Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscience

Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscience

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:17 pm

by Mumia Abu-Jamal
© 1997 Plough Publishing House of the Bruderhof Foundation
© Text 1996 by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Foreword © 1996 by Cornel West
Preface © 1996 by Julia Wright
Cover photo by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Back cover photo by Thomas Filmyer
Frontispiece by Jennifer Beach
The passages by Kahlil Glbran on pages 8 and 101 are excerpted from his book The Prophet Copyright 1923 by Kahlil Glbran and renewed 1951 by Administrators CTA of Kahlil Glbran Estate and Mary G. Gibran. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.





Table of Contents:

To the Reader
A Write-up for Writing
Books and the State
Capital Punishment
Remembering Moser
The Search
Thoughts on the Divine
Night of Power
Material Life
Life's Religion
Isn't It Odd?
Spirit War
Christian? Christ-like?
The Faith of Slaves
Salt of the Earth
Men of the Cloth
Hate's Unkind Counsel
Human Beings
The Spider
The Fall
The Creator
Father Hunger
Meeting with a Killer
Objectivity and the Media
God-talk on Phase II
Meditations on the Cross
Holiday Thoughts
The Wisdom of John Africa
Untitled (poem)
More War for the Poor
Of Becoming
A Call to Action
Interview with Mumia
About the Author
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:43 pm


TO THOSE nameless ones who came before and are no more, to those who leapt to dark, salty depths, to those who battled against all odds, to those who would give birth to gods, to those who would not yield -- To those who came before, to those who are to come, I dedicate this shield.


Cornel West

The passionate and prophetic voice of Mumia Abu-Jamal challenges us to wrestle with the most distinctive feature of present-day America: the relative erosion of the systems of caring and nurturing. This frightening reality, which renders more and more people unloved and unwanted, results primarily from several fundamental processes. There are, for example, the forces of our unregulated capitalist market, which have yielded not only immoral levels of wealth inequality and economic insecurity but also personal isolation and psychic disorientation. Then there is the legacy of white supremacy, which -- in subtle and not-so-subtle ways -- continues to produce new forms of geographical segregation, job ceilings, and social tension. We can also see how, in other arenas, oppressive ideologies and persisting bigotries (like patriarchy and homophobia) smother the possibility of healthy and humane relations among men and women. In short, our capitalist "civilization" is killing our minds, bodies, and souls in the name of the American Dream.

As one who has lived on the night-side of this dream -- unjustly imprisoned for a crime he did not commit -- Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks to us of the institutional injustice and spiritual impoverishment that permeates our culture. He reminds us of things most fellow citizens would rather deny, ignore, or evade. And, like the most powerful critics of our society -- from Herman Melville, Theodore Dreiser, and Nathaniel West, to Ann Petry, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Eugene O'Neill -- he forces us to grapple with the most fundamental question facing this country: what does it profit a nation to conquer the whole world and lose its soul?

After over fifteen years of nightmarish jail conditions, Mumia Abu-Jamal's soul is not only intact but still flourishing -- just as the nation's soul withers. Will we ever listen to and learn from our bloodstained prophets?

Cambridge, Mass.
October 1996
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:45 pm

Julia Wright

Under a government that imprisons any man unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.
-- Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

Does the silk-worm expend her yellow labours for thee? For thee does she undo herself?
-- Cyril Tourneur, c. 1575-1626

There are all sorts of silences -- as many perhaps as there are textures to our sense of touch or shades of color to the eye. But I will always remember the extraordinary silence that fell over a Pittsburgh courtroom on October 13, 1995, when an African-American journalist and world-known author walked in slow motion, his feet in chains, to present testimony in his own civil suit against his prison (SCI Greene) and Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections for violation of his human rights. His name -- Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Ripples of silence froze in his shackled footsteps. As if on'a move waves could be stilled, this was a silence of total paradox: the volatile, scarcely hidden presence of loaded police weapons targeting the reined-in love of members of the family in the courtroom -- men, women, and children who have been unable to touch him for fourteen years. I was reminded of Coleridge's uncannily arrested sea: a spell cast against the forces of life. Having at last reached the stand in hi-tech noiselessness (America now produces silent chains for her prisoners' feet), a gentle giant spoke and was unbound by his own words.

The defense team for SCI Greene proceeded to interrogate Mumia, asking him repeatedly whether he knew he was violating prison rules when he wrote his book Live From Death Row. "Yes," quietly. (A tremor through the silence.) Did he know he was violating the same rules when he accepted payment for articles, commentaries, etc. ..? "Yes," in soft-spoken, vibrant tones. (The silence stirs.) Did he know that the current punishment for entering into "the illicit business of writing" behind bars was ninety days in the "hole" and a prison investigation justifying the monitoring of his mail and limited access to all categories of visitors including family, paralegals, spiritual counselors, the press? "Yes," patiently, wearily. (The silence vibrates but congeals again, oily and ominous.)

"Why then, if you knew, did you go ahead and write that book?"

"Because, whatever the cost to me, I knew I had to offer to the world a window into the souls of those who, like me, suffer barbaric conditions on America's death rows ..."

American silence shattered like cheap glass. Judge Benson suspended the hearing ...

THE BOOK YOU ARE about to read, Mumia's second "crime" since Live From Death Row, breaks through American silence yet again as its author shares with us his prison-brewed antidotes against bars of silence more deadly than the cold steel he touches every day.

In the recent HBO-Channel 4-Otmoor documentary Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?, Mumia finds words to tell us about the inhuman experience of sensory isolation he has been exposed to for two-thirds of a generation:

Once someone closes that door, there is no sound. There is the sound of silence in your cell. There is the sound of an air-conditioner and the sound of silence, the sound you create in your own cell. The sense of isolation is all but total, because you're cut off even from the sonic presence of people. Imagine going into your bathroom, locking the door behind you, and not leaving that bathroom, except for an hour or two [each day] ... and staying in that bathroom for the rest of your natural life, with a date to die.

In Death Blossoms, Mumia's victories against such sensory deprivation are as many prizes he has wrested from prison. ("Prize" and "prison" share the same root meaning: "to seize. ") However, he does not present us with ready-made, do-it-yourself, take-away prescriptions: that would be too simple. If a pattern of anti-carceral antidotes is to be found in the pages that follow, it is for us to learn how to detect them, just as Henry James believed that readers need to reach a certain stage of lucidity before they can make out the hidden "figure" in a writer's "carpet."

Nothing, Mumia lets us know, can begin without the word. Writing behind locked doors gives durable sound to prison silence, spiritual distance from a madding crowd of politicians and elected judges whose careers are built on the blood of others, creative dimension to the sound and fury of a world lost. In writing, there is a renewed bonding: unshackled hands grasping notebook, fingers touching pencil, pencil touching paper, paper touched by readers who are in turn touched by meaning. And something is badly needed to prevent the outside world from receding, to arrest the slowing-down of the metabolism of exchange with one's remembered community. Do colors pale and falter with Plexiglas filtering? Is there a sepia-like transmutation due to the overexposure of much revisited memories?

Death Blossoms seems bathed in a shimmering translucency, as if remembered color 'n' sound are bleeding out of prison-reality, and this existential hemorrhage can be stopped only by the "brilliant etching of writing upon the brain."

CAN ALL THE CENTURIES of world philosophy even begin to visualize the dreams and nightmares of our death row inmates? The raw stuff of dreams draws on the immediacy of the sentient world -- but when that world is suppressed, what happens to those dreaming processes which constitute one of the foundations of human sanity? Rollo May has written about that existential pain at the heart of all human exile: the inability to go home. Homelessness, like noiselessness and lack of physical contact, is at the core of American "correction." It is the experience of being at home or not, of being able to go home or not, that sustains the sense of self or begins to shatter it. And it is one of the amazing strengths of this book that Mumia has turned his mind into his home, showing us in the process how out-of-our-minds we may have become in the "open" society outside. Mumia's inner home is so limitless that when we exit this book, it is into our own materialistic, petty reality-cells that we enter, apparently of our own "free" will.

This is not classic autobiography or even "intellectual" biography. It is the narrative of an escape from prison into the liberated territory of the mind, a pacing not of the cage but of the psyche, a jogging not in the pen but in the open space Mumia calls "reaching beyond." We are privileged that he takes us with him on a liberating tour of his own freedom. Resolutely on a move within his own spiritual quest, Mumia makes us understand that "free" men and women can imprison and arrest their own revolutions just as "inmates" can set free a boundless revolution of the mind. As Frantz Fanon, the late psychiatrist and freedom-fighter, wrote in his Wretched of the Earth, "Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well."

Our minds are indeed bombarded with media hype and racial stereotypes. Who does not recall the Disneyland face of a womanchild tearfully describing (for primetime consumption) the black "monster" who murdered her two small boys? Except that this killer turned out to be the figment of her own homicidal imagination ... Yet how many Mumia Abu-Jamals were arrested or harassed before the truth was duly established? Who does not remember a Boston-based Italian-American as he testified, convincingly, to witnessing the murder of his wife by a black "thug?" Except that this dark fiend turned out to be a projection straight out of the husband's criminal mind ... But, meanwhile, how many Abu-Jamals? Who can forget a tear-streaked widow telling over and over again how the defendant (Mumia) smiled diabolically as the prosecution showed the jury the blood-stained shirt of her policeman-husband? Except that the minutes of the trial prove that Judge Sabo had barred Mumia from the courtroom that day ... And so the pattern repeats itself as we are told that a certain Wesley Cook, a.k.a. Mumia Abu-Jamal, killed a police officer who happened to be brutalizing his brother. But who is the real Mumia beyond these false, cold-blooded projections?

Death Blossoms is a personal and collective answer to this question, a generous and human song of innocence for all the unseen, voiceless men and women imprisoned by guilty stereotypes way before they set foot in a penitentiary.

Predictably, another "invisible man" haunts this case: he was seen running away from the scene of the shooting by at least three witnesses (Dessie Hightower, William Singletary, Veronica Jones), and all have since spoken up concerning the police intimidation they underwent simply for insisting that this man was not a figment of their black folks' imagination ...

ALTHOUGH MUMIA'S LIFE-FORCES are sealed off and preyed upon by a carceral onslaught tantamount to hi-tech slavery, he distills in these pages the ultimate rebuttal of his imprisonment: mental and spiritual autarchy.

Death Blossoms displays a deceptively simple meshing of form and content. In fact, one of the most fascinating figures in Mumia's "carpet" is quite literally the carpet itself. the weaving of a web of words. Revealingly, towards the end of the book, Norman, an inmate, marvels at a spider's defiance of prison rules as it spins its web under his sink. Mumia, who soon discovers a spider of his own, weaves anecdote into antidote, and we begin to see that the book we hold in our hands is also a web spun out of the creative threads of a mind-made home; just as Anansi, the spider of ancient African folklore, is the source of a life-web unraveled from within.

As is uncannily the case with much of Mumia's writing, the psychological truth is also borne out scientifically. Randy Lewis, a molecular biologist who has been studying spiders' secrets for years, has recently written that "spider silk absorbs more energy before it breaks than any other material on earth." The writing in Death Blossoms is as prison proof as the silk for vests, currently derived from imprisoned, anesthetized spiders, is bullet proof. And from his carceral lab, Mumia's word-threads reach through and beyond prison bars; they are symbols of the essential twine of bonding with those on the outside. Together they form a web which is an almost literal image for those "holes in the soul" he writes of. But the same web also healingly re-creates in prison the reality of "the whole connected web of nature" and holds us all together as a community in spite of the most brutal assaults. As he notes in reference to the bonds that unite his beloved brothers and sisters of MOVE even after numerous sinister, programmed attempts to destroy their community: "Using neither nails nor lumber, John Africa constructed from the fabric of the heart a tightly cohesive body."

Many of us will not emerge from this book unsnared, for to the extent that we cannot deny the knowledge of what we have read, we are faced with a vital question: Knowing what we know, having become witnesses, can we continue to live and let die?

DEATH BLOSSOMS raises the issue of the innocence of one man -- any man -- at the hands of an elitist society that manufactures and projects its guilt upon its citizens in order to enrich itself. I am reminded here of my father's character, Fred Daniels, in The Man Who Lived Underground. Pursued by the police for a crime he did not commit, Daniels is robbed of his innocence and escapes underground into the city's sewers to avoid capture. As he tries to survive in hiding by resorting to stealing, he takes to peering through cellar doors and invisibly watches others being robbed of their innocence as they are punished for his thefts. After an old watchman falsely accused on his account commits suicide, Daniels understands from the depths of his netherworld that we are all robbed of our innocence and are therefore all condemned to guilt. He emerges from the sewers with the urge to share this truth with the world:

If he could show them what he had seen, then they would feel what he had felt, and they in turn would show it to others, and those others would feel as they had felt, and soon everybody would be governed by the same impulse of pity.

Similar threads of poignant hope and faith in justice run through Death Blossoms, making visible witnesses of us all. Veronica Jones, a hounded witness in Mumia's case, was moved by the same impulse when she recently came forward to set a false record straight, but she was arrested at the stand for sticking to the truth of what she saw -- a man running away -- and for courageously accepting the responsibility that goes with taking the truth out of the" underground" ...

Our America, geographically so vast and rich, historically so young and green, has traditionally preferred the materialism of space to the invisible threads time spins though her landscapes and the experience of her restless peoples. Mumia's writing reconnects us with a much-needed sense of continuity, with the history of our birth as a people on western shores through the Middle Passage, with our ensuing struggle down through time, ongoing, on a move.

For Mumia, a wholistic struggle -- the warp and woof of it -- unfolds not only in terms of space-oriented internationalism, but also through the transgenerational glue contained in the web parabole. It is sadly ironical, though, that such an appreciation of the spiritual essence of time should come from a death row inmate who lacks the material wealth that buys life-time in America. But Mumia, with characteristic selflessness, enjoins us to look beyond ourselves at the fragile blooms of our children, and help them "dwell in the house of tomorrow," where we may not be.

A BLOSSOM IS one of the life forms most bound up with the message of time. The fruit it becomes holds in its flesh the memory of the grand-bud that came before it, and the foretaste of its passage through rot. According to the most haunting of blues, sung by the sister with the eternal magnolia in her hair, there were many "strange fruit" hanging from our southern trees. But do our landscapes remember? According to legend, death flowers (also called "mandragore") grew under innocent men who had swung high. These blooms held wondrous powers of fertility and continuum in the hands of the damned of the earth

As I was reading the manuscript of Death Blossoms, I received a deeply moving letter from Mumia recounting his grief at the violent death of Tupac Shakur -- a Panther family child, a promising but unfulfilled cub nipped in the bud. "What loss!" Mumia writes. "The son of a Panther who never knew his mother's glory; who called himself a 'thug;' who never realized his truest self, his truest power." Mumia's words will strike a deep chord in those of us who have had to teach our children to become mental guerrillas, and to thread their way through the grim statistics of their own mortality. "Every two hours, one of you dies of gunshot wounds," we force ourselves to teach them.

MUMIA'S INABILITY to touch the grandchildren born to him while on death row is, microcosmically, a double bind experienced by far too many in our decaying "communities:" the intergenerational connections of life are eroded, foreshortened at both ends of our life-spans. Targeted by the FBI as a child, Mumia cannot bond with his own children, or theirs -- and all have been robbed. My father, Richard Wright, would have met my children and theirs, had he not died in his prime, in unelucidated circumstances. Our generations are torn asunder and brushed aside like cobwebs; they are cut off and isolated -- as if on their own death row.

Over half a century after Native Son, Bigger -- my paper brother -- still haunts America, because in his premature death at the hands of the State, there was a foretaste of coming rot. Tupac? Another real-life native son in the long chain since decimation. We live and breathe this state of recurrent loss! We need to be able to find the right rites to mourn so many thousands gone, if only to prevent the next ones from going. Because those slain in childhood will have no children ...

It is a healing strength of this book that Mumia, who lives at such mortal risk, can hand us the connective strands of a net to throw far over the great divide, towards generations of children we may never get to know or see or touch. But as he makes clear, we can love them ahead, preventively. And maybe this bondnet, flung far across time as a Love Supreme, will keep them from going too unfortified, too gentle into the bad night of renewed bondage.

Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal and Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol are prime examples of forbidden works written and banned at the end of the nineteenth century, only to become universally loved in the twentieth.

And so here are Mumia Abu-Jamal's Death Blossoms -- timelessly.

October 1996
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:45 pm

Steve Wiser

The corridors leading to death row at SCI Greene, Pennsylvania's state-of the art supermax, are spanking new. Floor tiles gleam like glass; off-white block walls blend with steel blue window frames and hand rails; smells of wax and lemon-scented detergents permeate the hallways. Even the germs are killed. It's like a hospital -- except for one thing: the absence of humanity.

Electronic devices control and monitor every human motion. Cleverly concealed video cameras beam silently from every angle; small speakers crackle in concrete walls. From behind thick glass panels, uniformed guards follow each step. It is enough to make one feel naked, for -- literally -- the very walls have eyes and ears.

At the end of the long, empty passage is a set of double, remotely-controlled doors; beyond them a bleak guard station serves as the command center of L-5. It is the epicenter of this industrial edifice. Yet here one comes face to face with what the system tries hardest to conceal: humanity. Humanity, in all its warmth, richness, and earthiness.

I first met Mumia Abu-Jamal in May, 1995. I had no idea what to expect. I had visited numerous prisons before, from Bastille-like fortresses in Great Britain to Nigerian hell-holes where (instead of razor wire) the walls were lined with vultures, their hideous shriveled heads peering this way and that. But I had never been to a death house.

DEATH ROW WAS A SHOCK. But I was even less prepared to meet the man I had come to visit there: a tall, athletically-built African-American whose joie d'vivre filled his tiny visiting compartment and seemed to overflow, through the Plexiglas partition separating us, into mine. Sitting there opposite him, I discovered a brilliant, compassionate, hearty, articulate man -- a man of rare character, tempered and profoundly deepened by suffering.

From the outset, Mumia and I found ourselves communicating heart to heart. To a passing guard, it must have been a strange sight: two cell-mates, as it were -- one a bald, white minister from a religious order, the other an African-American inmate whose long dreadlocks and urban savvy betrayed an entirely different background.

Even more strange was our discovery of the common values and viewpoints shared by our spiritual families -- Mumia's beloved brothers and sisters in the MOVE Organization, and my fellow members of the Bruderhof, a community movement grounded in New Testament teachings. The more we learned about each other, the closer we felt.

As my weekly visits to Mumia continued, all of us at the Bruderhof became increasingly aware of the blatant injustices of his trial -- and increasingly active in the international campaign to protest his death sentence. We joined rallies, wrote to government officials and newspaper editors, and printed his writings in our journal, The Plough. Not surprisingly, we were met with plenty of criticism, and many who had previously claimed to be our friends censured us for "meddling" in such radical "politics." On the other hand, we gained hundreds of new friends, including death row inmates, writers, artists, and rappers, social workers, teachers, activists, and other religious and secular groups who stand in opposition to the death penalty. We have been deeply enriched by our contact with Mumia.

Our involvement, of course, was spurred on by far more than Mumia's case per se: our church has always spoken out against individual and state-sanctioned violence -- from the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany to the bombing of Vietnam and Iraq. Yet even without the historical precedents, we could not have remained silent. Why? Because the life of an innocent man is at stake.

Mumia is, in reality, a prisoner of conscience. Long before his arrest in 1981 -- from his teen years in the Black Panther Party to his career as a radio journalist -- his commitment to the ideals of honesty and fairness, and his tireless attempts to unmask the lie of governmental "justice," cost him his freedom. Tragically, they may cost him his life.

Punished most recently for writing a book -- his controversial expose Live from Death Row (Addison-Wesley, 1994) -- Mumia is painfully aware of how quickly the broadest civil liberties in the world are curtailed when political power is at stake. Still, he continues to speak out. And as his fellow human beings -- as his brothers and sisters -- we have felt it a matter of conscience to assist him in bringing to the printed page his thoughts and feelings. In this way, from out of the sterile steel-and-block walls that isolate him, blossoms have unfolded -- blossoms of thought and of spirit. Penned beneath the scribbled symbol of a flower and referred to by the silent gesture of cupped hands -- wrists shackled, but palms uplifted to unfurl the fingers -- they have now drifted far beyond the confines of the prison fence.

I have visited Mumia as his "spiritual advisor" for eighteen months now. There have been days when I entered the "row" depressed, weighed down with those petty problems that plague all of us at one time or another. Yet I have left again deeply refreshed and strengthened. How is it that a well-spring of life can arise on death row? That a condemned man can speak -- sincerely, even effusively -- of the "wonder and joy of Life?" How is it that a despised convict, locked in a cell the size of a bathroom in the most godforsaken spot in Pennsylvania, can imbue with a spirit of freedom those who are "free?"

MUMIA IS SIMPLY A MAN. Writing to me last summer from a sweltering prison block near Philadelphia, thirteen dreadful days before his scheduled (and then suddenly postponed) execution date, his soul cries out:

I would be lying if I told you I've not had those nights -- dark nights of the soul where death itself seems welcome ... I sometimes want to shout -- "I am not a symbol; I am a man!" But on this my fabled "voice" falters. I am no more, no less, than a man -- a human fighting for his breath in a shifting sea of codified hatred. As I seek a safe shore, a harbor, I am buffeted by swells that threaten to drown out my very existence ... For me, the "law" is not a refuge, but a ravenous great whale circling ever closer, seeking its prey.

And so he sits on death row today, his future uncertain, but his spirit still unfettered. As he writes in another letter:

... Loneliness is but an illusion. One man, "living" on one of the most damned sites on earth, is not truly alone. The death chambers of America are not as tightly sealed as many may suspect for how can Spirit be kept out?

It is often said that when a writer bares his soul in a book, a small part of it travels to every reader. Here, then, from the heart and soul of Mumia Abu-Jamal to yours, are the flowers of his spirit.

New Meadow Run Bruderhof
October 1996
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:45 pm

A Write-up for Writing

ON JUNE 3, 1995, one day after being served with a death warrant, I was served with a "write-up," a misconduct report for "engaging actively in a business or profession," i.e., as a journalist. So strongly does the State object to me writing what you are now reading that they have begun to punish me, while I'm in the most punitive section that the system allows, for daring to speak and write the truth.

The institutional offense? My book, Live from Death Row. It paints an uncomplimentary picture of a prison system that calls itself "correctional" but does little more than corrupt human souls; a system that eats hundreds of millions of dollars a year to torture, maim, and mutilate tens of thousands of men and women; a system that teaches bitterness and hones hatred.

Clearly, what the government wants is not just death, but silence. A "correct" inmate is a silent one. One who speaks, writes, and exposes horror for what it is, is given a "misconduct." Is that a correct system? A system of corrections? In this department of state government, the First Amendment is a nullity. It doesn't apply.

No one -- not a cop, nor a guard -- can find one lie in Live from Death Row; indeed, it is precisely because of its truth that it is a target of the state and its minions -- a truth they don't want you to see.

Consider: Why haven't you seen, heard, or read anything like this on TV, radio, or in the papers? Newspapers, radio, and TV are increasingly the property of multinational corporations or wealthy individuals and therefore reflect the perspective of the rich and the established, not the poor and powerless.

In Live from Death Row, you hear the voices of the many, the oppressed, the damned, and the bombed, paid a high price to bring it to you, and I will pay more; but, I tell you, I would do it a thousand times, no matter what the cost, because it is right! To quote John Africa:

"When you are committed to doing what is right, the power of righteousness will never betray you ... " It was right to write Live from Death Row, and it's right for you to read it, no matter what cop, guard, prisoncrat, politician, or media mouthpiece tells you otherwise.

Every day of your life, no doubt, you've heard of "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press." But what can such "freedom" mean without the freedom to read, or to hear, what you want?

As you read this, know that I am being punished by the government for writing Live from Death Row, and for writing these very words. Indeed, I've been punished by the United States government for my writings since I was fifteen years of age -- but I've kept right on writing.

You keep right on reading!
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:45 pm

Books and the State

The writer who is endorsed by the State is the writer who says what everyone wants to hear: the allowable things. It is noteworthy that even at this time in world history, those who write satire, social commentary, or works of opinion can be damned, threatened, and marked for death because of their words. Take Salman Rushdie. How many people have actually read his works? I have read The Satanic Verses, also Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I cannot speak for a Muslim, of course, yet I found him fascinating, funny, and an extremely good writer. I can understand why the State felt threatened by his work. What I don't understand is why they would think of doing something that will only immortalize it.

If there's one thing we've learned In two thousand years, it's that you cannot kill a book. One of the greatest science-fiction films I have ever seen, Fahrenheit 451 (that's the point at which paper combusts spontaneously), which is based on a Ray Bradbury novel, portrays a futuristic society in which books are banned and people cannot hold unorthodox Ideas. In this society there are subversives -- people who read books. The subversives keep their books hidden in attics, in basements, and behind false walls. And this old lady in the film tells a young girl that she likes books and has some hidden in her attic. Somehow the word gets out, and when it does, the alarms start ringing and they call the fire department. The fire brigade rushes to the house, axes the doors, and starts a fire: they burn the house to the ground. Finally all the subversives or rebels flee the country to a place where people become books. In a sense, the film tries to show how far the State will go to ban books, or anything it perceives to be dangerous, for that matter. But it also shows how useless all those measures are.

You cannot kill a book.
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:46 pm

Capital Punishment

THE DEATH PENALTY is a creation of the State, and politicians justify it by using it as a stepping stone to higher political office. It's very popular to use isolated cases -- always the most gruesome ones -- to make generalizations about inmates on death row and justify their sentences. Yet it is deceitful; it is untrue, unreal. Politicians talk about people on death row as if they are the worst of the worst, monsters and so forth. But they will not talk about the thousands of men and women in our country serving lesser sentences for similar and even identical crimes. Or others who, by virtue of their wealth and their ability to retain a good private lawyer, are not convicted at all. The criminal court system calls itself a justice system, but it measures privilege, wealth, power, social status, and -- last but not least -- race to determine who goes to death row.

Why is it that Pennsylvania's African-Americans, who make up only 9% of its population, comprise close to two-thirds of its death row population? [1] It is because its largest city, Philadelphia, like Houston and Miami and other cities, is a place where politicians have built their careers on sending people to death row. They are not making their constituents any safer. They are not administering justice by their example. They are simply revealing the partiality of justice.

Let us never forget that the overwhelming majority of people on death row are poor. Most of them cannot afford the resources to develop an adequate defense to compete with the forces of the State, let alone money to buy a decent suit to wear in court. As the O.J. Simpson case illustrated once again, the kind of defense you get is the kind of defense you can afford. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, in Florida, in Texas, in Illinois, in California -- most of the people on death row are there because they could not afford what O.J. could afford, which is the best defense.

One of the most widespread arguments in favor of the death penalty is that it deters crime. Study after study has shown that it does not. If capital punishment deters anything at all, it is rational thinking. How else would it be conceivable in a supposedly enlightened, democratic society? Until we recognize the evil irrationality of capital punishment, we will only add, brick by brick, execution by execution, to the dark temple of Fear. How many more lives will be sacrificed on its altar?



1. See Abu-Jamal, Live from Death Row, xvii
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:48 pm

Remembering Moser

RECENTLY I CAME across words from Gibran, one of my boyhood heroes, and reflected on them as I hadn't in more than a generation. What reader of this passage from The Prophet can but pause for thought?

Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.

But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you.

So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.

And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree.

So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.

Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.

You are the way and the wayfarers.

And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.

Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.

Here I sat, on death row, of all places, and not only on death row, but on Phase II, beside men who, like me, had a few weeks left to live.

One of them, a middle-aged, frog-voiced Vietnam vet, would rather die, than live in this Hell of cells, and, refusing all appeals, did die by lethal injection; by judicial murder, by state diktat. His name was Leon Moser.

Two doors down from me, I tried to get him to fight for his life, to get him to battle the political whores who were using his life, and his very death, as stepping stones to higher political office such as elected judgeship:

"Look, man. I understand how you feel. Hell, if I was a middle-aged white dude from the boondocks stuck down here in this black 'n' Spanish village, well -- hey -- I might do the same thing, or feel like it. Graterford must make you feel as if you were in a foreign country.

"Also, wouldn't it be good to beat those slimy lawyers in the DA's office, who owe their careers to your life -- and your death? I know you hate lawyers!"

"I think lawyers are sleazy, yes. But I don't really care about being executed. As far as I'm concerned the man they sentenced to death died over ten years ago. To execute me won't mean nothing, 'cause that man ain't alive no more. To kill me, Jamal, is just like puttin' out garbage."

Moser welcomed death like a long-lost lover, and the State, thirsty for his blood, rushed him off into eternity, ignoring even the attempted telephonic intercession of a federal judge. Defense lawyers criticized his execution as a rush to death.

In those few times I saw him in that dark, humid, and stifling Phase II, Moser appeared fifteen years older than he really was; his hair more white than brown, his beard a whitened, chest-long brush, his visage a stark contrast to pictures published in the daily press, which showed a younger, browner-haired, less furtive face.

He walked with a permanent hump, as if a demon the size of a rogue elephant rode his back, bending him down, down, and still farther down.

For such a one, might not death bring the hope of a respite?
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:49 pm



PEOPLE SAY they don't care about politics; they're not involved or don't want to get involved, but they are. Their involvement just masquerades as indifference or inattention. It is the silent acquiescence of the millions that supports the system. When you don't oppose a system, your silence becomes approval, for it does nothing to interrupt the system. People use all sorts of excuses for their indifference. They even appeal to God as a shorthand route for supporting the status quo. They talk about law and order. But look at the system, look at the present social "order" of society. Do you see God? Do you see law and order? There is nothing but disorder, and instead of law there is only the illusion of security. It is an illusion because it is built on a long history of injustices: racism, criminality, and the enslavement and genocide of millions. Many people say it is insane to resist the system, but actually, it is insane not to.
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Re: Death Blossoms: Reflections From a Prisoner of Conscienc

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:49 pm

The Search

LIFE HAS EVER BEEN in search of answers to basic questions -- What is Life? Who is God? Why?

As a boy, this quest took me to the oddest places. When Mama dragged us to church, it seemed more for her solace, than ours. A woman who spent most of her life in the South, she must've felt tremendous social coldness up North. "Down home" was "down South," for even after over a decade, the brick and concrete jungle we walked daily didn't seem like home.

Only at church did it seem that Mama returned home. It was a refuge where women her age sought a few hours for the soul's rest while the preacher performed. In a sense, Sunday trips to church were her weekly "homegoing." They were islands of the South -- its camaraderie, its rhythms, its spiritual community -- come north.

Yet for myself, as for most of my siblings, church was a foreign affair. We had never lived (and seldom visited) in Mama's southern birthland, and the raucous, tambourine-slapping, sweat-drenched, organ-pounding milieu couldn't be more alien. We weren't southerners.

Black preachers, especially those of southern vintage, are extroverts in style, diction, and cadence. They may yell, shriek, hum, harrumph, or sing. Some strut the stage. Some dance. Black Baptist preachers, especially, are never dull or monotonal. Their sermons aren't particularly cerebral. Nor should they be. They preach to congregations whose spirits have been beaten down and battered all week long. To them, Sundays are thus days when the spirit, not the mind, needs lifting. So preachers must perform, and sermons become exercises in exuberance.

I remember staring at the preacher -- his furrowed face shining with perspiration, eyes closed, lips locked in a holy grimace -- and wondering to myself, "What da hell did he just say?" His thick, rich, southern accent, so accessible to Mama, was Greek to me.

Part of me was embarrassed, but the other couldn't give a damn. I couldn't care less what the preacher was saying, and he couldn't care less what I was thinking. I was thinking: I am bored to tears.

The only "salvation" I felt in church was the rapturous joy I felt when I looked around me. Here, I thought, are some of the most beautiful girls in the world.

I was lost in a reverie, in rapt adoration, my eyes locked on a girl a few pews back. She had fresh pressed hair; a crisp, starched dress; patent leather shoes that shone brighter than the real stuff. Her dark brown legs shimmered with the luster of Vaseline ...

Then a painful pluck would pull me from my rapture, and Mama's clenched lips whispered, "Boy! Turn yo' narrow behind around now! Straighten up!" I would simmer. Who would choose to stare at an old preacher when there was a pretty girl to look at? If I hadda choice between 'em -- well, that wouldn't be no contest. But I was only ten. Mama made the choice for me. I turned, glowering.

It was only several years later, when I was no longer forced to go to church, that I really began to explore the realm of the spirit. Sometimes I went to Dad's church. Although Mama was a bred-in-the-bone Baptist, Dad was Episcopalian. He had taught me how to read by using the Bible, and seemed to take pleasure in listening to me read Holy Scripture.

After the raucousness of Mama's Baptist church, Dad's Episcopalianism seemed its quiet antithesis. Whereas Second Pilgrim's was cramped, Episcopal was spacious. Baptists sang and danced; Episcopalians were reserved and stately. Mama's friends shook their tambourines in North Philly. Dad's sang hymns in the foreign outlands of Southwest Philly.

Dad's church was vast, reflecting substance and wealth, yet it didn't feel like home. Maybe Mama's church was a sweatbox. Dad's seemed a cold fortress. Soon I began to seek my own spirit-refuge, going wherever I felt the spirit lead me. Like to the synagogue.

THROUGH READING the Bible and other books, I knew that the Scriptures were supposed to be the Word of God. I thus reasoned that among the Jews, whose faith is rooted in the Old Testament, I would find this Word in a purer form. One day I went to seek it.

In North Philly's bustling black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods, Jews were a distinct and rare minority -- old men, and a few women, who sold chickens, clothing, or peanuts. Their house of prayer, however, was hardly distinct: a small synagogue, it stood recessed, tucked in between the storefronts that margined it like the edges of a book cover.

Inside the vestibule, six or seven old men stood, chanting in an unknown tongue. They wore yarmulkes on their heads, and prayer shawls fastened across their chests covered their stooped shoulders. The room was dark, and what little sun seeped in hardly penetrated the dimness. Dust motes swam like goldfish in thin ribbons of filtered light. To this day, I remember the dust; the dust of old stones, of old men. And the smell of old men.

The rabbi, his eyes enlarged by bifocals, shuffled over to me, his shoulders stooped, his eyes sharp. "Can I help you, young man?" His speech was guttural, thick; colored with Yiddish isms. There seemed to be -- or was I only imagining it? -- an aura of fear around him stirred, perhaps, by my entrance. Who was this big, beardless youth confronting him?

As tall black men learn to do, I made myself mentally smaller, and looked askance as I explained my reason for entering the synagogue.

"Yes, sir. I -- umm -- I'm -- umm ..I wanna learn about Judaism."

"Vy iz dat?"

"Well, I'm interested in learning about the religion that really began Christianity."

"Vell -- Vy?"

"Umm ... becuz I think I wanna become a Jew."

"Dyou vat? Vat you mean? Vy dyou say dat?"

"Well -- I'm interested in a pure religion. I've read that the Bible has been tampered with; there are different translations and stuff. I wanna study what God really said, you know ... "

The rabbi stared at me. He was trying to formulate an answer, but the words stuck to his tongue. I looked into his eyes and saw incredulity dueling with quiet surprise. Is he serious? silly? he seemed to be asking. Then he turned and looked around, as if searching for something.

"Vait uh minute."

"Zis vill help you, young man," he said, handing me an envelope, and walking me to the door.

"Ven you are finished, come back, ya?"

"Thank you, sir!" "By ze vay, dyou know, zair ah black Chews. Haf you efer heard von Sammy Davis chunior?"

I nodded assent.

"Vell, he is a black Chew, you know?"

He bade me farewell. I left the Market Street Synagogue high with expectation, racing home.

Once in my room, I tore apart the thick brown envelope and found a slim, rust-colored volume bound in leather. I opened it, but stopped short in dismay. What was this? There was not one English word within its covers! It was entirely in Hebrew. Tears leapt to my eyes. The search was sure to continue.

MY FIRST VISIT to a Catholic church was a visit into a place of contrasts, a place where the visages in stone radiated reverence, but faces of flesh reflected unmitigated hatred.

I remember sitting in Mass, listening to the strange intonations of the priests -- Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi ... miserere nobis. -- and noticing their turned heads, faces tight with spirals of hatred, aimed at me, a lanky black youth kneeling in the white midst.

"Do they know me?" I wondered. "Why are they angry at me?"

Confusion warred with amazement: how could the House of God so plainly be a house of hatred toward one who sought the divine presence within its walls? Wasn't this the Church Universal, the Mother Church?

Although barely in my teens, I knew what I saw, and I acknowledged the feelings of the people around me. Matronly heads covered in firmly-knotted scarves, these silent, solid, middle-aged Poles, Ukrainians, and Slavs (there were also a few Puerto Ricans) never said a thing, but their faces -- their coldly darting eyes, and tight, wrinkled mouths -- spoke to me louder than screams:

"Nigger! What are you doing in this church? Our church?"

Day by day, week by week, month by month, I began to ask myself that very question.

Where once the church had offered a quiet place for spiritual reflection on its catechismal mysteries, it now pulsated with resentment at my dark presence.

When I went to catechism I heard of one world; when I walked into church I saw another.

The straw of severance came on April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I was on my way to catechism, and as I trudged my way to the rectory, my slowing gait seemed to reflect my inner reluctance. A weight hung on my mind like an anvil.

"King believed in nonviolence -- and still they killed him!"

"They? Who they?"

"White folks -- white folks couldn't bear to hear him -- to see him!"

My conversation with self went point-counter-point ... By the time I got off the trolley near St. John's, my legs were leaden. I walked at a snail's pace.

Sitting down with Father to begin the lesson, he noticed my reticence.

"What's wrong, young man? You seem distracted."

"Father ... "

"Yes, go on."

"I heard on the news today that Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated ..."

"I heard it too. Some of the Fathers and brothers are glad."


"Yes. They saw him as a troublemaker."

"Really? Really, Father?"

"Some -- not all. Especially not one of our Fathers."

"Why 'especially' not one?"

"Well -- how do I put it ... Well -- one of our Fathers is half-Negro."

"Really, Father?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Do you think I could talk to him?"


"Well, Father -- perhaps ... maybe he can understand how I feel."

"That may be, but, uh ... you cannot talk with him."

"Why not, Father?"

"Well ... it's a secret. I can't tell you which Father it is."

A man, a priest, ashamed of his race? I had come to catechism that night seeking peace for the tempest that raged in my soul. Now, leaving St. John's, I was more at sea than when I arrived.

All those months! A half-black priest! Ashamed of his race? Priests who were glad that King was killed? Where was I? What was I doing here? I wept bitter tears. Not for King -- I felt he was wrong, a soft-hearted non-realist -- but for my parents and all others who revered him. King was an educated preacher of nonviolence, yet to these priests he was just another nigger.

What was I doing in this place, a place that hailed his murder? If they thought that way about him, how did they really feel about me?

I cried for the loss my mother and her generation felt -- the assassination of their dreams, the scuttling of their barely-born hopes. I cried for the loss of a boy's faith. I cried for a nation on the razor's edge of chaos.

A BLACK NATIONALIST even in my pre-Black Panther youth, it was perhaps inevitable that my search for meaning would bring me, sooner or later, to test the waters at a local mosque. Little more than a storefront on an out-of-the-way street in South Philly, the building seemed the antithesis of all the religious sites I'd been to before. Christian and Jewish houses of worship were ornate as a rule, especially their cathedrals. This place could not have been plainer: walls painted white, with the front of the room adorned by a chalkboard that faced the assembled. There was also a flag featuring a white star and crescent in a bright field of red, with a letter in each corner: F, J, E, and I -- Freedom, Justice, Equality, and Islam.

It was a summer night and mid-week, so the gathering was small, yet Brother Minister, a dark-skinned man in navy suit, glasses, and bow tie who went by the name of -- was it Benjamin? Benjamin X? -- preached passionately. The captive audience punctuated his every sentence: "Uh-huh!" "That's it!" "Teach, bro minister! Wake 'em up!" His baritone was smooth, colored by that ubiquitous southern accent I was to find later in almost every mosque I visited, whether north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line. His message was not.

"Brotha ... I say to you here and now, the white man is the devil! Why, when you look at how this man has stolen millions of our people from Africa, sold our mothers and fathers into slavery in the hells of North America for four hundred years; beat us, abused us, lynched us, and tortured us -- well, how could any man be anything but a devil?"


"Preach it, Bro. Minister!"

"Our leader and teacher, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, teaches us, brotha, that the devil's time is almost over!"

"That's it, brotha!"

"Wake 'em up!"

"I said, 'The devil's time is almost up!' Why, look all around the world -- from Vietnam to Detroit -- and you'll see the white man catching hell! Am I right, brothas?"

"That's it!"


Minister Benjamin X spoke for what seemed to be hours, and after his lecture, a collection was taken.

Returning home, I reflected on the similarities between my Baptist and Muslim experiences. I was struck by how the Muslim minister -- though his mouth vibrated with the rhythms and cadences of the black South, and though his message was shaped in a way that spoke to my ethnic, historical, and cultural realities -- sounded for the most part like a Christian in a bow-tie.

The main difference, perhaps, lay in their views of evil. Where the Baptist spoke of a metaphysical devil, the Muslim preached of a living one. I couldn't bring myself to believe that the white man was supernatural, even supernaturally evil -- if anything, they were sub-naturally human, I thought to myself. Yet it seemed as improbable that they were devils, as gods. The search would continue.


Thoughts on the Divine

An interviewer once asked the Mahatma Gandhi: "Gandhi-ji, it seems that you worship sometimes in temples, sometimes in churches, sometimes in mosques. What is your own religion?" Gandhi replied: "Follow me for a few days. Watch what I do; how I walk, what I say, and how I conduct myself generally. That is my religion."

THERE ARE AS MANY religions as there are cultures, and equally many names for the divine presence that is the heart of each. The energizing influence of belief keeps them apart, for to each adherent they contain truth that, from his or her perspective, is the only truth. All the same, it seems they flow in one direction, like many streams seeking release into one mighty river.

My youthful search for meaning revealed that no matter how differently the Infinite was clothed in the garb of a certain religion, it was there. In each, I found a new perception of the greatest good, that is, a belief in God or some other personification of the divine principle. I found, as George Bernard Shaw puts it, that there is "only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it."

DON JUAN. My dear Ana, you are silly. Do you suppose heaven is like earth, where people persuade themselves that what is done can be undone by repentance; that what is spoken can be unspoken by withdrawing it; that what is true can be annihilated by a general agreement to give it the lie? No: heaven is the home of the masters of reality: that is why I am going thither.

ANA. Thank you: I am going to heaven for happiness. I have had quite enough of reality on earth.

DON JUAN. Then you must stay here; for hell is the home of the unreal and of the seekers for happiness. It is the only refuge from heaven, which is, as I tell you, the home of the masters of reality, and from earth, which is the home of the slaves of reality. The earth is a nursery in which men and women play at being heros and heroines, saints and sinners; but they are dragged down from their fool's paradise by their bodies: hunger and cold and thirst, age and decay and disease, death above all, make them slaves of reality: thrice a day meals must be eaten and digested: thrice a century a new generation must be engendered: ages of faith, of romance, and of science are all driven at last to have but one prayer, "Make me a healthy animal." But here you escape the tyranny of the flesh; for here you are not an animal at all: you are a ghost, an appearance, an illusion, a convention, deathless, ageless: in a word, bodiless. There are no social questions here, no political questions, no religious questions, best of all, perhaps, no sanitary questions. Here you call your appearance beauty, your emotions love, your sentiments heroism, your aspirations virtue, just as you did on earth; but here there are no hard facts to contradict you, no ironic contrast of your needs with your pretensions, no human comedy, nothing but a perpetual romance, a universal melodrama. As our German friend put it in his poem, "the poetically nonsensical here is good sense; and the Eternal Feminine draws us ever upward and on"—without getting us a step farther. And yet you want to leave this paradise!


THE DEVIL. What is the use of knowing?

DON JUAN. Why, to be able to choose the line of greatest advantage instead of yielding in the direction of the least resistance. Does a ship sail to its destination no better than a log drifts nowhither? The philosopher is Nature's pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer....

THE DEVIL. Well, well, go your way, Senor Don Juan. I prefer to be my own master and not the tool of any blundering universal force. I know that beauty is good to look at; that music is good to hear; that love is good to feel; and that they are all good to think about and talk about. I know that to be well exercised in these sensations, emotions, and studies is to be a refined and cultivated being. Whatever they may say of me in churches on earth, I know that it is universally admitted in good society that the prince of Darkness is a gentleman; and that is enough for me. As to your Life Force, which you think irresistible, it is the most resistible thing in the world for a person of any character. But if you are naturally vulgar and credulous, as all reformers are, it will thrust you first into religion, where you will sprinkle water on babies to save their souls from me; then it will drive you from religion into science, where you will snatch the babies from the water sprinkling and inoculate them with disease to save them from catching it accidentally; then you will take to politics, where you will become the catspaw of corrupt functionaries and the henchman of ambitious humbugs; and the end will be despair and decrepitude, broken nerve and shattered hopes, vain regrets for that worst and silliest of wastes and sacrifices, the waste and sacrifice of the power of enjoyment: in a word, the punishment of the fool who pursues the better before he has secured the good.

DON JUAN. But at least I shall not be bored. The service of the Life Force has that advantage, at all events. So fare you well, Senor Satan....

THE DEVIL. [gloomily] His going is a political defeat. I cannot keep these Life Worshippers: they all go....There is something unnatural about these fellows. Do not listen to their gospel, Senor Commander: it is dangerous. Beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman: it leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human. To a man, horses and dogs and cats are mere species, outside the moral world. Well, to the Superman, men and women are a mere species too, also outside the moral world. This Don Juan was kind to women and courteous to men as your daughter here was kind to her pet cats and dogs; but such kindness is a denial of the exclusively human character of the soul.

THE STATUE. And who the deuce is the Superman?

THE DEVIL. Oh, the latest fashion among the Life Force fanatics. Did you not meet in Heaven, among the new arrivals, that German Polish madman—what was his name? Nietzsche?

-- Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy, by George Bernard Shaw

In Judaism, the ancient ancestral warrior is revered as all-powerful Yahweh, or Jehovah; to Christians, the Jewish carpenter Yeshuah is God yet also Man; for the Muslim, the ancient Meccan gods find fusion in one supreme being --Al-Lah, the God. In Hinduism, Lord Krishna emerges from a vast pantheon of ancient deities as a blue-black god who twirls and leaps in an eternal sacred dance. To the Buddhist, the insights of Gautama Siddhartha form the central core of a faith that holds the promise of enlightenment and the discovery of the true Self. In Santeria, Condoble, and Voudoun, the ancient gods of African antiquity have survived to smile behind the faces of the Catholic saints.

In the essence of each religion, then, we see a projection of the greatest good. For a threatened, nomadic desert tribe, what greater good than the worship of a mighty and powerful ancestor, a prominent warrior -- Yahweh -- who defended the clans? For the maligned followers of a Nazarethan carpenter, one crucified by the mightiest Empire of the age, why not the greater good of his victory over the tomb? For contentious Arab clans who saw each other through the lens of enmity and conflict, why not the clarity and simplicity of One God to reign over the throngs who crowd the K'aaba -- One God to bring unity to a people, a region, a sphere of influence?

To Hindus, whose plethora of deistic personalities reflect the God-force that permeates all creation, Krishna -- the beautiful, playful, dark boy-god who loves cattle and dances with other cowherds -- turns the boring and mundane into a sacred act. For the Buddhist, Gautama's attainment of enlightenment seeks the void beyond which no personality, human nor divine, exists. It bespeaks a greater good that sees past the soul to ultimate nothingness, a spiritual place of rest.

To millions of stolen and enslaved African peasants, for whom return to the grasslands, forests, and villages of the black motherland was physically impossible, their religion was the only means of a voyage home. Under a new, cooler sky, ancient gods and honored ancestors came to life once more and provided the greater good of spiritual survival, of an inner Self that could withstand the most dehumanizing assaults and empower the soul to remain sane. Even in the midst of a powerless existence, the world of the invisible pulsed with names like Yemonja, the goddess of the river; Obatala, chief of the gods; and Shango, the god of war and thunder.

Many of our ideas about God and religions simply mirror the traditions we have inherited from our forbears. They are imbibed with mother's milk, openly, uncritically, freely -- illogical human expressions, exercises in irrationality. Others are perceptions gained only by leaping into the dark arms of faith. God comes, in various faces, and numerous personalities, depending on our myriad perceptions, needs, and histories. Yet if there are any miracles left, it is that GOD IS ONE.
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