Religious Presumption and the case of Charlie Gard

Today, new sources have reported that the parents of eleven month old Charlie Gard have given up their quest to pursue medical treatment for their son in the United States. 

Charlie Gard is an infant from London who was diagnosed with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. The genetics tests had uncovered mutations of gene coding for RRM2B protein. This protein is required for generating nucleotides needed for DNA replication. The disease had caused irreversible deterioration of brain function, forcing failure in the kidneys and heart. 

In January of this year, Charlie’s parents and the medical team of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London decided to seek an experimental therapy with nucleosides, which the child’s mitochondria was currently unable to synthesize. However, after Charlie underwent a series of seizures, the medical team reasoned it was best not to go forward with the treatment. 

The parents, being emotionally tramatized by the whole ordeal, remained undaunted. When the hospital sought to withdraw mechanical ventilation and move toward palliative care, Charlie’s filed a lawsuit to oppose that action so they could take their child to the United States and seek treatment there. However, the judge ruled in favor of the hospital. 

This heart-breaking case has caught the attention of the global community. The parents launched an appeal on GoFundMe, seeking to finance the treatment in American. Pope Francis, the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome and even Donald Trump have pledged their support. The story has been making waves in the news media and everyone seems to be vocalizing their opinions, regardless of their knowledge pertaining to the details and nuances of the case. 

This brings me to Ave Maria Radio, a Catholic radio station founded by former Domino’s Pizza owner, Tom Monaghan. The hosts of Ave Maria Radio represent a rather right-wing element of American Catholicism. They repetitively lament the decline of “family value” in the wake of gay rights and multiculturalism. It’s like listening to a Catholicized version of Rush Limbaugh! 

Barbara McGuigan hosts the Tuesday edition of a segment called Open Line. Describing herself as “pro-life warrior”, she uses her airtime to vocalize her staunch views against abortion and the “culture of death”. She has a peculiar high-pitched, breathy voice punctuated with giggles, as common among elderly White women. However, her voice reeks of condescension and subtle contempt for any caller who expresses disagreements with her views. 

McGuigan has been very outspoken about the Charlie Gard case. She’s accused the medical team and the judicial officials in Britain of heartlessly subscribing to a “utilitarian worldview” that apparently bases the dignity of people solely on their capabilities. She describes the case as the epitome of the “culture of death”. 

Nothing irks me more than presumptuous busybodies using a family’s personal tragedy to fulfill their own agenda. It’s no different than when religious and political figures were commenting on the Terri Schiavo case. Some people don’t know when to stay in their lane!

Did McGuigan bother to research the condition of Charlie Gard? Did she bother to analyze why the medical team would be reluctant to pursue the experimental therapy? Does she realize that even the American surgeon offering the treatment stressed that the prospects may not be optimistic, considering the procedure hadn’t undergone clinical trials? 

Of course not. Barbara McGuigan, like many radio commentators, is nothing more than an old bat, cynically provoking the ire of her listeners in order to boost her ratings. 

And in order to maintain her ratings, she will continue to propagate the phantom of the “culture of death”, which takes on many forms, whether it be abortion, euthanasia, a child-free lifestyle or the refusal to conduct a risky experiment that is less likely to improve a patient’s prognosis. 

Today, Charlie’s MRI results have revealed that all hope is lost. No experimental procedure will improve the well-being of this young child. 

I can’t even imagine the agony Charlie’s parents are experiencing. I hope I will never become acquainted with that unbearable pain. They’ve been trapped in the unsolvable maze of vulnerability and despair, knowing that there is absolutely nothing they could do to save their precious baby. 

Love is commonly defined by sacrificing one’s self to save a loved one. However, sometimes love means letting go. 

Fifty Years Later….

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Riots. In an earlier blogpost, I had touched on this tragic event and its overall impact on the city. I talked about how those few days scarred Detroit, reducing the once-bustling metropolis into the “no tax-base, white-flight, murder-capital of the Coleman Young administration”.

For this blogspot, I think it would be apt to delve into race relations, pertaining to  the 1967 riots. Today, Detroit boasts a population of seven hundred thousand residents, 82.7% of whom are Black. One hundred years ago, the Black population in Detroit comprised of a mere 3% of the city’s demographics. The 20th century witnessed a great migration of Blacks relocating to the northern cities to escape the cruelty and injustice of Jim Crow in the American South, where their ancestors had been enslaved decades previous. Detroit was a particularly attractive destination, as it was home to the newly-emerging automobile industry.

The prospects of job opportunities iat Henry Ford’s factories had also appealed to newly-arrived immigrants, who were undergoing intense inspections by customs officials on Ellis Island. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire had prompted pogroms against ethnic minorities in the Middle-East. Armenians, Assyrians (Chaldeans), Syrian/Lebanese Christians, the Druze, and Asia Minor Greeks all suffered from persecutions at the hands of their Turkish Muslim neighbors. They looked to America as a oasis of hope and to Detroit as a vehicle of economic mobility. From the 1910’s, these newly-arrived immigrants made Detroit their home. Some were employed in the automobile factories. Others established their own businesses such as grocery stores and delis. They quickly learned the English language, adopted American habits and assimilated into the White population while retaining their respective cultures.

Compared to their Mediterranean counterparts, Black migrants in Detroit faced more dire challenges despite being native English speakers. They quickly learned that, like many northern cities, Detroit was not the promised land envisioned by their cherished spirituals. As dark-skinned newcomers to a White-dominated city, Black Americans faced redlining and housing discrimination. They were deprived of equal pay. And they had to put up with police harassment. In fact, before the carnage during the summer of 1967, tensions between the Black and White populations had escalated into riots. The Belle Isle riot in 1943 is one of several of such events.

Black residents were relegated to a district in Detroit’s near east side, which coincidentally was known as “Black Bottom”, named for its rich bottomland soil. Although the Black residents of this district painfully endured the economic stagnation of the Great Depression, by the 1940’s, Black Bottom became a hub for Black-owned businesses and night clubs. In fact, Black Bottom produced singers like Della Reese, and athletes like Joe Lewis and Smokey Robinson.

Unfortunately, by the late 1950’s, those Black-owned businesses were forced to close, thanks to the Federal Highway Act of 1956. By the early 1960’s, most of Black Bottom was demolished by the city’s urban renewal project. The district was gentrified as a upscale residential development known as Lafayette Park. Meanwhile, most of Black Bottom’s residents were relocated to dilapidated housing projects.

The Detroit Police Department was dominated by White officers. It’s fair to say that they did not harbor progressive attitudes pertaining to racial equality. Numerous elderly Black residents have recalled how it was common for police officers to grab Black male teenagers and beat them in broad daylight. Some were even killed and their families were deprived of justice. Black parties and social gatherings were unjustifiably raided by the police. These circumstances led to the exacerbation of the hostility which Black residents harbored towards their city’s police department.

Suspicion towards law enforcement is practically a staple of the American Black experience. Police officers are trained to enforce the law or, in other words, maintained the status quo. For the majority of this nation’s history, the status quo had always been unsympathetic towards Black Americans. In the antebellum South, the police brought runaway Black slaves back to their masters. During the Jim Crow era, the police enforced racial segregation and other discriminatory acts. The police were pawns for the White establishment, infringing on the rights and dignities of Black citizens. 

Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Middlesex, vividly covers the 1967 riots through the eyes of the young protagonist, Calliope. In the midst of the riots, Calliope’s father, Milton, is found in his bar, barricaded behind the cash register and holding a revolver as violence continues to brew through the window. The front door of the bar opens and his Black neighbor, Morrison, walks in.

Surprised that Milton has remained in the area in the midst of the carnage, Morrison exclaims “You crazy! Ain’t safe for no White people down here!”. Milton counters that he is protecting his property. Morrison figures that since Milton is present, he could buy some cigarettes from the bar owner.

Flabbergasted that Morrison was willing to dodge sniper fires for a pack of cigerettes, Milton nevertheless concedes to the business transaction. As Morrison leaves the bar, Milton, irritated and petrified by the ongoing violence, shouts through the door, “What’s the matter with you people!”

Morrison sharply replies, “The matter with us is you!”

“The matter with us is you”. That single sentence embodies the pent-up frustration American Blacks hold against the White establishment, represented by law enforcement. 

“The matter with us is you”. When those group of Black men on 12th street were celebrating the return of two local soldiers from Vietnam, they probably weren’t keen on seeing a score of White police officers interrupting their revelry. 

“The matter with us is you”. The presence of those police officers was perceived as just another example of the White establishment flexing its muscles to strike fear in the Black community. 

“The matter with us is you”. Fiery young Black men couldn’t take it anymore. They came of age listening to the impassioned speeches of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. They were emboldened by Black Power and Black Pride. They weren’t going to be passive and subservient in the shadows of the White man.

No, they were going to fight back. 

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the first brick was thrown by a 19-year-old. In fact, that teenager was the son of the party’s organizer. 

It took one brick to trigger an explosive war.

Since that fateful week, the city was never the same. The White residents no longer saw Detroit as their beloved home. The wealthy WASPs escaped to the Grosse Pointes, overlooking the Detroit River. The Greeks relocated to St. Clair Shores and Lincoln Park. Many Levantine Christians settled in Livonia. While a few Chaldeans remained in their beloved “Chaldeantown” on the northwest side of the city, most opted for Stealing Heights and Bloomfield Hills. The majority of the Irish, Italians, Poles and other former White residents poured themselves into the every town in the outskirts of the Motor City, depriving Detroit of its ethnic diversity. Southeast Michigan has since become appallingly segregated. 

In the last fifty years, tremendous strides have been made in the quest for racial equality. The Fair Housing Act has legally prevented Blacks from redlining and other forms of housing discrimination. Legislative measures have passed to ensure equal pay for all races. In additions, local governments have progressed in holding police officers accountable. Not to mention we managed to elect a Black president, despite all the racist propaganda!

However, in post-Obama America, suspicion of the police within the Black community remains as high as ever. Driving-while-Black is still an inconvenient reality. Stop-and-frisk is also a common occurrence that disproportionately affects Black Americans. In the courtroom, Black offenders are sentenced to harsh punishment compared to their White counterparts while offending police officer often get a mere slap-on-the-wrist. The American Black population  has come a long way since the brutality of transatlantic slave trade. However, implicit biases within law enforcement agencies and the judicial system continue to put them at a disadvantage in the eyes of the law. Therefore, the Black American’s fear and suspicion of the police isn’t going away anytime soon.
 

 

 

 

TV Episode Analysis: The Simpsons S7E16 “Lisa the Iconoclast”

It goes without saying that The Simpsons is a staple of American culture. The TV program has resonated with its American audience for over twenty-five years, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

The Simpsons was a major part of my childhood. Everyday, after school, I made it a ritual to indulge myself with a Simpsons episode before begrudgingly starting on my homework assignments. I still nostalgically look to those memories with fondness.

Of all the countless episodes that aired within the span of over a quarter of a century, there is one that captures my eyes, like a sapphire among diamonds (I prefer sapphires). If I had to choose a favorite episode, I’d undoubtedly pick “Lisa the Iconoclast”.

“Lisa the Iconoclast” is the sixteenth episode of The Simpson’s seventh season. The episode opened with the residents of Springfield preparing for its bicentennial celebration. The town was named after Jebediah Springfield, a brave pioneer who earned the admiration of every Springfield resident.

Simpsons_07_15_P2Being the history buff that she is, Lisa decided to write a research paper on the venerated founder. However, when she visited the local history museum, the precocious young researcher becomes blindsided by some disturbing revelations. Lisa discovered a parchment revealing that Jebediah Springfield’s real name was Hans Sprungfeld and he was a murderous pirate who shot a buffalo, rather than taking it as the local legends claim, and was involved in a fistfight.

With the aid of Homer, her imbecilic yet loyal father, Lisa had set out to debunk the myth that ingrained itself in Springfield history. However, she, expectedly, was dealt with harsh backlash. Her report detailing her new findings was graded with an “F”. She was banned from the local history museum. She was shunned by her fellow classmates. Even her mother, Marge, rebuked her for suggesting that Jebediah was anything less than a saint.

In addition, Homer’s luck had also taken a turn for the worst. His drinking buddies ostracized him, with Moe kicking him out of the bar. He and Lisa were barred from attending the bicentennial parade, tarnishing Homer’s aspiration to become the town crier in the parade.

Nevertheless, Homer was determined to stay by his daughter’s side. The father-daughter duo continued their quest to prove their case to the townspeople.

I’ll spare you the copious details. In the end, Hollis Holbert, a local history scholar and curator of the museum regretfully conceded to Lisa’s findings. He concluded, with the new revelations, that the bicentennial celebrations were nothing but a sham and that the truth about Jebediah Springfield must be exposed.

Holbert managed to halt the parade. However, after handing a microphone to Lisa, encouraging her to reveal the truth, Lisa looks to her fellow townspeople. Sensing their optimism and pride, Lisa retreats from her original mission and merely says that “Jebediah Springfield was just great”. When inquired by Holbert about her choice, Lisa affirms that the legend of Jebediah Springfield has “brought out the best in people”. In a way, the myth carried more value than the truth.

As children, we’ve been inundated with half-truths and exaggerated stories. These tall tales were meant to inspire us to become honorable and productive. We were taught to use the lives of respected historical figures like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King as examples to lead by.

I remember when I was in third grade, my class and I were taught the rhyme “Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492”. According to our teacher, Christopher Columbus courageously sailed through the tumultuous waves of the Atlantic ocean, undeterred in his quest before he became the first to stumble upon a new continent. According to our teacher, Columbus’ feat was so groundbreaking that he deserved to be credited for ‘discovering America’, complemented with his own holiday.

I later learned that the only reason we celebrated Columbus Day was due to the tireless lobbying of the Knight of Columbus, led by New York Italian businessman and community leader, Generoso Pope. I later learned that five hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Vikings had landed off the coast of present-day Newfoundland. I later learned that Columbus was not the noble hero portrayed in our elementary school textbooks. In fact, he was a religious fanatic who had no qualms capturing the indigenous people of the ‘new continent’ and selling them off as slaves. In fact, one could rightfully accuse him of spearheading the transatlantic slave trade. What a saint!

But at least we get a day off 🙂

George Washington is hailed as the father of the United States. He was also a slave-owner and despite his promise, never got around to freeing his human livestock. Abraham Lincoln is credited for freeing the slaves. However, from suspending habeas corpus to approving of what could be rightfully called “the Gauntanamo Bay of the 1800’s”, he wasn’t the exemplary advocate of human rights we perceive him to be. Mohandas Gandhi was the fasting pacifist activist who relentlessly fought to break the shackles of colonialism. But in his own household, he was an abusive tyrant who beat his wife. Martin Luther King was inspired by the gospel to call for justice and equality. Yet, when it came to his own sexual urges and marital vows, he was more than willing to disregard the Good Book.

Our historical idols weren’t always very heroic. Despite their noteworthy accomplishments, some were downright terrible people.

For the people of Springfield, the unblemished image of Jebediah Springfield promoted a sense of citizenship and solidarity. Lisa came to this revelation in the last few minutes of the episode. She knew that the social cohesion of the town would disintegrate if she’d revealed the ugly truth. Therefore, she went against her own instincts.

The details of Martin Luther King’s extramarital affairs were kept concealed until Ralph Abernathy published his tell-all memoir in 1989. The alleged tapes of MLK’s affairs have been sealed until 2027 by a court order.

It would be distressing to even imagine how this country would have turned out had King’s infidelity come to light during the heyday of the activism. The progression of the Civil rights movement would have been suspended. We probably would not have elected a Black president in 2008.

I’m not necessarily supporting the promotion of falsehoods. There is,of course, value in truth. However the world is complicated and sometimes our heroes fall short of our expectations. I suppose we have to remember that a person’s moral failings does not negate his/her historical feats

The Curious Case of Andy Warhol

Known for being the iconoclastic pioneer of the Pop Art Movement, Andy Warhol was lauded as a hero of the Countercultural era. He was a gay man who came out before “#lovewins” was trending on Twitter . He was the owner-operator of The Factory, a popular hangout for New York City’s most salacious libertines. In other words, Andy Warhol was one to rub clean-cut, red-blooded conservatives the wrong way (pun intended).

And yet, unbeknownst to most, Andy Warhol was a Catholic. And no, he wasn’t your run-in-the-mill nominal Catholic who only attended mass on Christmas and Easter purely out of family obligation. Warhol was basically your Latin-chanting, rosary-welding, “holier than the Pope”, bonafide Roman Catholic.

Warhol was so Catholic, he attended mass daily at St.Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He was so Catholic, he produced an entire collection of religious paintings solely for his own devotion. He was so Catholic, he took immense pride in financing his nephew’s seminary education.

How could a man known for his fondness for voyeurism and homoerotic nude painting be so faithfully devoted to a church that frowns on the very act of homosexuality? Like many, Warhol had a complicated relationship with the Catholic Church.

Andy Warhol, artist, portrait, himself, white background

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh to an immigrant family originally from the village of Miko in present-day Slovakia. Being of Slavic origin, the family belonged to the Ruthenian Catholic Church, an eastern-rite branch of the Roman Catholic fold. During his childhood, faith was an intrinsic part of Warhol’s family life. It was planted as a cornerstone of his identity that could never be removed.

Ironically, Warhol’s Catholic faith was as essential to his core identity as his homosexuality.

I can’t help but wonder how Warhol was able to balance his sexually explicit public persona with his traditionally devout inner self.

It seem evident to me that, like most Catholics, Warhol was burdened with a tremendous amount of guilt. Despite attending mass daily, Warhol never received holy communion. He deemed himself unworthy of the sacrament.

Being that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of the Catholic Church, Warhol claimed to be virgin, excluding acts of voyeurism and mastrubation. However, a few alleged ex-lovers tell a different tale.

I’ve come across a few articles from Catholic websites, hailing Andy Warhol as a model for gay Catholics. I find it amusing how, in our #lovewins era, the Church seems desperate to market itself as loving and tolerant to gay people, while simultaneously admonishing homosexuality as a “disorder”. The documentary film, The Third Way, is a perfect example of this phenomenon. I suppose it’s a preferable change of pace from the days of burning sodomites during the inquisition. However, in my opinion, the homophobic undertones behind the veneer of supposed acceptance is all too conspicuous.

According to those articles, Andy Warhol was the perfect example of a gay Catholic man who remained devoted to the faith and dedicated himself to a life of celibacy (which, as aforementioned, may not have been the case).

I’ve heard this line of rhetoric numerous times in Catholic circles. “Gays are called to be celebate”. Which raises the question, why didn’t God made them asexual if they are supposedly called to celebacy?

Andy Warhol was a legend. But he was also a troubled man drowned in guilt thanks to his religion. It’s baffling to me that the newly-emerging American Catholic youth culture is lauding Warhol’s supposed virginity as an example for all gay Catholics to live by. It’s indicative of an ulterior motive. The Church wants gays to negate their homosexual identity.

From Heroes to Villians

Over the past twenty-four hours, famed Malayalam film actor Dileep has been taken into police custody and his arrest has been registered as a case of criminal conspiracy. 

For the past week, Dileep and his friend, Malayalam film director Nadir Shah, were the objects of a scandalous controversy that labeled them as ochrastraters of the kidnapping and sexual assault of a well-known, yet unnamed film actress. Suffice to say, the evidence didn’t look good for Dileep and his arrest was inevitable. 

Dileep played a somewhat significant role in my childhood. I can still recall watching CID Moosa and Punjabi House in theatres during the early 2000s. Although chided for its low-brow humor and considered to be extremely dated by today’s standards, CID Moosa and Punjabi House still retain a special place in my memories. 

I had always been a fan of Dileep. His impeccable comidic timing and charismatic demeanor made him as asset to any  film. 

Over the past few years, I’ve felt like I’ve outgrown the low-brow, slapstick comedies. Similarly to the Malayalam film industry, I’ve gravitated towards experimental films with indie story-telling devices. Hence, Dileep’s goofy mimicries impress me less and less. 

Yet simultaously, I still retained a soft spot for Dileep. He embodied my nostalgic inclinations towards a more innocent time. 

Therefore, finding out that Dileep wasn’t the innocent guy next door, similar to the characters he portrayed, has left an unwelcoming bitter aura. 

I suppose I can finally understand how die-hard fans of Bill Cosby felt when the deviant sins of “America’s Dad” were unveiled to the public eye. 

Over the course of his career, Bill Cosby has had a greater impact on American pop culture compared to Dileep’s influence in Malayalam cinema.

From Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids to The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby changed the format of American television programming. The TV shows he produced successfully accomplished the rare task of being both educational and entertaining. They conveyed a relevant, timeless moral lesson without being conspicuously preachy. 

During the apex of his career, the Civil Rights Movemrnt took the nation by storm. Bill Cosby never took on the role of a Civil Rights activist. However, through his standup routines in the late 1960s, Cosby united Blacks and Whites and demonstrated that humor transcends color. 

Bill Cosby was the symbol of moral rectitude and social refinement. He beseeched young people to strive for education and character. He spoke out against neglectful parenting, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and lack of manners. He instilled a sense of dignity and self-respect in teenagers and young adults, enabling them to expand their horizon and set goals for themselves. 

Imagine our luck when we found out that Bill Cosby may have drugged a woman or two (or fifty!). Imagine our luck when we found out that our role model was a cruel, sadistic psychopath! Imagine our luck when we found out that America’s dad was the monster in the closet! 

We all know the saying: “Never meet your heroes”. However, in the Information Age, you don’t need to meet your heroes to uncover their darkest secrets! If that Hannibal Bugress video had never gone viral, we would still look to Bill Cosby with admiration. If Pulsar Suni hadn’t coincidentally appeared in that selfie taken during one of Dileep’s film shooting, the actor’s image would have remained untarnished.

Are we better off knowing the truth about our idols? Is it worth having our childhood’s ruined? 

It’s a wonder how anyone can remain an idealist in this day and age 

How Sex Unleashed a Cultural Revolution

Kerala is renowned for being the most progressive state in the Republic of India. Despite its rather lackluster economic performance and chaotic political culture, Kerala has accomplished extraordinary feats which include achieving 100% literacy along with the highest HDI, life expectancy and sex ratio in the country. Thousands of unskilled laborers from the northern states of Bihar, Bengal and Assam flock to Kerala to take advantages of higher wages. And unlike most parts of India, communal violence is relatively rare in Kerala, where it’s not uncommon to see a Hindu temple host an Iftar! 

However, Kerala has not always been the liberal utopia we know today. In fact, before the eve of Indian independence, the region that now constitutes present-day Kerala comprised of two kingdoms in the south, Travancore and Cochin, while the northern region, known as the Malabar district, was directly governed by the British Raj through the Madras Presidency.

Within Travancore, Cochin and Malabar, a smorgasbord of ethnic and religious communities interacted, though not always peacefully. The caste system was in full effect and if you knew what was good for you, you’d remember to be mindful of your place.

In the small, coastal kingdom of Cochin, sandwiched between Travancore and the Malabar district and overlooking the Arabian Sea, there was a mesmerizingly beautiful young woman named Savitri.

Savitri, also known as Thathri, was from a village called Ezhumangadu. She was born into the Kalpakasseri Illam, a prominent Namboothiri Brahmin clan. In the Malayali caste system, the Namboothiris were considered the most pure and elite of all Brahmins. In the early 1900s, the Namboothiris commanded respect and reverence with an iron fist. The Kalpakasseri Illam was no exception.

When Savitri was born, her father was informed by an astrologer in the village that because Savitri was born in an inauspicious time, she would be destined to “bring calamity, destroying the family honor”.

Now, I don’t believe in astrology or any supernatural superstitions. However, in hindsight, the astrologer did foreshadow the dramatic events that would transpire in Savitri’s life, affecting not only her and her family, but her entire community.

Despite being barred from enrolling in school, as was the custom for Namboothiri girls during that period, Savitri was said to be incredibly intelligent, exhibiting a keen interest in literature, music and the performing arts. She was also said to be tactical and mischievous, as later events would demonstrate.

In colonial India, girls were married off at outrageously young ages. In those days, the age of consent was ten years of age (and Indians weren’t too pleased when the British authorities attempted to raise the age of consent to twelve years of age).

Savitri, in accordance with the prevailing custom, was married off, at the age of eleven, to Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboothiri, a well-to-do Brahmin who was old enough to be her grandfather!

In a Namboothiri clan, only the oldest brother was afford the right to marry a Namboothiri girl. The younger brothers were supposed to invest their life in ritualistic worship and scriptural study, however, to no consequence, they often engaged in sexual relationships with Nair (warrior/royal caste) girls. Meanwhile, the oldest brother could have as many wives as he desires, to quench his sexual appetite. The wives were known as the Antharjanam, or women of the house. They were confined within the walls of their own homes, rarely going out unless accompanied.

Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboothiri had a unusually unquenchable libido. Despite having multiple wives at the age of sixty, Raman unapologetically visited numerous prostitutes to get his dick wet!

One day, in the year 1905, Raman felt satisfied after one particular session with a young girl, whose face was concealed with a veil. Upon lifting the veil, Raman was shocked to find that the girl was none other than his teenage wife, Savithri!

This unforeseenable episode brewed a scandal in the entire locality. Raman accused his wife of adultery, ushering in a Smarthavichanam trial.

According to Namboothiri tradition, Smarthavichanam trial was called as a woman was accused of adultery. The trial would unofficially began with the interrogation of the accused woman’s maidservant. If the maidservant incriminates her mistress, the local community would inform the Maharajah (in this case, the Maharajah of Cochin). The Maharajah would dispatch a group of judges (or smarthans), officially beginning the trial.

The accused woman would be subjected to intense interrogation, which usually involved physical and mental torture. The woman would be isolated in a cell where she’d be forced to befriend snakes and rats. Sometimes, the smarthans would place the woman in a mat, roll it up, and throw it from a housetop!

If, after all the physical trauma, the woman maintained her innocence, the smarthans and the elders of the community would find her “not guilty” and, out of the goodness of their hearts, invite her to join them in a celebratory meal.

However, if the woman is found guilty, she would be disowned by her family and ostracized from her village. Furthermore, she would be stripped of her Brahmin privileges.

Savithri stood bravely as the defendant of the Smarthavichanam. However, she requested that if she is found guilty, her lovers should also bare the consequences that are destined for her. Savithri admitted her guilt. When she was requested to name each of her male lovers, Savithri named each of them, one by one, identifying them by certain physical “markers”.

After six months, the number of lovers had amounted to sixty-four men, including thirty Namboothiri Brahmins, ten Tamil Iyer Brahmins, eleven Ambalavasis (assistants to the Brahmin priests), and thirteen Nairs. Many of these men were prominent writers, artists, scholars and religious leaders. Even more surprisingly, two of Savithri’s lovers were brothers of the head Smarthan of the trial! These men were considered the pillars of the local community. However, thanks to this trial, their moral shortcomings and sexual deviance were exposed, and they lost all credibility with the community.

Savithri had implied that there was a sixty-fifth man. Before she named this elusive figure, Rama Varma XV, the Maharajah of Cochin, abruptly called off the trial. This unpredictable action triggered a widespread rumor that the maharajah himself was the sixty-fifth lover. One could only imagine that chaos that would have erupted following that revelation!

As expected, Savithri and her innumerable lovers were outcasted. Savithri’s father commited suicide following the conclusion of the trial. The other members of the Kalpakasseri Illam feld their village in effort to flee their family shame.

No one knows exactly what happened to Savithri after leaving her village. Some claimed she married an Eurasian railway worker and eventually settled within the interior of present-day Tamil Nadu. Others claim she assumed a totally new identity and married into a Nasrani Catholic family. Proponents of this rumor claim that the famed veteran Malayalam actress, Sheela, is the granddaughter of Savitri (which she denies). Some even claim she moved to Ponnani, converted to Islam, and assumed the name Sainu Beevi.

Although her identity and whereabouts remain elusive (although I think by now, it’s safe to assume she has passed away), Savitri’s action had a lasting impact not only on the Namboothiri community but Malayali society as a whole.

Savitri had single-handedly exposed the moral hypocrisy of her community. The men who were hailed as revered role models were revealed to be libidinous perverts masquerading the image of purity and chastity. It’s a classic “preacher-in-a-brothel” situation.

After the trial, more and more people started questioning the castist values that insisted on purity. In the 1920s, a group of young, western-educated men formed the Namboothiri Yuvajana Sangam, which aimed as promoting societal reform within the Namboothiri community. The Sangam was successful in eradicating the practice of Smarthavicharam. Eventually, other social reform movements formed, urging people to question the regressive values to which they were bound. By the 1950s, caste norms were relaxed and the feudal system was eradicated. Women in Namboothiri clans were free to venture out in the world and pursue a career of their own.

Today, women in Kerala are considered to be the most liberated in India. Intercaste relations in Kerala are seen as a model for the rest of the country, as even intercaste marriages are common. Religious superstitions are not taken seriously. Despite all its political grief, Kerala is a beacon of human progress.

It’s bizarre to believe that a teenage nymphomaniac from the 1900s could have had such a profound influence.

Then again, sex can be a potently effective weapon 🙂

Dukha Velli vs “Good Friday”

Today is Good Friday. This auspicious day commemorates the passion and death of Jesus Christ. As I write this post, millions of Christians have congregated in their respective parishes to honor the sacrifice that 1st century Palestinian Jewish carpenter made to atone for the sins of humankind. 

Ironically, in Malayalam, this day is referred to as Dukha Velli (sorrowful Friday). This designation is appropiate given the series of gloomy, and gory events that were famously (or infamously) dramatized in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.  

But why do we, in the Anglosphere, refer to this day as “Good Friday”? What’s so “good” about today?

If you had attended Sunday School as a child, you’d be familiar with the trite explaination for this contradiction. As innocent (well, not so innocent) tykes, we were told that we call today “Good Friday” because we are celebrating our redemption from the bondages of sin. Therefore, today is aptly referred to as “Good Friday” because, when you look past the lamentable agony Jesus endured, it was a good day. 

Our Sunday School teachers meant well. After all, anyone who is capable of putting up with twenty or so screaming children deserves a trophy. However, like most people, the majority of Sunday School teachers aren’t familiar with the linguistic history of the English language. 

Among linguists, there is a debate over where the “good” in “Good Friday” came from. Some speculate that “good” is actually a corruption of an old Anglo-Saxon word that means “God”. Therefore, “good Friday” was once called “God’s Friday” before the linguistic shift. 

Others contend that the term “good” was once an archaic synonym for “holy”. It would make sense to refer to the day we commemorate the death of Jesus as a “Holy Friday”. This second theory actually has a stronger case. During Christmas, we wish “good tidings” to everyone. The day before Maundy Thursday is occasionally called “Good Wednesday”. So it is possible that we are using an outdated usage of the word “good” which has gotten lost in translation. 

So whether you are observing “Good Friday” or “Dukha Velli” or “Viernes Santos” or “Karfreitag”, I hope you’ve had a solemn day of spiritual reflection. 

And you’re a depraved heathen like myself, my best wishes go to you as well 

God is Dead (And We’ve Killed Him)

In a scene from God’s Not Dead (a horrendous movie pandering to the persecution complex of conservative Christians in middle America), the philosophy professor, portrayed by Kevin Sorbo, gloats over the triumph of atheism over traditional religion and concludes his diatribe by quoting (or rather, misquoting) Friedrich Nietzsche that “God is Dead”. 

It is so frustrating to see a brilliant philosopher like Nietzsche be so ruthlessly bastardized by a sub-par movie. Friedrich Nietzsche could rightfully be deemed a modern-day prophet. His famous quote “God’s Not Dead” proved his prophetic abilities. 

Nietzsche’s declaration on the bereaved passing of the celestial diety is found in his work Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science or Science of Joy) where he wrote: 

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Contrary to popular belief, Nietsche was not mocking religious believers or shoving Atheism down everyone’s throat. In fact, if he was alive today, he would be brutally lambasting the “New Atheism” movement. 

Nietszche uses the term “God” as s metaphor for religiously-based objective morality in the Western world. Since the dawn of humanity, people attributed the mechanics of the universe to supernatural beings, which we called “gods”. The gods explained everything, from lightening and rain to where babies come from. The temple priests were the first scientists and it was their duty to mediate between the pantheon of deities and the common folk. In other words, religion was the repository of knowledge. 

In addition to being a repository of knowledge, religion was also a framework of morals and ethics. After all, in any society, rules are necessary in order to ensure stability. A divinely-sanctioned rulebook was perceived to guarantee social cohesion. The Sumarians had the Hammurabi Code and the ancient Israelites had the Ten Commandments. 

Even non-theistic religions like Taoism and Buddhism adhere to a code of ethics. While they may not explicitly affirm the existence of a creator God (as conceptualized in the Abrahamic tradition), those eastern traditions conform to a spiritual mindset that acknowledges the cosmic order and the nescessity for a defined, objective framework of ethics. 

Since the reign of Constantine of the Roman Empire, Christian precepts, as defined by the Bible and Church tradition, served as the moral framework for Europe and the broader Western World. 

Did everyone successfully conform to those prescribed morals? Of course not. Christian theologians themselves claim that no one can measure up to God’s standards. However, the presence of an objective moral standards provided people with common values and a shared heritage. 

The Scientific Revolution and the subsequent Age of Enlightenment reeled in a paradigm shift in the Western World. Thanks to the printing press, philosophers and writers including Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, and Voltaire had their thoughts and ideas disseminated throughout the European continent. These ideas caused people to question not only the status quo of a monarchical society but also the validity of the doctrines espoused by the Christian churches. 

By the 19th century, secularism emerged as a fresh, novel concept entertained within intellectual circles. By the time Charles Darwin published his magnum opus, The Origin of Species, religious beliefs, long cherished for generations, appeared to be nothing more than absurd superstitions. 

In his younger days, Friedrich Nietsche had originally aspired to become a Lutheran minister, following the footsteps of his late father, Carl Ludwig Nietzsche. After a semester of studying theology at the University of Bonn, he had lost his faith after concluding that recent biblical scholarship contradicted the sermons preached from the pulpit. In fact, in defending his apostasy, he wrote to his deeply religious sister, Elizabeth: 

“Hence the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire”

Since his deconversion, Nietzsche took a 180-degree turn and began vehemently criticizing Christianity. He denounced Paul of Tarsus, who could rightfully be called the chief architect of Christian theology, for devising a system that favored weakness and subservience. 

Nietzsche also railed against the Christian church for their power trip during the middle age. He asserted that their history of warmongering stripped them of their own moral credibility. 

Today, more and more people are leaving the pews. Especially among younger generations, religion is no longer considered important. 

If a preacher or a social conservative activist passionately calls for the return of “family values” and a renewal of the “sanctity of marriage”, he/s is shamelessly branded as a “Bible-thumping religious fanatic”. And while it may seem that Bible-Thumper is imposing his religion on the rest of us, all he/s is trying to do is propose a divinely-sanctioned objective moral code, which societies have relied on for eons. 

Today, our moral standards can be summarized as “do what you want, just don’t hurt anyone”. While that may sound good on paper, it’s incoherent and leaves more to be desired. 

Nietzsche predicted that in the absence of Almighty God, we, humans, have become our own gods. Thus we are the arbiters of morality. In asserting that “God is dead”, Nietsche was not gloating, provoking the ire of devout churchgoers. To the contrary, Nietzsche was actually delivering  a dire warning to people. It is a heavy responsibility to devise a universal moral system. Failure to do so will inevitably reel in an era of nihilism. 

To solve this conundrum, Nietzsche posits the idea of eternal return. Although eternal return is a recurring theme in eastern spirituality, the concept was used by Nietzsche as a thought experiment. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche says: 

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”

Nietzsche implores us to think about our lives and asks ourselves whether we have any regrets. Do you consider your life a success or a failure. And if you reply in the negative, how would you make your life a success? Nietzsche proposes an infinite amount of possibilities to live one’s life. How would we live an affirming life? 

In a way, this thought experiment replaced the final judgement. Without the presence of an omniscient, omnipotent deity, we are our own judge. 

Friedrich Nietzsche paved an unusual path, starting as a young seminary student, spending the majority of his adult life as an atheist philosopher before succumbing to mental illness and dying in isolation. He dived into the depths of the science of morality and ventured outside the boundaries of mainstream societal norms.

 

Reza Aslan, Career Opportunism and the Media’s Religious Illiteracy

A couple of weeks ago, Reza Aslan’s Believer premiered on CNN as a six-episode series in which Aslan “immerses himself in the world’s most fascinating belief systems”. 

I watched the first episode which focuses on Hinduism and suffice to say, I was appalled. As numerous critics has noted, Aslan’s coverage of the Aghoris, a fringe, Vamamarga (left-hand path) sect solely concentrated in the outskirts of the North Indian city of Varanasi, was purely sensationalistic. It was evident to me that rather than an informative documentary analyzing and summarizing the subtle intricacies of religion, Believer was nothing more than a cynically-devised ratings-grab. 

But what else could you expect from CNN. Talk about fake news!

Considering that Reza Aslan was the host, I should have lowered my expectations. Over the past few years, Reza Aslan has secured a role as the news media’s “go-to person” on religion. His claim to fame is a best-selling book that’s nothing but a rehashment of discredited 19th century claims about Jesus of Nazareth, along with his hilariously awkward Fox News interview on which he defended the aforementioned book claiming that he was “a Ph.D in the history of religions”(an overstated claim at best) while being grilled by a Fox News anchor who was baffled that a Muslim would/could write a book about Jesus.

He nauseatingly claims to be a “the leading Muslim scholar in the United States”, ignoring the likes of Wael Hallaq and Hamza Yusef, both of whom are professors of Islamic studies, unlike Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing. 

Now although he may not be a theologian or a religious scholar, Reza Aslan is well-learned on religious topics. In addition, his charisma and eloquence makes him an effective communicator on the subject. Reza Aslan is to religion what Bill Nye is to science. However, unlike Aslan, Bill Nye doesn’t overstep his boundaries of expertise, and he definitely would not sell out to a TV news channel to boost his own public image. 

Believer’s deplorable coverage of Hinduism exemplifies the news media’s poor grasp on religion. Generally, religious stories don’t garnar as much public attention as the latest reports on politics, technology or celebrity gossip. Therefore, for most news organizations, religious correspondents are not in demand. Lacking a staff member with some comprehensive insight on matters of faith, reporters are bound to fudge up the facts on religion stories. 

So we shouldn’t be baffled when CNN reported that Pope Francis approves of homosexuality. Or when the Washington Post stated that Pope Francis welcomes atheists in heaven. Or when USA Today claimed Pope Francis gives the a-okay on married priests. 

The frequent misquotations of Pope Francis’ statements attests to the news media’s sinfully facile reporting! 

Which brings us back to Reza Aslan. Unlike most journalists struggling to write an article on a faith-based story with limited prior knowledge on faith, Reza Aslan is well-acquainted with the world of spirituality. He may not qualify as an Islamic allamah, but Aslan has the ability to articulate the nuances of a subject of which so few people understand. 

Unfortunately, Reza Aslan did not do that. 

In his desperation to promote his own public image, Aslan took the low-road in attempts to attract a mass audience. Instead of reading through the philosophically-dense content of the Vedas and Upanishads, trekking through the mythological world of the asuras and devas, and exploring the regional variations of ritualistic practices, Aslan decided to immerse himself in a lunatic fringe cult led by self-styled gurus who drink their own urine. 

 In other words, Aslan took a eclectic, 5000-year old spiritual tradition and reduced it into a crude caricature akin to Mola Ram from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. 

Whatever ounce of respect I had for Reza Aslan went down the toilet! 

Reza Aslan should have known better than to do a religious documentary in the format of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown! You can’t fully immerse yourself in a religion by spending a week with some hospitable hosts and eating up whatever they have to offer! 

Unlike exotic dishes, religion can’t be consumed in one sitting. It takes years, arguably even a lifetime, to immerse yourself in a spiritual path. There are Christian monks who have eschewed wealth, modern technology and even sexual pleasure in favor of leading a ascetic life solely devoted to prayer, meditation and scriptural studies. And despite taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, even those monks hesitate to consider themselves fully immersed in the gospel message. 

Considering that, in numerous interviews, Reza Aslan conceptualizes religion as nothing more than “a language”, claiming that his Islamic faith is “no more true” than any other religion, it’s clear that this self-professed religion scholar has a superficial, “touchy-feely” perception of religion that would only appeal to self-enlightened, “cosmopolitan” liberals. No wonder they’re his core fan base.

Being Comfortable with Mortality

I need to inform you on something and this isn’t going to easy for me to say.

Are you ready? 

Brace yourself…

You’re going to die!

And and everyone you know. And so am I.

We’re all going to die. 

A Funeral is no one’s idea of a good time. Death is frightening to think about. Even petrifying. 

We’ve cooked up legends and myths involving the possibility of an afterlife in order to sooth our internal anguish. 

I once read a report about a man who was celebrating his 113th birthday. To complete 113 years on Earth is a remarkable feat. And to have lived through dozens of pages of history is truly mystifying.

However, when asked about his diet, this supercentarian nonchalantly remarked that he lived on bacon and whiskey!

So apparently those so-called nutritional experts had their heads up their asses!

In contrast, one of my friend’s father was a complete health nut. He started every morning with a jog around his neighborhood. He meditated daily. He abstained from smoking and drinking. He consistently turned down sweets and sugery beverages. And being a devout Hindu Brahmin, he maintained a strict vegetarian diet. 

He was physically-fit and handsome. He was often mistaken for being at least ten years younger. In fact, his appearance had earned him the admiration of girls who were his daughter’s age. 

Unfortunately, a few years ago, my friend had lost her father to a brain aneurysm. He was only fifty-eight years old. 

It seems that nature had done severe injustice to my friend’s father. The man had done everything by the book to maintain his physical and mental well-being. And yet, he was struck by the angel of death. 

Meanwhile, a bacon-consuming hard-drinker had been spared from the threat of his own mortality! And he has no plans to change his diet or lifestyle. 

Death is inevitable. And worse, death is unpredictable. A seemingly healthy person could drop dead before he/s reaches the age of 20. 

There really is no enlightening explanation to console us. The only thing we can do is cherish life’s smallest pleasures and moments of joy. I know it sounds cliched and hallmarkish. However, we can’t dwell on the possibility of death. And I also don’t think we should invest our hope in a fanciful afterlife. After all, false hope will only drown us in delusion. 

Death is the period at the end of a sentence. We may not know when it is come. But we know it’s inevitable. And the only thing we can do is say what we need to say before our sentence concludes with a period.