What hurts

“Mein Kampf” in Munich’s Volkstheater. Young Hitler is taken under caring Schlomo Herzl’s wing in a men’s boarding house in Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century.

Alarming is not that you laugh during George Taboris’ play. Alarming are not the allusions like the glowing oven on the initially dark set design. Alarming is seeing how powerless reasonable, civilized humanness and even faithful search for truth can be in the face of stupidity and distortion of reality. At least when they are alone.

Tabori ends with a joke: Two thieves are hanging on the cross. One asks the other: “Does it hurt?” – “Only when I laugh.” jup

Assertions of the same intention?

2018, workshop for spirituality: “What to bring: comfortable clothes and the willingness to change your life.”

A few years earlier: “Interested in the monastery life? Our monastery is located in a beautiful area …”

Or also some time ago: “If you want to cast a light on people, become an electrician or a priest.”

About 1900 years ago, a dialogue in the gospel of Luke. Jesus: “Follow me.” The invitee: “Let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus: “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” pez

Programmed Humanness

Digital assistants in small loudspeakers currently decorate the living rooms of technically adept households and fulfill the voiced wishes of their owners.

Emotion robots, that are supposed to show human affection, are deemed a promising future project in the nursing care sector, especially for dealing with patients suffering from dementia. In the American play Marjorie Prime, which was made into a film last year, holograms take the place of deceased family members. This is supposed to help the elderly mother suffering from Alzheimer’s, for example, cope better with the grief for her late husband, by now always being in the company of her 4o-year old husband. Through friendly questions like “Tell me more about me” the holograms collect information about their past characteristics, which they then try to adopt. Recounted mutual memories are later skillfully weaved into conversations. To appear human the messages of the holographic companions seem to be programmed to two basic statements: “I am here to help you, if you let me” and “how wonderful that I was able to love someone”. In the ludicrous end scene three holograms of the now deceased and originally dysfunctional family sit together peacefully and delight in once having loved someone. How inhuman harmony can be. heg

A sign

Three dioceses, two archdioceses, a diocesan council and two protestant regional churches meet. The three dioceses say: “We are so lonely, the churches so empty.”

The two archdioceses say: “We are so sad, so miserable”, the diocesan council says: “I am afraid we won’t last much longer”. Thereupon the protestant churches said in astonishment: “Look at that, you have the same problem as us — let us set an example together!” Skeptical in the beginning, the three dioceses, the two archdioceses and the diocesan council were soon giddy with excitement: “Oh yes! Let’s set an example together!” Presently the three dioceses, two arch dioceses, one diocesan council and two protestant regional churches set forth together: for a car fasting. saw

24 doors to a better life

In between the baffling book piles of a large-scale bookstore I discover a big sign: BETTER LIVING. Beneath that a wallful of handbooks, guides, manuals, bibles, confessions and insights, all of which promise me a better life. Great I think, a better life! Admittedly, the one I have right now isn’t half bad, but if you think about it … better would be better than not half bad. So I want to buy, but which one? The seemingly infinite number is overwhelming. Of course it would be best to just buy all of them, then I’d hedge my bets. But that won’t work.

Maybe I’ll just buy a couple. Maybe starting now I’ll buy two every month, then next year in December I’ll have an entire advent calendar. saw

 

Everything will be better in the New Year – 24 doors

Identity contrivance

Late-night entertainment on European educational TV. A coming-of-age philosophical documentary, trying to decipher our Zeitgeist from the perspective of an author in her mid twenties in the hip city of Berlin. The topic: identity.

It begins with a visit to a fortune teller, that predicts the journalist’s future by reading tea leaves. Conclusion: “Any day you can either open or close your future with yes and no.” The next conversational partner, a philosopher: “If the world were a book and we humans a word in it, then we can only find meaning for ourselves, if the book makes sense as a whole.” That reminds me of an interview with a retired manager, who travelled round the world with the intention of divining the wisdom of all cultures and then composing a book about the meaning of our existence. During a visit to a remote old monastery in Tibet he asks the elder the question about the meaning of life. His matter-of-factly reply: Go and sweep the yard. heg

What's left when nothing's left?

In a tight wooden box in Vienna's Akademietheater, the four remnants of a family are the last survivors in the void, in a world that “may come to an end”.

The interdependence of the family members is the only basis for their relationship. So, in Samuel Beckett's “Endgame”, apparently the most important issues are, who owns the key to the food cabinet, who has intact legs to make use of it; when it's time for an equally hard to get sedative, which, as it turns out later, has long been used up; and what happens when one leaves the interdependent web to die indifferently. “One moment turns into another, bluff, bluff, and your entire life you wait for it to turn into a life.” The protagonists' single brief effort to search for God with their eyes closed is quickly distracted by the search for a supposed rat and the vigorous demand for a promised, but not existing praline. The only spark of hope that the “endgame” might yet become a “beginning game” is the passing mention that God does not “no longer exist” here, but “not yet”. heg

Optimism

A man in California is standing in front of the remains of his house, which was completely burnt down during the forest fires.

He has lived in it for twenty-five years and now it and all his property was consumed by fire. In an interview, he says: “Well, we‘re gonna put that all up again ... it’s only stuff!” He even sounds rather cheerful. mas

Human Truth

A few weeks before her private audience with Pope Benedict XVI and shortly before her death, Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist and writer, wrote:

“I feel less alone when I read the books of Ratzinger. I'm an atheist; and when an atheist and a Pope think the same, then something must be true about it. It's that simple! There must be human truth beyond religion!”

Police State?

A Catholic Sunday service in Jerusalem: It's hot, the door is wide open. Suddenly, an Israeli policeman comes into the room with big, fast steps, while a second one remains outside the door. The first policeman goes up to a praying person in the first row of seats, taps him, and with a gesture he asks him to empty his trousers.

The man resists, the policeman beckons in his colleague. Then the priest interrupts his prayer, steps up, and loudly sends the policeman out of the room. He walks away, shrugging his shoulders, followed by one of the Fathers. The priest spontaneously starts his sermon with a commentary in which he interprets the incident as a religious conflict: That's what it's like, when you want to live in Israel as a Christian. You'll be insulted, spat upon, obstructed in service. The father who had left the room with the policeman comes in again, bends over to the man in the front row, and gently speaks to him. The priest disciplines his brother from the altar: “Daniel, leave the man alone.” Father Daniel continues to speak to the man. Then the man gets up and leaves the room. “And again, the police state has won”, the priest says at the altar. After the service, father Daniel apologises: “Well, he had robbed someone, the police have ensured that the robbed person got his purse back.” mas

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