Monday, January 30, 2012

Working theologies

Regardless of a religion's official positions, it also has a "working theology", a set of attitudes and values and behaviors that reveal an underlying point of view. (In Bionian organizational psychology, this is called a "basic assumption group", the unconscious agenda hidden beneath publicly trumpeted aims.) A great example is the contemporary Episcopal Church, the US Anglicans. Underneath the Bible, the Prayer Book and the Creeds, Apostolic and Nicene, what really drives those folks is "radical inclusivity." One of their own pointed this out in devastating detail. Other groups, both within and beyond that church, embrace vehemently --as the "essence" of Christianity-- this very same theology. Which, being the reduction of a vast bimillenial and complex world-founding religion to two words, is a classical and shameful example of ideology.

[This is an old liberal Protestant game. Along with the Quest For The Historical Jesus, we have the quest for The Essence of Christianity, which Protestant liberals of the 19th century pared down to the content-less The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. Now, of course, that is revealed to be oppressive patriarchal bias!]

After yet another lapse in my addictive and disheartening perusal of PrayTell, it seems to me that for a goodly chunk of the Catholic commentors, certainly of those who are most vehement and passionate, their working theology is a sentimental and resentful stance of Little People Populism vs the Corrupt Institutional Church. The "assembly of the baptized" vs the "hierarchy of the ordained". The Great Washed, as it were, vs The Temple Priesthood. Almost any issue eventually comes down to this theological narrative. Popular power vs traditional power. So what if "the assembly of the baptized" means twelve middle aged white ladies in Virginia Beach?

I would call that attitude Protestant were it not for the fact that it lacks even the basic theological commitments of classical Protestantism: solus Christus, sola Scriptura, sola Fide, sola Gratia. Instead it is merely warmed over secular humanism of the spiritual, adolescent and therapeutic sort.

Of course, radical inclusivity and Little People Populism are rampant in our dissolving culture as well. Which is where these religious folks got the idea. Certainly neither from the Bible nor the Christian or Catholic tradition. It comes down to little more than a spiritualized version of Occupy Wall Street.

What led to this morning's rant was a thread about the current state of funerals in American Catholicism. A dentist from Palo Alto, one of the LPP's on the site, exploded in self-righteous resentment that anyone should care about things like doctrine or liturgical rightness when people were hurting...We should give them whatever they want. I stupidly opined that his viewpoint made people into little combos of victim and consumer. Is there not a crucial difference between pastoral care and customer service? He interpreted this as an attack both on him and his good friend The Lord Jesus. (You can see what a fruitful exchange this was fated to be.)  He was half right.

What I was actually thinking is that I would rather be buried with dignity as Muslim --yes, me-- than subjected to the unmanly sentimental caterwauling and contentless drivel that I witnessed at the death ceremonies of my sister, uncle and father. The Great Traditions provide a ritual shape, a containing form, to life, and to death, to time and to eternity. Each tiny individual's life is set in a cosmic context, in a long line of ancestors, before the awful mystery of God, by the rites of death. What we have achieved instead is the reduction of the cosmos and our ancestors' visions to the cramped confines of our current ego and our feelings of the moment. What an accomplishment. I wonder sometimes if the religious and cultural wonders of the Christian Faith and its Western children are not as Newman suspected about the Dominicans in the 19th century, when he considered joining them and abandoned that path: "A great idea, but extinct."

So I let go. Here is the status quaestionis twixt Ex Cathedra and the Tooth Fixer.

by Ex Cathedra on January 30, 2012 - 11:29 am

At the last three American Catholic funerals I took part in, what I saw was –with little exception– the collapse of Catholicism in the triumph of the therapeutic, of the worst of the sentimentality of the surrounding Protestant culture, and at the place –death– where you would expect the Christian rubber to hit the road of real life, the surrender of vivid proclamation from a profoundly sacramental, ancient, and world-creating faith with content and confidence to vague accomodationism and comfortable platitudes, reduced to the horizons of the egos in the room at the time.

by Dr. Dale Rodriguez on January 30, 2012 - 12:15 pm

“reduced to the horizons of the egos in the room at the time.”
I think the only ego in that room was yours.

I need a Twelve Step Program for Compulsive PrayTell Reading.

Update on Jan 31. I am feeling better today. Finding all this kind of funny. But the Tooth Doc is still roiling, not having a good day. Someone else provoked his populist conscience worse than I did. (I did a little editing to translate abbreviations for the non-specialist.)

#94 by Dr. Dale Rodriguez on January 30, 2012 - 8:57 pm
If you don’t like it then go to a Latin Mass and leave the rest of us alone.
Typical. You are upset that catholics “disparage” the Latin mother tongue but you have no problem “disparaging” fellow catholics. Then you talk about “lack of charity”. Christ will use the same yardstick you use on others to judge you.
ps go back to the "New Theological Movement", you guys deserve each other.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lost grandeur of the Native Peoples

of Asia Minor.

The Greek peoples had inhabited Asia Minor for 2000 years before they were finally conquered by the invading Muslim Turks*, harbingers of the Religion of Peace. In the mid 500's AD, these now-Christian Greeks, inheritors of Old Rome, built the largest and most astonishing  church in the world in Constantinople, the last capital of the Empire's thousand years.

With the minarets added by the conquering Turks.

 As it was, with forecourt and, to the right, the baptistry.

Hagia Sophia --Holy Wisdom-- is now a museum, having been reduced to service as a mosque from 1453 until the secularizing Ataturk created Turkey out of the post WWI ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
The current successor of Constantinople's patriarch, and his Greek church in Turkey, is holding on by his fingernails. Thus the eventual fate of all non-Muslims under the rule of the totalitarian Religion of Peace. (Ask those other Native Peoples under Islam, the Egyptian Copts, how things are working out for them under the Arab Mohammedans.)

The enormous dome

Here's screenshots from a rare barebones reconstruction --the original would have been full of mosaic images and precious metals and lamps under its enormous dome

...and people-- of what Justinian's masterpiece would have looked like in its prime**.

In the middle of the space was the Bema, the elaborate pulpit used for reading the scriptures, chanting the psalms, and preaching.

An Orthodox reader*** suggested that the ambon was probably turned the other way, with the longer walkway close to the altar. See the reconstruction of the church of St Polyeuctus, also in Constantinople:

Or St Eufemia in the same city.

In the apse at the east end was the enclosed Sanctuary, surrounded by a low wall and pillars, with curtains and doors, the altar inside under a ciborium or baldacchino, and in the curve of the apse, amphitheatre-like seating for the many priests, with the throne of the Patriarch at the center.

The icons on the wall grew more prominent over time until now the Eastern churches influenced by Constantinople have an iconostasis, a wall of images, separating the sanctuary from the rest of the church. Although the central bema, as an architectural piece, has disappeared, much of the Eastern liturgy still takes place in the center of the space as well as behind the icon screen.

Recently opened St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Amsterdam

Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles with fully developed icon screen 

There is a legend that when the early Russian Prince Vladimir wanted a new religion to unify his people and kingdom, he sent emissaries to the Latin Catholics, the Greek Orthodox and the Muslims. The Orthodox won out because the visitors had attended the liturgy in Hagia Sophia and declared that they thought they were in heaven itself.

*Would it not be politically correct to call the Greeks the "Native Turks"?

**To be fair, Hagia Sophia had seen hard times before. Aside from earthquakes and iconoclasts, the disastrous 1204 looting by the Latin Crusaders took a heavy toll, from which the city never really recovered.

***And if you're interested, check out his site, with a tour of old St Peter's in Rome at the end, as it would have looked prior to the Renaissance structure that replaced it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Silly Files

A series of X-Files episodes that are particularly overwrought. Skully no longer acting like a competent FBI agent but a helpless, breathy girl. And talking about deciphering writing from "an ancient Navajo alphabet"....which, of course, never existed.

The grand and predictably Left Coast moralizing -- Hollywood style grandstanding as brave, but completely without risk-- is also wearing.

Ideologies of time

I can't stop checking out the slow motion train wreck at the PrayTell blog.  The man who keeps whining repetitively that "they" stole "his" Mass and so now he doesn't go to church because what happens there "isn't Mass anymore." God, I'd like to smack him. Fuckin' baby. And the usual crowd, who will jump on anyone who disagrees with them, piling on accusations, namecalling, requirements for documentation, condescending outrage, etc. treat this man as if he were a sacred wounded and abused two year old. In the trade, it's called "enabling.

One of the recurring themes has to do with valuing things based on their age. "Well, that's just a medieval accretion" is one way of dismissing an idea or practice. But is the problem that it's too old, dusty and medieval, or not old enough, coming long after the New Testament? One of the more annoying women, the "We are Church" type, who has read a few books, today dismissed the Roman papacy because a professor recently wrote that prior to the end of the second century, the monarchical style did not exist. So I guess that makes it illegitimate for the Pope to rule the Catholic Church because it only started 1725 years ago? It's a quirky novelty?

On the other hand, Catholic feminism, all of ten minutes old, is revered as a Blinding Revelation of Higher Revolutionary Truth. "The Gospel and the Gospel's ways lay hid in night/ God(dess) said, "Let Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza be! And all was light!" (Apologies to Alex Pope).

You can smell the adolescent oppositional-defiant syndrome.

The Dominican house I lived in had decided to remove the rosary from the belt of the habit, because St. Dominic hadn't worn one; it became part of the outfit later on. But of course, St Dominic wore his hair in a tonsure and didn't have the flowing sleeves OP's now wear. The real issue, of course, was that the friars didn't like the Rosary*. (Or the tonsure, but the sleeves were cool.)

Hardly anyone is consistent in their ideology of time. It gets played out in politics, too. Conservatives tend to value a thing the older it is, liberals much less so. Unless, in both cases, it suits their ideological purposes. Conservatives say, "It's tradition." Liberals say, "So what?" Liberals say, "It's new and progressive." Conservatives say, "So what?"

*I never liked it either, to be honest. I appreciated it from an intellectual viewpoint, but hated reciting it. Especially in a group. My alcoholic great aunt helped me out with that when I was a child and had to say it as a penance or something. For those of you outside The Fold, the rosary beads are for counting a series of prayers, anywhere from five to fifteen sets of ten Hail Mary's preceded by an Our Father and closed with a Glory Be. My aunt told me that since God wrote these prayers and already knew them, there was no need to say the whole thing. Just the first two words of each one. I bought that one. Made it less boring.

War Horsesh**

A friend took me to a matinee of War Horse. He paid, but only matinee prices. So I feel fine in saying the Academy-nominated Spielberg movie --while technologically impressive and with some powerful battle scenes-- was largely a waste of time.

A Ms Laura Steff at The Huffington Post opines at those of us eye-rollers:
To those who roll their eyes at the movie War Horse being nominated this week for a Best Picture Academy Award, let me say this: The movie is not, as some of those who haven't seen it suggest, just another sentimental story about a boy and his horse. It is not even primarily about a horse in the sense that the original British stage play is.

The cinematic version is much more. It is a story about the greed of the wealthy -- in this case, an English landowner -- and the powerlessness of the poor -- a family that grows turnips on the squire's land. We are reminded that poverty can tear a family apart, in this case pitting father against son and leaving mother to broker the peace.

The movie is also, and primarily, about awful, bloody, World War I ...

 But as a Steven Spielberg movie in IMAX format, War Horse assaults us, both our mind and our body.

It conveys as clearly as any movie I've seen the utter horrors of war, the moments of grace that can occur between enemies and the costs to ordinary men and women who only wish to plow their fields and harvest their turnips.
Well, thank God it's not just a shamelessly sentimental and compulsively manipulative story about a boy and horse, but also about cartoons of greedy rich people, --ooooh----powerless poor people ---aaahhh--and the horrors of war ---eeeeeeh. So much less cliched. Not at all like an extended Dickensian version of Lassie, where the brave pup is stolen by bad people and while Timmy and his poor but plucky Mom weep at home, fights through danger and pain to get home by walking 800 miles in the snow.

At several moments, the very mildly etched characters make 90 degree turns you never saw coming, just to insure a link to the next heart-rending moment. Anyone ever heard of script continuity?

What this HuffPo woman, a "Pulitzer Prize winning journalist" --explains a lot-- fails to mention is that the whole plot is set in motion in the first place by the utterly irresponsible, self-destructive and free whim of the "poor turnip farmer."

And of the central equine hero, "Joey" the miracle horse, even my generous friend, who seemed to like the film, said, "He was no Mr. Ed."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Skirting the dark labrysrinth

Doing some continuing ed for my license renewal this year, a transgender issue came up and I decided to head into cyberspace to check it out. Well, as things go, one link led to another and I found myself reading the feverish, grim and fanatical sites of the Sexually Offended Marginals. One woman, a very, very butch lesbian enraged by her invisibility as a Butch Woman --she is frequently taken for a man, and understandably-- is also dead set against transgenders, most especially ftms. It's just "self-hating and pointless self-mutilation in hope of escaping the masturbatory Male Gaze. You're not born in the wrong body. You're born in the wrong society!" Alice in Wonderland, with a dash of Stalin and Queer Theory. And some transgender sites have her in their sights for legal action. One flower child lovingly and tolerantly opined that since "we" are all one in our sexual orientations, as a community, we must do everything we can to take down "haters" like her. The victim-tyrant dynamic runs rampant.

And people think that religion makes you crazy.

Had some flashbacks about the grimly self-righteous and endlessly self-parsing identity groups, especially of wymyn, among the Queers back in Toronto when I worked in the AIDS field. Dark stuff, airless and deadly. And, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty nuts.

One thing

In National Review, VDH asks the above question. Without reading his answer, I can offer one of my own.

Newt's dalliances show that female sexuality is far more provoked by power and money than by looks.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hey Pope-a-thon

Anti-pope Michael I of Kansas (upper left) watching Roman Pope Benedict XVI (lower right).

It's like Avignon-on-my-Blog.

No comment


No, really.

Fragmenta liturgica

One of the novelties cooked up in the RC liturgical reforms is the educational address to the faithful, right in the middle of the rite. On the surface, it is a form of connection between the priest and the people. But it accomplishes just the opposite. It emphasizes even more the difference between the cheerleader and the crowd. It has a way of insulting the congregation by assuming that it must be invited to where it already is or have things explained to it which it should know or having itself explained to itself.

There is a huge difference between a liturgy which holds you and carries you and one which you have to create by your own efforts, over and over.

In a healthier ritual, you can have a strong priestly role without this paradox, by having the priest just do his business with and in alternation with the congregation, not foregrounding his role by turning him into a cheerleader. But of course, no one's gonna ask me about that anymore.

Endless options and tons of words and text alternatives and expansions make for disorganized, sloppy, shallow, anxious and distracting worship.

The Boomer experts over at Pray Tell are upset that US Catholics are not upset about the new translation. They are getting the impression that the people in the pews don't really pay attention to the words. Duh. I coulda told them that.

Most Catholics don't really like to sing much in church, --although I remember very clearly that people used to belt out Pange Lingua and Tantum Ergo and Holy God We Praise Thy Name at Benediction long ago--- despite a half century of cheerleading, cajoling, etc. So why not just leave them alone? Let the cantor and the choir do all that.

The liturgistas are still mesmerized by the Vatican II groovy mantra about "full, conscious and active participation" when the reality always has been "partial, semiconscious and passive participation". And that's not such a bad thing. Unless you're a cheerleader.

PS I never liked the Gloria. Never provoked either imagination, thought, image or feeling in me. Just some dead text you had get thru. Like the whole messy entrance rites of the Roman Mass. Now the Te Deum, that was something you could engage with. But it's long. And stuck in the Office.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Not nice but (therefore?) wise

One of my favorite short essays from a terrifically funny curmudgeon of the last century.

Holy Writ

by H. L. Mencken (from the Smart Set, October 1923)

Whoever it was who translated the Bible into excellent French prose is chiefly responsible for the collapse of Christianity in France. Contrariwise, the men who put the Bible into archaic, sonorous and often unintelligible English gave Christianity a new lease of life wherever English is spoken. They did their work at a time of great theological blather and turmoil, when men of all sorts, even the least intelligent, were beginning to take a vast and unhealthy interest in exegetics and apologetics. They were far too shrewd to feed this disconcerting thirst for ideas with a Bible in plain English; the language they used was deliberately artificial even when it was new. They thus dispersed the mob by appealing to its emotions, as a mother quiets a baby by crooning to it. The Bible that they produced was so beautiful that the great majority of men, in the face of it, could not fix their minds upon the ideas in it. To this day it has enchanted the English-speaking peoples so effectively that, in the main, they remain Christians, at least sentimentally. Paine has assaulted them, Darwin and Huxley have assaulted them, and a multitude of other merchants of facts have assaulted them, but they still remember the twenty-third Psalm when the doctor begins to shake his head, they are still moved beyond compare (though not, alas, to acts!) by the Sermon on the Mount, and they still turn once a year from their sordid and degrading labors to immerse themselves unashamed in the story of the manger. It is not much, but it is something. I do not admire the general run of American Bible-searchers -- Methodists, United Brethren, Baptists, and such vermin. But try to imagine what the average low-browed Methodist would be if he were not a Methodist but an atheist!

The Latin Church, which I constantly find myself admiring, despite its frequent astounding imbecilities, has always kept clearly before it the fact that religion is not a syllogism, but a poem. It is accused by Protestant dervishes of withholding the Bible from the people. To some extent this is true; to the same extent the church is wise; again to the same extent it is prosperous. Its toying with ideas, in the main, have been confined to its clergy, and they have commonly reduced the business to a harmless play of technicalities—the awful concepts of Heaven and Hell brought down to the level of a dispute of doctors in long gowns, eager only to dazzle other doctors. Its greatest theologians remain unknown to 99% of its adherents. Rome, indeed, has not only preserved the original poetry in Christianity; it has also made capital additions to that poetry—for example, the poetry of the saints, of Mary, and of the liturgy itself. A solemn high mass must be a thousand times as impressive, to a man with any genuine religious sense in him, as the most powerful sermon ever roared under the big-top by a Presbyterian auctioneer of God. In the face of such overwhelming beauty it is not necessary to belabor the faithful with logic; they are better convinced by letting them alone.

Preaching is not an essential part of the Latin ceremonial. It was very little employed in the early church, and I am convinced that good effects would flow from abandoning it today, or, at all events, reducing it to a few sentences, more or less formal. In the United States the Latin brethren have been seduced by the example of the Protestants, who commonly transform an act of worship into a puerile intellectual exercise; instead of approaching God in fear and wonder these Protestants settle back in their pews, cross their legs, and listen to an ignoramus try to prove that he is a better theologian than the Pope. This folly the Romans now slide into. Their clergy begin to grow argumentative, doctrinaire, ridiculous. It is a pity. A bishop in his robes, playing his part in the solemn ceremonial of the mass, is a dignified spectacle, even though he may sweat freely; the same bishop, bawling against Darwin half an hour later, is seen to be simply an elderly Irishman with a bald head, the son of a respectable saloon-keeper in South Bend, Ind. Let the reverend fathers go back to Bach. If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic deacon will astound humanity and insult God by proposing to translate the liturgy into American, that all the faithful may be convinced by it.

Founding Fact

What signer of the Declaration of Independence, who outlived all the others, although the wealthiest man in the Colonies and a major financial supporter of the Revolution, was prohibited in his home state from holding political office, practicing law or voting?

Answer here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Occupy Reality

I have chosen, for your edification, some segments from economist Thomas Sowell's recent essays in TownHall on economic disparity. Bolding is mine.

Section 1

People who are preoccupied, or even obsessed, with disparities in income are seldom interested much, or at all, in the disparities in the ability to create wealth, which are often the reasons for the disparities in income.

Gross inequalities in skills and achievements have been the rule, not the exception, on every inhabited continent and for centuries on end.

Nowhere have these achievements been random or representative of the demographic proportions of the population of a country or of the world. Nor have they been the same from one century to the next.

Yet these and numerous other disparities in achievement are resolutely ignored by those whose shrill voices denounce disparities in rewards, as if these disparities are somehow suspicious at best and sinister at worst.

Section 2

One of the ways of trying to reduce the vast disparities in economic success, which are common in countries around the world, is by making higher education more widely available, even for people without the money to pay for it.

This can be both a generous investment and a wise investment for a society to make. But, depending on how it is done, it can also be a foolish and even dangerous investment, as many societies around the world have learned the hard way.

What is not so obvious, but is painfully true nonetheless, is that colleges and universities can also turn out vast numbers of people with credentials, but with no marketable skills with which to fulfill their expectations. There is nothing magic about simply being in ivy-covered buildings for four years.

In countries around the world, people with credentials but no marketable skills have been a major source of political turmoil, social polarization and ideologically driven violence, sometimes escalating into civil war. People with degrees in soft subjects, which impart neither skills nor a realistic understanding of the world, have been the driving forces behind many extremist movements with disastrous consequences.

Section 3

Anyone who has ever been in a Third World country, or even in a slum neighborhood at home, is likely to wonder why there can be such dire poverty among some people, while others are prospering.
Both politicians and intellectuals have tended to have simple answers to that question, even if these simple answers have been different in different eras.

A hundred years ago, the prevailing answer was that some people are innately and genetically inferior. As often happens when a big idea seizes the imagination of the intelligentsia, their strongest argument is that there is no argument -- that "science" has already proved what they believe.

By the end of the 20th century, the pendulum had swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. Now differences in achievements among classes, races or the sexes were seen as being a result of discriminatory treatment.

But the innumerable factors affecting human achievements are not only complex and hard to untangle, they offer neither politicians nor intellectuals the opportunity to simply be on the side of the angels against the forces of evil. Factors which present no opportunity to star in a moral melodrama have often been ignored in favor of factors that do.

Section 4

Different histories, geography, demography and cultures have left various groups, races, nations and civilizations with radically different abilities to create wealth.

Focusing attention and attacks on people who have greater wealth-generating capacity -- whether races, classes or whatever -- has had counterproductive consequences, including tragedies written in the blood of millions. Whole totalitarian governments have risen to dictatorial power on the wings of envy and resentment ideologies.

Intellectuals have all too often promoted these envy and resentment ideologies. There are both psychic and material rewards for the intelligentsia in doing so, even when the supposed beneficiaries of these ideologies end up worse off. When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.

Both politicians and intellectuals have made their choice.

Liberal Jahiliyah

One of the assumptions of the messianic Boomer generation --my demographic compatriots--is that prior to the 1960's, America lay in a state of darkness, ignorance and evil. What the Muslims call jahiliyah, the pitiful immoral conditions of a people prior to The Final Revelation. Racism, sexism, homophobia, the military-industrial complex, crushing conformity, religious tyranny. Oh, and anti-Communist hysteria.

Consequently, whatever institutions or groups were dominant prior to The Decade of Revelation must be cleansed, overcome, replaced or otherwise transformed in the image and likeness of the salvation-bearers.

As Mark Levin notes in his new book Ameritopia,
For the utopians, modern and olden, the individual is one-dimensional—selfish. On his own, he has little moral value. Contrarily, authoritarianism is defended as altruistic and masterminds as socially conscious. Thus endless interventions in the individual’s life and manipulation of his conditions are justified as not only necessary and desirable but noble governmental pursuits. This false dialectic is at the heart of the problem we face today.
This is why liberals are so attached to governmental regulation. Left to our own devices, "Americans" --and by that, for once, liberals recognize this as a White-majority and Christian country-- and our so-called freedom, we will oppress blacks, women, "the poor" and all the other victim classes.

Politically correct language is one great example of this. All ways of describing the now-privileged victim classes had to be rewritten in NewSpeak. Just because it was the language of the oppressors. We are now reaping the fruits of the whole thing with the White House incumbent, in that one of the articles of faith is that as long as a Democrat is in control, the Prime Mover of Justice and Inclusion is the federal government. A deeply lamentable outcome of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was, I now suspect, a terribly flawed and overreaching way of dealing with the problem of race.

I see it at the PrayTell blog, too, where variously adolescent commentors --and some of the highly educated and more sobre-seeming ones, too-- appear to hold a version of Alexander Pope's historical judgment: The Gospel and the Gospel's ways lay hid in night/ Then God said, "Let Vatican II be!" -- and all was light. To these cretinous children of the age, the mere mention of Latin, or the thought of kneeling, or of using non-kindergarten language for worship are all anathema. Reversions to the awful jahiliyah days "before the Council."  As if Rome had finally caught up with the Reformation, which had been right all along.

These folks' attachment to either America or to their religion* , their patriotism or their piety, is quite similar. It is really just an attachment to their idea of how it should be and a deep rejection of how it actually was. As Downton Abbey's Lady Grantham says to Mrs Crawley, "You are quite wonderful, the way you see room for improvement wherever you look." This attitude is also a classic recipe for a bad marriage: "I love my idea of who I can turn you into rather than the unsatisfactory and hopefully temporary disappointment you have been until you met me."

*I am aware of the perfectly obvious fact that I do not practice mine and so I could be criticized for harping on others' attachments. As I have said before, my departure was not about something trivial, like a translation or a posture, but about whether one of the deepest parts of my soul was diseased or not,  and my continuing interest in the Christian churches is largely in the health of one of the pillars of the West.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

MaleSoul 37

I haven't posted any images in the MaleSoul series
since the Fall of 2010.
But this image seemed to call out for it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I like movies

set in England in WWII.

I guess it's because that was pretty well the last time the Brits were likeable as a group.

Did you know

that the amount of water on Earth has remained constant for hundreds of millions of years? We don't lose any and we don't gain any.

It just constantly recycles itself.

Am I a pointy headed intellectual or what?

A religion site I visit had a contest the other day. Name this book:

I wrote that it was likely a Missal for the Maronite Church.

Answer today: A Missal for the Maronite Church.

From the dust in my synapses:

1. The language was Syriac, a form of Aramaic. I do not know the language, but I recognize the script.

2. The date of printing was Rome 1762. What Christian group who use Syriac would likely be having a book printed in Rome in the 18th century? One which was in communion with Rome then and used the West Syrian Liturgy.

3. Hence...tick, tick, tick. The Maronites. Indigenous Lebanese Christians who maintained their faith after the imperialist and colonialist conquest by the Muslim Arabs. They have long been (or, according to many of them, have always been) in communion with Rome. And since they only use Syriac/Aramaic for worship, I guessed it was a missal.

No prize, alas. Just the pleasure of being right. (Kinda scary though.)

Recognize this?

...has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance....declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever...altering fundamentally the forms of our governments.

Sound familiar?

Hat Tip to IC.

Prescient Blooming

Howard Bloom's 1995 The Lucifer Principle attempted to explain a lot of human history, evolution and behavior via a focus on groups, status and belief. Superorganisms, pecking order and memes, in his words. He was especially interested in Islam even back then. Muslims were interested in him as well.
"Arab pressure groups asked ever so politely that The Lucifer Principle be withdrawn from print and that nothing that I write be published again. They offered to boycott my publisher's products — all of them — worldwide. And they backed their warning with a call for my punishment in seventeen Islamic countries."

Bloom "contends that 'evil' is a by-product of nature's strategies for creation and is woven into our most basic biological fabric." It is a vision which appeals both to my Gnostic and my conservative sides.

It has been a staple of conservative assessments of liberalism that part of what drives both temperaments is a differing view of human nature and the world. Liberals speak and act as if humans were basically good and capable of even greater goodness, under the right conditions. The actual state of the race (and lately of the planet) provokes in them the kind of emotional response seen on bumper stickers, pin and signs in San Francisco, Marin and other Centers of Enlightenment, Peace and Resentment:

Funny how her face reads smug and superior satisfaction rather than rage and concern.
Jus' sayin'.

Imagining that the world could be fixed --if only the right people were in charge of the government-- drives a utopian attitude. And usually leads to guillotines and gulags. Conservatives (and Gnostics*) see both the planet and the species as far too inherently limited and constrained for that kind of waste of energy. To paraphrase John Kekes, in a world full of the unpredictable and the contingent --both in nature's complex cycles  and in human events--, where scarcity of (and hence competition for) resources is a constant feature of the effort to survive, and with a species both ingenious and at least as prone to destructiveness as to cooperation, liberalism is nothing more than an irrational cryptoreligious faith.

Speaking of philosophical differences between liberals and conservatives, a religious philosopher noted in comments this morning that one of those dividing lines, often unnoticed, is the old split in Western philosophy between nominalism and realism. One (oversimple) way of looking at it to say that realists believe that language and reality, words and world, actually do connect. Things both physical and mental can be described adequately, if not perfectly, by our speech. Nominalists split the two, untethering our language and ideas from the great realm of objects and concrete actions. Aristotle was a realist, for example. Kant a nominalist. Not to put too fine a point on it, realists believe that when they talk about the world, they are talking about the world. Nominalists hold that they are just talking to themselves.

One of the ways these two attitudes unfold is that realist thinks that things have natures. We observe and describe them, but we don't create them. So, for instance, a man, or a horse, or marriage are things that exist, definedly. For a nominalist attitude, one strange result of believing that your ideas are separate from external reality is that you are not bound by it and so you are master of your own ideas about it. Man, woman, marriage, etc. All these things become issues for self-definition. Just ask Humpty Dumpty or The Ministry of Truth.

I think you can see how this plays out.

And if you don't see this, you are not paying attention.

* It is a standard stance --a trope?-- in anti-utopians like Molnar and Voegelin that "immanentizing the eschaton" is a Gnostic idea, indeed, a defining Gnostic idea. Gnosis as special insight is a fair assessment, attempting to transcend the world-system through revealed & self-authenticating knowledge. But the second step of trying to implement a social or governmental program to actualize it is pure BS. The essence of Gnosticism is that the world is irredeemable. I would suggest that the totalitarian utopian drives of Marxism and Islam owe far more to Judeo-Christianity than to the Gnostics.  I smell the same infection in contemporary neo-Constantinian "social justice" Christians, who very frequently use the metaphor of "building the Kingdom", a phrase which never, not once, appears in the Bible.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

De rerum natura

One of the best images around. Whoever did the cover illustration had a brilliant moment.

One of the reasons for my appreciation of Gnosticism is that its mythology, while not solving the problem of evil, placed the responsibility for the suffering and death in the world on the Creator rather than laying that burden on the shoulders of humanity. In orthodox Western monotheism, Christianity most especially, the created world became a place of moral and physical pain as a result of creaturely choice. Because of creatures, the Creation fell, cracked, broke apart, was perverted from its pristine original order.

In the complex theological myths of the Gnostics, it was a conflict within the divine world which gave rise to a creation that was therefore flawed from its very inception. Creation happened not as the free thought of an all powerful, wise and loving One, but as the messy working out of an internal divine drama. In this world, there never really was a Paradise. Suffering, death and moral evil were all built into it prior to the emergence of man. Who did not wreck the world by his free choice, but found himself inside a system he had no hand in building, and yet, as part of it, had to cope with.

Which more accurately describes, I think, both psychologically and evolutionarily, the human predicament, dilemma and condition.

Conversion stories

can be an interesting (sub?)genre. In the religious realm, they are a staple. And in politics, too, though I suspect political conversion is rarer. Even in sex. Someone once did a study of gay porn --back in the archaic days when most of it was in print, pictures with stories. A significant number of the narratives involved a straight man being seduced by a gay man and discovering that he liked it, and more.

Like coming out stories, though, conversion stories can become repetitive. Here's a political conversion story, though, which moves the genre ahead of the recent crop of Jewish leftists who became NeoCons. A New York liberal Jewish woman who converted to Nietzschean anti-egalitarianism!

Her initial article here. And a followup with responses to comments here.


The Pope repeated one of the totally uninvestigated and oft-repeated assumptions of the last 50 years of Christendom, that the divisions among the Christian churches (and ecclesial bodies*) makes the Gospel less credible.


Does the split between Sunni and Shia do that for Islam? Do Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism put people off the Dharma? Did the splits in Marxism dampen the enthusiasm of their base?

My guess is that people are used to these religious divisions. They'd better be. The Christian Church has been fragmenting itself pretty well since day one. I bet in a lot of ways people take these splits as an indication of passion and seriousness**.

And if you check out Protestant denominations that are formed from amalgamation, United This and Uniting That...what kind of leverage or credibility do they get out of that? Do they thrive or fade? Do people actually see them as a sign of desperation in the face of oncoming extinction?

I think its just pablum.

*In RC language, "church" has a specific meaning because the Church of Rome considers itself The Church (with the Orthodox as slightly cranky siblings). Protestants, however, who rejected bishops and apostolic succession, have lost the sacramental priesthood and consequently have only the sacrament of Baptism, not Holy Communion or any of the others....which 5 others they didn't want, anyway. So these incomplete and defective church-like bodies are called "ecclesial communities."  Pisses them off.

**More fun over at PrayTell. I clarified that I was not reading Luther's original intentions but his continuing course of action when I wrote that he "set about breaking up the Church."  I referenced Gene Robinson and the effect of his ordination on the Anglicans. One of the predictable women said that being in the right was more important than "losing numbers" and even cited Jesus losing disciples over his "eat my flesh" discourse in John. And yet she and others are all googoo about reuniting the churches. So bringing divided Christians together in loving communion makes Jesus happy, but if you have a brief and want to split, it's just a crass matter of right vs numbers. So many of those folks are just, well, stupid.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Your tax dollars at work

A mole in the local teachers union let me know how the educators of our youth are encouraged by their union to spend this Friday, a working day.

Occupy day of actions January 20
This Friday January 20th will be an exciting full day of multiple actions targeting the richest 1%. There will be dozens of individual actions throughout the day to participate in, but the union's Occupy SF Solidarity Committee is asking members to prioritize four specific actions in the afternoon (see below). Can you join us?

1pm • Occupy the Courts @ 9th Circuit Court of Appeals 95, 7th Street.
Join us at the steps of the Federal Court House to demand an end to the awful "Citizens United" decision and propose an amendment to outlaw "Corporate Personhood." Music and art, too!

2pm • Ralph Lauren @ 90 Post (at Kearny) organized by OSF Labor Solidarity Committee. Last December's port shutdown down exposed the unfair working conditions of port truck drivers. The moving "Open Letter From America's Port Truck Drivers on Occupy the Ports" went viral in the lead up to the shutdown as thousands of online activists (33,000 on Facebook alone) clicked "shared."

The Occupy movement continues its support of Port of Oakland workers and the "89%" of workers who are not unionized. The OccupySF Labor Solidarity Working Group will be visiting Ralph Lauren to shed light on the unfair working conditions, union busting, and environmentally unfriendly practices of its aforementioned shipping company, the notorious multinational Toll Group, which fired 26 Los Angeles port drivers attempting to unionize.
3pm • State Office Building @ 455 California. Join SFSU activists to occupy Governor Brown's San Francisco office to demand that we tax corporations and the wealthy 1% to restore education and other crucial services for the 99%. Support the Millionaires Tax and public education! Called by The Debt Offensive affinity group of Occupy San Francisco State University.

4:15pm • Grand Hyatt Union Square @ 345 Stockton. Join the Hyatt workers' picket that ends with a march to Sutter & Montgomery to meet up with OSF on the way to closing event at 555 California. Hyatt, the most abusive employer in the hotel industry, is run by a single family of billionaires, the Pritzkers. 11 Pritzkers are on the Forbes 400 list of America's richest individuals. Hyatt is the epitome of the 1%, and was instrumental in evicting Occupy SF from Bradley Manning Plaza.

Along with Reagan's Nine Scariest Words

"We're from the government and we're here to help."


In support of Google and Wikipedia

who are protesting the SOPA bill, and inspired by urgings from Trevor the OVO and Phil the OP (unlikely cyberfellows) I did something astonishing. I contacted Nancy Pelosi --who is, lamentably, my House of Reps rep-- by email to say NO to SOPA. Now I have to go wash out my software.

As Phil wrote, and I think Trevor would agree:
The basic question for me is:  when has giving gov't bureaucrats more power to define and regulate our lives been a good thing?  The internet is one of the last arenas of truly free discourse in the U.S. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lost horizons

Watched Frank Capra's restored 1937 Lost Horizon. Great B&W flick. The utopian underpinning is ridiculous, as all utopian underpinnings are, but there's drama and originality and humor, old-style acting chops from Ronald Coleman, and such great photography, great sets.

A drekkish remake, a color musical (!), was made in the 70s by Ross Hunter, Larry Kramer (yes, her) and Burt Bacharach. Oy. In the 1930's version, they could be faithful to the book, which makes it clear, in print,  that the mission was to remove the "white people" from danger during a local Chinese rebellion. The hero, without prompting, affirms this, although he later shows some abstract humanitarian regret about it. But in the remake, it is only outside pressure which forces him to provide an exit just for "Europeans", now surrounded by Indians.

I also noticed in the film that hero Conway's brother, although played by a Nordically handsome 25 year old John Howard, was really a weak, self-indulgent and histrionic teenage girl of a character. Quite operatically so. Howard's need to escape Shangri-La only affected his brother, really. But in the remake, the blurb reminds us that "his ambitious brother sees it as a prison from which he must escape, even if it means risking his life and bringing destruction to the ancient culture of Shangri-La." From narcissistic baby to culturally predatory imperialist. Welcome to the new world.

Amen, brother!

A Christian fundamentalist says Fundamentalism is now really a property of liberals and progressives. those who Know Best and because of their Tolerant, Open-Minded, Caring ways, lay their health, safety, sensitivity and inclusivity rules and regulations and priggeries on the rest of us, alas, as predicted by the prophet Alexis.

qui laetificat iuventutem meam

He's young, but has a great combo of proportion, flow, strength, mass, etc.

Post-racial America, Eric Holder edition

In this story, we see the Journalist Ethics Rules that ExCathedra has noted before. Info is freely given on age and gender. Absolutely silent on race or ethnicity. Hmmm. Waddaya think that means?

Well, here's the names of the little felons. I did not make this up.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sic transit, continuing again

Val Kilmer in his mid 30's, in the 1996 film The Ghost and The Darkness right after Batman.. In his prime. Time, alas, has not been good to him.

Martin Luther and Martin Luther King

Today is MLK's birthday. As I noted last year, piety will abound. While it is now not only acceptable but practically a sign of ethical evolution to note on Washington's Birthday --what's left of it as mixed and generic "Presidents' Day"-- that he was a slaveholder, it is still thought to be gross, in the worst possible taste and "racist" to note that Rev. "Dr." King was a serial plagiarist and a serial adulterer. Talk about "the content of our character." As with so many others, his place in history was hugely enhanced because he was assassinated.

The Maoist feel of this huge piece is no accident.

It is emblematic of our times that although an academic panel in 1991 clearly judged his doctoral thesis to be seriously compromised by plagiarism, they did not feel that it was "useful" to revoke his degree. Craven cowardice.

To say nothing of King's larger political views. Views which match very much the views of the current half-Black incumbent in the White House.

Evidence for the above statement from both the Black Left and the White Right.

As for Martin Luther himself, over at PrayTell, the issue came up of whether he was a saint.  I noted that at least from the Roman side, a monk who marries a nun and then sets about to break up the unity of the Church is hardly a likely candidate. I was serially instructed on my uncharitable, unnuanced, ahistorical and pre-Vatican II attitude and that mutual acceptance of responsibility was important for healing and the unity of the churches. And anyway, he just did openly what a lot of Catholics did on the side. (A great argument for canonization, that. Maybe I shouldn't give up hope for my own elevation to the altars.)

Sigh. Anyone who thinks that "the unity of the churches" is ever going to happen also thinks that there will be a female pope. That ship sailed quite a while ago.

And although there are a variety of voices there at PT, the original group, who see themselves as fellows of the monk-blogger in charge, find no fault to the religious left of them. Rome, on the other hand, can hardly ever do anything right. If the Reformation happened again, they would all run over fast. Indeed, several of them said they'd be Episcopalians except for "blooming where God had planted them." Pretty funny, eh?

Now Luther may well not have set out intentionally to break up the Church, but between his 1517 Theses and the 1520 condemnation and what he did by 1525, you can certainly see that breaking up the Church was not something he found distasteful. When he saw that the Peasant Revolt was claiming him as an inspiration, he moved heaven and earth to disassociate himself and stop them, but he never lifted a finger to halt the cracking apart of Western Christendom. Au contraire. Sorta like Gene Robinson, the divorced and gay Episcopal bishop, whose acceptance of ordination put the dissolution of the Anglican Communion on a rapid new footing. I don't know, but if you engage in a program of action with a very likely set of outcomes, and those outcomes start to happen, and you continue unabated with your program, how convincing is it to say that you bear no responsibility because you didn't intend this to happen?

My takes on the Reformation, and on the Civil Rights Movement, are mixed. I find little to like in Protestantism as a religion, --basically, I find it anxiety-driven, fetishizing of a fantasied primitive purity, and boring-- yet were it not for the Protestants, there'd be no America. L'Amerique vaut-elle bien une reformation?

The continuing outcomes of the Civil Rights Movement leave me very unimpressed, to say the least. To put the matter at its most provocatively impolite, have Blacks, as a group, proved worth all the vast and historically unprecedented energy that's been lavished on them in the last half century? The more law and treasure and sympathy thrown at them, the less able they seem to get their group act together. After all that effort, --and all that gushing of guilty Whites--we get a 72% illegitimacy rate, a hugely disproportionate rate of criminality and incarceration, and Hip Hop. Oh, and Barack Hussein Obama. And Michelle.

On my gloomiest days, I locate the confluence of  MLK's movement (including the White governmental response to it) and the Vietnam War as the turning point in the nation's soul and its cultural fall into pointless self-erasure. But the most significant relationship of my life has been with a Black man. Without the social changes of the 60's, that would not have been possible.

Anyone who judges history judges, of course, from within history.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Amongst the unBelievers

At Spearhead, a masculist webmag, a fella named Alcuin positively reviews Aidan Nichols OP's attack on feminism's attack on God the Father. I checked out Alcuin's blog. Boy, compared to him, I am a feminist running dog. The man is blunt. And smart. And about the huge feminist propaganda in so many movies (and commercials) , he is right on.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I can relate

Part of a trailer from the second season of the hit BBC series Sherlock. Coming to the US in May.

Good news

Sabbath varia

John Barrowman, who plays Capn Jack Harkness in Torchwood, is an out and  civilly unioned Scottish-American guy working mostly in Britain. But he does not like the word marriage for same-sex partnerships. One more reason I like him.

Private apologies make sense to me. I have given them and been given them. Public apologies, part of the civic media ritual of our dissolving society's obsession with victimization, give me agita.

Last night my ex, T, came over for dinner and somehow the Bible came up. He expects, expectantly, that in 50 years no one will read it. I declined to agree or expect. He challenged me for having been very angry with the church for years and now sometimes coming to its defense. He doesn't like variation. Or, on the other hand, immobility. Hard to please. Anyway, I explained that it was like a breakup. At first you can only see the bad side of your ex, but over time, when you settle down, you can differentiate between what you loved and miss and what you found yourself unable to cope with and don't miss. He changed the subject and we had a very nice evening.

Men at war. Kerfuffle of late over a video of US soldiers pissing on the corpses of Taliban. Shock and horror amongs the bien-pensants. I, of course, would give them a medal. On the other hand, a story about a young Chinese-American solider apparently driven to suicide by his platoon's serious and ongoing mistreatment. If the story is true, I'd put the cowards in the brig for a very long time. The one thing about men that I have a hard time with --even though I understand the evolutionary drive-- is a gang mistreating a weaker person. It's cowardly.

A couple of stories on line about people getting in trouble for noticing certain public male persons in religion acting effeminately. Dustups ensue. I have noted in my years in ghetto living that gay men will go to great lengths to change themselves to make themselves more attractive: going to the gym, taking steroids, cutting or dying their hair, plastic surgery to reduce with liposuction or enhance with implants, regrowing their foreskins or pumping up their packages, dermabrasion, tannings and tattoos and piercings and teethwhitenings, even, for God's sake, bleaching their buttholes*. But ask them to work on a voice or gait or manner or set of interests that's typical of a teenage girl or a celebrity diva past her prime and you'd think you had blasphemed against the sacred Mother of God in church on Easter. Suddenly the guys who contort themselves in fifty ways to change into something they deem more fuckable become the possessors of an inviolable True Gay Self that cannot be criticized without turning you into a Nazi Republican breeder who wants to put us all in concentration camps, like Bush.

I don't think that masculinity is simply a matter of butching it up. But it sure couldn't hurt.

*I saw the ad in the window of the local gay sex shop last week. One wag called it "BriteSmile for BungHoles".

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mirabili dictu

A 2005 indy film, Confession, --also known as Deadly Secrets--is a riff on Hitchcock's 1953 I Confess. In both cases, a priest hears the confession of a murderer and then, unable to reveal the truth, finds himself accused of the crime. The newer film is set in a boys' school. Jonathan Meyers, like Hitchcock, ignores the fine points of canon law so as to ramp up the tension for his priest-protagonist.

Amazingly, there is only one passing reference to the clergy sex scandals; the issue here is murder, not sex. And amazingly, the priests are not cartoons; on the contrary. None of the standard lazy Hollywood cliches:
a. heartless orthodox organization men bent on political power
b. the misunderstood (usually lefty) victims of the above men
c. tortured but hot semi-believers having an affair
d. doddering clueless old capons with all the testosterone of Barney the Dinosaur*
e. nutcase exorcists or apocalyptic conspiracy freaks
Just as amazingly, they are recognizable as canons regular of Premontre and the film appears to have been shot in their abbey and boys school in California.

The accused priest who keeps the seal of the confessional is played low key by Cameron Daddo and Chris Pine, who has since grown up to be a startlingly handsome fella, plays the very bad boy. Not a great flick, but ok, probably an early effort, with the kinds of gaps and oddities you might expect. But for its refusal to follow the well-worn path in these matters, kudos.

*The abbot comes close to this but mostly because he is played by Tom Bosley, who has been this kind of character for ages.

PS. I just recalled a visitor I had back in my clergy days in the 80's, a man who was a screenwriter and was prepping a treatment to try to sell to television. Here was the plot: a man with AIDS, angry at the Church, goes to confession and brings with him a syringe containing his own blood. He sticks the needle through the screen and sprays the infected blood into the priest's face and eyes. A year later, the priest comes down with AIDS. He is subject to church discipline and public disgrace...and he is not able to explain what happened, because either A. it is a secret of the confessional or B. he forgot the incident!

I bet this guy is churning out drek now for the SyFy channel.

I just realized that

I have zero tolerance for Zero Tolerance.

The sacred digital divide

FBook tried to get me to friend an old work colleague. The very straight guy who got all girly and gushy about Obama's smile. His profile included a link to this site:

Founded          2010

About              SacredAgent is the first interactive online source of personalized wisdom.

Our intelligent software “Agent” learns about your troubles and hopes, and selects insights just for you from 5,000 years of the world’s most respected secular and spiritual sources--including psychology, literature, science, and sports, in addition to the major religious traditions.

Whether you’re a devout practitioner of a particular tradition, interested in an interfaith blend, or prefer exclusively secular wisdom, SacredAgent will deliver insights that meet your needs.

SacredAgent delivers wisdom as a unique multimedia experience within a stunning visual and auditory landscape. We invite you to explore this new path in your journey.

Description            NOTE (APRIL 28, 2011): The SacredAgent website cannot handle the traffic it's receiving. We've taken the site down while we upgrade the site architecture and server infrastructure. We plan to reactivate SacredAgent soon. To receive a notification when we're back up, please "Like" this Facebook page. Thank you!

So I went over to the website to get my shot of the interactive online source of personalized wisdom. And got this.

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