it tells us how hard is to fight with the ghosts of our deep heritage.

Probably I feel particularly sensitive in this field, not only for my origins but mainly as the woman I am going to marry is a Jew, proud of her heritage (and why shouldn’t she be proud of an heritage that, in the end, has shaped such a large part of Western culture?) … It is from a chat with her that I understood the depth of the problem, not only in relation to anti-Semitism but in relation to any “anti-something”. After the Brussels crime she told me: “You know, I can’t justify the ones against the Gypsies, but, as the Gypsies are so often accused to steal, I can at least understand their reasons. The same is for the immigrants: not to help them, to exploit them, to refuse them are horrible crimes but they are a real flow here and I can realize the reason for which some people get afraid. But for us, for the Jews … which pervert though could ever justify racist acts against us now?”

Oh, yes … for sure you will always find someone acting against the Jews as they want to act against the Israeli government, not understanding the equation Jew = Israeli government is everything but correct. For sure you will always find someone with Nazi nostalgias shouting against the “plutocratic Judaic lobby governing economy” (this has always been a quite mysterious element to me as I visited tens of former Jewish ghettos and I always found very poor neighborhoods and not villas!). You will always find someone even speaking about “deicide” although such a thing, if not so tragic, would just be ludicrous …

But, come on, I’m sure (or, better, I deeply hope) all these exalted idiots represent just a minimal percentage of the ones voting xenophobic parties: perhaps they could be the ones committing real crimes but what about the silent majority not supporting them but, at least, not blaming them so much?

The point, in my opinion is that all these people simply don’t need a cause to hate and this is the scaring thing! They just find justifications, one after the other, to give reason to an atavistic feeling that lurks within them: tribalism.

Let’s face it: it is something existing inside of all of us, in a way. It’s the heritage of our history or, better, of our pre-history, of the millions of years in which a tribe had to preserve its hunting area from the penetration of any other group in order to survive. It’s the little Malthusian germ implanted in the deepest part of our brain: keep your resources for yourself, possibly enlarge your hunting territory, drive away all the ones wearing different colors, speaking a different language, praying a different God. They are “the others” and they are dangerous for our existence!

“The others” is the key word, and this key word is becoming a mantra in times of crisis: a mantra often repeated by the ones interested in repeating it, even more often simply perceived at subconscious level, something totally irrational which needs to be rationalized with tens of different excuses.

Is there a cure against this thin, terrible virus? I think so!

The only cure is education to rationality, tolerance, openness. Not a mere bunch of good intentions, nice promises and rhetorical words, ma a real practical example of the capability of any idea, any culture, any faith, any position, gender and ethnicity to co-exist sharing and growing together because of this sharing and not creating primitive borders and private hunting territories.

Well, I suppose this is where our Denomination can say something to the world … and I suppose much, even too much is still to be said to go overour paleolithic tribalism!

Perspectives

speak-not-that-provokes-quarrelWe get angry, often … too often. We get angry at work, when we don’t obtain the exact result we planned to obtain. We get angry going around for those kids speaking too loud in the tube, for that too crowded bus full of immigrants who should stay in their country or for that car driver not fast enough to see the green light at the traffic light. We get angry talking to someone not getting our point or not sharing our opinion. We get angry at home, with the one we love, for a delay, a blunder, an incomprehension or the simple fact that different genders have different visions about things.

And all this anger accumulates, little by little, making our life bitter, touching the life of the people around us, spreading allover.

Could we avoid getting angry? I don’t think so: in the end we get angry as we care, as we are human, as we are alive…

But … Perhaps there is something we can try to do, at least if we don’t want love to be just an empty word on our lips, if we really believe peace is not just an abstract concept but a slow daily building starting from inside of every soul.

It is just a little thing, a sort of experiment: why don’t we try to learn to put things into the right perspective?

What does it mean? Simply that perhaps it would be enough to learn to see the big picture, to learn that little things pass by, that they should vanish in front of much more important, more global, more substantial things. It means that perhaps the little annoying troubles we consider so essential now and we will forget about tomorrow don’t deserve our deepest feelings.

Perhaps other things should deserve them, other things should move us, perhaps other things should making us angry. I could think about what just happened in Turkey, in example, or to what is happening every day in the Mediterranean Sea or in lands in which sufferance is the common experience for thousands of people, or about an economy in the hands of few people strangling all the others… but I suppose anybody can find different meaning to the adjective “important”.

On the contrary, we go on watching all these things as scenes of a bad fiction on tv, images of far things being “naturally” part of life and we get angry for little little meaningless things as they disturb our peaceful existence, as if the other global things didn’t touch us.

Well, I suppose peace, justice, respect and all the big values we proclaim will remain just meaningless words till we’ll change this vision, till we will just care about our courtyard devoting our energies to disseminate anger for meaningless stupid things we could easily tolerate.

This doesn’t mean to be ascetic, this doesn’t mean not to care: this just means to see life from a different point of view, from a higher ground, from a perspective giving the proper sense to our existence without the distorting magnifying lens of selfishness making of a grain of sand a rock while we are blind in front of a mountain.

To update the soul

iosA (real) talk with one of my students (almost 19 years old):

Student: “Teacher, have you seen the last update for the Iphone?

Teacher: “Not yet …

Student: “It’s great! I updated my Phone  yesterday and it is much faster now.

Teacher: “How often do you update your phone?

Student: “Each time a iOS update is released … Practically every second month …

Teacher: “May I ask you when you read your last book not assigned by your teachers?

Student: “Well, I don’t know … Perhaps five-six months ago …

Teacher: “Right. And when did it happened to you to take a moment to pray or to meditate about the meaning of your life?

Student: “Oh, well, you know, I don’t pray much and really I don’t have time to meditate … But I do it sometimes… let’s say a couple of times per year …

Teacher: “How long did it take to you to update your Iphone?

Student: “More or less one hour …”

I avoided telling my student that to have some meditation time would have taken even less than that hour he had spent to download and charge his iOS update: I don’t like to look like a sort of moralist (at least not more than what I really am).

Anyway, this conversation made me think a lot. Quite obviously for him (and, very probably for the vast majority of my students … and not only of my students) a iOS update was a priority, while to feed his mind and soul was not and, as I know he is not a stupid, I started asking go myself the reason of this.

The answers that came to my mind were many. I immediately discarded the ones related to a presumed “technological degeneration of our youth”: I’ve been working with teenagers for twenty years now and I really don’t think they are more stupid or “empty” today than they were in the past (including the time I was myself in their number).

I concentrated on one of the sentences of my student, the one in which he affirmed that his phone was “much faster” after the update: speed looked like being the answer! Speed what for? I suppose mainly to communicate with friends: constant communication with anybody seems like being the main issue for everybody. We need to be able to constantly exchange information with whoever we want and it’s surely not a bad thing in itself. The only problem is that we miss in exchanging information only with ourselves, with our Spirit. Why? Are we so engaged in external exchanges that we have no time to look inside of us, to ask for some fundamental info to ourselves? You know … things like which is the deep meaning of our existence and stuff like that… I’ not so sure of this: lack of time is, to me, just the excuse we give to ourselves… I’d rather say we are too afraid to take time for these questions: unsure answers don’t fit this precise, sharp, ultra-technologic age we are living in and give us a feeling of uncertainty that gets under our skin. What is dangerous is that the more we “forget” to try to investigate about these aspects, the more our answers will be unsure and the more we will be afraid to do it, in a sort of perverse spiral. So we’ll go on floating on the vast sea of life without even trying to learn how to swim towards any direction but, possibly, with our incredibly fast way to shout “I’m lost!” to our neighbors.

Perhaps, this evening, I won’t update my iOS as suggested by my student and I will try to update my soul, reading a book and trying to communicate with the Spirit inside of me: I’m not so sure my soul-update will get installed perfectly and certainly the process won’t be completed (will it ever be?), but, at least, I’m pretty sure I’ll get a little less afraid to swim in this wavy ocean of life.

Catacombs

catacombsOnce upon a time … there was a Constitution, the Italian one, which stated, at its Article 19: “All citizens have the right to freely profess their religion in any form, individually or in combination, and to disseminate it in private or in public worship, provided that the… rites are not contrary to public morality.”
Once upon a time … but the Lombardy Regional Council must have forgotten it in last months, giving, with the typical bureaucratic zeal that characterizes the activities of the Italian State, full implementation to a Regional Law ( the 12/2005 ) for years rejected on the basis of its manifest impracticability.
What does this law say? To translate from “legal slang” is certainly not easy but, in essence, the provisions of  its “Title III – Rules for the construction of church buildings and equipment to religious services” can be summarized in the following three points:
1 ) Municipalities can contribute a percentage to the construction of places of worship for those religious associations recognized as such, which so request and which have a “widespread, organized and stable presence on the territory”;
2) no place of worship can be built outside of the areas given by the municipalities for the creation of places of worship or without the permission and contribute of the municipalities;
3) It is forbidden the use for the cult of any other place not specifically designed for cultic functions, if not through a formal change of the “intended use” of the place itself.
What does this mean?
In practice, if a religious community is not widespread, organized and stable on the territory (ie what happens to a plethora of “missions” of a large number of Denominations), it becomes impossible for it to keep its religious cults as it can’t build (given the financial opportunity to do so) a church or convert into church another building: a change of “intended use” is, according to security laws (not applied to most Catholic churches, those same churches that receive municipal aid), practically impossible!
Of course this applies, a fortiori, to those communities which, not having the funds neither to convert nor to build (something anyway impossible because of the criteria of “dissemination, organization and stability”) a place of worship, can no more rent halls for their functions.
Beyond the blatant violation of Article 19, there are a couple of problems with this law, promoted by the right wing xenophobic parties.
The first one is again related to the Italian Constitution, Article 20, which states, “the ecclesiastical nature and the purpose of religion or worship of an association or institution may not be a cause for special limitations under the law”. In fact, when any association of any other kind wishes to rent a room to meet, if this room is in conformity with the security requirements and the State commissioner is informed three days before the meeting, there are no problems, but this does not apply to a religious community that wants to perform a function and can’t do it just for the fact to be a religious community, in clear violation of the constitutional rule.
The second problem concerns the criteria of “widespread, organized and stable presence on the ground” that is patently illegal as the Italian Constitutional Court, judgment no. 925 of 1988, declared “no longer acceptable any kind of discrimination based only on the greater or lesser number of members of different faiths.”
But… who cares?
Is there a solution? Theoretically yes, but only theoretically .
Or, in fact, there should be private non-denominational places of worship to rent, which is in itself impossible as a non-denominational place of worship could, of course, in no way meet the criteria of “dissemination, organization and stability of a religious community”, or any municipality, in accordance with the Constitution, should have the foresight to build at least one of these non-denominational places of worship to allow (at controlled prices despite the obvious monopoly) Communities to rent them: we all know that municipalities will never do it without getting money from the state (and the state will never give the money in crisis times).
The result? The result is that in last months, in Lombardy, thanks to a law defined (and it is such a disgusting definition!) “Minarets destroyer”, already 24 communities of different Denominations have been left without a place of worship …
What a great result! Finally, the region that calls itself “the most European” of Italy, can now boast another first: it is the first Italian region to have reintroduced the catacombs!

So tsar Vladimir spoke..

vladimir-putin-patriarch-kirill-2012-4-6-12-11-3It’s around 8.20 here in Italy and, as every evening , I’m watching the news on tv (once a day a lash of optimism is something everybody would need).

Suddenly, in an ocean of war tragedies, political scandals, economical crises, environmental catastrophes, criminal attitudes and various humanity gossips, a fresh stream of pleasure hits my tired nerves: someone in this world finally praised Italy for something: “great, quite out of normality”, I think, curious to understand what present days Italy could be praised for.

Then, the sudden disillusion: the political leader praising Italy is actually the least  person in the world I’d like to be praised by: tsar Vladimir Putin of Russia. I don’t know why but if I have to think about all I hate about politics I can’t help thinking about this para-dictatorial, cold blooded Russian pseudo-superman managing to mix all the despotism of former USSR with all the slimy hypocrisy and lack of respect for the human dignity of rampant capitalism…

Immediately after this, the disillusion becomes disgust and shame when I get to know the core of his praise to Italy: “Russia won’t allow foreign adoption of Russian orphans by couples from USA or European States, but for the ones from Italy as Italy is one of the few remaining European nations in which homosexual marriages are illegal”. Great: to see my adoptive state praised to be primitive and tyrannized by a vetero-clerical oriented political vision and to be praised by the most narrow-minded male chauvinist dictator in Europe was all  could expect from life…

Ok. I admit there was nothing to be surprised about. In the end we are speaking about a former “spetsnatz”  (any memory of Beslan, when the Russian spetsnatz attacked the terrorists totally unconcerned by the presence of hundreds of young hostages on the fire line?). We are speaking about the person managing to become the puppeteer  of the new oligarchy led, tycoon enslaved, mafia pervaded, glamour shining Russia, whose capital , Moscow, has become the new “never sleeping city” with hundreds of clubs, while millions of Russians in the town suburbs have become the  almost “never eating people”. We are speaking  about the “strong man” hypnotizing the Russian electorate, leading the opinions of a slice of the world in an interested pseudo-pacifism that has forced, in occasion of the Syrian crisis, many pacifists to close their eyes and side him, the “strong man” not suffering any dissent from his line (any memory of  Lebedev, Litvinenko, Politkovskaja?). Finally, we are speaking about the man who, with an incredible poker face, a few days ago, in presenting  an icon to the pope, kissed the image of the Virgin after a large, blatant Orthodox sign of the cross (hey man, did you forget you were the director of FSB, the former KGB? Did you forget you worked for East Germany STASI for five years? Do you need to have a chat with some non-sold out clergymen to be reminded of the meaning to be a true Christian under your former lords?).

Here we come to the point.  What does Vladimir Putin pretend to be now in front of the Russian electorate? He shows to be the man restoring Russia to its previous power, defending Russian honour  and Russian heritage, including a Russian Orthodoxy he, former pioneer of the Soviet Communist Party, couldn’t care less about.

Unluckily, some elements of the Russian cultural heritage are deeply related to the most stubborn machism, unluckily to grow up in the army of a USSR in which homosexuality was seen as a “criminal deviation against the state” means something in the subconscious of a former KGB colonel, unluckily the Russian Orthodox Church, as many other Churches in the world, has never changed its vision about sexuality in last 1000 years.

The result of all these elements is in front of everybody.  Let’s forget about assertions like the one related to Mr. Berlusconi’s impeachment  in a judgment for pimping (“If he had been a gay they wouldn’t have accused him”): the two are close friends and many people understand why. Let’s forget about the clear violations of the rights of gays in Russia and the police abuses in occasion of some gay prides: well, unfortunately many people go on acclaiming such things as “acts of morality” all over the world. What shocks the most is the attempt to give to this total lack of mental openness a sort of legal status, with the new, just passed Russian law banning “dissemination among minors of information promoting the attractiveness of nontraditional sexual relationships and providing a distorted notion of social equivalence of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships.”

What does this new pillar of Tsar Vladimir’s thought (let’s not forget that the main author of the bill, Alexei Zhuravlev, is a member of Putin’s ruling party in the State Duma), mean? It basically means that you cannot publicly say anything positive about being gay or tell a child that there is nothing wrong with being gay or being raised by gay parents! The aim of the law, according to the Russian government spokesman is “to protect children from psychological trauma” and pertains to “those parents who do not conceal their same-sex sexual relationships” but  the message sent to LGBT people is clearly “If you don’t want your kids taken away from, you you’d better keep your mouth shut”. Particularly ironic (if not tragic) is that just days later, in his much discussed New York Times interview, Putin urged the Americans not to forget that “God created us all equal”…

God… What a strange world on Putin’s lips… But, perhaps, this insisting of the tsar on religious matters gives reason of the further turn of the screw ,in an already homophobic environment, against the LGBT rights in Russia (with Putin closer and closer alliance with the Orthodox Church) and of the linkage between the Russian situation and the Italian one: in both countries the weight of diktats from the “national” Church (Orthodox, as said, in one case, Catholic in the other) is heavy in politics, so heavy to allow, in a favourable social environment, resistances and preclusions to any opening towards a natural recognition of homosexuality as a normal sexual orientation not liable of any moral judgment.

To try to discuss the reasons of the ecclesiastical position (at least of the position of many ecclesiastical realities) about homosexuality would be really too long here. Only by the way and parenthetically I’d just like to mention the confutation of four very common misinterpretations:

1) the idea that the Bible defines homosexuality an “abomination”. Well, for the ones knowing some Latin (like the majority of Church people should), I’d like to  remind them that “AB OMEN” means just “not desirable” (which was perfectly understandable in a nomadic society of 4000 years ago, in which the idea of procreation was so strong to be defined a “will of God”, as obviously necessary in an environment in which, for a tribe, number meant power) and not a sort of “monstrous behaviour” as later intended by Middle Ages commentators;

2) the often quoted destruction of Sodom doesn’t take place, according to the majority of modern exegetes, because of the “sin” which later took its name from the city but for the lack of hospitality and charity of the Sodomites;

3) clear episodes of homosexuality are present also among some of the most notable and loved Biblical characters (think about King David and Jonathan, but it’s not the only case) and this is not, in any case, reason for their condemnation;

4) in the New Testament, only Paul condemns homosexuality (well, a condemnation by Paul about anything related to sexuality is nothing shocking, coming from a clearly sex-phobic writer) but not a single word of condemnation is ever pronounced by Jesus.

Moreover, the most important point, the one many Churches will never agree with, is that the Bible is not a sort of transcription of a dictation  by God himself (sorry for the “literalists”, but, in any case, over 300 major variations in the codes would make what we read today very far from any possible dictated text), but just the report of a religious experience lived by people influenced by their cultural environment, a cultural environment which has changed in time.

Anyway, whatever one could say or write, the idea of a moral repugnance of God towards homosexuality (why should God feel repugnance of a orientation which He gave to so many people?) will persist in many Churches, as well as the idea of un-natural behaviour of the homosexuals (it doesn’t matter if homosexuality can be constantly found in nature… well in this case you can always say it is a beasty behaviour… the roads of stupidity and narrow-mind thinking are so many and so creative… ), as well as the conception of homosexuality  as a vice which can easily be spread to young generations (who cares if almost all scientists agree that one’s sexual orientation is totally independent from the orientation of the parents? Who cares if you make people notice that generally speaking homosexuals are sons of heterosexual couples  and all the sons of homosexual couples result being heterosexuals?)…

So, for people like tsar Vladimir, it will always be easy to politically speculate  on the bases of a well-rooted persuasion (well, just if we don’t want to think that under such an inveterate hatred there could be, as often, unconfessable personal fears and instincts by Putin himself …) , so states like Russia and Italy will be able to go on thinking that an homosexual marriage is unthinkable, that homosexuals should live in total chastity, that God would be offended by people of the same sex simply loving each other and will go on creating an incredibly unfair categorization of their citizens in A citizens and B citizens with less rights than the others…

Honestly, Mr. Putin (I know you’ll never read what I write but… just in case…), it is already horrible enough that you think that for a Russian orphan your lager-style orphanages could be better than a loving and caring adoptive family of any possible orientation, but please, I beg, you, next time you want to praise Italy for something, in particular for its shamefully backward legislation, avoid doing it: any praise by a person like you sounds like an insult for all the Italians dreaming to live in a free, modern country.