Oh, Jesus!

Some of my best friends are Christians, I'll admit it. No kidding. I mean real, believing Christians. Jesus, the Cross, the Virgin Mary, the whole schmeer. I myself was brought up in a Protestant household, though I don't remember my parents protesting anything very vigorously. I mean, they didn't do anything drastic like go to church regularly. They did send me to Sunday school, but let me pick one -- Congregationalist, Methodist, Presbyterian, it was all the same to them, as long as it wasn't "high church" Episcopal, which was too close to the Catholics. (I think that being anti-Catholic was the only way my mother had of remembering that she was a Protestant, which was a tie to traditions in her own girlhood.) I had to work my way through theology pretty much on my own, found my way into Christian Science (I'll tell you about it some time -- that had its funny moments), which prepared me for dialectical thinking (Mary Baker Eddy was a kind of Hegelian), which set me up to move right into Marxism when I got to college, having left Christianity far behind.

Later, after I had actually read a lot of Marx, I discovered -- to my relief -- that he himself had said, "Je ne suis pas marxiste." I thought about that, and decided that if Marx wasn't a Marxist, I wasn't going to be one, either -- because after all, I wanted to be like Marx. And the best way to be like Marx (as I imagined Marx to be) was to be nondogmatic. Still later, after I'd developed some more-or-less original interpretations of my own, I had to remind myself that I was not and would not let myself become a Foxist.

But I digress. My view of the figure we call "Jesus" is that he is probably based on a real, historical person (not by that name, of course, but some Hebrew or Aramaic name that has been transformed into "Jesus"). I imagine that he was one of many charismatics using magic to draw a crowd. This was probably not too hard to do among a colonized people suffering from corrupt administration, economic slow-down and high taxes. Turning bread into wine, raising the dead, walking on water -- pretty good tricks, but more or less standard among magicians of those days. I'm also willing to believe that he believed he was "the Son of God," something special, the real Messiah. The really interesting question is why today, after all that has happened in the past two millennia and all the debunking of magic, literate people would themselves believe that he was, and that he can somehow save them. Especially people in the US, especially people I know who seem otherwise quite rational.

When in 2001 God told those 19 men with box-cutters to bring down the twin temples of Mammon on 9/11, we saw yet again that religion is not a harmless delusion. For a while after that attack, I became violently intolerant of anybody who seemed to be surrendering moral responsibility to a god --especially when the God they believed in had been created by, and his pronouncements were controlled by, other people. To see how I felt, watching the towers burn and the people fall and wandering through lower Manhattan in the following days, see my five-day journal, Attack on New York. I've calmed down since then, and I accept that it's probably true that everybody, or almost everybody, needs a god or God for solace in the lonely times -- even Marx recognized this. I just think everybody should have a god of his or her own, and recognize that this deity exists only by the strength each of us gives it -- that it originates in our own imaginations, which does not make it any less real, but does not let us deny our own responsibility for our acts.


"Lizzie" & Lisa: political counterpoint
This just came from the National Labor Committee. To me, it's an example of powerful graphic propaganda, just the kind of thing we need to see more of. And I don't use "propaganda" -- propagating one's point of view -- pejoratively. I just think "ours," defending human rights, should be as dramatic as "theirs" defending privilege. We've got things like the NLC and this Fox blog, they've got big media like Fox News (no relation).
Disney's new hit movie "Lizzie McGuire" follows the life of an "ordinary" girl suffering the daily humiliations of junior high school. How does her life compare to the lives of the teenage girls who make Disney products? Click here to download a new leaflet--and bring a few of your friends to hand it out in front of the movie!

(For background on the campaign to return Disney's production to the Shah Makhdum factory in Bangladesh, visit www.nlcnet.org)


Dental disaster: 'Teeth' II on the telly

Part I was tense, funny and tightly focused -- mainly on the odd relation of the two old army buddies, and the indignities each suffered -- one as a native Brit employed by a native twit, the other as an immigrant with great pride and hopes of conquering new worlds finding himself trapped in the tiny prison of the Bangladeshi ghetto. In Part II, Archie and Samad fade into the background, and the script tries to follow four teenagers on their separate paths and really loses focus. I didn't sense such a problem in the book, where of course Zadie Smith could take as much time and space as she needed to develop each of these stories, finally bringing them together into what she herself has called a "calamitous" (artistically) ending. (The TV ending is equally calamitous, a descent into farce that's just not very funny, so they didn't fix that.) Two episodes from the book I especially missed. One is the wonderfully bizarre, horrible failure of Irie's hair experiment -- handled in the TV version in a sadly abridged version. In the novel, it's an operatic tragedy.

In fact, since the producers had to make a choice (or else add another two hours), I'd rather have seen more of Irie and less of Joshua (one of the least convincing characters in either version).

The other thing I missed was the terrible menace, to themselves and to others, of the fanatical Muslim crowd that Millet gets mixed up with. Here they seem merely comical. The burning of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses by people who would not sully themselves by actually reading it is an important device in conveying that menace in the novel -- though the name of the book is never mentioned. It is Millet's much grander, socialized response to his father Samad's earlier, personal bonfire of Millet's teenage possessions.

If the TV show gets more people to read the book, it will have done a noble service. And the actors were all wonderful -- especially in Part I.
Writers, check this out
Manhattan Takes a Right Turn: The heavy hitters of the book world go where the money is: conservative publishing (a dialogue on Poynteronline)


Why I haven't yet been offered 6 figures for my new novel
Today's NYT explains it all: I'm not a 25 year-old graduate of one of the big fiction factories. You can tell. For one thing, I'm not quite that young (for obvious professional reasons I'm not revealing my age, but let's just say I was about 8 months old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, which makes me a Second Millennium sort of guy). And I don't have the kinds of connections those young writers have. And you know, I never learned to write like them either, never having gone through the program. So I have only one, or maybe two ways, to compete: I just have to write better than they do, or say something they don't know. I'm working on both. (Meanwhile you can read on-line Chapter 1 of the new novel.)
Casablanca bombings: Another resounding success of the 'War on Terror'
The plan is working more effectively than even its authors could have imagined. (See my note of 5/13, below.) To have stimulated suicide bombings in such a laid-back, US-friendly country as Morocco is a phenomenal coup of US foreign policy.

My usual co-conspirator and I were in Morocco in December 2001, just months after the 9/11 attacks, while the US was bombing the bejesus (or is it the bemohammad?) out of Afghanistan to celebrate the last days of Ramadan. Tourism had fallen to practically zero, because Americans were suddenly afraid to fly, especially to any Muslim country, so it was just us and the native in Tangiers, Fez and Marrakesh (we didn't get to Casablanca). People usually took us for French, and we would exchange bad French until it dawned on them that we were having more trouble with the language than they were, and they would ask point blank: "You're not French, are you?" That we were Americans surprised and delighted them. Everybody we met. Sometimes we found someone who could speak Spanish (another former colonial power in the area), sometimes English, but mostly it was bad French. No matter. They always found some way of getting the main idea across -- they were happy to see us, not just our dollars (which were very welcome), but us. I felt they were almost sincere.

But back to my main point: if the Wolfowitz-Cheney-Rumsfeld strategy can stir up terror against westerners in Morocco, then they have succeeded in redefining the War on Terror as the War on Muslim Autonomy, which means it's certain to last long enough for GWB's next electoral campaign. The only problem: It may last a century or two longer.