September 11th, 2006


Communication difficulties

So I took my mezuzah, my Granny's silver one, to the local jeweller today to ask him to repair it. Unfortunately, he only speaks about 10 words of English, while I only speak about 10 words of Swedish.

It's reasonably easy to explain using gestures: please repair this broken object. It's somewhat less easy to explain that no, he shouldn't touch the funny papery stuff that he can see through a window in the back. I just about managed to pantomime "no, you don't wear it as a necklace, you nail it to the wall". I completely failed to convey "no, it's really not an amulet".

He was showing me a bunch of amulets that he writes and makes, written in a script that looks similar to Arabic but I'm fairly certain isn't. He said something about Aramaic, which if we weren't just completely talking past eachother would make him the second Aramaic speaker I've met here. And he attempted to convey something about how his religion teaches the unity of humanity and he respects all religions. And I think what he was saying is that he is some kind of sofer, for a religion which certainly isn't Islam (he was vehement on that point) and I don't think is Christianity either, though he did keep saying "Yeshua! Yeshua!". But now we're getting into pretty abstract topics for a conversation with no common language!

Anyway, it was trying to be a nice fuzzy intercultural encounter, of the sort that sometimes occurs when a non-Jew notices a mezuzah. Except that our level of linguistic competence it became somewhat farcical.

After all this, I should probably get the writing checked, shouldn't I?

Health and virtue

More and more, I am noticing a really pernicious meme: the subsitution of health for religious virtue, or even salvation. And the notion of virtue that is being replaced with health was a bad and dangerous frame for morality anyway. An LJ post like this is only the tiniest of drops towards countering this bad meme, but I would rather make the post than do nothing. And of course I welcome any criticism or development of my argument.

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A couple of additional notes, to pre-empt the most likely criticisms I expect for this essay. Firstly, I'm not in the least saying that Christianity is terrible or any worse than any other religion. I think some of this view of virtue may be partly influenced by Protestantism, but that's a guess I can't prove. It happens that Christianity has been a dominant influence in our society for a long time, and there's nothing more to any bias in my depiction than that.

On other occasions when I've made arguments similar to this, I have found myself getting distracted into stupid debates about whether people should take responsibility for their actions. I absolutely believe that people should take responsibility and should know and accept that their choices have consequences. That's a given, as far as I'm concerned. But taking responsibility is a completely different thing from believing in magical rituals, or trying to claim that virtue is always rewarded.
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