Posted in: history by bill-o on February 05, 2011

It played a key role in late Mideval and early modern British history and is a mentioned as one of the basic rights of Americans in the original, unamended Constitution of the United States. In fact, in the original 1787 Constitution that made almost no restrictions on the powers of the states, it is mentioned as being something that the states cannot do.

The concept is “attainder” and it is difficult to understand either British or American history without understanding what it is. To be “attained” is to be legally “singled out” for punishment. The “bill of attainder” prohibited by the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9 (Congress) and Section 10 (the states)) refers to the legislative process of passing a law that singles out an individual or group of individuals for punishment. (Thus, bills of attainder are mentioned in Article I, the article about legislative powers.) Attainder laws are closely related to the concept of ex post facto (after the fact) laws. The founders of the U.S. were concerned about the separation of governmental powers: legislative, executive, and governmental. Decisions about crime and punishment, in their plan, ultimately came under the purview of the judiciary. Congressional attainder would have upset that balance between the three branches of the American government. It would have allowed the heat of public opinion to convict people of crimes via attainder, even if the courts ruled them to be not guilty. The prohibition against attainder remains a check against any possible “tyranny of the majority” against individual citizens, even though most Americans aren’t now aware of this. (James Madison argued in favor of outlawing laws of attainder in Federalist No. 44, arguing that they were “contrary … to every principle of sound legislation”.)

In the history of England, attainder was the ultimate legal sanction against a treasonous noble. Before the Tudor dynasty of kings and queens (1485-1603), during the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses, most of the men who held any significant position of authority in the English government were also peers (lords) of the realm. The word peer originates from the Latin word par (meaning “equal”). Peers (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons) inherited their titles and associated privileges from their fathers, usually according to rules of strict male-line succession. Though dukes have the highest honor (precedence) amongst all of the peers and barons the lowest, all peers of the realm are in a sense equal (“on par”) with one another, as each one had an equal vote in the House of Lords. They were, in a sense, born into the family business of assisting the king in ruling his kingdom, and each one had the legal privilege of direct access to the sovereign. If a peer rebelled against the king and was arrested, the king could demand that Parliament pass an act of attainder against the peer. This act would revoke the title of the rebel lord. This revocation would also end the possibility of passing on that title to anyone else (son, grandson, nephew, etc.). Essentially, the title was “put to death”. An attained lord was thus reduced to the status of a commoner, and subject to punishments for commoners, such as burning at the stake. Since only peers were leaders of the body politic in pre-Tudor England, demotion from the peerage effectively ended a career in high politics, even for those who escaped the fate of execution after attainment. Those rebel peers who were killed in battle could still be attained after the fact (ex post facto).

The Wandering Kings of Slumdog Millionaire

Posted in: Popular Culture,Spirituality by bill-o on February 14, 2009

The movie “Slumdog Millionaire” is a 2008 film that tells the story of three children from the slums of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Slumdog Millionaire follows the lives of two brothers and their friend from their childhood in Mumbai to the lead character’s winning of the Millionaire television show in India as a young man. The film is a wonderful story in its own right, but there also a few “symbols and shadows” in the story line that you might not be aware of.

Consider the names of the children. The last name of the two brothers is Malik, which means king. The protagonist’s name is Jamal, which means handsome. The older brother’s name is Salim, which means peaceful, and Latika means creeper or vine (or elegant). Salim spends his short life searching for peace but really never finds it. Jamal’s name points to his being looked upon favorably by the viewers in India upon his winning the grand prize. After the brother’s are displaced from their family after anti-muslim riot and then are forced to flee a bad orphanage, they, in effect, become “wandering kings”. Jamal’s quest from then on is to return to Latika (the vine).

The concentration of the game show on the number 100 is also significant: There was one question about the one-dollar U.S. bill and one about centuries in cricket. The number 10 often symbolizes the end of one order and the beginning of another (thus we have ten fingers and use a base-10 number system, where to get from 9 to 10 we must add a digit). The number 100, 10 times 10, symbolizes a major change in the order of things.

Jamal’s life-story takes an important turn when he meets a blind girl who is begging on the streets. Being a blind, begging girl is perhaps as low of a social status as one can have in India. Yet it is this girl who points the way back to Latika, Jamal’s long-lost friend. The girl also knows that Benjamin Franklin is the face on the $100 bill, something that she really has no need of knowing. The girl points out that Benjamin Franklin’s portrait has unusual characteristics: he has long hair like a girl. This scene is in contrast to another part of the movie where the police officer jokes with Jamal that everyone in India knows whose picture is on the Rupee note: Gandhi. That’s common knowledge.

Money can serve as a symbolic representation for a way of doing things (a “currency”). In this movie, Indian money represents the typical or common order of things. The $100 U.S. bill, on the other hand, represents what is not common. It is a larger currency note than most poor Indians would ever see, and it is foreign. However, it is the unofficial currency of the world at large. It represents the atypical order of things that lies beyond the present, everyday reality of the characters in the film. When Jamal and Salim start (without sanction) working as tour guides for Western tourists at the Taj Mahal, the movie subtly, and almost unconsciously, shows their change from dealing with Indian money to dealing with American money. Jamal, as a tour guide, acts as a bridge between these two worlds. Notice in one scene how Jamal takes two Americans to see “the real India” (when their rented car is, shall we say, involuntarily relieved of much of its contents). (This particular scene is also a subtle nod to the Western audiences of this movie, most of whom are not familiar with the poverty and injustices that are sometimes are a part of life for the poorest of the poor in India.)

The film’s turning point comes when Jamal must prove his identity. At the end of the first day of the television show, the police assume that he is a fraud, arrest him, and subject him to harsh interrogation. Through various flashbacks in the movie and rough questioning by the officers, the crux of the matter for the police comes down to this question: Is Jamal Malik a fraud or does he really know the answers to the show’s questions? Through telling the story of his life to the police officers (in other words, by being completely transparent with them), Jamal demonstrates that the truth is inside of him. And by doing so, he gains the victory and is able to return to the game show to answer its final question.

In the film, Salim symbolizes law (religion without love), and Jamal represents love. The respective heart-attitudes of the two brothers is demonstrated to us when Salim sells, without permission, Jamal’s autograph of the famous Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan. To Jamal, this autograph was priceless, but to Salim it was just a piece of paper to be bartered for something else. Later, Jamal did not even care if he would win or lose the game show prize; he only wanted to be reunited with Latika. In the middle of the film, Salim imprisons Latika and treats her only as a commodity, whereas Jamal is genuinely interested in her welfare without any conditions placed upon their relationship. At the end of the movie, Salim finally releases Latika and entrusts her to the care of Jamal (he gives her his mobile phone, knowing that Jamal will be calling it later). This is a picture of the law finally dying and giving way to love. Salim dying a bathtub full of money is perhaps a more obvious symbol of the ultimate emptiness of riches.

Even though Jamal was a humble servant (serving tea as a chai-wallah at a call center), in the end his true identity as a handsome king (in this case, king of the game show Millionaire) is shown for everyone to see.


Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on August 29, 2008

In the ancient Sanskrit epic poem the Ramayana (which literally means “Ram’s Journey”), one of the principal stories is about when Prince Rama (Lord Ram) went into exile for 14 years. The eldest of four princes, Rama was about to crowned by his father as king in his place. However, King Dasaratha, Rama’s father, had promised one of his three wives (not Rama’s mother) the granting of any two wishes since she had once saved his life. Kaikeyi, Ram’s stepmother, asked that her son be installed as king instead of Rama and that Rama be sent into exile for 14 years. Reluctantly and heart-broken, Dasaratha agreed to her requests.

For the sake of his father’s honor, Rama did not contest the throne but accepted his fate. As he began to leave his city, all of his devoted subjects followed him out to the edge of the forest. Rather than have most of the city accompany him on his long, epic journey, Rama released the men and women to return to their homes and resume their lives. His exile was his responsibility alone.

As Lord Ram stepped into his exile and most of the people walked back to their houses, a certain smaller group did neither. These were the eunuchs. In that society, eunuchs were considered to be neither male nor female. Since in their minds their lord had not released them to go back to the city, they remained faithful and stayed at that very spot waiting for their lord to return.

When Lord Ram returned after 14 years, he found those eunuchs waiting for him. When he saw them, he blessed them and said that eunuchs would one day rise to power in the earth.


Kaikeyi was faithful to the letter but not to the spirit of her husband and king. Her request was based purely on a contract: “I will give you two wishes”. When she came to collect on these IOUs, this fulfilled her wishes but certainly not her husband’s, and so the hearts of the people were pointed towards her stepson and not to  her son. Her desires were not based on relationships of love but on an engine of selfish motivations steering a vehicle of obligation.

The eunuchs, on the other hand, waited patiently for their prince and lord without being asked. They had not been promised any reward for doing so. Such is the heart of faithfulness. It goes beyond mere laws and rules. It flows from a life of devotion and love.

Yet, Rama was also faithful to his father. Even though he had not done anything worthy of such a severe punishment, he was faithful to respect his father’s commands and not to dishonor him even when that meant banishment and exile.


“But the fruit of the spirit is … faithfulness, …; against such things, there is no law.”

Story of the Good Samaritan: A Fresh Perspective

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on August 09, 2008

You’ve probably already heard of the Story of the Good Samaritan. It was Jesus’ answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?”.

What you may *not* have heard is the symbolic interpretation of this story. Amazingly enough, looking at this story as being symbolic (allegorical) produces a sweeping picture of the entire story of humankind from beginning to end.

The story begins with a traveller going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is a steep downhill journey. This is symbolic of Adam being placed into the earth with the purpose of ruling over it after having been designed and thought of in the eternal, heavenly mind of God. [Note: The very beginning of the story in the original language (ancient Greek) even says “a certain man …” (the traveller), which is translated as “Adam”.] Yet before Adam can realize his true potential of ruling over all of the earth, he and his wife, Eve, make a tragic decision. Without fully realizing what they are doing, they surrender their privileges as a son and a daughter of God.

The thieves who attacked the traveller are symbols of the devil and demons. The robbery of the clothes of the traveller represents a loss of authority and identity, which is what happened to Adam and Eve (and to all of humanity, their descendants) when, after being tricked into doing so by the serpent, they disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree. This was then marked by their expulsion from Eden and their loss of a regular, face-to-face relationship with God in that garden. As happened to the victim in the story, they became “half-dead”. All of humanity is created in the likeness of God, and yet this stain of separation from God remains.

The unhelpful passers-by, the priest and the levite, represent religious law and religion systems. Neither is able or willing to help. [As it is written: By the works of the law, no one will be justified (helped).] Symbolically in the story, the law comes by first and then the religious ceremonies, formalities and systems that surround that law. [The Levites assisted the priests in ancient Judea.]

The Good Samaritan represents Jesus. The Samaritan pours oil and wine upon the victim’s wounds. Oil often represents the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) in the Bible, whereas wine often represents the blood of Christ, shed for all of humanity on the cross. Samaritans were part Jewish and part gentile (non-Jewish). This is symbolic of Jesus being God and man. The victim is then carried by the Samaritan to Jericho. This symbolizes Jesus Christ doing what humankind carelessly gave up the ability to do on its own: going “down” to its divine (heavenly) destiny of ruling (the story of Genesis says subduing/possessing/having dominion over) the earth. The inn where the traveller is housed in safety is a symbol of the church, the body of Christ. Finally, the promise of the Samaritan to return represents the second coming of Jesus back to the earth.

Another facet of this symbolic interpretation is offered by Sam Soleyn in his new MP3 series entitled “The Culture of the Kingdom”. See:

In program 139 of this series, Mr. Soleyn sees the two coins as symbolizing 2,000 years. This is because the type of coin in the story refers to one day’s wage for the average worker at that time, and also because, in the Bible, references to one day were often symbolic of 1,000 years. If this is correct, Jesus is saying that he would return for his church after about 2,000 years.

By the way, seeing this story as a series of symbols is not a new invention. Rather, it has ancient roots. The respected 3rd-century theologian Origen wrote down this interpretation and said that other followers of Christ had passed it down to him. See:

Do you also find this symbolic interpretation interesting or do you consider it to be just a distraction from the more direct meaning of the story?


You may not realize this but there is a web site dedicated to interpreting song lyrics. This site is called, interestingly enough, On this site, people are invited to post what they each think are the meanings (interpretations) of various songs.

For me, what is often most interesting about this site is not the interpretations themselves but the fact that the posted meanings so wildly diverge. (For example, type in “Hotel California” and read the possible song meanings that are posted there.) How can everyone listen to a popular song and yet come to such clearly different views of what the song really means? Didn’t the songwriter have only one interpretation in mind when he or she wrote the song?

Now let’s take a recent popular song, “Bottle It Up”, by singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles. Please go to the following part of to see both the lyrics of this song and its possible meanings:

(Please Note: You’ll need to be familiar with these lyrics in order to understand the rest of this post.)

For those of you who don’t already know, “Bottle It Up” is one of two popular songs by Ms. Bareilles, the other one being “Love Song”. On, “Bottle It Up” is described as being “cute”, about relationships going too far too fast, about a guy who’s too emotional in a relationship, or about Ms. Bareilles record label being too controlling. Evidently, what Ms. Bareilles had in mind was the last one in this list: her record label wanting to have too much of a say about her songs. See:

With this interpretation in mind, I listened to the song again and it made a lot more sense. The first half of the first verse and the third verse represent the record label talking down to Sara. The second half of the first verse, the second verse, the chorus, and the bridge are Sara responding (a very brief summary: “I do it for love.”).

Yet I’d like to suggest here an even more expansive and spiritual meaning of this song. If you take a look at the words of this song, the parts of the song where the record label is speaking can be viewed as being religious institutions. Just as a record label could be overly controlling of one its artists, so can a religious system place chains on the hearts of spiritual seekers. The parts where Sara is speaking can be seen, of course, as genuine love responding to religion and beginning to move beyond it.

First, notice how religious systems talk down to people: “Babe”, “Little Darlin'”, “kindly shut up”. And look at how the ultimate goal of institutional religion is everyone keeping up their end of the bargain, which is the essence of contractual law. Now there is nothing wrong with contracts, but they can’t in themselves lead themselves to the fullest expressions of true spirituality: faith, hope, and love. Without active traits like these in our lives, contracts (laws) can become mere tools for threats or manipulation.

In the third verse, the speaker talks in both the singular and in the plural, just as the singular “law” can be the plural “laws” and both mean essentially the same thing. The line “killing me sweetly” at the end of this verse plays on the words from Roberta Flack’s song “Killing Me Softly”. This is a subtle emphasis on how institutions love what is sweet (sugary). Sugar tastes good to eat, after all, but it provides little long-term nutritional value.

Religious institutions also love to “bottle up” an expression of reaching out to the divine and then try to repeat it over and over again, even when such old ways of doing things may no longer be necessary or appropriate.

The first verse turns like a door hinge on the word heart and how it can be seen in two different ways. Religious systems see the heart as something to be mechanically manipulated into “doing the right things”. Thus, we see the words “Get to the heart of it”. This is a command to strip things bare down to a cold and dry essence. Anything outside of certain predefined boundaries is not good. The turning of the first verse comes with the use of the s word, which represents a strong “push back” by the spiritual seeker. “No, it’s *my* heart, not yours!” The second verse describes a contrasting heart: one that blooms like a flower. It is delicate and beautiful. Here, knowledge in and of itself is not desirable (“I don’t claim to know much”), whereas love is gentle and encouraging.

The bridge of the song talks about maturing from law-based religion to love-based spirituality. Yes, when we are young and immature, rules (laws) can be useful. They tutor us, if you will, until we become spiritual adults. At the end of the bridge, religious (institutional) laws promise more laws (“resolutions”) as being the solution for all of life’s problems. The “new year” reference speaks of time, and the word “never” in front of it refers to what is locked in time. It can never be eternal. (In contrast, the word love is repeated eight times; eight is often seen as the number that symbolizes eternity.)

The ultimate expression of love comes overlaid upon the last time the chorus is sung. The essence of love is that you have to give it away before you can get it. This is something that goes beyond contracts and laws. At its highest expression, it is the laying down of one’s life for others.

God is love. In his eternal presence, love and not law will be the only guiding principle of interaction between one person to another. The “garden of love” was Eden where people and God met face to face and interacted purely on the basis of love. Where there was law, there was only the law that God made with himself. And so it will be again for those who love him.


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