Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dueling magisteria


Magisterium is the Catholic term for "authoritative teaching". Who has the right to determine orthodoxy is one of the things that marbles and often drives the history of Christianity. For Roman Catholicism, it is pretty clear: the Roman Bishop and the other bishops in communion with him. Like it or not, that's how it goes.

Sister Elizabeth Johnson is a feminist theologian who sounds a lot like the theologians I used to know when I was in training to become one back in the 70's and 80's. Bishops, with a few favored exceptions, were considered bumpkins and bureaucrats. My own assessment of them is even less favorable. But then, the Apostles were not graduates in rhetoric from the University of Athens. One of the deep themes in Catholicism is that you can be flawed both intellectually and morally without compromising the integrity of your authoritative role; this goes both for orthodox doctrine and sacramental validity. See Pope Stephen vs Pope Formosus. Behaving badly has no necessary connection to believing badly. You can be unpleasant and you can be right. Were that not so, Christian faith would never have outlasted the New Testament.

But back to the theologians. Since the bishops were often so culturally and theologically at odds with the dominant schools of thought in the academic world, which by then had been very much influenced by an influx of women, a shadow magisterium arose. For most of these folks, Karl Rahner was more authoritative than the Pope. Oddly enough, he was one of them and the Pope and his bishops were not. This creation of a teaching authority of professors is not unprecedented. In the later Middle Ages, the professors at the University of Paris played a similar role. (But eventually, within the Roman Church, the Pope beat out the ivory tower, and even a general council.) 

Anyhow, in 2007 Sr. Johnson wrote a book on God which says that God is unknowable, so all names for God are just metaphors, so it's better to have metaphors that encourage a social order that is favorable to women. While "mapping the frontiers of theology", that is one thing she is not agnostic about.  Many of Sr. Johnson's liberating departures from the old ways are justified by "lack of consensus" and "dissenting voices"...likely from this shadow magisterium of  (pardon the sexism) fellow-travelling professors. Some have even uncharitably spoken of a "magisterium of nuns". It seems that if everyone, at least everyone she deems hearing-worthy, does not agree with a Pope, then what he says is just so much chin-music, another defective patriarchal opinion. In some ways her attitude reminds me of American judges who use foreign law to interpret the American Constitution. Thrilling to the sound of the global village or the special wisdom of a wise Latina, they forget who they are and what their job is.

Feminist types were ecstatic about the book. The American Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine was not amused. It just did an unusual thing and wrote a document calling her work misleading and wrong.  And explained exactly why. In these polite days, that's as close to heretical as you're likely to get. But its very rarity makes it loud.

Fireworks will no doubt ensue. But the report seems to get one thing right. Metaphors and analogies are very different ways of ascribing similarity and difference. St Thomas figured that out clearly quite a long time ago in his Summa contra Gentiles. To simplify, a metaphor may be both affirmed and denied without contradiction. "God is my rock". Yes, and no. In analogy, while there is difference, the similarity is so great that it cannot be both affirmed and denied without contradiction. "God is eternal." It may not be a perfect statement, but it can't be wrong and still be right. Yes only. No yes and no.

By making all God-language only metaphorical, Sister makes it all basically contentless. What drives the theological agenda then is her social agenda. Even a bishop could see that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Holy books


I don't know of any holy book that is straightforward. Most primary religious scriptures are odd. It makes sense to me because we are.

When I see the verse-slinging that goes on in comments sections, usually around homosexuality, it will not be long before some brilliant self-anointed theologian wants to counter, say, Leviticus' condemnation of "a man laying with a man as with a woman" by pointing out that the same book forbids eating shrimp, mixing certain kinds of cloth and also proposes death by stoning for rebellious teenagers.

As if, in two thousand years, no one else in Christianity had wondered how, according to Matthew, Christ came to fulfill the Law and not abolish it, and according to Paul, he came to set us free from it. The first Council at Jerusalem around 50 AD had to cope with that one: can a Gentile become a follower of Jesus without also becoming a Jew?

An interesting early witness of more sustained reflection on this issue comes from a work of Valentinian Gnostics, Christians who resolved the evident tension between Israel's moody and legally minded God with Jesus' more paternal and less commandment-focussed Father* by saying that they were two separate kinds of divinity. The Letter to Flora, a 3rd-4th century Gnostic document ascribed to Ptolemy (not the astronomer), comes up with the following outline of how to deal with the Old Testament:

The Law of Moses is actually a composite work deriving from the Israelite God, Moses himself, and later Jewish traditions. Jesus relieved Christians of having to concern themselves with the latter two types of content. What comes directly from the Israelite God, Jesus himself reinterprets as likewise having three parts: the The Commandments, mixed laws combining justice and inferior values, and ceremonial laws which become poetic images of the life of the soul. The text says,"Therefore, my sister, through the Gospel Lord, the ritual law was transformed, the mixed law was erased, and the holy Law was perfected." This ancient precursor to the documentary hypothesis is a sophisticated and rather even-handed reading, evidence of having given this complex set of texts a lot of thought.

Jews themselves are, of course, masters of this art of interpretation. The vast literature of the Talmud bears witness to that. The work of rabbis over millennia have allowed Jews to maintain a primary reverence for the text of the Torah but distance themselves from, for example, the death penalty for juvenile delinquents. They accept the commandment, but specify a set of conditions for enacting it which make it virtually impossible to do.

Even Muslims, with their comparatively unitary Quran, very likely enunciated by Muhammad in his seventh-century lifetime, and therefore the work of one man and a few decades, have their issues. On the one hand, for example, you get suggestions that Christians and Jews are ok, but then you are told not to befriend or trust them and to humble them by rules and special taxes.  Many contrarieties like this exist. Muslim scholars have take the chapters of the Quran --which are printed by order of length, from longer to shorter--- and divided them into those given earlier in Mecca and those given later in Medina. The doctrine of abrogation then allows them to relativize some in favor of others. In a strange way, this parallels the Christian practice of interpreting the earlier Jewish scriptures by their own later ones, abrogating or spiritualizing some and keeping others intact.

It seems there's no escape from skill and art in interpreting holy books. And throwing a verse here and a verse there seems to underestimate the complexity of these conversations.

*This personality difference can be overdone; there's a lot of continuity, too. Even, or especially, the gauzy image of Jesus as Mr. Rogers is quite flawed, as well.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


does not call Allah "Father".

Dreadful symmetry

You now what other word, besides "orange", has no rhyme?

Traduttore, traditore

The old Italian phrase, "Translator, traitor." See, there, I did it. Less literally but perhaps more likely to echo the music of the original, "Who translates, betrays."

I indulged myself in trying my own hand at some prayers in the Latin Mass, to see how I stood up against the older and new translations. The 1970 one sometimes has rhythm, but its so smooth that it becomes white noise. The upcoming one has plenty of sacrality and a lot of clunkiness. Since I suspect few of my readers are Latinists, I'll just post the new one and mine. Parts of the Third Canon:

Arcane? Maybe. But no angry Muslims and no naked men! (The varying fonts mean nothing; just a fight between Microsoft Word and Blogger.)

You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have created rightly gives you praise, for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, you give life to all things and make them holy, and you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.

Truly are you holy, O Lord, and rightly does your every creature praise you,
for through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the working and power of the Holy Spirit, you enliven and sanctify all things,
ever gathering a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your Name.

Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ at whose command we celebrate these mysteries.

Humbly, therefore,  do we ask you, O Lord:
by the same Holy Spirit
make holy these gifts, gifts we have brought and set apart for you, that they may become the Body and +Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate these mysteries.

Therefore, O Lord, we celebrate the memorial of the saving passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and as we look forward to his second coming, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.

Remembering therefore, O Lord, your Son’s saving passion, his wonderful resurrection and ascension into heaven, while awaiting his coming again, we offer to you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.
Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church, and, recognizing the sacrificial Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself, grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son, and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.

Behold the offering of your Church, we pray,
seeing here
the Lamb given up in sacrifice,
whose death, by your will, made reconciliation for us.
Grant that we who are fed by the Body and Blood of your Son, being filled with his Holy Spirit, may be found one body, one spirit in Christ.


The modern ecumenical movement is a funny thing. Not only have traditional Christian bodies largely stopped fighting with each other and trying to convert each others flock (now called "sheep stealing"), but the urge to make nice seems sometimes to be overwhelming. And of course this hyperfriendly impulse got translated into relations with the non-Christians religion, people we used to call the Jews and the pagans.

Here is a classic example. This is a sung Mass, in the ancient Roman rite in Latin, celebrated by several hundred Catholics in an English cathedral, York. The smiling clerics in the last photo are the deans of the place. Anglican. And what are the Papists celebrating? A woman who was crushed to death with stones under Elizabeth II's law against aiding a Roman priest from...saying this very Mass.
St. Margaret Clitherow. People who would once have been hung, drawn and quartered (the Catholics) or burned at the stake (the Anglicans) by each other now have their pictures taken. The Romish crowd celebrated their heathenish "Mass" on the altar of a great church that the Anglicans, well, stole from them five hundred years ago. Everyone is smiling.

Is it that we have all become better people? More enlightened and loving? Is Jesus finally getting what he asked for?

You know that Ex Cathedra takes a skeptical view of human moral progress.

Whatever else may be going on, one thing that has allowed all this to happen is that, with significant exceptions since the ecumenical glory days of the 60's and 70's, religion doesn't really matter much, except to religious people. The days, in the West, when Christian theological differences made for war --or at least fueled what bellicose behavior would have happened anyway--- are long gone. Religion is just not that important. It has long ceased to be a marker of real power or wealth. That is why this can happen.

Plus, believers don't believe the way they used to. People used to die, and die horribly, for issues which now hardly cause a blink in the eye. Not, I suggest, because of an increase in holiness, but because holiness has become antique. The ecumenical Christians are far more citizens of the postmodern West than they are members of their ancient and feuding bodies. The issue used to be truth. And of course truth was allied to survival and power, wealth and status. (And I do not say these thing with moral disapproval; survival is precisely about power, wealth and status. Ask any people who've lost it to an enemy, or to the passing of time.) Now it's about being nice.

The ecumenical movement in the West is dying. The mainline Protestants long ago stopped caring about the theological differences among them and have become cheerleaders for the social work culture and state. The only Western churches with a chance in hell of ever reuniting, Rome and Canterbury, both know that those dreamy days are over. Canterbury is deconstructing itself with bishops who are female and who are gay. Whatever thin commonality live and let live Anglicans used to have is fast melting.

The eastern Orthodox churches have never been fans of this carrying on. The leaders make the minimum gestures, but the folks at home and the priests and monks on the ground are not interested.
These are people with long historical memories and for most, long centuries of survival in the dhimmi world of an imperialist and colonial Islam. They broke with Rome a thousand years ago, and doctrinal purity, traditionalism, serves them as well as a Pope could. No thanks.

Evangelicals and Pentecostals, the essence of whose faith is emotional enthusiasm and a fierce devotion to the Bible, have also sat this one out. They actually think their faith is true.

Then there is the world of religion outside. Judaism. A unique story. And of course, Islam. Deny it in public all they like, but here the situation is as it was in the 16th century. The connection between truth and power, survival with wealth, power and status, is alive. Very much so. The urge to make nice on the Christian side is still unfortunately strong. When the Pope obliquely told the truth in his lecture on faith and logos, tons of Christians joined with their future Musselman overlords in condeming his "insensitivity". And the very quick turn to violence which he noted was played out by some Mohammadans precisely in outrage of his describing the very thing they were doing. How that 1400 year old war will turn out remains to be seen.

But I don't expect to one day see the Patriarch of Constantinople celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Haghia Sophia.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Alternate history, continued

I've always been interested in the Irish language, its Gaelic. And although I have had a talent for foreign tongues --my Latin is still pretty good, and I could read the New Testament in Greek once upon a time, even did elementary Hebrew ok-- the mother tongue of my Hibernian ancestors always defeated me.

Le mo ghrása mise agus liomsa mo ghrá
I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.

I mean, really, look at it. And know that what the letters indicate may have even less to do with the sound than they do in English, a language whose spelling is a study all on its own. And this, by the way, is the modernized simpler spelling! The word is bold below is pronounced illi-hoo-atah. See my problem"

Sagart: Is ceart agus is cóir duinn, go deimhin, is cuí agus is tairbheach, buíochas a ghabháil leat de shíor agus i ngach áit, a Thiarna, a Athair naofa, a Dhia uilechumhachtaigh shíoraí, trí Chríost ár dTiarna. Lena theacht ar an saol rinne seisean ionracas an duine a athnuachan; lena pháis scrios sé ár bpeacai; ag aiséiri ó mhairbh dó, réitigh sé an bealach chun na beatha siorai duinn; agus ag dul suas ar do dheasláimh dó, chuir sé doirse na bhflaitheas ar leathadh romhainn. Uime sin, mar aon leis na hAingil agus na Naoimh go léir, gabhaimid iomann molta duit a rá gan stad:

To my ears it has a sound both barbarous and beautiful. A sample.

But when the Irish spread out around the world in the middle of the 19th century, driven by the great famine, what would their fates have been if the English had not, by that time, given so many of them the language of Britain? When my people arrived on these shores, they already spoke the lingo. No "Press 1 for Gaelic."

I wonder if they would have thrived as quickly and as well had the Sassenach who ruled over them for so many centuries not deprived them of their ancient and difficult mother tongue and given them, not out of benevolence for sure, the language I speak now.

I lost my connection to Cooley's Cattle Raid and wound up belonging to the language of Shakespeare. Not so bad, after all.

Seven deadlies

If I had to rank myself for the Seven Deadly Sins, this would be my guess:

1. sloth...procrastination has been the absolute bane of my life.
2. don't have to be overweight to be fixated on food and drink.
3. lust...on my mind a lot, even if I am, by gay standards, a moderate.
4. pride...intellectual mostly.
5. envy...half-hearted: I would like to have what others have and I feel I lack,
    but I don't want to take theirs  away from them to get it...see Sloth.
6. wrath: though I don't show it very much, I feel it a lot.
7. greed: again, desire does not get implemented very much.

I would certainly trade sloth for one of the others as my chief flaw. Greed or wrath or even pride.

Since this is a self-assessment, a lot of it could be wrong.

Ex Cathedra on the threshold

Tempest in a smoking incense pot

Mr. Spirit of Vatican II is exercised by the upcoming new English Missal. I think he has not been happy in a very long time. Since 1968, anyway.

The Vatican, egged on by an ignorant claque, are hurtling toward another egregious scandal, which will undercut the credibility of bishops all over the English-speaking world by putting their illiteracy on public display...The new texts have no merit at all, since they make not the slightest effort at style or rhythm....The faceless committees who concoct liturgical translations -- and especially the present batch based on the mistaken principles of Liturgiam Authenticam -- simply have no conception of style.

Concern with correct grammar, coherent syntax. communicative and eloquent diction, is mocked as elitism by the boors and philistines who are purveying these corrupt texts. They claim to speak in the name of Joe and Mary Catholic just as Sarah Palin speaks in the name of Joe Six-Pack. (emphasis mine). And the bishops seem to have the same patronizing attitude, believing that what is shoddy, ugly and dead will do for their flock.

No escape from Mrs. Palin.

Very funny stuff.


The lemon tree in the backyard, Monday afternoon, March 28

March 21st, Vernal equinox
April 18th, first Spring Full Moon
April 24th, following Sunday, Easter
(one day short of the latest it ever falls,
which will happen in 2038)

No blood for...

One of the chants of the antiwar folks has been "No Blood For Oil". Catchy. In their view, two incommensurable liquids. I disagree. Try living without oil. End of us. The only liquid more important for us than oil is water. Both worth spilling blood over.

But there are two other items I would not want to spill any of my countrymen's blood over.

"No Blood For Cheese". If the French ever get to the point where they are actually going to be swamped in an Islamic hell of their own multicultural making and finally decide to take up arms against the Mohammedan barbarians, I will wish them well and sell them arms. But not a drop of American blood. Whatever debt we owed them for their self-interested help in the Revolution has been more than paid back by two European wars with plenty of Yankee corpses. And they have paid us back as the French do.

"No Blood for Muslims". I have no problem with attacking a Muslim country if they deserve it and if our national interest really warrants it (see above re oil), but no more attacking countries for the sake of supposedly victimized or democratically-hopeful Muslim populations. Either in the Balkans or the Middle East or anywhere. No more liberating. Only protecting our vital interests or punishing. Otherwise, leave them to their own messes. They're not worth it and they certainly don't appreciate it from us dirty infidels.

Evil typologies

I like typologies. It's a Five thang.

My friend Bill (who is a One) has us watching a 37-lecture DVD series on Why Evil Exists, by a U of Virginia professor, Charles Mathewes. So far, pretty good. Enuma Elish, the Greek tragedians, historians and philosophers, and the Old Testament.

It's primarily about human evil . His typology makes three basic streams of Western thought about the matter: evil as folly, evil as cosmic and evil as educational.

In the first, human rebellion against the moral order is the focus. In the second, evil is considered to be inherent in the structure of the world and so it is a question of management. And in the third, evil is seen to be useful for soulmaking or other moral improvement.

All three have something serious to say and, as Dr Mathewes points out, all of them can be seriously challenged. My history sets me in the first camp, but as an adult I am more sympathetic to the second, with a significant interest in the third. Me and Jung straddle the same streams.

The beginning of The End of History

Francis Fukuyama's pre 9/11 thesis was that the world was moving toward universal liberal democracy and that this constituted the final stage of the history of political structures.


Since then, I have paid little attention to him, although appreciating his very accurate 2007 reading that countries which embrace multiculturalism announce thereby that they have no culture of their own and will face the challenge of healthy and strong-identity cultures.

The NY Times published a pre-publication article on his upcoming 2-volume work on The Origins of Political Order.


What makes it interesting is that Fukuyama seems to take seriously something the liberal West likes to dismiss: human nature. Apparently evolutionary sociobiology is the vehicle for discussing the species-specific nature of homo sapiens. So be it. What once was the province of philosophers is now the domain of biologists. I found Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, with its demolition of the imbalanced nurture-bias of the standard social science model of human malleability and innocence, to be very useful in this investigation. No noble savages. No blank slates.

It is a distinguishing mark of conservatives, in contrast to progressives, that a reading of human nature as it is is fundamental to any further political philosophy. As it's been said of Marxism: nice idea, wrong species. Although the American experiment seems to me in great peril, its longevity is due in large part to the Founding Fathers' combination of liberty-based optimism and historically-based pessimism about human nature. Our Constitution was made for the men that we are, not the angels we might become. Consequently, we didn't need the guilloutine. (Although we didn't escape the War Between the States). If Fukuyama takes the particular shape of the human race, our inborn species nature, into consideration in his work, it looks like it might be worth reading.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Popes behaving badly

The priest sex scandals have hit the Catholic Church very hard indeed, both in treasure and in reputation. Some people think that the present Bishop of  Rome should resign for not handling this issue better.

They should consider a little history.

The wild behavior of the Renaissance popes is well known. But do you know about the Synod of the Cadaver?

In the late 800's --pretty definitely Dark Ages in my opinion-- Pope Stephen VI had his predecessor Pope Formosus dug up, set the corpse on this throne in his robes, and put the cadaver on trial. Unsurprisingly, Formosus lost. They declared all his ordinations, appointments and judgments invalid, cut off some of his fingers and threw his body into the cemetery for foreigners.

The whole story makes your head spin.

So, as unfeeling as it may be, --and given my own history, maybe a bit incongruent-- I say to these dissatisfied folks: Have a little perspective; it could be so much worse.

A Gnostic heretic

Referencing Gnosticism in my previous post put me in mind of my friend Rosamonde Miller, Bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum in the South Bay. 

She is an extraordinary woman, a combination of deep spirituality and eyes-wide-open on-the-ground common sense and humor. Of French and Cuban cultures, with an unusual biography, in another life she would have either been a Carmelite abbess or been burnt at the stake. 

Mary Magdalen is a powerful figure in Gnostic mythology. Although Dan Brown's pro-Gnostic novel, The DaVinci Code, purports to restore Mary Magdalen to her rightful place, she shared my dismissal of its bric a brac historiography. As she said, "I'm Gnostic, not stupid." If women show up full of revisionist anger that "the patriarchy" painted the Magdalen as a prostitute, she calls them on their condescending moralism about sex workers. She has disappointed more than one zealot.

When we get together, the topics almost always include politics, sex and religion. And food and drink. She is a connoisseur of single-malt whisky. "Her Grace" is someone with whom you can clearly disagree without it becoming personal. As she herself confesses, she is a not only a Gnostic but a heretic among Gnostics. Practicing what she calls "wild Gnosis", --focused on experience rather than explanation--she loves the traditional myths but refuses to embrace world-rejecting dualism. Quite a trick. But hey, this is California and Gnosticism is nothing if not idiosyncratic. For her bob-and-weave approach to the divine realm, I once called her "a theological martial artist", which she quite liked. With the strong presence of the Divine Feminine in her sanctuary, it is important to note that it is not anti-male at all. On the contrary. She claims a priesthood lineage that was all-female and enjoys pointing out that she is the first of her line to ordain both sexes. Rosamonde is a woman who actually likes men.

When I have gone down to the sanctuary for the liturgy, I have usually found it a religious experience. The service is (in my opinion) a second-cousin once removed of the Roman Mass*, with a Gnostic myth of Logos and Sophia replacing the orthodox narrative. The language is formal, sacral and poetic, composed both of her own prayers and elements of ancient Gnostic scriptures.

I have been apart and I have lost my way.
The archons have taken my vision.
At times I am filled with Thee,
but often I am blind to Thy Presence,
when all I see is this world of form.
My ignorance and blindness are all I have to offer,
But these I give to Thee, holding back nothing.
And in my hours of darkness,
when I am not even sure there is a Thou,
hearing my call, I still call to Thee with all my heart.

Two things about this Eucharist are notable. First, she does her "talk" before the rite starts. When she is finished, she completes vesting and then begins the formal ceremonies.There are no separate scripture readings and no more preaching or commenting.  Second, the ritual and music hardly varies at all from week to week, either in word or gesture, yet her performance of it is never rote; she is present to what she is doing. Both these things combine to let you sink into flow of the rite as she does and be carried along with it as you do it, not having to pay attention to her ego or worrying about finding your place in a complex hymnal or prayerbook. After a while, you can recite and sing it mostly by heart. The music, to be frank, is not all to my relish, but the whole experience is refreshing to the soul.

She calls her church "a sanctuary for travelers", which it certainly has been in my history. With her quietly charismatic personality, she is often on the receiving end of all sorts of projections and desires. She could have easily turned her admirers and "followers" into a cult, but I have never seen her show the slightest desire for that. When we first met, she told me that I would be welcome to participate but that I could not join the church because it had no members. People, even the priests she ordains after a long and individual initiation, are free to come and go as they will. "I have children of my own; I don't need to be anyone else's mother." If you are at all grown up, it is easier to become her friend than her disciple. And I think she prefers it that way.

*I say this because her own liturgy appears to be inspired partly by the Mass of the Ecclesia Gnostica of Los Angeles, whence a part of her ordination lineage arises, and that ritual mirrors a Roman Rite Low Mass in vesture and gesture, but with a drastically different text.

Dr Evil

Last night two friends got into a discussion of evil. I refrained and just listened. I did notice this, that they restricted themselves to human behavior and human motivation, freedom, responsibility, etc. This focus provokes my Gnostic side, which sees humans as much the victims of the cosmos as perpetrators of evil within it.

One of the typologies of human beings in Gnosticism is the triad: hylic, psychic and pneumatic, or the materialists, the ensouled, and the spirited. Hylic humans live in an entirely material world, dominated by "the iron law of death." Survival is their driving motive and they share a great deal with animals. Psychic humans concern themselves with morality, seeking meaning and salvation in forms of goodness. The classical Christian tension between faith and works is typical of these folks. The spirited humans, who are capable of Gnosis, transcend domination by either death or the law because they come to know who they most deeply are.

Be that as it may (!), one of the assumptions here is that humans find themselves already "thrown" into a cosmos, a planet, an ecosystem which, IMHO, makes evil unavoidable. Whatever species or individual within a species survives does so by struggle and competition. This includes battles both within and without the species or group for food and mating. Winning and losing are inherent. Food alone means that organisms must eat one another...very often alive. From the point of view of the ingested species, this is probably "evil".

Almost all Gnosticism is Adamic, that is, it arises within religions whose creation myth concerns the creation of Adam by a single Creator God. (There is a kind of gnostic tradition that is Hermetic.) Dualisms, like Zoroastrianism, or polytheisms, where the ruling deities are themselves subject to a higher impersonal force, or any of the monist and dharmic traditions coming from India do not develop gnosticism. This is because the problem of evil which provokes it only arises in the tension between a unitary creator of ultimate goodness, knowledge and power and a fragmented creation combining both ordered beauty and enforced misery.

Orthodox Christianity itself makes a token nod to the birth of evil beyond and before the human world. The backstory of Lucifer's rebellion and fall shows a sense that a transhuman spiritual power was already in existence when Adam was made.

 In Isaiah 14
 12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
 13For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
 14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
 15Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Who, after all, was that serpent in the Garden and what made him a spoiler?

Gnosticism pushes the issue both farther back and further up, so to speak, by situating the primal Fall within the Godhead itself, prior to creation. It makes creation a direct result of that intradivine Fall. In a way, the Gnostic does not have to solve the problem of evil, but the problem of good! Why, in a world which is originally a kind of unplanned catastrophe, does good exist?

(If I may be overtly narcissistic for a moment, I am amused by the tension --some might uncharitably call it contradiction-- between my championing (for others!) classical Christian orthodoxy of the Roman and Byzantine kind while more than dabbling in what may be Christianity's oldest heretical challenger, Gnosticism. But what can you expect from a blogger who derides friendly liberals because they resent a more sacral translation of the liturgy and then follows it up with pictures of the male of the species in flagrante delicto with each other?

As a matter of fact, my interests may be internally incongruent, but I am not at all the first homoerotically inclined traditionalist. More on that another time.)

Back to evil. Just to say, with a nod to philosopher John Kekes, who made it clear for me, that human life always takes place within a context of scarcity, contingency and struggle. No choice about that. The occasional messy outcome would hardly be a surprise.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Men from 25 to 75, ten years apart

Male and female created He them

The more I look around the more true this seems to me:

Males are hunters, creatures of rank. But through rank they create affiliation.
Females are gatherers, creatures of affiliation. But through affiliation they create rank.

The first sentences of each line I partly owe to Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens.
The ascription of rank and affiliation to the opposite sexes.
The addition of hunters and gatherers and the second sentences are Ex Cathedra's corollary.

These are general and typical statements, not universals. 

The famous/infamous berdache of the North American Indian tribes was a person who desired to live the life of the opposite sex. Some tribes accomodated this by creating a status for them. What the sexual component was is unclear, but what is clear is that, aside from clothing, sex was hugely defined in terms of activity: men's work vs women's work. A male berdache dressed like a woman and did women's work. The rarer female berdache became a hunter and warrior. They are much less like our "gay" status and actually more like the "transgender" status, but without the surgery and the hormones.

I read a PC description of Plains Indians berdaches. While taking every opportunity to trash narrow colonial European categories of sexual identity, the author then celebrates the very European value of openness to a variety of expressions. It was on the Daily Kos, so no surprise.

In a description of these folks among the Blackfoot, for example, there is both a kind of acceptance and also a lot of less than reverent humor about them, a laughing behind the back which, it seems to me, is classic for tribal societies.

There have always been minorities of men and women drawn to aspects of the opposite sex's life. Very little in human life is 100% airtight. But the massive and rapid shift in male and female roles in the last 50 years seems without precedent. Such a dislocation is bound to have problematic outcomes. And has.

More Muslim and dhimmi hijinks

Eric ("My People") Holder's DOJ is suing a school district that refused a newly hired Muslim math teacher's request for 3 weeks off near the end of the semester to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Serving less than one year, she quit and went on the Hajj. She should only stay in Arabia.

A Federal agency is suing a local school on behalf of an obviously meritless case and it just happens to be about Muslims.

I need not explicate my expletives.

When I was director of an AIDS non-profit I caught hell from the women on staff when I refused to hire a woman who was six months pregnant. After three months on the job, she'd go on maternity leave? I'd have to hire a temporary replacement. And knowing how the girls operated, they'd demand the creation of a new job to keep the replacement, if they liked her. One of the harpies yelled at me, "You just don't get it." "Never have," said I, "and never will."

As I've often noted, inside most victims you will find an entitled tyrant.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Matthew 7:3-5

I was innocent of the online webzine Religion Dispatches till my FB friend Eliot Riffler began referencing it. Thanks loads, Eliot.

Part of RD's self-proclamation:
Partisan religious voices are all too common, but they do little to help us understand the dynamics of religion in the contemporary world. Whether dealing with fundamentalist movements at home and abroad, the purported clash of civilizations or public controversies over sexuality, immigration, and AIDS, gaining a deeper understanding of the role of religion, for good and for ill, is imperative.
So, lemme see how this works. You have to "deal" with fundamentalism and the "purported" clash of civilizations, but you transcend "partisan religious voices"? Did I get that right?

I have read not a single article in this site, with its "diversity of progressive voices", that steps out of the religious left liberal line one little bit.

One man's fundamentalism is another man's open-mindedness.


Enantiodromia, continued

One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him... Ivan Karamozov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus' hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents.

In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory.

When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber. 

Flannery O'Connor
Mystery and Manners

I can't help myself, again

I stumbled into a website of angry liberal Catholic liturgists* bemoaning the new and more traditional translation of the Mass set for December. I can't help noticing the frequent paradox: on the one hand they are outraged that the laity were excluded from the process but then show compassionate concern that "the average pew dweller" will be eternally flummoxed by the use of the words "consubstantial" or "incarnate" in the Creed.

Even in the simplest language, the Creed is still no walk in the park. 

Reveals a contradiction in that culture, condescending maternal/paternalism combined with egalitarian liberational empowerment. Which, I wonder, is the real story? Heh.

While I'm at it, one of the childish compulsions of the post Vatican II folks was the assumption that traditional language was arcane and should be made simple and clear to the uninitiated. So "Vespers" became "Evening Prayer" and "the Magnificat" became "The Song of Mary", etc. People who knew what a "novena" and "immaculate conception" was were apparently incapable of  learning the word "Matins". Yet we were forced to replace the familiar "Mass" with "Eucharist" (sorta like "African-American" replacing "Black") and to talk about "the liturgy" and the "epiklesis". Common English speech...not. As with all kinds of Newspeak, the issue is what words support the new agenda. Comprehension has nada to do with it.

*Catholic joke: What's the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Small favors

I am not a wealthy man, to put it mildly. For almost twenty years I have lived in a 750 square foot Edwardian* wood frame "shotgun" apartment up two flights of stairs. It has a very temperamental furnace; in San Francisco, an annoyance but not a danger. And a primitive electrical system. And a bathroom sink where you have to let the hot water tap run for three minutes in the morning before you actually get hot water. And it's drafty.

But last night I was grateful, as I have often been, that the roof does not leak. I am on the top floor of a four-plex and the roof is flat (although I assume it has a small pitch to let water drain off). Nevertheless, while I can clearly hear and enjoy the sound of the rain slamming down on it, it remains (knock on wood) watertight.

How many human beings in history, I wonder, have had that luxury?

*Assuming that the building was put up in the 1920's, in a decade or so, if I am still here, I will be living in a hundred-year old house! (Recently found the building date: 1923).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When Teutonics collide

Apparently both German uberliberal theologian Hans Kung and German now-pontifical theologian Joseph Ratzinger (aka Benedict XVI) have published new books the same week. The titles kinda tell the story: Kung writes Can The Church Still Be Saved? and Ratzinger writes volume two of Jesus of Nazareth.

A very pro-papal set of comments here. I may not like everything the Bishop of Rome teaches, but insofar as Catholicism is part of the foundation of the embattled West, I tend to prefer that solid body to the Boomer foot-stamping of old Hans, who is indistinguishable from a Protestant. My one experience of him in person is memorable and telling.

Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims in America

Although Protestantism does not appeal to me as a religion, I am grateful for its existence because only Protestants (broadly speaking) could have created the American Republic.  I think that Samuel Huntington's reading of America as a fundamentally Anglo-Protestant nation is correct. Protestantism is even more American than apple pie.

Catholics are (small) part of the American founding. One Catholic signed the Declaration and two participated in the Constitutional Convention and signed. Although few in number, from the somewhat pluralist viewpoint of 18th century Protestants (again, broadly speaking), Catholics, with their allegiance to Rome, were dangerous. After all what is a Protestant but someone who protests...against Rome? Even in Maryland, founded as a refuge for Catholics --and offering religious toleration for all Trinitarians--, their position was unsafe and they were eventually banned until the Revolution.

Aside from specifically theological differences, there was the bloody history of religious wars in Europe as well as the political power of the Catholic states to contend with. Protestant fear of Catholics was not mere fantasy. Over time, Catholics --especially later immigrants-- adapted to America and spilled enough blood in her defense to make them pretty mainstream. The theology was unchanged, but the idea of separating Church and State was never presented to me as anything but positive. The most I remember hearing to the contrary was that in traditionally Catholic countries it made sense for a closer connection, but not here.

My 1950's NY Irish Catholicism was very seamlessly patriotic. When I was a kid and at least through the early 70's, both the Papal flag and the American flag were standard items within the sanctuaries of Roman Catholic churches in the US. When Protestant ministers challenged John Kennedy about his religion in the 1960 campaign, the ministers were not accused of hate speech and Kennedy did not play the wounded victim. This was considered a valid question and he answered them in familiar American terms about the separation of private faith and public service.

The Americanizing of Jews is something I know less about. But aside from the process of assimilation, including the expectation that immigrants would become American, it was the vehicle of Reform Judaism that helped it. Beginning in 19th century Germany, this was an attempt to make it possible for Jews to function outside a religious ghetto, rather on the model of local Protestantism. Most significant was the relativization of halakah, the Jewish legal code which dominated all of life, and enforced separation of Jews from Gentiles, very much like Sharia. It was certainly a controversial move; to this day, in Israel, Reform Judaism has no status. But it let Jews have a place to go and become American and still be Jewish.

Islam is a child of both Judaism and Christianity. As a fully fledged kaffir, I deny the divine origin of Mohammad's project and see a lot of what he came up with as a mixture of these two faiths, both of which he had frequent contact with. In 7th century Arabia, along with a lot of pagans, were whole tribes of Jews and quite a few Christians. In shorthand, what I see as Islam's problematic shape is that it combined the Semitic sense of religion as an all-encompassing holy legal system and the Christian sense of ultimacy, with a missionary drive to convert the world. Sort of like a manic Hasid with a bad attitude and a gun.

Jews have a huge and ancient legal system. But, at least since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD,  it is only for Jews. And Jews long ago gave up any enthusiasm for converting outsiders. Sort of like extraverted Amish. Jews certainly have major impacts on societies where they live, but it is never, to my knowledge, about imposing or even expanding Judaism as a religion*. Muslims also have a huge legal system, but it is a complete political system for everyone living under its influence, not just Muslims. In a Muslim-dominated country or culture, you are subsumed into it whether you like it or not. And Muslims have a distinct interest either in converting you to the One True Faith or making sure it is dominant in your life. Even with the loss of the Caliphate after WWI, they have not had a 70 AD to make them rethink things.

And that is a very big reason I am so hostile to Islam: it remains both expansionist AND theocratic. What is the likelihood that a serious movement to relativize or radically re-interpret Sharia could take off in Islam in the West? Even though neither Judaism nor Islam have a central authority like a Catholic Pope to make these kinds of decisions, the role of rabbis vs imams and the extent of Westernization within the religions are very different. I am not holding my breath, although the only kind of Islam I would not be so hostile to would be something along the lines of Reform Judaism.

Then I might believe that Muslims and America could mix. Til then, color me unconvinced.

*Unfortunately American Jews have been disproportionately helpful in the imposition and expansion of the secular faith of progressive liberalism.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Think globally, rant locally

For Lent I really should have given up using the internet for anything but porn.

The Marine Hymn presciently clarifies two of my ongoing concerns.

"From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli..."  

Mexicans and Muslims. Reconquista and Jihad. Either of these issues provokes me. And the internet gives me plenty of material for both. Can rile me up with breakfast. Today it is Montezuma...and his revenge.

As I have mentioned, I had very little beef with Catholicism in the dogma department. But what started out as the personal impossibility of me reconciling my natural sexual drive with Catholic sexual morality blossomed over time into an attitude of eye-rolling disrespect for its platitudinous "social justice" morality.

Especially when dispensed by such august bodies as the American Bishops Conference. This guild, which handled the clergy sex abuse scandal with so much integrity and grace, has never seemed to me much more than a club of dickless bankers in drag. There was an old saying among the very first Christian monks, the Egyptian desert Fathers of the late third century and following: "Flee women and bishops!" Good advice.

Reminds me of a charming story of Jordan of Saxony, St Dominic's very likeable successor as Master of the Order of Preachers:
Once, when in the company of several bishops, he was called upon to explain how it was that some bishops taken from the Mendicant Orders had not given entire satisfaction. He answered with simple truth thus: 'The fault lies entirely with yourselves. So long as they kept to their Order we were careful to rebuke them as often as they deserved it, but the laxity you complain of has come upon them since they joined your ranks. Furthermore, I can testify that during the many years I have passed in the Order I do not recall a single instance in which  the Popes have ever asked me or any of our Superiors to find them a good bishop. On the contrary they have picked their own men at will, either because of parentage or relations, or from some other less spiritual motive, and so no blame can rest with us.'
My provocation this morning was an article by a man of Catholic but not liberal convictions about his upcoming address to the next confab of crosiered capons* about immigration. Some days, as hopeless and unrealistic as it be, anything short of a recap of Ferdinand and Isabella's 1492 ethnic cleansing seems unacceptable. (I recognize the irony of referencing their Reconquista to wish for the disappearance of the Aztlanians** who are engaged in one of their own against us.)

The Bishops handle this with a theological finesse worthy of a bumper sticker: "Welcome the stranger." End of story. The bad faith, rank self-interest (all those new Catholics to fill up otherwise haemorrhaging parishes?) and narcissistic "social justice" moral preening (the poor brown people) all give me agita.

So in case you missed them, seven reasons why contemporary Hispanic immigration to America is bad.

Illegality: How can it be a good thing for us if your first literal contact with us is breaking our laws? It is an aggressive act of disrespect. It is home invasion on a national scale. Left unpunished, it promotes contempt for us and makes our sovereignty a joke.

Enormity: tens of millions of illegals gives the problem serious demographic magnitude, as well as having huge costs in money, crime, social dislocation, etc.

Homogeneity: the single linguistic bloc makes them very powerful and influential, allowing both a split of the US into a bilingual country and continuous resident populations who speak an alien language.

: for Mexican illegals especially, the great majority, the closeness of the home country prevents assimilation and allows diffident connection to America.

: with the history of race-conscious ill-will between the USA and Mexico, this massive group of illegal Hispanics superheats the Balkanizing of our country into inimical ethnic tribes.

Post-MLK America has lost its moral self-confidence and any hope of the decreasing White majority asserting itself to foreign immigrants. Multiculturalism has eroded a common Anglo culture that once might have required adaptation from these invaders, if not supported their expulsion.

Although many first-generation illegals may be more focused on work and money, with clear experience that a hard life in America is way better than the insecure dead-end hovels they fled, their children born here, who will mostly not excel, will  see what they don't have and how they don't belong in either place. Nothing good comes of this new alienated underclass.

Put 'em all together. It's not pretty.

*My apologies, but a friend just sent me an opinion piece in English by an educated Pakistani. The perfervid prose briefly infected mine.

**Aztlan is the mythical Chicano homeland in the southwest US, which La Raza types would like to reconquistar.  Funny though, that the Aztec Empire never even held all of Mexico, much less any of the land now America. It was only by the extension of the empire of the evil white Spanish conquistadors that any part of America could ever be claimed by the Mexicans.


These guys are all the same guy.

That last portrait shot especially...makes me wanna break a commandment or two.

HT to Andrew Klavan

I found this quote on his blog this morning. Reminded me of the foolish cult of celebrity we have, which celebrates as oracles people whose real gift is making believe they are someone else . It applies to thespians of...well, I was going to say both genders, but after years in San Francisco I have been schooled in the oppression of the binary gender regime, so I will say thespians of all genders.

As Joseph L. Mankiewicz said of actresses: “I shall never understand the weird process by which a body with a voice suddenly fancies itself as a mind. Just when exactly does an actress decide they’re HER words she’s speaking and HER thoughts she’s expressing?”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sometimes I wonder

if I am just turning into a crank. Then I read a real crank and I calm down. Behold:
I just read part of a column by >Thomas Sowell, GOP propagandist. He was waxing dismissive about the rights of endangered species, and said something to this effect: "Frogs are a species; a given variety of frog is not a species." I just had to scream! Frogs are--off top my head--more like a sub-order! That is, "Frogs" refers to a group of species similar to each other but as distinct from each other as, for example:
a. the set of non-lemur primates: great apes, lesser apes, monkeys, and mankind (really a great ape with pretensions)
b. cloven-hooved animals: antelope, goats, buffalo, deer... would you consider all those a "species", too, Mr Sowell??

People who are this willfully ignorant about biology shouldn't set environmental policy, obviously. I submit that they shouldn't be syndicated either. Thomas Sowell should be banned from the newspapers. "Freedom of the press" is no excuse for damned lies!

OK, that's enough

Enough ranting and musing and criticizing for a while. Time for a picture of a naked man.

Ok, so he's not officially naked, but the way he wears his jeans, he may as well be.

Fallacyopian tubes

Philosophy students know of Hume's and Moore's "naturalistic fallacy", his attack on arguing that because something is so, it ought to be so.

Contemporary biologist Bernard Davis coined its converse, the "moralistic fallacy", when one argues that because it ought to be so, it is so.

A lot of liberal palaver strikes me as illustrating the second problem. It would be good for races and sexes and cultures to be equal, so they are. Any contrary evidence must be wrong, or a lie or irrelevant. So there.

I am sure that a lot of conservative positions could be attacked under the first heading. Although the argument has been made that the naturalistic fallacy is itself fallatious.

An inquisitive friend

asked why there was such urgency about military intervention in Libya but there never had been the same focus on Sudan, with the ongoing destruction in Darfur.

Cynically (!), I suggested that it had something to do with oil, proximity to Europe, Qaddafi's history of violence against the West, and the strategic importance of the Arab world. Darfur was just a bunch of desert Arab savages murdering a bunch of hapless desert Blacks, in the middle of nowhere.

I now am chastened by reading this noble humanitarian snippet:
Clinton's former top aide Anne-Marie Slaughter accused the Obama administration of prioritizing oil over the human rights of the people of Libya. "U.S. is defining ‘vital strategic interest' in terms of oil and geography, not universal values. Wrong call that will come back to haunt us," she wrote on Wednesday on her Twitter page.

Ah, that's right. Universal values. How could I forget?


I am not happy about the reason, I am pleased to see that Victor Davis Hanson, an expert in military history, shares my misgivings about Libya. Ever the realist, though, VDH says that if we are gonna do it, unwise though it be, we better give it our best shot. So now, according to one of my more insightful commentors...ahem...we join with Michael Moore on that issue. Oh, and Louis Farrakhan. In 2008 Mr Farrakhan proclaimed O as the Messiah. Now he asks, "who the hell do you think you are?" My peeps.

Most of the liberals who hated Bush's arrogant Jew-led neo-con drive to establish Western democracies everywhere now seem strangely quiet when Barry Hussein O is at the (rudderless) helm. Funny how that happens.

Intra octavam

Catholic liturgy has a way of extending the celebration of an important feast day by giving it an octave, a whole week in which is is remembered, finishing on the eighth day. There used to be a lot of them, but both Pius XII and especially Paul VI cut them back so that now only Christmas and Easter have them.

Since I am unencumbered here at Ex Cathedra by papal formalities, I included this very nice dinner of corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes yesterday as falling with The Octave of the Feast of Saint Patrick.

If you have a taste for it, corned beef (like its Rumanian/Yiddish cousin pastrami) can be addictive. Hard not to eat the whole thing before you even get it to the plate!

A few unformed thoughts on Big Love

Unformed thoughts? On Ex Cathedra? Shocking.

There is spoiler material here, so if you have not seen this and intend to, you have been warned.

Bill Henrickson, the hero, is a driven man. He has three wives, children by them all, three houses, runs his own successful business. Born on a polygamous compound, he was kicked out as a teenager --not uncommon in real life; to keep the male to female proportion in control-- and made his way in the world of Utah but kept The Principle* --plural marriage.

He starts out as likeable --if there is a decent hardworking serious white male around, it's him--but over time his obsession with this idea, despite any consequences, made him seem egotistical and infected with tragic hubris. When the show was over, however, I realized that he was doing what a man should do. He consistently showed strength and power, courage and skill. He fathered children with his wives, he fought for them and he provided for them. Bingo. Being likeable is not a primary value.

But he is a modern patriarch. The women --who themselves become complex and ambiguous characters-- have a lot of power, individually and as a group, because he actually does love each one of them, no foolin', but in the end as the male "priesthood holder", his is the final word. A word he sometimes refuses to impose and only offers. The women take care of the household and the children, he handles business and religion, but all have outside interests or connections.

The women also act independently, transgressively, destructively, secretively. I hear echoes of the archetypal Eve. Of course, if no one misbehaves, there is no drama. Indeed, there is no history. As, without Eve's bad behavior, there would not have been.

And their daily lives and interactions are often far removed from the common image of repressive piety. All the human drives are there, full on and on display. 

Another "conservative" theme gets played out in the series, where the best of intentions, combined with human flaw, create tragic outcomes. Airhead Marjean, wife #3, by her unselfcritically good intentions and her desire both to serve and to be important, creates a situation in a neighbor's marriage which leads to awful destruction in her own. And what literally triggers that is Bill's own rather blind sense of decency and justice.

A funny exchange between Nicky, the blond wife #2, and Barb, the brunette and older wife #1.

Nicky, emotionally: I know I have not one drop of the milk of human kindness in my veins. I am jealous and vengeful and full of spitefulness.

Barb: I know.

Nicky, continuing: No, Barb, I'm serious. It's true.

Barb, after a short silence: I know, Nicky. Believe me. I do.

Nicky: silent, but shocked.

One thing this series makes clear for men is that if they want to have several wives, they'd better have a helluva lot of money and endless energy. Polygamy is not a poor man's game, unless you want to live poor and deal with the labyrinth of the sister-wives' emotions and a ton of kids. In a way, the superhuman energy required of Bill to have a "humane" polygamy tells you why most polygamists enforce patriarchal monarchy as a bulwark against chaos and emotional depletion.

What strikes me too is that if you took out the plurality of women and made this a show about a couple, no one would have produced it except as a condemnation of patriarchal oppression and a relic of barbarism. Bill would have been an ogre and his wife a self-hating pathetic victim. Only under the rubric of an embattled outsider cultural group --and the dynamic of a group sisterhood in relation to and contention with a strong male--could this celebration of traditional patriarchal family have been viewable. Says so much about our cultural biases now.

The schmaltzy epilog should not have been written. I wonder if the two gay men who authored this show may have realized in some vague way that they were celebrating a very traditional family, a really traditional family, and they had to make up for it by part of how the series ends, the final act and words of the ending, and the outcomes in the epilogue. To imagine that a church full of polygamous, and therefore very traditional Mormons, would suddenly allow female priests is absurd, a sop to liberalism and feminism.

Now that I think of it, Bill's closing exchange with his first wife represents a failure of nerve as well.

As moving as some of the final moments were --especially the unexpected crowd of traditional Mormons who show up at Bill's church, and the vision he has of their shared ancestry-- I am still supportive of the Republican Party's founding goals, to rid the country of "the twin relics of barbarism: slavery and polygamy."


*Plural marriage seems to me to be at the heart of the Mormon cosmogonic religious myth. It has been replaced, under US pressure ("Statehood or polygamy") by the centrality of the nuclear family. Mormonism is nothing else but the elevation of the family to divine status (something it has in common with Sun Yung Moon's movement). It is one of the strange tensions of Christianity's hybrid Bible that its Jewish scriptures, especially the early patriarchal stories, are essentially family dramas but that its New Testament centers on an unmarried man who upholds marriage but is suspicious of family (His own especially) and whose movement privileges celibacy. Some "extreme" post-Christian sects choose the celibate path (like the Shakers), but others, like Joseph Smith and Moon, choose to resolve the tension by a worship of the family.

IMHO, the Mormons are to Christians as Christians are to Jews. They are post-Christian because they accept a follow-up prophet whose work is to recreate the Church to make a success of what Jesus failed to do . They are not Reformations within Christianity, like Protestants, but break definitively with the definitive Christian doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation.

Mormons are polytheists, just for one**. Jesus Christ is the Old Testament "Jehovah" god come to earth, the literal son of Mary and The Heavenly Father. They worship Heavenly Father (the Old Testament "Elohim") as just the God of this universe. Christ is a separate being. There are many other universes, with other Heavenly Fathers. And the goal of each Mormon male is eventually to achieve, with his family, exaltation, that is, transformation into another Heavenly Father who will organize and reign over his own universe. This is the traditional, but little known (in the West) doctrine of deification, but on steroids.

**That's funny. Polytheists. One. Ok. I'll move one.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Big Love

The HBO series on Mormon polygamy, Big Love, completed its five-season run tonight.

Bill Henrickson and his three wives. Lots of drama. The ending was (almost) excellent, but the
brief epilogue was disappointingly Hollywood.

And Bill, although he grew less and less likeable through the series, actually portrayed a kind of character we don't often see anymore: a man. The dude had balls.

Relativistic nihilism in a nutshell

My FB friend Elliot Riffler puts it very well.
A culture calmly driven off a cliff using only the argument "who's to decide?"!

Admittedly, you have your definition of "driving off a cliff" and I have my definition of driving off a cliff. My definition isn't in this world to agree with yo...ur definition, and your definition isn't in this world to agree with my definition. But if our definitions find each other, it's beautiful. If not, oh well.


The Osama bin Laden author got me thinking about Sherman's march, a famous or infamous episode in the Civil War. And how, if you are going into war, you go in to win. Or don't go.*


He didn't fool around and his ruthlessness helped end the war sooner. Makes me think of the complexities and the self-hobbling of our recent military efforts. The rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

But what you don't hear about and what is astonishingly hard to find info about is the answer to this question: As he was burning his way through Georgia, how many civilians did his troops kil**? A few lines below from the Georgia Encyclopedia.
Physical attacks on white civilians were few, although it is not known how slave women fared at the hands of the invaders. Often male slaves posted guards outside the cabins of their women.
Military death totalled 3100, of which two/thirds were Yankee troops. I am not minimizing the effect of a scorched earth policy on non-combatants, but it strikes me as very notable that neither as policy nor as side-effect were Southern civilians attacked. Not only was this part of his troops' marching orders, but they actually carried them out. This was 1864 and by that time Northern blood had flowed in rivers, so there was plenty of reason for an indiscriminately vengeful strategy of rape and murder. That's not what happened. That's pretty amazing.


*Someone asked me if I were younger or if I were asked by a young man about going into the military, what my answer would be. To his surprise, I said I would not join and would advise against it. Why? Because I have no trust that the American people would stand behind you, growing tired of the war before it could be won. I believe it is true that we lost Vietnam at home, not on the battlefield. I helped. And I cannot believe that that constant high-volume anti-Iraq voices here during Bush's administration --and it was really a way of hating Bush more than anything to do with Iraq-- had no effect on our men there.

**I lapsed into the Eddy Murphy skool of orthography here.


An author of a book on Osama Bin Laden points out that if the US just uses airpower in Libya, it is leading the West into another lost war. And wants to know why Congress wasn't consulted and asked for its approval. I think I am not on board with this Libyan thing.

I was thinking about "the world" in the sense of "the international community". Talk about social constructs. Or polite lies. Or illusions.

The UN? Please. The Crips and the Bloods.

When the Darfur genocide goes on. In Africa. Where are the Africans?  Why are a few Europeans and the Americans supposed to respond to Libya? Where are the Arabs?

"The international community" may be a few civilized nations, but the rest are just a mob.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I'm looking at porn

The Food Channel.


My good old friend T emailed to say he was sending me some incense for my birthday. Hmmm. Ok.

To my great pleasure and surprise, when I opened the package today, it was a set of very nice cigars.

On this cool rainy evening, I am now making "incense" --rich, smooth, easy draw-- with one of them and imbibing some single malt whisky to keep it company.


A new ism

I ran across a new ism with which to hector and badger people: antiziganism.

It means you don't like Gypsies. Whom we are supposed to call "Roma people."

Back when I was in ultraPC AIDS work, I once used the word "gypped" and was chastised for my anti-Gypsy racism. It had never occurred to me, of course, that there was any connection. Part of my white male privilege, to be unconscious of subaltern oppression.

Ah, how I long for those days!

The Wiki article is really funny.
As an endogamous culture with a tendency to practise self-segregation, the Romanis have generally resisted assimilation with the indigenous communities of whichever countries they have moved to; they have thus successfully preserved their distinctive and unique culture.
Distinctive and unique Roma shack with distinctive and unique unkempt Roma children

It seems that they have always been loathed by any people with whom they came in contact. I ran into them when I lived in Italy in the 70's. It was never pleasant.

And in this article, which piously catalogues them as victims of racism, prejudice, bigotry and stereotyping "as thieves, tramps, con men and fortune tellers," there is a large image of a Czech housing development that they reduced to a distinctive and unique ruin! And this explanation:
"Transparent" panel building (panelák) in Chanov ghetto near Most, Czech Republic. The housing estate was a sought after location, when it was built in 1970s with flats of the highest category. The authorities introduced a model plan of cohabitation of majority population and Roma, however with the rising percentage of Roma inhabitants (who were assigned luxurious flats after being relocated from poverty-stricken locations) the majority population gradually left, eventually leading to establishment of exclusively Roma district.[89] A poll in 2007 marked the district as the worst place of Ústí nad Labem Region.[89] The depicted panel building in the middle was stripped off everything that had any value by the Roma inhabitants and in the end had to be torn down.[90] Despite debt on rent in excess of €3,5 million in total, all the tenants of remaining buildings are still provided with water and electricity,[91] unlike in many other European countries.

Fair and balanced. Ziganism: pro or anti? You decide.

PS Funny update:

PPS update:

My very moral friend Bill responded to my unfriendly remark about the "Roma" by saying that Hitler had killed a lot of them. In his world, if Hitler didn't like you, that makes you ok because you are a victim. Non sequitur, but typical. Genetic testing, by the way, verifies that they are Indians, of low caste. 
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