Monday, July 30, 2012

Someone might want to take some notes

Culture clashes are hard, and symbolism and iconography can be particularly tricky, especially when emotionally-charged political issues are involved.

When I was in High School I had occasion to go to Washington D.C. The purpose of the program was to get students from different political backgrounds to meet each other and have some conversations, and looking back on it, I think that was a valuable goal. That said, it didn't always work out. Me and my nine classmates were the only liberals in the hotel out of 400 students. Many of them had never met a liberal, much less a Jew. I remember at one point someone seriously asked me to explain what a bagel was. As part of that school trip I got to have some, shall we say, interesting discussions with Red-State kids, and it became apparent to me that while liberal blue-staters can sometimes be snide or obnoxious about their beliefs, at least many of them are aware that other points of view exist. They may think they're wrong, they may have simplistic or stereotyped views about their political opponents, but at least they're on their radar. With these kids, it was like we were from another planet.

Case in point: one day after visiting the Vietnam, Lincoln and Korean War memorials, we went back to our hotel and were split into groups and told to design our own memorial-- we were to plan out the cause, the architecture, and the funding.

When it was time for the first group to present, I couldn't believe my eyes. The first thing I saw was a giant cross, flanked by roses with a bunch of small objects ringing its bottom tier. When I looked closer, I realized they were supposed to be basinets. One girl, who earlier had commented that her parents were her greatest heroes for raising her in "a Christian manner," declared that their monument was to all aborted babies, and that their plan was to put a miniature version of the monument in front of every abortion clinic in America. During their presentation, they also passed out pro-life literature they had gotten from a "very articulate" protestor standing in front of the Supreme Court (he had been wearing a Stop sign that he had modified with a magic marker to read "STOP killing babies"). When I glanced at the pamphlets, I noticed they had a picture of a fetus next to a black and white photo of Auschwitz bodies. When the time came to ask questions, I asked them why they would want to alienate non-Christian pro-lifers by using a single religious symbol. "Won't that make them feel not wanted?"

These girls had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. They honestly could not believe that someone would interpret a cross as a symbol of Christianity. "For us, it's not about Jesus, the cross is a universal symbol of Heaven." I replied that without the Christian influence, the cross was just a form of execution and asked them weather they would consider the electric chair a universal symbol of heaven. The teachers didn't appreciate that very much.

I bring this experience up because it seems relevant to the recent brou-ha-ha in Kansas. Apparently a mere eleven years after my bizarre conversation with three girls from Arkansas, some pro-lifers in Wichita have gotten it into their heads to follow up on the fetus shrine (those are their words, by the way) to all aborted babies. Only this time, they've got an even better idea than making it into a giant cross. This time, it's going to be the freaking Western Wall. Or, as the pro-lifers call it, the Wailing Wall (Get it? Because abortion is sad. Brilliant.)

But wait, you might ask. Why would someone do that, and also isn't that stupid? Yes, I know. But try telling that to Pastor Mark Holick, who thinks it's so damn inspiring Jesus may very well come back just to give him a high-five.
[The Western Wall] is a place that memorializes what happened during the Holocaust... Since Roe v. Wade, 60 million baby boys and girls have been murdered, and that is a holocaust unprecedented in the history of mankind.
Okay, A- the Western Wall is not a Holocaust memorial. B- it's not a memorial at all. It's part of an ancient holy site and has been used as a symbol for lots of things, but as far as I know, "Holocaust memorial" has never been one of them. Honestly, how do you get your iconography this wrong? Do we need to have Tom Hanks put on his Robert Langdon suit and slap you a few times?

Also, even when we're actually talking about Holocaust stuff, we still don't like you nutjobs ripping off Holocaust stuff. It's creepy, it's dishonest, it's disrespectful, and it makes you look like dicks, particularly when you insist that you're doing it because you "love" us so much. Why don't you try loving us less and respecting us more, Pastor Mark? Part of respecting someone means listening when they say no. No means no, and we're all saying it, NOOOOOOO.

Oh, sorry, you had something else to add?
We understand that some Jews consider it controversial,” he said of the wall. “It is our hope that it will be of help to the Jewish people, like it is in Israel.”
Uh huh. Here's a tip, Mark. If you want a memorial to be "helpful" to someone, it helps to actually talk to them before you co-opt their stuff for your own grandstanding project. As an example:
A wall modeled on the Western Wall in Jerusalem will stand at the site of the Jewish cemetery in Bilgoraj, in south-eastern Poland. 
The wall, which is being funded by the Isaac Bashevis Singer Association of Bilgoraj, will display the names of Jews who lived in the town.
See, this Jewish cemetery, which has actual significance to Jews, is memorializing some Jews with a symbol of a place that's holy for, that's right, Jews. The town isn't just sticking a ying-yang on there because they think it looks cool and pretending that it "might be helpful" to some Taoists.

For extra awful, check out this wacko's website. Not only is this "National Life Center" going to have the Wailing Wall surrounded by crosses (each one represents a whopping 10 million abortions, now that's value!), apparently there's also another planned statue which has a cross, a "weeping Rachel" (really?) and Jesus holding an aborted child.

Dude, either go to art school or hire someone that actually has some idea what they're doing. You couldn't come up with weirder Judeo-Christian mash-ups if you were trying.


Antigonos said...

Christians have been in the majority in Western countries for so long that it is inconceivable to them that not everyone thinks Jesus is God. They totally cannot see that it is only an updated form of paganism. As a result, their hubris is immense. It comes as quite a shock to Gentile tourists to Israel that we have a different outlook, different usages -- and it can be very humbling ["Everything's open on Sunday! Christmas Day is just another working day!"] It is the first time they have ever been a minority. Contrariwise, secular Israelis sometimes find they feel awfully Jewish on Saturdays in big US cities because they are used to everything being shut down [especially if you're Yerushalmi].

The whole abortion issue has been politicized and turned into a religious crusade when it is essentially a medical one, and that's sad. Judaism has an exceptionally intelligent ruling: until the fetus is capable of independent existence outside the womb [that means 23-24 weeks with current technology] it is regarded as an "appendage" of the mother, who has the right to dispense with it just as she would if she needed to have a finger amputated. However, once the fetus is viable, it is as much a full person as its mother.

The whole co-opting shtick where the Holocaust is "redirected" to non-Jewish goals is an extension of a certain trend in Judaism which is to try and make Judaism "just another religion like yours". President Obama hosting a Passover Seder, for example [which made me want to retch; ditto "universalist" Seders celebrating some sort of nebulous "freedom". Pesach is a very specifically Jewish occasion, celebrating a particular event in JEWISH history].

The Western Wall [no one's wailing any more] is as close to our holy site as we can get. It isn't intrinsically holy, and in any case, only the 6 lowest courses of stone date from Second Temple times. Suleiman the Magnificent built the rest. It's probably fortunate that it doesn't have any holy properties, or the entire Temple Mount would probably have collapsed as Jewish Kilroys would have chipped bits off the Wall to take home [ought to be at least as efficacious as all those zillions of bits of the True Cross] The only reason the Romans didn't destroy the Wall was that it was a retaining wall.

Christians in general have very weird ideas about Jews. One of which is this idea is that we should be more saintly than everyone else [well, Jesus was, wasn't he?] and yet we have been tagged with just about every conceivable, and some inconceivable evil and sinfulness throughout the ages. IMHO, it really doesn't say much for the collective Christian IQ.

Friar Yid said...

The whole co-opting shtick where the Holocaust is "redirected" to non-Jewish goals is an extension of a certain trend in Judaism which is to try and make Judaism "just another religion like yours".

I'm not sure I buy that. Co-opting and universalizing are both happening, but that doesn't mean that one is caused by the other.

President Obama hosting a Passover Seder, for example [which made me want to retch; ditto "universalist" Seders celebrating some sort of nebulous "freedom". Pesach is a very specifically Jewish occasion, celebrating a particular event in JEWISH history].

The head of state hosting a holiday as a mark of respect to his citizens who celebrate it doesn't strike me as the same thing as co-opting or diminishing the original value of the holiday. While there's certainly a degree of pandering, the fact that actual Jews are involved with planning, leading and organizing it makes me feel slightly less creeped out than when I hear about Mormon or Evangelical seders held in churches or stadiums.