"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Life’s A Stage, Hollywood Is Our Real Capital, And Washington Only A B-Movie Backlot Set–The Ascendancy Of Donald Trump

No self-respecting East Coast liberal would ever subscribe to People Magazine; but only look circumspectly before picking up a copy in the dentist’s office; and never get truly into the wicked pleasures of Hollywood bodies, paramours, and Caribbean vacations except in waiting rooms, hair dressers, or airport lounges.

Only there could such a liberal enjoy the tales of marriages, breakups, pregnancies, children, and ex’s, a temporary fugitive from hyper-concerned Washington; and with no guilt follow the escapades of the Kardashians, J-Z, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Scarlett Johansson.  He could, without a thought of climate change, economic inequality, or racial divisions, wish he had Matthew McConaughey’s abs, Jack Nicholson’s cool, or Paul Newman’s absolute, indefinable, but irresistible masculine charm. There he could imagine making love to sweet Scarlett in the rain in Match Point, winning Amy Adams as Justin Timberlake did in Trouble with the Curve, taking on Charlize Theron in Mad Max or Sigourney Weaver in Alien. 

 Image result for sigourney weaver alien

All the women of cinema are the fantasy lovers of such ordinary, hopeful, traditional men.  They woo Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, and Catherine Deneuve; fight with Sylvester Stallone, travel down the Congo River with Humphrey Bogart, triumph as The Terminator, and win and lose tragically like Paul Newman in The Hustler.

Hollywood, Bollywood, Istanbul, Teheran, Cairo, Mexico City, Madras – these are all more important centers of cultural life than Washington, Paris, or Bonn could ever be.  Political capitals can only manage B-move re-runs of intrigue, war, and international conflict.  For the real thing, only the movies satisfy.

Ben Hur, Gunga Din, The Longest Day, On the Beach, From Here to Eternity tell the real story of heroism, courage, adventure, and glory. Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, and Burt Lancaster are remembered more than the real battles.

Image result for ben hur

The point is that not only do we admire and long after the heroes and starlets of Hollywood, we want to be them.  Our adolescence has never ended.  We have never made or even wanted to make the distinction between reality and fantasy.  We would rather be Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Batman, or Jason Bourne than Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, or even Winston Churchill.  These men may have had gravitas and influence on the course of history, but they are far from our fantastic ideals. 

Donald Trump comes close.  He is President of the United States, but he is also a creation of Hollywood and Las Vegas.  He, his yachts, and his estates have nothing to do inside-the-Beltway culture.  His women have nothing to do with Rosalyn Carter, Pat Nixon, or even Nancy Reagan.  He, his family, and his retinue are closer to the American fantasy ideal than any other occupants of the White House. 

He may be no courageous leader like FDR, may have no Camelot, knights-and-ladies romance of the JFK years, nor any of the down-home charisma of LBJ; but he has glitz, showmanship, braggadocio, and sheer chutzpah of a Hollywood star, and that's good enough for most of us.

Few care if he has political or public managerial experience or whether he has issued policy papers or developed a coherent, rational foreign policy  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Matt Damon, and John Wayne never had a counsel of ministers or parsed foreign communiqués.  They knew the difference between right and wrong and acted!

Image result for images schwarzenegger terminator ii

Few care if he is sensitive about women’s issues when he has a gorgeous model wife, has the loyalty of a beautiful daughter, and squired beauty queens.

He has ridden around and given wide berth to issues of climate, social equality; racial, gender, and ethnic justice for decades; and his judgment is based on long-established principle.  He understands that societies will always be divided and subdivided and are never equal.  He sides with the majority and acknowledges the pre-eminence Western civilization.  Where would we be if  it wasn't for ancient Greece and Rome, Persepolis, Great Britain and the efflorescence of Western culture?

For him Ben Hur, The Robe, The Longest Day, Lawrence of Arabia, and War and Peace are the true realities – Hollywood epics which depict the essence of courage, honor, and heroism regardless of romantic retouches.

In other words President Trump and ordinary Americans are in perfect harmony.  We have to read People Magazine to follow the exploits of the stars; but he can do it in person.  He knows Don King, Madonna, Clint Eastwood, and Helen Mirren personally.  No need for dentist office wannabe love affairs.  He can have the real thing.

We don’t begrudge him this access because we would do the very same thing if we real estate and Hollywood moguls or President of the United States. 

John Kennedy slept with Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood starlets, and international beauties.  We would do the same thing. 

LBJ used the Secret Service as procurers and watchdogs, and thanks to the complicity of the press, did his tomcatting with no public scrutiny. 

Bill Clinton had trailer trash mistresses and Oval Office affairs and every one of us would relax and enjoy the pleasures of White House interns if we were President.

War with Russia or North Korea will never be Star Wars or War of the Worlds, but it is sure that anyone with only a brush with Hollywood can only imagine future warfare as comic book drama. 

We would win, of course.  Victory would be achieved in glory.  We would be generous to the defeated but be lords over evil domination

The liberal Left is appalled by Trump, his Hollywood paraphernalia, his Las Vegas showmanship, and New York comeuppance.  They have no idea what to do with a man so antithetical to reason, good sense, practicality, temperance, and concern.  To them he is a buffoon, grotesque caricature, and vaudevillian clown.

Yet such a perspective ignores the facts.  Americans no longer care about white papers, policy pronouncements, and talking head observations.  We have given up on all that long ago.  We have embraced Hollywood, fantasy, and virtual reality long ago.

Donald Trump is, in the words of Freaks, “ One of us…one of us…one of us…”

Politics–Divisive And Contentious, But The Best Expression Of Human Nature There Is

The Presidential campaign of 1828 between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson was perhaps the dirtiest and most raucous of any; but few challenge the notion that the 2016 campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was the most outrageous, vaudevillian, hilarious, and revolutionary.

Clinton ran a predictably safe and uncontroversial campaign – no one thought she could lose, so her well-honed political instincts told her to stay the course, keep well within the channel, and head for port when the breeze picked up.

Donald Trump on the other hand, having no political experience whatsoever, a big mouth, an oversized ego fed by years of success on the mean streets of New York real estate and Hollywood fame, and a clear, populist vision, led the most unconventional campaign ever.  It was more circus act and big tent revivalism than electoral process.  

Trump never positioned himself as a politician, statesman, or legislator – men of compromise, practicality, and narrow purpose.  He was a social messiah come to save the country from the liberal blight which had infected Washington for decades.

His first months in office (as of April 2017) have been little different.  Although he has settled into a more traditional presidency, he is still a caricature – a big, arrogant, billionaire Las Vegas showman with little restraint and no respect for the establishment and the powers that were. 
Despite calls for temperance, he pays no attention.  He plays golf every weekend at his resort in Florida, tweets in the middle of the night, jumps on the phone with world leaders with no judicious counsel, reacts to international events sometimes with raw emotion, others with bullying threats. 


The Left has finally gotten over their apocalyptic defeat but have still not figured out what to do with the radical populism blared on the campaign trail and dismissed as antics and political Pentecostalism.  They never even considered the possibility of it ever reaching Washington.  How could it, so rube and backwoods, so fundamentalist, xenophobic, and socially backward that it was?

Yet there he is, President Trump, bigger than life, only slightly more temperate and Presidential, but never once compromising the basic principles on which he ran.  No longer would the elite, insular, Washington establishment rule.   A nation that not even Ronald Reagan could have envisioned – a truly and profoundly conservative nation returning to its Constitutional, religious, and social roots – was here to stay for many years to come.

Why Donald Trump’s victory, while unexpected, was such a surprise is still a mystery.  The country was clearly fed up with the intrusive, presumptuous arrogance of the Left, its sense of righteousness and entitlement, and its insistence on making over the country in its own narrow, image.

What is more surprising is the emotional toll his election has taken on the progressive Left.  They did not simply lose an election but their very raison d’etre was dismissed by half the country.  Despite eight years of liberal policies and long-hoped for reform in education, social and economic policy, and international affairs; and despite the unison of progressive voices in Washington, academia, and the media, the progressive agenda was given a no-go. 

It is one thing to lose an election, another to feel wounded, hurt, despondent, and despairing.  If there is one thing certain about politics, it is cyclical.  No one party ever stays in office for long.  No one political philosophy is ever enshrined.  No socio-economic vision is ever permanent.  Trump has come and he will go.  The country will be changed, but it will revert.  Every administration will build on every previous one either in rejection or incorporation, and the country will roll on. 

History is nothing but cyclical and predictable.  Regime change, revolutions, uprising, periods of peace and Pax Romana, upheavals, stability, wars, and unexpected catastrophe are all part of politics which, in turn, is an expression of human nature.

Politics, in fact, is nothing more than an expression of human nature.  It is an extension of personal relationships, family dynamics, tribal territorialism, neighborhood solidarity, and community activism.   The compulsion to compete, to demand, and to survive is hardwired.  It is fundamental, unalterable, and unstoppable.  The energy which derives from this natural compulsion is what makes the world go ‘round and which, if Dostoevsky is right, is what keeps us alive.

Ivan Karamazov’s Devil (The Devil – Ivan’s Nightmare, Brothers Karamazov) says that if the world were all goodness, sweetness and light, churches and happy families, we would all fall asleep or worse end up in a black dog existential depression.  It is only he – the Devil – a tricky vaudevillian with a sense of humor about the roll of history and man’s unique absurdity – who keeps us interested in life.

The greatest dramatists have understood this.  Albee, Ibsen, Strindberg, O’Neill, and Shakespeare have written about family, power, aggressive territorialism and the jealousy and antipathy they encourage.  D.H.Lawrence used sex and sexuality as a metaphor for politics.  Domination and subjugation are constant themes in The Rainbow, Women in Love, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  True harmony between men and women will never be achieved, so powerful is the urge for sexual dominion; and accommodation is the only hope.

Ibsen was no less unflinching in his plays.  Hedda Gabler, Hilde Wangel, and Rebekka West understood men, their weaknesses, and their limited utility.  Strindberg in The Father was no less unremitting in his assumption of the inescapable political battle between the sexes.

Marx was right about inter-factional rivalries.  Although he saw such rivalries rooted in class, his model is just as applicable to describe today’s sectarian struggles, racial divisions, demands for sexual identity, or national sovereignty.  Rivalry is an essential expression of human nature; human beings understand strength in numbers; and social interest groups quickly form and coalesce to defend themselves from others and to expand their own influence and territory.

Children fight over glasses of milk, parental favors, and sibling equality.  Their battles are also the subject of literature.  The entire history of the English monarchy is nothing but family rivalries, accession to power, and dominance.  Arthur Miller in All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and The Price wrote of the desperate fights between brothers.  O’Neill and Albee saw family politics as the heart of social relationships.

Nothing, then, should be new about Donald Trump’s ascension to power, nor the frustrated demands of his followers, nor his desire to ‘drain the swamp’ and rid Washington of liberal pestilence as retribution for decades of entitlement and abuse.

Nothing should be new about Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, or the Ayatollah of Iran; nor anything surprising about the rise of the nationalist Right in Europe or the continued venality of African dictators.  They are all acting as all human beings act.  They may be smarter, more willful, more savvy, and more determined than the rest of us, but they are our brothers nonetheless.

Which is why following politics is only useful as a way to better understanding who we are.  It is easy to criticize those with power, especially those who abuse it; and it is hard to accept that in much smaller ways we all have fought for dominance and favor, schemed and wangled our way in a competitive environment, organized for more power and access, remained parochial and personal when it comes to defense, and aggressive and expansionist when it comes to offense.

Ivan’s Devil was right.  He liked to stir up trouble because he knew that we all can’t do without it.  Lawn chairs, chaises lounges on the beach, sitting by the fire with a good book get old quickly.  It is contention – politics – which keep us alive, define us, and ultimately determine who we are.

Recipes–Cauliflower Salad With Capers, Basil, And Vietnamese Fish Sauce

Cauliflower can be delicious if prepared with the right sauce – a sauce which complements but does not overpower the vegetable.  This recipe does the trick, and the combination of a light mayo-yoghurt mix highlighted with Dijon-style mustard and Vietnamese fish sauce, and garnished with fresh basil and capers is perfect.

Cauliflower Salad With Capers, Basil, Vietnamese Fish Sauce
* 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed
* 3 lg. Tbsp. (approx.) Hellman’s original mayo
* 1 lg. Tbsp. yoghurt
* 2 lg.  tsp. Dijon mustard
* 2 lg. tsp. fish sauce (approx.)
* 1 lg. Tbsp. small capers
* 5 lg. leaves fresh basil, chopped into thirds
* 1 lg. spring parsley, chopped
* 2 tsp. sugar (approx.)
- Steam the cauliflower until tender (fork easily goes through)

- Cut into large pieces, array on serving platter

- Mix the mayo, mustard, fish sauce, capers in mixing bowl

- Taste, and add sugar if needed; adjust other ingredients

- Pour mixture evenly over cauliflower

- Sprinkle chopped basil, parsley over the cauliflower

- Add ground pepper

- Serve

Recipes–Pasta With Spring Ramps

Ramps, also known as spring onions, wild leek, wood, leek, and wild garlic, are harvested wild, have a delicate but distinctive flavor and are excellent on pasta.

They are available for only a short time and usually only in farmers’ markets (mid-late April in the Mid-Atlantic region) but well worth the extra cost.  They are truly unique.

The ramps need only a few minutes cooking, so the recipe is very simple to make.

Pasta with Spring Ramps
* 1/2 pound penne rigate
          * 3 bunches ramps

          * 2 Tbsp. unsalted European-style butter

          * 3 Tbsp. olive oil

 - Cut the ramps into thirds

- Sautee them in butter (approx. 5 minutes) until just tender

- Cook pasta (penne rigate is a good choice)

- Put the olive oil in a large mixing bowl

-  Add the sautéed ramps and mix well

- Add salt and ground pepper to taste

- Plate and serve

Monday, April 17, 2017

Is There A Spiritual Benefit To Poverty?

‘Blessed are the poor’, wrote Luke (6:20), ‘for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’, suggesting that there is a spiritual benefit to poverty.  Mark (10:25), recounting Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the eye of the needle and turning the wisdom around, suggested that it is harder for the wealthy to attain salvation than the poor.

Matthew (5:3), however, described an entirely different scenario.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, he said, implying that Jesus was not talking about poverty per se, but those lacking in spirit. 

What did Matthew mean?  Why should anyone lacking in spirit – belief, faith, and trust in the Lord – be heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven?  One would have thought just the opposite.

Albert Schweitzer felt that the addendum asserts that simply being poor is not a ticket into heaven, but rather only those who understand the nature of real poverty are blessed. To this group blessing is promised without qualification.

Another interpretation is that ‘poor in spirit’ refers to those who willingly surrender their belongings as a sign of piety – that is, because of a spiritual longing, they free themselves from worldly things. 
Other exegetes suggest a link between ‘spirit’ and The Spirit – the Holy Spirit who will guide mankind through his spiritual evolution after Jesus has returned to The Father. A person who is ‘poor in spirit’ is one who admits not to have sufficient embodiment of The Spirit. That person is therefore not pompous, nor does he take The Spirit for granted. He always yearns for more.

The Beatitude has important pre-Christian precedents, traced back to Socrates' notion of enkrateia, which explained that the philosopher was one who had no interest in wealth. This idea was adopted by the Cynics, who rejected wealth and saw poverty as the only route to freedom. This group, while small, had a wide influence and some of their ideas were embraced by some Jewish communities at the time of Christ.

None of these explanations satisfy.  Those who lack faith will never gain access to heaven.  Jesus made that abundantly clear in all the four Gospels.  While wealth can distract or even blind those for whom it is an end-all, poverty itself affords no special spiritual benefits or insights into the divine.

Schweitzer felt that  the poor are not to be envied nor is there any mention in the Gospels of a need or obligation to help the poor per se. Paul urges compassion, giving, and charity not for the sake of the poor but for the giver.  “It is better to give than to receive” was never meant to suggest an enhancement of the spiritual chances of the recipient of largesse, but of the giver.

Similarly wealth is not bad per se but can but not always must cloud one’s spiritual judgment.
The Bible therefore neither universally condemns wealth nor suggests that the poor are God’s chosen. 

The first Christians were relatively wealthy, privileged, and influential.  The first religious gatherings were held in the homes of the well-off – those who had spacious enough accommodations and resources to care for celebrants.   These householders were men of prosperity and of faith.   The Early Church Fathers were all renowned and respected philosophers, theologians, and lay thinkers – all of whom by nature of their intellectual professions were of the elite.  If not as wealthy as landowners or tradesmen, they were still among the ‘wealthy’. 

Thomas Aquinas, the son of Landulph, count of Aquinas, was born circa 1225 in Roccasecca, Italy, near Aquino, Terra di Lavoro, in the Kingdom of Sicily.  His mother, Theodora, was countess of Teano. Thomas's family members were descendants of Emperors Frederick I and Henry VI.

According to church tradition, Tertullian was raised in Carthage and was thought to be the son of a Roman centurion; Tertullian has been claimed to have been a trained lawyer and an ordained priest.  Jerome claimed that Tertullian's father held the position of centurio proconsularis ("aide-de-camp") in the Roman army in Africa.

There was little chance that they would have difficulty fitting through the eye of a needle or attaining the rewards of heaven.

The poor in Christ’s time were as marginalized, anonymous, penurious, and with little hope of economic progress as the poor today.  They, in the famous words of Thomas Hobbes indeed lived ‘a life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. Neither they nor their modern counterparts who work two minimum wage jobs, live on the economic margins, and have little hope or even inkling of prosperity, have any chance of high spiritual evolution.  They are too tired, dispirited, and intellectually and socially limited to aspire to the heavens described by Augustine, Aquinas, or Tertullian.

If they have any spiritual ambitions, they are satisfied through fundamentalist Pentecostalism, charismatic evangelism, and store-front church ecstaticism.  From the perspective of the great theologians of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries; of the Catholic Church throughout its history, and especially of P0pes John Paul II and Benedict, they have no chance. 

In their view, poverty with its illiteracy, theological ignorance, and fundamentalist emotionalism, can never be a path to salvation.

Of course the Catholic Church will never admit it in such crass terms, it will always hold to Thomistic logic.  Only by understanding the fundamental principles of Christianity and the writings not only of the Gospels but of Catholic theologians and philosophers, can one have the proper logical and ‘emotional’ prerequisites for perfect faith. 

The Church is happy to have unwashed believers, but these will always be among the laggards, far from the spiritual elite.  Faith and grace alone are not enough in the Catholic Church.  Works – both the performance of them and the dutiful intellectual appreciation of their meaning – are essential.
‘Blessed are the poor’, then, is conditional.  Poverty has no claim on salvation; and wealth can be an enabling factor in spiritual evolution.

The suggestion that by becoming a mendicant – becoming poor – can be a step on the way to enlightenment does have some salience.  All world religions have prized the ascetic life for its rejection of worldly values and its focus on contemplation of the divine.  Yet to suggest that this is what Matthew meant is implausible – a stretch of English and Greek grammar.

If one believes in fundamentalism – that the Catholic Church’s teachings about the essentiality of logic, reason, and due consideration are hocus-pocus; and that a charismatic, emotional, and highly personal encounter with Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation – then poverty is handicapped well.  In fact it is the least-schooled, most illiterate, and least influenced by mediated religion who have the greatest chance of a life-transforming encounter with Our Lord.

If one is a devout Catholic – and a necessarily intellectual one who believes that a logical exegesis of the Bible, a serious consideration of Church history and tradition, and a rational contemplation of the nature of divinity – then ecstatic spiritualism is nothing but psycho-social mumbo jumbo.  Poverty is an inhibitor to true understanding, not an easy access to it.

Nothing in the Bible, Christian theology, tradition, or philosophical scholarship suggest that the poor have a leg up on salvation.  The Lutheran doctrine of grace opened the door to a more democratic salvation – one was chosen, and one’s devotion exhibited one’s faith in hope of recognition – and indeed invited all comers into church; but it dumbed down Christian faith.  It takes no more than faith and the hope for Christ’s beneficent consideration to belong. 

The Catholic Church, while publically advocating for the poor in the tradition of Christ, is essentially elitist, intellectual, and right in its insistence on logical exegesis and rational- based faith.  Of course not everyone can rise to the occasion, but the Platonic ideal must be respected.

Where does this leave us?

First la nostalgie de la boue or the romance of the lower classes, popular in late 19th century France, still popular now, must be relegated to fiction.  Then, as in many periods of literary and philosophical history, the proletariat was considered the repository for human good.  Man was created with a primal, instinctive sense of righteousness, good, and high sensibilities; but after millennia of neglect became a creature of animal instincts and human vanity.  In other words, there is still hope for the disadvantaged classes.

On the contrary, history has shown that the lower classes will always labor for the rich; will always lack the intellect, ability, ambition, and talent to compete with them; and will always be consigned to inferior socio-cultural and economic ranks.

The poor are a permanent, pre-determined, and inescapable, integral element of society.  The challenge is to offer them every possible opportunity to succeed.  Some will, most won’t but no one should idealize them as the Communists did during the Marxist-Leninist Soviet period or American progressives do today.  The poor have little to contribute other than their labor, their patriotism, and their good faith; respected for this, but never lionized.

Nowhere in the Beatitudes recorded in Matthew (5;5) are the poor per se given particular priority for access to God’s Kingdom.  If anything, it is ‘the poor in spirit’ discussed above.  ‘The meek’ are given special attention; but most exegetes and critics assume the conflation of ‘meek’ and ‘poor’ – otherwise powerless, marginalized, and dismissed – and revert to the previously-noted ‘poor in spirit’. 

Nor do the authors of the New Testament condemn the wealthy, but only give warning and admonition.

Thus those who are poor in material means but rich in spirit may have access to heaven as well as those who are wealthy, despite the distractions of riches and ambition.

The only conclusion, however, is that the wealthy – more educated, well-read, intellectually sophisticated, and exposed to the best thinkers of Greece and early Christianity – have a better chance of understanding the complexity of divinity, the Trinity, the Word, sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness, and salvation and therefore Christianity and Christ than the poor;and ipso facto a greater chance of acceding to the Heavenly Throne.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Resurrection–Christ’s Suffering And Crucifixion Were Far More Important

Easter is the most significant feast of the Christian calendar.  It is the symbol not only of Christ’s resurrection, but the hope of every believer.  Without Jesus’ suffering on the cross, his redemptive sacrifice, and his death, Christians would have little.  His parables, his wisdom, his compassion, and his concern for the spiritual well-being of others would mean little without his time on the cross and his death.  The sins of humanity were too great for any individual or even collective repentance.  Only the Son of God had the power to forgive all sins and to offer a path to individual salvation.

The resurrection – a pre-ordained, necessary matter between Christ and his Father – might have been miraculous, but the ordeal on the cross and his assumption of sin and the responsibility of forgiveness – was far more important for those left behind.

In other words we celebrate Christ’s resurrection – we have an advocate in heaven who serves as an example of forgiveness, charity, and compassion – but Christ’s real importance was his suffering.
Christ’s assumption into heaven was divine, but his suffering was very human indeed.  He was whipped, knifed, nailed to the cross and was hours in dying before suffocation ended his life.   His suffering was so unbearable that he asked God, his Father, why he had forsaken him – a very human moment of pain and despair at the moment of death.

It is too simple to suggest that Christ’s suffering should serve as an example – that we all should forgive, assume pain and suffering for and give selflessly to others.  To interpret the myth of a god’s son who is tortured and crucified for others and who dies for their sins as a parable of caring concern, moral courage, and rectitude is to do it injustice.

The more important lesson is that in God’s eyes the world still needs saving.  The destruction of mankind in the Flood, as complete and vengeful as it was, did no good.  Only a few millennia later and the human race had returned to its old ways.

he still more important lesson is that after millennia more, mankind is even more cavalier, more ignorant and dismissive of God’s word than ever before.

The Book of Revelations tells us that this too will not stand.  That those who have disregarded Christ’s teaching will suffer a death a thousand times more painful and tortured than his.  The world will never progress, never improve, and never reform.

There is an inherent contradiction here.  God tried to create a more perfect world by destroying the old, by providing essential precepts to follow for those who would repopulate it, and by providing support and guidance as it matured.  Yet this all-knowing God had to admit failure and intercede once again by sending his Son to once again deal with an ignorant and arrogant humanity.  If that were not enough, he, through his Biblical prophets, spoke of a final, fiery, holocaust in which only the faithful would survive.

Christ’s real story, then, is about God’s infinite patience.  How long can this Old Testament God, even in his more compassionate New Testament reincarnation, tolerate such insolence and grievance?  Will there be a Second Coming? More temporal compassion from Jehovah?

Why did God create such a willfully disobedient and sinful world in the first place?   In his infinite wisdom he must have known that the imperfect world he was creating would have to end badly.  It wasn’t just Eve’s fault, nor Adam’s, but the very wiring  of the humanity confected in heaven before the Garden of Eden. 

So the message of Judeo-Christianity is that the world is a perennial bad place with little real hope for universal salvation but the possibility of individual redemption and ascension.

Fundamentalist Protestants have understood this message better than most.  The only path to salvation is one built on personal, intimate relationships with Jesus Christ himself, taking him as one’s personal savior, and trusting in his grace and compassion. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, tant pis.

Jesus died for our sins, but he did so collectively – a generalized, blanket forgiveness with no statute of limitations.  By so doing he allowed the world to continue, hopeful that it would take his advice and not force his Father to resort to the same type of destruction he visited on Sodom and Gomorrah and the entire world.

Fundamentalists understand that there is no way for humanity ever to be able to keep his commandments, nor have enough collective faith to prevent Armageddon; so they turned their focus to individual salvation – the most un-Christian and uncharitable notion ever.

The Catholic Church took Christ’s admonitions differently.  If one did good works and continued the community focus that Jesus had intended among his disciples, not only individual but collective salvation could follow.

Where does that leave us?

Political progressives interpret Christ’s teaching in one way.  If one follows his precepts, is compassionate and inclusive, and concerned about the moral future of humanity, a better world can result.  Armageddon can be deferred indefinitely.

Political conservatives take Christ’s teaching to heart.  God, having tried many times to purify the world and expunge evil, has failed to do so.  Armageddon is certain and imminent.  There are only a few lifeboats, so save yourself.

What would Jesus do?

It seems obvious that he would side with the conservatives who have taken to heart the words of the Bible.  Mankind has never shown any moral rectitude or courage and as a result has been punished by God.  Not only that, God himself has been so pessimistic about man’s chances for redemption, that he has planned for a fiery end of times holocaust.

Yet there is no end to eternal optimism.  Despite thousands of years of history, Biblical assertions predicting the final horrific fate of humanity, genetic evidence of hardwiring and the ineluctable influence of a self-serving, territorial, and preservational human nature, progressives still hew to the belief that better is possible if not inevitable.

Jesus’s sacrifice, they say, has shown the way – a divine perfect example for our own lives.
In any case, it is Jesus’s sacrifice that we should remember this Easter.  Resurrection is all well and good; but once it is over, it is done with. 

Easter should be not only a celebration of his divinity, but of his very human life and sacrifice.   Some of us take it as an example of humility, service, love and compassion for others.  Others understand it as a necessary reminder of persistent evil and the need for personal salvation.

Whichever route one takes, the journey is worthwhile.