Friday, March 25, 2016

Passover and Easter: Celebrations of Rebellion Against Authority

It's that season. Everything is in flower. The birds are chirping, and two of the major religions have a holiday that falls very close to the vernal equinox. So is it all about flowers and springtime? You would think so, if you saw the Easter decorations or went to an Easter egg hunt.

My Hyacinths in bloom

But though it's true that Easter is named for a pagan holiday about springtime, rebirth and fertility, two of the world's major religions celebrate acts of rebellion against oppressive authority -- successful and unsuccessful rebellions-- at this time.

The single daffodil that bloomed by my lagoon this year

In Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way, though the story is set in China during World War II in a concentration camp run by the Japanese, some of the characters are influenced by the Judeo-Christian symbolism of the Passover and Easter scenarios. Marah Fallowfield, for instance, sees the Camp Commandant as a sort of Pharaoh whom she asks to let her people go. She also warns him of the consequences, should he fail to do so. But Commandant Izu is working from another playbook, and he eventually has Marah crucified. What is ironic about the good faith, literal belief of these innocent characters is that the vast majority of people who celebrate these springtime holidays do not see them as celebrations of rebellion at all. Most devout Christians and Jews understand all their holidays as ritualized submission to authority! That right there is the real conflict in my new novel.

Buy it on Amazon

Historically, there is a process whereby people forget. Successful religions are founded by rebellious visionaries, but they are kept alive only if those in power find them useful.

For instance, while Passover is about slaves rebelling against their masters in Egypt, the big focus for most believers is on the supernatural miracles and the absolute necessity of total submission to the priesthood and the payment of  taxes in gold to a particular god and not some other god. Though the new testament is about a man who called himself a "messiah" -- which is another name for the King of Israel -- and who was crucified for failing to pledge allegiance to the puppet king installed by the Romans -- most Christians put the emphasis on the need for ultimate submission to their God in the form of Church membership, including paying a tithe. So while the holiday celebrates rebellion from rulers who tax people, those who take it seriously do not think they should follow the example and also rebel. They believe they should submit.

In the same way, when Americans celebrate the 4th of July, which is the time when they declared their independence from the British, but had not yet won it in an armed rebellion, most  see the patriotic holiday not as a time to renew the fight for liberty, but to show submission to the Federal government -- which is much more oppressive than the British were in 1775-6.

Springtime seems to be a natural time to celebrate liberation. Coming up soon is April the 19th, an American holiday about a struggle for liberation from great Britain in 1775, but oppression of Americans by the ATF in 1993. There's just something about spring in the air that makes people long for freedom -- and other people eager to crush that longing in the bud.

A wasp on my peach blossoms
Some of the most successful films at the box office these days are about teenagers rebelling against oppressive governments -- The Hunger Games and The Divergent Series --  but there seems to be a real disconnect when it comes to understanding what real oppression would look like.  It would look more like the British in 1775 or the Romans in the time of Christ or today's Bureau of Land Management hounding ranchers, and a lot less like some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland in which people have to fight each other to the death on a daily basis. Even in the Courtyard of the Happy Way. most of the daily life was undramatic and ordinary, and people just tried to keep their nose clean and do their jobs. Oppressors want you to be happy. When people chant slogans learned straight from the Nazi death camps, such as: "When we're no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." --  they are unwittingly giving in to oppression. By all means, we should change ourselves for the better, but only if it helps to change the situation. If the situation is intolerable, we do not adapt to accept it as normal.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Assimilation is the Natural Result of Tolerance

There is one sure way to eradicate an ethnic minority, but it is the complete opposite of what most people think. It is not through persecution, discrimination, harsh measures or intolerance that differences between and among people disappear. Distinct ethnic identities merge with the dominant culture exactly to the degree that they are shown tolerance and kindness and given an equal opportunity to thrive.

One example of how this works is seen in this video by Charlie Hyman about the Kaifeng Jews.

Here is an excerpt from Hyman's narration in the video:
"Treated as an untrustworthy community by the Yuan, the Jews of Kaifeng had their so-called Golden age during the reign of the Ming,...It is during this prosperous age that the Jews underwent extensive Sinification.... By 1489, the Kaifeng community matched their neighbors in dress, language and daily life... The Jews of Kaifeng adopted the practice of ancestor worship. ...They melded the teachings of Confucius and traditional Judaism... This vigorously autonomous group was almost completely absorbed into the greater Chinese community by the process of Sinification...  The key to this development was tolerance. Kaifeng citizens accepted their Jewish neighbors as equal. .
 ..Various dynasties have desperately tried to assimilate myriad cultures, with decidedly mixed results. Yet in a situation in which the Chinese authorities made little attempt to Sinify a populace, this foreign group became completely Chinese in almost every way. Simple acceptance and societal integration was all it took for the community to abandon their previous ways of life and essentially become Han....One has only to look at the emphatically independent Jews of pre-war Poland and Russia to know how little Jews assimilate when treated as the Other. But because the Ming never thought to hate and fear them, today in the streets of Kaifeng, the descendants of Jews and the descendants of ethnic Han walk side by side, indistinguishable. It begs the question: if China had treated the people of their nomadic frontier as equal, instead of as barbarians, would those 56 ethnic groups have dwindled one by one until only the Han remained?"

Had Hitler chosen to treat Jews in Europe as equals, he would more surely have eradicated Judaism than by setting up extermination camps. The surest way to erase differences between people is kindness. And the surest way to keep ethnic minorities strong is to set up barriers and build walls and establish ethnic quotas, as in affirmative action.

Order from Amazon

 Related Reading

Friday, March 11, 2016

Bullying the Thrifty

Years ago, I read a children's book by Judy Blume, called Blubber. It was a book about bullying. And I was disappointed in it, because it did not vindicate the obese little girl who was bullied. It merely showed the people doing the bullying that what they did was not "nice".

The copy of the book that I read had this cover.
My disappointment need not reflect on the value of the book to other people. I was just hoping for a different book, one that looked at things from the point of view of the person being bullied, who had some secret virtue that no one was aware of, and I wanted the turning point to be when that virtue was revealed. But Judy Blume never showed how the bullied girl felt about anything. Instead, she described in detail the revulsion that even "nice" girls in the class had for not only the person of the obese girl, but also her character: she was phlegmatic, she had no sense of humor about her problems and she did not stand up for herself, making her an easy target. I learned a lot about normal people and how they think when reading this book, but I was disappointed that there was no turn-around, no empathy and no appreciation of a different point of view. In the end, the nice girls decided not to bully, because they did not like how they felt about themselves when they were being vindictive, but not because they had learned to admire and respect the victim of their bullying. Deep down inside, the main character still felt the victim deserved to be bullied, but she now felt it was beneath her to engage in bullying. To my way of thinking, this book represents the "Kindness Movement."

A person who has been bullied isn't looking for kindness. What is needed are honest, smart  people --  people who are perceptive enough to see what it is that each of us has to offer. Victims don't want charity. They crave fairness. Bending over backwards to be kind, ordinary people miss the virtue behind the presumed sin.

In Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way, Bertha Higginbotham is a character who resembles the victim in Blubber.  She comes into the camp morbidly obese, and even after losing a lot of weight on the Weihsien diet, she is still quite heavy, when everyone else is emaciated. Jealous of her good health, people accuse her of stealing sugar, on the mere circumstantial evidence of her weight. That would be like accusing your co-worker who earns the exact same salary as you do of theft, merely based on the fact that he has savings, while you do not. People do this every day, and nobody thinks anything of it. Who will stand up for the thrifty? In my book, it was Father Horvath.

When politicians suggest that we tax the rich, they are not going after corrupt people who have stolen from others. They advocate taxing  anyone with savings, and they rely on the hatred of the masses for the financial Bertha Higginbothams of this world, who may seem unattractive, but who have hidden virtues.