Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lyra Silvertongue is going to Hell


Jewish date:  23 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Ḥayye-Sarah).

Today’s holidays:  Saint Day of Leo the Great (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy causes of the day:  “IBR Message Center | UANI:  Send a United Message:  Sign the petition and urge these companies to stop doing business with the Iranian regime by sending them a message today” and “Take Action | UANI:  Message to the Los Angeles MTA on Light Rail Contract”.

Topic 1:  Chapters 14-19 of The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman.  The theology and story get more and more bizarre.  It is revealed that Lord Asriel does not plan on invading Heaven; he is amassing a great army and supplies and waiting for Heaven to attack him at his fortress.  This plan has the fatal flaw that if the Authority never attacks, Lord Asriel can never win.  Presumably the Authority is not a moron—he has been smart enough to be able to retain power for thousands of years—so Lord Asriel had better have a plan B in just in case his plan A would result in him dying of old age before the Authority attacks.

Meanwhile, Mary Malone, ex-nun and physicist, has found herself in another world populated by wheeled creatures known as the mulefa (singular:  zanif, and please, do not ask me why, because I have no clue).  The thing about the mulefa having wheels is plausible because the wheels are not actually parts of their bodies but rather rather seedpods of a tree they have a symbiotic relationship with; use of seedpods as wheels, mounted on the mulefa’s horny axles, is aided by an oil exuded by the seedpods.  Where Pullman gets flaky about the mulefa is that seedpod oil enables the mulefa to see Dust.  The mulefa even have a metaphorical story about a snake introducing the mulefa to the use of seedpods as wheels, which considering that seedpods are fruit should be ringing a few bells about now.  Why oil, which does not have unusual properties with regard to interacting with anything, should be useful for seeing Dust, is not explained, though considering the physics (and theology) of this trilogy is half-baked from the start, I should not be surprised at all.  Mary manages to use seedpod oil to make an optical device that lets her see Dust herself.

There is no way I can omit mentioning what happens to Lyra and Will, the heroes of the story.  They decide to take a trip to the land of the dead.  So far they have only reached the waiting area where the living who accidentally reach that world must wait to die, but what Pullman comes up with so far makes even the bureaucratic afterlife of Beetle Juice seem like sheer ecstasy.  The land of the dead is a dark, dreary place.  The dead must cross a river to the afterlife.  (Shades of Charon and the river Styx).  The living who make it to the land of the dead must wait until they die.  They are neither allowed to return to the world they came from nor provided for, so the waiting area is a squalid refugee camp where the living can remain for decades.  It is also revealed that everyone has a death, a being which follows him/her around and eventually takes him/her across the river to the afterlife.  (Shades of Hermes or the Grim Reaper, only personalized.)  Deaths usually remain out of one’s sight, but in the waiting area some people are on good terms with their deaths and see them constantly.  At the end of chapter 19, Lyra convinces her death to take her and her companions over the river while still alive.  You will have to wait till I read further to find out what happens next, though given Pullman’s attitudes, the afterlife being anything other than hellish would be shocking.  However, this particular journey has a rather mythological feel to it.  I might argue for connections with the journeys of Heracles (Hercules) and Orpheus into the realm of Hades, though considering Pullman’s hatred of Christianity, Lyra may be reflecting Jesus.  Lyra is supposed to be the new Ḥawwah (Eve); this may reflect a title given to Jesus in the New Testament:  “the new Adam”.  Like Jesus, Lyra is supposed to be a figure of salvation, the subject of prophecy, and someone dangerous to the establishment.  Just as Jesus was the product of adultery (Mary was married to Joseph, not the Holy Spirit), so too Lyra is the product of adultery.  And now, just as Jesus died and purportedly rose from the dead, Lyra has gone to the land of the dead and probably will return.  We will see how far the parallels play out.

Topic 2:  “The British Dare to Determine Who is a Jew”.  This article by Rav Shmuely Boteach complains about a recent court ruling in the UK which tries to dictate to a Jewish day school who is a Jew.  Do note that religions frequently have membership criteria, and among them one will never find the opinion of a government.  Considering the source of authority for religious membership criteria are not subject to government regulation, e.g., they are dictated by a deity beyond the reach of human jurisdiction, no government can reasonably expect a government ruling on religious membership criteria to ever be followed.  This is nothing less than a violation of freedom of religion.  The claim that Jewish membership criteria are racist is particularly ill-founded.  One is Jewish if one’s mother was Jewish at the time of one’s birth or if one converts.  Racial background is irrelevant to these criteria, as humans of any race may convert, and the maternal line descendants of said people are considered Jewish in perpetuity.

Topic 3:  Start Worrying (1994)”:  This Dry Bones cartoon is prescient to the recent Fort Hood attack by a Muslim in the name of Islam in the United States.