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Religion

In observing the current and on-going ethno-religious turf ‘war’ between Israel and the forces of Hamas in the Gaza strip, who can blame Gaza? Well, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks apparently, who let slip on air that he believed the violence has ‘got to do with Iran, actually’[1], proceeding to immediately contradict this statement by insisting ‘no one gains from violence, not the Palestinians and not the Israeli’s’. If the latter were true then what would Iran gain from getting involved, or as Sacks is probably implying, providing Hamas with weaponry?

The common remark in the press by all sides is that a nation of peoples has the right to defend itself against attack. One of the many problems with this dispute though begins when we try to assess who, in playground terms ‘started it’, and whether they were justified. Another problem is that the more a population of displaced Palestinians grows, according to Wikipedia by 3.2% each year, the more tension and bloodshed the overspill will cause, as will almost certainly happen on the West Bank over the next  few years. A further complication is that the international bodies of the UN and the EU do not want to be seen as supporting Hamas, the Sunni Islamist political party regarded as a terrorist organisation, who in all likelihood would create an Islamic Muslim Brotherhood state if they gained the appropriating land – even if their current ‘plight’ is a political one. See, it’s hard to even know which terminology to use.

I believe this last issue is a problem shared by many commentators who cannot bring themselves to condemn the Zionist occupation of Israel against a militant Islamist regime, the likes of whom are damaging the prospect of cultural peace and progression in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, often forgetting the poor (literally) Palestinian citizens in the process. In these matters Israel is clearly not the liberal peaceful, terrorist-fighting secure state it claims to be, shown by its obsession to retain the Holy Land of Jerusalem as pure from the Arabs and often use ancient history to justify their occupation (evidence which is, anyway, inconclusive as far as archaeology is concerned. This is testified through my sister’s own experiences in Israel and this senior Israeli archaeologist: http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/2705-senior-israeli-archaeologist-casts-doubt-on-jewish-heritage-of-jerusalem). Far from a liberal agenda, Israel always conscripts its teenagers to fight for the Army in constant preparation.

Another furry aspect surrounding this battle and the Jewish Question at large, is the ethnic versus religious debate, which is why I suspect observers are so hesitant to condemn the Zionist Jews (if they don’t). Unlike Islam which claims to be universal (and Hamas would probably like to see Islamism in place right across from the ‘Jordan to the Mediterranean’[1]), Judaism is for a place and a people. We need to be sure this is a political quarrel and not just a religious one and meanwhile condemn the abhorrent idea of a state designed for only one ethnicity and religion based on Biblical folk tales, which date back thousands of years.

Again, one can’t over-emphasize that it is the citizens who suffer eternally in this despicable conflict, with Sky News claiming that over 20 Palestinians have been killed since Wednesday, with 3 Israeli deaths.  The reckless retaliation of Hamas to the initial Israeli attack a few days ago is certainly going to further harm the citizens of Gaza, whilst underground bunks are being prepared in Tel Aviv (a city which is very culturally developed).  These problems which I’ve outlined detail partly why this issue is so contentious; the war within the war in Gaza, the citizens of which are constantly punished and degraded at ‘home’ and in ‘Jewish’ territory – read Chomsky’s recent account[1] – the confusion over the Zionist conquest, who started the fight this time round, who is supplying all of the weapons, etc. It is a desperate situation which may require a desperate solution.  As someone I follow on WordPress stated a week before the latest outburst, ‘The violence between both parties has become so cyclical it shows no sign of stopping unless there is a radical change in dialogue between them’ (http://ozkaterji.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/94/).

I can’t profess to say much more on this news because I feel as though I don’t know anything like enough about it, nor do I have friends or any colleagues in Israel or Gaza to provide insight. Hopefully the communities keep going. I am tempted to quote former British PM David Lloyd George on the First World War, that ‘If people really knew the truth, the war would be stopped tomorrow’.  As we continue to search for a solution which evidently won’t be a two-state one, the dark smoke clouds will also continue to obscure the horizon in this small part of the middle-east. Symbolic, or what?




The basis of early European art and therefore culture is surely the dramatization of the Jesus story. Walking around the ancient St. John’s Hospital in Bruges, Belgium and viewing the array of paintings in this half-church brightened by the stained-glass floodlights, which penetrate the hollow space in the way only these large Catholic spaces seem to, my thoughts turned to Nietzsche. His extensive work covering the topic of Christianity is perhaps most gracefully illustrated (for him) in Beyond Good and Evil (1886) when accounting for the life-depraving and ‘sickly’ image of Jesus bleeding on the cross.

Such a story, for Nietzsche, could only be created by a herd morality in wonderment and shame at its own existence. The shepherd and flock aspect of this religion, which is invoked from any usage of ‘herd’, was perceived and reinforced by Christians and artistic interpreter’s long before it could be seen as a criticism. This symbolic weakness typified by the cross, from which we are obliged as humans to inherit sin and redemption and in a sense, the life’s grovelling to entities which would have nothing to do with us, is obviously identifiable with its millions of followers. This is something I don’t and could not share (consciously echoing Pascal’s ‘I am so made that I cannot believe’, the fact that there are many of us who share this mind-set); the fundamental desire and acceptance for weakness to prevail over strength. In the hospital paintings, nuns and assorted others flock and droop to the body of Jesus, one sucking the blood off of his feet. Sickly, indeed.

In terms of humility as being a great Christian virtue, we would again do well to consult the symbolism. The transitory shift in Jesus’ short life as depicted in art, from the recurring virgin and child, through Da Vinci’s Last Supper to the crucifixion, is a not so humble jump of about 30 years. Conceiving without sex, although actually overtly cynical when examined, may seem innocent enough, and is certainly a feat no other can match (but does it permit divine authority?), though I have always seen humility as coming hand in hand with dignity. Jesus almost definitely would not have gone quietly and the sobered remorse of the man condemned to death might be expected of any person. But the crowd are part of the story too and the masochistic edge remains clear through Jesus’ wretched body writhing in agony. Rather like the light through church windows.

However this sad and pathetic story would be just that without the extraordinary claims of its followers, which deplete any ‘humility’ the story might have contained in the first place. To me, the story of the resurrection, a supposed material being (which he would have to be to maintain any kind of likeness or allegory to the human being, and thus giving the story its driving emotional power) being returned from the dead, renders any kind of meaning in his sacrifice obsolete. If Christ was not really lost to the darkness of forever, then what had he sacrificed? I believe this is a point which is too often overlooked in favour of the miraculous and the wrath of God featured in the Bible, but put simply, I do not believe this story is coherent or legitimate in terms of containing ‘meaning’ for Humans.  Of course one cannot say with full conviction and intent that ‘I’d have whipped Jesus’ but let us remember if the story were true, Christ was trying to establish an authoritarian leadership on Earth. As C.S. Lewis points out, if the story were not true (and he didn’t really exist), then Jesus was a crackpot imposter whose intentions were to deceive the most needy. Assuming god’s power of omnipotence, the pain was certainly pointless and so surely, this is another manifestation of the sickliness revolving what would have been at the time of the paintings, a near death cult?

If this Christian presentation of the world was correct, that we inherit sin in search of a cure, Marx’s quote that ‘religion is the opium of the people’ (which is always presented as an amputee; its full version is rather more majestic) surely applies. According to him, Nietzsche should have been a victim of his own philosophy (and in a way he was). Ill for a decade and dying at the age of 55, he was a total personification of weakness, this perhaps being a significant motive in his thinking – as B. Russell adequately explains in his book on Western Philosophy: ‘he soothed his wounded vanity with unkind remarks’.  I rarely rejoice in his work, but ‘Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in “another” or “better” life’[1] contains at least some verity. After all, we cannot help what such paintings remind us of.


[1] Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, p.23