Friday, April 25, 2008

Mind your peas and carrots

Can the unclean produce the clean? --Sirach 34

I was thinking just this week about vegetarianism, and how it seems to inevitably send runners (like strawberries) out into all the other aspects of that particular vegetarian's life - especially in the way they treat other people.

Vegetarianism is an ascetical crop-up in the history of certain religions - most notably in Hinduism and Sikhism. The purity thing, that goes hand in hand with abstaining from alcohol. It turns out to be an enjoyable sort of thing, enjoyable like someone gets to enjoy, more and more, watching his savings account accumulate with every cheque cashed. It's an oxymoronic sort of asceticism. It follows due process with perfection, except for the end part, where, as in true asceticism, the practise is supposed to sort of "terminate" in hiddenness - whereby the practising soul goes forth "like in the body of a stranger". Instead, the poor vegetarian souls let it breach all their conduct and dictate its vanity in the lives of others. They love to tell a person who has just gotten out of the hospital after treatment for inexplicable and total kidney failure: "You should take care of yourself".

Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays, and while such a practise can indeed lead one to a certain snobbishness, or more like a certain sort of pride, in declaring to the offer of meat on that day, "I don't eat meat on Fridays", the very practise is entirely different from the no-meat of the Hindus. Different in its significance, different in its aim and different in its being a sort of rule, hence different in the end result and formal execution.

In the Catholic world, the ascetical practise, be it no meat on Fridays, be it vow of silence, be it a hard board to sleep on and a rock for your pillow or sleeping in your future coffin, takes on the outlandish shape of simply being what it is. Hence the cultural pointing of giggling fingers and quirking reactions to the shape of Catholic practises; and the total acceptance to the point of patronizing sentimentality and psuedo-religous feelings of certain westerners towards various eastern practises. The Catholic does not abstain from meat on Friday because he believes it to be a purification or a rite of passage or a better thing than eating meat. He is indeed, more inclinded to declare that it is significantly worse than eating meat, and depending on who you talk to, will eschew the no-meat on Fridays altogether, or if not eschew it, will find it a hard thing.
The significance of the Friday is that Jesus Christ died on a Friday. For those who believe in the Son of God, what else can a Friday signify? So from this preposition, the abstaining from meat takes its cue, and yet the abstaining from meat would be meaningless if it were just for the "significance of it", the non-existent practise that certain securalists take to be the core of religion: some kind of vague and nice symoblic something or other for the sake of being symbolic. It is a concrete handle if you will; a mysterious, not altogether explainable concrete handle, for our own actions as human beings that form our culture will always have this mystery about them. But it is a handle, one that gives way to the objective reality - that reality being the real Person of Jesus Christ.

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