Making a paganism from pop culture

Another level of New Age syncretism:  Going to a Star Wars filming location to await the Mayan apocalypse (scheduled for tomorrow) because “the force is strong here.”

At the center of the rebel base where Luke Skywalker took off to destroy the Death Star and save his people from the clutches of Darth Vader, Guatemala is preparing for another momentous event: the end of an age for the Maya.

Deep inside the Guatemalan rainforest stand the ruins of the Maya temples that George Lucas used to film the planet Yavin 4 in the movie “Star Wars,” from where Skywalker and his sidekick Han Solo launched their attack on the Galactic Empire’s giant space station.

This week, at sunrise on Friday, December 21, an era closes in the Maya Long Count calendar, an event that has been likened by different groups to the end of days, the start of a new, more spiritual age or a good reason to hang out at old Maya temples across Mexico and Central America.

“If it is the end of the world, hopefully Luke will come and blow up that Death Star,” said Alex Markovitz, a 24-year-old consultant and Star Wars fan from Philadelphia, looking out over the site of Skywalker’s rebel base. “I see why they shot here. It doesn’t look real. It looks like an alien planet.”

Once at the heart of a conquering civilization in its own right, the ancient city of Tikal is now a pilgrimage site for both hard-core Star Wars fans and enthusiasts of Maya culture eager to discover what exactly the modern interpretations of old lore portend.

In the 1960s, a leading U.S. scholar said the end of the Maya’s 13th bak’tun – an epoch lasting some 400 years – could signify an “Armageddon,” though many people trekking to the old temples believe it could herald something wonderful.

Discovered in 1848 when locals unearthed human skulls whose teeth were studded with jade jewels, Tikal draws tourists from around the globe. Visitors this week said they felt a powerful presence in the blue skies above them.

“The force is strong here,” said Jimena Teijeiro, 35, an Argentine-born self-help blogger. “The world as we know it is coming to an end. We are being propelled to a new age of light, synchronicity and simple wonderment with life.”

Maya scholars and astronomers have dismissed the idea the world is on the brink of destruction but mystics and spiritual thrill-seekers have flocked to feed off Tikal’s energy. Park guards said they had to throw out 13 naked women who were dancing and chanting around a fire pit near the temples last week.

“Something big is going to happen,” said the president of Guatemala’s Star Wars fan club, entrepreneur Ricardo Alejos. “The Maya were an incredibly precise people. Something big is going to happen and we’ll find out what in a few days.”

via Maya apocalypse and Star Wars collide in Guatemalan temple | Reuters.

The next paganism currently being constructed may well combine mysticism with pop culture, which has become our main medium of  thought and sensibility.

Barack Obama, Person of the Year

Time Magazine has proclaimed Barack Obama as the Person of the Year for 2012.  Here, according to the magazine, is his significance for American culture:

There has been much talk of the coalition of the ascendant — young people, minorities, Hispanics, college-educated women — and in winning re-election, Obama showed that these fast-growing groups are not only the future but also the present. About 40% of millennials — the largest generational cohort in U.S. history, bigger even than the baby boomers — are nonwhite. If his win in 2008 was extraordinary, then 2012 is confirmation that demographic change is here to stay.. . .

 

Obama is the first Democratic President since FDR to win more than 50% of the vote in consecutive elections and the first President since 1940 to win re-election with an unemployment rate north of 7.5%. He has stitched together a winning coalition and perhaps a governing one as well. His presidency spells the end of the Reagan realignment that had defined American politics for 30 years. We are in the midst of historic cultural and demographic changes, and Obama is both the symbol and in some ways the architect of this new America. “The truth is,” the President said in the Oval Office, “that we have steadily become a more diverse and tolerant country that embraces people’s differences and respects people who are not like us. That’s a profoundly good thing. That’s one of the strengths of America.” . . .

For finding and forging a new majority, for turning weakness into opportunity and for seeking, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union, Barack Obama is TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year.

via The Choice | TIME.com.

The Reagan era is over.  We are now in the Obama era.

Whether you like it or not, isn’t this true?  Are these encomiums valid?

Who would be your Person of the Year?

As is our custom, after Time names its Person of the Year, we discuss our choices.  Who do you think most affected the year 2012 for better or worse?  (That’s Time‘s criteria.)  Or, if you prefer, how about just in your own life?

Melanchton on Fables

 Philipp Melanchthon was the great Renaissance scholar of the humanities who became Luther’s right hand man and a major Lutheran theologian, being the author of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology.  Melanchthon also more or less invented the Reformation schools, giving them a curriculum grounded in the classical liberal arts.  He also championed the use of imaginative literature, which was neglected in scholastic institutions.  SZ at Mockingbird quotes from Philipp Melanchthon’s  On the Usefulness of Fables:

‘There is altogether nothing more beautiful and pleasant than the truth, but it is too far removed from the sight and eyes of men for it to be beheld and known fortuitously. The minds of children need to be guided and attracted to it step by step by various enticements, so that they may then contemplate more closely the thing which is the most beautiful of all, but, alas, all too unclear and unknown to mortals… Therefore, extremely sagacious men have devised some tales which first rouse by wonder the children’s minds that are sleeping as if in lethargy. For what seems more unusual to us than that a wolf speak with a horse, a lion with a little fox or an oak with a gourd, all in the manner of men?…

‘I believe that fables were first invented with that intention, because it appeared that the indolent minds of children could not be roused more quickly by any other way of speaking… For we see that the most serious and wisest of men have used this kind of teaching, and I cannot say easily what a great public evil it is that it is now banished from the schools. The learned admire the sagaciousness of the poet Homer so greatly that they place him beyond the common condition of mortals and clearly think that his mind was roused by some divine power. Yet he wrote about the war between frogs and mice…

‘[Finally,] there are so many fables in the Holy Scriptures that it is sufficiently clear that the heavenly God Himself considered this kind of speech most powerful for bending the minds of men. I ask you, what greater praise can fall to fables than that the heavenly God also approves of them?‘

via Melanchton on the Usefulness of Fables | Mockingbird.

“Rouse by wonder the children’s minds.”  Good pedagogy.

If you have a big estate, die or give it away by January 1

Income taxes for everyone are not the only taxes that will jump up, should we jump off the fiscal cliff.  The estate and gift taxes will also soar dramatically. George Will is sardonic about it:

If you have worked hard for five decades, made pots of money and now want to squander it all in Las Vegas on wine, women and baccarat, go ahead. If, however, you harbor the antisocial desire — stigmatized as such by America’s judgmental tax code — to bequeath your wealth to your children, this would be an excellent month to die. Absent a congressional fix before Jan. 1, the death tax, which is 35 percent on estates above $5 million, reverts to 55 percent on those above $1 million.

via George F. Will: Fixing the tax code at the cliff’s edge – The Washington Post.

Rather than dying, many wealthy folks are giving their money away to their heirs, something else that will be heavily taxed after January 1.  From CNN Money:

Currently gifts and estates of up to $5.12 million are exempt from taxes, but as part of the fiscal cliff, any portion of a bequest that exceeds $1 million will be taxed next year — and at a 55% rate (currently, the rate is 35%). That will kick in unless Congress and the president agree to extend the current exemption or agree on a new one. Many older Americans are not waiting to see if that happens.

“It’s crazy,” said Richard Behrendt, Director of Estate Planning for Baird’s Private Wealth Management. “I bet more wealth is transferred this year than in the past 10 years combined.”
Jonathan Blattmachr, a principal of Eagle River Advisors in New York who has lectured groups of estate planners about the expiring exemption, said the amount given away in 2012 will be three or four times that of any other year.

The drop to a $1 million exemption means that the tax bill on gifts or estates of $5.12 million will go from zero this year to $2.266 million next year, according to Blattmachr.

What do you think about the estate tax?  One strain of puritanism has always disapproved of the “idle rich,” such as those trust fund kids on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous jetting to Monaco and other of the world’s playgrounds.  The thought is, people should earn their wealth by hard work, not just live off of the hard work of their forebears.

Then again, inheritance is related to the unity of the family across generations.  Also, those with inherited wealth are not necessarily “idle,” since they usually have to keep the family business in good working order.

The inheritance tax is often devastating to farmers and owners of small businesses.  Farmers are often cash poor, but land rich.  That is, the soaring price of land makes them wealthy on paper, in terms of assets, but they don’t necessarily have much actual money.  Frequently, when the landowner dies, the farm has to be sold to pay the estate taxes.  The heirs don’t have that kind of money even if they want to continue the family farm.  The same can hold true for small businesses, which often have to be dissolved upon the death of the owner when the heirs can’t come up with the cash to pay the inheritance tax.

The one black Senator

The Senate finally has an African-American member.  He is a conservative Republican.  South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced  she will appoint Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to the Senate, taking the place of Sen. Jim DeMint, who is leaving to head the Heritage Foundation.  Scott is a Tea Party favorite.  See Nikki Haley appoints Rep. Tim Scott to Senate.

Meanwhile, the NAACP is expressing “major concern” about the appointment, since Scott is a small-government conservative.


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