You don’t need to be an immigrant or a minority to know what it feels like to be rejected by a desirable group, or any group for that matter, even a group that didn’t seem to exist until you walked up to it and the circle closed to exclude you. You just need to remember high school, or that sickening feeling you had walking down the street after a breakup and looking at all those couples holding hands as if they were touched by divine grace and you by plague. I do have this feeling of not belonging now and then, but I didn’t think I was going to revisit it when I picked up The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Continue reading
“What’s war like?” I asked my grandfather once, when I was in middle school.
He was sitting on the sofa in his living room, rich Persian rug on the floor, dark wood furniture about him—a safe storytelling setting. He had a mellow Transylvanian accent and not a tooth left in his mouth. I don’t remember how he started to tell me about his four years on the battlefields of World War II, but I remember how animated he became when he described how his friend’s head was cut off by shrapnel and how it rolled on the ground with its tongue flicking in an out, collecting dirt. My grandfather mimicked the scene, his tongue flicking in and out of his toothless mouth, and then he stopped and didn’t speak for a long time. He just stared at the red-hued Persian rug at his feet. Continue reading
Years ago, while studying for my US citizenship exam, I paused over the words “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Because I grew up in Europe during the time of popular uprisings against communist regimes, I was used to words such as freedom and justice and equality in revolutionary speech, so the pursuit of happiness sounded like it didn’t belong in a declaration of independence from tyranny and oppression.
It wasn’t the first time I wondered how had those Founding Fathers been so enlightened to consider the mental health of their people at a time of war and disease and superstition. Today we have counselors and self-help and wellness support groups, but they didn’t, back in 1776, yet Jefferson thought it was important to put those fine words in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Continue reading
“In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” – John 1:1.
There is no story there, things were final from the very beginning, everything else flows from that fixed point in the universe. Unless… there is a story, but it’s not so obvious.
In his book, The Evolution of God, Robert Wright tells that story, which began millennia ago with the primordial faith that many things, not just people, have souls. In 1871, Edward Tylor, founder of social anthropology, called “animism” the “infant philosophy of mankind” created by “ancient savage philosophers” who, like today’s thinkers, were trying to explain why good and bad things happened, and if there was a way to predict and influence those forces for the better. Continue reading
You can live your whole life hearing a story and yet be unsure of its details. Every Romanian knows the name of Zalmoxis, the name appears everywhere, in magazines, on merchandise, around tourist attractions, yet it’s tricky to figure out what exactly this name refers to. Was Zalmoxis an ancient Dacian king? A god? A slave? A magician? A high-priest? I have been confused for a long time and I have been confused for a reason, because ancient Dacians tended to conflate all those roles, turning a living man who preached about the mysteries beyond this world into a god while he was still alive. Continue reading
Bringing fiction to life with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code
Something marvelous happened in 2003: the plot of a 15-year old novel became reality.
In 1988, Umberto Eco published Foucault’s Pendulum, in which three bored editors at a Milan publishing house—Jacopo Belbo, Casaubon, and Diotallevi—come up with the idea of a global conspiracy that would allow the descendants of the Knights Templar to take over the world at the end of the millennium. Continue reading
Does it matter if the history we know was fabricated? Pfft! Of course it matters. The past teaches us not to repeat mistakes! The past teaches us who we are, etc.! But, really—once history is old enough to become the dust we walk on, what difference does it make in our daily lives if the things we know are not the things that were? How far from the truth can we wander and not get hurt by our unawareness? And even if we want to know the truth, are there any trustworthy sources? Continue reading
“Did you know,” my brother asked me one day, “that an impaled person could live for days up there, on a stake? If the executioner went along the spine, sparing all the vital organs…”
“Wow… so, there were people who were experts at that?” I said.
“Imagine the practice you needed to become an expert at impaling…”
Imagine that. Continue reading
…and then, with the fury of Baal in his blood and the glory of Amun upon him, Rameses II went out alone on the battlefield in his two-horse chariot. He alone cut down Hittites by the thousands. He slashed limbs and heads. He hurled dead bodies into the waters of the Orontes until the river ran red. King Muwatallis II threw another thousand chariots at him. Rameses routed them all—by himself. Terrified, the Hittite king cowered across the river together with his remaining infantry. The mighty Egyptian pharaoh single-handedly seized his victory in battle. Continue reading