Saturday, February 23, 2008

City of God - E.L.Doctorow
Saturday, February 23rd, 2008
page 39: — There are no science songs to speak of. No song tells you the force of gravity is a product of the masses of two objects divided by the ratio of the distance between them. Yet science teaches us something about song: Scientific formulas describe the laws by which the universe operates and suggest in equations that a balance is possible even when things are in apparent imbalance. So do songs. … And when a song is good, a standard, we recognize it as expressing a truth. Like a formula, it can apply to everyone, not just the singer.

page 69: Burkert, perhaps our pre-eminent scholar of ancient religions — do you know his work? He investigates the origins of the sacred, itself a heretical pursuit. He gives us the picture of the lizard who leaves his tail in the mouth of the predator. The fox who chews off his foot to escape the trap. You ask what that has to do with God. In that programmed biological response is the idea of the sacrifice. You give up a part to save the whole. Ancient myths abound in which human beings flee monsters and escape by sacrificing pieces of themselves to divert or slow down the pursuit. Orestes gives up a finger, and so does Odysseus. Finger sacrifice was very big in ancient Greece. But for the most part, over time the sacrifices have been ritualized, symbolized. You no longer mutilate yourself, you leave a ring on the altar in lieu of your finger. You slaughter a lamb. You leave a scapegoat in the desert. But when the fate of a community is involved, one man is chosen to jump into the abyss so that it will not swallow the community. One virgin is given to the bottomless lake. One person on the sled is thrown to the pursuing wolves. Jonah is thrown into the sea to save the ship and its crew. And just as the herd grazes in safety for a time after the lions cut one of them out and devour him, so does humanity feel safer from the nameless formless terrors if one of their number is sacrificed if for the sake of all one must pay as the part for the whole, as the fox’s foot is left in the trap.

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