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Relevant editorials from various news-sites.

Madonna's faith, Lenin's syphilis - Rick Salutin * Globe and Mail * July 23, 2004

Jagat - Fri, 23 Jul 2004 18:54:51 +0530
A bit off topic and not all that weighty, but some interesting or amusing snippets of thought from one of my favorite columnists. I highlight things that stood out for me.


Madonna's faith, Lenin's syphilis

Friday, July 23, 2004 Globe and Mail

Some notes on recent developments in sex, religion or, if you tilt the frame slightly, politics:

Lenin's syphilis: An Israeli medical team thinks V. I. Lenin, the Soviet Union's founder and pivotal Marxist thinker, died of syphilis. His death in 1924 at 53 led to questions like: Did he want Stalin to succeed him? Was Stalinism a fulfilment or betrayal of Leninism? Might socialism have evolved differently? And now: Why was the cause of death concealed?

Robert Service, a Lenin biographer, argues, "They turned Lenin into an icon. They made out of him the Jesus Christ of the Soviet Union. They had to show he was pure in thought and in deed in his personal and political life."

If so, it was a foolish choice. The appeal of Jesus lies precisely in the blemishes: that He was born illegitimate (leaving aside the myth of virgin birth); associated with thieves and prostitutes; was scorned by the reputable; and brutally executed in public. What kind of messiah (or icon) does that make? A great one. His resurrection may have been invoked (or invented) to counter scoffers, but the basis for identification was His suffering and failure.

"You can't have a symbol with syphilis," says Mr. Service, "it would be seen as if all the theories of socialism and communism were based on a syphilitic." Yes you can -- and all the theories of Christianity are based on a bastard and a loser. This could turn Lenin into an icon.

Is it tawdry to insert sex into such a momentous context? Depends on what role you allot to sex, especially in boundary situations. In his novel on the Rwandan slaughter, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, Quebec journalist Gil Courtemanche has his characters utterly absorbed with sex. On the Open Book TV show, some panelists objected, even wondering whether it was racist. For my money, the author justifies the stress on sex. "Look," says one figure, "for people who're going to be dead soon, we're not doing too badly."

But let me give the last word to Lenin's loutish successor, Nikita Khrushchev, who led the Soviet Union 34 years later. On a U.S. trip, he was taken to the Grand Canyon. A translator asked what it made him think of. "It makes me think of sex," said Khrushchev, who had lots to ponder --Cold War, nuclear incineration, his own ouster -- "everything makes me think about sex."

Madonna's mysticism: Kabbalah is a broad Hebrew term for every current in Jewish mysticism over a stretch of 2,500 years. It compares to, say, philosophy. Calling yourself a Kabbalist is about as informative as calling yourself a philosopher. Madonna, who played Toronto this week, has become Esther, as part of her adherence to "the" Kabbalah. The term now appears in media outlets the way "anarchism" did in the anti-globalization phase just before 9/11: widespread, vague and ill-defined.

A Toronto Star piece said its "goal" is "knowledge of the divine" via a "finely shaded approach to experiencing God who conceals and reveals himself, who is both transcendent and immanent in the world." Something scandalous lurks here since, in the Bible, God relates to the world only through His words. He never inheres in or is part of it. That is a key division between Bible-based religions and all others. When Kabbalists speculated on immanence, they flirted with pantheistic heresy. But you get none of that from the anodyne phrase, "conceals and reveals himself," without context.

Yet really, what's wrong with inserting another version of spirituality into this forlorn world, even if it's a bit stupid and commercialized ("Kabbalah water from very pure springs")? Well, calling a thing spiritual doesn't make it so, any more than using the word Kabbalah means you've actually said something. At times, spirituality feels like another word for privatization: the reduction and introjection of the public or social to tiny personal size.

Once, after a class in Jerusalem, I asked Gershom Scholem, the giant of modern Kabbalah studies, why he did it, what was its "relevance." He scowled, then barked, "Because it interests me. That is all! It has no relevance." He pretty much tossed me out. I guess he smelled a rat.