Friday, January 22, 2010

Flying while Jewish

A plane was recently diverted because a flight atttendant became frightened when a young Jewish man -- a 17-year-old kid, really -- began to lay Tefillin, to put on these probably odd-looking leather boxes with long straps, in order to say his prayers.  The flight attendant was convinced he was a dangerous bomber.   I suppose Tefillin, sometimes known as phylacteries, do look strange to someone who has not come across them before.  Those little leather boxes which contain the Shemah, the most sacred prayer in Judaism, could be thought of as very dangerous, I suppose.  Anything directly involving God is bound to be powerful, if not dangerous, in some way. 

Use of them stems from this prayer, a part of the Shema, in which we are instructed to bind the commandments as a sign upon our arms and let them be ornaments between our eyes, and this is just what the young man was doing. 

"V’ahavta et YHWH…” “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, and with all your resources. And these matters which I command you today
shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall
speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and
when you arise. Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between
your eyes. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.”
Reform Jews generally don't use Tefillin (but some certainly do); the more orthodox among us use them.  Women don't generally use them (but some certainly do!).  They have a very loose parallel in the Catholic use of a rosary, though the rosary is more a matter of personal style than something Catholics feel commanded by God to do, I think.  Male Orthodox Jews feel comanded to use these when they pray.   That kid on the plane was probably scared of flying and needed to pray, and this is how he prayed, with Tefillin. 

The plane was diverted.  He was taken off the plane and questioned by the FBI.  Of course they let him go and he continued on the flight and eventually got where he was going,.  All this because a flight attendant had such limited experience of the world that she failed to recognize someone else's prayer style.  Shouldn't there be a course, in these dangerous flying times, that enlightens the people who serve on flights to prayer  and cultural differences of others?  That would surely prevent such a huge and insulting waste of FBI time and passenger inconvenience. 

OK, so the flight attendant was possibly an ignorant dolt.  Was there no one on the plane who recognized what they were, who could have said something to enlighten the frightened flight attendant?  Wouldn't you think?  Next time, if you're on a flight and this happens, you'll know.  Say something to the stewardess.  Somebody ought to.  Maybe there ought to be a sensitivity training course given in all the churches to enlighten members of the majority religion about the rest of us.  Hello?  We're out here, and don't do things the same way you do, but that doesn't make us mad bombers. 

Here's a link to a good take on it from Jewcy:

Photo Credit:  Bachsphotostream on Flickr

Monday, January 18, 2010

Plate Techtonics, Magical Thinking and Pat Robertson

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends posted an interesting pop-psychology article on Magical Thinking from Psychology Today.  It meshed neatly with another article I had recently read on the religion of Haiti and how pentecostalism had grown as a result of multiple natural disasters there and the feeling that God was punishing the people for their "sinfulness."  That's an excellent example of Magical Thinking. 

The recent 7.0 earthquake in Haiti has brought this to an apparent fever pitch, with hundreds of people parading in the streets singing and praying.  It is reminiscent to me of the Dark Ages in Europe when the bubonic plague pandemic hit and people behaved similarly.  Rather than a rat-flea bourne bacterial disease, they imagined it was God's punishment for whatever they felt they were doing to displease God.   Pat Robertson proclaimed the Haitian earthquake was God's punishment for Haiti's "pact with the Devil" -- a fanciful twist on the slave revolt which successfully overthrew the French occupation in 1803.  An imaginary pact with an imaginary personification of evil.  Makes perfect sense, huh?  Especially since the people in question were practicing Voudoun, an African pagan expression of religion, and "Satan" is a Christian idea not present in any pagan faith.

But the earthquake was not caused by God's wrath against some of the poorest people on the face of the earth,  it was caused by plate techtonics.

There was originally just one land mass on the earth -- Pangea -- which split apart and spread around the earth to form the continents.  The parts -- plates -- of that original land mass are still moving.  Nothing is static on earth or in life.  The jarring movement of the edges of these plates against or over each other is what causes earthquakes. 

Haiti lies on the northern edge of the Caribbean plate, which is a complex oceanic plate that is denser and acts more like a continental plate.  In fact, Haiti -- or Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and Santo Domingo, was created when the edge of the plate was thrust up.  The 7.0 earthquake was caused by slippage with the North American plate.  

That's not to say God doesn't have plenty of reason to be pissed at us -- can you imagine how God feels about Pat Robertson's tiresome bearing of false witness against his neighbors day in and day out?  And he seems so happy to see others suffering!  It's a wonder he doesn't get a magnitude 9.8 all to himself.  There's some magical thinking I can get behind. 

Further reading: