Friday, January 04, 2008

Back at work

After a lengthy Christmas and New Year's break, I was finally inspired to knuckle down and do some work on translating the Münsters' wiki, and as usual I quite enjoyed it once I got started. It seems to take roughly 90 minutes to translate a page of wiki; given that I can do three or four pages before my brain turns to mush, it would be possible to work out quite exactly when I shall be finished—if I cared to do so. This should be quite a good month financially (crosses fingers, knocks on wood, spits over right shoulder).

And with that, my dears: Shabbat shalom, good night, sleep tight, enjoy the weekend.

No: One more thing. Writing "Shabbat shalom" reminded me of a strange thing on New Year's Eve. Each of us around the table told what had been special about 2007. As I was speaking, it occurred to me in retrospect that 2007 had been a spiritually active year, what with the walk to Santiago de Compostela, and CDs by Arvo Pärt and John Tavener and Hendryk Górecki, and starting to read the Bible in German (the original 1545 translation by Martin Luther in modern type).

The particular prompter was getting a Concordance to the KJV for Christmas last year (I asked for it); at least twice a week I look up some turn of phrase or another, and that often sends me to the KJV itself to read the context. I spent most of a day in September flipping from Concordance to Bible and back, searching for an apposite quote for the back cover of the booklet to my parents' 50th anniversary party, before settling on Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 (it begins "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.")

I find it quite amusing that I, a soi-disant non-believer, should have four Bibles, a Concordance and Harold Bloom's wonderful "Book of J" in the house—and requested for Christmas this year a copy of the Apocrypha in the KJV translation, made at the same time by the same committee but not included in the "official" KJV Bible. (I would point out in mitigation, and in fairness, that I also have a Koran, the Dhammapada and two Tao Te Ching's.)

Getting back to New Year's Eve: in the course of the discussion at table I mentioned—as one does—Jacob saying to Rebekah that he was a smooth man, and his brother Esau a hairy man. The others were taken aback that I should quote from the Old Testament rather than the New. Famous Photographer in particular was quite insistent that it was wrong of me to quote from the OT: the Bible is the word of Jesus, why quote from that outmoded, obsolete, Jewish stuff? I was drunk enough to be annoyed but not enough to challenge him, so I let it pass; but I now wish that I had insisted on an explanation of what he meant.

All three would probably describe themselves in terms that an outsider would classify as "agnostic," none of them goes to church more than once a year except for weddings and funerals; and yet there is this strong, reflexive Christianity lurking just below the surface which lashes out when it perceives itself to be challenged. Odd.

What do I believe? More in the Old Testament than the New, for whatever that is worth. I don't believe in God, but the God in whom I don't believe is He of Genesis, who walks in his garden in the cool of the evening and enjoys a good meal in the company of his friends. I believe in the Protestant Work Ethic: the admonition "Get up, there's work to be done" is deeply rooted in my soul. I believe that Saint Augustine was an obnoxious prig, a hypocrite and a liar. I believe that Marx was right, and that every organized religion exists for the purpose of protecting the rich and legitimizing the powerful. Here comes the big one, and I have to confess that I hesitated to write it down: I believe that Jesus is not God, a concept that appears to confuse many Born-Agains.

My hesitation amuses me, and reminds me of the story of Luis Buñuel visiting a church with a younger artist. Buñuel spat in the holy-water stoup and invited the other man to do the same. He declined politely, and on being mocked by Buñuel replied "It is not necessary for me to spit in the stoup, Don Luis, because I do not believe in God."

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Blogger zhoen said...

I Doubt. Therefore, I think.

January 5, 2008 at 3:50:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Pacian said...

Love that last sentiment.

January 5, 2008 at 5:33:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger brooksba said...

You expressed your thoughts very well here. As for hesitating to say, I found that very interesting and close to home. I find it uncomfortable to express unpopular views in groups that are so influenced by Christianity.

January 6, 2008 at 11:44:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger red eft said...

I love the Bunuel story, would also like to know what that fellow meant about the Old Testament, and wonder if the God Marx did not believe in was also the Old Testament God?

Always something interesting going on chez udge. Happy New Year!

January 7, 2008 at 10:18:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Lioness said...

Oooh, such an interesting, terribly Udge-y post!

Wish I'd been there - surprisingly to you, I'm sure, I don't hesitate at all. Anyone trying to shove Jesus - or anything, for the matter - down my throat deserves to b shaken up a bit. The self-righteous always awaken the worst in me anyway, regardless of religion. And honestly, it is hard for me to comprehend how anyone could feel threatened by someone else thinking Jesus was a man, and therefore simply a man. Any religion that doesn't withstand disbelief and doubt is not worth its salt anyway.

January 8, 2008 at 2:06:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Savtadotty said...

Having evolved this far (she said snarkily) you might want to compare KJV with Robert Alter's new translation. John Updike gives you a head start in his New Yorker review at

January 9, 2008 at 2:29:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous Dana said...

I believe but don't like to force others to believe what I do. It annoys me when that happens. A lot of my friends are athiest/agnostic and we have better discussions about religion than I've had at church. Plus they respect others who have different beliefs so much better than the usual church goer. Which is sad. How does studying other religions make you less of a Christian? I always felt it made me a better person.

January 14, 2008 at 8:41:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

Belatedly replying, thank you my dears for the comments. It's always pleasing when such a post finds resonance with you.

January 14, 2008 at 10:15:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Rob said...

I must admit that the first thing that your OT quotation called to mind was this sketch from Beyond The Fringe.

It probably doesn't apply to your frieds as I know the German traditions are quite different, but they would presumably feel uncomfortable for much of a traditional British carol service where there are plentiful lessons from the OT as well as the NT. To say nothing of the difficulty of comprehending the New T other than by contrast with the Old. ("For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.")

I once started simply reading the Bible sequentially. I stopped (can't remember why) at around Samuel. However, my abiding memory of the reading was of how incredibly easy it was, should your mind work that way, to put a von Danikenish slant on Genesis and Exodus especially. The pillar of fire by night and smoke by day could be read as a mushroom cloud (or meteorite strike); the descriptions of the high priest's breastplates etc when in the presence of the Ark call to mind he radiation protection used by radiographers; and so on. I don't go for the OT-God-As-Spaceman theory, but I can see how the idea came about. Once the idea takes hold it's quite hard NOT to read the books as a tale of radiation poisoning.....

Well, that's me consigned to Hell.

January 22, 2008 at 4:25:00 a.m. GMT+1  

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