Friday, February 24, 2012


My wife has a book that quickly and succinctly sums up the various major religions of the world. I knew absolutely nothing about Sikhism until this morning.

Now, I'm thinking of converting. See, Rick Santorum has taken to spouting off from the deep well of his faith, which everyone else is supposed to respect. If being ignorant, hateful, and crazy blossoms from faith, I'm definitely looking in to Sikhism now. It's monotheistic, highly ethical, plus you get to grow your hair long.

What has emanated from little Ricky's mouth now that may well have tipped me over the edge to begin reading from the Gurus?

Just this:
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Thursday that President Obama wants more young adults to go to college so they can undergo "indoctrination" to a secular world view.


On the president's efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, "I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely ... The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country."
Turbans. Long hair. Service to the community. Religious pluralism at the heart of their doctrine of God. Plus, they're not too different from United Methodists; after each worship service, they have a community meal.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What Are Men For?

There are so many musings on women and their sexuality, I thought it necessary to spend a few moments - having been alerted to the dangers men face from a surgical procedure that denies them their natural role as providers of the seed for procreation - to consider that role and how best to protect it from the ravages it faces in our far-too-hedonistic society.

While vasectomy frees men from the constraints of monogamy by eliminating the chance of accidentally impregnating a woman who is not his wife, the real danger isn't behavioral so much as it is anatomical. By cutting off, literally, the path to procreation, condemning millions of preborn babies from the glory of conception, the common practice of masturbation among adolescent boys and men is as dire a threat. Even a single individual poses a threat to the possibility of providing the world with as many possible partial copies of his awesomeness. Even those more likely to mourn the deaths of the several million sperm wantonly murdered are likely to indulge. It may well be the case that we need to go beyond simply passing laws; perhaps tying the hands of boys from the age of 12 or so, thus preventing the development of a habit that counters the basic physiological reality that erections aren't toys, but serve the basic biological function of procreation. It might seem harsh, but the reality is that we shouldn't allow boys in their teens, too ignorant to understand the threat they pose to the unborn, to act against nature.

While this certainly addresses one act that threatens not only the sanctity of human life, but also the natural functioning of human reproduction, I think more action is in order. Being reminded ad nauseum that males are little more than extensions of their testicles and subconscious urges it might well be necessary to sequester men away from the company of women. We men, reduced to drooling, tumescent incoherence at the mere thought of cleavage or, perhaps, even a well turned ankle should, for the sake of our own virtue, be kept away from any of those things that might prompt us to act out on those overpowering urges that rush through us from dual hearts of darkness dangling between our legs. While the small percentage of young gay men might find such cloistering to their advantage, the physical strictures mentioned earlier would already be in play.

Physically restrained from unnaturally spilling our seed, and removed from any temptation to act out the irresistible urge to copulate with any female who might present themselves - and such presentation obviously means she's aching for it; if she says, "No", she deserves what she gets, the dirty slut - I think networks of adolescent boys creating a special bond with their mothers, pledging their fealty to one another in a pact of mutual respect, with the mother taking a special interest in protecting their son's testicular wholeness would be a wonderful occasion for special celebration. We could call them Oepdipal Balls, where adolescent boys and their mothers would dress in semi-formal attire, pledge themselves to one another, with the boys refusing to dirty any female who doesn't have Mom's special allure, while Moms around the country would guard their boys' virtue, morally and physically protecting their Sack Of The Future.

We should also limit boys participation in any activity that might damage their naturally vulnerable reproductive organs. Sport and the military are obviously designed to threaten not only the life of those who participate in them. They ignore the inarguable natural reality that male's most vulnerable spot is under constant threat. Ill-suited for the rigors of combat or even a sport as seemingly benign as baseball or golf, the sanctity of the sack must be preserved. Nature, biology, and the moral demands of the unborn place a heavy burden upon men; we should surrender to the priority of the natural and sacred order that all agree - men just shouldn't be allowed to do certain things.

Once instructed and socialized with the proper attitude toward their bodies and sexuality, and safely tucked away in monogamous marriages, it is probably a good idea to keep men in the home. Once there, when women feel the need to have a child, men can be called forward to do their natural, sacred duty. Obviously, such a dirty, sinful act should bring with it feelings of physical and moral revulsion, but men should endure it for the good of the rest of society, with their eyes shut and their minds on anything other than the act itself.

We as a society seem incapable of granting both genders status as fully human persons, capable of living with and transcending the basics of anatomy and the psychological baggage with which society burdens us. I think, in fairness, rather than treating women as the weaker sex, ours would be far better to place severe restrictions upon the sexual activity of men. We have lived far too long with the delusion that we can be creatures apart from the natural order dictated by our hormones, our desires, and our physiology. It would be far better, I think, to instruct men in the simple realities with which we live.

For our own good.

For the good of the unborn whose demands upon our moral sense we need to attend.

For the good of society that needs our semen, properly placed, under the strict guidance of women who, being closer to nature than we, have an intuitive grasp of these matters.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In Praise Of Chaos

In order to round out my thinking about music as I lurch toward the end of my current work-in-progress, I ordered and received three works on heavy metal last week. Ian Christe's Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, Deena Weinstein's Heavy Metal: The Music And Its Culture, and Robert Walser's Running With The Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music are essential for understanding a musical genre in dire need of a more respectful apologia than one normally finds in mainstream critical and academic circles.

More than the other two works, Walser is correct in noting that both musically and lyrically, heavy metal has deep roots in the African-American musical tradition that spawned the overarching framework of western popular music that, for lack of a better word, we can call rock. Whether the acoustic Delta blues of Robert Johnson or the urban, electrified blues of Muddy Waters, the tradition has more than flirted with the topics of death, evil, and even social injustice. One can criticize heavy metal for many things; somehow inventing or even praising the occult (except, perhaps, in specific subgenres like Black Metal) is not one of them. There is a straight enough line, I think between Robert Johnson's "Hell Hound On My Trail" and the eponymous "Black Sabbath":

I am not a "metal head" by any means, but I do enjoy the music. Which is perhaps a mild reaction to such an extreme musical style. All the same, I do not consider myself a "fan" of heavy metal any more than I consider myself a fan of progressive rock, of classic rock, of jazz, of Mozart, or anything else. Heavy metal fills an aesthetic need for the expression of sheer pandemonium and aggression. Just as a quiet Saturday morning feels more complete with Pat Metheny or Miles Davis playing in the background, or Sunday afternoons seem tailor-made for Mozart and Brahms, so, too, do certain moments cry out for something a bit more rousing than Bruce Springsteen.

That the style is over the top in pretty much every way imaginable goes without saying. That one could say the same about moments in western art music, from Bach through contemporary composers like Steve Reich rarely gets mentioned.

In terms both of style and approach, heavy metal has infiltrated much of popular music, from hip-hop artists sampling heavy metal songs to the really big beat and overwhelming sound of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" (a title that would not seem out of place on a heavy metal album).

As different as it may be, Porcupine Tree's "Fear Of A Blank Planet" wouldn't have been possible without the musical influence of heavy metal (something auteur Steven Wilson is honoring this year with a musical project he is finally completing with Michael Akerfeldt, leader of the Swedish death metal band Opeth).

Even the use of occult imagery exists in multiple tensions. Whether the mindlessness of the British band Venom, or the seriousness of bands like Deicide, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Mayhem, and Emperor, the best guide through the thickets may well be the San Francisco band Slayer who used the iconography from the occult as a way of creating a dialectical understanding between the rage induced by injustice and oppression and the desire for vengeance and retribution that one can find through various occult practices, without ever once falling in to a literal reading. Slayer is, without a doubt, one of the more intelligent bands out there, as well as musically gifted.

The need for catharsis extends beyond the merely emotional. In the extreme environment provided by heavy metal, many living in repressive regimes find in the volume, the speed, and the rage at the heart of heavy metal a way to stand against those political forces that seek to stifle their expression. Rammstein formed in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I am amused by people who criticize jazz, say, or various kinds of pop without having any experience with the style. For some reason, few people feel any reason to actually listen to heavy metal before denouncing it. If they actually experienced it, letting themselves go for the length of a song at first, then perhaps an album, perhaps (if one were brave enough) going to a show, one might find, if nothing else, the exhilaration of emotional release to be satisfying.

If my imaginary band could provide even a single moment as full of the musical, emotional, social, and cultural meaning as the following performance by Metallica, I think I would have achieved something.

Monday, February 20, 2012


If I were to pretend I were an intellectual, and if I were to attempt to prove my intellectual credibility to my peers, I can imagine all sorts of things that would help me along that path. The last thing on my list would be to write an article with this title:
What Are Women For?
While Tbogg and Roy delve the creepy, misogynist depths of the piece, I stand aghast, attempting to understand a person who could put those words together in the order they appear, and have it mean something.

I think it's fair to say my personal response to this is easy.

James Poulos has issues.

Nothing More Natural

Christopher Lasch was many things, most prominently an intellectual curmudgeon. Twenty years ago, reading The True and Only Heaven was a bracing splash of cold water in the face. My father used to tell me, "You don't know every goddamn thing." Lasch said the same thing in several hundred pages of dense, historical prose.

I got thinking about Lasch this morning after reading this article. One of the late historian's main points early on in this work is the way progress, and its social and cultural forms, have separated us from nature to the point that, rather than see death as an integral part of life, we fear it so much we either prolong it artificially, or shunt the dying away as far as possible, very often with the excuse of protecting children from exposure to it. Lasch notes that, as late is mid-Victorian Britain, families would gather around a death bed, wishing the parting relative one final goodbye, often praying and singing hymns as the final moments ticked away.

The one flaw in this article, to my mind, is framing the discussion of death as something that occurs "naturally" only to the elderly. Death comes when it comes. As a pastor's spouse, I've been to the funerals of infants, of children and youth, of people my own age, and centenarians. One thing I've come to understand is that death, while not precisely a welcome guest at the table, nor one whose approach is always greeted with open arms, is still always there. Whether by accident - a slip down a flight of stairs, or stepping off a curb too soon - design - one's life is ended by one's own hand or that of another - or nature - from foreign invaders to our bodies betraying us through cancer to our bodies failing us; I've seen all these at every age from a few months to 102 years old.

I find it fascinating that there are so many people in the world who are terrified of death. Spiders I can understand. Even though I'm not particularly frightened of snakes, I get that, too; but death? That's like being afraid of breathing or having a bowel movement. Those are things that everyone does, too, and no one sits around and has deep discussions over the inherent meaning of defecation. Death, for some odd reason, is the one event in our lives people either refuse to discuss, or pretend has some deep significance.

You want to know what I think happens when we die?

Our bodies cease to operate.

That's it. Oh, and flies and beetles and bacteria suddenly have a place to eat. Nothing wrong with that, either. Part of me would, rather than be cremated, allow myself to feed to hordes of creatures who would use it to sustain themselves and their progeny. It isn't like, at that point, I'm using any of it.

We waste far too much time, far too many resources, and far too much emotional energy carrying on over something that is inevitable. As a seminary professor of mine said once, the death rate is the same it's always been - 100%. The least we can do is accept this, and let doctors and nurses help those they can help, while embracing our loved ones so they don't have to go down that long dark corridor alone.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Frederick Buechner On Abortion

Lisa and I were out with some friends the other night. I mentioned Frederick Buechner, and couldn't remember the title of his book, Whistling In The Dark: An ABC Theologized. I was checking it out on Amazon and came across the very first entry.
There is perhaps no better illustration of the truth that in an imperfect world there are no perfect solutions. All we can do, as Luther said, is sin bravely, which is to say (a) know that neither to have the child nor not to have the child is without the tragic possibility of tragic consequences for everybody yet (b) yet be brave enough in knowing also that not even that can put us beyond the loving grace of God.
Which is a nice way of cutting through the self-righteous self-assurance of anyone who says that have the definitive answer on this matter for everyone. Whether pro-life or pro-choice, it might be nice to be pro-human and shut the hell up and listen to people and pray with them and love them because, at the end of the day, that's what Jesus did. That's what we're supposed to do. Sin bravely, because that's all any of us can do. Trust enough in God's grace to separate the wheat from the chaff in our lives.

Virtual Tin Cup

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