Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gimme That Old Time Religion

It seems that Malaysians are going gaga for Lord Murugan, a Hindu fertility God whose holy day is coming up shortly. While Malaysia is overwhelmingly Muslim, the Hindu influences on the population are growing. The festival, called Thaipusam, is so popular that the government declared it a national holy day in 2008 to allow people time off to celebrate.

As part of that festival people giving thanks to Murugan fast for 48 days prior to Thaipusam. On the day itself many will shave their heads, cover themselves with sandalwood paste, and chant themselves into a trance at which time their bodies will be pierced with spears and hooks.

Lest you think this is only for Malaysians, there is a Murugan Temple in Maryland, though their website says nothing about Thaipusam.

Now I’m liberal when it comes to religion, and have no desire to deny or ridicule anyone’s faith (though there may be a fine line between my sense of humor and ridicule), but I don’t think I violate either by asking the question, why do people choose to believe in a God who requires body piercing?

Maybe it is just that I’m squeamish, and phobic about pain. Maybe I’d like it if I tried it. But I’m not going to try it. My preferred God would rather I repay Her kindness to me by having me be more kind to others.

On a similar note, I met a Jewish fellow in New Orleans recently who told me he was involved with a Jewish group in Israel that has reinstated animal sacrifice and is killing animals for Yahweh twice a day. He insisted he was telling the truth, and that they were preparing for the day when Judaism would once again be all about killing animals.

I get why we killed animals thousands of years ago, but not why anyone would do so today. There is a violent streak in religion that some people cannot avoid. It is a kind of pathology. Christianity, too, is nothing without the belief that God needs the death of Jesus in order to restrain himself from killing all of humanity, but at least they don’t want to bring Jesus back so they kill him again (though I do know Christians who believe that Jesus is still tortured by God every time a human sins; talk about child abuse).

The more I know about religion the more bizarre it seems. No wonder it can’t get enough of it.


Maggid said...

Well, if i managed to fast for 48 days - (Is that what you said - 48 DAYS?) Heck, if i managed 48 hours, it would begin the wrestling match with my weight issues . . well, maybe . . hey!! There are some First Nation Peoples who celebrate the Sun - dancing around a pole and - the lucky ones get to be pierced and strung to the pole . . . for them it's Holy . . (ouch!)
Me??? I look forward to the nosh after service . . (here we go again . . the lady with chubby knees . . giggle)
All Best To You!

Old Lady said...

Well, not to point fingers, but has the good old fashioned Bris gone by way of File 13?

Rabbi Rami said...

Bris? Primitive? Cutting off the tip of the penis is barbaric? Nothing like good old Iron Age superstition to get one's blood boiling. So yes, one person's barbarism is another person's Commandment from God. How silly it all becomes, and yet when it came time to have a bris for my son I could not break the thousands-year-old chain of tradition. How sad is that?

Simcha said...

... and why would you even think of trying another religion's practices...? Surley they will mean nothing to you because you are not a native of this religion.I think the questions you came up with are not useful especialy if you claim to be a religious relativist.
If you ask the poeple in Malaysia why they prefer to inflict pain as a religous pracitice -- they will give you their explanation.

Unknown said...

Thank God I'm not religious, I would spend all my time worshipping the ground I walk on.

Old Lady said...

Awww hugs Rabbi :)
It was for a good purpose at the time.