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Location: Susquehanna Depot, Pennsylvania, United States

Well, if you got here via the bi-chromatic Universe and "Dez", thanks. Their being available means they can be rented out, so to say, to vendors. For example, they'd be great in promoting pastries. Kids love cookies, so do adults. As for that ascending numeral three, it came about by way of ignorance. More than once, I'd see that same numeral with wings or a halo or both even on this or that pickup truck. And, dumb me, I'd think they were like golden horse shoes or four-leaf clovers ... good luck charms. It wasn't until later, I found out those threes are meant to commemorate one posthumously charismatic NASCAR driver. To inspire all those signs of grief, that guy might've had the makings for ... well, that's likely better left to the intuition of NASCAR votaries.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

religion as elephant

This little Jewish guy swaggers up to the boss of a logging crew, and asks for a job as a lumber jack. The boss looks him up and down, before asking whether he's had any experience. In turn, the little Jewish guy looks his prospective employer up and down, and then says "Twenty years in the Sahara forest."

"You mean the Sahara DESERT."

The little Jewish guy grins. "NOW, it's a desert."

Here, I'm asking you, dear Reader, to exercise a little imagination. Let's consider all the trees that were felled in making a desert of the Sahara forest. Now, let's suppose all those trees had been converted into paper. Somebody might joke that would've been just enough paper to print all the books that delve into religion ... gotta admit that makes for one hell'uva lot of reading material.

Well, when we consider there's a myriad of opinions about each of the myriad of religions in the world, surely, we have to concede the possibility of all sorts of opinions about religion in general. And this leads me to my second anecdote, which comes to us by way of the Indian subcontinent.

Every Wednesday afternoon, several blind men gather for tea in a little ... oh, let's say ... cantina. There, they talk about all sorts of matters. One afternoon, the subject was elephants. Usually, the discussion is lively. In India, blind men are noted for having strong opinions they defend fiercely. This time, however, they were at a loss, because none of them had ever encountered an elephant.

Fortunately for the blind men, there was a kindly mahout at a nearby table. Learning about their lack of experience, he offered to take them to the elephant, over which he was in charge. Once the blind men got to the elephant, each began examining for himself what the beast might be like.

One grabbed the trunk, and assumed the elephant was like a rope. Another grabbed a tusk, and assumed the elephant was like a spear. Another felt along an ear ... so the elephant was like a fan. Another ran his hands up and down a leg, and assumed the elephant was like a column. Another bumped into the side of the elephant, and exclaimed, "Such a wall!" Yet another took hold of the tail, and assumed fly swatter.

Oh, by the way, the mahout was in charge of a male elephant. So, let's just let it go about what might've been assumed the elephant was like.

Back at the cantina, the blind men began discussing what each was sure the elephant was like. Yes, it was a lively discussion. None were wrong, but all were far from right.

By way of comparison, the variety of the opinions the blind men had about the elephant is, in my considered opinion, much like the variety of opinions people have about religion.

If I may, I should like to begin this next segment with a comment about how religion was regarded by the various strata of Roman society. Yes, I'm referring to the Rome we see in the movies with togas and gladiators and centurions. The various religions were regarded as equally true by the common people, as equally false by the philosophers, and equally useful by the Roman magistrates.

That's one take on the various religions. Here's another. Some people delve into religion in much the same way, say, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delved into philately. I think I read somewhere he liked collecting stamps that dealt with various aspects of the navies of various nations. Oh, alright (!) already, so in this essay, I have a thing about "various". So (!), what?

In revealing the following third way of regarding religion, I will take my sweet ever-loving time. I was traveling from the East coast to the other via bus. My trip was in segments. At the end of one segment, I would transfer to another bus to start on the next segment.

During one horribly long three--hour segment, which so far as time is absolutely reckoned was actually the shortest, I had to endure purgatory on earth. I had the misfortune to be seated, cheek by jowl, next to a woman, whose personal hygiene left much to be desired. She had a face like a foot, and a presence like snot. The kid, whom she thrice breast fed, was ugly enough to pass for the missing link. And twice, I had to bear up under the privilege of witnessing, in close quarters, urgent diaper change ... and I do mean "urgent".

During those three hours, I was glad I was traveling on a completely empty stomach. When I got off the bus to transfer to another, bidding a very relieved adieu to "foot face" and "missing link", I successfully resisted the urge to kiss the ground. Several hours would have to pass, before I could continue travel by bus. So, I was stuck at a bus station in a jerkwater town, way out in God's country. I was there long enough to recover enough from my involuntary acquaintance with my erstwhile seat peer for the onset of hunger pangs. My stomach was completely empty ... remember?

Within sight of the bus station, there was a diner, and I was in grave need of comfort food. It was morning, and I was in the mood for corned beef hash with eggs, sunny-side up and gooey, and coffee, rich in caffeine. As I was enjoying my repast, several elderly gentlemen were seated at a nearby table. They were talking loudly enough to impose involuntary eavesdropping.

Wood'ja (?) buh-leave!

They were arguing over how many match sticks were in a match box. I didn't quite catch all the fine and relevant details. Even so, I got irritated enough to break in with some unsought advice.

"Look," I said, "here's the scientific method. You go to the store, you buy three boxes of the brand of match sticks you're grousing about. Then, you count the match sticks in each box, add up all three counts, and then divide by three to get the average. What could be simpler? It's the scientific method, ya'know."

I got informed in a frosty manner the elderly gentlemen were talking about a particular match box, a unique match box, and not just any ole match box.

"Okay, then," I said, "open that match box, dump the match sticks on the table, and count them. What could be simpler?"

None of them had that specific match box in his possession.

"For the love of God, somebody go get that stupid match box!"

None of them knew where it was located.

Here's the kicker. None of them knew whether the match box in question even existed.

In our universities, those so-called groves of academe, there are hell-bent-for- leather scholars starting out on a career path towards a doctorate in medieval European history. If they're shrewd enough, they chuckle dutifully, when their professor lectures them about that era's theologians. Those divines knew everything there was to know about God, except whether the Deity existed.

eYep, take my word for it. I pondered time and again all the above for quite a while. Finally, I arrived at the conclusion that I'm adiaphorestic. I am theologically indifferent. In the interest of devoting time and space to other more relevant concerns, I'm sparing the reader elucidation.

Now, there enters this essay a man, whom, whatever the government, its authorities found a bit much. In several other website, I mention one Avram Beilitzsyn. What a character (!) he was. For about four weeks, before I left Oregon State University for Christmas in Pennsylvania, I eagerly basked in his intellectual brilliance. From what I could tell, he was more deeply educated than, I venture to say, 99.9% (ninety-nine and nine tenths percent) of that university's instructional staff. In addition, he was more comprehensively educated. To boot, Avram was even more elegantly educated.

Up in years and past expected retirement age, he had to earn his daily bread as a car wash ape. For years, long after he skipped out, two months in arrears on his rent, I'd be chagrined, whenever I thought about how cruelly he was abused by fortune and men's eyes.

Coming to think of it, I used to harbor ill will towards the United States Postal Service. Its agents burned copies of his book. Had he been allowed to distribute STEPPING STONE, maybe, just maybe, two major world faiths would've been spared confrontation, not only bloody but also scandalous. But that's a story for another time.

Thanks to Avram, I acquired another take on religion. Again, dear Reader, I'm calling for an exercise in imagination.

A choir master settles in a new town, and decides to establish his own choir. After a bit, he recruits a number of people, who are eager to sing in his choir. The choir master is dismayed, when he discovers all of his lyrical aspirants sing in the exact same register, and even have the exact same timbre. When it comes to this or that choral piece, all that sameness can produce a nice effect. Unfortunately, it makes for a dull choir.

If a choir is to be lively, different voices are required, like say, altos, basses, baritones, sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, and whatever else. Okay, now get ready for a huge ... aaaay, I mean bone-rattling ... leap of imagination.

Maybe, just maybe, God considers all the earth's various religions as voices in a celestial chorus. So, if God wants a lively chorus, who (?) among us cares to tell the Almighty no!

There's no doubt in my mind that Avram was a thoroughly spiritual man. In the parlance of his coreligionists, he was a "mensch". I said "comprehensively educated" ... did I not? He could read his Old Testament in the original Hebrew, the New Testament in the original koinoina Greek, and the Koran in the original classical Arabic. I used to tease him ... mercilessly I might add ... about what I nowadays call his NATIONAL TREASURE take on religion in general.

By way of simile, each religion is a box that contains a clue, necessary for a successful scavenger hunt of a theological nature. So, it just might be that Judaism contains a clue. Christianity contains another clue. Islam contains still another ... oh, and let's not forget the Hindu persuasion, or even voodoo ... ya'know, there's a lot of fun to be had in speculation about what those clues could be like.

eYep, I owe quite a bit to that "mensch". Even though I'm adiaphorestic, occasionally, I fall to temptation. I'll indulge in the guilty pleasure of speculation about ethereal stuff. It was Avram, who convinced me that it takes a miracle for God to communicate with creation, specifically, us human beings. Back then, I must've been a tad too susceptible to prankishness. I would twit Avram, that poor guy, by saying something like:

"gee whiz, if whenever God communicated with us AND ... this is a big "and", mind you ... we understood the message perfectly, then we would be angels. Angels, we ain't. We're simply mere human beings. Maybe, God had deliberately created us in such a way that we can never understand the Deity's messages perfectly."

Take my word for it. Over the years, since I last spoke with Avram, I would return time and again to ponder why he ever bothered with me. To me, it's still a mystery.

In regard to that stuff about God's communicating with us, one should hope that it involves a loving Deity. The Deity I have in mind makes allowances for us, in much the same way we make allowances for dear children, who are none too bright.


. he who is known as sefton


oh, alright (!) already, I'll admit it. I'm a case-hardened couch potato. What's worse, I'm in danger of carparal tunnel syndrome from the way I work my channel wand. Every so often, I come across some religious program, where some cleric of some faith or other is delivering a homily. Occasionally, some cleric illustrates a point by quoting some sort of holy writ. Agree or no, I'm inclined to accord that cleric a modicum of respect. Whenever I hear a cleric of whatever faith PROVE a point by quoting holy writ, the hair on the nape of my neck rises.

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