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.

Not an FHF®, Really… Itʼs Not…

I just got kind of scared… Again. On Facebook.

My Newsfeed has me concerned.

I acknowledge, if anyone whoʼs been reading this blog needed the clarification, that on my Facebook page you wonʼt find any comfortably numb flags flying figuratively to indicate my weakminded submission to the preachments of hidebound zealots with no religious perspective or Constitutional understanding (although the FoxNewsHeads are all still yammering their tired tirades about their misnamed “Ground Zero Mosque”). I completely fail to perceive what is nobly “American” about narrowminded bigotry and disrespect for others. I thought we fought a Civil War, endured Reconstruction and struggled finally for Civil Rights to deny and undo (ineptly) that dark and evil, fetid armpit of U.S. history. (These are American Muslims wanting to build in NYC and not al-Qaeda terrorists, regardless what nonexistent nonevidence Foxautomatons flash around onscreen, and John Stewart has already skewered the recent “follow the money” deception.) I had thought that everyone, inspired by my usually least favorite President, had decided nearly nine years ago that degenerating into terrified weasels rather than arising to genuine American ideals was playing into the terroristsʼ plans, so it was best to conserve our generous, traditional values rather than succumb to fear and resulting uncivil hatred. So I wonʼt be flying that flag of fear, intolerance and terror.

“Those were the days, my friend / We thought theyʼd never end…”

Or should I, like some broadcast and published commentators, blame the current economy for the moral perversion of so many (because it must be forgivable to turn into wildeyed, malevolent abominators just because big corporations prefer to pay stock benefits to buddies rather than hire workers to make and sell stuff)? In times of economic threat, itʼs easy to turn like rabid dogs on convenient scapegoats. Or so I have heard. Thatʼs yet another poor excuse for not measuring up to the standards that should be ours as a nation. (And, of course, as Righitst screaming heads loudly instruct us, we must all dutifully be terrified of governmental efforts to ease such economic tremors of unfettered capitalism, seismic plunges that once again donʼt appear to hurt the big-time capitalists whatsoever, just the ordinary underpaid working stiffs.)

But I have said this already, a week ago.

I am just wearied and frightened by the deliberate moral blindness sweeping the Right (and the Fundamentalist Right in particular). But totalitarian intolerance scares me (I said that before, also). So, no, I wonʼt be stupefied by TeaPot chanteuses tunefully braying the fourth verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as some kind of (incorrect and inadequate) proof that our eminently not-Evangelical founders (never) wished to create what one hurtful sliver of contemporary “Christianity” wrongfully hankers to metamorphose/degrade the country into. Nope, we are not and cannot be a theocracy — itʼs Constitutionally guaranteed.

All the shrill, demented and lying screeds of the religious right are just wrong: Islam is simply another monotheism, a sibling faith, or at least close cousin creed, to Christianity (and Judaism). Allah is simply God in another language, kids, regardless what loveless, execrating pastors preach (and yeah, with a load of other scripture to hamper any mutual understanding, just like ours, and a mutual load of misdeeds in history for everyone to overcome). As they say, we are all People of the Book (well, in these dire days of religious wrongness, perhaps that “we” doesnʼt include me). The only ones who donʼt understand are mentally straightjacketed, intolerant fundamentalists (of both denominational families) irrationally, meticulously and willfully closing their wild eyes to the truth.

The recent news of hate-crime stabbing in New York City is —

…And I had to stop there because I realized that my crop of debased websites was just scaring me. And as I had observed myself, fear breeds hate, and I was descending into doctrinaire generalities, which is wrong.

Then I was going to delete the whole post in its entirety, but I thought what I had erupted might become a good object lesson, for me if no one else. So I will cut to the conclusion because I could use that admonition, too.

As the world heard a long time ago, “Love your enemies.” Itʼs unalterably clear and concise, if you take your scripture seriously (literally?). Submit to that unavoidable Word and let us all find freedom from fear.

All this is why I chose to use the Iberian Sepharad/Al-Andadalus conviviencia for Judah and Sørenʼs adventures. However…

“Something too much of this.” So…

Now for something completely different…

(I certainly hope The Pythons havenʼt gotten that so-useful phrase copyrighted or trademarked).

Letʼs get back to candyfloss and unimportant airiness.

The toe is better although still imperfect (I told you this would be completely different). I hope these cool days permitting long and liberating runs arenʼt prolonging the recovery, but the mornings are so gloriously temperate that I have not been able to resist scampering around town (okay, this lardkeister isnʼt exactly romping with unusual speed or lower-limb dexterity, but I am pushing to go faster than has become typical). And the weather forecasts say early next week is a muggy return to what we had come to expect of this August, at least until maybe Wednesday, so I decided to enjoy while I may. I hope that I got myself up and headed out for another long one this morning, toe or no toe.

Anyway, the ingrown toe is still red and somewhat large (at least Janet says so; the redness I can see for myself). But it doesnʼt hurt. (I knew you were all very worried.)

(Ironically, completing the run on Thursday morning — now what a gloriously cool early day that was! — I discovered that I had blood around the toe of my sock, the left one, while the toe formerly in question was the right big toe. Investigation revealed that a poorly cut toenail, having grown out with a sharp corner, had gouged a bit of hide from the neighboring toe. And I hadnʼt felt a thing. Kindly, The Lovely One installed a band-aid on the wounded digit until I could trim the offensive nail appropriately. Now I need to determine a good system of cleaning bloodstains… Perhaps CSI, which is usually on Spike all day long, would help.)

I also intend to mow the lawn today (another issue just pressing weightily on each of your frontal cortices, I know). But I bring it up with Thursdayʼs post in mind, as everything on my mind (truly) today seems to be nodding backward to things I have said already. And in that mode still, I begin to weary of carting water to the grass seed along the driveway… (but that is what I must do, so this is the end of todayʼs post).

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

Religious Reconnoitering

Yesterday I told the story of composing my first full-length play, Speak No Evil, explaining that I have tended to write my long plays from frustration (anger) with falsehoods rampant in the world. If you read that little essay, anger wasnʼt really the flint that sparked that first dramatic endeavor into existence but the wonderful uplift of science (thank you, Carl Sagan).

Feel free to put these crosshairs on the bilious hypocrite(s) of your choice.

My second play, however, arose directly from anger at the reactionary and ignorant religious right and put hate-mongering televangelists dead in the center of my literary gunsights (hey, itʼs not just the wacko/Palin Right that can utilize figurative weaponry). I donʼt know why as the Eighties dawned I started taking so personally the scamming and con-artistry so blatant on the televangelista circuit. Perhaps it was growing up; perhaps, later, it was growing together (with Janet) and getting married — both indications conjuring maturity. But the money-grubbing, false-as-sin-we-donʼt-admit hypocrisy and cant got my ire up. And my dander, too.

In order to get married, Janet and I had to endure/survive/experience Pre-Cana classes. She was raised Catholic, attending Catholic elementary school and the whole gambit, so she wanted to get married in the church. I agreed, being of no firm faith, naturally (and at that particular era, drawn powerfully toward Judaism from my reading and nonfiction studies — frightening my mother that I might actually convert, unfortunately; but naturally I lacked the full conviction, although on our honeymoon in Minneapolis, I dragged The Lovely One along as I sought Jewish bookstores for purchases.)

My own religious background was more mixed (-up). My family was United Methodist, to which my older sister Margaret and minister brother Paul (going full-time at it once he retires from teaching this spring/summer) adhere now. Younger brother Stephen also finds comfort in his religious values, mostly confined to Bible study, I believe, these days. Youngest sibling David has sought solace in the UCC, whose generous spirit of liberality he finds welcoming (as do I, differently).

I was confirmed a Methodist in sixth grade in Rock Island. It was a hot June day. We wee believers were clad in our best church clothes (including wool jacket and shirt with tie for me) and then covered in choir robes, so we were dropping like flies in the awful heat, including me. I only have vague recollections of the minister putting his hands upon my head as someone held me up, lifted from my unconscious state on the carpet, and then being rushed off to a recovery room nearby. Maybe my semi-conscious condition explains why the experience hasnʼt taken.

The next summer the family moved to Olivet, Michigan, where my father took his only college teaching job. With no Methodist church in town, we became for the two years we remained in Michigan Congregationalists (perhaps helping to explain Davidʼs choice?), and I was confirmed yet again (I think that next spring, as an eighth grader) into the bosom of that New England faith. But then my father wearied of college faculty politics, and with him going back into high school teaching, we moved again to Mt. Pleasant, where there was a strong Methodist congregation that confirmed young people as sophomores in high school. So I went through the confirmation classes for a third time (and each experience, disregarding the subtle theological distinctions of two different brands of Protestantism, was different from the others) and got the official sanction for a third time, too.

One time in Olivet I even got “saved,” having gone to watch a magician at the next-door Assembly of God building. His show was so inspiring that I felt the spirit in me move (something), went to the front during the Call and got reborn, I guess (or something). I went directly home, into the garage where I had hidden a pack of cigarettes, and destroyed them all in my blissful, heart-so-light reinstalled innocence. Iʼm not sure how much more than three days that exaltation persisted, but I guess I share a little something with the pea-brained Bimbo from Alaska, however briefly in my case. (I shall have to reserve the sorry tale of my youthful evil — and it is a sad story — for another post.)

More complexly, I went Presbyterian without the formal rituals for nearly five years in Mt.Pleasant, drawn thither by the allure of romance (the then-girlfriend was of that persuasion) and friendship — a lot of my peers attended there as well, drawn by the warmth and even radicalism of the pastor, whom we all called “Rev” (thatʼs how cool he was, although he once lost it with me during adult discussion group — no mere Bible-studying Sunday school for them! — when I wouldnʼt admit I was terrified to die/unaware of my incipient and eventually certain demise). The more-than-liberal Rev even made national news (and Time magazine) for sheltering illegal Salvadorans in the later Seventies and early Eighties once he had moved off to the Southwest, having become a strong mover in the Sanctuary movement. I liked that church a lot, although I also recall committing some less than holy actions there. As most of this period was  college for me, I believe my parents (who were both very sincerely devout) were just glad I was going to a church of any kind.

More twistedly, I continued to attend the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church at least once a year through college… in order to qualify for a UMC scholarship that covered a good deal of my tuition at Iowa Wesleyan College (yep, that good old religious connection again).

But after commencing from college summa cum laude, the church stuff pretty much withered away, although like most Americans I would still attend with the family for Christmas and Easter if I went back to my folks for that holiday. Withered away, I guess, unless you count those years in the late Seventies when I was gobbling up every Talmudic and Kabbalistic volume I could acquire (and in the process worrying my poor mother that I was headed straight to conversion perdition). My Dante studies were equally drenched in theology — Christian this time, of course, and Roman Catholic, as I steeped myself in medieval scholarship, scholasticism and Thomas Aquinas (and possibly more comforting to my mother).

So there you have it: thrice confirmed, once saved, and having dabbled in lots of beliefs, probably damned eternally.

Which brings us back where we began… Janet and I attending pre-Cana in Dubuque to get married in her hometown Catholic Church, after six weeks of soul-searching and counseling with the local priest in Andrew, Father Maichen — a really excellent gentleman who sincerely tried to help me understand that my own sense of what he called “doubt” was a perfectly acceptable aspect of oneʼs serious, tortuous road to Catholic faith. Although I had no intention of taking the plunge for a fourth (or fifth) time, he and I had some good discussion about church fathers and theology in general (matched or superseded only by visits with my late brother-in-law Brian Sullivan, he of the “I thought I heard a joyful noise” incident).

—But I have greatly exceeded my thousand-word limit for posts without even getting back to televangelical shenanigans and deceptions and the rocky road to Magick. So thereʼs got to be more to come. Soon.

(And let us not forget to mention Bertrand Russell, key philosopher in my spiritual development. And Spinoza, arising from Judaical studies and Shelley, too… And Gandhi… )

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

Change and Relax

I fell in love with the sonnet for many years (while I was still writing poetry; I am afraid that is one aspect of composition that has not revived with retirement, at least not yet). The form was good for me, teaching me much more discipline than I had exercised in high school or college, forcing me to be frugal with my words, and letting me explore the auditory aspects of verse by utilizing rhyme. I canʼt recall these days what first drew my attention to sonneteering; perhaps it was the many sonnets the Romantics (my favorite poets as I went through college and for along time afterward; I was first led into poetry by encountering T.S. Eliot after preteen reading in a collected poetry book of my motherʼs, edited by Louis Untermeyer — all that history needs to be its own post someday). But it was a fortunate interest for my writing.

The two parallel sonnets below are among the first I ever bothered to preserve (and in looking them over to become a post on the blog, I wonder that I felt even that much admiration for them once). I do enjoy the contrast in the pairing, which I did intend all along, once the second poem got written. The first sonnet fits easily into the Directions to Myself to Change category (a name I just invented) of which I have plenty of extant poems. The second tries to follow that pattern but drifts into its own easier and more graceful reality.

The first is darker, thus the title, I guess — with a bleaker, nastier tone and attitude (and it is about change and the necessity for changing). It was originally composed by itself, but within a day the second one also got written, and itʼs a whole ʼnother story — thus its title, I suppose. Of the two, I like the second more just now (with spring breathing life into everything; Janet and I just bought five new bushes to plant around our yard — once the forecast frost for tonight is over). It also tries to resurrect a wonderful warmth and splendor I used to milk out of sunny summer afternoons (and which I felt in a more mature way in a previous poem) and which I still deeply enjoy recalling and sometimes even feeling in the present reality. I need to write on “catbasking post meridian sunrhyme” sometime…

The night-and-day contrast is actually pretty good.



Spit the poisons out behind you:

spew them back (bile, blood, acid, ooze)

into the botched and brutal maw,

the hideous night you cannot use,

dry with retching, burning, raw.

Ill-begotten, begin anew,

while stars drop moisture, angry dew

whipped by storms she never knew.

Let the wind blow cleanly through,

charging dust from your warm bones,

breathing blood from uncracked marrow,

sucking flesh from cement stones.

Let the rain reshape your brain, and go

in this strange winter without snow.

Day’s Turn

Nathan could be at home here…

Let the morning, let the afternoon

smear yellow magic through your fingertips

and fill that fleshy cavern, mouth. Tune

your toes to join the light that slips

as photon rivers in rectangular eyeless windows.

Stir with wet tongue the dust which time

settles evenly on eyes and face and lips;

and leap, a fish, where all light goes,

into warm pools of catbasking winter sunrhyme.

Let the light spill in your eyes, unsubstantial whips

which flog out former faded speculations (too soon

undone, too long remembered and reworked). Nose

and nostrils inhale winter warmth, and light

fills lungs, exhaled blind, kisses, fuses sight.

Ft. Madison

14 December 1975

Before launching into what I know I have to say below (I am adding this preface to the remainder after I have already written the rest), I want to note that I really enjoyed creating this post on Saturday afternoon — a brightly sunny one — while listening to Pink Floyd radio via iTunes, a perfect match to the second sonnet! Now back to the darkness…

Ironically, on Saturday, while I was downloading Richard Dawkinsʼs book The Greatest Show on Earth to iTunes, I also took the time to download a new program from SmithMicroQuickVerse, a not-very-liberated Bible program (you should see their choice of available Bible translations, defaulting of course to the very faulty, misleading and aged King James Version). Ironic, you wonder — how? Ironic in that Dawkins has become a notorious atheist (originally just for being a good scientist, latterly of course for his accepting the mantle and publishing The God Delusion, which I own but havenʼt read yet in two years), and I paired his newest book with the pretty traditional QuickVerse (thatʼs the obvious one). Ironic also in that I was about to work on this post, and the overall title presumes the actuality of evolution (as, of course, it should).

I sold a truck with this remaining on the back end yet — someone else bought that truck within 48 hours

Janet bought me my first Dawkins book for my birthday a while back. It was The Ancestorʼs Tale, and she was lured by the Chaucerian parallels, but I loved it, getting further into biology than I had for years, reminding me of one adorable summer in college when I took genetics and basic biology at the same time to fulfill my education requirements at the last minute, almost. I had heard about, looked at, but not purchased The Selfish Gene and some of the other books earlier, but I hadnʼt read Dawkins until this century.

In the mid-Nineties, Janet also bought me some Darwin Fish symbols for my truck (and computers). Mac Addict, sometime about 1996 included the Darwin Fish among items that were passé — the battle had been won. I wish. Then came Creationism (or should I say, Desperately Fearful Wishing-ism) and its bastard child (un)Intelligent Design. And then came Shrub…  Now I just wish that all the old stick-in-the-muds could grow up and live in the real world instead of inanely pretending falsities that lead to, well, Foxi-nonsense. As the London buses advertised for a while (thanks to Dawkins and some others): “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy your Life.”

—Apologies again, all over the place, but nonsensical pronouncements from the dimwit Right in the news lately have fired me up again. Maybe I should take my own title (of this post) to heart…

My more conservatively religious friends may beware that QuickVerse should simplify my use of bible quotes to quickly debunk foolish religious views (like those who believe God wants us to be wealthy: Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” [Matthew 19:24. Similar verses are in Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25] — clearly the Theology of Wealth is nonsense in at least the Saviorʼs eyes).

I guess the commentary reverses the tones of the two poems…

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