Thursday, November 17, 2005

15 Marheshwan 5765/17 November 2005: Yerov`am ben Nevat Day


Today is a holiday instituted by Yerov‘am ben Nevat, the first king of the 10 northern tribes after the split of Israel away from Judah. His story is told in 1 Kings 11:26-14:20, with today’s holiday mentioned in 1 Kings 12:25-33, where he set up two golden calves for people to worship, thereby syncretizing Judaism with Canaanite paganism. In (dis)honor of this irrational (and prophetically condemned) combination, today’s weird thing is the Wikipedia article on the likewise irrational Orange Catholic Bible, the mother of all fictional syncretisms. This has been mentioned previously as something I unintentionally “contributed” to. Now I have contributed more material which Barry and I created a while back, and we have added more identifications of source material. As a bonus, I am including below commentary I have written which has not been incorporated into the Wikipedia article. Enjoy or be scared or something.


Commentary on the Orange Catholic Bible:

The Orange Catholic Bible (OCB) of Frank Herbert’s Dune universe presents one major problem: What was the Commission of Ecumenical Translators (CET) thinking? Combining several different religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, the Bahá’í religion, Jainism, Voodoo, Tenrikyo, Deism, Taoism, Shintoism, Unitarianism, and quite likely a few others) into one coherent belief system with a single set of scriptures with commentaries and a single liturgical manual is not trivial. The easy part is imagining how they condensed the original scriptures, just by removing repeated material. There is a lot of overlap among Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; among Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles; and among the Gospels. Stories in the Qur’an which also appear in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament could also be eliminated. Furthermore, all the material used could be edited to fit a single coherent belief system. The hard part is how they decided on that single belief system.

One thing that is clear is that in the Dune universe syncretism, belief in more than one belief system simultaneously, is common. Just a quick look at the list makes this obvious, considering the presence of Buddho-Islam, Christo-Islam, Hindo-Islam, Buddho-Christianity, Hindo-Christianity, Buddho-Islamo-Christianity, Buddho-Islamo-Jainism, Judeo-Christianity, Judeo-Islam, Jaino-Buddhism, Buddho-Shinto-Christianity, combinations of various branches of Christianity, and possibly a few others. Some of these combinations are not problematic. For example, Ortho-Catholicism is credible, as there are today Christians who perform Eastern Orthodox rites but are allied with Rome, and the ultimate result of efforts started by Pope John Paul II to make peace between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches might credibly be a united Ortho-Catholic Church. There is also the possibility of borrowing some features of a religion but not others, such as in the case of non-Muslim Sufis and non-Buddhist practitioners of Zen. But some of these combinations are blatantly illogical, and the major question is how they were arrived at. They are probably not cases of simple borrowing, as Judaism and Islam prohibit borrowing from other religions, much less outright religious syncretism. More likely not only is syncretism in the Dune universe rampant, but also unorthodox and ignorant religious thinking.

In an orthodox religion, one strives to follow the traditions handed down and stay within the bounds of tradition. But in an unorthodox religion, tradition is respected or discarded according to whim. Likewise, people ignorant of their own religion can easily fall into error because they do not know it well enough to respect its boundaries properly. In such a mental environment, which shows little respect for rules of evidence and objective truth, the most bizarre syncretisms can arise. For example, these have allowed throughout Jewish history such travesties of Judeo-Protestantism (“Reform Judaism”), Judeo-Neo-Paganism, Judeo-Buddhism (“Zen Judaism”), Buddho-Sufi Judaism (“Jewish Renewal”), Judeo-Atheism (“Reconstructionist Judaism”), Judeo-Secular Humanism (“Secular Humanist Judaism”), and even the abominable Judeo-Canaanite paganism. Early on Christianity broke with Judaism by oddly rejecting the notion that one has to keep the Law and allowing for adoption of non-Jewish practices and ideas. Islam started as an ignorant mystic’s personal syncretism of Judaism and Christianity with ideas borrowed from Zoroastrianism and Arabian paganism. And so on to the point where this essay could get much longer than it is.

It is probably in such an environment that many of the religions that sent delegates to the CET were formed. It is clear that the religion that receives the most attention in the Dune series, the blatantly syncretic Zensunni religion of the Fremen, has strayed far from its Islamic roots. It is not a mere fusion of Zen Buddhism and Sunni Islam; somewhere in its history, maybe even before there was a Zensunni religion and the Fremen were still part of the Third Islamic Movement, it unburdened itself of Sunni theology and practice. Gone is the worship of an immaterial god, the pilgrimage to Mecca, the paranoia about women, the oppression of unbelievers, and the need to wage a constant war against all who will not submit to their rule. Indeed, they do not refer back to the Qur’an at all. Zensunnis feel no guilt at worshipping the sandworm, and they eagerly adopt the false religions founded by Alia and Leto II. Considering that the Bene Gesserit as a standard tactic create false religions to serve their purposes, there is clearly in the Dune universe a sufficient supply of people not willing to think sensibly about what they believe to make this worthwhile. Objective truth has no place in such a religious landscape.

This leads straight back to the CET. The CET was formed in the wake of the Butlerian Jihad, a religious war against computers and robots which lasted two generations and took more human lives than any previous war in history. The original purpose of the CET was ecumenical discussion in order to avert further jihads. What they did instead was attempt to remove the cause of religious war by claiming that no religion was the one true religion, but instead that there had been a continuing revelation throughout human history. Thus they compiled the Orange Catholic Bible from previous religious texts, condensing them and editing them to fit a single mould. In short, they committed an act of pious fraud. Telling is that the CET’s betrayal of truth set off anti-ecumenical riots which killed tens of millions of people. Indeed, all but 14 of the delegates to the CET either recanted or were lynched by their own congregants. Whatever one believes, anyone with any sense knows that one cannot make something up and then expect it to be true. Unfortunately, there were many who instead accepted the Orange Catholic Bible, and so this heresy lived on to influence the events depicted in Frank Herbert’s Dune novels.


Anonymous said...

The thing that always struck me as odd about the OCB, and indeed the overall religious scheme of the Dune universe is that there was precious little religion in it. It strikes me that the concept (inherently interesting, albeit offensive) of a compilation of all Earth's major scriptures was hampered by an author who appears to be doggedly ignorant of any kind of personal experience of a religious life.
"Zensunnism" and the other syncretisms are simply variations on the theme of random-yet-unlikely racial amalgams that grew up on colony worlds, like the "Icelando-Turks" in Heinlein's Starship Troopers, and a zillion other similar examples. The idea is simply to get across the concept that things have changed between the time of the story and the time of the reader, but, alas, the author's lack of any compelling knowledge of the day-to-day structure of a believer of either Zen or Islam completely undercuts his portrayal of this new religion he invented. (Zensuffi would have been more reasonable)
The religions in Dune are mere strawmen arguments for Herbert's central premise which I take to be that all religion is inherently destructive supersticious bunk that people can manipulate for personal power, and which we'd be better off without. There's also a typically Herbertian element of paranoia and mistrust of women (anyone who cares to argue this should check out "The White Plague"). That's his opinion, and there's even some merit to some of it, but when a man has no respect for a subject as broad as human religion, and no personal knowledge about it, how can he be expected to write about it in a reasonable fashion?

--Mahatma Randy

heyhi said...

clearly people sitting down and making up a religion didnt happen for the orginal torah right?? it just makes sense that everyone else is wrong and that they have just been perverting the true word of god. can you not realize that its the same damn thing...?

Aaron Solomon Adelman said...

I'm not aware of any religion actually being made up by a committee; the typical method seeming to be revelation to a single individual. (Judaism, being founded on a revelation to 2-3 million people simultaneously, is a major exception.) However, considering that many people these days seem to have irrational notions of what truth is (or deny objective truth altogether), I cannot discount that for any crazy, implausible notion one could imagine, there is some idiot out there who will believe it, as it is said "A simpleton will believe anything (Proverbs 14:15, emphasis mine).

Anonymous said...

I'm not aware of any religion actually being made up by a committee; the typical method seeming to be revelation to a single individual.

Perhaps you should learn about the canonization of both the Torah and eventually the Old and New Testiments. Ecumenical Councils did exist and their works now define what millions of "irrational...idiots" believe. Seemingly including yourself.

Aaron Solomon Adelman said...

All that is known about the canonization of the Torah is from tradition, since there are no other records on the subject. Anything else is speculation.

The canonization of the New Testament, as I understand it, is due to Constantine, who, being emperor, had the Council of Nicaea canonize the texts he approved of.

In either case, neither Judaism nor Christianity, so far as is known, was invented by a committee. Judaism existed in some form before any version of the Elders/Great Assembly/Sanhedhrin, and Christianity existed before the Council of Nicaea or whatever committee you want to blame. In both cases, the committees standardized the preexisting religions. Also, in neither case were the councils ecumenical (in the sense of from multiple religions, as intended) by any means; only Jews were in the Sanhedhrin, and only Christians were in the Council of Nicaea.

I thank you for contributing your religious misconception to my ongoing project to write the definitive work on religious fallacies and misinformation. (Current preference for title: The Orange Catholic Necronomicon: a study of religious fallacies and misinformation.)

Anonymous said...

Why is it unlikely that presently incompatible religious movements will remain so 25,000 years in the future.

Look how much judaism has changed in the past 2000 yrs. How much will Islam change in 25,000?

Zensunnism is entirely possible.

Anonymous said...

ah religion, first before we start lets deflate some egos. The torah is a syncretic text based on the egyptian book of the dead, summerian creation myths and assorted distortions/refittings of ancient stories, i.e. the reworking of the story of moses, a monotheistic egyptian prince that had to flee egypt being transformed until it's the story of a hebrew child taking a ride down the river in a wicker basket and into the royalty of ancient inbred egypt( really how naive do you have to be to swallow that one? ) Yes, someone will call me anti-semitic for pointing this out but judaism is just another fable made up by men, and as history has shown, very unlucky fellows at that.

Now in herbert's dune verse islamic influenced religions play a dominant role because herbert is trying to get across the imagery of rebellion. He amalgamates islam with various mystical belief systems such as zen buddhism, maharata buddhism and and sufism in order to highlight his own belief in transcendentalism and mediatative spirtualality that he repeatedly brings up in all of his texts regarding human evolution, dune, the hive , etc... For the record; Herbert's own upbringing was christian and he mainly quotes christian texts. He does bring up judaism is his Dune series as a religion that exists in hiding on one small out of the way planet, he doesn't mention amalgamating that religion or hinduism, bahaism with anything.

Anonymous said...

Hi in response to anonymous'

"That's his opinion, and there's even some merit to some of it, but when a man has no respect for a subject as broad as human religion, and no personal knowledge about it, how can he be expected to write about it in a reasonable fashion?"

Sorry to completely undermine you but i've been doing my dissertation on Herbert for like half a year now and a quick perusal of his biography will show you he had COUNTLESS experiences of personal religions from childhood to adulthood. So check it out before generalising!