In “the holy city” of Jerusalem “the holy places,” meaning chiefly the Wailing Wall and the Temple Mount, are going up in flames. Instead of prayer, all one hears are the yells of Palestinian demonstrators on one hand and the equally raucous calls of Israeli policemen on the other. Not to mention the occasional sound of tear gas, firecrackers, rubber bullets, and live bullets that, so far in the present round of riots, has left two dead. Accompanying the hellish scene are the shrieks of police sirens, ambulance sirens, firefighter sirens, and God knows what other sirens. To say nothing about the occasional injured and death.
If this is holiness, I want no part of it In fact I have not been there for years.
Nor is the Temple Mount the only “holy place” that, in reality, is little different from hell. Take Tabcha, on the north western shore of Mount Galilee. Traditionally this is the place where Jesus turned five small fish and two loaves of bread into enough food for a multitude of his followers. Today three separate churches, belonging to three separate Christian denominations, grace the area. Last time I visited it, it was full of thousands of people milling around. Very few seemed to be aware of , or took the slightest interest in, what had, or what is supposed to have had, happened, there. Instead they spent their time buying cheap souvenirs and taking selfies. Worst of all, the drivers of the busses that brought all these people there did not turn off the air conditioning systems but left them to run. The outcome was noise and polluted air of the kind that, normally, you only get in the center of large cities.
If this is holiness, I want no part of it.
Or take Hong Kong. Perhaps the greatest single tourist attraction is a giant statue of Buddha. Constructed in 1993, it symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith. Or so Wikipedia says. So famous is it that it is almost obscured by the madding crowd of people milling about. There is, however a difference; aside from taking selfies and buying souvenirs, they also get to taste the less than mediocre food foisted on them by the local monks as part of the entry ticket.
Thank you very much.
And now a short, very short, list of some of things I do consider holy and cannot have enough of.
A baby laughing, or a litte child just learning to walk.
A dog that welcomes its master.
A field of flowers.
A well-tended garden, however small.
A silent lake in the midst of a silent forest where one can bath nude if that is what one likes, without too much interference from others and without a lifeguard.
The woods as seen, say, from the tree walk at Beelitz, Germany, which stretch as far as the eye can see.
The American prairie as experienced, say, from the parking lot at Mount Cheyenne, Colorado.
Really good music, or a really beautiful painting, or sculpture, or building. All to be enjoyed at leisure.
A calm discussion with friends accompanied, perhaps, by a a glass of wine and a light meal.
Sex of the kind only two people who love each other deeply can have.
The moment when the rainclouds part and the sun breaks through “with all its might,” as the Jewish prayer has it.
Quiet prayer to the god in whom one believes.
Most of these can be enjoyed by anyone, at any place, at any time. Without priests, rabbis, imams, or other self-appointed guardians to tell you what their various god’s commands are. Without politicians to quarrel over them and soldiers to watch over them. Compared with them, the abovementioned “holy places,” both in Jerusalem and elsewhere, are not just profane. They are gross. And often dripping with the blood that has been shed over them. By right they should be demolished, razed, blown up. Or have a nuclear warhead dropped on them, if that is what it takes to make people stop fighting over them.
However, there is a problem. Nothing, not even the pyramids, is more persistent than human memory. The Temple Mount was destroyed at least twice. Jerusalem itself at one point was renamed Aelia Capitolina and put out of bounds for Jews. To no avail, as we now know.
So all I suggest is that people avoided the so-called “holy” places. Both the handful which have been mentioned in this essay and the many that have not. Not only on bad days like those currently passing over Jerusalem, but on “good” ones as well.
A plague on them and on their quarrelsome visitors.