Thursday, May 5, 2011

Passover, Slaves, and Kings

I recently spent passover with the family of a Jewish friend of mine. They are atheists but still do the passover ritual, in part for their children. However, to emphasize that it should not be taken literally, they serve roast pork as the main course. To me the most important part of it all was the reading about being slaves and being kings. It is very simple and talks about moving from being a slave to being a king. The Jews were slaves in Egypt. When they left they were no longer slaves but they were not actually kings. Instead this was part of a new idea that was evolving, that a person who was free was like a king. The way I understand this idea is that the essence of being a king is that no one tell you what to do; the wealth and the power are just to assure this. So if you no longer obey your master you cease being a slave and become a king. There are a lot of important religious connotations to this. In particular, in ancient societies, the king was believed to be directly connected to the gods in some way and only the king could have this relationship with the divine. The kings subjects were dependent on the king to intercede with the gods and the kings decisions were believed to reflect the will of the gods. The idea that an individual, living in a tent in the desert, could circumnavigate this and have a direct relationship with his god gave that individual king-like status. So, in some ways, the passover can be considered, symbolically, as the celebration of the ascent of this idea.

However, the part in the reading that I thought was the most important was a very short bit talking about just before the Jews left Egypt, when they were still slaves but they had decided not to be slaves anymore and therefore they were also kings. They referred to this as the mystery of being slaves and kings at the same time. This idea goes much deeper and points to a separation between worldly and spiritual status. This deeper sense of the message can be viewed as the root of Jesus's message (remember, Jesus was a Jewish mystic). He literally declared himself to be a spiritual king. But people miss the more important point when they worship Jesus in this capacity. He was actually (according to me) inviting us all to be spiritual kings, just as the freed slaves all got to be kings; just as the Buddha declared that all humans are already enlightened.

This is a good book for understanding the claims that Jesus made about himself within his cultural and historical context

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden was not a good Muslim. He killed other Muslims and he killed innocent people, both prohibited in the Koran. It's that simple. Christians that kill innocent people are not real Christians, the same is true for Buddhists (yes, there are bad Buddhists) and Jews, Hindus, etc. It's a messy world and people get hurt when other people struggle for justice. But indiscriminately targeting innocent people as a means to an end is wrong and will never lead to a good end, whether it is terrorism or state sponsored terrorism, it is deeply wrong.