Escaping the thrall of Bizlam

By Joy Connelly

Soon after I started writing this blog, Elizabeth delighted me by commenting, “That Joy Connelly sure does make us think.” Based on the past two week’s discussion, I think we can now all add, “and so does that Rosemary.”

In her thought-provoking entry, “Is the Judeo-Christian Path Fundamentally Extreme,” Rosemary spoke about her attraction to Jezebel, as described in Lesley Hazelton’s 2007 book. According to Hazelton, Jezebel was a Phoenician who married into Israel’s royal house. As a polytheist, she was brought down by the Hebrew prophets Elijah and Elisha and eaten by dogs because “she represented a wordliness, an inclusiveness, and open-ness to negotiation and compromise that didn’t fit with the required exclusive adherence to the one God of Israel.”

Old Testament illiterate that I am, I had never read the story of Jezebel in 1 and 2 Kings. When I looked it up after reading Rosemary’s entry, I could hardly believe it was talking about the same person. In the Old Testament account, Jezebel is indeed a foreigner who marries Israel’s king. She earns the enmity of the prophet Elijah when she slaughters the prophets in her adopted country and drives others into hiding. She earns his curse when, through forgery and false accusations, she plots the murder of a man so she can seize his property for her husband. (1 Kings 21) Many years later, she is killed when two of her own servants throw her out the window, at the urging of the military commander Jehu. Even then, Jehu intends to bury her properly “because she is a king’s daughter.” But by the time he sends soldiers to do so, only her bones remain, and Elijah’s curse is fulfilled. (2 Kings 9)

How can two stories be so completely different, and draw such different conclusions? Rosemary suggests that it is because Scripture was “written to preserve the culture and for political reasons,” and prop up the religious and political establishment.

I think Rosemary is right, that culture and politics inform religion, and vice versa. My question is, “How are our religious beliefs propping up today’s powers?

The prevailing religion of our age

Many years ago, newspaper columnist Rick Salutin described today’s prevailing religion as Bizlam, meaning “I surrender to business.” Salutin was talking about the way political discourse has bowed down to business interests. But I think the same thing is true of religious discourse.

Bizlam fosters the beliefs that are compatible with business activity. It places humanity at its centre. It promotes utility, self-fulfillment and self-improvement. It focuses on behavior, not beliefs; the future, not the past. We often think of the “bad” values that Bizlam promotes: greed, selfishness, gluttony, ambition, pride and a disregard for family life and the natural world. But it also cultivates many qualities we think of as “good:” choice, freedom, curiosity, initiative, flexibility and adaptability — the qualities that Hazelton prizes in Jezebel.

Bizlam not only makes “pick and choose religion” possible – you can’t have “cafeteria religion” without the concept of cafeterias! – it embraces it. And why not? The tenets of a privately-held religion are irrelevant to business, and the more personal, disparate or shallow these beliefs are, the lesser the threat to Bizlam.

It is only when loyalty to a faith confounds business interests that it becomes a problem. Think for example, of the experience of Aboriginal peoples, whose faith includes attachment to lands that have no economic potential. We see their poverty, but literally do not know what to do about people who have loyalties outside the realm of Bizlam.

I think the co-called  “clash of civilizations” is not only the conflict between Islam and either Christianity or Judiasm – although there are painful histories to be overcome — but between Islam and Bizlam. I think Rosemary is right. Bin Laden and fundamentalist Muslims are much closer to Old Testament characters who have loyalties above human life, than modern-day Christians (including me!) who live under Bizlam.

Just to be clear, I do not at all think that Bizlam is a deliberate conspiracy among business leaders to get us to work and buy. It is simply the collection of values that happen to feed business interests, and so gain in strength at the expense of other values.

Christians in Bizlam

I see myself and my Christian friends struggling to know how to live in the era of Bizlam. We look at the words of Jesus: the first shall be last; give up everything you have and follow me; do not store up earthly treasures; blessed are the poor in spirit. These are the teachings that run counter to Bizlam. In fact, I believe that if Christians found a way to live out these teachings en masse, Bizlam, for better or for worse, would come crashing down.

But I for one have not found a way to live out these teachings. I find myself entirely in the thrall of Bizlam, and can hardly imagine a life outside it.

This is one reason I keep returning to the Bible. Like Rosemary, many of the biblical stories baffle or horrify me. Nonetheless, it is one of the few books in wide circulation that was not written under the influence of Bizlam, and allows me to see outside my own world to something different.

Friends, I know many of you are struggling with the questions of “how should we live” and “how can we know what is true?” Can you contribute some of your own experiences with this struggle?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Escaping the thrall of Bizlam

  1. John

    Wow!
    You have hit on my daily struggle. How to break the Bizlam addiction and still be part of the neighbourhood, close enough to love my neighbour…
    I have drawn some consolation from Peter’s reference to Lot (2nd Peter 2:7) as a righteous man, even though by all appearances Lot was more inclined to Gomorrah than to God. I think myself more Lot’s descendant than Abraham’s!
    So how to break the addiction? The AA remedy applies.
    Drawing on a Higher Power, drawing on the strengths of others, meeting regularly and associating with those in ‘low positions’ (see Romans 12:16).
    And by not fooling ourselves. Who was it that said the greatest obstacle we face is self-delusion?

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