Second Thoughts from Momsʼ Day

Yesterdayʼs post* ended with a bitter pill: “the restʼs just sin.”** However, some reflection, inspired by coincidence and dueling theologies, has made me think twice about the idea of life as merely utter error and inescapable sin. Perhaps I have been overly programmed by my culture to misperceive reality too darkly.

I have mentioned that with the new job and its eleven-hour days***, I have fallen depressingly behind on reading the periodicals to which I subscribe. I try to skim through the weekly Science News, Time and Newsweek as they arrive (or at least within the next week), but the TLS (also weekly), The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books (along with Discover, Smithsonian, National Geographic, The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American and others not leaping to mind right away) have become a horrible stack of journalistic information and insights unsounded and unread. So, having awakened an hour after Janet on Sunday morning, I sat with a cup of (caffeinated) coffee to try to read a few book reviews, pulling from the top of the stack the London Review for April 14, 2011 [Volume 33, Number 8] and beginning with the first review, “Whatʼs next?” by James Wood, examining After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory by John Casey.

The so-called Christian Dextreme: take science and twist the facts away… (Click the pic to see what I mean.)

The book sounds intriguing, and the review was stimulating. The point it raised that made me reconsider the end of my sonnet is what Wood, expanding and reflecting on Caseyʼs arguments, said about the Pauline/Augustinian invention/interpretation of Original Sin as indicating the utter depravity of human nature, redeemed only by belief in the sacrificial and beneficial nature of Christʼs suffering on the cross (that is, Faith). Furthermore, according to the classical reading of St. Paulʼs sour views, Salvation is available only by Grace, and God has mysteriously reserved that gift merely to an elect few (known, [super-]naturally only to God since before creation). From Paul through Augustine through Luther and Calvin, the eerie doom of humanity to hell is reinforced.

Without our loving Godʼs (capricious?) boon of Grace, even multitudes of the Faithful are destined for hell. Period. No further discussion permitted. No arbitration possible. (Gee, thanks for that, among so many other miserly-sphinctered rulings, Saul of Tarsus.)

Nothing one can do on oneʼs own can redeem one.

That dour theology is essentially at the heart of my grim little poem, which is what gives me second thoughts. What both the reviewer and the original author perceive, however, is that such a dire worldview has only slowly evolved historically (and temporarily, too, as current popular theology, outside the vile extremes of fundamentalism****, has more or less discarded that Pauline dark destiny in favor of a kinder, liberal, more Pelagian perception). Without the tightassed theologians of salvation-by-grace-alone, we humans have generally held a more generous and forgiving view of frailty and error. (Hey, weʼre all only human, after all.)

Maybe my emphasis on maternal love as the only redemption in the face of such patriarchal parsimony isnʼt off the mark…

However, I meant originally, as I began to type, to explicate my own little Jesusʼs-age-old poem, and I havenʼt done so. Maybe, work permitting, tomorrow. But for now, having never quite finished Woodʼs book review, perhaps I should read on to the end.

* (a sonnet, by the way, rhymed very tightly but oddly as ABCAABCADAEEAD — with C and B being nearly identical, except for a final consonant)

** (incompletely, as it turned out, when The Lovely One summoned me to depart for the Wal and some necessary purchases, including potting soil for those plants she had bought the day before)

*** (days which are now, with me having a half-hour commute at the beginning and end of each, perhaps going to extend more toward twelve hours, I fear)

**** Ironically/coincidentally/interestingly, Time made a cover story, the same week as my London Review issue, out of an evangelical (presumably, therefore, fundie) minister writing a popular book on the (possible) nonexistence of hell — utterly upsetting the fundamentalist applecart (because without hell, thereʼs no stick for the Appointed Authorities to beat the sheeple into the party line) and earning the author the brickbats and outrage of the Dextreme SelfRightous.

My brother-in-law, Brian the minister, once observed, “Itʼs a fine and splendid thing to get called ‘pastor’ by the congregation, but that title doesnʼt say much for the flock…”

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Getting it all wrong

I like the Times Literary Supplement. Unfortunately, it is so expensive that my subscriptions to the periodical run for a year and then expire for year or a few months or a few years. Why? Because every now and then the publishers offer a really reduced come-on, I think for “educators,” which I can afford, about a third or a quarter of the real subscription price. When I get one of those offers, if I’m feeling sufficiently flush, I subscribe. (Or at least I did so subscribe for nearly three decades, all the way back to the time Janet and I met.) I entered my subscription most recently back in the fall (in an orgy of spending, thanks to a full week of substitute teaching, I resubscribed to most of the periodicals I had let go when I retired, TLS included).

Saturday morning I finished reading my current copy (they are never very current, being mailed from Great Britain — that issue was for February 11) and felt surprisingly interested in many things I had read, some of which you may get to read more about soon (or not). Actually to choose the word “surprisingly” is inaccurate, as I usually enjoy at least half of the reviews and articles in every issue. I had begun the magazine on Thursday, I think, getting through the first 24 or 25 pages (I am dictating, having resurrected the pairing for the Bluetooth headset, which had evaporated, and I am still uncomfortable with Dictate’s predilection for digits over letters when I speak numbers; an old-school old fart, I still think numbers should be words through one hundred, or at least through twenty and the even tens to a hundred — and I had to edit the digits the software included in what you just read). I paused at an article reviewing a new book on ethics that constructs an elaborate system of rationale to clarify making moral decisions.

Reading the article, I thought about conflicts in medieval dar al-Islam (particularly in al-Andalus) between conservative religious figures and progressive philosophers. The philosophers held very broad and liberal views that frequently diverged entirely from traditional Islam and even verged into atheism (or at least a rejection of paradise and hell, an afterlife, and post-mortem reward or punishment forever). But these subtle thinkers devised and articulated some of the most astute insights into morality and science ever (in part or in total because of their [lack of] religious views), powerful enough to sway the scholastic philosophers of medieval Europe a few hundred years later, including (or in particular) Thomas Aquinas. (And the swaying didnʼt just involve the science but the ethics especially.) The religious guys, on the other hand, imams and jurists, argued that no matter if any of the philosopher guysʼ moral arguments were correct, the common person just wasnʼt built to understand such sophistry and intellectual finesse. The ordinary fellow could only be swayed morally by the threat of punishment, if not instantly here and now, then in the hereafter, regardless if such a supernatural retribution were actually real (for the philosophersʼ reasonings had some power in devout Muslim circles, too).

Back to the TLS article? I wasnʼt sure any typical lowbrow yahoo, like folks who post comments to Dextremist blogs (and even those who write the blogs themselves), would act morally based solely on the refined principles espoused in the book under review. That consideration made me wonder about the dubious power of narrow and judgmental fundamentalism today (and I am not just talking about Islam now, either, obviously). Does such a rigid system have any benefits whatsoever?

I may loathe the terrible folly of trying to twist oneʼs mind into accepting every word of scripture as valid (and no one does that; they all cherrypick instead — a friend posted a very funny “oops” article about someone tattooing an OT verse against homosexuality on his arm but getting the citation wrong: it referenced a verse forbidding tattoos!*), but now I wonder if goofs need the threat of hell to be decent people…

If so, what kind of dark and selfish cesspools of vileness are such supposedly simple people? And consdering the negative impacts of fundamentalism around the globe today, is that presumed moral-rectification by posthumous paddling even real?

Thatʼs a pair of scary thoughts.

* Although the source I located says the tattoo is accurate, the verse against tattooing is later. Even so… pick and choose, pick and choose…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Choosing My Religion (or not)

Although the sun peeked out for maybe an hour, it was a gray afternoon on Wednesday, yesterday. With the weather having warmed just after the new year, the outdoors has gotten to that ugly stage when the snow is brown and gray and black, and the army-drab* grass shows through the spots of melt. I spent some hours in the morning putting close to five thousand words into the Scrivener document for “Mistakes by Moonlight,” getting Søren and Judah down from the entry they forcibly made into the Green Tower and ready to commit their theft. Judah even got two or three touches of magic into the mix, but right now thereʼs trouble brewing as threatening footsteps are tromping down the stairs toward our two heroes…

And then Janet called for some advice on a bit of business for her boss, and suddenly once the phone was hung up, I was wasting time. Again. As usual.

And therefore you get a post to read today, my punishment for idling away the afternoon learning about:

  • what my Facebook friends have been up to,
  • how I lost out on the MegaMillions lottery jackpot,
  • selfish Tightists (Ayn Rand — a name which the Dictate software had no trouble interpreting, scarily),
  • the End of Days (some whack-job in California, who has failed to correctly predict the end of the world twice before, has gotten gullible so-called christians of some self-centered sort and/or another[s] all disturbed that theyʼre going to get Raptured, May 21 — yeah, right, sure, and Iʼm gonna go with ʼem),
  • Santorum” (he of the insistent rear-entry fixationprotesting too much, wouldnʼt you guess? — could-be Prez candidate, not, no matter how many times he pollutes my state with his perverse presence), and…

Well, as this list has gotten a bit bizarrely frightening, weʼll just say and other things. (There really are a lot of scary, stupid pass-for-humans*** out there. Perhaps the snow conditions match the Nutjobs.) Suffice it to say that I got my overdose of the wigged-out unreality of the lunatic Dextreme. Again. As I wish was not usual.

But it got me thinking… well, reminiscing rather…

Back in college, sitting around one of the big tables in the student union at IWC on a late winter or early spring day, possibly in 72 or 73, some of us having read Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins (thanks, Denise, for that initial recommendation and thereafter a lifetime of periodic vast entertainment), a few friends and I briefly contemplated/laughed about creating our own religion to put over on the plebes and make a lot of cash** (just like a megachurch pastor these days), but I concluded no one would be gullible enough to swallow the kind of idiotic santorum subsequent history has now proved far too many dolts are hideously eager to consume uncomplaining, without hesitation or question. And all of that before Ramtha, ghost-hunting and the New Age! If we had only known. If only we had a crystal ball to see what demagogues and deluders have anti-accomplished since. Again. As usual.

Iʼd have to forego the beard, though…

Oh well, another missed opportunity unrealized. (Just like the lottery.) Thatʼs life. Mine, at least.

Left Behind.

Again.

Per usual.

However, maybe itʼs not too late… According to folly, Iʼve still got until May 21, and in my own case October!

I wonder if anyone outside really (and too easily) misled Buddhists would accept a plump, bald prophet/messiah/avatar-of-divinity…

Scientologists probably. Hmmmmm…

If I had only gotten that PayPal button to work here on the blog, You Could Start Sending Your Contributions Today

But back to reality, or in my case, fantasy. I left Søren and Judah in a real predicament, and there are still hours before I have to make supper, breakfast and lunch and get ready to work a little on Thursday/today.

 

* Now thereʼs an outdated reference to put me in my place chronologically, as I meant olive, not camouflage.

** I say “briefly,” but I have pondered and periodically developed story ideas arising therefrom and have not forgotten the incident since…

*** I really, really wanted to drop the “p” in that hyphenated phrase. But good taste and restraint won the day (along with not linking to a particular website one can discover when googling “Santorum gay”).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Contra PoinDextremism

Intriguingly, statistics on hits have clearly shown that if I want to get lots of readers (well, “lots” for us here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog, which means more than a bakerʼs dozen or two), I should take a controversial stand on some issue. Sad, but from the numbers, scientifically true. The readership doubles if I pen something that perturbs somebody. That shouldnʼt surprise me (as it actually does), but it does permit my opening for a post today.

Contrary to popular (manufactured) opinion, both of these evil men were Fascists, which is European for Rightist extremists.

So, with my volatile and substantiated positions on things political/economic/pseudophilosphico-moralistic/idiotic (the best album title ever had to be Green Dayʼs American Idiot; talk about smacking the old iron spike directly on the noggin), taking aim at any aspect of the widespread plague of contemporary lunacy should be easy. However, although I have reached the appropriate age and stage in lifeʼs brief swirl of colors, shapes and sounds, to serve (at my current weight) as two Quixotes, my personal tilting at the army of metaphorical windmills parading past this old hacienda seems overwhelming, and unlike the revered Señor Quijana, I generally know an empty bag of hot gas when I smell one, even if I can be pricked like him into action anyway (viz. my recent erratic sneeze at the foul flatulence-passer of the U.S. House of Representatives, dishonoring for two years more Iowaʼs fifth district, and his wickedly amoral, overly financed, petty swipe at Iowaʼs state supreme court — who merely knew bad law when they saw it). New resolutions in place, The Dishonorable King will probably provoke further resistance on this site unless he somehow, unpredictably grows a conscience, an ethical accomplishment he conspicuously preaches and thoroughly, obviously lacks. Besides maybe heʼs not the soulless monster he appears. Let me put these rosy Rightbended glasses on… Yes, now I perceive that heʼs only an unjust kneejerk reactionary uncontrollably spewing sedition, repression and self-promotion. What harm could there be in a monogonadal mustache-less would-be dictator like that troglodytic animated-dunglump?

That felt good all over again.

Yes, the wickedly deceitful inDecent Dextreme shouldnʼt be permitted to sling their excrement without equivalent retort. But I despise the vague feeling that I in reply may reside at their foxily breitburpous beck and lame-bogging… Is it wisdom to descend to where the demonized howl in endless agony? Difficult to resist the too-easy fun, though.

My original point for this day is to acknowledge that maybe my greatest strengths, when provoked by rigid gibberish and turgid bunkum, isnʼt to attempt punditry myself, however proud I am of some of my previous posts decrying the degenerate and idiot state of American Dexdroidism*. I think I am better at just telling stories out of my rage and depression, as the vapid and demoralizing Pat Goobertson used to stir my passions to playwriting (and some of my most successful those plays were, too, thanks certainly in no small part to the talented and diligent casts and crews of those productions). Itʼs stories I want to tell. If Dextreme vanity, inanity and venality burble their black ooze of lies and manipulation to the placid surface of my mild existence, perhaps I should just think up characters, situations and revenges for fiction. I wonder… what might happen if the Tourist developed a political point of view?

Delightfully shuddersome! Further fantasies of so-called “Second Amendment solutions”…

Exactly, Right.

I am not even committed to any logical alternative to the whackRight (partly why it annoys me so violently to have them divide our citizens into “Us,” meaning them, and “Them,” meaning anyone of any rationality and therefore political stripe not ultraRightist[?], as that wholly false dichotomy is simply [and simple-mindedly?] wrong but so expressive of the anti-values that produced it), unlike the calmly eloquent Bill Maher, say. Dreading Big Government (and I really quail from — and oppose — a Government that seeks to dictate our private lives, all ye unmercifully selfRighteous!), I fear the greedy hands of Big (multinational) Business more/as much/more. I at least get a vote in government, or at least I may until the Rightizers have their fascistic way and “fix”/”take back” politics in their own witless and agonized image (after all, the so-called “socialists” have done nearly nothing in any other direction, probably a better indication, I admit, of the falsehood of the name-call than of an imaginary Far Leftʼs possible agenda). Back to the business at hand, corporations just want to use me, and history shows, abuse me in the equable assurance of future consumers to replace me when unfettered and unregulated corporate immorality has done its worst. (And of course, Kochsuckers, pay what it takes to get their unrestricted way.)

Who enjoys paying taxes? But when have humans not supported the ruling classes? And I like having the federal assurance of a “safety net” as one of my basic claims on “general welfare” — in sickness and in age. At least with Social Security, Welfare and a decent healthcare-for-all law, the ruling classes can take care of me eventually, and I donʼt trust religious zealots with my welfare, please, and thank you very much. But who wants to support societyʼs leeches? (And the Tourist does have such a case in his future…)

And I firmly believe in adhering (even strictly) to the Constitution! However, the document does grant Congress the power to enact any and all laws necessary… And that First Amendment (plus Article VI) creates a validly, necessarily secular state, “Christian America” nutjobs, as I have argued to excess recently (only to discover that zealotry seems to forbid reasonable discourse or acceptance of argumentation). And that Second Amendment clearly insists on the well-regulated militia basis for the non-infringement of the peopleʼs right to keep and bear arms (sorry, NRA faddists, but if weʼre going to stick to the Constitution, especially strictly, you gotta do what the document says — and that means join the National Guard if you want to keep that registered gun).

And, as I have previously observed on this blog, my personal freedom is paramount in my value system (acknowledging that I have been circumscribing and gnawing away at it since birth**). Nobodyʼs taking away my freedom (such as it is and has been compromised thus far), not my elected government, not mega-corporate shenanigans, not selfRighteous neighbors nosing into anyoneʼs private life, and particularly not duplicitous windbags whose sleight-of-hand verbal bombast intends to disguise that actual end (by preaching about “freedoms” but dictating submission to one narrow vision). Freedom is not a word to bandy blindly at corporate behest.

And…

But Iʼve greatly exceeded the thousand words already. (Hmmmm, why is it not the fictitious Left but the pointyDexters who seem to threaten what I value?) As my recent failure to argue just a single Fundie into recognizing truth in the face of his subjective desires should have taught me, I cannot be the wilderness voice against extremist duplicity and nonsense…

Besides, if I really were to monitor the postmortem electrical discharges of what passes for a cortex in Dextreme dogmatics, I would have to watch FoxNews. Regularly. Religiously. And the nasty, unpenitent, ceaseless repetition of whingeing falsehoods there halts my heart and shreds my soul. Who needs that on a daily basis?

* Root around in that neologism to discover the meaning.

** I really do need to pen a post on this concept that one actually deprives oneself of freedoms from infancy on (depending for oneʼs existence on Mom and therefore necessarily accepting parental restrictions from the beginning, thus commencing a long cascade of limitations on oneʼs personal freedom in exchange for safety/security). I keep alluding to the idea without a full explanation…

Over 1300 words?!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Wasting Time

Can you find the dot for Pashitakua?

Although I planned out at least half the November novel yesterday, sitting in my truck in Dubuque, waiting for the proper time to pick The Lovely One for lunch, I canʼt claim much other progress (yet — itʼs only 3:30 right now). I now know there are predatory bird people on my imaginary planet (Tsyriel?), and the Travelers are lizardlike. I even have a reason in mind for the tentative title (in other words, how itʼs possible to be enslaved to the lesser moon). Furthermore, my callow youth must (as of this/yesterday morning) spend some time alone after his arrival (I think heʼll need some toughening up, both in character and body, if heʼs going to survive. But what if he doesnʼt? Hmmmm… intriguing novelty…)

And I am concealing from you a whole bunch of stuff, too. Actually, I wrote about two hundred more words on the new Søren and Judah extension once I got some of those Slaves to Lesser Moon ideas down in black and white (and which I will now need to transfer, orally, I assume, to the computer this afternoon). I spent some pointless time, first thing this morning, on the NaNoWriMo website updating my own and my bookʼs profiles*, which helped to shape a few ideas I have been baking in the semiconsciousness. On the other hand, those were minutes I could have spent putting words that count into the actual text before I had to leave the house for errands and Dubuque. (Well, this weenie nonwriter whines in personal excuse, I did work on the story, a little bit, in Dubuque.) But I also wandered around Samʼs Club (not finding the almost-but-not-quite-affordable Bose noise-cancelling headphones** I had seen only weeks ago) and ate with Janet. And the drive both directions gave me plenty of empty time for imagining and figuring things out (except it didnʼt work quite that way). Then I came home, all intent to Get To Work.

However, upon restarting the old iMac, I discovered that antagonist Daniel had dully kept his wits and understanding tendentiously narrowed and his argument stolidly repetitious, so I had to make one last attempt to rectify his deliberate and wish-fulfilling philosophical, historical-biographical and Constitutional mistakes*** (thus consuming irrevocably almost a half hour of my life). However, I think I should stop wasting time attempting to open a closed mind. It is a futile task, experience indicates, and probably just frustrating for the tightly constrained opponent rather than at all enlightening (my first clue of his utter resistance to reason should have been his automatic recycling of the tepid, uninspiring, incorrect and refuted assertions from our week-old exchange on this blog). If I mean to complete the novel, time-wastes are just that, particularly unproductive ones like this. (Although I like sharpening my own ideas, doing so recurrently with such a dull whetstone doesnʼt take me far; and he is the only gleam of intelligence among his selfRighteous fans — click their names to see what I mean; mct88 is particularly dim and meanspirited.)

So instead of hopping to the novel, chop chop, here I am putzing with this post (and struggling with myself to avoid discussing the positively disheartening and reactionary results of yesterdayʼs election). A conflict of promises to myself seems to be brewing. Unfortunately, both in my consciousness and already exerted effort, the blog has precedence. Perhaps… if I… just… stop. Now.

* And I quote — “PLANETARY ROMANCE.  Wisconsin college student, persuaded to test new principles in physics, is zapped from our world to another planet, supposedly another time. In this new world, he first becomes enslaved by Travelers, strange beings dissociated from the numerous other cultures and intelligent beings who compete for survival amid the remnants of a dead society.”

** You try living (even at my advanced age) with rapidly increasing tinnitus. As you may have guessed, I might, even in these recessional days, expend cash to slow the inexorable and surprisingly speedy advance of the raucous psychological static.

*** Actually his incorrections are not so much mistakes as deliberate (and perhaps even conscious, certainly not conscientious) falsifications of reality — simply to make his own desires appear (untruthfully) somewhat possible. Itʼs a very poor, selfdeafeating excuse for argumentation (and research… and reality).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Elections Over

The Facebook pic in question. And I am… too poor to qualify as a Republican…

Election day was not my most productive, out of two so far, for the novel writing month. I let myself get distracted with politics (on Facebook). Once I had voted — first thing in the morning: although third to submit my form to get a ballot, first to send the ballot through the machine, and Janet was second on both fronts — I found a cute little picture of a button that said “I am too poor to vote Republican” which more or less summed up my view of the corporate money funneled into the party of No (as of today, I have been told by every source, the majority party in Congress, so we donʼt want to forget their established log of obstructionism). I think that when I put that picture up as my display pic, some friends were displeased. Oh, well, it will come down later yesterday (I am writing about noon on Tuesday) or early-ish today. And the resultant debate was interesting, too.

The more factual position…

Obviously, then, I donʼt know how the elections have turned out. The polls havenʼt even been open half their scheduled time yet here in Iowa. I am not optimistic, dreading that the disinformation spewed by blogiots and FoxGnaws may have had its intended effect. Democrats are no prize, either, too wimpy to claim the high ground or boldly advance genuine principles. When folks talk about entrenched interests, maybe we need to mean the two parties and their corrupted and ineffective system (completely extraneous to the Constitution, by the way). No more Republicans or Democrats!

But itʼs a new day as you read this. The elections are over, and I donʼt know how things have turned out.

I did notice that my sparring partner, Daniel, has attempted (off this blog, on his own) to answer our recent debate about undermining the Constitution (Article VI and the First Amendment) to gratify his personal so-called religious desires. He tries to misread Jeffersonʼs letter to the Danbury Baptists to support his unconstitutional notion that religulous ideas should dominate the federal government. However, Jefferson begins the content by saying clearly, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship…” He is staking the ground strongly: matters of conscience are solely matters of conscience, which is where, within oneself alone, oneʼs relations with God, if such, are constrained. In other words, religion has no more direct influence on government than government may infringe upon free practice of religion — utterly undercutting any nonsense about “Jefferson indicates that a man’s religious values are free to infiltrate the government…” Itʼs the precise opposite: Jefferson indicates first the principle that conscience is personal rather than public to reassure the cold-shouldered Baptists of (Puritanical) Danbury that government will never revoke the First Amendment by imposing a religion on all the minorities that make up the people of the United States.

But I already replied to him on his site (at least three times, in fact). You can read my comment here, even though some peculiarity of Danielʼs comment system stripped away my own link back to the “Faithful Facts” discussion last Thursday. (I added it in a second of my comments.)

And putting together this bit of writing, my Facebook observations, and the reply to Daniel should comprise enough of a post for now (especially since I have to actually write some on my novel yet Tuesday).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Wayfaring Stranger

Ironically, or through synchronicity, or merely by coincidence, after I had finished the posts for Wednesday and (at least roughed out) yesterday, God in America was on PBS Tuesday night. With American religion and religious history in my mind, I watched much of it (trying also to keep up on Glee and Raising Hope at the same time). First, I do recommend the series, and I learned a few things. For instance, evangelicals were behind the progressive movements of the nineteenth century: orphanages, public welfare for the poor, even Abolition (for which I had always credited the Transcendentalists, who strongly opposed and sought to end slavery but whose nature-centric, nontheistic rationalism should certainly put off most religious Tighty Righties of the present day). It must have been an unusual era, when the devout creatively practiced the preachings instead of greedily grubbing for themselves.

So I want to credit the nineteenth century evangelicals for actively promoting a genuine Christianity (and to PBS for reminding me to distinguish between evangelicalism, my own heritage, being twice-over a lapsed Methodist, and fundamentalism). Of course, even at that time, two hundred years ago, the United States was not solely Christian, however much some state constitutions and most Protestantsʼ everyday behavior expected the nation was (rather like our contemporary fundamentalists, I suppose). There were Jews in the country since the earliest colonial days. Slaves were not all (or like European Yule-celebrating ancestors, thoroughly) converted, and some if not many practiced, the best they could, their native religions from Africa (and out of that spiritual stress and mix, scholars agree, arose and evolved the complexities of voodoo). And native Americans mostly practiced their longstanding beliefs and rituals (also sometimes influenced by Christianity — which Andrew grads having taken American Lit should recognize from Leslie Marmon Silkoʼs short story “The Man to Send Rain Clouds”). Of course, first and finally, the initial Christians on what would become U.S. turf were the Catholic friars in/out of New Spainanathemic for those American Protestants (of already so many variable denominations) who had broken from the traditional faith (supposedly monolithic, ignoring Nestorians, Ethiopians and Orthodox, I guess) only a few hundred years earlier and who maintained a horror and aversion toward the church they often dubbed the Whore of Babylon.

Doréʼs Dante in the dark wood

Multiplicity of religions marked the nation from the beginning, leading freely to such religiously radical, independent-thinking revolutionaries as Jefferson and Adams, even Washington (to name only an unholy trinity out of the flood of freethinking Founders). But more important to those Framers of the Constitution were the combative and quarrelsome denominations of Protestants (and some Catholics) in which they lived — dissenters and established churchgoers. Thus the quite secular (and, as befits their neoclassic Enlightenment era, rationalistic) founding documents of the nation (which owe so much to agnostic, nearly atheistic Jefferson). I feel confident that those Framers never imagined their document would protect the free religious practices of nonchristians or disbelievers (except perhaps Jefferson), but within four decades from its signing, it already did (remember those Transcendentalists, already apostate by the early 1830s, even as evangelical spiritual rebirth enthused the nationʼs ordinary Protestants). Maybe those intellectual rebels in and around Concord were glossed as elitists by the evangelized frontiersmen, as our Fundies now wish to trash factspeakers dissenting accurately from their pseudohistory, but the comfortably Born Again were about to clash hard with an older religious division.

Immigration has never been a cozy situation for Americans, and leaving aside a national zest for xenophobia, for a long time the problem was clearly religious: the new immigrants were Roman Catholics. (I wonder if all the guntoting, teasucking immigrant bashers today would feel so frantic if incoming Hispanics were all Protestants or Mormons?) The Irish began arriving in the early 1800s, then the Italians — all Catholics and all subject to religious discrimination and violence, an abhorred threat to the snug (incompletely) Protestant nation. All in need of the shelter provided under the adamantly secular Constitution and the “free-practice” First Amendment, right along with freethinkers and the irreligious (and although they knew it not, the Catholic-bashers themselves). From those clashes and from others in the twentieth century has come our current legislative “wall of separation” between the state and religion, which Reactionary Religious Rightists seek to tear down for their own radical and novel ends (although they will lyingly pretend, as good conservatives, that it was impossibly “always so” and only altered just recently, just as they pretend that “under God” was originally part of the Pledge of Allegiance and not added at the gunbarrel of conservative antiCommie hysteria in the Fifties, no matter what blackened gaps and tortured rewrites they must impose on actual history).

My ancestors lived this history, on both sides of my family, right back to our Puritanical beginnings. These turmoils and transcendences I have summarized today comprised their lives. And I am sure some of them came down on what I would consider the wrongheaded side of the debates and conflicts (yes, you, John Winthrop). In all this mire, I have struggled to find my own way secularly and spiritually, abhorring falsehood and pretense, trying to discover a few crumbs of truth here and there. I explored my own religious history already and so wonʼt rehash it here. Besides, itʼs time to close this all out at last. I find itʼs hard to be a poor wayfaring stranger in this dark world of woe, chafed by the savage spotlights and overamped loudspeakers of fascist so-called Christians blinding themselves and too many others about what is actually out here beyond the razor-wire compounds of their faith-based concentration camps, where wellfunded stormtroops of doctrinal repression march unceasing. A new dawn would feel refreshing after the fetid black night of the soul their endless agonized wailing has imposed on the nation and the world.

Letʼs allow the Constitution to breathe free in these United States, unfettered, unbecked, by cant, hypocrisy, falsehood and sectarian prejudice.

Yikes! I penned almost a fifteen hundred words yesterday morning just in comments on Thursdayʼs post. With that I am far over doubling my net verbiage for today.

The Picasso performance was last night. As I am scheduling this post almost twenty hours ahead, I havenʼt actually performed yet, but Iʼll try to remember to write on how it went soon.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Faithful Facts

And today provides the third installment on my religion-and-government reflections, continuing from Tuesday and yesterday.

Problematically for our Christian-American religious zealots, the Constitution is a religiously neutral document, nowhere referencing God, Jesus or Christianity (except in the matter of the date of adoption, about which much nonsense, like the two links, has been generated but which merely translates into English the Latin Anno domini, A.D. — the only calendrical numeration system, predating the contemporary religiously neutral CE and BCE, available to the Framers and one that even nonbelieving I use, thus clearly no evidence of any Founder religious intent of any kind). The U.S. Constitution online discusses the complex matter here. The Framersʼ choice of words was most careful, deliberate and neutral. Indeed, historically, there was considerable outcry against the Constitution in the days of adoption because it was “Godless,” to some fervently faithful hyperChristians of the day (pretty much sinking the whole impossible Founders-as-Fundamentalist-Bible-Thumpers argument right there). As endlessly many sources, online sites and legal precedents insist, the Constitution (unamended) itself prohibits any religious qualifications in the government — “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI). That pretty much clinches the gargling demise of the Christian-Nation ridiculosity. And the First Amendment erases the doubts about a theocratic foundation for the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The statement is clear. Our federal government can in no legislative way establish any religion, nor may it interfere with the free practice of any religion. My extremist fundamental friends are free to practice their religion… without interfering (particularly legislatively) with anyoneʼs elseʼs practice or nonpractice, beliefs or nonbeliefs. That seems a straightforward and American way to behave. Perhaps, missionary zeal on the parts of some Christians (and those of some other religions and some atheists as well) may cause problems in this simple ideal, as may nonstandard religious practices like the consumption of peyote or ganja. My (imaginary) evangelically fundamental neighbor may not like the exclusion of her dearly held Creationist myth from high school biology, but an American public school is a public, therefore governed, trust, and religion may not be established there; she may sue in the courts for the privilege to insert her beliefs there (and fail again to change the course of law in the land). These situations and multitudinous, unimagined others are why the Constitution insists that Congress and the Judiciary will be empowered to make legislation and decisions to enact and refine the founding document (which is just what has happened ever since 1787/1791 — sometimes to my satisfaction and sometimes not). Just as Congress cannot interfere in the free practice of religion, there is absolutely no established religion for the nation, and Congress and the courts are permitted to make this principle work in real life hereafter. Thatʼs a Constitutional (amended) fact.

The Fundies donʼt like that. It means they donʼt get their way: to make this nation into a theocratic Christian state. Too bad. Ours is not a religious nation but a worldly (yep, secular) state. Many Americans donʼt appreciate all the “under God” and “in God we trust” and “so help me God” items that religious extremists enjoy and have inserted into our governmental and judicial practices since 1791 (mostly just over fifty years ago), simply because zealots have insisted at the ripe and proper historical moment and legislators and justices have meekly caved to the political pressure. But the Constitution remains, clear and adamant, against theocratic intrusions on the nation (or at least on the government, and likewise government intrusions on the varied religious or irreligious). Rightists may quail at the phrase, “separation of (or between) church and state,” but it is the simplest explanation of the exclusion clause I (or our federal courts) have heard or seen (thanks, TJ).

If youʼre a “Constitutional Fundamentalist,” then, you stand firmly and proudly for the principle of no government-established religion whatsoever and everyoneʼs right to practice freely his or her diverse religion(s) or lack thereof. To take any other position on religion in America is a contradiction, fundie zealots, and a Lie.

So the nation is definitively not Christian. But it is equally, definitively not antiChristian (or anitMuslim or antiBuddhist or antiWhatever-Religion-You-Like, for that matter). Fundamentalists may feel threatened by the bogus threat of secularism, toward which the Framing Fathers did seem to tilt the country in the foundational documents (to my relief), but they and all religious folk of whatever faiths or conscience are guaranteed the right to their free practice of their religion(s), regardless how humanistic, how secular, how agnostic or atheistic (or Rastafarian or Pastafarian or Muslim or whatever) the nation becomes. Itʼs guaranteed in the Constitution. And thatʼs a fact for folks of all faiths (and none).

And then, after closing, the most evil bit of selfRighteous activist warfare that my research uncovered is this wicked bit of video intolerance, deeming any unSaved Others as Nazis because, according to Rightist Revisionism, Adolph Hitler (a Tighty Righty fascist, if there ever was one, by the way — talk about glibly and blindly rewriting history to suit oneself!) was the first to use the exact phrase “separation of church and state.” (Which he didnʼt, but itʼs an established Rightist position, and the incestuous unimaginative carboncopying of notions by other Rightists is tediously well documented and easy to prove for yourself.) To the contrary, Jefferson clearly had a few hundred years on the evil, one-testicled, mustached dictator, and Jeffersonʼs letter to the Danbury Baptists (“separation between church and state”) comes much closer to the key phrase than any translation of Hitlerʼs remark(s) I have found.

A short one today, to balance the lengthier consideration yesterday.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

No Separation?

Todayʼs post is the direct continuation of the long essay I began yesterday.

I frequently wonder at the kind of mind (even soul) that must cling to a rock-solid, dead-certain set of irrational principles (if principles isnʼt too decent a term for extremist rigidity) at all costs, including violence to others who appear to threaten the comfy security of the believer. The current wildness of the Rightists in the U.S. and Muslim hatemongering jihadists worldwide leaves me jaw-dropped at our human abilities to deceive and blind ourselves. Most vividly of late is the Christine OʼDonnell debate gaffe (or masterly thrust and skewering of her opponent, if you are yourself an initated Rightist) about the First Amendment. If you watch the video, she clearly accepts the laughter at her denial of separation of church and state (terminology which, as she wished to assert, is not verbatim in the Amendment, true) as supporting her and undermining Coons. She sadly but goofily was wrong about the laughs, but Coons, not being a blinkered Rightized fundamentalist, didnʼt get her intended point about the exact words not being in the Constitution, accepting instead the valid and majority-held nearly 250 years of history and legislation that have defined the establishment clause to erect just that Jeffersonian wall of separation between religion and government. She didnʼt understand that her denial of separation made her appear a fool to the general public. She believed from her eight days of Rightist Constitutional training that Coons was the fool for expressing the key clause of the Amendment in the terms of “separation of church and state.” What we had there was a classic failure to communicate.

OʼDonnellʼs mindframe was so set in her rigidly Rightist terminology that she had forgotten or neglected that a larger history had not excluded separation from the Amendmentʼs nonestablishment of religion clause. I have found recently that in the narrow alterworld of Fundamentalist Christian Rightism, from which OʼDonnell spoke, the Amendmentʼs meaning has been sculpted to mean that Christianity is the foundation of the government of the United States (the goal these Fundies do want with their calls for established and required school prayer and all). And the establishment clause means that their presumed basic Christian foundation for the country should never be undermined.

Seem like a stretch into fantasyland to you? It did (still does) to me. Our dissenting, Deistic (not quite the good oldtime Christians the Right wants to paint them), freethinking, agnostic, revisionistic (think of Jeffersonʼs cut-and-paste collection of Bible quotes), frequently Unitarian founders would be startled, I am sure. Only an easy skim through the politico-religious biographies of the founders turns up the, to be gently mild about it, uniqueness of their possible personal connections to any established Christian religion(s). And, of course, contemporary Fundamentalism arises only just over a hundred years ago, chronologically far outside the scope of the original Patriotsʼ comprehension. But the Fundamentalist Right has whole tipsy tiers of rationalization to make it so. The statement “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” is contorted savagely to mean things that I find it difficult to follow. But weʼre going to try, in all fairmindedness, because I have experienced an eye-opening excursion, via the Internet, into the strange waters of seflRighteous selfjustification — from which I am going to utilize some of the most reasonable and least bilious sources.

Before exploring the issues I have recently learned about (you can tell how weakly nonFundie I am by that remark — actually bothering to acquire information beyond my own personal experience and prejudices), I would like to turn your attention to a very enlightening (although perhaps partisan, perhaps not) article in Newsweek, last week, on Rightist Constitutional Fundamentalism. Having the ideas I am exploring here drifting and throbbing through my consciousness for years, for me the reporter put some things into clarity and perspective. Some mindsets seem to need a document of absolute truth (the Bible, the Quʼran or the Constitution, for instance) on which almost thoughtlessly to rely, or they canʼt handle the real world. Unfortunately, it seems most of such fundamentalist believers also pick and choose what to notice/remember/use as weapons of attack from said document. (For instance, spouting uncontextualized Old Testamentary regulations on homosexuality with no regard for Christʼs actual message of brotherly love. Or so-called “Constitutionalists” who refuse to comply fully with the Census, citing only the documentʼs precise text on the required procedure, as if the final clause of Section 8, granting Congressional powers — “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof” — did not exist.) Even as the rocks that comprise the earth are forever shifting and drifting (viz. geological tectonics), our abilities simply to read are a sandy mire of consciousness and inter/contextuality (viz. literary criticism, which began, by the way, in Western civilization as efforts to clearly read and understand the Bible — and one of my heroes, Benedict Spinoza, was crucial in making some important advances therein). Selective emphasis from a text is not new nor particular to fundamentalist points of view; it is the uncertain and varying essential nature of the reading process, sorry to say, fundie friends. But I can discuss lit crit another time.

In order to propound the sorrowfully mistaken notion that the founders of this nation were establishing, deliberately and knowingly, a Christian nation, our contemporary fundamentalists have derived an interesting set of arbitrary (but for them very useful) distinctions. They begin by distinguishing between doctrinal religion and denominational religion (terms absolutely unknown to our Founders, who might have recognized “established religion” versus “personal conscience” — terms which donʼt help the contemporary extremistsʼ argument). The simplest discussion I found for this fundamentalist, Rightist argument is here, which tries to assert that first, somehow (perhaps through the effects historical migration from Europe into the colonial New World) Christianity is gifted with special status among religions (because it is ours/theirs, of course; but also because it was the established, dominant set of beliefs colonists imported from England — regardless of what were to them extremely important, life-shattering denominational differences), and second, that although the Founders clearly stated, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” they didnʼt mean exactly that. Supposedly what the Framers meant was that in this Christian nation (nowhere stated), no one denomination (of Christianity) could be established as the state religion (as the Church of England had been in Great Britain). But Christianity somehow is the religion of the nation…

Clever? But false, unfortunately (and perhaps deliberately so).

The arguers feel supported by various moves the government (federal and states) has made that do impose an almost Christian God on the State. Check the list on the bottom of this page. Or any of the other pro-Christian-nation sites I have referenced above (there is a strong tendency to quote from each other). Those points would be better taken if documented and correlated against strong religious ferment to push that agenda into government historically. Also needing some evidence is their “90 to 95 percentage of them were practicing, Trinitarian Christians,” a position I flat out discredit. Although many of the Founders and Framers were ordinarily Christian for everyday social purposes, the beliefs that filled their hearts and consciences were often anything but staidly traditional (as linked above).

However, having topped thirteen hundred words, weʼll have to save further investigation for tomorrow.

Please click the links. There you will find massive amounts of information, good and bad, from both ends of this argumentative spectrum, to weigh and ponder for yourself. Of course the Rigid Rightists wouldnʼt care for the notion of a spectrum these days; for them the realm of discussion is reduced to only a bipolar, conflicting segregation into the (extreme, unbending, blindly) Right versus the godless secular humanist/atheistic “libs.” And thatʼs a Lie of the First Magnitude.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Faithful Doubts

As my Facebook friends could realize, I finally got around to taking the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life quiz on general religious knowledge. When they gave it as a survey/poll, Pew returned an apparently surprising result that not only did most Americans not exactly pass the really pretty easy and superficial set of fifteen questions, but those who deemed themselves devoutly religious usually did worse than the nonbelievers, atheists and agnostics. Naturally, I scored a solid 100%. My religious alienation remains evident.

I say “apparently surprising,” because the poll results made news, particularly the poor showings by folks who deemed themselves true believers. The explanation that atheists and agnostics at least took religion seriously enough to make a clear, conscious decision about it (rather than just mindlessly swallowing your parentsʼ faith) has some merit. After all, an atheist should have studied and considered the multiplicity of faiths before breasting the majority tide (currently popular and historical) of fervent belief. And too many (believers) seem to find thinking too much (sometimes at all) about their beliefs evidently hurts somehow. But I think religious chauvinism may best explain the poor showing by the devout.

The Colbert Report approached the subject from the same angle. (Sorry, I couldnʼt find the segment using the inept labeling at Comedy Central.) Reporting on the Pew survey, Stephen snarked that as a Christian he didnʼt know why he should recognize Ramadan as the Hindu god of something-or-other (or a similar but better joke). The point being that good Christians donʼt need to know about them other religions; we got all the truth we need right here under our hats. And we donʼt need to understand our own religion all that well either — you just gotta be Saved, brother. (After all, too much knowledge makes you wonder why various denominations ever split, or how other beliefs persist in the face of your personal salvation, and you might have to consider all that historical bloodshed in the name of Divine Love. Better just to presume youʼve got it all Right and let it go at that.) If I am Right and Saved, donʼt trouble me with information…

On the other hand, an old friend (briefly) noted, just as I was writing the paragraph above, in response to my Facebook post on the poll, that thereʼs a vast difference between “knowledge of facts, etc. and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Lacking the celebrated personal relationship (however briefly I might have been Saved by the AoG magician back in eighth or ninth grade, having made my trek to the front of the audience for hands-on salvation and all), I cannot accurately comment on that experience, only from the experience of that “relationship” nastily reflected back from too many Utter Believers at poor sinners like me. And the rest of the world at large. But I did note that my skepticism (and/or accuracy in answers to the quiz) offered an unintended offense, for which I do apologize. Alternatively, I have always felt that our spiritual struggles or somnolence belongs to each of us, alone, and it is the acquisitive and assertive proselytizing by and against othersʼ faiths that has caused so much ill throughout history. (I did note the easy rejection of facts for what must be a matter of faith, as well.)

Partly these reflections arise from my recent religious encounter at my uncleʼs funeral. Nothing like getting right into the midst of religious experience to wonder what you might be missing, or they clouding and neglecting. As with my friend, I did not feel an exclusionary Righteousness (what the pastor termed “judging”), but a welcoming sincerity of belief. I feel confident that particular church is probably pretty evangelical/fundamentalist in its beliefs, but if they really mean the “avoiding judging” thing, I have no issues to argue with them, no bones to pick. In fact, from my Biblical reading, thatʼs what Christians should be — tolerant, compassionate, loving. Could we imagine a Fundamentalism that embodied the actual teachings of that crucified Galilean — like Matthew 22: 37-40 (New International Version) 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Thanks, BibleGateway, a not even liberal Bible resource on the internet.) Of course, all you have to do is check such explanatory sites as this (although I do appreciate the answers to the narrowminded oneʼs issue) to find the querulous selfrighteous nitpicking redefinitions of the pretty clear statements in Matthew. Distinguishing believers from the rest of us heathens, indeed! Talk about artificial and selfserving distinctions…

Unfortunately, if you consider the altogether radical restrictions of “neighbor” raised above, and as politics and news stories have made obvious, keeping oneʼs faithful principles from extremist, judgmental and belligerent brawling in the world must be very difficult, apparently impossible for some really selfRighteous. Pro-life murderers (and uncharged, still active poncy pimps scavenging for more anti-abortional assassins). Heartless picketers savaging homosexuals, (a “Christian” hate group, now thereʼs an oxymoron) who prance provocatively and impenitently at fallen (straight) soldiersʼ funerals. All in the name of faith. All judging and attacking instead of loving…

Such aggression instead of solicitude and compassion troubles me. And puts me off. That puffed Right behavior is merely thorough-going selfRighteous chauvinism in full attack mode against everyone but oneʼs own Saved Elect, including brother and sister believers who happen not to strive so blindly or wildly. (Some of the worst Righteous bile is spewed at Christians of more moderate views, strangely. The apparent principle must be “exactly like us or dead.”)

Thereʼs more, but this constitutes a post for today. The real issue is still facts and faith…

Of course, such chauvinism is certainly not restricted to Christianity, or even some subversions thereof. Muslim extremists provide a quick and obvious example. Fundamentalists of all stripes hug their Truth comfortably under their own belts, heedless of scrutiny or consideration, and damnation and death to all others. Itʼs pretty much the basis of any fundamentalism: me right, you dead. From this — all of bloody history results (a story Gandhi was desperate to lovingly revise; but Partition and subsequent events seem to have eroded his effect on the subcontinent and elsewhere).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.