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

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Looking For A Sexual Past –Fantasy, Procreation, And Maleness

Breton Alberts had never gotten over his love affair with Sylvia ____ a September-May relationship that he knew wouldn’t last; a union of impossible possibilities.

She was the daughter of a Midwestern farm family, a child of wheat and animal husbandry; pigs, chickens, and corn.  He was the son of New England patriarchy, descendants of the Third Earl of Marlborough who were among the first families of Massachusetts.  On the other side of the family, he was close in lineage to the Duke of Albemarle and Sir Walter Raleigh.

The affair had cinq-a-sept and K Street assignation written all over it.  A sexual liaison which had begun in the eighth floor lounge of 2230 Pennsylvania Avenue, advanced over martinis in the bar of the Mayflower, and consummated on the floor of a fifth floor walkup in Adams Morgan, had no logical future.  However she, alone and left on the curb at 34; and he, bored, dispirited, but even more sexually ambitious at 65 than he had ever been, were, despite the ragging of his friends and the cattiness of hers, a perfect couple.

The relationship was nothing less than Freudian father-desire in Sylvia’s love of Breton; and a Darwinism in Albert’s last gasp effort to spread his seed, extend himself, his being, far beyond his two legitimate, adult children; but tied up and tangled in philosophical threads as it was, their relationship made it out of the ordinary to the special, unique, and worth having regardless of its final outcome.

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What is wrong with a love affair between a young woman and a stand-in for her quondam, beloved father? Or an aging, but still virile male whose urge to procreate, to leave more behind than two predictable offspring, chips off the old block, social and cultural clones was unstoppable?  In fact, what could be better than the satisfaction of primordial urges after decades of lip service to acceptable bourgeois ones?

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Let the record be set straight and made clear.  The marriage between Breton Alberts and Marguerite Lodge was, despite its fussy arrangements (the Alberts and the Lodges had disagreed on slavery, secession, Reconstruction, the New Deal, and the Great Society; and in families where political philosophy trumped all else, marriages were never simple affairs) a good one.  Their relationship matured into a satisfying marriage, and developed into one of respect and familiarity well into its third decade.

Breton’s straying had nothing to do with any dissatisfaction or disaffection.  He loved his wife in conventional terms (i.e. indistinct from mutual satisfaction, respect, and responsibility), and although never a romantic idyll, the marriage had staying power and longevity.

Nor were his sexual vagaries some kind of retro-machismo cherchez la femme typical of his father’s and grandfather’s generation.  Great wealth was a great enabler, and Breton Pere and Breton Grandpere had had their way with any number of women, almost willy-nilly, with no consequences to bear.  Their lascivity was more of an old entitlement, a class thing relating back to le droit du seigneur, concubinage, and mistresses de rigeur , rather than any real meaningful liaison. Breton, on the other hand, sought younger women as a purposeful anodyne to his age; and the fulfillment of Darwinian determinism.  Older men, despite their failing physical powers, think about sex all the time; but only the few can consummate these desires, feel young again, and dispel the angst of approaching death.  And few men, despite harsh feminist condemnation, can resist the urge to multiply, to have many offspring of many women.  White anxiety is rooted in envy of black promiscuity.

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Never before his marriage to Marguerite had Breton been so careless about ‘protection’.  It was Sylvia who insisted that she was not ready to have a child with him or any married man – the stigma and impossibly complex consequences of childbirth while not those of Hester Prynne, were serious indeed.  But Breton wanted a child with Sylvia; and once she was pregnant would start an equally procreative affair with Lou Ann from Accounting, a girl with a similarly loose moorings, in love with her father and willing to take anyone who fit his modest bill – hardworking, loving, strict, and moral – to bed. 

Breton had no moral compunctions about his sexual intentions.  In fact, in the face of feminist opprobrium, politically correct standards of woke behavior, and the virtual castration of maleness and masculinity, he felt obligated to return to his primordial roots.  And as long as women saw pregnancy and childbirth as a validation of love, desire, and personal worth (“I want to have your baby”), he was ready to accommodate them.   it was time for him – white, upper middle class, respectful, traditional Christian, member and outstanding leader of the community – to let go of his entitlements, embrace his God-given maleness, and procreate.

Shakespeare’s sonnets were odes to procreation – a beautiful man was obligated to populate the earth with his offspring before it was to late .  Procreation was the nature and destiny of human sexuality. 
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
     Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence (Sonnet 12)
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D.H. Lawrence, perhaps the writer who wrote most honestly and frankly about sex, had no particular interest in sex per se but the mutuality of lovers – a physical consummation and a coming together of male and female which could lead to philosophical epiphany.  Sex for Lawrence was never a simply act of desire, but an acting out of the most essential and the most primitive urges of humanity.  It was important, Lawrence said, to find the right complementary lover even if it meant disregarding social convention and traditional morality.  Lady Chatterley and Mellors found that sexual union despite the closures of class.  They were above and beyond common definitions of sexual partnership; and would reach sublimity together irrespective of their social, cultural, responsible selves.

Breton’s relationship with Sylvia went on for two years until she realized that he – quite predictably in retrospect – was never going to leave his wife; and he, equally predictably was not going to be the father of an illegitimate child born into a dysfunctional Iowa farm family.  So much for Hollywood romance and Darwinian progeny.

In his less anxious moments Breton saw that the flimsy, awkward fantasy that he had created. was nothing more than desperate male longevity.   Sylvia was neither procreatress, nor sexual salvator; but only a means to an end.  The Dean Silk character in Phillip Roth’s book, The Human Stain, says about the young woman with whom he is having an affair, “Granted she's not my first love; and granted she's not my great love; but she is sure as hell is my last love.  Doesn't that count for something?”.

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“So, it’s all about the sex”, his friend replies.

Yes and no.  Of course it is about the sex.  There is nothing more revitalizing and rejuvenating than sex with a much younger woman, something far more than youthful allure and sexual enthusiasm, something that is more validating and reassuring than anything else.  Male sexual potency is not a matter of machismo or patriarchy; it is metaphysically important. Any man can, at any moment of his life, produce enough sperm to populate the planet. Too much is made in a world of feminism and political correctness of the supposition that men are defined by their sexual aggressiveness.  Yes, they are aggressive, but for unassailably persistent and hardwired motivations.  Give a man his due.  He is irremediably sexual in his perceptions, desires, and purpose.  He thinks of sex all the time because he wants sex all the time.  Sexual consummation is not sexual satisfaction, release, or enjoyment.  It is existential, undeniable, and essential. Trimming a man’s sails and turning him into a pleasure boat cruising in and out of a safe and comfortable port is death.

By the time Breton’s affair with Sylvia had ended, he was nearing seventy, the average pull-by date for sexual potency but no where near the shelf life of sexual fantasy.  He would continue to dream about his true love to come, the mother of his many children, the aunt to many more, and the continuing concubine to others.  He knew that for the rest of his remaining years,  sex would remain a fantasy, derivative of his youth, shaped by culture, and driven by God’s worst irony.  God created men with a short life of sexual utility, but condemned them to a lifetime of sexual fantasy.

Breton, like most older men, threw in the towel, returned to his wife, home, and grandchildren; and gave in to the loss of sexual intensity.  Yet he would always have one unforgettable and unforgivable regret – only two children by one woman.

Myth, History, Human Nature, And Great Storytelling–Exodus And Other Tales

The Book of Exodus is a rip-roaring story.  A hard-hearted Pharaoh, a violent, angry, and implacably determined God, the visitation of ten horrific plagues, and the final liberation of the Israelites and their miraculous parting of the Red Sea, is a tale worthy of the greatest religious myths in history.  

The Ramayana, written between 800 BC and 600 BC tells of the battle between the Hindu god Rama and his arch-enemy Ravena, an epic struggle between good and evil.  It like the Bible provides the mythical foundation for Hinduism; and within its classic tale of military might and heroic struggle, and within the overall context of the triumph of the righteous, it contains important moral lessons.  Rama is given help by the supreme god, Brahma and the god Indra to defeat Ravena and his forces of darkness.
Still the dubious battle lasted, until Rama in his ire
Wielded BRAHMA'S deathful weapon flaming with celestial fire!
Weapon which the Saint Agastya had unto the hero given,
Winged as lightning dart of INDRA, fatal as the bolt of heaven,
Wrapped in smoke and flaming flashes, speeding from the circled bow,
Pierced the iron heart of Ravan, lain the lifeless hero low,
And a cry of pain and terror from the Raksha ranks arose,
And a shout from joying Vanars as they smote their fleeing foes!
Heavenly flowers in rain descended on the red and gory plain,
And from unseen harps and timbrels rose a soft celestial strain,
And the ocean heaved in gladness, brighter shone the sunlit sky,
Soft and cool the gentle zephyrs through the forest murmured by,
Sweetest scent and fragrant odours wafted from celestial trees,
Fell upon the earth and ocean, rode upon the laden breeze!
Voice of blessing from the bright sky fell on Raghu's valiant son,--
"Champion of the true and righteous! now thy noble task is done!" (Book X, Chapter 11)
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The Epic of Gilgamesh written in 2000 BC and considered the first great epic poem, is also a tale of man and the gods, struggles between good and evil, heroic episodes and raw exhibitions of power, and like the Ramayana and the Bible, complete with moral lessons. The epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible has strikingly similar themes and narration throughout their respective storyline. Perhaps the best-known example is flood story:
With the first light of dawn a black cloud came from the horizon; it thundered within where Adad, lord of the storm was riding. In front over hill and plain Shullat and Hanish, heralds of the storm, led on. Then the gods of the abyss rose up; Nergal pulled out the dams of the nether waters, Ninurta the war-lord threw down the dykes, and the seven judges of hell, the Annunaki, raised their torches, lighting the land with their livid flame.
A stupor of despair went up to heaven when the god of the storm turned daylight to darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup. One whole day the tempest raged, gathering fury as .it went, it poured over the people like the tides of battle; a imam could not see his brother nor the people be seen from heaven. Even the gods were terrified at the flood, they fled to the highest heaven, the firmament of Ann; they crouched against the walls, cowering like curs.
Then Ishtar the sweet-voiced Queen of Heaven cried out like a woman in travail: "Alas the days -of old are turned to dust because I commanded evil; why did I command thus evil in the council of all the gods? I commanded wars to destroy the people, but are they not my people, for I brought them forth? Now like the spawn of fish they float in the ocean." The great gods of heaven and of hell wept, they covered their mouths.
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Similarities between Mesopotamian myths (The Epic of Enuma Elish) and the Hebrew Bible are striking.
Genesis 1:5-7: And God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water’.  And God made the vault and it divided the water beneath the vault from the water above the vault, and so it was.
Enuma Elish: He (Marduk) sliced her (Tiamat) in half like a fish for drying: Half of her he put up to a roof the sky, drew a bolt across and made a guard hold it.  Her waters he arranged so they could not escape.
The Akkadian myth of Sargon II parallels the birth story of Moses:
I am Sargon, the powerful king, the king of Akkad. My mother was an Enitu priestees, I did not know any father . . . . My mother conceived me and bore me in secret. She put me in a little box made of reeds, sealing its lid with pitch. She put me in the river. . . . The river carried me away and brought me to Akki the drawer of water. Akki the drawer of water adopted me and brought me up as his son. . .
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he creation and writing of these stories reflected the confluence of history, myth, and human nature.  The story of Exodus, for example, is not recorded history, although some archeologists and linguists have found evidence which suggests to them that at least the essential story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt may be based on fact.
These specific place names recorded in the Biblical text demonstrate that the memory of the Biblical authors for these traditions predates Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period. This supports a 13th-century Exodus during the Ramesside Period because it is only during the Ramesside Period that the place names Pi-Ramesse, Pi-Atum and (Pa-)Tjuf (Red Sea or Reed Sea) are all in use.
During their excavations, the University of Chicago uncovered a house and part of another house belonging to the workers who were given the task of demolishing the {Egyptian) temple. The plan of the complete house is the same as that of the four-room house characteristic of Israelite dwellings during the Iron Age. However, unlike the Israelite models that were usually constructed of stone, the Theban house was made of wattle and daub. It is significant that this house was built in Egypt at the same time that Israelites were constructing four-room houses in Canaan. The similarities between the two have caused some to speculate that the builders of the Theban house were either proto-Israelites or a group closely related to the Israelites.
A third piece of evidence for the Exodus is the Onomasticon Amenope. The Onomasticon Amenope is a list of categorized words from Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period. Written in hieratic, the papyrus includes the Semitic place name b-r-k.t, which refers to the Lakes of Pithom. Even in Egyptian sources, the Semitic name for the Lakes of Pithom was used instead of the original Egyptian name. It is likely that a Semitic-speaking population lived in the region long enough that their name eventually supplanted the original (Biblical Archeological Society (3.28.18).
Ancient Hebrews and writers of the Old Testament never doubted a historical Jewish presence in Egypt and an eventual residence in Canaan; and created an elaborate myth to fill in the blanks - to describe both life in Egypt under the Pharaohs, the exodus, and the military march to Canaan.  While many Jews and Christians believe in the inerrancy of the Bible – that everything recorded in it is fact and received wisdom – most others understand the story of Exodus at most as extended metaphor and at least a myth.  If the Bible is derived from a well-known mythological tradition, then it must itself be myth.

The best compromise between the two positions is that of ‘derivative overlay’.  That is, while the story may be similar to older or consonant myths and in fact may be derived from them, its particularity is what counts.  The Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible is not Brahma, Gilgamesh, Zeus, or Apollo; but a unique god with a particular consistent cosmology and vision.

A more fundamental question is why are Creation myths and myths of religious evolution so strikingly similar?  The essence of Hindu cosmology is the endless cycle of creation and destruction; and the Hebrew Bible is no different.  Yahweh created the world, was unhappy with its outcome, and repeatedly destroyed it, yet giving humanity the possibility of reform.  Siva’s dance symbolizes the cosmic cycle of creation and destruction.

The Hindu Creation Myth is very similar to Genesis:
There was neither non-existence or existence.  There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. There was neither death nor immortality.  There was no distinguishing sign of day or night.  That One breathed by its own impulse. Other than hat, there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning.  With no disti8nguishing signs, and this was water.  The life force was covered with emptiness.  That One arose with the power of heat.
The answer to this remarkable similarity of myth was perhaps explained best by Carl Jung’s theory of ‘mythical archetypes’.  Archetypes, he suggested, were inborn tendencies that play a role in influencing human behavior. Archetypes are inborn tendencies that play a role in influencing human behavior. The collective unconscious, Jung believed, was where these archetypes exist. He believed that these models are innate, universal, and hereditary. Archetypes are unlearned and function to organize how we experience the world.

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Stated another way, these collective archetypes – myths – help us make sense of the world.  Because the world has always been perplexing, seemingly irrational, and purposeless, a consistent mythological structure is the necessary template to keep us from emotional and intellectual chaos and despair.  It was not surprising to Jung, therefore, that the same myths keep recurring, changing according to time and place but essentially the same algorithmic paradigms that have always existed.

Even more fundamental to the story of religious myth-making is human nature itself.  There is something compelling about a good story, hyperbole, and exaggeration filled with heroes and villains, good and evil, powers and superpowers.  Aside from the nature of the the myth itself, the stories are remarkably similar.  It is one thing for archetypal myths to frame a cosmology and offer answers to unanswerable questions; another thing for all the stories written to illustrate and narrate the myth to be so similar.

Yet human beings have told each other wild, heroic, unbelievable stories since the beginnings of language.  Stories that enliven, suspend the reality of Hobbes’ short, brutish, and lonely lives.  Stories that give humanity, regardless of the size or importance of community, some greatness.  Whether ancient mythology or modern superheroes, the story is the same.

The writers of Exodus, the Ramayana, and the epics of Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish all had the same very human purpose – to inspire, to excite, and to elevate.

Exodus, then, is the result of the confluence of history, myth, psychology, and human nature.  The New Testament holds up to the same scrutiny.  Although written from a very different mythological perspective – no great battles, herculean fights between good and evil, it still retains most of the elements of powerful, inspirational myth, history, and great storytelling.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Marriage Is A Political Affair, So Why Should Donald Trump Get In The Way Of A Good One?–A Modern Love Story

A former classmate once commented that no friendship can exist between people of opposing political philosophies.  One’s politics, he said, are not simply partisan affairs, but matters of outlook, principle, and moral commitment; and such politics are exclusive. Progressive salons are reserved for those who believe the world is perfectible and progress towards a better place is contingent only upon effort and desire; and conservative drawing rooms welcoming to only those who believe that human nature – aggressive, territorial, violent, and self-serving – is permanent, absolute, and ineluctable. 

No such thing, said a mutual friend who had managed many potentially contentious friendships because of his more nuanced valuation.  What counts in a friendship, he said,  is humor, warmth, sociability, jocularity even; not petty, temporal positions irrelevant to the camaraderie of old friends, family relationships and love.

Both positions were tested in the relationship between Sally Higgins and Xander Parsons.  In an earlier era students of Wellesley and Yale would have had no such conflicts, nor any such irrelevant hurdles to jump before marriage.  Had they been born a generation earlier, they would have come from the same socio-economic class, shared cultural values and social ambitions.  There would have been no question about politics or political philosophy because the world they were about to enter was one of family, predictable profession, faith, and rectitude.  To many millennials such predictability would be a curse.  The very idea of two white, privileged, young people from the wealthiest families of Philadelphia and New York married in pomp and faux-religious ceremony, and sent out to procreate and live quietly and respectfully was anathema.  Multiculturalism was not only the byword of the day but the essence of a political and moral philosophy which was suited for the end of days.  There could be no progression beyond the idea of an inclusive, diverse world of diverse race, gender, and ethnicity.  To others such a stable, moral, and traditional life was anything but anathema.  It represented the best of Christian, Western, Biblical tradition.

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So Sally, inveterate progressive daughter of a scion of Philadelphia society whose family had made their fortune long enough ago to allow the luxury of liberal thought, found herself sexually attracted to Xander, a young man of equally prestigious heritage but whose family had changed little since the days of the Founding Fathers in which they participated.  Xander’s early ancestor in fact had been a confident of Hamilton and although he refused public acknowledgement of his contributions, was well-known in Hamilton’s inner circle for his rebellious insights into the nature of democracy.  Hamilton’s concerns about Jeffersonian popular democracy came from Xander’s relatives and proudly so.

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The conservative political lineage was unbroken; and while the Parsons were never firebrands or radical agitators, they made their influence known through out the two hundred years since the days of their patron, Alexander Hamilton. So many years of unquestioning fidelity to the principles of freedom, free enterprise, free markets, individualism, and enterprise meant that Xander was the chip off the old block – a young man who felt conservativism in his bones, never questioned the principles of Adam Smith, and other economists of the Scottish Enlightenment Hayek; nor doubted Voltaire Rousseau, and Rabelais for their cynical realism; nor abjured the modern-day principles of Ronald Reagan.

One might say that two individuals, bred for intellectual enlightenment, reason, and temperate judgment regardless of political differences should have no problem accommodating each other in marriage.  If political philosophy stayed within its prescribed academic limits and never strayed from pure reason, there would have been no breaches in the marriage – none of the recriminations, vindictiveness, and hostility that always occurs without solid philosophical grounding.  It is for others – the uneducated, easily manipulated, ignorantly gullible masses – to succumb to raw partisanship; but certainly not Sally and Xander.

Yet like everything else, academic certainty and solid philosophical reasoning goes only so far.  When it hits the reality of modern-day American politics, all bets are off.  And so it was with Xander and Sally.  There was simply no way to keep the contentious issues of the day – gay marriage, immigration, free speech, LGBTQIA rights – out of sight to be dealt with personally, quietly, and individually.   When Donald Trump signed an executive order penalizing all universities who abridged the civil rights of free speech, Xander cheered while Sally dissented.  Free speech is nothing but an elitist construct, she said, quoting Freire, designed to cloture righteous anarchistic speech and stifle the aspirations of the marginalized and oppressed.  Until white, privileged society relented and understood the plight of the black man, free speech was only a luxury.

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Xander was outraged.  His great-great grandfather had assisted at the very discussions that resulted in the Bill of Rights.  How could anyone, let alone his wife challenge these absolute, hallowed principles?

The same argument on gay marriage further eroded the simple trust and affection Sally and Xander had for each other.  While Xander quoted liberally from the family Bible – in fact the one on which Hamilton had taken his oath of office – citing Romans, Ephesians, Deuteronomy, and Kings to demonstrate God’s unhappiness with homosexuality – Sally quoted equally liberally from Lacan, Derrida, and even Eco to demonstrate the meaningless of text itself, regardless of how inspired it was thought to be.  The verses cited by her husband meant nothing, written as they were within the socio-cultural context of first century Palestine.  God meant no interdiction against homosexual relationships she said; the Bible was only figurative and demonstrative suggesting how conformity was more important than non-conformity.  Aberration was only a modern, erroneous concept.

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The burdensome, onerous and impossibly discouraging high rates of taxation imposed by Democratic administrations were antithetical to the principles of a liberal economy, Xander said; and only deregulation, and the reform of all punitive financial legislation could right the economic ship of state.

The doors to America must be open to the poor, the downtrodden, the hopeless, and the despairing, said Sally reciting the words on the Statue of Liberty.  Nonsense, said Xander.  If the doors were indeed opened, there would be no room for anyone. Every Nigerian, Ethiopian, Quechua, Jivaro, and Uighur – let alone millions of Salvadorans and Venezuelans – would be here in a jiffy.

Their marriage had taken place in the old Christ Church of Irvington, Virginia – the first church to be disestablished from Anglicanism and instituted as its own American Episcopalian authority.  Marriage in this church had ancestral, social, and political weight even more so than churches colonial Boston and Philadelphia.  Marriage in the Christ Church had significance – a union of two true, very American families in the spirit of the American Revolution.

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Yet even this special sanctification, this secular-religious bonding, this special marriage of special Americans could not allay the bitter infighting that occurred after the priest had pronounced his final benediction.

At first the Parsons were fine.  They went about their family and professional business as planned – he a lawyer at a well-known K Street firm; she a financial officer in a major non-profit; and soon the parents of two children.  There were no rifts in the marriage.  He had has occasional affairs, and she her Victorian dalliances, but nothing serious; until they broke their unspoken pledge of political silence.  They both knew how opposed they were on philosophical grounds and had decided long ago to keep the street fights of partisan politics off the table.  Yet is was impossible for Sally, given her intense loyalty to liberal causes to keep quiet.  It might be OK for a conservative who believed in the ineluctability of human nature and the perennial cycle of greed and violence to be indifferent or dismissive of Trump’s indiscretions, lies, and chicanery; but for a committed progressive, she had to do her part.

At first Xander did not rise to the bait, demurred when asked his opinion, and let the topic slide; but for Sally his response was a matter of honesty and pride.  Did he or didn’t he side with Donald Trump?

Xander’s routine was ruined, his coffee spoiled, his nap interrupted.  Why did his wife persist when she knew that at best he was diffident and at worst was cynically opposed to everything she proposed?  Sally on the other hand was bemused and then angry at her husband’s evasion of responsibility.  How could he not take sides in such important affairs? Did his nihilism have no bounds?

The continued to attend apolitical gatherings at the Cosmos Club and the Society of the Cincinnati, very proper, very comme il faut for Washington society and kept up their patrician credentials; but at home, in the bedroom, there marriage had been fatally infected by politics.  “How could you?!”, she said.  “How could you?”, he replied, and they went to sleep backs turned, irreconcilable and unhappy.

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There are many marriage counselors in Washington, but none able to break the Gordian knot of political difference.  “But you love each other”, the counselor said. “Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Nothing at all”, replied Sally, angry and insulted at the Hallmark card, insipid question.

At this point one would expect divorce – irreconcilable differences, no children, equitable distribution of joint property – but the Parsons were not just any couple.  How could a lineage on his side dating back to Hamilton and hers to Sir Walter Raleigh and the heroes of Albemarle really ever split up?  It was a matter of historical pride, of legacy, and right. 

There marriage might have been consummated as a union of love, but ended as a marriage of convenience rather than the usual other way around.  Unity, family legacy, and national heritage in the final accounting mattered more than political differences.

After all, marriage has always been a political affair.  If not an exchange of wealth, a resolved question of status, or simply the right social thing to do, then what was it?  Petrarch, the creator of romantic love has had his day; the courtly love he encouraged gone by the wayside; and even the most elite marry for the same reasons as the governed – for economic stability or promise, for sons, and for funerary rites.

So Xander and Sally buried their differences and of course in so doing buried what was essential in each of them; but within the broader perspective of proper social marriage and the essentiality of family, children, and faith. little was lost.

Sally read the daily papers and shared them with no one.,  Xander read Ishiguro, Greene, Faulkner, and the Book of Exodus with nary a glance at the Washington Post, MSNBC or CNN.  And so they finally reached a compromise.  None of Trump, Brexit, Kim, May, or Maduro really mattered that much.

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In the end, if not a happy couple, they were at least not an unhappy one.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Beauty Is As Beauty Does - Rabelais, St. Paul, And The Futility Of Good Deeds

BEAUTY IS AS BEAUTY DOES - Good deeds are more important than good looks. The proverb was first recorded by Chaucer in 'The Wife of Bath's Tale' (c. 1387). In 1766, in the preface to 'The Vicar of Wakefield,' Oliver Goldsmith wrote: 'Handsome is that handsome does.' First attested in the United States in 'Journal of a Lady of Quality' . The saying is found in varying forms, including 'Handsome is as handsome does’  (From the "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman).

St. Paul wrote extensively about grace in his Epistle to the Romans, considered by many to be the most complete exposition of proto-Protestant theology in the Bible.  Grace, said Paul, a gift of God bestowed by him on those he chooses for salvation, a gift given freely and without condition; and one whose bestowal can never be influenced by good works.  No matter what one does to try to influence the Almighty; no matter what acts of charity, compassion, fidelity to the Law one does as offerings to God, their election is a matter of divine will – or, as some have put it, divine caprice.

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Paul, of course, was only a canny publicist for the new religion and only an interpreter of the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Jesus himself; so one must take a more comprehensive look at the entire New Testament to come to any definitive or at least workable assumptions.  In fact, Catholic theologians read Paul and the Gospels and came to very different conclusions.  Salvation was not a matter of grace but works – a man’s life devoted to Jesus’s words and examples did indeed have merit when it came to the Last Judgment.

But Paul was a brilliant man of singular talents – rhetoric, management, social savvy, and determination -  and it was his words, not those of the original Apostles that the early Christians heard.  They heard about grace, suffering, justification, redemption, and salvation as Paul understood them.  They also heard his prudish teachings about sex and marriage, lessons hinted at in the Gospels but never spelled out in such absolute and final terms.

Of course later Protestant theologians, of which Luther was only the first, had to be careful to craft their own non-Catholic, non-works messages for the reformed.  There was of course room for good acts in a sinful world, and these reflected one’s goodness and likelihood for election, they said; but these sensible lessons were themselves distorted, and many Protestant thinkers concluded that one could actually determine the status of one’s election by outward signs of wealth, status, and power.  America’s well-known neo-Puritanism was based on the assumption that enterprise, progress, and productivity – the energy behind the works – were higher goods, signifiers of faith, justification, and election.  While these early Protestants denied any association with Papist ‘good works’, they had to at least acknowledge some overlap with their own inflexible doctrine of grace.

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Paul, Luther, and Calvin are not given enough credit for their philosophical vision, no matter how distorted it may have become when translated into religious dogma.  What indeed is the value of good works in a world which, when taken as a whole and viewed from the perspective of history, has had precious little goodness.  Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, was so unhappy at the transgression of Adam and Eve that he condemned their descendants in perpetuity – i.e. the entire human race forever and ever – to lives of penury, misery, and inescapable death.  Surprised and further disappointed that this lesson did not take hold, and that his chosen people were as corrupt, venal, and sinful as ever, he chose to destroy them – to teach them a lesson they would never forget. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was only beginning.  The vengeful, angry, and wrathful God of Abraham sent a flood to destroy the entire world.  If human beings could not follow his Law and realize the nature of his divinity, then they, despite Creation, were worth no more time.

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In short, it is far better to act on a principle of grace and divine election than to rely on the inevitably corrupt and incorrigible human race.  The world would always be a mess – Sin, said Paul reigned supreme before Jesus; and its remission was only conditional on God’s will.  Yes, Jesus died for the sins of humanity and through his death ushered in a new, more hopeful world; but that meant nothing in terms of the ordinary Christian who wanted respite from his short, nasty, brutish, lonely world; and wanted to do something to help his chances, but found little hope in a divine lottery.

Dostoevsky stated the case against Jesus’ teachings and implicitly the doctrine of grace in his chapters on The Grand Inquisitor.  The common man only wants miracles, magic, and authority, wrote Ivan Karamazov.  Christ betrayed his human subjects when he confronted the Devil in the desert, insisting that Man does not live by bread alone.  That statement alone – not a guarantee nor a promise but a vaguely worded hope – allowed for the development of an exploitive, manipulative, and venal Church. 

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How could God possibly allow the suffering of innocent children, too young to appreciate Christ’s appeal, and too young to believe?  Where was divine justice? Suffering, as Paul wrote, is a way to co-exist with the crucified Christ; but what of little children?

Despite 2000 years of a compassionate, loving, and considerate Christianity, the world is as barbaric as ever.  While individual acts of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness will always exist, they do so within a larger context of violence, retribution, penalty, and brutal death.  The Catholic idea of good works never caught on; and while Protestant theologians have tried for centuries to square the concept of community responsibility (i.e. a community held together by the good works of respect, consideration, negotiation, and compassion) with divine election, they have only muddled the waters.

Rabelais made sense of it all when he wrote Candide a cynical tale of the inevitable impossibility of human progress. 

Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology. He could prove admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and in this best of all possible worlds the baron's castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and my lady the best of all possible baronesses.

"It is demonstrable," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles; therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings; accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles; therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten; therefore we eat pork all year round. And they who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best."

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These remarks of Pangloss, are a parody of the philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz who coined the phrase "the best of all possible worlds". The claim that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds is the central argument in Leibniz's theodicy, or his attempt to solve the problem of evil.

Both Paul’s doctrine of grace and Rabelais’ cynical vision accomplish the same thing – by way of mythology/theology (Paul) or observational philosophy (Rabelais), one should pay no attention to good works.  At the very most they are the expressions of a human nature whose only purpose is survival – good works help to establish order and rule and escape chaos.  There is nothing inherently right about ‘doing good’.

Nietzsche expressed this even more cogently than Rabelais.  In a meaningless world, he wrote, the only validation of human existence is the expression of pure will.  Human acts have nothing to do with ends, purpose, salvation, or redemption, but a powerful statement of being.   Such a powerful, individualistic philosophy is ironically reminiscent of the Yahweh in Exodus who when asked his name, said simply “I am who I am”.

It is far easier to adhere to the nihilistic philosophy of Nietzsche and Rabelais than to put all one’s hopes for salvation in Paul’s election lottery.  If I can do nothing to improve my chances of salvation, if works are worth nothing, and if my salvation has only to do with God’s fancy, I am in a pickle.  If I accept the world as meaningless and without hope, I may be depressed by the idea, but at least it corresponds to reality.

Which is why the old adage, ‘Beauty is as beauty does’ is so popular.  Not only does it dismiss the value of personal beauty, allure, and attractiveness per se, it suggests that the ugly and the virtually unattractive – if they do good works – can make up for all their misshapenness, warts, misalignments, and gaucheries.

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Of course, this idea is wrong on both fronts – good works do not matter; and they certainly do not make up for physical beauty in a world obsessed by it. 

Modern progressives are still the most outspoken advocates for good works and human progress.  Humanity is indeed perfectible if only we try hard enough, and if we work together to promote world peace, a more congenial climate, and a more just society.  Millennia of human history, however, give lie to that notion.  Definitely better to accept the odds of the divine lottery or believe in Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Camus.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Resurrection Of The Body At The Last Judgment - Who On Earth Would Ever Agree To A Heaven Of Misshapen Misfits?

God could have created Man in his image – divinely endowed, rich of spirit, faithfulness, righteousness and compassion – and given him divine looks as well.

As everyone knows, Creation did not work out the way God intended.  Eve tempted Adam, Adam took a bite of the apple, and both were exiled from Paradise.  Not only that, all their descendants were to suffer the same divine exile.  Moreover, if one believes Christian mythology, only after the arrival, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ did they have some hope of salvation.

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No matter what the God of Creation did, things turned out badly. Despite Abraham’s imprecations, God was determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, so far had these cities strayed from righteousness.  Why exterminate the good with the bad, Abraham asked God, when in your infinite power and wisdom you can sort the wheat from the chaff?  No, replied the vindictive, vengeful, and righteous God of the Old Testament.  Such universal condemnation was necessary to send a lesson to the people of Israel that defying the covenant was not acceptable. 

The Israelites however paid little mind to God’s warning and continued to sin, deny righteousness, and pursue venal ignorant ambitions; and so God destroyed the world in The Flood.  While God was open to discussion and listened to Moses about strategy and purpose in the exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt, he decided that extermination was always the better way.  Not only would the seven plagues decimate Egypt and deprive them of their firstborns, it would show Israelites and Egyptians alike his power and glory.

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till nothing went right, and God sent his son to earth to once and for all settle the affairs of the unjust and the sinful.  This time, he didn’t bother with physical destruction and mayhem – the death of his son would be enough to redeem the sins of a sinful world and to offer a divine paradise to which the justified would ascend. 

That too hasn’t worked very well.  Sin and death might have been challenged by Jesus, offering at least a way out of the era of evil which preceded him; but to even the casual secular observer, no improvement in God’s Creation could be seen.  In fact, as Dostoevsky noted in The Brothers Karamazov, Jesus’ replies to the Devil in his Temptation in the desert, offering the mighty and everlasting kingdom of God to all, did more to perpetuate evil than if he had said nothing.   The Church, acknowledging the faithful’s need for ‘mystery, miracle, and authority’ took over, anointed itself as the only descendant of Christ, and went on for centuries to distort Christ’s word and meaning. 

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So not only are we scuffling for a place beside the heavenly throne, a place reserved for us only through God’s grace; not only do we, thanks to Jesus, pay less attention to bread, livelihood, and sustenance and more to divine salvation; but we suffer through an interminably brutish and ugly life.
If God is so powerful, why was it at all necessary for him to create this earthly mess and to devise spectacular but immeasurably ineffective ways to deal with it?  At least he could have had the insight to use metaphor.  Why shouldn't a beautiful body be given to all his people, reflecting as it would, the spiritual beauty within?

It gets more complicated.  St. Paul the Apostle, in his letters to the Romans and Galatians laid out his vision of ordinary resurrection.  The souls of the righteous would at death join Jesus in heaven; but their bodies would be resurrected only at the Last Judgment. The best academic theologians have been unable to justify this very strange idea.  Why wouldn’t a conference of saved souls be enough?  Why must our ugly, wasted, unattractive bodies which we have wished for our entire lives that we never had, join our beautiful souls? The received wisdom is that if Jesus, both divine and human, had both an eternal soul and human body then why shouldn’t we?  Yet in all this careful parsing, meticulous exegesis, and logical deconstruction, these experts have never given a thought to the reality of an ugly heaven.

There is one good thing about the current trend of ‘diversity’.  It focuses on socio-cultural identity rather than individual, personal traits.  One is first and foremost gay, female, black, Latino or ‘othered’ and only later smart, dumb, beautiful, alluring, sexy, manly, compassionate, courageous, etc. The ugliest person can subsume his physical misfortune within these larger, more important, more telling categories of being.  There is no shame in being physically unattractive, without grace or charm, and with no trace of allure or sexual invitation; for it is the social purpose which matters.
This is all well and good; and the ranks of social movements are certainly increased by those with little physical charm but who want to do good.  Social justice is a safe haven for sure.  Social workers did not sign up for the homeless because they were beautiful but because it was the right place for them.

Even the most cursory glance at popular women’s and men’s magazines show that the beautiful people are not social workers or soup kitchen attendants.  They are in Hollywood, on the arms of successful politicians, on yachts or beside Palm Beach swimming pools, at country clubs, on tropical islands, and in Carmel, on Park Avenue, or Rodeo Drive.

If we are honest, then if there really must be a heaven with resurrected bodies, let it please be an assembly of these people, not the pipe-fitters, assembly-line worker, bus drivers, garbage men,  or DMV clerks.   Most of us wonder why Paul couldn’t have left well enough alone and taken Jesus at his word.  A community of the souls of the righteous should be enough to satisfy the new covenant and perhaps even God’s desire to make Creation right.

After one look at one of the most faithful, devout, and obedient members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Plains, Virginia, the first thought of even the most accommodating, compassionate, and tolerant friends is that he looks like a Bassett Hound – great drooping jowls, hangdog look, scurrying, waddling walk, and oversized, teary eyes.  The beauty of his soul does not get through his doggy, obedient wagging.  Why should anyone have to look at this body in heaven when his spiritual, evanescent, beautiful soul would be quite enough?

God’s Creation, for better or worse has always been and always will be stratified.  The beautiful, the attractive, and the elegant are featured in Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Persian art.   They are depicted on the frescoes of Pompeii, in marble and bronze.  There are and have always been universal standards of beauty, no matter how deconstructionists debunk the theory.  The women of Ancient Rome, Roman Egypt, Persia, Europe, and Asia have all shared common traits – symmetry, regularity, and above all style.  The classic modern beauty is no different.

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For all the dismissal of beauty as an insignificant, irrelevant characteristic of the human character, it remains essential and undeniable.  It is no accident that the rich and famous, the wealthy, and the favored are more often than not beautiful.  The future DNA marketplace where consumers can purchase bits of the smartest, most talented, most intelligent, and most beautiful people who have gone before will be swamped with e-Bay offers for Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Hedy Lamar, Paul Newman, and Errol Flynn.  Everyone knows that heads turn when a beautiful woman walks through the door – whatever follows is icing on the cake.

Jesus himself is always depicted as a male model – beautiful, perfectly proportioned, emotive, alluring, and ultimately attractive.  For all we know – the Bible does not bother with physical descriptions given the enormity of his mission – he could have been an ugly cretin; but because he was so influential, so dominant, and so important, he must have been beautiful, as attractive as a movie star.

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All of which is to say, what was Paul thinking when he proposed the physical resurrection of the dead at the Last Judgment?  Could anything be less appealing than a heaven crowded with goat-herders, postal clerks, transit workers, and hairdressers?

No one said that faith is ever logical; and one can perhaps forgive Paul – an obvious zealot and true believer – for interpreting Christ’s teachings to suit his particularly curious views on sex, marriage, and fidelity.  Perhaps he found attractive the idea of a heaven populated by billions of bodies of the unwashed faithful, but many good Christians suspend disbelief at this juncture.  Paul could not have possibly meant that they would have to share a heavenly carrel with dark, acned, wall-eyed Carol from Accounting, perhaps the most worthy Christian in all of the K Street secretarial pool, but the ugliest woman in finance.

None of this is to second guess the Bible or to question God’s infinite wisdom.  For all Paul’s devotees and devout evangelical Christians it all makes sense; but to any one slightly more skeptical, one inclined to view both Testaments as myth and not received divine wisdom, the idea of universal bodily resurrection seems fanciful at best.

So, we know both from the Bible and common observation that Creation did not turn out the way Yahweh wanted.  He made a mess of things, decided after eons to try at a final rectification; but as Dostoevsky suggested, he made a mess of that too.  He offered salvation, redemption, and celestial perpetuity, but everyone got only misery, penury, and only the one-in-a-million chance of salvation. 
Worst of all was this weird promise of bodily unification.  Why would anyone who had suffered childbirth, injury, deformity, paralysis, ugliness, and a life without beauty, ever want to be reborn with the same ugly, scarred, pitted body they had unwillingly carried throughout their lives.
Paul thought he he was speaking in hopeful terms when he talked of human resurrection, but he should have looked around the room before he wrote his epistles.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Alte Kockers Taking Themselves Too Seriously–Bernie, Hillary, And All The Other Old Guys Who Don’t Know When To Fold It

There is nothing wrong with being seventy-seven except for the existential issue of it being quite close to the end.  In fact many men around that age are in fine fettle and are studying theology, teaching literature, painting, or contributing somehow to betterment.  Yet these are only retirement options, easing the elision from K Street to the eventual chaise lounge in Florida - still a productive life, just one not so demanding. It is enough for these old men to skim the exegetical chapters on Exodus or Paul or John and avoid going farther into source criticism, linguistics, and Biblical cross-referencing; in other words to slack off. 

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For many, such intellectual slides are unacceptable, signs perhaps not of atrophy but of an equally problematic indifference.  What really does it matter whether P, D, J, or E wrote pieces of the Pentateuch? Or what of Paul’s particular parsing of Jesus’ meaning is necessary to retain?  Or his views on marriage (don’t do it if you can possibly avoid it), homosexuality (don’t even think about it), or much more importantly his understanding of the doctrines of grace, works, and the Law?  Isn’t a bit late to decipher the second hand opinions of a Christian latecomer, regardless of the epiphanic nature of his revelation?

Most older people at some point in their second career – occupations far from the lawyering, doctoring, or accounting of their firstsimply realize it for what it is.  Elision, transition, easement, adaptation, whatever; the shift from expected self-worth signifiers (Ivy League, worthy marriage, responsible profession)  to some doubtful self-determined valuation is never easy.  In the final accounting who cares what the alte kockers attending a class on Kant given by an alte kocker himself, both tempted by ‘pure reason’ but having little of it may learn? They are not in the class to sort out life’s conundrums about being, but to be productive, to take the class they never had the patience to take in college, to make something of their later lives before the recliner.

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‘Too soon old, too late schmart’ is the old Yiddish expression which sums it all up.  There is no such thing as a pull-by date for learning.  All knowledge, whenever or however acquired, is equally valuable.  It is never too late to figure out what’s what.

All well and good up to a point.  Most late-learners give it up for the chaise lounge, the grandchildren, and winters in Palm Beach before too long.  If you haven’t gotten the picture by 75, you will never get it; so why not simply relax, enjoy the warm weather and Florida sunsets, and forget the gym, the classes, and the poetry?

Tolstoy spent much of his life trying to make sense of a meaningless world.  Philosophy, science, theology, mathematics, physics, religion had to hold the answer to the purpose of our short, unhappy lives; and why God in the first place created us as sentient, intelligent, creative, humorous, and insightful beings only to allow us to live a few decades and then consign us to eternity under the cold, muddy ground of the steppes.  He ended up by shrugging his shoulders and considering that if tens of billions of people had believed in God, his plan, and his salvation, why shouldn’t he?  A man can only challenge unanswerable questions just so long.

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Which is why it seems a bit unusual for American politicians to, well into their seventies, think that they still have some first-career something to say.  Bernie Sanders who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016, feels that not only does he still have some fight left at seventy-seven, but that his fight, his legitimacy, and his political values are more than ever valid, valuable, and worthy of recognition. 

How can this be?  Anyone of that age knows that the world has long since passed them by – a world which belongs to those 50 or more years younger.  Of course Bernie appreciates the new configurations of society – social mediated artificial intelligence; the eventuality of DNA reconfiguration, a new world of recombinant human beings, and a world where the originalist Enlightenment  values of Jefferson and the Founding Fathers have no meaning whatsoever in a relativistic, identity-driven community – but he doesn’t get them.  A new world where traditional progressive morality, socialist ethics, and post-modernist historicity have no place.  You simply cannot be a few years shy of extinction and actually, honestly, with no trace of irony or reflection say, “I get it.  I get you.”

For all the naïve idealism of political newcomers – young early 30-somethings who have never been around the block, never tested by the Scylla and Charybdis of compromise and principle, not old enough to have gone through war and economic depression, and too young to have any idea about nature-nurture, cause-and-effect, or meaning and meaninglessness – it is their day.  The old political hacks, selling the same old chestnuts, hawking the same tired, shopworn, uninteresting, and hopelessly out of date and discredited ideas of neighborhood, community, and benign humanity, need to move aside.  Why suffer the humiliation not only of defeat but existential dismissal?  Bernie, Hillary and any other of their lost generation of progressive idealists cannot but be defeated roundly and completely.  They were defeated and left on the curb in 2016 and will be left in the cornfields with little notice in 2020.

Yes, their offspring are waiting in the wings – the black, Latino women and men who are the legatees of the old timers, and who feel that ‘La lucha continua’, that idealism need not die when its older evangelists have passed, and that a better world, is within our reach.  They are too young to understand that idealism has always had currency, but as history continues to show the inevitable devaluation of the idea, it becomes more and more worthless.  So they change the set design, the costumes, and the direction.  Few of the new generation  talk of Henry Wallace, the good Soviets, or the hope for universal socialism; but of youthful, exuberant revolution.  Black Lives Matter, Women’s Marches, demonstrations against racism and to save the Bay, are angry, participatory, socially mediated events that express the general, anti-intellectual, emotional causes of the day.  There is no room for Bernie’s carefully articulated verses about wind power, solar energy, or world peace; or Hillary’s antiquated versions of feminism.  Cory Booker, Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie, and Hillary might be in the same church but in very, very different pews.  In fact different churches of the same denomination.

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Many older Americans wonder at the energy, the continued political commitment, and the passionate interest of older politicians like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton who in any other generation would have been considered well past their prime if not supernumerary.  Most voters wonder what these alte kockers are still doing in the race.  Have they learned nothing?  Has not the venality of the enterprise taken its toll?  Or the national recognition if not adulation been enough, already?  Do they not see the irony, the anachronism, the sheer silliness of their presence in a young world which has long since passed them by?

A very few feel sorry for these dinosaurs who have a) failed to realize the irrelevance of their candidacies; b) failed to appreciate the essential zeitgeist relevance of the newcomers; and c) have failed to realize that it is time once and for al to leave childish things behind.

Those with a longer perspective, while saddened at the alte kockers insistence on relevance, have to laugh at the newcomers’ idealistic posturing. Given today’s market-driven free-agency, it is quite understandable that the supposedly oppressed, marginalized, and forgotten are making a go.  While Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, and Adams might turn over in their graves at just the thought of an Ocasio-Cortez or Booker candidacy, the prize is theirs for the asking.  America if anything is opportunistic and enterprising.

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As much as one might wonder at these newcomers’ credentials or intellectual weight, one can only wish them well.  America has long ago lost the intellectual and philosophical moorings of Jefferson, Locke, and Rousseau.; and for better or worse is engaged in a playground free-for-all.  Not only does one wonder who will surface but who cares?  Once the fight becomes completely venal and self-interested, the result is irrelevant.

So Bernie, Hillary, Mitt, and who knows whatever other over-the-hill politician, will contest the presidency in 2020 and probably lose.  What most of us in their age bracket wonder is why they have stayed in the ring for so long.  How could these otherwise intelligent, reasonable people have opted for nose-bloodying over the chaise lounge?

Most of us know or have realized thatplus ça change, plus c'est la même chosemakes perfect sense; i.e. there is really not much point in demonstrating, contributing, or convening within a cyclical history which validates a perennial, permanent human nature – aggressive, self-centered, self–defensive, and territorial.  Yet alte kockers like Bernie and Hillary, God bless 'em, keep on running.

Their persistence in one way is a validation of the human spirit – never say die – but on the other a sad, dismal accounting of human intelligence.  Have we learned nothing? Has ignorance of history consigned us all to be Don Quixote?  Yes, yes, and again yes.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Schisms In The United Methodist Church - Why Legitimate Objections To LGBTQ Secular Progressivism Are Dismissed Out Of Hand

The United Methodist Church has been riven by doctrinal differences for decades.  While this is nothing new – the history of the second and third centuries of the Christian era is a chronicle of early Christianity's perennial fight against heresy; and Martin Luther’s Reformation was nothing less than the most dramatic and eventful schism in Christian history – it still is newsworthy.  How could a church almost 300 years old, having worked and reworked its charter, covenant, and application of founding principles fall into such a state?  Were not the teachings of Wesley and the pondering and judgments of Methodists ever since enough to solidify the church and insulate it from the secular heresies of the modern age?

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Apparently not, because like everything else religion is a matter of interpretation.  One would have thought that Paul’s clear, unmistakable, and persistent condemnation of homosexuality would be enough to cloture debate or even prevent unnecessary debates on gay marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy - the current issues the church is facing - from occurring:
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done…Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:26-32)

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Paul is no less explicit in Corinthians (6:9-11):
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
The Old Testament is no less condemning:
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination (Lev 18:22)
If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their blood-guiltiness is upon them (Lev 20:13)
Yet, because such universal and unequivocal condemnation undermines the legitimacy of the current, socially acceptable trend of LGBTQ orthodoxy, Paul's meaning is questioned.  Paul was not condemning homosexuality, per se, gay advocates insist.  His statements merely illustrate the nature of sin as the exchanging of a God-given good for a counterfeit good, and hence idolatry.   Paul was referring only to ‘lustful’ rather than ‘loving’ same-sex relationships.  Paul wrote in the 50s of the first century after Christ and like any other writer was a product of and influenced by the culture of his times.

Yet Paul within the context of Christian history, was not just a lieutenant or an advance man promoting a new product.  He was an apostle, chosen and anointed by God.  His words, influenced thought they may have been by popular culture, mores, and opinions carry heavy weight.  The Gospels are no different.  Whoever they were, the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were as close to the epicenter of the new religion as anyone.  There words cannot be summarily dismissed in the post-modernist terms of Lacan or Derrida. 

Paul’s term, ‘degrading passions’ is not relative but all-inclusive.  ‘Same-gender sex is inherently a dishonorable use of the human body and contributes to the person’s and humanity’s ongoing spiritual spiral away from the glory and honor the creator intended’, notes Michael Gorman (Apostle of the Crucified Lord).

Not only do both Old and New Testaments specifically single out homosexuality as an ‘abomination’, but both, especially the New Testament, proclaim the importance and sanctity of the heterosexual family/couple.  Adam and Eve are not just representative symbols of human procreative life, but specific representations of primal human pairs.  The story of Jesus and the Holy Family is not simply expressive of the Gospels’ depiction of historical heterosexual pairing but a mythical representation of the essentiality of Mother, Father, and offspring. The Old Testament’s seemingly endless Hebrew genealogy (Kings, Numbers) is nothing but a history of the importance of procreation, lineage, and purpose.  In Exodus Pharaoh comments on the Hebrews’ fertility, complaining that such numbers threaten his rule; but for the Israelites such procreative bounty is a fulfillment of God’s destiny.

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he point is only that the conservative wing of the Methodist Church as well as that of Episcopalians, Baptists, and Catholics, is under undue pressure to conform to modern, secular inclusionist convictions about sexuality.  According to such thinking, if a phenomenon exists, then it is legitimate.  Inclusivity means the acceptance of all comers.  There can be no a priori judgment in a relativistic world. What is, is valid, unquestionable, and undeniable.

Conservative Christians deny this secular relativism and contend that there are such things as perennial if not absolute values.  The fact that one moral code has been applied by every higher civilization since the ancient Persians, Greeks, and Romans – honor, courage, justice, fairness, compassion, and honesty – gives it some universality if not permanence.   The New Testament provides a religious context for this code and adds many new dimensions to the appropriateness and rightness of human behavior.  Other religious texts – the Koran, the Vedas, and the Tao – follow the same moral order.

Why then are such originalist opinions so roundly dismissed by the progressive, secularized wing of mainline churches?  How can a relatively new take on human sexuality – the LGBTQ phenomenon is only decades old – possibly have more historical and philosophical legitimacy than the old, traditional one? Is not this progressive agenda, dismissive of any historical, textual, and philosophical principles arrogant and self-serving at best?

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In other words, why is it too much to accept conservative Methodists’ objections to gay marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy? In fact, shouldn’t a Biblical interpretation carry a special weight and significance?  Even if the Bible is only myth, it is a myth which has persisted for millennia; and like all myths has expressed something essential about humanity and human nature.  It seems presumptuous at best to deny history, Biblical text, mythology, and ancient and modern philosophy in favor of a short-term, recently devised progressive interpretation of faith and spirituality?

The United Methodist Church may not survive these doctrinal differences intact.  After the recent (3/19) conference in which traditionalism was confirmed and approval of either gay marriages or the ordination of LGBTQ clergy denied, there can only be a radical split along doctrinal lines.  Accommodation, compromise, and mutually acceptable solutions are difficult within any corporate environment and especially difficult where the presumption of absolute belief and right is involved; but not impossible. Yet the zeitgeist of 21st century America is one of separatism, identity, and exclusion. ‘Don’t want it, don’t like it, don’t take it’ is the operational aphorism.  Churches cannot possibly survive American secular divisionism.  Disagreeing parties will have to go their own ways.

The only reason why such religious separatism is a problem is because by hiving off, one capitulates.  The progressive view – historically and doctrinally very difficult to justify at best - is allowed to exist if not flourish within an accommodating, welcoming, and supportive secular establishment; while the conservative view must fight to regain legitimacy, traction, and territory in a decreasingly small minority.

Every religious confession has its doctrinal issues; and the more that secular progressivism takes hold, the more complex and difficult resolution will be.  Rather than the very disciplined and logical debates held in the time of Clement, Tertullian, Aquinas, and Augustine to determine the ideological foundations of the church, today’s discussions are more often than not a priori and settled.  Of course X is true, correct, and absolute; and debate based on emotional righteousness rather than reason is quickly clotured.