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.
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