Joy as Necessity (Dancing in Iran)

As much as the Puritans had an outsized influence on American culture, I think that one of the primary things they erred in, theologically, is the notion that joy – or maybe intentional happiness – is somehow frivolous, and therefore sinful.

Joy is a necessity of life, and while it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are experiencing “happiness” all the time, it’s a sustaining force that allows us to draw from happiness something greater, something that give us hope and perspective when times are rough. People are not mindless drones, although work is an important part of life, the soul needs more than constant work, constant busyness, to be satisfied.

This is part of what makes this story so disturbing. According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, the Education minister is cracking down on the school officials who allowed Iranian children to dance around to some music in school.

From our perspective, it’s a sweet little video. Little kids bopping around, smiling and laughing, the way little kids do. They are experiencing one of the ways in which music touches the soul, that delight. Now, from what I can tell in the English translation, the song is far from profound, it’s meant to be more of a Eurostyle techno earworm to get people moving on the dance floor. “Shake it sexy” isn’t necessarily a phrase little kids ought to be familiar with, but that’s not what kids are doing here. It’s hardly the type of thing, with all the other serious problems Iran is dealing with right now, that needs officials up to the deputy speaker of Parliament considering a crisis worthy of investigation and punishment.

Official video of the song “Gentleman” by US-Iranian artist Sasy

The singer, Sasy, for his part, has not backed down either. It helps that he lives in California, but still, publicly standing up to Iranian officials on this matter is no little thing, and he ought to be commended.

God is Love, and in His love and in loving others, we find real, sustaining joy. Music is part of that expression, whether it be for love, for mourning, for silliness, for dance, and it is no coincidence that music is so often referenced in the Bible.

Hard-line Islam, on the other hand, shuns music. In some sense, like the Puritans, there’s kind of an idea that the soul doesn’t need joy, that one ought to operate, always, in a way that is contra to this. Yes, the Christian life, and in Orthodoxy, in particular, we are taught that we need to live in a manner that curbs the passions, but when we actually do this, it almost always brings to us a more joyful life. It is not a blanket prohibition on fun (which was a common criticism of Christians I heard as a kid).

We need joy. We need the times to be happy and the times to mourn. As the passage in Ecclesiastes says:

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Chapter 3:1-8 (King James Version)

Even this mentions dancing, because it’s so important to the human condition, an expression of joy. May we all pray that the time for dancing in Iran be near!


If I’m not happy, then no one ought be happy

I think everyone, in the course of their lives, comes to meet the type of person who, when upset, not only lets everyone know that they are upset, but takes it as an affront if someone around them is happy and has the temerity not to be bowed by the upset person’s demands. Hopefully, you have not had to live with this type of person, as it’s an absolute nightmare. It’s tyrannical. One has to be constantly aware of the tyrant’s mood and mood swings. A wayward giggle, let loose in a moment of mistakenly letting down one’s guard, can be the impetus for a blow-up by the other, even if the momentary outburst of mirth had nothing to do with the person who is upset.

Bookworm over at Bookworm Room states the following in here most recent post “The LGBTQetc people I know are open about their hatred for traditional Christians and Jews because they view those religious traditions as homophobic.” This certainly may be true, to a large extent. However, I had two other thoughts that I think may also be valid here.

First off, there is Jesus’ promise of persecution to his followers – in John 15:18 for example, where “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (NKJV). In a less religious sense, one could even propose that when one rejects what is represented by the Judeo-Christian God – Truth, Love, Order, to name a few – one must necessarily put themselves on the other side. And since people don’t want to think of themselves as “bad” people, those things that work to reveal that one is “bad” must be destroyed.

However, I think there’s something else too. I’m near to entering my fourth decade on this planet, and I really think that my generation was the beginning of the generation where “broken” childhoods became the norm. Of all my friends growing up, there were very few that didn’t have some sort of major trauma. It wasn’t just divorce, but divorce was often the beginning of it, but led to things like abandonment, neglect, and abuse. There was very little “safety net” of family, much less other social structures, be it church, social organizations, what have you. For the most part, the adults around us, when we were brave enough to say something, seemed to put their fingers in their ears and loudly repeat over and over again, “That can’t be true – your parents have to love you,” drowning out our voices. One of my teachers once asked our class – a very good class at a very good high school round about 1995 – how many of us lived at home with our married, biological parents. Out of the 28 or so of us, I think about three hands were raised. Of course, some of this can’t be helped. A couple kids did have parents who died. The vast majority of us were bearing scars of so much more.

The next door neighbor kids, for example… We kids knew to stay away from their dad, as he was a really mean guy. Eventually, the parents start having some troubles, and dad threatens mom with a gun, and were it not for mom’s brother and other family in the room, they were sure he would have killed her. The parents divorce, dad remarries and… second wife ends up murdered as they’re finalizing a divorce. Or a friend whose mother completely abandoned the family and whose father came after him with a samurai sword. Or even my own life where I lived in constant fear of one of the parental units, who eventually did snap, but faced very little in the way of repercussions; even when I dared to tell people what was going on, a common response was to assume that somehow I was being overdramatic, after all, “What kind of parent does that?” Hearing verse five of Don McLean’s song “American Pie”, when he sang “and we were all in one place/a generation lost in space/with no time left to start again”, it seemed as though he was better describing our generation than his.

Then again, that song really captures a lot of the chaos of the late 1960s, and this was the time in which our parents came of age. We were the first children of that, the children who were the victims of parents who had thrown off such “outdated” notions as duty and responsibility. Who were we, the children, to complain if all of these ridiculous choices they made hurt us the most? It’s not to say that people along the way haven’t always made bad choices, but it seems, for the first time, that we, as a society got to the point where it refuses to call out bad behavior about “small things” because of a crazy notion of “sounding judgemental” which morphed into not calling out bad behavior on “big things” because no one can draw a distinct line between the two.

As a result, from the kids born in the mid 1970s and sooner, a lot of us have grown up in miserable circumstances and with a really questionable sense of morality. I am sure we are a lot unhappier, as a group, than pretty much any generation (in the United States, at least) before us. It’s easy to make fun of us, particularly because it’s not like we went through a total war or famine or even material deprivation. But we grew up without those traditional “structures” – faith, family, civic pride, or what have you – that help give a person a sense that their life has purpose and meaning.

Yet, there are the people who still have that, and who still cling really, really tightly to these things. Religion is a HUGE part of that. Study after study has shown that, as a whole, actively religious people tend to be happier than non-religious people. It’s not that simply going to church makes one a happier person, but, in my opinion, that those that order their their lives around more permanent “structures” necessarily have a different perspective on life and generally don’t carry as much anguish, in particular in regard to whether this whole “life” thing can be explained as “Life’s a b****, and then you die.”

The thing is, for a lot of people then, because they are unhappy, almost unbearably so, those around them that are happier must be made to suffer. One very effective way to try to do this is to try to destroy that which makes the other happy, a function of envy. It’s like if one child receives a special present of a bicycle and another child is so angry that the bicycle does not belong to him, he’s got to break it beyond hope of repair to make the owner of the bicycle as upset as he is. And so, those institutions – church, family, civic pride – must be consistently attacked, “brought down”. The adherents must be made to see how “false” these things are, must be made to feel the pain of those who don’t have them to start out with… it’s revenge, but more than that, it’s white-hot rage of feral children against an unknown, uncaring, unfair, extremely cruel world. The LGBTQetc is a convenient premise, but even if it were “resolved” tomorrow, tomorrow already there would be another issue to use to try to tear down the “happier” people.

I think that what a lot of people miss here is that people who are happier generally build their own happiness. They learn to put their minds in a place where they can be satisfied with what they have, but also strive to make things a little better, not necessarily for themselves, but for their families, friends, and communities. The “structures” of family, faith, and civic service bind people together into cohesive societies, capable of weathering good times and bad. It is extremely difficult for those of us who really grew up without this to imagine, but these things are not exclusive to those “born with them”. Each one of us makes the decisions daily, the result of which becomes the threads of the tapestry of a life. I have seen friends of mine make horrible decisions and rail at “the system” for the consequences. But I have also seen people who have had really rough childhoods take a step back and really do better in their own adult lives. Without some sort of structure, though, this wouldn’t be possible, and the whole society would devolve into chaos. The good news is that there is hope for each one of us. 🙂

Is it Any Wonder Why the DNA Family Research Kits are so Popular?

For friends of mine in the “old country” genealogical research seems somewhat boring. After all, when your family has lived in the same village for hundreds of years, one really has a sense of family – your grandparents lived here, your great-grandparents lived here, and in one way or another, you’re probably related to everyone else somehow. (Or, when you talk about extremely isolated populations, such as the country of Iceland, where the native population is all related.) In this sort of case, the sense of family can almost be stifling. One friend of mine even commented that genealogical research is more of an “American” thing, due to there being interesting things to find. recently commissioned a poll of 2000 Americans, asking them questions about what they know about their families. Of the results, which were published in December 2018, the most shocking takeaway from the responses was that a full third of respondents didn’t know the names of all their grandparents.

Think of that. For me, it’s unimaginable, but at the same time understandable.

Now, they didn’t delve into the reasons of this, in the various articles I’ve read there’s a good bit of speculation. They talk about fewer relatives in general, who normally help preserve memories by means of oral history. The Atlantic actually tried to get a better grip on these numbers, and the people they talked to came up, basically, with the following.

1) Children often call their grandparents “Grandma” or “Grandpa” or some variant thereof.

2) Immigration and language patterns in the United States have shifted a lot; if you have children who live further from their grandparents and don’t speak the language their grandparents do, the relationships are probably not nearly as close.

3) The third, here, is euphemistically called the emergence of “a variety of family structures”. Included here are “single parenting, assisted reproductive technology, divorces, non-marital child-rearing, adoption, and blended families.” I guess “divorce” itself is too common, but I think it deserves mention as well, because even if the parents don’t begin new relationships, there’s almost inevitably a strict separation into the relatives which “belong” to each parent. Even I remember being small and having events, like birthday parties, where relatives on both sides of the family attended. For a child, especially, it helps create a large sense of “family”; after a divorce, normally one parent has physical custody longer than the other, events are planned according to when parents “have” the kids, each according to his or her time with the children. In the best-case scenario, you have parents who can do something together with their children, but still that coming together of families wouldn’t occur. And so, rather than the sense of family being stifling, it disappears almost completely.

I remember the mantra of the 1980s, “It’s better for the kids to live with parents who are happily divorced than unhappily married.” But with the attitudes that marriage doesn’t mean anything, not only do you have a breakdown of the traditional, nuclear family, but those bonds which children would typically have with their extended family are also more strained, or even broken, through no fault of children or of their extended family. Yet we see over and over and over that people have an almost innate need to find their family, their “tribe”, if you will, even if when they were happy as an adopted member of another family. Therefore, as this “belonging” has been robbed from the last couple of generations in such a terrible way, it makes perfect sense that so many people are seeking to find that place, their family, even when the path to this is through such means as at-home DNA analyses.

Daily Mail Hit-Piece on Religious Practice

The Daily Mail, a newspaper from the United Kingdom, and one of the most widely-read online newspapers in the world, recently posted the story of an Indian girl by the name of Aradhana Samdhariya, a 13-year-old who died, allegedly as the result of taking part of a religious fast. The article begins thus:

“A 13-year-old girl died in Hyderabad after she was forced to fast for 64 days as part of a community ritual of fasting during the holy period of Chaturmas.

The city police launched an inquiry into the incident after a child rights NGO demanded a probe.”

Chaturmas is a Jain period of fasting, but not knowing much about Jainism (about .4% of Indians identify as Jains), I have no idea what this fasting entails. Orthodox Christians, for example, often fast by reducing the amount of food eaten and eliminating certain foods, but it is almost unheard of to try to completely abstain from food during all the Orthodox fasting periods. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast completely, but only from sunup to sundown. Unfortunately, no explanation of what a typical fast for Chaturmas looks like is provided. In one book reference I found, albeit referencing Chaturmas in a Hindu context, it describes the Chaturmas fast as a period of cutting back, not necessarily of eating nothing for the entire period.

The article also says the girl was forced to participate by the family and community. However, in a Reuters article covering the same topic, it states that, according to the parents, the girl was a willing participant, and that she had completed a similar fast last year.

One huge discrepancy between the two articles is that the Daily Mail claims that the girl was only in the third day of the fast when her blood pressure dropped precipitously, and was then taken to the hospital, where she died. The Reuters article claims that everyone was already celebrating the end of the fast, which had been completed the day before the girl died. If the Daily Mail is correct, it is almost certain that another medical issue was at play here, as a healthy 13-year-old would probably be hungry from not eating anything for three days, but may even handle it better than an adult. As for the longer number, one has to assume that it wasn’t a complete fast, and without further information, it’s hard to make any judgement on what actually happened.

I also put the following things out for consideration: This girl lived in India. From the pictures, she was quite beautiful, and it looks as though her family treated her well. Consider, too, that in India, daughters are often considered a liability, and by their teens, many are working in terrible conditions trying to survive or have been married off. This girl was still attending school – a Catholic one at that – and was in the 10th grade. In this type of culture, had the parents not cared, why go through the bother and expense of educating her? Was no one at her school aware of what was going on? Again, this is a point where the articles differ, but the Daily Mail also claims that once the girl’s blood pressure dropped, she was taken to the hospital. If this was truly murder, as some have characterized it, why go through the trouble and expense.

The fact of the matter is is that this type of story is written and disseminated in large part to try to discredit religion and to ridicule those observing religious practice outside of designated places of worship. The Daily Mail piece is self-contradictory and poorly written, but serves as a place for commenters to denounce religion and congratulate themselves for being so ‘reasonable’ rather than religious. For this reason, I consider the article a ‘hit-piece’. Considering all the children in India who live in deplorable conditions, I have a hard time understanding why this case is garnering so much attention, including calls from an NGO to have the parents arrested for murder and their other daughters removed from their custody. The Reuters article even has a quote from an area politician. Call me cynical, but when the politicians get involved, it leads me to suspect that the uproar over this case may have more to do with certain Hindu political factions that are intolerant of minority religions in India more than anything else.

The sad thing is that sometimes children will die, some even in ‘preventable’ deaths. But even in the case of ‘preventable’ deaths, it doesn’t mean that a death was deliberate or could have been foreseen. This is a tragic story, yes, but hardly the outrage that many seem to make it out to be.

(As for outrage and barbaric practices involving children, check out this story pertaining to Ashura Warning: extremely disturbing images), also from India and reported by the Daily Mail as well as highlighting India’s minority religions, but which the Daily Mail has no ‘expert’ or politician denounce.)