Am I Older than Adam Kirsch?

Apparently so.

This year Adam Kirsch, 33, has cemented his position as this century’s first pre-eminent Jewish man of letters. A widely admired poet and essayist, his mind is exercised both by Jewish particularity and the broader world of culture. Both are evident in, for example, his biography of Benjamin Disraeli or when reminding readers of the New York Times that Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum. He wrote the weekly column “The Reader” on Jewish topics for Nextbook and is regular writer for its reincarnation: Tablet Magazine. When the New York Sun, for which he was the book critic, ceased publishing in September 2008, his writing appeared more frequently in what earlier had been occasional venues: the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, The New York Times, Slate and The New Republic — where he had been the assistant literary editor while still in his 20s and is now a senior editor.

This makes me want to oy.


The Dalai Lama Begs the Question

Tradition is good, because it is tradition. Logical, no?

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Wednesday rejected a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights opposing the display of the crucifix in school classrooms in officially secular Italy saying it is important to maintain traditions. 

Be a Skeptic!

I’m not trying to convert anyone. What, I wonder, would that be? There is no skeptic’s religion. Being skeptical is a stance, a way of thinking critically about the world, a method of engaging with information. After all, you can’t believe everything. It is not a religion. Skeptics may be Jews, Christians, atheists or agnostics. Skeptics have no commandments, no sacred texts, no sectarian law. They don’t discriminate on the basis of sex, ethnicity or sexual preference. Most importantly, they have no idols – so even monotheists can feel comfortable as skeptics. After all, skeptics aren’t pagans (rural folk, as it were) venerating little carved figurines by an open fire.

Anyone can be a skeptic, and all of us are already skeptics in a certain sense. For example, it has been pointed out that as far as Greek mythology goes most of us are skeptics. Not many people alive today believe in the gods of Olympus or the Delphic oracle. Ditto a whole slew of ancient gods and divinities which we group together as myths, or rather stuff other peple believed in long ago. It goes without saying that, for an atheist, יהוה is a mythical god. So is Jesus, for that matter. This is not to disparage them, however. Many skeptics are devoted readers of the bible. They just don’t believe in it.

Though even skeptics recognize that many people do indeed beleive in Jesus, יהוה, and many other gods (“all of us worship the same god” is a politically expedient myth ; we don’t) and goddesses, angels, devils and heavenly intermediaries of all types: the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Gabriel, Metatron etc… the list is long and tedious. Jews are necessarily skeptical of Christian claims, as are Christians of Muslim claims. I mean, either Jesus will return or he won’t. Either moshiah will come or he won’t. So far, so bad. They can’t all be right.

A skeptic makes no such claims about the nature of the universe, but limits himself (or herself) to interpreting facts and making educated guesses. A skeptic has no trouble saying, “I don’t know (right now).” The religious mind, on the other hand, often seeks utter certainty on one hand and fathomless mystery on the other. Needless to say, this is incompatible with a skeptical worldview.



A Bible in Every Home

The Klansmen up north now want to make sure every home has a bible in it, at least in their jurisdiction. Re-christianization? You’d think there were menorahs in every public place and synagogues a-go-go, or perhaps the piercing cry of a muezzin penetrating the whine of the baby Jesus on Christmas day. Just what are these people fighting for, and against? They already live in a society that protects their religion on a silver platter, with a separate clause in the Constitution just for them. Now they want to throw out all the immigrants (non-Christians, or just “non-whites?”) and enrich the bookshelves of those allowed to stay with a book they probably haven’t even read themselves.

I agree that every person should read the bible at least once. Only then can they grasp the madness that drives such crusades as this.

It’s Going to Be a Very White Christmas

Northern mythologies

Some people are saying it’s a bit early to start worrying about Christmas. In the US, ’tis the season to be merry as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey exits the small intestine (or is it the large one?). In Italy, people begin bustling on December 9, the day after they celebrate the Immaculate Conception (“immaculate”, that is, since Dec. 8, 1854 when that rogue Pius IX said so). What was it before, I wonder? Just another normal, sex-begotten conception methinks. You can only undo that with dogma.

But that’s not the point of this post. I’m not even baptized, so none of this theological hemming and hawing means much to me anyway. Besides, anyone who reads this blog is aware that virgin births, transsubstantiated wafers, celestial voyages of the dead and stigmata are not “my kink” (as they say in the world of sex-blogging). Though I admit I find them fascinating and relevant to understanding the passions and prejudices of my fellow citizens and – in some cases – family members.

“White Christmas”, in fact, is the name given to an anti-immigrant movement in Northern Italy. Yes, it’s those Ku Kluxers again, the Northern League, who are behind this. The “white” in White Christmas – as I hope you guessed – doesn’t refer to snow or the snowy purity of the baby Jesus on his (sic) birthday, but rather to the milky complexion of the militant Christians that inhabit certain regions of the chilly Lombard north. And they don’t like immigrants at their eggnog parties, either.

So they are taking to the streets this Christmas season in pure holiday spirit: by sending the cops around to immigrants’ homes to make sure their papers are in order. If not, they are to be thrown out (yes, on Christmas, if that wasn’t yet clear). One might imagine that such a violation of Christian “DNA” might get these rogues excommunicated, but one would be wrong. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, reportedly gave them but a little slap on the wrist.

Yet another marriage between church and state, as this crusading has been approved – and is being copied in other townships – by the local government. No cross, no crown?

Is this really the way to deal with immigration in a country with no real assimilation program for immigrants? Not even the all-encompassing, all-accepting, all-loving representatives of God on earth are raising their powerful finger in protest? I mean, we’re not talking about Muslims or Jews, or even atheists (boy, I’d hate to have to rely on them to get me out of a jam), but fellow Christians. Is this really the best the Vatican can do to spread its message of universal love and the transcendent power of suffering?

Here’s another tempting thought: immigrants without papers don’t vote, now – do they?

Have a Merry, Christless Christmas!

All those grinches who love Christmas (I’m not necessarily one of them) but can’t stand all the religious mishaguss about angels and babies with magical powers will be glad to know that there is a book out there for you: The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. If, for whatever reason, you want to add a little biblical spice to your festivities, I recommend Willis Barnstone’s fresh-off-the-presses Restored New Testament.

Me, I’m going to spend Christmas Eve at the movies watching the Sistine Chapel get atomized in a resurrection of gigantic Mayan zombie power. Just in time!

Another Obama Meme: The “Roswell Declaration”

There is another Obama meme making the rounds, this time about a supposed “UFO speech” that was supposed to take place on Nov. 17 (alternately 27 – there’s still time!). I keep running into people “in the know,” invariably people who believe that there is a “Roswell secret” to be revealed. Certainly, these are people who also think 2012 will bring great changes (disasters? universal wisdom?) and that the Turin Shroud is not a medieval hoax. Anyway, so far it’s a case of sci-fi fantasy gone conspiracy theory (ain’t it always?). No creditable news source has yet commented on this meme, and I’m acknowledging it only because it’s been thrust at me three times already this month. Get the flavor:

But the most unusual reaction came from a caller who left a message on Mr. Thomas’ voice mail on October 13th. In a deep and mysterious voice, the caller said, “We are not alone. On November 17th (sic), President Obama will acknowledge about the aliens.”

“He put a big pause in-between the two sentences.” Mr. Thomas said. “I don’t know if it is just the way he talks or he was doing it for dramatic effect.”

The caller left no name, phone number, e-mail address, or even bothered to say whether he was affiliated with any UFO-related organization.

I could’ve guessed that last part.

A Reply to Howard M. Kaminsky

Here is a letter I wrote to the Times Literary Supplement which they declined to publish. Maybe Mr. Kaminsky will stumble upon it while googling himself to see if anyone ever bothered replying to his nonsensical posturing. Kaminsky’s letter, published in the TLS, is here. An assessment of Kevin MacDonald’s work can be read here.

Dear Editor,

In the TLS of October 28, 2009 you printed a letter by Howard M. Kaminsky taking Bernard Wasserstein to task for his comments about Hannah Arendt. Kaminsky wrote:

As for his charges relating to Arendt’s use of Nazi authors and her inadequate love of the Jewish people, I admit, Jew that I am, to believing that some Nazi authors had important things to say not unrelated to their Nazism, above all the viciously anti-Semitic but incomparably brilliant Carl Schmitt (whom Arendt used even more than she says), and I also believe that Jews have created gentile hostility by demanding equal rights but refusing to surrender their ethnic integrity. Books have been written about this by a number of authors who are not overtly anti-Semitic – e.g. Kevin MacDonald and Albert Lindemann – and Arendt’s analysis of Jewish “responsibility” for anti-Semitism can hardly be dismissed as due to her “perverse world-view”, let alone her “combination of ira et studio [sic]”.

One reads Mr. Kaminsky’s words with a mixture of revulsion and wonder. What does it mean to suggest that Nazi authors may have had something to say about Jews which was “not unrelated to their Nazism”? Shall we begin considering “viciously anti-Semitic” views of Jews as tantamount to “not overtly anti-Semitic” views, such as those of Kevin MacDonald? What does one have to say these days to be called an anti-Semite – that Jews are pernicious to “gentile” society, that they are running the world through a secret cabal, or simply that they should be sent to the ovens? It appears that anything short of the desire for extermination is not “really” anti-Semitic in Kaminsky’s eyes.

As far as Jews having “created gentile hostility by demanding equal rights” (and still remaining Jews), would such a remark be acceptable if applied to any other minority? I’m sure many people think homosexuals and women have contributed in much the same way to homophobia and misogyny, but such views would certainly be condemned. It is the bigot who is responsible for bigotry, not the victim. Are Jews really “uppity” for desiring equality?

For the record, neither the “Holocaust industry” nor the “Israel lobby” has prevented Mr. Kaminsky (or Mr. MacDonald, for that matter) from speaking his mind.


Marc Alan Di Martino

Rome, Italy