Saturday, February 13, 2010

Layer 244 . . . A Tale For Our Times

Far away in a land of incredible beauty a race of beautiful people live civilised and spiritual lives in harmony with nature, respecting the beauty and bounty of an environment that provides for all their needs.

Their existence is threatened by an expeditionary force of technologically sophisticated aliens who are bent on conquering, exploiting and appropriating their land.

The foreigners are led by ruthless, savage and psychopathic egomaniacs who are prepared to use whatever means they deem necessary to conquer the land and extract its natural resources.

The indigenous people are willing to accommodate the incomers, but are also determined to fight back against them when the places which they deem to be sacred are overrun, and when they themselves face eviction.

The weapons employed by the indigenous people consist of knives, spears and bow and arrows, but also the advanced weaponry of the would-be colonists and invaders, as and when those people are able to appropriate them.

These people do not, by nature, enjoy killing, but they can be fearsome warriors when forced to defend their lands and fight for their survival.

So who are these people?

    North American Indians?
    Australian Aborigines?
    New Zealand Maoris?
    South American Aztecs and Incas?
    Rain Forest tribes?
    South African Zulus?
    Chinese or Japanese Buddhists or Shintoists?
    Indian Hindus or Muslims?
    West or East Africans?
    Central or North Africans?
    Middle Eastern Muslims?
    Polynesian or Pacific Islanders?

Of course it could be any of them. It could be any race of people who have faced penetration, enslavement, exploitation, subjugation or extermination by the colonising forces of stupid white men.

The genius of James Cameron is to tell the story of the human race, but to give the tale a twist. Look away now if you don't want to know the entire plot and the ending.

 Dekcik (sesra) sessa rieht teg nem etihw diputs eht . (Na'vi)

I do like a happy ending.


At the time of writing the BBC is just reporting the start of Operation Moshtarak.

More than 15,000 American, British and Afghan troops have launched the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
Helicopter-borne forces are attacking the Taliban-held districts of Marjah and Nad Ali in Helmand province in a bid to re-establish government control.

Nato says Marjah is home to the biggest community under insurgent control in the south and 400 to 1,000 militants.

Many residents fled ahead of Operation Moshtarak - meaning "together" in Dari.

Nato had distributed leaflets in the Marjah area warning of the planned offensive in a bid to limit civilian casualties. Villagers said they warned Taliban fighters to leave the area or be killed.

On every level Avatar is a towering and astonishing achievement. It's a tale told with incredible power and amazing artistic and technical sophistication.

George Monbiot's enthusiasm for the film is entirely justified.

The film works on every level. It's a dramatic, thrilling, absorbing and ultimately celebratory morality tale. It's told, in my opinion, without naivety or mawkishness. It's a war film. It's a love story. It's history. It's the future. It's what's happening now. It's a work of art. It's a modern masterpiece. It's a window into the current state of the world.

We live in a world run by corporations, conquistadors, colonists and neo-colonials – people utterly lacking any spiritual dimension or morality or compassion, let alone respect for other human beings or the planet. Money = power. Does anyone with any sense or with eyes that truly see seriously doubt this?

Can a work of art change or even affect the course of history? I seriously doubt it. Call me a cynic. But I love this film.

Every child of secondary school age should be taken to see Avatar and given opportunities to discuss and debate the screenplay, characters and plot. Their various 'readings' of the film should be encouraged to emerge and compete with one another for validity. The different readings of human history can be similarly examined, discussed and debated.

I don't doubt there will be many who will then say (like a previous generation that agreed with a singer/songwriter* that 'I learned more from a three-minute record than I ever learned in school') that Avatar gave them more insight into the nature of humanity and the course of human history than entire GCSE courses in history, geography, politics and social psychology. Possibly RE as well.

The measure of a true artist is whether they can enlighten and also allow insights into profound truths about human nature and human history without being didactic, preachy or pompous, whilst gripping the attention, riveting the audience and never becoming tedious and boring. James Cameron is a true artist.


* Bruce Springsteen – No Surrender


Thinking about coded messages and convoluted plots I had reason to read The Da Vinci Code recently – several reasons in fact. The brand new unopened paperback I discovered at New Year almost felt like a gift.

I started reading it around the time I came across these letters in the Guardian:

These letters are all worth a proper read, including the ones from Bruce Kent and Linda Bellos, but here's a quick extract from the letter from Giles Swayne, regarding the Pope's forthcoming visit to this country -
I am a "cradle Catholic" who was sent to a monastic boarding school between the ages of nine and 17, and indoctrinated with the depressing fantasies of Catholic dogma. It took 20 years to shake off this miasma of lies; and although I never suffered sexual abuse, there is an abuse of a child's rights inherent in Catholic teaching, which regards all sexual activity as sinful, except when in the cause of procreation. This (apart from being absurd in itself, and revealing of the Vatican's terror of sexually active women) is a terrible burden to inflict upon adolescent boys. We were constantly reminded that masturbation was a "mortal sin", punishable by hell.

I agree with Richard Dawkins that the sexual crimes perpetrated by Irish priests upon some boys, although horrendous, were probably less damaging overall than the brainwashing of all such children with medieval superstitions. The abusive priests were themselves the hapless products of a system which hated sex and imposed an unnatural celibacy. We should think hard before encouraging any such "faith" schools: to indoctrinate children with narrow, non-rational ideas is itself an abuse of their right to have access to a balanced world-view and to evidence-based thought.

Hieros gamos or Hierogamy refers to marriage between a god and a goddess, especially when enacted in a symbolic ritual where human participants represent the deities. It is the harmonization of opposites. It's a kind of Greek equivalent of yin and yang.

Dan Brown wrote,
[Langdon] explained that although what [Sophie] saw probably looked like a sex ritual, Hieros Gamos had nothing to do with eroticism. It was a spiritual act. Historically, intercourse was the act through which male and female experienced God. [Or spiritual bliss – satori in Zen?]
The ancients believed that the male was spiritually incomplete until he had carnal knowledge of the sacred feminine. [And vice versa?]

Physical union with the female remained the sole means through which man could become spiritually complete and ultimately achieve gnosis – knowledge of the divine.

Since the days of Isis, sex rites had been considered man's only bridge from earth to heaven. [Rites?]

“By communing with woman,” Langdon said, “man could achieve a climactic instant when his mind went totally blank and he could see God.” [And vice versa?] [ Also called experiencing wholeness, spiritual bliss, etc, for those who are atheists, agnostics, etc.]

Sophie looked sceptical. “Orgasm as prayer?”

Langdon gave a noncommittal shrug, although Sophie was essentially correct. Physiologically speaking, the male [?] climax was [IS?] accompanied by a split second entirely devoid of thought. A brief mental vacuum. [Not so brief?] A moment of clarity during which God [?] could be glimpsed. Meditation gurus [and non-gurus?] achieved similar states of thoughtlessness without sex [as well as with?] and often described Nirvana as a never-ending spiritual orgasm.

“Sophie,” Langdon said quietly, “It's important to remember that the ancients' view of sex was entirely opposite from ours today. [???] Sex begot new life – the ultimate miracle – and miracles could be performed only by a god. The ability of a woman to produce life from her womb made her sacred. A god. Intercourse was the revered union of the two halves of the human spirit – male and female – through which the male [?] could find spiritual wholeness and communion with God. [NB Though the Greeks were NOT monotheistic!! Duh!] What you saw was not about sex, it was about spirtuality. The Hieros Gamos ritual is not a perversion. It's a deeply sacrosanct ceremony.”

.    .    .    .    .    .    .

Admittedly, the concept of sex as a pathway to God [?] was mind-boggling at first. Langdon's Jewish students always looked flabbergasted when he first told them that the early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex. In the temple no less. Early Jews believed that the Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple housed not only God but also His powerful female equal, Shekinah. Men seeking spiritual wholeness came to the Temple to visit priestesses – or hierodules – with whom they made love and and experienced the divine through physical union.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

“For the early Church,” Langdon explained in a soft voice, “mankind's use of sex to commune directly with God posed a serious threat to the Catholic power base. It left the Church out of the loop, undermining their self-proclaimed status as the sole conduit to God. [Spiritual experience and enlightenment]

For obvious reasons, they worked hard to demonise sex and recast it as a disgusting and sinful act. Other major religions did the same.” [Did they? Which ones?]

“Is it surprising we feel conflicted about sex?” [Langdon] asked his students. “Our ancient heritage and our very physiologies [and our bloody common sense] tell us sex is natural – a cherished route to spiritual fulfillment – and yet modern religion decries it as shameful, teaching us to fear our sexual desire as the hand of the devil.”

“Gentlemen  - might I offer a suggestion for all of you. Without being so bold as to condone premarital sex . . . I will give you this bit of advice about your sex lives . . . The next time you find yourself with a woman, look in your heart and see if you cannot approach sex as a mystical spiritual act. Challenge yourself to find that spark of divinity that man can only achieve through union with the sacred feminine.”
     The women smiled knowingly, nodding.
     The men exchanged dubious giggles and off-colour jokes.
     Langdon sighed. College men were still boys.

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