Past rants – People of the Book, People of Books

This second rant, from 6 April 2006, is a good example of how I write, in that it’s got swearing and a certain degree of exasperation. But it comes from a good place, I hope…

People of the Book, People of Books

Or, Cat makes yet another attempt to explain the multi-model approach to belief.
Moslems call themselves The People of the Book, and also offer the title to the Christians and Jews. It’s a term of respect, a statement that these folk have a commonality to Islam. That their versions of The Book have (almost as much) relevance as Al-Koran. This is not altogether surprising since, the book in question is basically The Old Testament in slightly variant forms and some addenda.

There’s some truth in that, certainly. All three major faith texts from the group emphasise charitable acts, compassion and and other acts usually consider ‘moral’. They all disapprove of stealing, lies and taking any true authority above their God, however they try to pronounce his name (or in the case of Judaism, avoid doing so). But the Book In Question is one they all have as a deep part of their history.

Each group has had a ‘mixed’ history of encounters with other faiths. It’s notable that when all three of the Abrahamic belifes were in the same place and time and were not actually busy with Crusades and such, they tended to get on quite well. Take ‘Saracenized’ Spain (700-1100ce) – here was almost a collegiate spirit between the three Peoples of the Book. Each faith was debated in lively but non-violent fashion in the cafes of the towns. Rabbis, Priests and imams – even pagans and doubters – debating, discussing, comparing on an equal footing – in a part of Europe invaded by Islamic Moors. Just before the Inquisitions.

Od course it couldn’t last. But even after Christian forces eventually retook the area many would look back on it as a Golden Age – especially Jews, who suffered no unfair taxes and little persecution. Much great literature flowed from these times, as well as scholarly works on medicine, engineering, mysticism (from the Sufi and Kabbalist both, as well as more orthodox branches).

Cut a thousand years into their future. Those three Peoples of the Book are at war again – this time the Jews heavily (if, so Left Behind-types hope, temporarily) allied with the Christians. All three are reading their Book more literally, less metaphorically. The pages on compassion flash by as they look for the ones featuring the word ‘smite’.

And for the longest time I’ve been wanting to grab the whole lot of them and just shout;
“Try Reading A Different Fucking Book Once In A While!!”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve read a lot of books. Some influence me more than others. Some moved me to tears or laughter. Some moved me to sling them across the room and startle the cat. Still others made a connection to me – a profound discourse seemed to occur, the feeling of genuinely being exposed to the universe in new and startling ways by the author and their words. From such books I rose a literally changed man, my mind forever altered by those ink marks on paper.

Many of the books that gave me that all-changing input were by the likes of Robert Anton, Peter Lambourn and Colin, Wilson. Aleister Crowley, John Lilly, Fulcanelli, Patrick Harpur, Phil Hine, PB Randolph, so many others. Just a taster (and I’m not even starting on the fiction, comics, TV shows and films that had equally profound effects on my mind and even soul).

And Every God There Has Ever Been bless the librarians who allowed me access to these writers long before an alleged child was supposed to read them.

With wealth like that, why would anyone even considering sticking with just one book on which to base their entire relationship with God?

I suspect some books get under the skin of some folk and stay there. Others actually discourage looking at other books, like a stubborn virus retraining the host to attack rival virii. Little meme-bombs like “all other books/beliefs/ideas not listed here in The Big Book are evil, blasphemous and will leave you tainted.

The best way to fight that meme effect is to read as much as you bloody can. Especially stuff you disagree with – politically, spiritually or whatever. (If nothing it gives you useful intelligence on how one’s opponents think.)

Read fiction too… sometimes good ideas get coded better by such metaphors. Plus, reading fiction (especially science fiction or fantasy) will train you ‘living mentally’, for a time, in another universe and learn new cultures of thought and possibility. Once you’re in the habit of jumping from one possible universe into another, over and over again, the idea of trying religious mindsets as temporary universes to inhabit, explore and test out becomes that much easier – though always remember not to stay in one book too damn long!

Then go back to that Book of the Peoples and see how it reads.
Is it really the only book you need in your life, now?

If it is, then you’re a Christian, or Jew, or Moslem – and I hope you are a good one. At least you’ll have a few more conversation topics!

But consider occasionally the rest of us, the Peoples of Books. Since you found clues to your idea of God in your texts, is it impossible we found some in ours? And is it impossible to have those same kind of conversations with you as were had in the sunlit cafes and darkened dope-filled back rooms in Toledo and Alhambra and Compostella, all those years ago?

I hope not. Because if all those who truly seek answers about faith, belief, magic and spirituality have more in common than in opposition, perhaps we can widen the conversation to include those other People of the Book. The ones who only use the short, bitter words and callous sentences, ignore the beauty and compassion and just want all those who read other books to them to shut up and die.

As for The People of Books, my tribe and peer group… let’s not waste time with picking and choosing which of the Peoples of the Book have The Answer.

Let’s go find answers of our own, share them with those who want to hear, speak them to all who listen and keep checking, keep comparing our ideas of Truth. Someday we might hit on the One That Works For Everyone… or more likely, we all get our own version that works for us and maybe a couple of mates – and then go compare notes with another mob and see what we can each of us teach and learn.

And every time you think you’ve found The Book, the one that explains *everything*… go read a few more first. It’ll still be there later. And it may read quite differently after the gap.

Last tip, from Mark Thomas;
If you’re in a ‘discussion’ with a Person of the Book and they throw a quote at you from their text, just reply from one of your Books, said with as much validity and pride.

Like, “The Dark Man fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed.”
Or, “I see this weird occult stuff every time I watch a movie”.
Or, “And whatever happens, never forget to wipe your sword.”
Or… take your pick. The odder the reply, the funnier the contrast, the better the response is. And if the poor thing who just tried to take on your library with a single tome wants to continue… have fun.

But be gentle. At least they’ve *read* a book…

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