Exodus - I went to a seder last night. For y'all non-Jews, the concept is basically celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt; that is, celebrating their liberation from bondage. That part, at least, I can get behind.

The means are a little problematic.

I was curious how it would go; I know the story as the bible has it well enough. God is, to put it euphemistically, a "freedom fighter". Pharaoh is bad. God gets worse: he never punishes Pharaoh; he punishes the people. What terror will He not use? None - He starts out with what are effectively demonstration plagues (the river of blood, frogs, lice, etc). Then He starts getting nasty (boils). Then He starts using WMDs against the people and crops (plagues, locusts, etc). Finally He ends up killing the firstborn. This act of terror not only goes unpunished (to our knowledge); it "works" - Pharaoh lets the Israelites go. (There was surely no USA then to crack down on such axis-of-evil type transgressions.) The Israelites are pursued, and God drowns the Egyption army (this one is OK by the rules of just war). Then we get back to the good parts of the ceremony, where we appreciate our freedom. And we involve the kids in that, making sure that they know why they are free ('cause God chose 'em and fought for 'em). It would have been enough if He had only done a few things; but He did the whole deal.

Anyway it was interesting to see how these things were explained to the kids, in the very liberal/feminist house I was in: they weren't. We got a bit about the archaeo-feminist Miriam. Meanwhile, after naming the biblical plagues and sacrificing a drop of wine for each, we named some other modern-day plagues. Liberal ones: the War, pollution, depletion of water, etc. (I only thought mine: the IRS.)

This is my first seder, and a good experience. I can see how Jews hang on to their separate identity as a people, using devices like this. It is a pity that we, the liberty-loving people, have nothing comparable. As L. Neil Smith argues, we need a culture of liberty. The futurist, dynamicist culture in scifi is part of that, and good as far as it goes. But it is cannot fill the need for roots; for a shared past; for shared communal celebration of values. That's what the seder seems to do, for Jews. That's what, to some degree, July 4 should mean for Americans; but we never systematized a propaganda/educational ritual the way the Jews did. There's a good reason why the youngest child is chosen to ask the four questions. And now we have lost July 4 to the nationalists, militarists, and flag-worshippers.

Well, if Kwanzaa can be hashed up from nothing, then it seems like we should be able to create a seder-like celebration of liberty for July 4 or maybe some other date. How would it go?

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