Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In Which I Answer 10 Questions from TodayChristian.net

Once again, gentle readers, I have come across a set of questions written by theists that are designed to . . . well, I suppose 'challenge atheists' would be the phrase, but in this case, the word is most certainly not suited to the action. It is often asked of me why I continue answering them when they are so transparently ineffective. The answer: the only way to prove to the author that they are answerable is to continue doing so, and not merely claim that they are. 

I hope you enjoy my responses and I encourage all free-thinkers to contribute on their various sites as well. I have been brief, as it seems they do not require seriously elongated answers to cover their rather base nuance. 





1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

 "Baby, I was born this way." Atheists, despite arguments to the contrary, don't come out of the closet: they come out of the womb. We are born tabula rasa (spiritually speaking). No one gives us a pre-natal Bible to peruse for answers before escaping our own ovarian Chateau d'If. In fact, if it weren't for the occasion that people bludgeon us with the idea of the god after we're born, it's certain we never would have conjured the same narrative in the same way for ourselves.

2.       What happens when we die?

 No idea. But to forego credit for an answer you don't have is infinitely more graceful than to claim irrefutable knowledge in the same circumstance, or to readily cling to a nonsensical answer for any number of selfish motivations, including comfort, to assauge personal fear, or to exert fear over others. I rather take to Mr. Clemens' bent on this one: "I was dead for billions of years before I was alive, and it didn't bother me in the least."

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

 I've answered this question before in my book. I hope no one will think me overly cheap to refer you to that. 

           If, when I die, my soul leaves my body and I am brought before god as he sits in judgment over all the doings of my life, my reaction will be highly premeditated. At one point in my much younger, less volatile existence, I would have been comforted in the deluded rationalization that god would understand precisely why I think the things I do, he would forgive me on account of the very real and evil doings of his followers, and my lack of faith—nay, my hell-bent fight against it—would be empathized with. He would open his loving arms to me, seeing the goodness of my struggle. That is what I used to think, but frankly, the epiphany is much more pronounced—to imply I was the one at fault, and I was the one who needed to be forgiven. If god is there, who allowed all this to happen in the first place, who idolized himself and performed his capricious masturbation of a divine rule over the world in a helter-skelter riot of laws, disaster, war and gross mandate, I would remember the millions of deaths, slaves, beatings, tortures, and capitulations—I would think of Eric Borges and Matthew Shepard, of David Kato and the children at Wedgwood Baptist Church; I would remember the babies who died from their herpetic mohels and corpses in hospitals at the stubborn behest of Christian Scientists; of abused children whose cries would never escape the confines of the confessional; of countless dying of AIDS for which he ultimately blamed the “debauchery” of innocents—and have merely three words for him. Three words only: “Hasa diga, eebowai."

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

We evolved our morality from an social-based evolutionary psychology. "The Golden Rule" was the underlying principle to the overall benefit of the group. It's simple enough to deduce from there -- if it's not, then no answer I give, however patiently explained, will change the mind of the reader. 

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

Frankly, we're more "free" to murder and rape with god than we are without him. An atheist moral compass doesn't mean we answer to no one: it means we answer to each other. It is only when we are given divine license to commit obscene acts -- the command to commit genocide on the Amalekites, to wipe out the innocent town of Jericho, to forcibly impregnate the wife of your dead brother (in the case of Onan), to sacrifice your own child (Abraham, Jepthath, and others) -- can said acts be considered even imaginable, let alone moral.  

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

 Life is the wondrous search for meaning. If one comes to the end of their days and finds that their life had no meaning at all -- they have failed themselves, and no illusion of a god would have fixed that. We prescribe our own merit of existence. Besides which, the inverse assumption is that the meaning of life with god is servitude, adoration, and loyalty -- in essence, living for someone else. And when that life is over, the meaning of the afterlife is to spent eternity either in heaven doing much the same, or in hell regretting not having done. This does not sound like any meaning I would want to have stamped on my existence. 

7.       Where did the universe come from?

 See: Answer 2. 

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

 The ontological argument of one always fails when compared to the ontological arguments of another! (How Descartes would grimace.) Just because a person claims an experience to be personally true does not mean that that experience is true in reality. Here is a sneak peek at a section of a chapter that will be in a new book, 666, along with chapters given by Lawrence Krauss, Douglas Wilson, and others. 

The deflection of the teleological argument goes hand-in-hand with the rejection of the ontological argument, which has its roots in Anselm of Canterbury’s Proslogion and is refined in the works of Descartes, and essentially submits that if an idea exists in the mind, it exists in reality. The existential questions of this position notwithstanding, it would grieve theists to teeth-grinding to realize that by the same license we must agree upon the existence of leprechauns, dragons, tooth-fairies, Santa Claus, Balrogs, fauns, and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. So easily is the teleological argument razed.

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

I have separate views of all of them. Hitchens was the greatest rhetorician of his time. Dawkins argues from a biologically sound view of the universe. Harris approaches things in a distinctly neurological manner, which, while being rationally sound, can sometimes allow him to explore views in a nearly science-fiction manner, as the field moves closer to transhumanism and the potential powers of the brain are now being newly theorized. I've taken their work as more heavily inspiring in some cases, less so in others. More importantly, I'm not sure how this question has anything to do with the challenge to their claims or the claims of atheism as a field. 

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

Not every society does have a religion. Czech Republic, Sweden, Austria, France, Norway, and Japan all have massive percentages of atheist population, some with openly atheist top-ranking members of government, some of which claim themselves to be secular nations entirely. Given their standards in some areas on a global level, e.g. education, crime rate, mortality rate, and others, it may be of some use to understand how their secularism affects their success as societies. Furthermore, if every society did have its own religion, they would all certainly be contradictory, misaligned, and likely hostile to one another, which wouldn't suggest the truth of a "god" at all but one of two conclusions: that they were all correct and many, many gods exist each claiming authorship of our universe and species, or that none of them were correct and all were born from the same primeval need to explain ourselves and planet without having the tools required. 

In reference to pre-modern societies having hugely dominant spiritual practices, it can only be reasserted that pre-modern humans were desperate for answers to the universe surrounding them. Having none, they theorized using the tools that were available. Humanity has progressed beyond these rudimentary observations and erroneous conclusions -- or rather, a large portion of it has. I shudder to think that I live in a nation outside of the eight mentioned above who are patiently waiting for the rest of us to catch up. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Answer to the Federal Appeals Court: Why the 9/11 "Cross" is Offensive

An article published yesterday on Fox News' website chronicled the current appeal on a case that was submitted by American Atheists in 2011 and was subsequently thrown out which concerned the right of the now infamous "cross" that remained from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to reside at the National September 11th Memorial Museum. In this article, we were informed that an appeals judge has given the plaintiffs until July 14th to submit legal briefings detailing as to how exactly the presentation of this cross was a "constitutional injury". 


(photo courtesy of Top Right News)


The question seemed easy enough to answer to Yours Truly, despite the controversy surrounding it. I thought since I had the afternoon free I might give a couple of the more obvious reasons that many of us find the inclusion of this piece of rubble in this museum worse than offensive -- reasons that the conservative media seems to conveniently forget. 

Namely, the presentation of the cross at the museum is an example of American credulity. It banners to every visitor who may come to see it that we live in a country that cannot tell the difference between the extraordinarily likely event of a cross-beam remaining intact after the demolition of a building that must have contained untold thousands of similar steel structures from divine artistic expression. It would be equally asinine to place a pancake bearing the face of Mother Mary behind a glass box in the same commemorative building. Legal and moral reasons aside, I am not a fan of advertising that kind of stupidity on a commemorative level. If some people wish to think that this remarkably obvious coincidence is the work of the supernatural, by all means they may. But to symbolize it on a national level communicates openly (and wrongfully) that all American citizens share in that kind of fideism. 

Secondly, the cross suggests to those who see it that the event is a Christian event -- as though it was a psychotic attack on Christianity as opposed to a secular country, or that the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 were populated only by Christians instead of people of all kinds of religious and philosophical stripes. A cross-like shape remained in the rubble and Christians across the world rush to monopolize the grief on a tragedy that was the result of an attack on all varieties of Western idealism, not simply those obsessed with Christ. Beyond the fact that that kind of solipsism sends a message that is obviously separate from reality, I don't wish by my silence to endorse such an egotistic, amoral capitalism. As it would be impossible to accurately represent the faiths and philosophies of all the lives lost on that terrible day, the only fair response is to represent none of them. 

Thirdly, September 11th was the result of insane, dogmatic fervor. It was an event that, sans religion, would not have happened. To commemorate the slaughter of one religion's zeal with the icon of another equally destructive, detrimental faith seems to me to be a moral hypocrisy of the most nauseating kind. 

Finally (and perhaps most to the point), the National Memorial is in part funded by tax-payer money. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the idea of the separation of church and state as illuminated by the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (penned by Jefferson and Madison) are excellent precedents supporting the idea that the American citizen does not have to support any one else's ideology in the public square, and that Congress and the United States Government is forbidden from expressing support for any particular faith. If Congress or specific government agencies have allotted money to the National September 11th Memorial Museum in any amount, then they are supposed to have the full faith and trust of the American citizenry that it has been used for an equally representative platform. Much as it is a "Constitutional injury" for my money to fund the proliferation of Christian ideologies and junk science in public schools, so it is the same injury for said money to support the proliferation of Christian icons in a national memorial.  

This is the kind of reasoning that comes from simple understanding of First Amendment rights and an objective view on the subject at large. I have heard many arguments to the contrary but none that have convinced me on these specific criteria that, much less that the cross in the museum would be offensive, but that it would be remotely a good idea on an otherwise even playing field. The sooner that the conservative Right and the Christian fundamentalists in this country realize that their religion is just fine in their private lives and not to be blazoned as a symbol of a tragedy for which we all, and not just Christians, share, the sooner we will reach something of the level of religious sterility for which the Founding Fathers so strenuously fought. Those who still have qualms about that last thought would do well to send their objections to Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli and get back to me.    


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Twin-Sister of Religion, Selfishness, Rival in Crime and Falsehood

Hello, my friends. It would appear that my earlier prophecy of finding a topic on which to write has come to pass, and surprisingly one more personal than the epic clash of a war-torn Middle East or the whimsy of a stuffy Easter mass. Rather, I have been forced to introspect in a way that is about as comfortable as swimming through a pool of bleach and broken glass -- that is to say, evaluate the true source of my work and decide whether or not it comes from (as Percy Bysshe Shelley says in Canto V of his Queen Mab) that "twin-sister of religion, selfishness". The apparent wrongness of that accusation has been paramount to me since I began putting my thoughts and arguments into the public square, but the accusations of ego-masturbation and fiscal greed have surfaced voraciously enough from opinions about which I care and with enough frequency in the recent past that I feel a response is now necessary. 

In the preface of Oh, Your god!, I begin by elucidating my complete lack of title or credit in this argument -- that I am not an academic of religion in the mortar board-donning sense, but that all scholarship can be assumed to be created of three primary tenets: to read the work done on the subject, to think about said work, and then to talk or debate or contribute. This can be done by anybody, anywhere, and most often can be heard being done enthusiastically after a few pints in the back table of a random bar on a Wednesday. Once I had achieved this revelation (two years into my own college experience, as it were), I realized that contribution to the discussions worth having in our species was not only allowed, but it was a moral responsibility -- how could we live in a world where the collected knowledge of mankind exists in our pockets but relegate ourselves to ignorance on any of our most important topics? Not that I think or thought less of those who don't toss themselves into a debate the same way I and many of my friends do, but similarly, in a time when the tools are so readily available, I've never understood how people can resist the urge to do that very thing. 

And so in tandem with this revelation came the desperate need to contribute myself, to add my voice to a cause for which I thought was so terribly worth fighting -- the inanity and cruelty of faith. I had for years been reading the unparalleled rhetoric of Christopher Hitchens, seen the elegant, scientific arguments of Victor Stenger and Richard Dawkins, and had as well seen with my own eyes the more subtle but equally toxic effects of faith in an average, quotidian day. Since the book that came from these inspirations is itself the explanation of why the idea of faith is so terrible, it does the reader little good to regurgitate it here -- however, the need was so obviously there, the field so ripe for battle, that I was practically compelled to begin the clacking of the keys. 

When one sits down to write such a work, one doesn't think of best-sellerdom (at least, legitimately -- the odd, glancing joke of a National Book Award might fall in here and there). One doesn't think of fame or notoriety because the work is so engrossing. It would be impossible to complete anything resembling a compelling argument and at the same time be wistfully imagining your throngs of adoring fans waiting to greet you with social fellatio. Or, if I cannot speak that generally, I can speak so personally: thus it was not the case for myself. My eyes were blinded by the explosion of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan, the conflagration of the World Trade Center, the immolation of a tube track in London, and the flare of pipe-bombs in Oslo. My ears were crammed with the screams of the children of Wedgewood Baptist Church, with the slow groans of perishing orphans at the hands of Mother Teresa denying them proper medicine, with the cries of murdered children of Christian Scientists as their parents sentenced them to death for the sake of "freedom of religion". Subsequently, as I wrote so fervidly against what appeared to me to be obvious evils, it never occurred to me that many would think that my verve came from purely selfish origins. 

With the release of Oh, Your god! came a release of another kind -- the catharsis in knowing that my work could be beneficial to others, that the effort one makes in crafting such a project served for something more than its own existence. Reviews began to come in, emails started pinging in my inbox, strangers struck up conversations with me by phone and street-corner. What began as words in my head took corporeal form and began to have an effect in reality. This served as an encouragement to double my efforts in forms of social media -- my Facebook became a sounding box as much as it was a social tool. A Twitter was developed solely for the reason of book promotion and thought discussion. But opening the debate in such a way also opens oneself, and then the darker work came to me. 

In a podcast interview I had given a couple of weeks ago for the new group UpStartsUS, I was asked what the most important trait was required to be a writer in my field. I explained that my most invaluable tool was a thick skin, to learn whose opinions matter and whose don't, because undoubtedly people will disagree with you in the most volatile manners. But I did not think that argumentum ad hominem would spring from some of my closest friends nor from what appeared to me to be purely innocuous pursuits. 

Only a couple of weeks ago, a very, very dear friend whom I love as a father demanded via Facebook message that I call him as he "was pissed", which I promptly did. A barrage of attacks upon my character then ensued -- that I "just loved to watch my followers go crazy whenever I post something", that I "just lived to piss other people off", that everything I did "was about [myself] and that [I] didn't give a fuck about the world or peace or whatever." I tell you, gentle readers, my type of fury is an uncorked champagne bottle -- hard to incite but explosive when tapped. I admit with shame that I came unglued and bellowed at this friend I love so much, because I had so quickly and unexpectedly been wounded to the core, completely blind-sided by an intelligent man whose opinion I cared about, and made to respond to heinous accusations of my own personality when I had done nothing but endeavored to fight against a truly terrible threat. Suddenly, to him, this wasn't about the debate, my beloved conversation to which I desperately wanted to contribute. No, to him it was about my own ego, my own illusion of significance. Forty solid minutes of out-of-character, uncontrolled berating on both our parts left the end of the phone call hollow, numbing, and utterly heart-breaking. We are still friends and love each other as much as we ever did, but that conversation definitely took from me some intangible thing that I am not sure how to replace.

As though this incident was the proverbial straw, the weight of the camel slowly began to press against me. Snide remarks from social media merely within the last two days have grown more irksome. Just yesterday, at discovering that the Kindle version of Oh, Your god! was the second-best selling atheism book in the United Kingdom, just behind the monumental The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (this sales position has since come down a bit, as arguably it should have done), I posted a thank you and a screen shot of our books on the best-selling list together to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Facebook page, thanking Mr. Dawkins and the RDFRS for their inspiration in my work and for the world-wide work they do for advancing secularism and reason. I couldn't have found my thanks or my reason for posting them more clear, but was immediately commented by someone that I was using the massive following of the RDFRS Facebook page as free advertising for my work. I indulged in one single comment, explaining that wasn't my intention, and was again met with an accusation of tawdry selfishness. Rather than continue the argument, as was typically my wont, I took the post down. If ever I come across Mr. Dawkins' email address, I will thank him personally and quietly. 

This morning, after posting on my Twitter a promotion for my book and getting some forty-two retweets, I was met with a reply that I was a "classic career atheist" and that I was "making money from good causes". Again, I was hurt in the most irrational of ways -- a stranger, likely a troll of some kind (though he has, even since the posting of this blog, genuinely apologized), makes one flippant remark about my ethics and rather than disregard it, I had a slight emotional reaction. For all my words above and the general grasp of empathy you must embody, dear reader, it cannot seem to me that I have so missed the mark of my work that I seem to be money-grubbing, self-important egomaniac looking to rub a few quarters together at the expense of a civilized revolution. I began with the best of intentions which I still harbor, and which I instill in my current work on my chapter in 666. 

So, rather than letting this post be a banner of reflection and an expression of insult as it can so easy be, instead I am creating it with the purpose of clarification, an official statement of my person and my intent meant purely for my detractors and not for my supporters. My work speaks for itself, and so do I. I will not and cannot be compartmentalized to some inane corner of public opinion that, in despite of all evidence to the contrary, thinks of me as self-serving. I live in a world where holy liars, frauds, molesters, thieves, murderers, autocrats, and general douchebags exert power and punishment over innocent people because their faith gives them license to do it. In this world do we see continually shifting borders, the burned corpses of children outside bakeries in Aleppo, decimated health clinics, children on fire in ditches in Nigeria (I'm sorry, did I write "children"? I meant "witches".), and countless other atrocities because, on our meager planet, we are forced to acquiesce to someone else's imaginary friend. No, gentle readers, I will absolutely not engage my life against this kind of reckless stupidity and be called to task for working for myself. Absolutely not will I be accused of selfish demagogy when I make a Facebook post denouncing the evils of a blatant disregard for the separation of church and state, or the brutal banality of disavowed marriages, thrwarted scientific curriculum, or mass shootings from a person who says without a hint of irony that "[g]od told him to do it." 

If the clear and unadulterated obscenity of faith and its actions or my arguments are not yet clear to you, I would tell you to read my book. Steal it, please, if you would -- I am sure somewhere on the internet is there is a website to download the .pdf for free. Heaven forbid you think I am only trying to make some money off of you. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

On My Current and Upcoming Work

Hello, gentle readers. 

Many of you have probably noticed an absence of work on this page for the last couple of months. I am afraid I cannot guarantee that will soon change. I've been lacking in my usual verve to put fingers to keys due to a number of distractions. And while the subject of religion typically galvanizes me with the same desperate energy as filled Winston when he began with April 4th, 1984, I admit that other works in the same subject have been taking up both hours and seconds of a life too short. 

For those who are kind and indulgent enough to care, a new book bearing my name will be released in February of next year. A kind Englishman came up with what I found to be a brilliant idea: to take six topics and throw them into the eager, snapping jaws of six atheists and six theists, and through debating chapters allow the reader to peruse the arguments from both sides simultaneously -- appropriately titled 666, I was humbled and grateful to be asked to contribute a chapter on "The Philosophy of Atheism", on which I am currently working. The pressure is on, gentle reader, as the other names to light this theological marquee are made of far greater foot-candles! Also contributing chapters will be the best-selling and renowned theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss of book and lecture fame, who recently was featured in the documentary The Unbelievers alongside Richard Dawkins, with whom he has worked extensively. As well, Richard Carrier of outstanding academic distinction, Colin Humphreys, and William J. Abraham are all giving chapters to this engaging work, along with several others. As I am now in something of the ring with heavy-weights, my meager chapter is being given the bulk of my attention, and I fear that any less will make it unworthy of the same ink as these scholars -- though even at my best, it may well fall short. So indeed our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt. Giving a voice to the fight against theistic delusion is undoubtedly a good that might be won. 

As well, I am directing The History Boys in Northwest Montana -- a play that is not a light academic pursuit for those are are familiar with it. In tandem is my performance as Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, and my due diligence as an actor requires that I simply not let the old boy down. Beyond which, the Flathead Valley in the summer is simply a vision -- replete with glacial rivers and lakes, unparalleled sunshine and breeze, and a chock of my oldest friends all gathered -- the thought of blogging even on the most provocative of topics somehow feels to be wearing. 

All this, of course, precedes what will become the greatest of all time-sucks, which is my commencement of study as a Master of Arts in Central Washington University in late August. How I will ever find time to write a thing between teaching and class-work, I'll never know. 

This is not to be a laundry list of excuses as I hope to continue this page in as good of form as I can in the coming months. Perhaps it is merely a soft plea, gentle reader, to those who have been most ardent in expressing claims on my opinions on various current events, that should the water hole be slightly dry, I'm sure that some thunderous storm will soon break and open a torrent of words -- I can, after all, only contain myself for so long, should the right catalyst strike me. 

All the best, my friends.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Some Thoughts From Easter Sunday

As the final semester of my undergrad degree is winding down and new projects loom on the horizon, I have found that my aptitude for writing grows less and less. This is unnerving for me in a way, as I have always prided myself on my ability to churn out several dense paragraphs at a whim, but I also feel it is in the nature of writers to only produce when they receive the proper motivation -- and as I sat in the front pew of the Cathedral of St. Helena on Easter Sunday, I found that I couldn't keep my fingers from incessantly clacking new thoughts into the memo pad of my BlackBerry (yes, they still exist, and I like them). Such a strange holiday gave me the scribbling verve once again. 




I'd like to skip over the now mundane and too-easily deduced Eostre-ian implications of the most holy day of the Christian calendar -- even the most fervent theist understands enough of their history to swallow the fact that Easter is a bastardized event. As well, I should do you the courtesy of not spouting too many of my thoughts on the sheer extravagance of the cathedral wherein I sat -- many of my readers know quite thoroughly my thoughts of the obscene amount of money that is thrown into commercial worship. 

Rather, I was taken so intensely by the sheer pointlessness of the Christian event of which Easter commemorates -- even in a theological sense. As my good comrade Thain Bertin once elucidated, the outcome of the Resurrection is logically a lose-lose for the Christian argument in that it either occurred in reality, or it didn't. Should the Resurrection not have happened, then the entire sacrifice would have been for nothing, and the primary tenet of faith required to be a believer would be non-existent -- not to mention, the ages since would have glorified needless torture and grisly iconography for no good reason. If the Resurrection did occur, then the Crucifixion wasn't a sacrifice at all, that the altruism of a willing scapegoat would be completely null and void. His faith wasn't rewarded -- the reward was predetermined. There is no benevolence in a recompensed act. To this argument, I have heard countless garbled doctrines, dogmas, and personal interpretations of Scripture thrown, but each was subjective, unsubstantiated, and most often contradictory. It was this paradox of Resurrection that occupied my mind most heavily as Easter service echoed through the cavernous halls of the cathedral about me. 

I also found myself enthralled with the rather theatrical presentation with which all religion merits itself. I firmly believe that one of the reasons that religion has existed for so long and in so many incarnations is that it is such damned good theatre. Religion does what all good theatre does -- it evokes a willing suspension of disbelief. Even I, if the performance is particularly compelling, feel a faint longing to want to buy into it. This is, however, because of the evocative qualities of performance art and not because the plot as any theatrical merit. (I feel equally incensed, as it were, by watching a baptism as I do watching Coriolanus.) Chanting, candles, lurid costumes, and rising from the dead undoubtedly makes for a damned entertaining show. 

Then, methought, the air grew denser / perfumed from an unseen censer. The overly pungent fumes of censers oscillated by altar boys managed to draw me out of my brief reverie. Before long, Eucharist was being performed. For a cathedral that seats circa one-thousand souls, the process was slightly arduous. The bishop himself, noticing my intemperate leg, made his way from the altar to administer the blood and body of his lord to me personally, and I politely declined. Instead, I entertained myself with watching various personnel of the church give crackers and wine to the waiting assembly. I noticed with a tinge of theatrical regret that the first several "This is the Body of Christ"s were delivered in an appropriately pious and reverent way, but soon lost their authenticity as lines grew steadily longer. One can only repeat even the most holy of admonitions several hundred times without losing some of their luster, I suppose. Altar boys yawned. The monseigneur was quite blatantly unaware of the lyrics for several common hymns, and twice tripped over the words of standard Catholic prayers. All this to say that a service that began at 9:00am with all the vivacity required to inspire belief was quite ready for a nap by 9:45. Above me, beautifully carved statues of angels demonstrated proper enthusiasm, but alas, the mortal flesh beneath was quite unable to sustain any amount of energetic glory to their lord. I found myself quite longing for a gospel choir, if only to get some air back into the nave. 

If over a billion souls commit themselves to weekly cannibalism, I should think they would wish to be ebullient about it. I am not being unnecessarily cruel -- the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist is not metaphorical in any sense. Once the cleric blesses both bread and wine, the effect of transubstantiation is literal. Even as I watch the act with material or reductionist eyes, I cannot help but feel slightly apprehensive as many people who I consider close friends indulge in an act that would be barbaric even as a metaphor. One might take some comfort in remembering that the both the body and blood of Christ come pre-packaged with nutritional facts printed on the back. I wonder to myself what the serving size is on a 52-sacrament per year diet. 

All in all, if the pomp and circumstance of the greatest celebration of the Christian faith was to have any impact on me, I must confess that it failed. The great thing about religion is that it is never short of resurrections. After all, Krishna, Sakia, Thammuz of Syria, Wittoba, Iao, Jesus, Quetzalcoatl, Quirinus, Thulis, Indra, Alcestos, Atys, Crite, Bali, and Mithra were all crucified for the sins or the atonement of mankind, some of whom rose back from death on the third day -- perhaps the next deity that undergoes a similar event might present itself more convincingly. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Acervuline

When I was young, boy, there were those youngish themes
and all my heroes sounded naively British.
They stood on bartops in Welsh taverns
and quoted Shakespeare with a lilt
and there were pints aplenty
and their names sounded like the names 
of Olivier's stage and Burton's celluloid.
But one reads more than one hears
if one does it right -- falls back the need for pretense
and love but not clutch the shire-folk dead.
My traditions are as deep as they
and voices just as ripe for recitation. 
I traded my Union Jacks for Columbian Jews,
In lumine Tuo videbimus lumen!
But not the 'Thy' they thought. 
For mustach'd, dog-loving wits, 
for French drunks magnetized to California,
and the doldrumic clacks of effeminate smokers. 
With their winter Appalachian scenes I fell in love, 
with their Vieux Carrés, those of the kosmos,
who preached in ink from Manhattan to Big Sur,
and gave more love to life than the faithful to death. 
Who could not be prouder of these shared soils, 
these recycled atmospheres,
these brainchild ghosts of afflatus.
Spark, spark, the American pen.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In Which I Wish There Were A Hell

Christopher Hitchens near-famously remarked immediately after the death of Jerry Falwell that he was "sorry there was not a hell for [Falwell] to go to." I found such a brash profession a little alarming after I had heard it first, finding it hyperbolic and even slightly hypocritical (yes, I am capable of criticizing even old Hitch, if I take umbrage -- and he would only approve, I think). But the lens of time has focused the perspective, and now as I hear tidings of the desiccated gargoyle Fred Phelps on his "death bed" (we must not trust too much to hope), I am hungering over imagery and conceit far more illicit than Hitchens ever used against Falwell. 


In the structure of an essay, this would be the part where the writer elucidates the history and work of Mr. Phelps, so that the horror of his actions might thereby justify my conclusion. The curriculum vitae of such a man needs, however, no introduction. Fred Phelps has, simply put, birthed the most controversial, hated, ignominious, fear-mongering, lie-ridden church in commercial memory (though "church" itself might indeed suggest all these things). He has enacted a movement of insult, demagogy, and discrimination beyond the bounds of adequate description. 

Such men are the ingots that tip the balance of the scales in matters of mortal opinion. For humanists and indeed all moral persons it is customary to profess a merciful bent -- a respect for the life of all people regardless of their transgressions against a global society or even in crimes of a far more micro-scale. Perhaps it would be trite and simply too easy to illustrate the silence of such opinions when reviled men with names like Hitler and Hussein either infernally raged in a ditch or dangled impotently from the end of a dirty rope -- perhaps. There are many who would say it is a callous and immoral stance to have joy in the death of another -- I can proudly not count myself among them. Yet it would indicate that the level of infamy necessary to curve such an indulgent grade is not in fact arbitrary.  A man, in such an astonishingly small amount of time as the human lifespan, can garner such acrimony that his demise might be met with more than either mournful cries or indifferent silence -- it might even be heralded by shouts of unabashed joy. 

For myself, the revelry that may and must come from Mr. Phelps' death (though the idiom of "too little, too late" may be appropriate, here) is a sad seasoning for a bland course. It would satisfy me much more, gentle readers, to know that there was indeed a punishment serviceable for his atrocities and untruths that he bannered in life. It would seem to me that I cannot without glibness say that Mr. Hitchens' hope for a hell would be suitable, but I may have some alternative. Much as is the hope of the fervidly religious for unbelievers, at the waning seconds of their death, to be overcome with such doubt that they prostrate themselves to god for forgiveness, so too do I hope that Mr. Phelps, breathless and feeble, takes some measure of insecurity. A proper recompense, and indeed a poetic one, would be to know that before this waste of carbon breathed his last, he might with sudden acuity see the finite end of the human consciousness, that he stands upon the brink of the nothingness that awaits all souls when they depart from this vale of tears, and in his remaining moments be paralyzed with the inescapable fear of knowing that his entire life was in deferential service to a lie, that the entirety of his existence was predicated on the perpetuation not only of hatred, but of a whimsy so fleeting that only the most bitterly foolish might have wasted themselves on it with the fervor which he had done. If you can, gentle readers, try to imagine what sudden chill might clench the heart and freeze the brain, and without a second to remedy it, then to die uncleansed. 

In some way, I gain a small relief in simply picturing it. 

The scene that follows, whether in silence or uproar, will be fitting. There is a cleverly divided camp between those who think that celebration is mandatory (of which I agree) and those who believe that such an action would be the greatest act of troll-baiting in recent memory, and that a far more deserving eulogy would be the silence of the millions who ignored him in death when they could not in life (of which I also agree). In such a matter, it would be impossible to convene the agreement of all, and so rather than hold issue with one, I will take happiness in either. 

Men are more than the life they inhabit -- they are the combined, collected, and measured results of those lives. Being that there is no judge beyond this mortal coil to tally the results, it is the sometimes sad duty of those left behind to cast their votes. No life is beyond the scope of dialectic scrutiny -- and after weighing the evidence, gentle readers, there is little doubt that in the mind of yours truly, Fred Phelps was one of those exceedingly rare individuals without which the world might have been fantastically better.