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 So it is possible that we are using an outdated usage of the word “good” which has gotten lost in translation.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. 

Book Review: Middlesex

Although Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex was published in 2002, the story carries more relevance today, given the recent “bathroom bill” controversy and other nationwide discussions pertaining to our understanding of gender identity.

md20527819112However, this story is more than about sexual orientation and non-binary genders. Middlesex incorporates a wide range of intertwined themes that encompasses the pursuit for identity which include an immigrant’s ‘rebirth’ in a new world, the clash between traditional and modernity, the battle between old-world superstitions and reason, teenage angst, sexual discovery, the bleakness of old age, the inevitability of death, and generational gaps.

Our protagonist, Calliope Stephenides is a Detroit-born, third-generation, Greek-American. During her teenage years, she discovers an unsavory revelation about her true sexual identity. This triggers an existential crisis, setting her on a journey to conceptualize her sense of self in relation to her biology. 

Calliope’s parents, Milton and Tessie, are first-cousins. If that isn’t scandalous enough for your sensibilities, you might want to brace yourself before you read this next sentence. In addition to being a product of a first-cousin marriage, Calliope’s paternal grandparents are siblings!

Yes, you read that correctly.

Calliope’s grandparents, Eleutherios (Lefty) and Desdemona, were orphans residing in Bithynios, near Smyrna (present-day Izmir) in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) during the early 1920s. Their parents were killed in the on-going conflicts between the Greeks and the Turks so they only had each other to rely upon. Somehow, inexplicably, their intimate sibling bond mutated into carnal lust. I suppose the Westermarck Effect did not apply to them. When Lefty and Desdemona finally managed to escape the carnage in their beloved yet irredeemable homeland, they did what so many immigrants did upon arriving in America. They constructed a new identity for themselves.

In their native village, Lefty and Desdemona were brother and sister. However, in their new home in Detroit, Lefty and Desdemona became newlyweds. And other than their Americanized cousin, Soumelina, who harbored a sordid secret of her own, nobody knew otherwise.

It is heavily implied, throughout the novel, that Calliope’s unusual gender orientation is rooted in her grandparents’ decision to procreate.cara

Now, it should be pointed out that not all intersex people are the result of incestuous relationships. Many literary critics have lambasted Eugenides for implying that to be the case. However, I’m willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion, I think Eugenides just wanted to write a story that heavily touched on multiple taboo subjects, including incest and non-binary genders.

We are a society rooted in Abrahamic tradition. According to our holy texts, God created us as male and female. And you can’t argue with the sacred.

However, recent developments in psychology and medical science have concluded that gender is a lot more complicated than we had originally anticipated. Yes, 99% of us fall into the categories of male or female. However, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the 1% who don’t. Those who are transgendered, or afflicted with medical conditions like Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia or 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency (like Calliope) are just as human as the rest of us. It’s regrettably disheartening to see the genuine concerns of non-binary people be dismissed as “special snowflake saltiness” due to our puritanical proclivities.

Middlesex has been rightfully branded by the Metro Times as ” the Detroit Epic Novel”. The majority of this story occurs within the backdrop of a perpetually-changing Detroit. The beginning of the novel depicts our protagonist’s grandparents arriving in, what was then, a relatively small but bustling town. Throughout the novel, we witness the up-and-coming industrial hub gradually evolve into “the arsenal of democracy” during the Second World War before despairingly devolving into the “no tax-base, white-flight, murder-capital of the Coleman Young administration”. We receive an in-depth narrative of the infamous 1967 riots, leading numerous affluent White residents to abandon their homes and businesses in Detroit and embark on an exodus towards the suburban towns of Grosse Pointe (including Grosse Pointe Park and Grosse Pointe Farms), Sterling Heights, and Livonia (aka, my hometown).

In addition, Middlesex also invests pages into covering aspects of Detroit history that are usually glossed over by the textbooks. Most Americans aren’t aware that the Black-supremacist Nation of Islam was originally founded in Detroit. Nor do they comprehend the historical context in which the Nation of Islam was established. Jeffrey Eugenides succinctly highlights the motives of this unusual organization and its overall impact on the city.

Middlesex is written as a first-person narrative, so we’re able to further empathize with Calliope through her/his inner thoughts and conflicted feelings. I think Eugendies brilliantly conceptualized Calliope’s personality. Despite being a fictional character, the narration allows us to perceive Calliope as a real-life person.

What I find most intriguing is how Calliope refers to certain people in her life. Normally, our siblings are our first best friends (as opposed to being lovers in the case of Lefty and Desdemona!). The bond between siblings is impenetrable. However, Calliope always refers to her brother as “Chapter Eleven”. It’s not an affectionate nickname that most of us would refer to our brothers or sisters. The name “Chapter Eleven” references Calliope’s brother’s fault in leading their father’s business into bankruptcy. In fact, the term “Chapter Eleven” refers to bankruptcy laws. However, some literary critics have cleverly deduced that the “nickname” also refers to the emotional bankruptcy of that sibling relationship.

In a way, the novel depicts two polarizing extremes pertaining to siblings. Desdemona and Lefty occupy one extreme where the line between familial love and sexual desire is nonexistent. Calliope and her/his brother occupy the other extreme where the two, despite having grown up in the same home, regard each other as nothing more than strangers.

I’m not surprised that Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize. I can’t imagine a novel like this not being lavishly celebrated with accolades. Jeffrey Eugenides’ prose is  vivid, witty, ironic and charming. He has the rare talent of eloquently describing a baby pissing on a priest during a baptism ceremony.

“From between my cherubic legs a stream of crystalline liquid shot into the air…propelled by a full bladder, it cleared the lip of the font and struck Father Mike right in the middle of the face!”

If you’re not planning to drive to your local library to check out this book, you’ll be missing out.

Sabhayude Prathisandhi: A Tale of Sacrilegious Scandals 

A few days ago, a priest in Kerala, India was taken into police custody after attempting to board a flight to Canada. Fr. Mathew Vadakkumchery (also known as “Robin Achen”) was the parish priest of St. Sebastian Church in Kottiyoor, a village in the northern Kerala district of Kannur. He is currently being charged with the unpardonable crime of raping, and impregnanting, a sixteen year old girl. Vadakkumchery is also being accused of bribing the girl’s family with RS 10 lakhs to discreetly keep the matter from the public eye.

Vadakkumchery will pay for his transgressions through the justice system. The evidence is overwhelmingly stacked against him. Unfortunately, Vadakkumchery is only one of numerous sexual predators attempting to hide behind the sanctuary veil.

Within the Catholic community in Kerala, the past few years have been marked with numerous tell-all memoirs written by ex-nuns and ex-priests, elaborating on the deplorably depraved sexual abuse rampant in seminaries and convents in God’s Own Country. From Sister Jesme to Fr. Shibu Kalamparambil, a myriad of idealistic priests and nuns were forced to relinquish their childhood dreams of religious life upon discovering an unholy truth. Coinciding with the scandal in Kottiyoor, another former nun named Mary Chandy has recently had her tell-all memoir published, further attesting to the widespread hedonism ubiquitous behind closed doors. rape-victim-660_120213014528_121313094906

Most of us are inclined to blame the sexual abuse cases on the Catholic Church’s rigid requirements of clerical celibacy. Although I concur that celibacy is unrealistic and antithetical to our biological needs, we’re ignoring a bigger culprit: power.

Power corrupts. How many times have we’ve heard that adage? The Church’s sociopolitical influence in Kerala exemplifies that quote. Although the Catholic community comprise of ten percent of Kerala’s population, they are hailed as one of the most affluent communities in the state. In Kerala, the most renowned educational institutions  and top-rate health care facilities are operated by the Catholic Church. Catholic clerics are hailed as the most respected residents of their vicinity, particularly in south-central Kerala. Even Catholic bishops have been known to dabble in the Kerala political sphere.

In Kerala, it’s not uncommon for low-income Catholic families to pressure one of their sons to pursue the religious life. In the seminaries, young men receive a reputable education at virtually no cost. Their families take advantage of the extensive support provided by the church, mitigating their financial burdens. Once the young men receive the privilege of the white collar, their families get to bask in honor and respectability, a refreshing change-of-pace from previous years of treading the poverty line.

In the eye of zealously devout churchgoers, the ornately robed clerics are as immaculate as the Virgin Mary. They are immuned from the various temptations that burden mere mortals like us. In other words, an achen or pathiri can do no wrong.

Power corrupts. That phrase is more than an overused platitude.

The crimes of Vadakkumchery were initially concealed by those who were determined to protect the church’s reputation. Yesterday, eight people, including five nuns, were booked for conspiring a cover-up. The fact that eight people were willing to put their own lives on the line to protect a predator priest is a testimony to their blind loyalty.

Power corrupts. That phrase is more than just some overused platitude.

The cliched response to this ungodly story is to advocate for systemic reform and blah blah blah. Even Pope Francis had made it a priority to instill accountability to prevent clerical abuse.

However, promises and resolutions can only go so far. The catalyst behind the abuse of clerical privilege is the extreme reverence shown to priests and bishops by their God-fearing parishioners, who  continually treat them like the second coming of Christ.

Of course, we were told in our catechism classes that a Catholic priest acts in persona Christi. A priest assumes the role of Jesus when we confess our sins to him. As we see a priest standing in a dignified pose as he consecrates the Holy Eucharist during mass, we forget an undeniable truth. Behind the white collar and decorated attire is a mere mortal, enslaved to the same moral failings of which we are all enslaved.

As long as churchgoers exhibit undying reverence for priests, the Church will never be cleansed of her innumerable scandals.

 

Birth of a Savior

Today, tens of thousands of devout believers will be commemorating the birth of their Savior.

And I’m not referring to Jesus Christ.

This man is arguably the most elusive figure in American history. No one knows where he was born. No one knows where or when he passed away. His legacy is glossed over by high school history textbooks. Nevertheless, in a span of few years, this man managed to drastically impact the consciousness of American Blacks and forever change the course of American racial relations.

In 1930, there wWallace_Fard_Muhammadas a mysterious, beige-complexioned man walking through the streets and alleys of Depression-era Black Bottom in Detroit, selling silk cloths to Black residents who couldn’t even afford to dream of wearing such exquisite items. He introduced himself as Wallace Fard Muhammed. Handsome and charismatic, Fard was often invited into the meager dwellings of those residents, who were enticed by his stories on the origins of those silk cloths in their “homeland”. 

Assuming the role of some type of religious preacher, Fard spoke of how his poverty-stricken hosts were descended of kings and warriors who were kidnapped from their “homeland” and stripped of their ancestral heritage. Fard implored his hosts to reconnect with their history by abandoning the religion of their former masters. 

He introduced the religious concept of Tawhid (oneness of God) and discouraged pork at their dinner tables. After adopting the dietary restrictions, those Black ghetto residents observed significant improvements in their health and concluded that there must be something to Fard’s teachings. 

During his sales runs, Fard gradually evolved from a silk salesmen to a leader of a new religious movement.

Fard branded himself as a prophet and constructed a version of Islam unrecognizable to mainstream Muslims. The theological tenets of Fard’s religion involved a mad scientist named Yakub who created White people as Devils to reek havoc and destroy humanity. Therefore, the White man is innately evil and responsible for the burdens Black people are forced to endure.

To most of us today, Fard’s teachings sound nothing more than a racist crackpot theory promulgated by a dark-skinned version of L. Ron Hubbard. However, to poor Black residents of 1930s Detroit, Fard didn’t make less sense than church sermons revolving around a man who supposedly rose from the dead after three days.

It is also worth mentioning that the early 20th century was the heyday for racially-based eugenics. Today, eugenics is solely entertained by a small number of basement-dwelling shiteaters, as race is considered to be a meaningless concept by anthropologists and “biological determinism” has been discredited by the medical community. However, in the 1930s, eugenics was espoused by renowned academic journals, taught in public schools and was influential in US immigration policy. Madison Grant’s Passing of a Great Race (which profoundly influenced Adolf Hitler’s perspective on race) was on the best-sellers list.

Given those circumstances, you can see why Fard’s followers were so keen on accepting his bizarre theology.They were  consistently bombarded with “scientific” studies denigrating them as subhuman degenerates. They were mocked with the “curse of Ham” by White Christian preachers. Accepting Fard’s teachings was their way of turning the tables and asserting respectability for themselves.

Coinciding with the independence anniversary of the United States, Fard and his followers formed the Allah Temple of Islam on July 4th, 1930. The mission of this new organization was to “teach the downtrodden and defenseless Black people a thorough Knowledge of God and of themselves, and to put them on the road to Self-Independence with a superior culture and higher civilization than they had previously experienced”.

Fard was hailed by his followers as the Mahdi, replacing Jesus as their personal savior. Fard was adamant to instill Islamic practices in his followers. He admonished the consumption of pork, which, as you would know from dining at a Soul Food restaurant, is replete in American Black cuisine. He established Muslim schools as an alternative to the public school system. He authored a book entitled Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam which elaborated on his religion’s tenets. As the year went by, the Nation of Islam became more organized. Fard has even handpicked a young man named Elijah Poole as his protege in 1931. He rechristened the young man Elijah Muhammed and appointed him as his successor.

In 1932, a Detroit resident named Robert Kharraim (born Robert Harris), a member of the ATI, performed a human sacrifice to “bring himself closer to Allah”. Kharraim had cited a passage from Fard’s book Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam, which stated “The believer must be stabbed through the heart.”. This caught the attention of the Detroit Police Department. Driven by anti-Muslim hysteria and racism, the police sought to charge Fard with murder.

Kharraim was later found to be insane and was committed to a psychiatric institution. Fard was forced by the police to disband the ATI and leave Detroit. Fard complied, as he would have faced legal charges, and left for Chicago on December of 1932.

Although the ATI was ostensibly disbanded, the organization actually remained in tact under a new name: The Nation of Islam.

The following month, Fard returned to Detroit. However, he was identified by the police and ordered to leave. Yet, in 1934, Fard was back in Detroit, but not for long.

Facing non-stop police harassment, Fard had Elijah Muhammed drive him to the airport. After bidding his protege adieu, Fard left to board his flight, never to be seen again.

To this day, no one knows where Fard went following his departure from Detroit. Upon leaving the organization he single-handedly built, Fard passed the mantle to Elijah Muhammed, who assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam for an eventful forty years.

Under Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam garnered incredible recognition and respectability among Black Americans. The organization attracted the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali. It played an influential, though notoriously controversial, role during the Civil Right Movement.

However, certain aspects of Elijah Muhammed’s reputation caused many, including Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali, to leave the organization. To this day, there are rumors accusing Elijah Muhammed of orchestrating Malcolm X’s assassination as punishment for his departure from the Nation of Islam.

Following the death of Elijah Muhammed, his son, Warith Deen Muhammed assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam. Warith repudiated his father’s racist ideas and that bizarre tale of Yakub. Instead, he introduced Sunni Islamic practices to the organization, hoping to forge connections with mainstream Islamic group.

However, Warith’s reforms resulted a schism within the Nation of Islam. The oppositional faction was led by young firebrand named Louis Farrakhan, who aspired to reintroduce the teachings and theology of Wallace Fard Muhammed and Elijah Muhammed. Warith’s faction went on to adopt the name “American Society of Muslims” while Louis Farrakhan’s faction retained the name “Nation of Islam”.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Fard remain unsolved. Of course, numerous hypotheses have been proposed to unravel this evasive character.

In the late 1950s, the FBI conjured a theory linking Wallace Fard Muhammed to Wali Dodd Ford, a New Zealand-born White restaurant owner who lived in California during the 1910s and 1920s. This theory was propagated in newspapers as a tactic to discredit the Nation of Islam through some crazed Rachel-Dolezalesque fashion.

South Asia had been pinpointed as the possible birthplace of Fard. After all, he had the generic features of a typical North Indian: silky black hair, beige complexion, sharp, chiseled facial features, and a caucasoid bone structure. The fact that he reportedly expressed contempt for Hinduism is also indicative of his South Asian origins.

Turkey, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia have also been proposed as his possible birthplace. In fact, he had once claimed to have served as a diplomat for the Kingdom of Hejaz (located in present-day Saudi Arabia).

You’re probably wondering why a man with no African roots would go as far as to establish a Black supremacist organization!

Perhaps, Fard was seeking an opportunity to propagate Islam (well his unconventional version of Islam) while he was selling silk cloths. Seeing neighborhoods of destitute, marginalized Blacks in need of a savior, he took his chances with them. The affirming doctrines preached by a man who presented himself as a “high-yellow” Black man from the East would have been receptive to early 20th century Black Americans.

We will possibly never know the true origins of Wallace Fard Muhammed. We will possibly never know his true ethnicity or even his real name. We will never know who he truly was.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny the profound impact he had on the cultural milieu of America. Despite possibly lack a drop of African blood, Fard instilled in Black Americans a sense of self-respect that motivated them to fight for equality.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the ideology he propagated. Nor am I a supporter of the Nation of Islam. However, in studying Fard’s ideology and the Nation of Islam in relation to the mores of early 20th-century America, we can have a more comprehensive perspective on Black American history, which will give us insight into the state of modern-day race relations.

Kali Yuga and Memberberries

The ancient Sanskirt texts divide history into four epochs (or yugas). The first epoch is termed as Sathya Yuga, or the era of truth. This was the golden age of mankind, which lasted a good 1,780,000 years(of course, science says humans have only been around for 200,000 years but let’s ignore that)! The goddess Dharma, depicted as a bull, stood on all four legs, representing the triumph of morality and ethics. Humanity strived for the purest ideal and goodness reigned supreme.

However, as life has taught us, all good things must come to an end. Sathya Yuga was succeeded by Treta Yuga. The Dharma bull stood on three legs. Humanity started to favor materialism over spirituality. After three thousand years, Treta Yuga gave way to Dwapara Yuga. Now, the Dharma bull stood on two legs. By this time, humanity had divided itself in classes and the aristocrats discarded spiritual pursuits for fleshly pleasure and lavish wealth. 864,000 years passed before the death of Krishna, marking the advent of the current age, Kali Yuga.

Kali_yuga

The Dharma bull has now been reduced to one leg. Our moral framework has disintegrated. Humanity is drowning in the cesspool of amoral nihilism. According to the Mahabharatha, the sage Markandeya predicted that our age would be rife with despotic regimes, scarcity of food and resources, unbridled wrath, widespread drug addiction, unregulated lust and even the normalization of murder!

In other words, the marginal minority of virtuous souls will find it intolerable to live in this current age. They will futilely long for the days of Sathya Yuga, when humanity was guided by the deities and Dharma reigned supreme.

I’ve noticed that religions have this inexplicable proclivity to idealize the past. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) recall the Garden of Eden, a botanical paradise where Adam and Eve, our alleged ancestors of humanity, roamed carefree. Yet their regrettable consumption of the forbidden fruit, an unforgivable deviance of God’s commands, cursed Adam and Eve, along with their descendents, into a life of pain and hardship in the cruel, outside world.

Let’s face it. Life sucks. The world is unjust and we rarely get what we want. Somehow, we come to the conclusion that the past was this idyllic period where we weren’t burdened with the troubles of today.

We long to return to that blissful golden age. Many Christians believe the inevitable apocalypse will reel in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven. Muslims believe the Mahdi will rid the world of evil. Even Hindus believe that a golden age of one thousand years will commenced during Kali Yuga.

I’ve always regarded nostalgic idealizations to be unhealthy. However, these religions seem to intensify our yearning to return to the golden age that never was. They brew a collective psychosis that prevents us from dealing with reality.

We have to stop romanticizing those good ol’ days! Life has always been shitty. Rather than pining for some nonexistent golden age, we should just focus on the issues of the present day and hope for a better tomorrow.

Perpetual Student of the Kwan

Calling myself a martial artist would be a gross exaggeration. I’m certainly no match for Ip Man! However, my obsession with anime aroused my fascination with oriental martial arts techniques. I had even dreamt of achieving super-saiyan level!

…To this day, I still cherish that dream

When I was eight years old, my parents enrolled me in a karate class after hearing about my brief encounter with a bully during recess. This particular course taught a Korean varient of Karate called Tang Soo Do.

hwangkeeIn 1937, a 23-year-old Hwang Kee returned to his native Korea after two years working at the Manchurian railroads in China. During his stay in China, Hwang Kee allegedly learned Kung Fu, complementing his training in Subak during his high school years. Upon returning to Korea, Hwang Kee had hoped to continue his martial arts education. Unfortunately, his aspirations were limited by the Japanese Occupation of Korea during World War II.

The carnage of a global battle didn’t prevent Hwang Kee from pursuing his life-long passion. During the early 1940s, Hwang Kee spent the majority of the time at the library, burying himself in books and articles about Okinawan Shotokan Karate.

In 1945, Hwang Kee opened his first kwan, which he christened Hwa Soo Do (flowering gmckickhand way) Muk Do Kwan. Five years later, he renamed his school Tang Soo Do (empty hand) Muk Do Kwan to emphasize the empty-handed techniques derived from Shotokan Karate.

Unlike most martial arts, the envied black belt does not exist in Tang Soo Do. In Korean culture, the color black symbolizes perfection. However, every Tang Soo Do practitioner is fully aware that perfection is unattainable. The highest rank a student can achieve is a humble 10th degree midnight blue belt. Although not as edgy as its black counterpart, the midnight blue reminds a practitioner that he will always be a student.

This is true in every field. Whether you’re a professor, a doctor, a CEO or even the president of the United States, you will always remain a student.

I was enrolled in Tang Soo Do for only two years, before the demands of middle school assignments and extracurriculars occupied the majority of my free time. However, my years in Tang Soo Do instilled in me the importance of humbleness. If we perceive ourselves as experts, we’ll lack the incentive to pursue knowledge. If we lack that incentive, we hinder our own personal growth.

Book Review: Revival

Stephen King is renowned for his epic horror novels. Since the publication of his debut book, Carrie, King has spent the last three decades reveling in fame and literary recognition. His prose is simple and meant to appeal to a middlebrow readership. Nevertheless, King is able to write in a way that captures the imagination and invites the reader into the depths of his world.

Revival was published in 2014. Similarly to most of King’s books, the story is set in his 51vNbL-8w0L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_home state of Maine (at least during the first half of the novel). The novel chronicles the life of Jamie Morton, from age six to his late fifties, and highlights his encounters with a charming, yet eccentric preacher named Charles Daniel Jacobs.

Although the story is written from the first-person perspective of Jamie Morton, Jacobs could qualify as the lead protagonist as well. This tale is just as much about him as it is about Jamie.

Charles Daniel Jacobs is introduced as an young, enthusiastic Methodist preacher who arrives in tiny Maine town of Harrow with his wife and son for his first pastoral assignment.  In Harrow, Jacobs meets six-year-old Jamie and immediately takes a liking to him. Jacobs exposes Jamie to the bizarre, yet fascinating world of electricity, of which Jacobs exhibits an infatuated obsession.

One fateful day, Jacobs’ wife and son fall victim to a car accident. Unfortunately, they didn’t survive which tears Jacobs apart. On the following Sunday at the local Methodist church, Jacobs delivers a heart-wrenching diatribe, later termed by the parishioners and townspeople as “The Terrible Sermon”. Jacobs lashes at God and derides religion as nothing but an insurance fraud. Unsurprisingly, Jacobs leaves town. However, that wouldn’t be the last time Jamie sees him..

The novel effectistephen-kingvely touches on numerous themes that are all intertwined, including religion, tragedies, death and the esoteric potential of electricity. Although the story drags into numerous irrelevant subplots of Jamie’s life, it leads towards a bone-chilling, Lovecraftesque climax, and unveiling the mysteries of death and the afterlife.

Revival, in echoing Stephen King’s own perspective, exposes the covert manipulation of tent revivals. In one passage, Charles Jacobs cynically chides the enthusiastic attendees as “rubes” who only “want to be healed”.

I’m reminded of the numerous charismatic retreats I was dragged to as a child. Although the majority of the congregation were seemingly rejuvenated by the spirited ambiance, I was disturbed by the exaggerated displays of emotion and the complete surrender to blind faith.

A priest (or lay minister) would spew a series of half-baked Christian platitudes, ending every two sentences with “Praise the Lord”, and the congregation would cling to his every word. Yet numerous of my fellow parishioners flocked to these retreats, even if they regularly fail to attend Sunday mass. As Charles Jacobs said, people just want to be healed. And with life’s innumerable burdens and calamities, who could blame them?

This is where the esoteric secrets of electricity come in. As a young preacher, Jacobs devoted himself to studying electricity as a hobby and often used it as a teaching tool for the church youth group.

When Jamie’s brother, Connie, lost his voice, Jacobs riskfully harnessed the powers of electricity to heal Connie of his affliction. That was the first time Jacobs utilize electricity behind its typical application of lighting a bulb.

After the terrible sermon, Jacobs was driven into obsession over electricity. He would discover that the healing potential of electricity could ignite a new type of “revival”. However, in his old age, there was one mission that was left to be accomplished. And he would need the assistance of a fifty-something year old Jamie Morton.

Despite the handful of irrelevant subplot, this novel is worth reading. If you’re a lapsed Christian, this story will make you reflect on your own religious upbringing and give you further insight on the inner-workings of religion