Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Merry eX-mas

Every year at this time, we Minnesota provincials are subjected to countless pious, cliché-ridden lamentations  about how Christmas has become too secular and commercial. The concluding exhortation of all these jeremiads is always the same:  we simply MUST put the "Christ" back in Christmas.

Or else.

Or else, what?  The apocalyptic consequence, should Americans continue to prefer Santa Claus to Jesus Christ, is unspecified--but presumably comparable to the fate that befell Sodom and Gomorrah.  (The people who fuss about saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" tend to be rather partial to Old Testament Wrath and, in fact, would probably enjoy a nice little display of Divine Displeasure.)

Generally speaking, of course, those who yearn for a more religious or spiritual holiday aren't quite so angry.  Mostly, they just sense, in some vague way, that Christmas isn't as satisfying as they would like it to be.  So they blame commercialism and reflexively (but obtusely) endeavor to "put Christ back in Christmas."

I wonder, though.  What in the world are these people actually talking about?

Because Christmas was NEVER very much about Christ, was it?  I mean, "Christ" was never really IN Christmas to begin with.  Most historians concur that the celebration of Jesus' supposed birthday is just a thin veneer pasted onto an amalgam of much older and much less "holy" festivities.  In fact, it appears that the Christian Church adopted December 25 as the date of Jesus' birth for the largely cynical (or at least pragmatic) reason that it couldn't manage to suppress all the  pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice that already existed and were deeply loved by Romans as yet only superficially converted to Christianity. So Pope Julius I (or maybe another pope in the early 4th century) just decided that, since he couldn't make folks stop eating and drinking and carousing and buying needless stuff at the end of December, well, he would simply "join" them and label their hitherto pagan celebrations "Christian."

So it came to pass that Saturnalia was renamed--or christened--"Christmas.''  But as is so often the case in christenings, the effect of the measure was mostly a matter of semantics:  nothing much changed in actual fact.  True, a Christ-Mass would now be said at midnight--and, eventually, little creches would appear at church doors (some believe that St. Francis started this custom).  But the revelry, the feasting, the gift-exchanging, the singing and dancing (sometimes naked) in the streets continued much as before.  And, as the countries of northern Europe also converted to Christianity, the Church obligingly embraced other pagan rituals and traditions associated with the Winter Solstice:  the festival of Yule (lights, sacred logs, drinking, eating), the druidic and/or Germanic celebrations of nature and enduring life (holly, ivy, mistletoe, evergreen trees and, of course, more drinking and eating).  Fa la la la la, la la la la.

I find it amusing, therefore, that so many present-day churchgoers are surprised and upset that the desired metamorphosis from merry pagan "holiday" to solemn Christian "holy day" never really took hold.  How could it have been otherwise?  Of course, if the Church hadn't been so willing to compromise and so adamant in its desire to co-opt the nearly universal northern-hemisphere celebrations of solar rebirth, it might have insisted upon a more likely birthdate--sometime in the spring, perhaps (when shepherds might legitimately have been tending flocks at night)--or in that really dead time (rightly called "ordinary" in the Church calendar) around mid-July. Had such a scenario been adopted, the festival could have been kept essentially religious and suitably decorous, since no pre-existing and more appealing traditions would have been available to tempt people into frivolity or debauchery.

Oh well.  In any case, the Christmas story as told in Luke and Matthew is almost certainly little more than a pretty fairy tale--or, more fairly--a beautiful myth expressing the Church's belief/hope that God has somehow united himself with human beings and, in sharing our nature, allowed us also to share his.  But the theology of the Incarnation--also an idea that antedates Christianity--is probably better elaborated in the philosophical language of the first chapter of John than it is in the fanciful, albeit poetic, narratives of Luke and Matthew.

In short, I've come to the conclusion that I don't really need "Christ" in my Christmas--and I even feel, a bit perversely, perhaps?--that Christ doesn't much "belong" in this happy--but INCLUSIVE and UNIVERSAL (not narrowly parochial)-- celebration of the Sun's nadir and rebirth.  Christmas is just too big and too important to be reserved for the practitioners of a single religion.

Accordingly, for the first time in many years, I decided to celebrate this Christmas with exclusively pagan traditions, albeit those that have long been honored in my family (you will, no doubt, be disappointed to learn that we generally don't "do" naked dancing). In this eX-masing endeavor, I think I was pretty successful (with one notable exception, see below). I ate, drank, socialized, reconnected with old friends, exchanged gifts, decorated the house--in all the manners and modes customary to generations of Kellys and Kirkebys.  Except:  no church and no Jesus.

And you know what?  I didn't miss the "Christ" stuff very much, not even midnight mass.  The exception I mentioned, though, is MUSIC.  I must confess that, in this one domain, I broke my own rule and listened, almost exclusively, to Christian material.  I love Christmas music, the religious variety--the Bach, the Berlioz, the Handel, and the ancient carols in minor keys.  No "Jingle Bells" or "Rudolphs" or "White Christmases"  please!  That dreck is just too painful to my ears.

So I'm wondering:  isn't there any good Saturnalia music? If there is, please let me know.  Then, maybe--at the very least--we could put THAT back in Christmas.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Meerkat Manor

Once again today, eternally optimistic that Republicans care more about the country than about corporations, President Obama is hosting a "bipartisan" "planning" meeting of congressional "leaders" at the White House.

Or, as I've begun to call it--Meerkat Manor.

We all love those cute little Animal Planet creatures that inhabit multi-chambered burrows in remote South African deserts.  They're so remarkably photogenic:  perky, attentive, friendly, eager-to-please--and they seem to spend all of their time scurrying about from here to there without actually doing anything or going anywhere.

Just like our president and the Democrats in Washington.  Apparently, in 2008, we elected a whole colony of innocuous meerkats, who have little inclination to do anything other than chirp, peep, cock their heads coyly  and wait for something to happen.

Well, they'd best get ready for some changes in the zoo.

Obama, Geithner, Holder, Napolitano, Axelrod, Reid, Baucus, Hoyer--God, such sweet little meerkats. Quick, take a picture!  And today, most of them are meeting with the likes of Boehner, Cantor, Kyl and McConnell--all of whom are great, lumbering war elephants, perfectly prepared--indeed eager--to stomp out the entire meerkat population--and in so doing turn Meerkat Manor into an inelegant dust wallow for addlepated and malevolent pachyderms.

Yet, the peeping and chirping and head-bobbing continue.

It seems pretty hopeless, doesn't it?  Galumph!

And, in the unlikely event that some of the meerkats survive the war elephant stampede, there is another critter stalking about nearby (well, actually in sight of Russia--but still dangerously "near"), waiting for a tasty little snack:  a hella mean mama grizzly bear.

So it looks a lot like the Washington Zoo will soon be dominated by BIG and NASTY varmints. Not exactly cuddly or (poor) people-friendly.  Take your pictures while you still can, folks.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nothing Gold Can Stay

I am a Francophile, of course--and my pays de prédilection will always be France.  But, if Paris has my heart (as I think Montaigne said), Athens and London have my head.  And even if I sometimes wish it were otherwise, I cannot honestly escape the conclusion that the Greeks and the English/British have shaped me and my culture more than have the French.  Indeed, I think it fair to conclude that, in all countries that we commonly label The West, these two peoples--the ancient Greeks and the modern Brits--have exercised disproportionate influence--in philosophy, science, politics, economics, literature, technology--and, well, spiritual/moral development.  Certainly one could criticize the Greeks for their misogyny and their occasionally bloodless art; certainly the English never equaled the French, Italians and Germans in painting, architecture or music.

All that notwithstanding, we can judge the overall "heft" of a people by asking ourselves a simple question:  how would the world be different if this particular tribe had never passed our way and left, in its wake, its special contributions?

Doubtless we would be much poorer in beautiful things, delicious food and artful living if Italy and Germany and France and China and India and Spain and Persia had never ''occurred."

But we would still have Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and Archimedes and Sophocles and Pericles and Euripides and Euclid and Pythagoras and Thales and Hippocrates and, and,..Bacon and Newton and Darwin and Shakespeare and Milton and Churchill and Priestley and John Stuart Mill and Hobbes and Hume and Adam Smith and Keats and Dickens and Stephen Hawking and The Mother of Parliaments.

Personally--and this is just a personal observation--I would scarcely miss anything at all contributed by China or India (though I think Chinese art is exquisite and I have a faible for Hindu mysticism).  I would miss a good deal of art, literature, music and cuisine from France, Italy, Germany.

I would also miss many of the insights and world views set forth by thinkers such as Montaigne, Voltaire, Kant, Marx.

But the ground of my being would not be shaken by the absence of any of these elements.

I WOULD, on the other hand, be deeply shaken by the removal of Platonic philosophy, the Greek ideal of individual self-actualization, the Socratic quest for the limits of knowledge.  And how could I not be shaken by the loss of English common law, Anglo-Saxon economics, Newtonian physics or the Darwinian understanding of biology?  (COULD these discoveries actually be "lost"?)  Above all, of course, how could I even be ME without the English language and the whole corpus of literature that it affords?

So, Greece and England--I love you.

And I will miss you.

Because, I think you're on your way ''out." It's pretty clear, isn't it, that China and India will eventually acquire hegemony in human affairs, ending the long imperium of the Greeks, Brits and their collective disciples and satellites? A day, not far in the future, will bring very different philosophies, attitudes, languages, ways of life to our little planet. Since this is a natural phenomenon about which, in any event, very little can be done, the imminent shift  from one human paradigm to another must be accepted with grace and good will.  And yet, and yet...nostalgia is surely permitted.

I will be gone by then, gone before Socrates and Shakespeare and Darwin are superseded or supplanted by whatever is next in the continuing (let us assume it will be "upward") march of humanity.  But already, in advance, I miss Athens and London, almost like the ancient Jews missed the Golden Jerusalem of King David.  Bye bye, my beloved mother cities. Nothing gold can stay.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Constitutional Couch Potato

I suppose I've been watching too much cable news again--too much pontificating about the implications of the Republican (and Tea Party) takeover of Congress, too much yammering about the inability of American "democracy" to rise above greed and irrationality in order to "get anything done."

Anyway, last night I had a dream about WESTMINSTER.  Yes, about the British Parliament--and about parliamentary "democracy" as it has evolved and continues to be practiced in the U.K.  And, particularly, about what the British call their "Constitution."

Curious subject for a dream!

But it wasn't a nightmare at all.  Quite to the contrary:  as the "narrator" (myself, I suppose) of this vision lucidly pointed out, the British system is both more efficient and more democratic than the American system.  Because Parliament is supreme, the legislative and executive powers are essentially identical.  The Prime Minister and the cabinet propose legislation and their majority in Parliament ensures that these measures will be taken.  If severe disagreement arises, the government falls and a new one takes over.  That's it.  Done!

No acrimonious conflicts between House and Senate; no threats of Presidential vetoes; no filibustering in order to avoid a democratic vote; no endless attempts to reconcile the concerns of the executive with those of the legislature. It's all the same.  Done!

And, by and large, done by the House of Commons--a unicameral legislature (the House of Lords is pretty irrelevant) with seats apportioned according to population, not geography (OK, so Scotland and Wales are slightly over-represented:  that's nothing like the insanity that gives deserted Wyoming the same number of senators as teeming California).  More equitable, more democratic.

I like it and I often wish that the Brits had been a bit quicker in allowing their colonies to establish similar national parliaments (as they ultimately did in Canada and Australia and New Zealand).  But it took the American Revolution for them to see the wisdom of such a policy, by which time it was too late for US.  Instead, we wound up with a Constitution that deliberately instituted an "anti-government" government, one in which checks, balances and redundancies virtually guarantee that nothing at all will be done by anybody in power unless nearly universal consensus can be achieved (i.e., in the direst of emergencies).

In other words, the Founders endowed America with a "government" that is essentially REactive, not PROactive, that generally does nothing at all, and that certainly does nothing gradually.  Any problem must be allowed to fester until the infection is so great that the very survival of the Republic is in jeopardy.  Only then, in desperation, are we willing to seek the aid of  Doctor Government--to rally behind a Lincoln or a Roosevelt and, counting on their vision and skill, submit at last to painful change.  At the eleventh hour, completely discombobulated, we finally resolve to DO something--almost anything at this point--in the hopes of pulling through the crisis.  But what if, in treating the cancer that we are currently allowing to metasticize, we put our faith in a "surgeon" who lacks the competence of a Lincoln or a Roosevelt?  Will we die on the operating table, merely another statistic in the history of nations?

The Westminster system, of course, because it allows for swifter response to incipient illnesses (before they have a chance to develop into full-blown, organism-threatening diseases), generally ensures that necessary reforms can be made without such excessive violence to the body politic.

Still, I'm not naive.  I realize that parliamentary government, because of its very democracy and efficiency, runs the risk of degenerating into mob rule, into a tyranny of the majority which could threaten the individual liberties of those whose only shortcoming is that they disagree with prevailing sentiment. In such a system, what is to protect the the rights of such fundamentally benign but disdained minority groups?

In the U.S., of course, normal governmental gridlock generally prevents any single ideological faction from gaining absolute power.  And, in the few instances where the intolerance of the majority DOES find its way into law, an appeal can yet be made to a written document that guarantees the rights of ALL:  the Constitution.

Britain, on the other hand, lacks such a clear, written, codified Constitution.  So what's to prevent a looney Parliament from abolishing free speech, suspending habeas corpus, forbidding blacks or Muslims from voting, incarcerating all homosexuals, requiring everybody to join the Anglican Church?

Technically, nothing, I suppose (unless it be the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain has legally bound itself).

But, in actual fact, any of these acts would (at this point in history) be regarded as blatantly unconstitutional by the courts.  Because there IS a British Constitution, and it's the BEST kind of constitution--a constitution comprised, not of written text susceptible to frivolous exegesis and hysterical amendment (like Prohibition), but of commonly-accepted rites, conventions and traditions that have evolved over centuries.  This unwritten Constitution is wonderfully supple (constantly undergoing almost imperceptible changes, like our species itself) and yet comfortingly stable (taking years, even centuries, to undergo any deep or remarkable alteration).

So, in Britain--and in the other Commonwealth countries, too (even in those, like Australia and Canada, that have a kind of written constitution), the fundamental social contract is shared traditions and practices.

All of which find a human embodiment in the figure of the monarch.  The Queen is, in a very real sense, the living, breathing, purse-toting Constitution.  Recently, I watched the State Opening of Parliament and the Speech from the Throne.  Absolutely fascinating.  And silly and boring (especially the horrible laundry-list speech), of course--at least to an outsider.  But to a participant in the British Social Contract, this was a sacrament--a celebration, in ritual and symbol--of the Constitution that binds all of Her Majesty's subjects to one another and to their mutual ideals and aspirations--a Credo that has evolved over nearly 1,000 years of pushme and pullyou.  The Norman Steps, the Robing Room, the Imperial State Crown, Black Rod, the Mace, the Sword, the Silk Purse for the speech--all of this seeming falderal serves to reassure the British people that the order and texture of their world is intact, that there, in their little island at least, civilization and the accumulated wisdom of the race are still working to stave off the natural anarchy of the universe.

I hope I'm not waxing too eloquent and overstating the case.  The recent results of the 2010 midterms here in America have been indeed sobering to me, a left-leaning progressive.  Because if the U.S. had a functioning Westminister system, John Boehner and his right-wingers would be forming a government--a government which might choose to enact any or all of the following legislation:  a) outlaw abortion, b) continue the ban on gays in the military, c) build a wall to "keep out" Mexicans, d) extend even further tax cuts to the very wealthy,  e) repeal Obama's healthcare reforms, f) privatize (i.e., eliminate or severely restrict) Medicare and social security, g) outlaw same-sex marriage everywhere, h) require prayer and creationism in schools.

Such  "reforms" would not be the modest, gradual, rational changes that I suggested typify the British approach.  On the contrary:  a John Boehner government effectuating the program outlined above would profoundly and cruelly alter the social and economic landscape of the U.S.

Question is:  if the Republicans actually had the power--and KNEW they had the power--to enact these changes, would they do so?  Or would they act more responsibly, realizing that many of those measures--though popular with their "base," would, in the long run, be judged unconstitutional and, in the short run, be enormously disruptive to the commonweal.

In other words, the Westminster system requires something of legislators that our American "checks/balances" system does NOT require:  RESPONSIBLE civil debate and rational, "for the common good" party platforms.  Since, in the British set-up, the legislators can actually GET what they SAY THEY WANT, they really must be certain that their pre-election "talk" corresponds to the post-election "walk" they envisage.

And the attitudes of the voting public are inevitably influenced by this realization.  I suspect that there would have been fewer Republican winners in our recent elections if the electorate had been truly confident that ALL of the right-wing rhetoric would indeed find its way into law.  Would the fiscally conservative old lady have voted for a party that was REALLY intending to abolish Medicare?  There's a good chance that she would have considered her options more carefully.  (Parenthetically, she might also have wondered what kind of medical care Boehner has been getting--i.e., why is he orange?)

But since we Americans just assume that MOST of the stuff advocated by politicians will never find its way into law, we often tend to vote emotionally and impulsively.  We have internalized the notion (which our Constitution renders statutory) that nothing much will happen anyway.  So go ahead:  rant, rave, scream, hate, denounce, wring your hands, wear sackcloth, proclaim the coming Rapture, threaten to round up all Mexicans, promise to bomb Iran, get an orange tan.  Whatever.  Then do nothing, as usual.

Britain is a constitutional monarchy.  The U.S. is a constitutional couch potato.  Burp.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I seem to have spent my life flipflopping about religion.  As a teenager, I flipped.  To compensate for my sense of inferiority and abnormality, I became such a religious geek that I actually delivered "sermons" (mostly cribbed from Presbyterian Life) at several sunrise Easter services conducted by the youth group of  First Presbyterian Church, Lewiston, MN.  Then, in college, after reading Nietzsche and Sartre, I flopped hard, harshly rejecting everything to do with organized religion and making my mother weep bitterly (even as she continued to pledge money to the church in my name--so that I wouldn't be officially unChristian in case I were to die).  Much later, enticed by the camaraderie and community at Mater Dei High School, and once more in despair about my own emotional life, I flipped again:  converting to Catholicism in a very superficial, affected and self-justifying way (I even taught CCD for a while).  And so, inevitably, another flop loomed.  Because I simply couldn't stomach Catholicism's hateful teachings on human sexuality, I eventually fled to the Episcopalians, hoping thereby to keep the edifying sacramental baby while throwing out the stinky dogmatic bathwater.  I'm not sure whether my Anglican period should be labeled a flip or a flop, but certainly it was a flop in the sense that it "was not a success."  Though I continued to find some residual comfort in the traditional bells and smells of the Episcopalian eucharist, I grew increasingly annoyed by any talk at all about metaphysics or God. It all just seemed "made up."  And, well, if not exactly "evil," at least unhelpful and, probably, unhealthful.

So where does that leave me now?  Pretty much nowhere, I guess.  Exhausted from the futile effort to know anything really important--but unwilling to spend my remaining years vegetating in the "Holy Ignorance" espoused by many Christian divines.

I continue therefore to read widely about the religious "question."  More and more, though, I am choosing my reading material with an eye to freeing myself from the knee-jerk assumptions I acquired as a result of my Christian upbringing (for which, by the way, I do not "blame" my beloved parents--who merely transmitted what they had received and, obviously, found meaningful).  Some help along these lines has been afforded me by a compilation of Bertrand Russell's writings entitled Russell on Religion.  Following are some provocative and (for me) illuminating quotations from that book:

From "What is an Agnostic?"

  • An agnostic is a man who thinks that it is impossible to know the truth in the matters such as God and a future life with which the Christian religion and other religions are concerned.  Or, if not forever impossible, at any rate impossible at present.
  • An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God.
  • As for 'sin', [the agnostic] thinks it not a useful notion.  He admits, of course, that some kinds of conduct are desirable and some undesirable, but he holds that the punishment of undesirable kinds is only to be commended when it is deterrent or reformatory, not when it is inflicted because it is thought a good thing on its own account that the wicked should suffer.
  • For my part, I do not think there is any good reason to believe that we survive death, but I am open to conviction if adequate evidence should appear.
  • [...] if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.
  • The existence of base and cruel passions is undeniable, but I find  no evidence in history that religion has opposed these passions.  On the contrary, it has sanctified them, and enabled people to indulge them without remorse.
  • I do not think that life in general has any purpose.  It just happened.  But individual human beings have purposes, and there is nothing in agnosticism to cause them to abandon these purposes.
From "The Essence of Religion"

  • In order to free religion from all dependence upon dogma, it is necessary to abstain from any demand that the world shall conform to our standards.  Every such demand is an endeavour to impose self upon the world.
  • Under a strict and conservative religious system individual development is stifled.  Furthermore, oppressive religions make it particularly hard for those with unusual talents to develop freely and contribute intellectually and socially.  Therefore, the civilization of a nation will definitely regress under the oppression of religion.  Some nations may appear strong due to their religion but they are not able to progress.
  • What makes us most comfortable in a religion is that it advances the egotistical notion that Man's desires are not trifling but of great consequence in the universe.
From "Why I am not a Christian"

  • When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years.
  • You find as you look round the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step towards the diminution of war, every step towards better treatment of the coloured races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized Churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
  • Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear.  It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.
From "Has Religion Contributed to Civilization?"

  • There is no rational ground of any sort or kind for keeping a child ignorant of anything that he may wish to know, whether on sex or on any other matter.
  • The earth will not always remain habitable; the human race will die out; and if the cosmic process is to justify itself hereafter, it will have to do so elsewhere than on the surface of our planet.  And even if this should occur, it must stop sooner or later.  The second law of thermodynamics makes it scarcely possible to doubt that the universe is running down, and that ultimately nothing of the slightest interest will be possible anywhere.
  • No man treats a motor car as foolishly as he treats another human being.  When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say: 'You are a wicked motor car, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.' He attempts to find out what is wrong, and to set it right.  An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion.
Obviously, I'm still flipping and flopping.  I don't agree with everything Russell asserts (e.g., I can think of instances when certain organized Churches supported "progress in humane feeling"; I also wonder if it is always wise to tell a child anything he wishes to know--doesn't the child's level of cognitive and affective development matter at all?)  But in general, I found this book extremely liberating.  I hope that I'm moving toward, if not full Knowledge (obviously impossible), at least a kind of freedom from (unholy) Ignorance.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Boo Who?

Somehow it seems fitting that Halloween--the festival of phony fear--has become the American holiday par excellence.  

We Americans positively love the cheap thrill of feigning fear of things that we don't really find menacing:  goblins, ghosts, witches--of course--but also illegal immigrants, homosexuals, socialists, environmentalists, etc.  On Halloween, our fake terror inspires a lot of festive trompe l'oeil (faux spooks and vampires).  The rest of the year, our phony fears justify mostly sly clins d'oeil (winks).  Be afraid, be very afraid (wink, wink).

Why all this counterfeit horror about spurious menaces?  Well, it gives us good vibes.  It allows us to feel victimized but in complete safety, security and passivity.  Thus, we can hate the "bad" guys, blaming them for all the world's ills--and simultaneously exonerate ourselves from any responsibility for anything unpleasant. And the best part of this Halloweenie Hysteria is that it requires us to take absolutely no action and make absolutely no changes in our cozy "family-values" routines.

On Halloween, all mischief emanates from witches, vampires and ghosts.  The other 364 days of the year, all evil is occasioned by Mexicans, fags, wealth redistributing socialists, tree huggers and Islamic mosque builders.

What's that you say?  You dare to suggest that America has other, more serious problems to ponder?  Problems that really exist?  Problems that (gasp!) can be solved only by doing things and spending money?

A dwindling middle class?  Loss of manufacturing and jobs?  Increasing poverty and an obscene gap between the wealthy and the poor? Untrammeled power of big corporations? Inadequate and unaffordable health care?

Tut, tut and pshaw. You're a real party pooper, aren't you?, fussing and whining and wringing your hands like Cassandra in a fit of nattering negativism.  Calm down and take a pill. And trust me:  you'll feel a lot better if you just stick to happy Halloween fears.  Ghosts.  Fags in speedos.  Mexican nannies with funny accents.

Now get out there and do what proper Americans do:  work yourself into some good old-fashioned phony hysteria! For example, think about Adam Lambert seducing Anderson Cooper! Yikes.

What's that?  You don't know who "those people" are??

Oh dear, oh dear.  Now YOU frighten me.

Like, I'm totally boo who?!

Dark Mistesses

This blog is becoming altogether too serious.  Even I can hardly stand to reread all my recent drivel about religion and good works and other holy horseshit.

Have I become a long-in-the-tooth, long-faced Mrs. Grundy?

It's worrisome.  I don't laugh at much of anything anymore.  I need an attitude adjustment, big time--something to remind me that, in 100 years, even Ann Coulter will be dead.

Halloween is approaching.  That's probably good.  I hate kids and their asinine costumes and their whiny expectations of candy.  Still, I look forward to the crappy old slasher movies that always crop up on the cable channels at this time of year.

I miss Elvira, though.  Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.  Does anyone remember her?  She used to introduce late- night, campy horror films on one of the Los Angeles stations that no one watched.  Kind of a cross between a sex-crazed Lily Munster and an Ann Coulter with boobs.  Dialogue was straight (!) out of The Mysteries of Udolpho (woo hoo, woo hoo...).

BTW, what ever happened to CAMP?  The gays seem to have stopped doing it--and now, all that's left is Betty White on SNL. Sad.  That's what respectability has done to homosexuality:  the "knowing wink" is no longer necessary--and, consequently, we have lost a minor art form. Ann Coulter would be "camp," if only she knew she was really a man who had viciously ripped off her own penis in a sleepwalking fit of Republican Rage about Getting Screwed.  But, of course, the same unfortunate episode also deprived her of her memory (it was in her penis) and without self-awareness (the wink), there simply can be no true camp.

A.C. still has an Adam's apple, though.  Maybe she'll notice it one of these days.

Here's another vital question:  what's with all the pumpkins everywhere?  If life gives you pumpkins, what should you do?  Don't tell me to make pies.  Even ugly faces on Jack-o-Lanterns are numbingly conventional.

Perhaps, given the ubiquity of our subject matter, we could make analogies.  Remember analogies?  They used to appear in the verbal section of the SAT, but as students became less and less verbal and more and more wasted, analogies were replaced by something more "accessible" and esteem-building.  Not sure what.  Multiple choice pictures?  Not very verbal, but scores went up, so everyone was smarter.

Pumpkin is to Halloween as _________________ is to Fox News.

The answer, of course, is Ann Coulter, Mistress of Muck.

YOU can draw the picture.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Imagine...It Isn't Hard to Do.

I guess it all boils down to this:  I would like to remain a Christian, but without believing (or disbelieving) in an unverifiable and, hence, irrelevant God.  Certainly not in any god as defined (and confined) by the dogmas, mythologies and creeds of established, institutionalized churches.  Out with dogma!  Fie on't! It's all made up stuff, like Fox "News."  No one can know, yea or nay, about the veracity of  90% of the gobbledygook in official catechisms.  So why don't we just junk it?

Remember the old saw attributed to Einstein:  "education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school"?  Couldn't we say something similar about Christianity?  That it is what remains after we have dumped all the exclusiveness and divisiveness of the catechism?

Well, what remains?  Celebration, sacraments (stripped of silly definitions and exclusive claims), connection with other people and with other life, love of all that is--ritual (but real) support for a journey beyond the self and selfishness.

God--because of his rules, his anger, his arbitrariness, his transcendence-- is clearly an impediment to this journey.  But "Christ"--at least the mystery hero probably invented (or borrowed) by the early church--might be very useful, provided we ditch the dogma that has grown up around him.  Divine? Part of the godhead?  Pre-existing?  Oh, it's just tiresome and needless twaddle.  But Jesus as an ideal man:  the model of what it means to be fully and worthily and joyfully HUMAN?  Yes.

That, to my mind, is Christianity without God.  Agnostic Christianity.

Perhaps this thinking is what accounts for the distaste, indeed the repugnance I feel for priests, imams and holy men/women who are so fond of "explaining" that which cannot be explained.  And who simultaneously assert the superiority of THEIR inexplicable dogmas over those of neighboring religions.

Such dogmatism inevitably leads to (or results from) tribalism.  And tribalism is institutionalized hatred.  You cannot love the sinner and hate the sin:  rather, you must simply écraser hate altogether.  Hate is truly the infamous thing!

Dang, wouldn't it be nice if ALL religions could simply dump their silly GODS and dogmas and retain only the ritual/ceremonial support systems they have developed--the practices that help individuals grow in love and acceptance of themselves and others.  We could have all kinds of worthy "agnostic" religions.

Had he lived, John Lennon would have been 70 this month.  As I conclude this rather odd blog advocating godless religions, I hear the lyrics to  ''Imagine" running plaintively through my mind:  no, it isn't hard to imagine a world without heaven, without hell.

What IS hard, for a rational, aspiring-to-be human being, is to imagine a world WITH heaven or hell. It's Heironymos Bosch, stuff.  Fox News stuff.  So let's just throw out these nightmares and start working toward realizing Lennon's dream of "sharing all the world."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Faith or Good Works?

If you hold "right" beliefs, are you justified in doing "wrong" things?  I suppose that St. Paul or Martin Luther would judge the question to be nonsensical, since, for them, right belief must necessarily lead to right action.  But that is fallacious reasoning, isn't it? (I.e., since I think right, I necessarily "do" right:  I believe that Jesus is my savior, therefore I am justified in killing my neighbor, who does NOT believe as I do.)  Such a subjective, hermetic, tautological philosophical system allows the person doing the behaving to himself determine the criterion for "correct behavior."  Right you are if you think you are.

That's all very convenient for people who like to feel good about themselves and hate people who are different. Or who want to justify behavior that the "hated" people might consider unacceptable.  But isn't there some kind of external, objective criterion which ALL humans can accept as a valid measurement of moral conduct? A justification of our worth as human beings?

Since no one agrees about metaphysics, that objective criterion could scarcely be FAITH--i.e., the "holy" doctrines of any religion, the "holy" book of any established religion, the "holy" leader of any religion, .

Obviously, too, GOOD WORKS, at least as defined by any of our thousands of subjective legal systems and social contracts, could not provide an adequately universal guide for conduct.

So what objectively justifies me, explains me, guides me, makes me OK?

No, Paul and Martin, I'm quite sure that a "just man" cannot live by "faith alone."  I understand how rotten you both felt about yourselves and how this neat formula relieved you of your anxiety about not being sufficiently good.  But it's a lie at worst, self-deception at best.  I have no idea whether God somehow decided to sacrifice himself to himself in order to pay himself for the debt that he himself was charging you for the shortcomings he himself had identified. But, at the end of your lives, AS FAR AS OTHER HUMANS WERE CONCERNED, you were still exactly what you DID during your lives, regardless of what or who you believed in.  Paul, you were a crabby, arrogant, self-involved man whose obsession with "saving yourself" from your self-hatred resulted in the creation of a whole new mystery religion:  Christianity--and in the seductively anesthesizing doctrine of a man-god Christ who resembles Osiris more than he does the historical Jesus of Nazareth.  Martin, you were a crabby, arrogant, self-involved man whose obsession with "saving yourself" from your self-hatred resulted in the RE-creation of this facile Pauline Christianity--and in the perverse notion that anybody who "believed" in this Christ/Osiris was himself a "priest" and could just decide for himself what was right or wrong.

As much as I am drawn to the mystery cult of Christianity--and as fascinated as I am by mysticism in general-- I don't want to let the "faith folks" get away with such an unverifiable and thus irresponsible conflation of subjective feeling with objective truth. We are not defined by what we believe in or by the "self" that we imagine/wish ourselves to be:  we are what we DO.  And until we die, we can create our true "selves" by doing things. Death, however, fixes us forever, and we remain, in the judgment of this world at least, the sum of our acts.  (Any other subjective criterion--some "uber standard" that might prevail in some other world, some other unknowable plane of existence--in heaven or in hell or in limbo or in hades or in neverland--that "reality" is not, cannot be, evident--and therefore relevant--to ALL humans.)  So I cannot escape (nor do I want to) the conclusion that our WORKS matter more than our FAITH.  Works, at least, are verifiable.

In short, I am confident that, in spite of the book of Romans, in spite of St. Paul and Martin Luther (not to mention Mohammed, St. Augustine, Savanarola, Jim Jones and Peter Pan),  the truly "just" and justified shall live--not by faith, which is subjective, self-serving and self-validating--but rather by GOOD WORKS.

Alas, what still escapes me is any certitude about what constitutes GOOD works. I understand the importance of action.  Works, as I said, are verifiable and objective.  But GOOD action?  The Good?  The Good?  Shoot, philosophers have been yammering about that for millennia--and herein an element of relativism remains.  I'm tempted to yield to the Golden Rule--which seems pretty universal--but even that, in its reliance upon the elusive "as you would have others do unto you," is a rather slippery slope. If I were a praying man (and, occasionally, I still am), I would pray to God to "Show me the Good."

Do you think I'd have more luck if I asked him to Show me the Money?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

We Was Robbed

The Tea Partiers are, indeed, a mixed "bag," aren't they? They seem to feel that their country has been stolen from them, that Barack Obama and his criminal ilk have forced their way into America the Beautiful and pillaged, plundered and perverted all that was once so special about our country.

What, exactly, do the Tea Partiers want "back"?  Well, they don't all agree, of course, but from listening to talk radio and Fox "News," I conclude that most of these angry folks yearn for the restoration (at gun point if necessary) of a sort of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" world in which...

--all visible people (especially presidents) were white;  inferior races remained invisible and/or in the kitchen or barn where they belonged;
--all women were housewives, all men were wage-earners, all children mowed lawns;
--all good citizens were expected to attend a church, preferably of Baptist or Methodist denomination;
--milk was delivered in quart bottles to front doorsteps;
--Catholics knew their place and mumbled their Latin gibberish in private;
--Jews named Goldfarb changed their name to Blondcheveu and exchanged Christmas presents;
--Spring Break was called by its correct name:  Easter Vacation;
--all men belonged to one of three respectable organizations:  the Masons, the Knights of Columbus, the Ku Klux Klan;
--Negroes and other Coloreds were segregated from real Americans; poll taxes and literacy tests kept those of dubious ethnicity from perverting the electoral process;
--males who had sex with other males were arrested and incarcerated;
--lesbians did not exist--or if they did, they were dumpy elementary school teachers who wore sensible shoes;
--women could be secretaries but not executives or doctors or clergyMEN;
--slutty teenage girls who allowed themselves to get pregnant would just have to have the baby--giving it up for adoption, perhaps--but not to homosexuals or other sexual deviants;
--everyone could have as many guns as he/she wanted, concealed or unconcealed;
--all males had the obligatory privilege of serving for two years in the army, fighting for freedom against any country deemed to be an enemy by the (white) president;
--doctors would accept chickens as payment for treatment; there was no need for medical insurance;
--everybody lived in little towns with  a Main Street lined by businesses named Woolworth's or Duane's Grocery or Del's Diner;
--no Protestant clergymen drank alcohol; however, owing to the vagueness of both their theology and their character, Episcopalian priests were allowed sherry and claret--and Catholic priests, since they couldn't have sex, were patronizingly forgiven for hitting the bottle heavily;
--Catholic priests did not have sex;
--there was no global warming and you didn't need to worry about your carbon footprint;
--there was no welfare for lazy people; if you didn't have a job, you contacted the nearest church and its Ladies Aid sent you a basket of  windfall apples and canned Pork and Beans;
--you could burn leaves in your back yard if you felt like it;
--no nanny state would try to take away your inalienable right to smoke in bars and restaurants;
--you did not have to press (or dial) 1 for English;
--teachers didn't expect to make a living wage;
--children were encouraged to bully and ostracize other kids who were "different";
--young men became boy scouts, not drug dealers;
--all football players wore jock straps (known as athletic supporters);
--all women wore girdles and held up their stockings with garters;
--cheerleaders were the most popular girls in school, not athletes; they had jiggly boobs and dated football players who wore jockstraps;
--women's swimsuits had little "modesty panels" to hide the crotch (see photo above);
--The Girl Scouts of America had not yet become a lesbian conspiracy;
--the government and the FBI labored diligently to destroy the lives of anyone suspected of socialism and/or (if male) wearing a dress to a drag party attended by J. Edgar Hoover (also wearing a dress);
--husbands and wives slept in the same room, but always in separate beds;
--no one believed in atheism;
--no one visited France;
--no one wasted time on vacations;
--no one masturbated!

Well, this list is growing long, and I'm getting hungry.  I have some leftover casserole in the fridge, but I'm afraid the Tea Partiers wouldn't approve of its foreign, socialist ingredients. It's rigatoni topped with gruyère cheese. (Please don't tell.  I'm too old to survive either deportation or an internment camp.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Looney Tunes (Pensées from Facebook)

 People's willingness to believe a lie is directly proportional to the outrageousness of the claim. The more improbable it is, the more willing they are to believe.

Now about swimwear and human illogic: men have little to cover, so naturally, they swathe themselves in yards of gaudily patterned fabric. Women, on the other hand, have more to conceal, so just as inevitably, they strive to cover as little of it as possible with the absolute "bare" minimum of material. This defiance of nature is what humans call "fashion."

While we're celebrating our independence, it might not hurt to remember how much we owe Evil Olde England: language, law, political and economic systems--and, perhaps rather less fortunately, ... "culinary" conventions. God Bless America, by all means--but God Save the Queen, too.

Most people will vote for a politician who persuades them that the best solution to every problem is to spend no money, take no action and just let "nature take its course."

Youth: acquiring certainties; middle age: acquiring property; old age: letting go of both.

Why on earth would the dish run away with the SPOON?  If I were a dish, I'd have nothing to do with any kitchenware less well-endowed than a 12" saucier.

Pure democracy is mob rule. Everyone has to become a rhinoceros. No thanks. Let's keep both the 1st and the 14th Amendments.

Alphas=bold but devious liars; Betas=cautious liars; Gammas=fibbers; Deltas & Epsilons= believers. Not pretty is it?

History Channel says that there's an "underwater alien base" in the Bermuda Triangle. This is "history" in the same sense that Fox Channel is "news."

We're told that death and taxes are inevitable. So why are the Tea Partiers protesting only taxes? Shouldn't they be blaming big government for death also?

Conservatives are firm believers in nothing:  spend nothing, do nothing, know nothing.

So, lemme get this straight. The Mayas, who never figured out how to use either the wheel or the true arch, DID somehow figure out when the world was gonna end? Remind me again: what's the name of that bridge in New York that's for sale?

All insinuendo should be refudiated.

Who is the slutty televangelist with big pink hair? She keeps wailing "Jeesuss Jeesuss," Is she praying or has she just broken a nail?

The only way to be happy is to live in perpetual illusion--or stupidity--or denial. The world is flat; Blue Shield cares; Godot is coming.

What is so holy about "saving" money. If God had meant for us to keep our money in the bank, he would not have sent us those credit cards in the mail. Whee!

To brag that one is "severely" conservative is as amusingly redundant as to state that one has received a "hot" water heater as a "free" gift.

What? There are probably a billion billion earth-like planets??? Now that's humbling. Makes me a little less worried about Glenn Beck.

People who have involuntarily lost their reason are insane. People who have voluntarily lost their reason are Tea Party Republicans.

All of my petunias have died, and I'm too poor to replace them. Alas, I am, once again, "impetunious."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Star-Spangled Church of America

"Excommunication":  an act of official censure severing an individual from a religious community and depriving him/her of the spiritual blessings of membership in such a body.

"Interdict":  an ecclesiastical penalty whereby the population of an entire country is suspended from membership in and denied the services of the established religion (essentially, excommunication of  a group rather than of individuals).

The "(No) Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment:  Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  

I've just been re-reading an old favorite:  Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy.  Asimov is not a great writer--he's not interested in literary nuance--but he's a damned good story-teller.  And I enjoy his "psycho-historical" analysis of the seemingly inexorable forces underlying and propelling human evolution.

Early on in the Trilogy, Asimov's storyline involves the deliberate creation of a bogus religion whose priests are the only individuals having the power to produce and distribute atomic power on the four or five planets ruled by the Foundation. 

Thoroughly inculcated in this religion, the vast majority of the priest-technicians themselves believe unquestioningly in the Galactic Spirit, the Holy Food, the Space Demon, etc. They therefore accomplish their liturgical duties (maintaining atomic power plants) devoutly and meticulously, but without any deep understanding of the actual science involved. Only the high-ranking members of the Foundation--including the High Priest himself--are aware that the entire ecclesiastical edifice is nothing but an ingenious hoax, intended only to maintain control over the "faithful" inhabitants of the worlds dominated by the Foundation.

In the novel, this "government by religion" functions very well, for a very long time.  Indeed, at one point, in order to force rebellious Anacreon into complying with Foundation policy, the High Priest places the entire planet under interdict. And at the stroke of noon, all lights flicker off on the iniquitous planet.  Because, as Asimov drily notes, a religion grounded in physics (rather than metaphysics) actually works.

In 1208, Pope Innocent III--in a nasty mood about King John's refusal to appoint Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury--imposed a similar interdict on all of England.  Innocent, of course, did not actually control the power plants (or, should I say, the windmills) of England, but as the outcome of this confrontation proves, ACTUAL, physical power--in THIS WORLD-- is not necessary, provided control over human imagination about the NEXT WORLD is strong enough.  Thus, the king's barons and subjects, fearing that the loss of "holy food" would condemn them to hell in the afterlife, exerted enough pressure to oblige the sovereign himself to submit, albeit grudgingly, to the pope's will.

In European history, that episode may have been the high water mark for confrontations between religious and temporal powers. In any event, the religious authorities soon thereafter began to understand that conflict with civil authorities was really rather inefficiently messy and that their "spiritual" interests could generally be advanced more bountifully by ALLIANCE with their erstwhile adversaries.

How did this work? Simple.  By "Establishment" and "Establishment Clauses."  I.e., the CEOs and practitioners of a particular religion simply cajoled and fulminated to get a ruler to "establish" their doctrines as the official cult of the state.  This was relatively easy to do when the kings themselves took seriously a threat of excommunication (i.e., no holy food and hence no salvation).  Pope Gregory IX's famous confrontation with Emperor Frederick II is a good example of such religious intimidation.  And so, in the early days, the church may have been the senior partner in these establishment covenants.  But rapidly, the kings girded their loins--this was never a lovey-dovey alliance, after all--and then, the two "establishments" moved forward, expanding their mutual control over a) the physical (external) landscape of conquered lands and b) the psychological (internal) landscape of conquered peoples.

But to what end, you might ask?  It's clear why the temporal leaders wanted to extend their influence:  power means wealth and wealth means...well, more power--dominion, superiority, self-gratification.  Why, though, would the supposedly disinterested (nowadays we might say "non-profit") religious authorities seek to extend their influence?  The conventional answer, of course, is "to ensure salvation to those not yet saved:  'holy food' for more people." A verbal sop to the theoretical altruism of organized religion.

But I think that empirical evidence permits us to doubt that most religious establishments desired outcomes much more altruistic than those sought by their temporal brethren.  The churches, too, wanted land, wealth, dominion, superiority, self-gratification in the HERE AND NOW.  In short, they, too, wanted political power.

And so, conflicts sometimes arose between the two allies, since, in fact, they were BOTH after the same thing:  wealth, power, dominion (i.e., "profit").  And, very occasionally, such conflicts provoked an actual breakup of one alliance and its replacement with another:  we inevitably think of Henry VIII ("Defender of the Faith") and his new covenant with the conveniently-concocted Church of England.

But, in general, as the spiritual powers became less sincerely spiritual and ever more avid for real-world privilege and security, they grew increasingly willing to operate as the ostensible "junior" partners in the enterprise--always present, always pulling strings, but in the background--the eminences grises behind the throne--thereby ensuring that they still received a good chunk of the pie, but at a significantly lesser cost. Cool! The kings and princes had to pay for everything!  

And so, for centuries, "Christendom" was rent by wars that were essentially political in nature, but that were justified and sanctified by established religions.   The last of these--the Thirty Years' War--destroyed so many lives and devastated so much territory that, at its end, most of central Europe lay prostrate.

I suspect that it is the horror of that war, together with the inconclusive bloodletting of the English Civil War (again, a combination religious/political conflict), that led many Enlightenment thinkers to denounce ALL alliances (overt, covert, whatever) between political institutions and religious institutions.  Might such a revulsion have prompted Thomas Jefferson to ponder the advice of Voltaire to crush the "infamy" of established religion?

Unlike Glenn Beck, I cannot pretend to understand exactly what was in the minds of our Founding Fathers.  But one fact is very clear:  for whatever reason, the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights DID decide to FORBID any alliance between religion and government! Obviously, they feared the possible consequences of a partnership between civil and religious authorities.

In theory, then, since the United States has no established religion, there is NO religious Grand Pooh-Bah who can dictate or share in temporal law-making.  No high-priest or pope or archbishop or ayatollah has the authority to declare our people, our president or our leaders "outlaws" and "unAmerican" by imposing some sort of excommunication or interdict. No one has the constitutional right to switch off our lights.

In theory.

In actual practice, though, I wonder.  I think there's dirty work afoot, and I'm going to try to get to the bottom of it.  That means scraping the very depths of the politico-religious barrel, of course--and it's there that we dredge up the icky remains of that rottenest of rotten apples, Richard Nixon.  

You've heard of him.  He's the self-declared non-crook who dreamed up the Republicans' "Southern Strategy" and managed, by incorporating both explicit and implicit racism into the Republican "ideology," to convert the majority of southern whites from Dixiecratism to Republicanism. Though Nixon's principal strategist, Kevin Phillips, might disagree with me, I'm persuaded that Tricky Dicky also realized that the Republican Party, in order to reinforce its dominion in the South, would have to ALLY itself with the fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity that so often justified such Bible-based racism (not to mention homophobia, antisemitism and anti-feminism).

Thus, Nixon--and his Republican successors--Ronald Reagan, certainly--but most notably, the two Bushes--by pandering to fundamentalists and by ALLYING the temporal power with the religious power of evangelical divines (e.g., Billy Graham)--these latter-day Defenders of the Faith managed to perpetrate an incredible boondoggle on the American people.  Devoutly distracting us with Sunday-School soporifics and patriotic sanctimoniousness, they simply circumvented the First Amendment's No-Establishment Clause.  They just ignored it!  And thereby, in effect, they established a state religion!!!!  The Star-Spangled Church of America!

Oh, I know that the actual wording the Constitution was not altered a tittle. I suppose that's the "beauty" of the scheme. But a constitution is what common consensus (and five judges) say it is. It is a society's "default setting." And alas, as I write this, I believe--I truly do--that thanks to the machinations of the Republicans' cynical strategists, the United States now has a de facto official religion:  fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity.  It's become our default setting, our ESTABLISHED church.

In a sense, then, contemporary Americans CAN be excommunicated (declared ungodly and hence unAmerican), even entire regions can be interdicted (e.g., wicked San Francisco) by the religious authorities and, accordingly, punished by the civil authorities for--well--impiety! Of course, the religious justification, like the Established Church itself, is de facto, shrewdly hidden beneath a veneer of insipid, star-spangled de jure language  

Evidence to support my claim is not lacking.  Gay couples usually can't get married--because the established religion forbids it (*in June 2015, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all states--but most southern states continue to impede full compliance); Muslims are told they can't build mosques where they wish--because the established religion forbids it; embryonic stem cells cannot be used for scientific research--because the established religion forbids it; Muslim immigrants are harassed and demeaned--because the established religion encourages it; the Pledge of Allegiance requires school children to acknowledge God--because the established religion demands it.  Oh, it's too depressing to go on.

I realize, of course, that the Church of America has not yet fully accomplished what appears to be its ultimate, albeit inchoate, goal:  the de jure overthrow of the First Amendment.  Holdouts exist, fortunately, and continue to give some hope to leftover Jeffersonians.  First-term abortion remains, tenuously, legal--despite the opposition of the C of A.  A few states obstinately allow same-sex marriage and/or forbid capital punishment--despite the opposition of the C of A. (*same-sex marriage is legal as of 2015, by Supreme Court decree, not legislation)

But WHY (in GOD'S NAME) have we ordinary, freedom-loving Americans tolerated this all-too-obvious sabotaging of the First Amendment?  Do we really wish to return to the "good" old days of the Crusades, the Muslim Conquests, the Spanish Reconquista, the Thirty Years' War, the English Civil War? Any decent historian will acknowledge that the alliance of religious authority with political authority has almost always been a means of restricting the authority and autonomy of individual human beings.  

For instance, what if some self-proclaimed High Priest of the Church of America works himself into a veritable old-testament snit about America's supposed abominations (the usual perversions plus, perhaps, gluttony and gambling) and proceeds to place the whole damned country under interdict?  

Will the lights go off in Las Vegas? 

Oh, it DOES seem far-fetched, doesn't it?  Perhaps it's time to stop worrying and be happy.  Tomorrow IS another day, after all.  And tonight, I could go and get myself supersized at MacDonald's.  

With holy food.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Belly Fat

I have a secret to confess:  I sometimes can't resist watching programs on the religious channels--EWTN (Catholic) and TBN (Evangelical).

Why do I do this?  Because I am both horrified and fascinated by the madness that these mountebanks fabricate, dispense and, most astonishing of all, manage to "sell" (both literally and figuratively) to the credulous salvation-seekers of the world.

And there's some real catharsis (or, perhaps, kenosis) involved, too.  Watching one of these shows is what I call a "sauna" experience.  After an hour spent with Kenneth Copeland, for example, in his TBN sweatbox, I am prostrate, limp, withered up--completely emptied of all pride in human reason, all delight in human creativity, all optimism about human thought--what Bertrand Russell once called (silly git) the "chief glory of man."

Nothing, nothing, nothing to hang on to.  All just dehumanizing and dehydrating theological twaddle. And so embarrassing. Makes me want to jump into a cold river and not come out.

But still I subject myself to these sauna ordeals--because, as I said before, I am masochistically curious--and also because, after I emerge from the intellectual flogging, I find that very few other lunatics (Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter) have much effect on me. Like the moron who hit himself on the head with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped. Thanks to the pain, I seem to acquire (at least temporarily) a kind of immunity to inanity.

So, let me tell you about today's metaphysical flagellation.  Rev. Copeland (who cain't pronounce "can't") was denouncing the moral and spiritual depravity which has descended, like a great plague, upon America and which has resulted--the wages of sin--in a national affliction (verily, verily of absolutely Biblical proportions) of...excessive belly fat.

Belly fat.  Yes, friends, there it is!  Did you know that fully 60% of all Americans have too much belly fat?  Gospel truth. And this fat is the direct result of perverted eating which, in turn, is the sinful behavior engendered by a nonexistent or improper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Don't you see?

It's really very simple.  Get right with Jesus and the fat will melt away!

That, at least, was the implication of the little presentation made by Rev. Copeland's bespectacled guest, a certain Dr. Don Colbert, author of a number of books, all apparently ghost-written by Jesus himself, and all entitled The Bible Cure for Something or Other (fill in the blank:  Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Yeast Infections, etc.).  Today, Dr. Don was holding forth about The Bible Cure for Weight Loss and Muscle Gain.  

Though at first I was puzzled about why, exactly, "weight loss" needed to be cured, I soon realized that what the good doctor really meant was something like this:  "how to use Holy Scriptures in order to lose weight."

Of course, there was also an actual "diet" involved (i.e., lettuce, bran flakes, cottage cheese--nothing particularly unusual).  But, asserted the doctor, none of these conventional cures for belly fat would actually "work" unless the dieter had devoutly read the scriptures and, ipso facto / sine qua non, been born again into a right relationship with Jesus.

Positively ingenious scheme, Dr. Colbert!!!!  The would-be dieter buys your book (you win); then, he tries out the diet and either--a) it works (you win and so does he), or b) it doesn't work (his belly fat persists--but, and this is the best part, YOU STILL WIN.  Because the dieter's failure has nothing to do with you or with the diet--rather, the fault lies with the dieter himself--and, most especially, with the inadequacy of his spiritual development.)

This, then, appears to be the Belly Fat Doctrine:  the fatter you are, the more wicked you are.  Jesus loves thin people.  Satan rules the fatties.  So I guess Wallis Simpson had it right (albeit backwards).  You can never be too thin or (I'm sure Rev. Copeland and Dr. Colbert would agree) too rich!

P.S.  But what about the Rev. John Hagee?  Or the Rev. Rick Warren?  Aren't they both a little on the chubby side?  Just asking...