Technicality

A table of signs used during hours of silence by the sisters in the Syon Monastery in Isleworth, Middlesex, in the 15th century:

Ale — Make the sign of drink and draw thy hand displayed before thine ear downward.
Bed — Make the sign of a house and put thy right hand under thy cheek, and close thine eyes.
Book — Wag and move thy right hand in manner as thou shouldest turn the leaves of a book.
Cheese — Hold thy right hand flatways in the palm of thy left.
Cold — Make the sign of water trembling with thy hand or blow on thy forefinger.
Drink — Bow thy right forefinger and put it on thy nether lip.
Eating — Put thy right thumb with two forefingers joined to thy mouth.
Girdle — Draw the forefingers of either hand round about thy middle.
Glass — Make the sign of a cup with the sign of red wine.
Incense — Put thy two fingers into thy two nostrils.
Mustard — Hold thy nose in the upper part of thy right fist and rub it.
Salt — Fillip with the right thumb and forefinger over the left thumb.
Sleeping — Put thy right hand under thy cheek and forthwith close thine eyes.
Water — Join the fingers of thy right hand and move them downward droppingly.

Giraldus Cambrensis, describing the monks of Canterbury in 1180, wrote that they were “so profuse in their gesticulations of fingers and hands and arms, and in the whisperings whereby they avoided open speech, wherein all showed a most unedifying levity and license,” that he felt as if he were sitting “at a stage play or among a company of actors or buffoons: for it would be more appropriate to their Order and to their honourable estate to speak modestly in plain human speech than to use such a dumb garrulity of frivolous signs and hissings.”

The Final Exam

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“The Ten Commandments should be treated like an examination. Only six need to be attempted.” So said Bertrand Russell, allegedly.

“I have a variant,” wrote J.E. Littlewood. “As a Pure mathematician I can’t be expected to do the Applied ones. Interpreting No. 1 to mean what it says in logic, I should be prepared to do the Pure ones. No. 2 is a sitter, No. 3 would take some initial caution, but worth it with the reward of full marks. It is good mental hygiene to take Sunday off, and I could throw in this Applied question. Nos. 5 to 10 are applied. Actually my parents are dead so No. 6 is a walk-over. And I should be disappointed if I didn’t get full marks on the applied 9 and 10.”

A World Away

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The Tematangi atoll in French Polynesia is on the opposite side of the world from Mecca.

This makes the qibla, or Muslim direction of prayer, strangely sensitive in this region. Muslims on neighboring islands who are praying toward Mecca may find themselves facing in markedly different directions.

Changing Teams

A very old Jewish man called his wife to his bed. ‘I am going to die. Please call a priest — I wish to convert to Catholicism.’ His wife responded with shock and disbelief, reminding her husband that they had been devout Jews all their lives. ‘I know, dear,’ he said, ‘but isn’t it better that one of them should die than one of us?’

— Anonymous epigraph to John Martin Fischer, The Metaphysics of Death, 1993

Pasted Praise

This “parable against persecution” was a favorite of Benjamin Franklin, who would sometimes pretend to recite it out of a Bible as “the 51st chapter of Genesis.” He wrote that “the remarks of the Scripturians upon it … were sometimes very diverting”:

1. And it came to pass after these things, that Abraham sat in the door of his tent, about the going down of the sun.

2. And behold a man, bowed with age, came from the way of the wilderness, leaning on a staff.

3. And Abraham arose and met him, and said unto him, ‘Turn in, I pray thee, and wash thy feet, and tarry all night, and thou shalt arise early on the morrow, and go on thy way.’

4. But the man said, ‘Nay, for I will abide under this tree.’

5. And Abraham pressed him greatly; so he turned, and they went into the tent; and Abraham baked unleavened bread, and they did eat.

6. And when Abraham saw that the man blessed not God, he said unto him, ‘Wherefore dost thou not worship the most high God, creator of heaven and earth?’

7. And the man answered and said, ‘I do not worship the God thou speakest of; neither do I call upon his name; for I have made to myself a God, which abideth alway in mine house, and provideth me with all things.’

8. And Abraham’s zeal was kindled against the man; and he arose, and fell upon him, and drove him forth with blows into the wilderness.

9. And at midnight God called unto Abraham, saying, ‘Abraham, where is the stranger?’

10. And Abraham answered and said, ‘Lord, he would not worship thee, neither would he call upon thy name; therefore have I driven him out from before my face into the wilderness.’

11. And God said, ‘Have I borne with him these hundred ninety and eight years, and nourished him, and clothed him, notwithstanding his rebellion against me; and couldst not thou, that art thyself a sinner, bear with him one night?’

12. And Abraham said, ‘Let not the anger of my Lord wax hot against his servant; lo, I have sinned; forgive me, I pray thee.’

13. And Abraham arose, and went forth into the wilderness, and sought diligently for the man, and found him, and returned with him to his tent; and when he had entreated him kindly, he sent him away on the morrow with gifts.

14. And God spake again unto Abraham, saying, ‘For this thy sin shall thy seed be afflicted four hundred years in a strange land;

15. ‘But for thy repentance will I deliver them; and they shall come forth with power, and with gladness of heart, and with much substance.’

(In reality it’s thought to have originated with the Persian poet Saadi.)

Oops

That the deliverance of the saints must take place some time before 1914 is manifest, since the deliverance of fleshly Israel, as we shall see, is appointed to take place at that time, and the angry nations will then be authoritatively commanded to be still, and will be made to recognize the power of Jehovah’s Anointed. Just how long before 1914 the last living members of the body of Christ will be glorified, we are not directly informed; but it certainly will not be until their work in the flesh is done; nor can we reasonably presume that they will long remain after that work is accomplished. With these two thoughts in mind, we can approximate the time of the deliverance.

— Charles Taze Russell, Studies in the Scriptures, 1908

That the deliverance of the saints must take place very soon after 1914 is manifest, since the deliverance of fleshly Israel, as we shall see, is appointed to take place at that time, and the angry nations will then be authoritatively commanded to be still, and will be made to recognize the power of Jehovah’s Anointed. Just how long after 1914 the last living members of the body of Christ will be glorified, we are not directly informed; but it certainly will not be until their work in the flesh is done; nor can we reasonably presume that they will long remain after that work is accomplished. With these two thoughts in mind, we can approximate the time of the deliverance.

— Charles Taze Russell, Thy Kingdom Come, 1916

Fair Enough

The grave of Arthur Haine in the City Cemetery [of Portland, Oregon], between 10th and 13th Streets, is marked by a stone of his own design and the epitaph, ‘Haine Haint.’ Haine, who died in 1907, left a will saying, ‘Having lived as an atheist I want to be buried like one — without any monkey business.’

— Federal Writers’ Project, Oregon Trail: The Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, 1939

The Unseen Gardener

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Two people return to their long neglected garden and find among the weeds a few of the old plants surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other, ‘It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these plants.’ Upon inquiry they find that no neighbour has ever seen anyone at work in their garden. The first man says to the other, ‘He must have worked while people slept.’ The other says, ‘No, someone would have heard him and besides, anybody who cared about the plants would have kept down these weeds.’ The first man says, ‘Look at the way these are arranged. There is purpose and a feeling for beauty here. I believe that someone comes, someone invisible to mortal eyes. I believe that the more carefully we look the more we shall find confirmation of this.’ They examine the garden ever so carefully and sometimes they come on new things suggesting that a gardener comes and sometimes they come on new things suggesting the contrary and even that a malicious person has been at work. Besides examining the garden carefully, they also study what happens to gardens left without attention. Each learns all the other learns about this and about the garden. Consequently, when after all this, one says, ‘I still believe a gardener comes’ while the other says, ‘I don’t,’ their different words now reflect no difference as to what they have found in the garden, no difference as to what they would find in the garden if they looked further and no difference about how fast untended gardens fall into disorder. … What is the difference between them?

— John Wisdom, “Gods,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1944

Antony Flew asks, “Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?”

Next!

Modern times have come to China — religious teachers must now fill out a government application before they can be reincarnated.

The decree, passed in 2007, requires that applications be submitted to four different government bodies. “The selection of reincarnates must preserve national unity and solidarity of all ethnic groups, and the selection process cannot be influenced by any group or individual from outside the country.”

“Work out your own salvation,” said the Buddha. “Do not depend on others.”