Monday, October 19, 2015

World Religion: Yazidi

In the past year or so, I’ve read about the Yazidis and how they have suffered until ISIS rule. I assumed that they were an ethnic demographic, probably Muslim but maybe Christian. I didn’t really think about their religion, so I was surprised when I was reading an article about a Yazidi woman and saw the term “peacock angel” in reference to her faith.

The Yazidis are Kurdish, but they have their own religious practices tracing back to Zoroastrianism (like most monotheistic faiths). They believe God created the world then left it in the care of seven angels. The first and leader of the angels is Melek Taus, the peacock angel. Melek Taus fell out of God’s grace at one point, but extinguished hellfire with his tears of remorse, and reconciled with God. He causes both good and bad to happen, and descendants of Adam are not to question him.

Some of Yazidi belief of Melek Taus reflects the Sufi angel Iblis or the Judeo-Christian Satan. Yet while Satan is regarded as an evil opponent, or at best, an advocate, Melek Taus, though neutral, is highly revered. This caused early Western travelers to label the Yazidis as devil-worshippers. Wednesday is the holiest day. The first Wednesday of April is the New Year. Children are baptized. They pray five times a day, facing the sun.

Yazidis live primarily in the Ninevah province of Iraq, but there are communities throughout the country as well as Turkey and Syria. It is difficult to know how many there are due to war and dysphoria from 1980 to the present, but estimates are between 100,000 and 400,000. They do not accept converts. Members are baptized at birth and only marry within their clan. Yazidis believe they are the descendants of Adam (but not Eve), while non-Yazidis are descendants of Adam and Eve. The story is that Adam and Eve were arguing over their future children, and each put their seed in a jar. Eve’s jar produced insects and monsters. Adam’s jar produced a male child, the father of the Yazidi.

There are so many faiths that exist in the world that are not part of the Big Five. They seem to go unnoticed by the typical American audience. We think: Christianity, Islam, Judism, Buddhism, Confucianism, pagan. But “pagan” is so diverse. It can be polytheist or monotheist. It can include priestesses and princes and peacock angels. Unfortunately, it took ISIS persecution of Yazidi for me to know they exist, and have existed for thousands of years.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gothic Faith

On October 1, I looked at my nightstand and had to laugh that Halloween had come early. My computer was halfway through Children of the Corn, and beside it were stacked Dracula and Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, each half-read. The devil and vampires and hyper-Calvinists, oh my!

Dracula, of course, is quite well known, although I’m not sure how much of the mythos is actually from the novel. But there is plenty of praying and blood and inversion of holiness. I’m not quite sure how popular Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is. I’ve never heard anyone reference it, but I picked it up from a Classics bin at a book fair a few years ago. Fortunately for me, the introduction explains, I have an unedited version. It was edited in some printing because of how much it bashed Calvinism. I’ve got to say, I’m impressed it got published in 1820s Scotland at all. It takes some tenets of Calvinism to its logical extreme. If one is elect, one is good. If one is unelect, one is bad. One’s actions do not change one’s status. Therefore, a man who chosen by God can justifiably be a lying, fornicating, murderer, as his actions ultimately must be good. And surely it is alright to harm someone who is unelect, for they must be evil and an enemy of God. There is no room for morality when one’s salvation is so exact. So far, the book is gothic and trashy in all the right ways, though I wonder (and doubt) if the anti-protagonist will actually make a change in his theology.

The theology itself is arguably the villain of the story. And sometimes, I like indulging in breaking down all that’s wrong with some Protestant theologies. Prosperity gospel? Slimy. Rapture a la Darby? Silly. Hyper-Calvinism? Scary.

But sometimes those Protestants have points Catholics ignore. Like Hell. Don’t get me wrong; Catholics cover Hell. Check out medieval art, Dante’s Inferno, and Día de Muertos. But fire and brimstone sermons, we’re lacking. Which is fine by me; I’m not much for being scared into loving God. And yet Hell, judgment, and wrath do have a proper place in Christian theology. Last week, the priest quoted Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in his homily. While he pointed out the differences in theology, he did give Jonathan Edwards credit: there is a place for fear. Christ warns of consequences. Sometimes we need to be jolted out of our routines and habits. We need to know that our actions (and inactions) lead to certain conclusions. Our faith must be an active one, working toward the Church’s goal. As high schoolers (when most of us first encounter Edwards’ sermon) we are shocked by the brutality and the blunt certainty of the words. As Christians, we should occasionally be shocked by sermons or scriptures. They should be bold and certain. They should make us uncomfortable, prompt us into action.

There is a reason that rebellious subcultures appropriated from Catholicism. Towering edifices, gargoyles, Petrine (upside-down) crosses, communion with the departed, the ritual focus on body and blood. The faith can be dark and jarring and downright spooky. This fall I’m enjoying seeing the grim side of the faith, the dirty and twisted and fearful. Because even with stories of vampires and justified sinners, I know the dark parts of my faith aren’t scary after all. The story of my faith has a happy ending. It can shine into cobwebbed corners and stodgy parishioners. It takes a detour through dark alleys, because the dark needs the light the most.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Same Old Changes

I’ve tried to write a dozen times. But my opinions on topics don’t last 500 words. I don’t know how to say what I think. I don’t know what I think. I’m in a new stage, new position, new town. I don’t know who or how I am in this new situation. I don’t know my voice. I don’t know what I think.

I don’t see my mountains every day.

It’s not quite depression. It’s not quite anxiety, although both of those are not strangers. It’s not quite uncertainty, as I have found my routine and am settling in. Perhaps it is certainty itself. The transiency of school is gone. My goals are becoming longer term. Which means my choices seem to weigh more. Words are heavy. I’m getting better at doing things, but worse at pondering about them.

I’ve decided to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year (first time since before grad school). Maybe that will help me get my words back, even if it’s still away from this blog. I don’t want to force myself to write, but apparently I need to. After all, being an adult is doing the things one ought to do, whether one wants to or not.

I get to visit my mountains soon.