Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday Rock Show

How weird is my memory? Not only do I remember most of the entire concert I viewed on MTV, which included this bit. I remember the run-up to it. It was the summer of 1984, after my first year of college. I saw the concert advertised on MTV (this was back when MTV played music, and occasionally some really good concerts), and went out and bought David Gilmour's second solo album, About Face. This particular song, "Short and Sweet" is from his first solo album, released in 1978. Roy Harper was a ubiquitous song-writing presence in 1970's British rock. He even got a song named after him on Led Zepelin's III LP. This is a beautiful example of Gilmour at his best.

Here are the lyrics (by Roy Harper):
You ask
What is the quality
Of life?
Seeking to justify the part you play
And hide
Fearing it incomplete
To try
To make it any more or less than short and sweet
But short
Short is from you to me
As close
As we are wont to try to make it be
We're caught
Watching the dark in the sky
Who knows?
Helpless it's time and self to hold the time of day
And you
You are a fantasy
A view
From where you'd like to think the world should see
Be true
And you will likely find
A few
Building a vision new and justice to our time
And we
We the immoral men
We dare
Naked and fearless in the elements
And free
Carefree of tempting fate
And holding off the moral nightmare at the gates
And sweet
Sweet as a mountain stream
We'll look
Toward a new day breaking in the east
And meet
As every future dream
And surely quality that is the very least

On Radical Evil V - What Is And Is Not To Be Feared

Last week, I offered up an incendiary and provocative sentence as a discussion topic. I must admit now that the sentence is unfair to the Republican Party, and also unfair to evil. Most Republicans are not evil, nor are their policies. On the other hand, evil is far too large and dangerous a force to be limited to a few powerful members of one political part in one country, even if that country happens to be the most powerful country in the world. So, let us for the sake of comity, assume that I am apologizing for vastly oversimplifying an issue I am now exploring with what I hope is far more seriousness, depth, and honesty.

Having said that, however, I do think that it is necessary to explore the way the current leadership of the Republican Party, and some of its supporters in the media, exploit our quite natural fears for narrow, partisan political gain, and in the process overturn various rocks in our national psyche that reveal some of the more unpleasant creatures in our national life. I am not retracting my apology; I am only stating what should be obvious - the current Administration, and pundits and journalists who support it, use fear and division as tools for gaining and maintaining power at the expense of the institutions of government. In the process, we are exposed to various levels of personal and social evil and deviance that all Americans should feel ashamed are part of our national life.

For the moment, however, I think it is necessary to take a step back and talk for just a moment (I hope) about the relationship between evil as a descriptor of events and acts committed by individuals and institutions, and the emotion of fear. Fear is a necessary emotion. It helps keep us alive. If human beings did not feel fear, we never would have survived as a species. Fear in the face of the threat of evil acts and intentions is not only natural in the most basic sense, it is rational. Yet, what do we do with fear, both as individuals and as a society?

Most often considered the opposite of fear, courage is more the incorporation of fear through a process of rational consideration of alternatives. Most combat veterans readily admit that fear is a constant of their experiences, yet they do their duty even in the midst of that most pressing of fears, imminent violent death because others are counting on them. This is the most basic, yet most profound, example of what courage entails - the recognition of the reality of a very real threat, the acceptance of fear, and overcoming that fear through the recognition that to surrender to fear is a failure of support for others.

This is as good a metaphor for a broader understanding of fear and a response to it as one will ever find. What applies to soldiers in combat applies, in a less intense, less clear way to our individual and social lives. The attacks upon the United States on September 11, 2001 produced among many other responses, a fear that such an attack could, and would, occur, perhaps at any moment. This fear was exploited specifically with regard to the supposed existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, and the even-remote possibility that Iraqi weapons would be used by a terrorist organization against the United States. While evidence was never strong, and even as it was marched out by the Bush Administration as it made its case for war with Iraq it was refuted, it continued and continues to influence our thinking on the issue (thus the on-going sad fact that many Americans believe that Saddam Hussein had an operative role in the attacks). Our quite natural, quite rational fear-response was exploited by those who wished to wage war on an innocent (at least in this particular case) nation-state.

At the same time, supporters of the Bush Administration use fear on a variety of various issues to attempt to frame debates. We are told to fear the "illegal immigrant". We are told to fear for "the family" from "the homosexual agenda" and the "holocaust" of abortion. We are told to fear the traitorous liberal in our midst. We are told to fear for our capitalist system from these self-same liberals. We are told to fear for our very national survival from the on-going threat of Islam. We are told to fear for our jobs from the threat of undeserving minorities through the evil machinations of Affirmative Action. We are told to fear atheists who want to remove God from the classroom.

None of these fears are real. None of the alleged threats exist except in the minds of those who espouse them; perhaps not even then. Yet, in the name of these and other various threats to our national life, we are called upon to surrender our hard-won Constitutional rights and liberties. In the name of these fears we are called upon to accept a New Gilded Age, a new Social Darwinism, and a shredded social safety net for the most vulnerable members of society. In the name of these fears we are called upon to accept War Without End; indeed, for more and more wars as the threat morphs, changes place and name for a moment.

In this sense, fear becomes an evil, a force destructive of the the glue that holds us together as a nation. We become overstressed, worrying about the possible repercussions of not yielding our freedoms for an ever-elusive security. We fear for the safety of our homes and livelihoods from the threat of the Other in our midst illegitimately. The entire country becomes weak of will and spirit, ripe for the plucking by those who are eager to maintain their control of our national life to protect us from all these various threats. The politics of fear is an evil that threatens our national life so deeply, we wonder how it can be excised.

In this sense I believe that we face an easily named evil. It is certainly embodied by policies and practices of our current Administration and its supporters, but does not make up what the Republican Party is, at its best. The politics of fear is evil because, like all evil - it lies. It presents us with false alternatives, false security, and even false information to bolster its own sordid appearance in our national life.

It is correct that the organization which planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks did so in the name of Islam. It is incorrect that Islam, therefore, is an existential threat to something called "the American way of life" or "western civilization". It is correct that there are those in the United States who have not gone through the lengthy legal process required to enter the country. It is incorrect that such persons, therefore, are a threat to our culture, our jobs, and our national integrity. It is correct that there are those who love differently than do the majority of the population. It is incorrect that gays and lesbians and bisexuals, therefore, have a lifestyle that threatens the nuclear family. One cannot draw a general conclusion from a specific instance. Logic doesn't work like that. It sounds good precisely because it confirms our fears. Yet, at its best, politics should not confirm our fears, but confirm our hopes.

In other words, in words that need to be repeated again and again, FDR's mantra that we have only nameless, mindless fear as an object of fear should be the motto that helps us begin the long slog out of our current malaise and evil ways. I call them evil because of the corrosive effects upon our national life, and the dregs of our society - from Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Michelle Malkin, to James Inhofe, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitch McConnell - that thrive in this environment.

There is an element of evil in the politics of some members of the Republican Party. It isn't the end and summary of evil in our national life, or in the world at large. It is, however, present and needs to be named in order to exorcise it.

Taking A Stand On A Sinking Ship Means You Will Drown Standing Up

Continuing its slide from irrelevance to risible political freak show, the Christian Right in the guise of the Family Research Council is speaking out against Sam Brownback's supportive comments for former New York City mayor and Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

What the FRC fails to understand is that the Republican Party, for all its rhetorical flourishes, knows in its heart of hearts that it is in deep doo-doo in the run-up to next year's elections. The party is having difficulty recruiting candidates and raising money, partly because of the continued uberpresence of the Christian Right as a player in the party. Of course, the party has only ever given rhetorical support to the Religious Right's key agenda. Other than a Supreme Court candidate or two, or limiting funds to groups that provide abortions overseas, and, of course the awful and hate-named Defense of Marriage Act, twelve years of Republican dominance of Congress did not result in major victories for the Christian Right's agenda, including overturning Roe v Wade and mandating Christian prayers in public schools. I still wonder why these folks continue to support the Republicans.

Now, feeling aggrieved, the lesser lights among the leadership has decided to attempt a king-maker role, and are failing miserably at it. Although Josh Marshall does a good job offering a scenario whereby Mit Romney becomes the Republican nominee, the appeal of Mayor Giuliani is still strong nationwide. Of course, Romney is not a favorite of the Christian Right because of his religious beliefs (a sad indication of the ignorance and bigotry animating the Christian Right). The key here, however, is that in either case - the Christian Right bolts, refusing to support a Republican candidate to their liking; the Republican Party hitches its wagon to this particular dying mule - the results will be an even more stunning defeat for the Republican candidate next November.

Of course, there always exists the possibility that the influence of groups such as the FRC and Focus on the Family is so minimal that, despite their special pleading, conservative evangelicals will not exhibit their distaste by refusing to vote for the Republican candidate, deciding to attempt to eke out a victory rather than go down in flames over a principle. I do believe, however, this is more evidence of the demise of the contemporary Republican Party.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another Quiz - Try It And See

So this is me:
How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Social Justice Crusader, also known as a rights activist. You believe in equality, fairness, and preventing neo-Confederate conservative troglodytes from rolling back fifty years of civil rights gains.

Take the quiz here.

On Radical Evil IV - Insidiousness Versus Shock

So far, when I have offered examples of what I call radical evil, I have stuck to pretty shocking examples, easily discernible among the plethora of images and facts around us. The crimes of totalitarian regimes; the horror of the murderous psychopath or psychotic run amok; the depersonalized, institutionalized violence of whole systems that destroy human life - it is easy enough to pick these out and say, "This is what I'm talking about." Yet, not all evil announces itself in such a shocking manner. For the most part, evil is insidious. The reason that serpent in the Garden is often conflated with Satan (without any textual merit, I might add) is because of the careful nature of the way it frames its temptation to the woman. This isn't the bold demand of obedience or death. This is the quiet whisper, the question that prompts more questions, and questions that spur doubt, and doubt that spurs rationalizations. Rather than Linda Blair painted green and puking soup on a priest, we have evil here as the beautiful young woman of Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ, telling us what we want to hear, feeding us our own doubts, prompting us to take the easier road.

What, then, do we do? How do we understand this part of the anatomy of evil, as it were? The questions we ask, the doubts we raise, the fears we articulate - how do we know if they are the honest expression of our own limited understanding, or the presence of a creeping serpent, whispering questions in to our ears prompting doubts about what we know to be true? How do we catch that snake, and toss it out of the garden before it gets us tossed out?

The first answer to the above questions is this: We will never get rid of that serpent. It will always be there, offering alternatives where none exist, prompting questions where only acquiescence is called for. The only check of which I am aware for keeping the snake at bay as much as possible is a ruthless self-examination. Never accept your own goodness, your own motives as pure, your own doubts as honest expressions of limit. Rather, be more ruthless upon your own life. Spare nothing.

There is no cure for this disease called evil. There is no way we shall ever root it out of our lives. There is no way we shall overcome the danger it always poses. That is why, along with a ruthless refusal to take oneself at face value, we should also be forgiving of ourselves as well. Even the best of us slip. Even the most loving, most giving, most selfless person falls. Compared to all the manifest evil in the world, the occasional slip up here or there is hardly worth the time of beating oneself up. Learn to forgive yourself as much as possible - precisely because that serpent is always there, whispering questions we never thought to ask, prompting to us to act in ways we know we should not.

Precisely because evil is far more insidious than it is shocking, defining it, catching it in its earliest stages as it slips its way in to our minds and lives is impossible to do in any abstract way. We are confronted only with each case that comes our way, our trust in our own awareness (including an awareness of the reality of evil), and a consideration of what possibilities lie in store.

On Radical Evil III - Some Definitions, More On Art

I think it important to understand why I use the term "radical" as a modifier of evil. Classically, there have been two distinct types of evil discussed. The first was known as Natural Evil - the hurricane, earthquake, or other natural phenomenon that was destructive of human life and property. The other was consciously-willed evil, sometimes known as "radical", because it is freely willed, unaccountable through any rational understanding of cause and effect.

I do not believe that natural events can be called "evil". They are surely destructive - who can see the images from the Indian Ocean tsunami of three years ago and claim otherwise? "Evil" as a word to describe such events, however, gives to them a essence, a purpose, they do not have. The destruction wrought by any natural event is only a byproduct of the event, an accident (to use classical parlance for a moment) rather than something essential to what that event is. There were hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes, etc., long before human beings walked the earth. Long after our species goes extinct (as we surely will in the course of billions of years natural history), they will continue. To call them "evil" is to make a claim based upon a misguided anthropocentrism; the world does not, in fact, exist for human beings, to serve our needs and desires. It is the height of hubris and pride to think that the world cares a whit whether we as a species survive or not, or that any number of human beings die or suffer due to events that are nothing more than the result of natural forces.

Radical evil is what concerns me. Willed acts that serve no purpose but destruction. Whether it is the destruction of one human life, or the institutionalized destruction of human communities, either actively or passively, we have to do with that which is the most base threat, not to the created order (such as it is), but to human life and well-being, both physically and psychologically. Evil is the question that hangs over every attempt to make sense of the world, of humanity, of our history, our psychology. The attempt to fathom the depths of evil in the Belgian rape of the Congo, say, or a parent killing her child leaves us, in the end, with a large blank spot. All the usual suspects - greed, lust, the desire for power, even contemporary categories such as addiction, madness, and other psychological jargon - end up only telling part of the story. We are faced with the uncomfortable reality that there exists, not just in some people but in all of us, a shadow, a desire to act out, to destroy. Through accidents of history, sometimes these destructive elements become institutionalized. Sometimes, it is bad enough that such persons effect just one life, or a handful.

Facing this reality is never easy. As I said below, it is always easier, perhaps even necessary for a time at least, to distance ourselves from such as those who represent the void that exists when hope, love, and life have all been rejected in favor of rage, violence, and despair. It is easy to dismiss John Wayne Gacey as a madman. It is even easier to insist that such a one as this has no relationship to us and our lives. He is the Other to the nth degree - a reprehensible example of what is not human. We can celebrate his death because with it goes a mortal threat not only to innocent life but to our own equilibrium, our own sense of equanimity about ourselves as good people.

To hear and read about Gacey's life, however, is to confront the dilemma implicit in grappling with radical evil. His tale is a tale the echoes so much of our contemporary anomie and listlessness. His decision to succumb to his most base desires is only the end result of a path all of us walk, to a certain extent. We can deny that we would make the decisions Gacey made, the horrid destruction he wrought, the fear that he brings up in all our minds when we think of how ordinary he appeared. Lurking behind the smiling face of the party clown and local up-and-coming politico raged the darkest dreams of all of us. The difference between Gacey and most of the rest of us is one only of degree, not of kind.

We deny this to our peril. If understanding is to be achieved, we have to accept this reality. We have to look in the eyes of those we deem irretrievably lost to infamy - whether it is the ruthless sociopathy of Josef Stalin; the mindless perfectionism of the Khmer Rouge; the strutting, cocky swagger of Ted Bundy; or the lost, empty gaze of Jeffrey Dahmer - and see something of ourselves in them. If we do not do this, we miss the lesson that is available to us. We miss the check that must always exist in us, a check that keeps us from taking those small, almost baby, steps further down the path than we should go.

It is right here, I believe, that art serves an important purpose, because it can do obliquely, through image and symbol, what rational thought and consideration refuses to do.
This painting by Goya, entitled "Saturn Devouring One of His Children" is one of the most horrific images in modern art. At one and the same time the graphic depiction of a tale from mythology, a reflection of the inner turmoil in the artist's life, what has always struck me by this painting is the way Saturn's eyes bulge, staring out of the painting at the viewer. He is not considering his meal; nor does he have his eyes closed as he tears off another piece from his child. He is forcing us to look and see, not just the painting, but ourselves in this painting. This is as much a dark mirror as it is a dark work of art.
This is Black Friday by Willem De Kooning. Here we have a modern piece, more abstract, yet capturing nonetheless a sense not just of despair, but of grief, of sadness, even of terror. This painting captures both the individual sense of loss in our contemporary life, as well as that loss itself. In that sense, this painting serves as a novel of sorts, portraying through this single image an entire facet of our modern life.

Many critics abjure this kind of talk as "pessimistic". They wish we could speak of art as uplifting, as giving the spirit of people hope, of the light that we all hope we receive from the best art. Yet, if art is to be honest, it must also display that which is deepest within us, that which we would refuse to look full in the face. We are horrified by the image of Saturn; we recoil from the suggestion that de Kooning was doing anything more than capturing a moment of time on canvas. How do we cope with the deeper, more disturbing thoughts these works bring to mind? How do we accept the story implicit in these works? In this sense, I believe, the best art never judges, but only offers an opening for understanding, to be taken or not.

That is why I think it is right here that there is the possibility of a beginning of a contemporary recapturing and discussion of the reality of evil. It seems safer to look at at a centuries old painting of a mythological tale, or an abstract representation of an artist's mood; yet precisely because it seems safer than staring in to the eyes of Charles Manson, or looking at what the rage of Jack the Ripper wrought in London's East End 119 years ago it is all the more important that we push the questions these images force upon us.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

For ER - The Flaming Lips

ER is celebrating Oklahoma City's own Flaming Lips. So, what the heck, right? With a title like "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots", how could it be bad?

On Radical Evil, II - The Representation of The Profane

In Robert G. L. Waite's psychological biography of Adolf Hitler, The Psychopathic God, there is a discussion of Hitler's obsession with the erotic works of German symbolist Franz von Stuck. While it is telling which paintings of von Stuck were among the dictator's personal favorites, the most telling exchange came between Hitler and his companion from pre-World War I Vienna, "Putzi" Hanfstaengl. When Hitler and Putzi saw this mosaic . . .

he declared, "Those eyes, Hanfstaengl! Those eyes are the eyes of my mother!" For someone who is a textbook case of Freudian psychopathology, Hitler's obsession with his mother, and the shocked expression of recognition as he saw his mother's eyes staring back at him from that image should be telling enough. That von Stuck, whose work includes some darkly erotic imagery of women as both victim of sexual evil and seductress in the midst of that sexual evil, was Hitler's favorite artist should tell us much about what passed for a mind in that diseased skull.

What we see and understand as evil is very often interpreted through imagery familiar to everyone. The traditional image of the Devil as a horned, winged being is very real to many, and was exploited for great effect in an arresting scene in the classic horror film The Exorcist. Yet, how much power can such an image carry in a world where the reality of evil is present in much more mundane imagery - the piles of severed limbs in Rwanda, the grim abattoir underneath the staid suburban tract home of John Wayne Gacey, or the smokey plumes from the ovens at Auschwitz/Birkenau? How can art compete with these realities that are, sadly, too much a part of our lives?

I think, oddly enough, we can take a lesson from Hitler's startled response to von Stuck's image of the Gorgon. When we recognize that which both attracts and repels us in an image, we are on the borderline of comprehending a representation of something of transcendent horror.

This is a crime scene photo of the last Whitechapel murders, usually ascribed to the unknown assailant given the moniker Jack the Ripper. I first saw that photo in 1988, and was transfixed by it. The depth of rage and will to destruction that grabs the viewer by the throat is difficult to put into words. How, we wonder, is it possible for one human being to do this to another human being? Even more unsettling is this question: How do we accept this image, make it a part of our view of the world, incorporate it in to our lives in a way that makes sense? At first blush such a question seems to belittle the sacrifice pictured. To reduce the death portrayed here to a symbol does further violence to the person already violated beyond recognition. How dare we treat one so utterly destroyed as something less than human, a mere image to fit into a catalog of images that help us make sense of our world.

Yet, we must do so. The image presses itself in to our minds and hearts, the silent voice of the victim demanding not only justice (a justice denied contemporaneously) but understanding. In these images we not only see a glimpse of something physically arresting; we see something that recalls to us our deepest fears, not just of what surrounds us, but of what lives inside all of us. We deny to our peril the threat that images of the profane present to us. Unless we are willing, as he most certainly was not, to answer the question posed by Adolf Hitler's declaration that the Head of the Medusa reminded him of his mother, we are destined never to comprehend the reality of evil in this world. Unless we listen to the voices of the victims, and seek to comprehend the depths to which human beings are capable of sinking, we will always remain surprised by evil.

Art allows us this glimpse in to the shadow regions of our own lives. This is why it is here, first, I believe, we shall begin to regain an understanding of and vocabulary for the evil that rests like a tumor upon our souls.

NB: I had to travel to the dark side to get that image of the Medusa. The only place I found it was at a Nazi website. I want to apologize here and now for that. I feel dirty.

On Radical Evil, I - Some Initial Thoughts

This is one of those posts I am sure is guaranteed to make both my sister and Democracy Lover roll their eyes, albeit for different reasons. Ah, well.

Having read all three volumes of Gary Dorrien's masterful history of liberal theology, I am reminded that, as a general rule, theological liberals tended to downplay the question of evil. Indeed, Reinhold Niebuhr made it a central issue in his dialectical criticism of his liberal contemporaries. I agree with Dorrien's view that Niebuhr owed much more to the liberals than he did to the bourgening neo-orthodoxy of his time. I also agree that he overstated his indictment of the flaccidity of liberals on this particular issue. A third area of agreement, but one I think Dorrien does not explore in as much depth as he might have (although, with all that he did do, this is picking one tiny nit out of a beautiful head of hair) is the extent to which Niebuhr's dialectic was oversimplified, almost Manichaean in its dualism, and blind to the specific reality of evil; that is a surprising indictment considering the times in which Niebuhr lived and wrote, but I also think it is true for all that.

Niebuhr famously quipped that original sin is the only Christian doctrine that was objectively verifiable. I think he might better have said that radical evil is a Christian teaching that is objectively verifiable, then spoken of original sin as a Christian understanding and interpretation of radical evil. Be that as it may, both Niebuhr's time and our own furnish abundant evidence on the reality of evil, both personal and social. Whether it is the horrors of Burmese repression; the yoke of unrestrained capitalism run amok; the abusive spouse/parent destroying psyches and lives; or that most heinous example of individual evil, the serial killer - our world is filled with the reality that human beings, both as individuals and as a collective are capable of monstrous crimes against our fellows. The pleas of victims ring in our ears, occasionally drowning out our ability to comprehend a response.

Yet, for all that, we Americans remain almost institutionally incapable not only of calling evil by its name, but of recognizing its ubiquity. I remember the horribly stupid comments of former Secretary of State Alexander Haig on the September 11th attacks, "We lost our innocence." That is quite a claim considering our checkered history. Yet, it remains a persistent myth that the United States is an innocent in the world, going about our affairs of doing good in the world, only to be knocked for a loop by those whose intentions are only evil. In this narrative, it is only the Other who is evil. We are the lamb that is slain, the perpetual virgin, the "shocked, shocked" police captain to discover corruption under his very nose (everyone knows how that particular scene ends).

Some of this sense of our own innocence over and against the evil in Others is the dehumanizing rhetoric too often used when speaking, for example, of those serial killers whose acts destroy any sense of our calm serenity. They are described as "monsters", as "inhuman", as "animals". We recoil from the claim that the difference between them and us is one only of degree rather than of kind. We know we are not capable of tearing down the wall between what is acceptable and what is beyond the pale. We insulate ourselves from the indictment implicit in the criminal act by insisting that "We" would never do what "They" do, that "we" indeed are incapable of such acts.

Yet Christianity (since Luther at any rate) reminds us that the stain of sin is something each of us carries within us. I will leave aside the genetic theory of St. Augustine for the moment, while still insisting that there is something correct in the description of human beings as always wrestling with the reality of our own capacity for horrific acts. I believe that is part of the on-going fascination with each new serial killer, and even those who have (thankfully) passed from our midst - the taboos broken, the depth of depravity to which each successive example plummets catches something heinous in our soul, and we stare in bewildered fascination at the handiwork of these artists of destruction and, however we wish to deny it, we ask ourselves the question, "Am I capable of this kind of horror?"

The answer, of course, is "Yes".

Over the next few days I will explore some thoughts on evil, and some new ways in which we might think, speak, and represent anew for ourselves this question. This is prompted in part by some comments I made over here at Swinging From the Vine:
I would also add that we need to restore the vocabulary and the imagery of the demonic. Evil is something people talk about in whispers, occasionally referring to it obliquely. As Christians, we need to remember that radical evil is the enemy - not we mere humans, who are only its victims. If that means we restore, at some level, talk of a personal Devil, so be it. If nothing else, I have been recently reminded that evil is more than just the personal foibles of an individual, or the collective madness of nations and peoples. Unless Christians, especially American Christians (whose exposure to radical evil on a historical level is minimal), can recapture the depth and breadth of the language of evil as a personal and social force bent on destruction, then I believe our vocabulary is incomplete. I think that only in artistic endeavors can that reclaiming begin; I also think it will take an extraordinary effort of courage to do this.

I think it also necessary to explain that these thoughts have been prompted by some things to which I have been exposed in my own life recently. The need to deal with the issue of evil in an honest manner, to speak the name of that-which-must-not-be-named, is something I find increasingly pressing.

Before anyone think I am boasting of my own "courage" here, I would just add that, this is a blog, and the space for serious, in-depth discussion of these issues and questions is limited. There is also the ever-present reality of commenters who not only keep us honest, but also sometimes distract us with their stupidity.

Having said that, I shall next explore the very nexus of which I wrote in the comment above - the representation of evil for a new era.

We Need To Protect Israel From . . . What Again?

At Talking Points Memo, Joshua Micah Marshall links to this article in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper. Entitled "Livni behind closed doors: Iran nukes pose little threat to Israel", written by Ha'aretz staff reporters Gidi Weitz and Na'ama Lanski. The title sums up both the lede and the article quite nicely:
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel, Haaretz magazine reveals in an article on Livni to be published Friday.

Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears. Last week, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said similar things about Iran.

A long memorandum on the working relationship between the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the writers continue in their description:
The most important part of the document relates to the talks with the Palestinians. Livni wrote: "The foreign minister shall represent the prime minister and the government of Israel, and will act on their behalf as the director of the dialogue with the relevant Palestinian representatives, and in accordance with the policy and methods to be coordinated in advance with the prime minster, while keeping him informed."(emphasis added)

So, on the one hand we have George Bush warning against World War III because of the existential threat to Israel posed by a nuclear Iran. On the other hand we have the Israeli Foreign Minister accusing the Prime Minister of exploiting a rhetorical threat for domestic political purposes (I wonder if Olmert has Republican handlers . . .) and shrugging her shoulders at that same rhetorical threat.

If they don't fear the onrushing Iranian hordes, why do we fear for them?

As a bonus question - Why does the Israeli Prime Minister speak of her Palestinian interlocutors as if they were legitimate? Could it be that, unlike the American Israeli-boosters who know next to nothing about how Israel has to live, she understands that negotiations are always better than bombs.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

'Twas Ever Thus

Over here at Street Prophets is a very good discussion that I have had on more than one occasion with Democracy Lover and others. The author, dfb1968, writes of his experience over at The Great Orange Satan:
For the last few months, however, I have noticed a steady stream of diaries, and comments, that disparage anyone who believes in G-d. It all started with this winner, accusing me of being mentally ill, because I have faith in G-d. It is nice that my Reply received 22 recc's, but please note the seven recc's for the original comment. Here's another great one stating a mathematical fact that faith=ignorance.

Unfortunately, the list goes on.

It culminated with this diary today, which contained the lovely comments accusing me (and I would presume to say "us") of child abuse, of being like a "gang member", and still yet another entry in the faith is ignorance category, this one with the special addition of accusing people who believe in G-d of being conspiracy theorists.

For purposes of reference, here is the original comment:

Reason, analysis of empirical evidence and science can explain (or at least effectively address) virtually everything in the physical universe around us. Two thousand years ago, perhaps religion was necessary to help illiterate humans contending with a frightening and mysterious world. The European enlightenment revealed a better way, and the founding fathers of this country followed the same spirit of empiricism and reason in crafting a government that addressed the realities of human nature.

Today the looney religious right is trying to rewrite history and claim that the founding fathers were basically fundamentalists. This turns reality on its head. I guess you could call it history for Bushites.

The religion=child abuse thing:
I would say that it is child abuse for a parent to indoctrinate a child or force them to believe in a religion. i can understand why parents would (my parents taught me to be a Christian), because they believe it was the best thing for me. It is kind of child abuse out of ignorance and good intentions. kids should be able to make their minds up for themselves when they are old enough. however, when they are indoctrinated from the time they are little kids, it is hard for them to break free of that indoctrination. it nooks me a long time to fully leave Christianity and feel at peace with it. kids believe what their parents say. that is why if you go to Afghanistan 99% of people believe in islam, because that is what they are taught. that is one of the main reasons that i stopped believing in christianity. i thought that a god would have to be extremely cruel for sending someone to hell, because they believed in another religion due to the fact that that religion dominated his/her culture.

He wants to know how you deal with it. I think the best way is to state your position frankly, openly, argue the points that need arguing, and if you reach an impasse, agree to disagree and then move on. For those who just can't let it go, though, you shrug your shoulders, shake your head, and, again, move on. In either case - you move on. I have grown weary of these kinds of discussion because they are become a bit repetitive, and neither side, in the end, really listens to what the other is saying (I must admit that I try, but the level of bile I have had thrown at me usually shuts down my cognitive functions).

It Sounded Smart Before It Came Out Of My Mouth

You just knew this was coming, didn't you? Despite all the drivel in the American press about how Turkey wouldn't invade. Now, it seems, that they won't have to.

From the Herald Tribune, billing itself as "Australia's biggest selling newspaper", comes the headline "Bush offers to bomb Kurds".
According to an official familiar with the conversation, Mr Bush assured the Turkish President that the US was seriously looking into options beyond diplomacy to stop the attacks coming from Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

"It's not 'Kumbaya' time any more - just talking about trilateral talks is not going to be enough," the official said.

"Something has to be done."

While the use of US soldiers on the ground to root out the PKK would be the last resort, the US would be willing to launch air strikes on PKK targets, the official said, and has discussed the use of cruise missiles.

The same Kurds we have been protecting since 1991. The same Kurds whose aspirations for freedom and self-governance were one of the spurs for Christopher Hitchens to go to the dark side (one wonders if he will sober up long enough to realize that, when you make a deal with the devil, the devil always reneges, and mortals always lose). The same Kurds who have been such a haven of peace and tranquility in a nation that we have otherwise destroyed. This is stupid to the googoleplex power.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I Really Like Paradise Lost

I have to say I really like Symphony X's latest CD. Here's a promo video of "Serpent's Kiss":

ALRIGHT!!! Except For The Little Bit About Grace . . .

Just when I felt resolve entering my heart that I had firmly decided to take a stand against nonsense, as I wrote here the other day, I come across Pastor Dan's latest Bible Study at Street Prophets, and I am confronted with my own judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and limited grasp of whatever passes for truth in the universe.

In the face of God's grace - a grace that can turn a murderer in to an apostle; a grace that can turn a denier in to the Rock of the Church; a grace that even includes me within its embrace - what possible reason to do I have for thinking I can say some of the things I have said?

Yet, I do not take them back, either. I am facing, not a dilemma or contradiction, but a conflict between the contingent facts of my own time and the promptings of my heart, and my own belief in the transcendent, all-embracing power of God's love and grace. Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven times. I cannot pretend that I have reached the 491st time I have been transgressed upon, here.

I do believe that I need some time to think, eh?

Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, Day 2

Batshit insane former left-wing radical David Horowitz is lying about the success of his "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" events. You just know that was the case because Horowitz is incapable of telling the truth. He can't even tell the truth in his memoirs about publicly available information.

I have no time or expertise of figure out why Horowitz is nuts. I do have the time, and the commonsense, to announce that his plan to tell the truth about the looming threat of "Islamo-fascism" is dying the death of a thousand deep slashes from an ax.
Horowitz is claiming that it will be “the biggest conservative campus protest ever” and “a wake-up call for Americans on 200 university and college campuses” about “the enemy.” But on CSPAN’s Washington Journal this weekend, Kareem Shora, the Executive Director of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, said that Horowitz was dramatically overstating the number of participating schools:

We contacted those institutions, alerting them to the fact that their name was being used, and wondering what exactly was taking place. … It’s important to note though, after we contacted those institutions, most of those institutions indicated that no such events is taking place on those campus. And many contacted the sponsors and told them, “do not use my institution’s name in your campaign,” including some very renowned universities such as Yale and Princeton.

Shora also said that the president of Liberty University, the evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell, also had their name removed from Horowitz’s list.

When Liberty University wants nothing to do with you, it might be a sign that you're just nuts.

While I was researching and writing this, another school Horowitz claims is on board denied participating. Of course, for a paranoid schizophrenic like Horowitz, this only confirms his own sense of persecution by anti-American academics. Speaking as a non-academic, I would like to say that I would enjoy persecuting him, too.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Music Monday

Now obscure, known mostly for one song ("Mississippi Queen") played endlessly on "classic rock" radio, at one time Mountain had a huge following. Always a good concert draw, Leslie West (whose solo album was humorously called The Great Fatsby, featuring Mick Jagger on rhythm guitar), Corky Lang, and the late Felix Pappalardi (who, as producer, is responsible for Cream's Disraeli Gears LP), were one of the proto-heavy metal bands of the late-60's, early-70's. West was one of the first to sound like his guitar was always on "11". They're still out there touring on the nostalgia circuit, although Pappalardi passed way in 1983.
Here's "Theme From an Imaginary Western"

Here's them vamping and showing a bit of fun at their own expense.

Here's one of their better songs, although with Pappalardi gone, I wonder how good it still is, "Nantucket Sleighride":

An Economist Talks About Taxes

Ezra Klein discusses the distinction between taxation as charity and taxation as positive social policy. It is no small distinction. As he writes:
Charity is just not a good metaphor for how liberals think about this stuff. Charity is good for the giver and, generally, good for the receiver. But it's not what you build your society upon. It's not reliable, or predictable, or particularly targetable. Indeed, very little philanthropy actually goes into the areas that social policy focuses on. And that's because it's not supposed to. Charity, rather often, is a way to demonstrate virtue or compassion. Social policy, at least in theory, is a way to try and fix a structural problem. The two cannot be swapped in for each other.

He opens the piece with the observation that many seem to have the idea that taxes, especially transfer payments, are nothing more than charity. I know I have been hearing this since the early 1980's (and I am sure this kind of nonsense was around long before). It is difficult to discuss the issue of taxes who believe that taxation is theft of personal property. It is difficult to discuss this issue with people who believe that this theft abets the subsidizing of anti-social behavior, or feeds the pathologies of the undeserving poor.

That's why I think we should just ignore those people. And read more Ezra Klein.

Oh, Those Insane Bankers And Their Hatred Of America

Since I was recently schooled in what a load of crap global warming is, I was so surprised to hear this story on NPR this morning. Who would have thought that Robert Zoellick and the World Bank were such dupes? I mean where's the evidence that Global Warming even exists, let alone poses a threat to stability and peace, right? It's all about Al Gore's ego and junk science that I was told by an authoritative source was junk. Who should I believe, after all? A blogger from Chicago or development experts from the World Bank? Sheesh.

Let's listen in on these deluded people talk about the "effects" of non-existent global warming:
Laura Tucker, who directs the bank's sustainable development program for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the bank has made addressing problems caused by climate change one of its top priorities in the last year.

Latin America and the Caribbean are among the regions where development experts fear climate change could undo decades of efforts to fight poverty. She used Peru as an example because the country depends on melting glaciers for water and hydroelectric power in the winter. She said the glaciers could be gone in 25 to 40 years.

The bank is using new, advanced mapping and modeling techniques to help the country understand what is coming and how to prepare.

Wow. A country that relies on melting glaciers that will be gone, perhaps in my lifetime, certainly within my childrens' lifetime. I thought there was no evidence that people took seriously . . .
David Wheeler, of the Center for Global Development, said the bank is also grappling with new scientific findings on how climate change will affect poor farmers and food supplies.

"Losses in agricultural productivity during the next 70 to 80 years in major regions of the developing world will be enormous, possibly as high as 50 to 60 percent in some regions," he said.

The bank is now revamping its programs, factoring climate change into everything from seed research and irrigation to city planning and road building.

In the past year, its spending on renewable energy and energy efficiency has jumped 67 percent. This month, it launched a new fund that will pay poor people not to cut down trees.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, said this will be crucial.

"Cutting down trees — deforestation — actually accounts for about 20 percent of the green house gas emissions we, human beings, are responsible for," de Boer said.

Yikes! More evidence? More data?

Could it be that it isn't Al Gore who is the asshole?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

No Longer Silent

I did something this morning that has troubled me. Over here at ER's place, I encountered the following comment:
Pure, unadulterated, horseswill. Islam calls Jesus "A" prophet of God, but Muhammad "The" prophet of God.

There can be no peace between the children of God and the children of Belial. Comity is certainly possible, but not on the grounds that both believe in "God"... for the devils ALSO believe, yet are they still damned.

The ONLY reason comity is possible at all is the very express command to love our enemies as our selves... to pray for them... especially when the persecute us.

My response, both thoughtful and caring, follows:
[T]his statement alone makes you unworthy to call yourself a Christian:
"There can be no peace between the children of God and the children of Belial."
To even claim to believe that Muslims are devil worshippers is horrific. You are entitled to your beliefs. Please do not call yourself a Christian, however. I will deny it to the throne itself.

What's bothered me is I have done what so many on the Christian Right do all the time - denied the faith of someone who expressed a view different from - and, honestly, antithetical to - my own. I have become no different from those I despise, sitting on a throne of judgment, seeing with such clarity who is and is not a Christian.

Yet, my reaction was honest. My feelings remain. I no longer feel comfortable with the fiction that the differences between someone who expresses a view such as the one above and me are open to negotiation. We are working from, and living within, completely different frames of reference, assumptions. I daresay we worship different "gods".

As uncomfortable as I am in doing so, I no longer feel I should remain silent in the face of hatred and ignorance passing itself off as serious Christian commentary. I cannot be quiet while those who claim to profess the same Jesus, Crucified and Risen, spout the horrible idea that Muslims worship the devil. I cannot remain silent while the God of love, peace, and grace is hijacked by those ruled, it seems clear from their express words, by fear, prejudice, and hatred. The final disposition of their lives before God is between them and their god. As for me, I will no longer pretend to seek some kind of common ground with such as these. I cannot, in good conscience, do so.

St. Paul, echoing Jesus, said that a true believer is known by the fruits that are borne by that person. When I hear hatred, calls for war, the declaration that believers in other religions worship the devil, greed, the lust for power and domination cloaked in the language of the Christian faith I cannot be silent and accept it. Those who do such as these, and more, are not "Christian" by any stretch of the definition of which I am aware. As I said in the comment above, I will stand before the throne of God and declare this to be so, whatever the consequences.

I can't be silent any longer as my good name and those of my Savior are dragged through the filth by people who vomit forth hatred.

The Latest Sermon Series

My wife has been enjoying a year away from the Lectionary, preaching several interconnected sermon series. This is her latest. Today was on "Fair Trade" - related to Scriptures in Leviticus, Proverbs, and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in St. Luke's Gospel.

This spoke to me in a way that is difficult to articulate. As I encounter bloggers who write things like this:
What we have here is the Dems creating a concern, health care, and setting themselves up as the saviors. No thanks. Keep your hands out of my wallet.

it is nice to hear it driven home that, in fact, our wallets are not our own. The decisions we make, whether it is which coffee to buy, which stores at which to shop, or which health care plan to buy in to effect the lives of people all over the world. The care we must take, if we are to live in such a way that all our lives are focused on the Gospel demand to love others, should make us aware that our wallets are just a way station along the way for a resource that has the power of life and death over others.

You can hear her sermons via podcast, or purchase them online, if you so desire. All the money goes to the church and its ministries.

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