Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To abjure

The first time I read the Koran as a child it was a Penguin edition - yes, in English, sorry. Oddly the only line that has stuck in my head is from the prologue: a brief timeline of the life of Mohammed, viz: the 627 raid on the Jewish tribe of Qurayza where, to paraphrase: 800 men were executed in a bloody process, beheaded in batches at the edge of a trench dug in the market place, which occupied the whole day and much of the night, and the woman and children sold as slaves.

However, and this is the piece of the story that has always fascinated me, namely, that one Jew did abjure his religion to save his life. What was the process, this abjuration? Did he recite Words of Rejection? Did Mohammed's followers require this man to actually change his belief? If one truly believes something one day, can that belief really be changed the next, or are we splitting the hairs of justified true belief and its cousins?

On the other hand, there are those on the other side, and is the part of the story quite incomprehensible to my suburban middle class upbringing: how can a belief be so important that one would die for it? Especially a religious belief, which these days blow with the wind. And in the case of Judaism, from which I know nothing really, but which is, I believe, a bit vague about life after death beyond some Classical-Shade-Type existence, except for the Sadducees, who I thought were pretty clear about their lack of belief in the whole deal, so dying for it is kind of a strong step anyway since what does one get or not get?  Couldn't one get away with just saying whatever and crossing one's fingers or whatever and then believing whatever one wanted? And hasn't it been shown that one can even maintain up to six impossible pre-breakfast beliefs, so what's difficult about throwing in a few more beliefs into the mix, contradictory or no, and letting whichever bubble up depending on who is asking?

An example from my own life: my music sits atop a bedrock of beliefs, which I hold dearly, but today as we were talking about the song cycle I told Sirje of the spleen worm who hides away until I am most vulnerable and who then finds his way to whisper words of success and failure. When he sleeps, I can enjoy life the way it is, plinking and plonking out my little tunes and writing in my little blog and going through my little life in a generally nonplotzing way. But in the wake of several recent rejections, he has lately stirred, and has found his sword and placed it to my neck and now demands of me an abjuration of all I hold dear, to become something I have never been for the sake of most evil Success. 

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