Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Loop Holy

The other night my family enjoyed watching Bill Maher's Religulous, a satirical documentary about organized religion. I could hardly wait for the film to be out on DVD, as I adore Maher's irreverent wit, and enjoy his HBO show Real Time, especially the New Rules. Did you know Bill Maher is Jewish from his maternal side but was raised Catholic? Perhaps that helps to explain Maher's astute analytical skills, wry humor, and pathological honesty; I consider these a lethal combination of character traits. I don't subscribe to Bill Maher's view of atheism but I'll admit "Religulous" might provide a wake-up call for those who take each word of Scripture literally.

"Religions are the most dangerous threat facing mankind" states Maher, and he travels to numerous religious destinations, such as Jerusalem, Salt Lake City, and even the Vatican, interviewing followers from various faiths to prove his claim. The results are often hilarious but also sobering, especially when one recognizes one's own religion under scrutiny.

Maher quizzes an observant Jew about the pervasive need to find a loophole, by way of circumventing G-d's Law, in order to use elevators, power wheelchairs, telephones, and all things electric on the Sabbath. Since Orthodox Jews rule that it is prohibited to turn on and off electric devices during the Sabbath, as it constitutes work, and would be a violation of the commandment to rest, one can essentially outsmart G-d by setting up a preset timer to perform any task automatically. Sabbath elevators, when preset, will stop on each floor without the need for pressing a button. The term loophole strikes a familiar chord to me, and my bowl of popcorn suddenly falls to the floor. What is it about this expression? Could it be that years ago, at a former workplace of my husband's, he was implored by a man of Jewish faith, to find and extract a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement in order to have a couple of individuals fired? My husband was assured he had the head for it—the intellectual capacity that is, to hook into a legal technicality in a labyrinth of legal jargon, as if he were a Talmudic scholar engaging in pilpul, the study and sharp analysis of Jewish laws. In plain English pilpul means splitting hairs. But if you change the word by one letter to bilbul, you end up with this definition: Confusion. Or use just the last syllable: Bull.

Needless to say, my husband's belief system is not loop-holy and has always been founded on honesty. Following the voice of his conscience, he refused to comply in finding the magic loopholes. And the individuals whose necks had been spared? Well, they had a unique way of showing gratitude.

As Jesus said from the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

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