15 May 2010

Skeptic's Anthem: Die Gedanken Sind Frei

Die Gedanken sind frei
(Thoughts are Free)

Die Gedanken sind frei,
My thoughts freely flower.
Die Gedanken sind frei,
My thoughts give me power.
No scholar can map them;
No hunter can trap them.
No man can deny,
die Gedanken sind frei!
No man can deny,
die Gedanken sind frei.

I think as I please;
and this gives me pleasure.
My conscience decrees;
This right I must treasure.
My thoughts will not cater
To priest or dictator
No man can deny,
die Gedanken sind frei.
No man can deny,
die Gedanken sind frei.

And should tyrants take me
And throw me in prison
My thoughts will burst free
Like blossoms in season
Foundations may crumble,
And structures will tumble,
And free men will cry,
"Die Gedanken sind Frei!"
And free men will cry,
"Die Gedanken sind Frei!"

This song is adapted from a German folk song, and I further modified the English version by replacing "duke" with "priest", addressing both religious and political tyrants instead of political tyrants twice over.

13 May 2010

Muhammad and Art

The humanities were my first religion. As a child, I loved visting my local library, walking quietly through the art galleries and reading books on history and in fiction that tied my story to other humans. I listened to NPR even in my youth, delighting in symphonies and concertos discreetly, for my parents did not like classical music and complained vigorously if they heard it. I liked being part of the world. I delighted in the human experience -- in poetry, art, music, and our attempt to understand the universe through science. They made life beautiful.

The School of Athens.

This is why I despise authoritative attempts to strangle the humanities by imposing outside directives upon them, particularly the Islamic assault on art that bars depiction of living forms, chiefly human forms.  The human form is beautiful to me, in statuary or in paintings. The form is aesthetically pleasing,  but depictions of humanity can speak to us on a personal basis. We can see shades of ourselves in the depictions of others: we can reflect on our own condition.


I view any attempt to strangle art by imposing directives upon it as hideous: art should be free, vivacious. It should speak of the human spirit, forever free and courageous. Art is ours, to celebrate and contemplate life. The religious attack upon art exemplifies religion's arrogance: it presumes upon the human spirit, aborting beauty in favor of doctrine.

Back Where You Belong, Jack Vettriano

Although fundamentalist Muslims disapprove of art depicting humans, depiction of Muhammad is especially taboo. These Muslims object to the depiction of Muhammad in any sense: one group sued the United States to have his image removed from the Supreme Courthouse, where he is depicted along with other 'bringers of law'.

As I understand the original injunction against depictions of Muhammad and humans in art, the intention was to prevent idol- and founder-worship. This is ironic, for these Muslims do worship Muhammad. They prove it by their outrageous actions when they think he is insulted. They prove it as well when they fetter their tongues, adding "peace be upon him" whenever his name is uttered.

Their actions are disgraceful: they embarrass not only themselves by their knee-jerk violence and hate, but by staining the memory of Muhammad, just as Christians stain the memory of Jesus. Does their behavior speak well of their faith, that it does not prevent them from behaving so savagely -- that it does not give them peace of mind enough to withstand 'insults'?  Does it speak well of them as human beings, who have the capability to know and act better?

The Death of Socrates -- befitting the occasion, for Socrates' death was a victory of principles and the human spirit over religious authority.

I don't think so, which is why I believe  prohibitions against the depiction of the human form and Muhammad in particular ought to be fought, attacked, and defied. Humanity deserves better than those fetters. At the same time, I think that those taking the stand should not dishonor themselves in the way the violently fundamentalist do.  Where "Everyone Draw Muhammad Day" stands there, I do not know.

10 May 2010

Poem from The Iron Heel

While reading Jack London's The Iron Heel, I happened upon this. According to the narrator of the novel, it was a favorite of her heroic husband, who led the fight against the rise of an oligarchy in the United States. To me it speaks of humanist pride and the celebration of life. From the 1907 edition, pages 184-186. 

He was fond of quoting a fragment from a certain poem. He had never seen the whole poem, and he had tried vainly to learn its authorship. I give here the fragment, not alone because he loved it, but because it epitomized the paradox that he was in the spirit of him, and his conception of his spirit. For how can a man, with thrilling, and burning, and exaltation, recite the following and still be mere moral earth, a bit of fugitive force, an evanescent form? Here it is: 

`Joy upon joy and gain upon gain
Are the destined rights of my birth,
And I shout the praise of my endless days
To the echoing edge of the earth.
Though I suffer all deaths that a man can die
To the uttermost end of time,
I have deep-drained this, my cup of bliss,
In every age and clime—
The froth of Pride, the tang of Power,
The sweet of Womanhood!
I drain the lees upon my knees,
For oh, the draught is good;
I drink to Life, I drink to Death,
And smack my lips with song,
For when I die, another `I’ shall pass the cup along.

`The man you drove from Eden’s grove
Was I, my Lord, was I,
And I shall be there when the earth and the air
Are rent from sea to sky;
For it is my world, my gorgeous world,
The world of my dearest woes,

From the first faint cry of the newborn
To the rack of the woman’s throes.

`Packed with the pulse of an unborn race,
Torn with a world’s desire,
The surging flood of my wild young blood
Would quench the judgment fire.
I am Man, Man, Man, from the tingling flesh
To the dust of my earthly goal,
From the nestling gloom of the pregnant womb
To the sheen of my naked soul.
Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh
The whole world leaps to my will,
And the unslaked thirst of an Eden cursed
Shall harrow the earth for its fill.
Almighty God, when I drain life’s glass
Of all its rainbow gleams,
The hapless plight of eternal night
Shall be none too long for my dreams.

`The man you drove from Eden’s grove
Was I, my Lord, was I,
And I shall be there when the earth and the air
Are rent from sea to sky;
For it is my world, my gorgeous world,
The world of my dear delight,
From the brightest gleam of the Arctic stre
To the dusk of my own love-night.’