Tag Archives: Sodom

“Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda

I’ve had this book on my shelf for so long that I don’t even remember where I got it from. But as part of my goal to clear some of my unread books and continue reading more spiritual texts, I figured I would give this one a read.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. There were great insights, it read well, and the language was nicely crafted. In fact, it seemed just a little too polished for someone who was not a native English speaker, but hey, every writer needs a good editor.

Many years ago, I was a vegetarian, and I was so for about 13 years. When I started eating meat again (my body needed it when training for my first marathon), I grappled with the ethical questions of eating meat, even though I made sure to only get ethically raised meats. Then one day, I had a realization that plants and rocks, being comprised of energy, must also possess consciousness, just like animals, but a type of consciousness that we cannot perceive as humans. To survive, we must get energy from other things, living and non-living (in the case of minerals). A passage in this book affirmed this belief that I have.

The telltale charts of my crescograph are evidence for the most skeptical that plants have a sensitive nervous system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, stupor, and countless other appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals.

(p. 78)

During times of deep meditation, I have been fortunate enough to experience momentary shifts in consciousness, slipping briefly into states of heightened awareness. These moments are virtually impossible to convey using the limited tool of language, but Yogananda does an excellent job describing that ineffable experience.

All objects within my panoramic gaze trembled and vibrated like quick motion pictures. My body, Master’s, the pillared courtyard, the furniture and floor, the trees and sunshine, occasionally became violently agitated, until all melted into a luminescent sea; even as sugar crystals, thrown into a glass of water, dissolve after being shaken. The unifying light alternated with materializations of form, the metamorphoses revealing the law of cause and effect in creation.

(p. 167)

While I love to read, and I believe there is value in reading spiritual and mystical texts, it is important to not only read, but to practice too. Book knowledge will only take a person so far on the spiritual path.

The great guru taught his disciples to avoid theoretical discussion of the scriptures. “He only is wise who devotes himself to realizing, not reading only, the ancient revelations,” he said. “Solve all your problems through meditation. Exchange unprofitable speculations for actual God-communion.”

(p. 377)

The last passage from this book that I want to share concerns what is important for the sustainability and longevity of a society. We are at a point in human history where wealth, military power, and materialism are the measures of a society’s worth and strength. I do not agree with this paradigm. I believe it is art, the humanities, and how we care for each other that are the true measures of a society’s strength and endurance.

The Biblical story of Abraham’s plea to the Lord that the city of Sodom be spared if ten righteous men could be found therein, and the Divine reply: “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake,” gains new meaning in the light of India’s escape from oblivion. Gone are the empires of mighty nations, skilled in the arts of war, that once were India’s contemporaries: ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Rome.

The Lord’s answer clearly shows that a land lives, not in its material achievements, but in its masterpieces of man.

(p. 340)

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“The Book of J” by Harold Bloom

BookOfJThis is a book that has been on my shelf waiting for me to read for quite a long time. I picked it up when I was in college. Harold Bloom had come to speak at the campus and I knew I would have the opportunity to meet him before his lecture. I was familiar with the book and the concept was very interesting, so I bought a copy and had him sign it for me. (Yes, I’m one of those book-dorks who loves autographed copies.) Anyway, I finally got around to reading it and I’m glad I did.

Essentially, the Book of J is a construct of passages extracted from the first three books of the Torah, or the Old Testament for Christian readers (Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers). Scholars seem to be in agreement that the early biblical texts were written by several different people, then combined and redacted to create a unified text. In this book, Bloom argues that one of the unknown authors, whom he refers to as J, was a woman and referred to god as Yahweh. In addition, he goes on to assert that the intention of J as a writer was not to create a religious or historical text, but that she was in fact writing a literary story of comic irony, comparable to Shakespeare or Chaucer.

The book is split into three parts. The first part contains Bloom’s introductory sections—background information, thesis, history, and so forth. The second section is the reconstructed Book of J, the text translated by David Rosenberg. The third section is Bloom’s analysis of the text.

Bloom begins by asserting that J was a woman writer who wrote for a female audience. He also stresses that “Yahweh, in the Book of J, is a literary character, just as Hamlet is.” (p. 12) He continues by placing J in the same category as Shakespeare, claiming that they are both universal authors, hence their works are prone to contradictory interpretations. Bloom then praises J’s work as being so powerful that three major religions were founded based upon her writing.

J mixes everything available to her and produces a work so comprehensive and so universal that the entire Hebrew Bible, Greek New Testament, and Arabic Koran could be founded upon it. (p. 18)

Shortly before presenting J’s text, Bloom encourages readers to let go of their preconceived notions of the text and approach it from a literary and not a religious perspective.

Perhaps the largest obstacle to our reading J as J is that we cannot cease thinking of the Book of J as the heart of the composite work the Torah, or five books of Moses, and so as the central element in those even more composite works the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, with its Old testament/New Testament structure… To read the Book of J, we need to begin by scrubbing away the varnish that keeps us from seeing that the Redactor and previous revisionists could not obliterate the original work of the J writer. That varnish is called by many names: belief, scholarship, history, literary criticism, what have you. (p. 47)

J’s book begins with the creation of Adam in the Garden and ends with the death of Moses in Moab. Throughout her text, Yahweh appears as a fickle, unstable god, who cannot help acting upon whims. In addition, the women characters always appear stronger than the male counterparts, which is something Bloom points out as support for his argument that J was a woman writing for a female audience. In fact, I would personally take it a step further and assert that J viewed women to be on the same level of divinity as Yahweh, as demonstrated by Hava’s (Eve) claim that she possesses the creative life-giving power of god.

Now the man knew Hava, his wife, in the flesh; she conceived Cain: “I have created a man as Yahweh has,” she said when he was born. (p. 63)

I want to look at one more passage from J’s book, which is a great example of both Yahweh’s fickle character and the strength of the women in the book. In this passage, Yahweh decides to kill Moses for no apparent reason (except that maybe because Moses had not yet had his son circumcised), which in and of itself is bizarre. Why kill your main prophet and the person who is leading your chosen ones? But what is most telling about the passage is that it is Moses’ wife who intervenes and saves Moses. I get the impression that J was expressing that Zipporah, being a strong woman, was on equal footing with Yahweh. She is, in any case, certainly stronger than Moses.

On the way, at a night lodging, Yahweh met him—and was ready to kill him. Zipporah took a flinty stone, cutting her son’s foreskin; touched it between Moses’ legs: “Because you are my blood bridegroom.” He withdrew from him. “A blood bridegroom,” she said, “marked by this circumcision.” (p. 144)

Bloom has a lot of great commentary following the Book of J, and it is much too in-depth to go into within the confines of this blog post. I’ll just mention as bullet points a few of the concepts that struck me as interesting and which you may want to think about:

  • There was no proverbial “fall” and hence no split. J expresses a unity between body and soul, as well as between man and nature.
  • Yahweh did a better job creating the first woman than he did creating the first man.
  • Man was banished from the Garden to prevent his ascension to god-status.
  • Sodom was destroyed not because of sin, but because the people there showed contempt for Yahweh as well as contempt for others. Sin was not a concept for J.

“By normative standards, Jewish or Christian, J’s portrayal of Yahweh is blasphemy.” (p. 280) She portrays Yahweh as a character with defects and flaws, which makes him a realistic literary character and one to whom we can relate. After reading this book, I will never read the Torah texts the same way again.

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“The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells

WarOfTheWorldsAs Halloween draws near, I figured it would be good to read some classic science fiction, especially since watching the old sci-fi films has been a long-standing Halloween tradition for me. And let’s face it; The War of the Worlds is one of the most classic science fiction books ever written.

I could write a lot about this book because it works on so many levels. First of all, it is a great example of how to employ scientific and technical writing into the art of fiction. As a professional technical writer, I found this very interesting. Wells includes a level of technical detail in his descriptions that is worthy of any technical document.

The oscillatory motion was imparted to this by one tentacle of the handling-machine. With two spatulate hands the handling-machine was digging out and flinging masses of clay into the pear-shaped receptacle above, while with another arm it periodically opened a door and removed rusty and blackened clinkers from the middle part of the machine. Another steely tentacle directed the powder from the basin along a ribbed channel towards some receiver that was hidden from me by the mound of bluish dust. From this unseen receiver a little thread of green smoke rose vertically into the quiet air. As I looked, the handling-machine, with a faint and musical clinking, extended, telescopic fashion, a tentacle that had been a moment before a mere blunt projection, until its end was hidden behind the mound of clay.

Another aspect of the book that I found fascinating is the comparison between humans and animals. Humans are compared to insects, an analogy that is fitting. Humans have a hive mentality and the way we interact is not much different than bees or ants. Many of us are only concerned with the goings-on within our particular mound and do not give much thought to what happens outside our hive, until it affects us directly.

The connection between humans and animals is complex in this book, and there is definitely a social critique on our relationship with animals. The manner in which the Martian invaders treat us is frequently compared with how we treat animals. We exterminate them if they become an annoyance to us; we breed them and keep them as pets; and we raise and use them for food. The book suggests that if a superior species were to arrive or evolve, we would become just another commodity for use by the dominant species.

“Very likely these Martians will make pets of some of them; train them to do tricks—who knows?—get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. And some, maybe, they will train to hunt us.”

While the technical and the social aspects of this book were intriguing, I have to say that what I found the most thought-provoking were the religious metaphors and symbolism I found throughout the text. There are a lot of religious references in the book and one could certainly dedicate an entire analysis to that aspect of the book alone. Some of these biblical references are overt, such as the following passage comparing the Martian invasion with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done? The morning service was over, I was walking through the roads to clear my brain for the afternoon, and then—fire, earthquake, death! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah! All our work undone, all the work—What are these Martians?”

In addition to direct references, the story is filled with hidden symbolic references to the bible. For example, in the following passage, the heat-ray evokes images of the cherubim with the flaming sword blocking the way to the Garden of Eden. It is almost like technological advancement has brought us to the point where we are no longer able to return to the Edenic state, where technology will prevent us from reunification with the Divine.

It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable, sword of heat. I perceived it coming towards me by the flashing bushes it touched, and was too astounded and stupefied to stir.

I suspect you also noticed the symbol of the Burning Bush woven into the quote. When you read this book—and I encourage you to do so, even if you have read it already—you will find allusions such as this throughout.

To sum up, this book has earned its place among the ranks of the classics in literature. It works on many levels and each time you read it you will discover new things. When I first read it as a kid, it was just a really exciting sci-fi book about aliens and fighting. Now, I see it more as a profound social and religious commentary on humanity. I suspect that when I read it at age 80, it will take on yet another meaning.

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