Harrison and God

A timely article (for me) has appeared on the subject of George Harrison and his god, a subject I have been looking into. An excerpt:

“He had two personalities,” Ringo says. “One was this bag of [prayer] beads, the other was this big bag of anger.” Yoko Ono seconds that emotion: “He had two aspects,” she says. “Sometimes he was very nice. Sometimes he was [long pause] too honest.” Paul McCartney, coy as ever, says, “He was my mate, so I can’t say too much. But he was a guy, a red-blooded guy, and he liked what guys like.”

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more.

You have to read the tell-alls, such as the memoir of his first wife Pattie, to get the details about Bad George and his heroic capacity for cocaine, brandy, and adultery. The combination resulted in, among other things, the spectacularly gruesome scene he made in 1973 at a dinner party at Ringo’s house. The party went sour when George stood up to announce that he was sleeping with Ringo’s wife and planned to run away with her. (In the event, he quickly moved on from Mrs. Starr.) Just another potluck with the Starrs and the Harrisons.

As a pastor of mine used to say, idolatrous gods can do nothing for you, but they ask nothing of you.

George Harrison’s Approach to God II

In an interview with George Harrison, the following question and answer outline Harrison’s caricature of Christianity:

Mukunda: What would you say is the difference between the Christian view of God, and Krishna as represented in the Bhagavad-gita?

George: […] It’s a joyful relationship. But there’s this morbid side to the way many represent Christianity today, where you don’t smile, because it’s too serious, and you can’t expect to see God–that kind of stuff.

I believe Harrison’s view of Christianity is a reflection of his Catholic upbringing, and perhaps European churches in general. What I fail to understand is him saying that you can’t expect to see God. Christendom has a history of art and the representation of Christ going back for over a millennia. He is setting up straw men only to knock them down. Further, I would guess that even his priests growing up smiled once in a while! Certainly there was a more sober approach to God in pre-Vatican II Catholic parish than in a ring of Hare Krishna devotees chanting and dancing, but that’s a pretty weak reason for deciding on ultimate truth. Harrison continues:

If there is God, we must see Him, and I don’t believe in the idea you find in most churches, where they say, “No, you’re not going to see Him. He’s way up above you. Just believe what we tell you and shut up.”

Once more, if he is referring to pictures of Krishna, then why can’t he understand that Christian iconography fulfills the same function?  And the position of Christian churches is not to shut up and believe, but rather to submit to the teaching authority of God as revealed in his Scriptures. I doubt that Hare Krishna was any different. Further, we know that God is both immanent and transcendent, he isn’t ‘way above us’, he’s all around us in his omnipresence. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”

I mean, the knowledge that’s given in Prabhupada’s books–the Vedic stuff–that’s the world’s oldest scriptures.

Well, it’s not older than Genesis, but that’s a matter of presuppositions.

They say that man can become purified, and with divine vision he can see God. You get pure by chanting, then you see Him.

Harrison even wrote a song about this, “Chant the name of the Lord and you’ll be free.” Here is a point of contact with Christianity. We can be purified, we can see God. In fact, this is the goal of the Christian life – to experience the divine vision of God in the end. As Richard Hooker puts it: “concerning these virtues, the first of which beginning here with a weak apprehension of things not seen, endeth with the intuitive vision of God in the world to come; the second beginning here with a trembling expectation of things far removed and as yet but only heard of, endeth with real and actual fruition of that which no tongue can express;”

So we both want to see God, but chanting does not accomplish the purity Harrison sought. Chanting may induce hallucinations and dissociated states of mind, but it will not bring you near to God. What we need is what Paul said, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)

God brought us near to him, without chanting or fasting, but rather by faith, baptism and a new life.

Steve Jobs

I just finished reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. In many ways, it struck me as a stereotypical story of the Baby Boomers. Jobs came of age in the Sixties and his adoptive father was a hard working veteran who was able to provide a middle class upbringing to Steve.

He dropped acid, loved the Beatles and Dylan and got into eastern religion. He flew to India and spent time there, then embraced strange practices such as week long fasts or eating only a certain fruit for weeks at a time. He was a vegetarian who liked going around barefoot and didn’t shower because he was convinced that his diet prevented body odor. He took a pilgrimage to India and embraced meditation. He believed that all the religions are just different doors into the same room. He spurned cheaper state colleges so he could attend offbeat Reed College, in something of a spoiled fit. He got his girlfriend pregnant and told her he was okay with her getting an abortion, then ignored his daughter for years after she was born. He was petulant and hurtful to people, excusing his behavior as “just the way I am.” His affinity for alternative therapy probably killed him because he tried fruit juices and other offbeat treatments instead of surgery, until it was too late.

His aesthetic taste was immaculate and he spurred the development of great products. He pushed people to do far more than they thought they were capable of in search of perfect products. He was a visionary. And yet his life is, like all of our lives, sad in that it ended in a death that snuffed him out and took his knowledge to the grave with him. I hope that somehow he turned to Christ in his last hours and embraced the faith that he was taught as a young boy in the Lutheran Church. There is no evidence that this happened, but who knows what prayers he might have offered in the midst of his pain?

But his life, to me, summarizes the Boomers: all religions are the same, ultimate truth does not matter as much as some sort of enlightenment (which does not impact how we act towards one another), talk the talk about materialism whilst pursuing consumerism with a vengeance, and embrace weird therapies instead of western medicine. Future historians will be able to look at his life as a template for what the Sixties generation believed and how they lived it out.

 

Josephus on Transvestites in 70 A.D.

The depravity of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in 70 A.D. is highlighted by Josephus in this account:

for he permitted them to do all things that any of them desired to do, while their inclination to plunder was insatiable, as was their zeal in searching the houses of the rich; and for the murdering of the men, and abusing of the women, it was sport to them. They also devoured what spoils they had taken, together with their blood, and indulged themselves in feminine wantonness, without any disturbance, till they were satiated therewith; while they decked their hair, and put on women’s garments, and were besmeared over with ointments; and that they might appear very comely, they had paints under their eyes, and imitated not only the ornaments, but also the lusts of women, and were guilty of such intolerable uncleanness, that they invented unlawful pleasures of that sort. And thus did they roll themselves up and down the city, as in a brothel-house, and defiled it entirely with their impure actions; nay, while their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with their right hands; and when their gait was effeminate, they presently attacked men, and became warriors, and drew their swords from under their finely dyed cloaks, and ran every body through whom they alighted upon.

There is nothing new under the sun.

No Capitalist Civilization

Discussing the London riots for the London Review of Books, Marxist Slavoj Zizek makes a telling observation on capitalist civilization in the midst of an otherwise dreary review:

Alain Badiou has argued that we live in a social space which is increasingly experienced as ‘worldless’: in such a space, the only form protest can takes is meaningless violence. Perhaps this is one of the main dangers of capitalism: although by virtue of being global it encompasses the whole world, it sustains a ‘worldless’ ideological constellation in which people are deprived of their ways of locating meaning. The fundamental lesson of globalisation is that capitalism can accomodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East: there is no global ‘capitalist worldview’, no ‘capitalist civilization’ proper. The global dimension of captialism represents truth without meaning.

Sounds like Baudrillard. But I believe he is right. Although capitalism rose from within Christendom, it has now supplanted Christendom to become a global civilization without spiritual underpinnings. Acquisition, risk, thrift and private property are good things when tethered to a moral framework, but now when they themselves are the moral framework.

Leisure

Thomas Fleming’s commentary is fantastic:

Only a maniac would have devised the Protestant Work Ethic, and only a fool would try to live his life according to it.

The ancients knew better. If they had any money, they had slaves to do all the heavy lifting, including going over the accounts and taking dictation and reading books aloud. For the Romans, otium—leisure was the desired state, while the opposite word, negotium—non-leisure—is the word we routinely translate as business. (The Italians know the score, and negotium has become negozio, shop or store, a place where people have to a work that is necessary but undesirable. The late Josef Pieper understood the ancient and the Christian mind, and his little essay, Leisure the Basis of Culture is a wholesome antidote to the great American obsession with the supposed virtues of work. What other country could have created such preposterous humbugs as Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, or—the ultimate in humbuggery—Rick Warren, whose very title (The Purpose-Driven Life) gives me the jim-jams. Imagine a country that could produce such a book and, worse, produce enough readers to make Warren a success. My people, my people.

We have demonized the sense of otium, which survives in English as the adjective otiose, used sometimes to mean “indolent” but more typically in the sense of “serving no practical purpose.” When we do celebrate leisure, it is usually in the form of “leisure-time activities,” expensive and time-consuming sports and hobbies that we pursue with the same grim determination we apply to our jobs. A bass fisherman without tens of thousands of dollars of equipment cannot be taken seriously, and golfers—just listen to them talk about their handicaps, the length of their drives, the 78 they shot on the back nine. It’s all a matter of keeping score.

If a golfer did not continue to buy the latest technology or keep score of his accomplishments, he would be simply having a good time that serves “no practical purpose.” It’s not the competition, even in sports and hobbies is not healthy and, for normal men at least, inevitable, but we Americans seem to care less and less about the game itself and more and more about the statistics. Just try watching a game on television some time, as the game-changing triple or strike-out interrupts the play-by-play announcer’s recitation of irrelevant facts about other players in other games.

How do you know you are winning if you are not keeping score? Forty years ago, as I recall, a man in business was supposed to make, at a minimum, as many thousands as he had years. Now, I suppose, it is double that. We have blood pressure scores, weight loss scores, and men know how much weight they can press (Don’t ask, because my answer is sure to embarrass someone.) When we are born, we are assigned an Apgar score; later we are given a Personal Vitality Score. Fortunately, I have never learned what they call the mortality score they assign to dying people.

There is nothing too trivial or too important not to receive a number. We grade women in a bar on a scale of one to ten, and we use the same scale to evaluate decisions. “On a scale of one to ten, how highly do you value access to a beach in your retirement community?” Part of this obsession can be blamed on teachers who think test numbers actually correspond to some reality. But a lot of it is related to our need to be important.

Americans who are anybody are determined to be a somebody, whether it is on Wall Street or the Country Club. St. Paul has that nice phrase about people who say they are something. He was warning his readers about taking themselves too seriously as objects of importance. I do not know what he could have said to modern Americans, who are positively convinced that it is their duty to be somebody.

Most of us fail to become the Donald Trump or Barry Bonds or Michael Jackson we are in our dreams, and when we do we are not content to settle down with the girl next door and lead the normal human life we were made for. Some of us waste our time on schemes to make ourselves rich and famous—Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Cramden is a more tragic and pathetic character than Willy Loman. Or we spend our lives wailing over what might have been. “I coulda had class, I couda been a contender, I couda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

Most of Martin Scorsese’s best characters are driven mad by the desire to be somebody among the hundreds of millions of nobodies that fill up these United States. The Taxi Driver takes on the burden of avenging the sufferings of child prostitutes, and the King of Comedy dreams of being the next Johnny Carson. (Johnny who? That guy before Letterman and Leno?)

Back in my misspent middle age, when I used to read (and occasionally write for) The National Review, I was forever seeing ads for Mr. Buckley’s personal accounts of his own life. In books like Cruising Speed and Overdrive, as I recall from brief extracts, poor Bill never had a moment to himself. It was breakfast with Henry Kissinger, meetings with the secretaries of this and that, rehearsals for a harpsichord concert at Carnegie Hall, a spy thriller chapter banged out, more meetings with more secretaries, and an evening out with some of the Beautiful People. Lord, how I pitied the poor fellow.

George Harrison’s Approach to God

     I think it is worthwhile to examine George Harrison’s thoughts about God, ethics and the afterlife. This might seem like a trivial investigation into pop culture, but I think it illustrates much of what passes for religious thought in the populace of our day. Whether or not the Beatles and Harrison are responsible for the ‘theology’ of our day, or whether they were just riding the wave (as John Lennon said) I will leave for others to decide. I do think that Harrison’s theologizing stands in sharp contrast to what God has revealed to us in Scripture and also that Harrison’s version of Hare Krishna is much more amenable to our way of life.


Harrison as a Born-Again Krishna Devotee

     Harrison was born into a Roman Catholic household. His portrayal of Christianity seems to be stiff and stereotypical, not corresponding to what he might have discovered if he had studied the riches of the faith. Harrison’s advocacy for chanting in a Hare Krishna temple contrasted the experience with his Christian background in the Catholic Church. He said:

But part of Krishna consciousness is trying to tune in all the senses of all the people: to experience God through all the senses, not just by experiencing Him on Sunday, through your knees by kneeling on some hard wooden kneeler in the church. But if you visit a temple, you can see pictures of God, you can see the Deity form of the Lord, and you can just hear Him by listening to yourself and others say the mantra. It’s just a way of realizing that all the senses can be applied toward perceiving God, and it makes it that much more appealing, seeing the pictures, hearing the mantra,smelling the incense, flowers, and so on. That’s the nice thing about your movement. It incorporates everything–chanting, dancing, philosophy, and prasadam.

Let’s consider Harrison’s thoughts: first, he contrasts experiencing God through all the senses vs. just experiencing him on Sunday on your knees on a kneeler. Coming from a former Catholic, this strikes me as particularly puzzling. Catholic churches use incense, statues, pictures, rosaries and the ritual action of the liturgy as means to experience God. Harrison goes on to mention pictures, incense and movement as part of the appeal of Hare Krishna! You would think he was coming from some sort of harsh background that forbid pictures in worship, but he wasn’t. The only conclusion I draw is that he was very poorly catechized in the faith of his birth.
The only practice he mentions that I can see being absent from Catholicism is dancing (in worship). And I’m sure that there was a sense in the 60’s that Christianity was dead and formal whereas the new religions were full of life and light. That is the sense I get from reading anyway. 1950’s Protestantism and Catholicism don’t strike me as particularly exciting. They seem to have lost the excitement of the Christian story in the fervor of the modern Atomic Age. This is a generalization of course. Currently, on the other side of the massive revolution that occurred in church music and experience it is hard to imagine the contrast in formality and dress that the Krishna movement (or the Jesus People for that matter) presented to someone in 1968. So maybe the more uninhibited nature of Krishna worship impressed people like Harrison, but his characterizations of the Church are not accurate.
[To be continued]

U2 and Lenin’s Favorite Songs

I thought I should record this on the internet since I spent some time finding it. The fanfare/intro to the U2 song, “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for your Crashed Car” (on Zooropa) is from a song called “Le Rocher Sur La Volga.” The version U2 used was from a record called Lenin’s Favourite Songs. Other versions are our there. You’re welcome internet.