Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Holy real estate
I was fascinated, and still am, with the story of Jacob and his twelve sons and single daughter, traipsing around with their flocks looking for the promised land. That was before Egypt. They came near a town, I think it was called Shechem, and they camped outside its walls, offering to pay the people in town for whatever local resources they used. What struck me with that story was how the townspeople wanted what they, the nomads, had so badly, that they tried their hardest to make them feel at home with them, hoping they’d settle down, and even intermarry with them. Not a chance of that, said Jacob, unless the men were circumcised like they were. They wanted it so bad, they did it.
At the age I first read the story, I didn’t exactly know what circumcision was, other than it had something to do with my boy’s wangle. I wasn’t even sure if I was circumcised or not, and I was too embarrassed to ask about it. Whatever it was, it hurt to have it done to you. That was the part where the story took a very awful turn for the worst. Somehow I missed the significance of what I now know was the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, by the son of the town king, but I didn’t miss the fact that the city boys let themselves be circumcised and were really sore. Nor did I miss the attack that Jacob’s sons made on the sleeping city, and the ensuing slaughter. It rather bothered me.
Even as young as I was, and maybe because of it, I was bothered because, here was something really fine, a carefree life, roaming the country side with few possessions, just surrounded by people who loved you, no school, no work other than what was fun because you wanted to do it, take care of your animals. Then, just as things were looking good, something really bad has to spoil it. The settled life. The life that my parents lived, that they were preparing me to live. They warded me away from the local gypsies who lived short-term in vacant store fronts, hanging colorful cloths in the windows and putting out their little signs advertizing palm-reading and cards. They said, ‘Don’t go there.’
Back to what puzzles and amazes me, and always has, at least from the time I was a ‘grown up’ Christian. Yes, the children’s version of Christianity didn’t give me very many answers. It always seemed, I’d have to find out things I really wanted to know, all by myself. But this uncanny anomaly, that Christians, of all people, should be so attached to real estate, to church buildings and the like. They put so much effort into building them, outdoing even the pyramid-building pharaohs, and then have to maintain them, which means, running the Church as a business. ‘You need X amount of pledging members to support this amount of real property, pay the bills, and keep a full-time minister or priest.’
This is not going to be a rant about Church materialism. I know to pick my battles wisely. Besides, now that we’ve built all those beautiful temples, the only shame is, that Christians don’t use them much anymore. But it is going to be a rant about how Christians, Jews, Muslims, yes, Hindus and Buddhists too, just about everyone who says they believe in a God or a great Beyond, or whatever, yet are so adamant and possessive about ‘holy’ real estate, that they are prepared to kill for them, everything from the local religious homicide to full scale warfare. Worst of all, of course, is that they say they’re doing it for God, and that He wants them to do it. Kill for earthly property.
It doesn’t help, I suppose, that many of these religions trace back their claims to promises recorded in their scriptures that God ‘gave’ them specific real estate. The most famous claim, of course, and the one which colors every other, is the Jews’ right to the land of Canaan, modern Palestine. It also doesn’t help that, completely on their own initiative, without God wiping out their enemies by miraculous divine war, secular Jews have moved in on that historic land, turning their backs on the diaspora which was already accepted and interpreted as a good thing by their tradition, and displaced the inhabitants whose ancestors lived there for probably even longer than the Israelites of ancient times.
‘The Temple Mount, known in the Bible as Mount Moriah, Mount Zion, Salem and Jerusalem, is the holiest spot in the world for all mankind. Today, only Muslims are permitted to pray there. No religion is entitled to claim exclusive access to connecting to God from the Temple Mount.
‘Jews have known the holiness of this site from time immemorial. Historically, Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was commanded by God to offer his son, Isaac, on this mountain. Jacob’s biblically famous dream happened on the Temple Mount, causing him to declare, This is none other than the abode of God and that is the gateway to heaven.
‘King David purchased the site, declaring it capital of his kingdom and built an altar there. The son of King David, King Solomon, built the First Temple on the Mount around 957 BCE, which was later destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
‘The Second Temple, built by Herod the Great, was inaugurated around 19 BCE. Knowing the religious significance of the site, Herod employed a thousand priests as masons and carpenters to carry out the holy work. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE.
‘Jewish tradition maintains that in the End of Days, during the Messianic Era, a third and final Temple will be built at the same location as the previous Temples.’
Very little of this perfectly squares with either secular history or even the ‘tradition’ that this ‘rabbi’ speaks of. ‘The Temple Mount… is the holiest spot in the world for all mankind,’ is complete nonsense, as is the rest of his rehearsed diatribe, yet he continues to tempt both God and man with his world-annihilating schemes. Of course, being a Jew—if that is really what he is, God knows—he doesn’t accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, and so cannot be expected to understand what we Christians do, that God does not live in temples made with hands, but instead, He tabernacles among His faithful people. This is not a novel understanding that we Christians have. It comes from the days when Israel sojourned nomadically in the wilderness, and God’s presence was the Tent of Meeting, and the wooden storage box full of His ‘things’ His seat. No such thing, then, as ‘holy’ real estate, just ‘when the Cloud moves, we move.’
What a far cry this concept is from what we see in the world of religion today. It has to be one of the best guarded secrets, hidden from the temple-mongerers among the Jews, the big money builder-evangelists of Christian multiplexes and worship stadiums. The more rational, mainline religions are satisfied with these locally-manmade versions of ‘holy’ real estate, and they only go to battle over them through the courts of their various lands. But we have a very dangerous minority who want their claims honored so bad that they will lie, rob, maim, kill, and even bring on ‘Armageddon’ and the end of civilization to get what they want. No wonder atheists and agnostics have a field day lampooning these malignant militants. The best thing that could happen to the most sought-after ‘holy’ real estate, is that they are all destroyed in a natural disaster. Without their respective ‘meccas’ these marauders would have nowhere to turn.
All of this reminds me once again of a saying of one of my favorite saints, Brother Giles of Assisi, ‘This world is this kind of field: he who has a larger part of it has the worst part’ (Sayings of Brother Giles, Chapter 8, On Contempt of the World), and now it’s time again to leave this world behind.
Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together. I’ve got some real estate here in my bag…
at 1:41 PM