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

Monday, September 30, 2019

What If Jesus Really Is God, Then What?–Confessions Of A Worried Atheist

Bartley Hammond was brought up as Catholic in the 1950s, a time of unquestioned belief in the Church – Confession, Holy Communion, Mass, and mortal sin.  While practice was often desultory, faith was never doubted – at least in the small New England city where Bartley had been born and raised.  The Church was not only an institution of faith but the institution.  For the residents of New Brighton the Church – or for that matter the churches of the many Protestant denominations, or the Jewish synagogue – was a social anchor and belonging meant probity, rectitude, and belonging to the wider community of the town.

  Image result for images priests at latin mass altar

People were identified quickly and easily by their nationality (Italian, Polish, Jewish, Anglo-Saxon) but especially by their religion.  There was a great degree of religious tolerance in those post-War years in New Brighton perhaps because of the multi-faith platoons of the Army, but because religion before the era of identity politics was never a cause to be defended but simply a faith to be practiced.  Brantley’s parents went to Mass regularly, received the Sacraments, and respected the canon; but their friends were the Lutheran Swansons, the Episcopalian Porters, and the Jewish Bernsteins.

The Hammonds were not only observant Catholics, they accepted the principal tenets of the Church – the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Holy Trinity, transubstantiation, forgiveness, redemption, and good works.  While they might have questioned priests’ interpretation of Catholic teaching, their almost exclusive focus on sin, and only passing reference to the more complex, sophisticated, and rewarding aspects of Church doctrine and theology, their faith was never shaken. 

Brantley’s faith was tested not long after she left home for college in the early years of the Sixties.  Radcliffe, like Harvard, was a very secular place.  Religion was discussed only in the context of Milton, the Renaissance, or the European Popes.  It was contextual and referential rather than central. Religious discussions focused on first principles; Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas; and the institutional history of  the Early Church. – all within an academic, inquiring perspective.  Unilateral devotion to the Church, especially one which she increasingly realized as autocratic, authoritarian, and political, was no longer possible.  The heady intellectual environment of Harvard-Radcliffe and the zeitgeist of the Sixties were more than enough to change her mind.  She matriculated as a good Catholic, but graduated as a committed agnostic.

Image result for st augustine saint

While some residual guilt remained for having abandoned the Church, risked excommunication, and denied herself what she once believed was God’s glory, it was concealed by her new social activism.  The Church, according to the Leftist canon, was nothing more than a capitalist, materialist, exploitative institution which had ruled an ignorant peasantry for profit and political gain since the Middle Ages.  In fact, a belief in God was no more than a slavish obeisance to a fictional character, invented by those who had little and who had suffered under the yoke of religious martials for centuries. 

Brantley not only abandoned her faith, but actively fought against it.  She was no longer an agnostic but an atheist and a militant one at that.

As she got older, married, had children, and pursued her career as an academic, her revolutionary fire was banked but never extinguished, for she saw political conservatism and its courting of Protestant fundamentalists as anathema, and a return to pre-Sixties normalcy and social backwardness. 

Her husband, also an academic at a sister institution in Boston, was as hostile to religion as she had become.  Raised in mixed-faith family where neither faith nor social belonging were issues, he came to his radical atheism through political sensibility and awareness. His progressivism, true to the canon, featured secularism, social progress, idealism, and Utopianism. Religion was the enemy as it had always been in radical Socialist states.

Image result for images oneida colony utopians

In any case Brantley and her husband were philosophically perfectly aligned.  Not only had they built anti-clericalism into their own worldview; but their lack of faith, their secularism, and especially their atheism became important personal markers.   It was who they were.  Of all their progressive credentials, their rejection of God was the most courageous, noteworthy, and important.

In her late sixties, Brantley’s sister Laura enrolled in a Masters of Divinity program at a Methodist seminary; and when she had exhausted its academic resources (its focus was on ministry and pastoral mission), she audited courses at Catholic University, Georgetown, and Virginia Theological (Episcopal) Seminary.  She had also investigated the possibility at studying at one of the Vatican’s universities.  To her curious friends who wondered why a lifelong secularist would return to religion, she demurred.  Her decision did not imply a return to faith, but only to religious inquiry.  One cannot be an intellectual without a grounding in the Early Church, the Old and New Testaments, and the systematic theology which offered insights into the historical application of religious doctrine to secular societies.

When asked by one of her devoutly Protestant friends whether or not she had found Jesus, she honestly replied, “Not yet”.  Although she had enrolled in the seminary to learn about religion and not to adopt it, she was open to the possibility that she of course might.

This response was the right one for Laura’s fundamentalist friends, but not for her sister for whom Laura’s return to religion was a sign that she, unlike Brantley, had never abandoned the faith of their childhood.  If she, the older sister she had always respected and admired, was returning to religion, then was her own out-and-out dismissal of it premature if not foolish?  Might there actually be truth to the contention that Jesus was God? Was it possible that the universe was not random and coldly indifferent, but the creation of a purposeful Creator?

Image result for images old testament god

If that were the case, then everything from her secular progressivism to her own advancing age would be in play.  If there were a God, then everything would change.  Her life would be turned upside down, she would be adrift from her moorings, lost between faith and unfaith, forced to take sides.  And if God, Christ, and 5000 years of Judeo-Christian history were on one shore, how could she not sail towards it?

She repeatedly called her sister hoping to pick up some clue to what she considered was her volte face.  “You don’t really believe all this Christ nonsense?”, she asked; but never received the unequivocal answer she was hoping for.  Laura continued to insist on possibility, not certainty. 

Nothing could have been more unsettling.  It would have been one thing if Brantley had only been an agnostic; but as a confirmed, committed, and militant atheist whose atheism was an integral part of her political and social progressivism, it was threatening to say the least.

Why, her friends asked, didn’t she dismiss her sister’s interest in religion late in life for what it must be – a dalliance, a time-filler, a pastime of her retirement.  But Laura knew better.  The old saw, ‘Once a Catholic, always a Catholic’, was not to be taken lightly. The indoctrination of the Church in childhood was comprehensive, thorough, and complete; and the environment of the still-obedient Fifties was the idea medium for the Church’s teachings to take root and grow.  It wasn’t so easy to get rid of the Church.

Image result for images vatican logo

Brantley leaned on her husband and her university colleagues for support.  They assured her that her sister had gone off the rails, her philosophical immune system compromised by the corrosive influence of the Church, and her mind addled by the zealots teaching at the seminaries she attended.

All well and good, comforting, and calming; but she now woke up at night with niggling doubts.  “What if He is…What if I am wrong…What if my sister is right…?” No matter how hard she tried, she could not dismiss the doubts; and the more they troubled her, the angrier she got, both at her own lack of conviction and resolve and at her sister for having betrayed her.   Worst of all, she wanted to go to Mass.

It took a good while for Brantley to settle things in her own mind and to reach a point where mention of Christ, God, or the Church was no longer troubling; where inquiry was possible, where divinity was possible, and where life between the shores was not unrealistic.  She is less afraid of believing and more tempted by it.  Why reject the Church because of its institutional abuse of power, venal Popes, European wars, or sexual abuse?  The Gospels, the rational exegesis of the theologians of the Early Church, the sophisticated principles of Being, Divinity, and Metaphysics ought to be enough.

This compromise was settling.  Although she could still not fully come to grips with the idea of a Savior, she was willing to admit the possibility of divinity and let it go at that.  She could now have coffee with her sister without thinking of the damnation of her immortal soul.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Black Widow Spider– A Tale Of Sexual Will And A Devouring Woman Of Great Beauty

Brent Lively had known since the beginning that his marriage to Beth Parker, daughter of an Iowa farmer, successful investor in iron works and copper, would never amount to much.  She was the classic calm, practical reasonable anodyne to the tempestuous relationship with Lacey Thomas, a woman who had eaten him to an inch of his life.  An inch was enough to survive, and although his sexuality was almost indistinguishable from what it was before her, so neutered was it; he was still alive, his sexual fires banked, his sexual soul temporarily under wraps, both waiting for an opportunity to reignite and emerge.

Image result for images black widow spider

Lacey had devoured him out of lust, ambition, and Lawrentian purpose.   She was woman who considered orgasm her birthright, the defining element of womanhood, the only event worth noting in an otherwise humdrum evolution; and the fact that Brent had been the first lover of any promise – a confident, strong, and equally sexually purposeful, desirous Mellors to her Lady Chatterley – was incidental.  She cared little who the gatekeeper to her sexuality was, only that he perform as was expected. Her great beauty – classic, imperious, and perfect was both a source of sexual power and a foil to her ultimate interests.  Physical beauty distorted the sexual calculus – too many incompetent men were drawn to her; and too many competent men were distracted by it.

Her previous lovers had been promising but inept, desirous enough, male enough, but without the will to make love as existential as Lawrence saw it, central to everything, incidental to nothing. Maleness and femaleness, Lawrence thought, were absolute, clearly defined, and primal, and true sex was the way for men and women to realize, appreciate, accept, and fulfill their sexuality.  The phallus might be the initiating instrument of sexual union, but a woman’s sexual energies stimulated and released by it were no less valid and important to physical and spiritual consummation.

Two rivers of blood are man and wife, two distinct eternal streams that have the power of touching and communing and so renewing, making new one another, without any breaking of the connecting link between the two rivers, that establishes the two forever.  And this, this oneness gradually accomplished throughout a lifetime in twoness is the highest achievement of time or eternity.  From it all things human spring, children and beauty and well-made things, all true creations of humanity. And all we know of the will of God is that he wishes this, this oneness, to take place, fulfilled over a lifetime, this oneness within the great dual blood-stream of humanity (Lady Chatterley’s Lover)

Image result for images lady chatterley lover book cover

Brent had had the sexual confidence, the purposefulness, and the desire to mate with Lacy; but he teetered on the edge, balked at her sexual omnivorous appetite, pulled away before he was consumed, unsatisfied, wanting more, but too fearful to give up and give in.

Lacey, like Lady Chatterley reviewed her options.  Mellors was as sexually sophisticated as Lady Chatterley and as aware of the sexual premium of mutual ‘finality’ but too diffident, too concerned with social class and propriety – like Miss Julie’s valet who needed to do the right thing,and was always chattel to it – and Brent was no different.  A likely candidate, a good choice, but ultimately too timid and withdrawn to perform.

Which is why he escaped Lacey and retired to the arms of a woman who had no such designs, no such hunger, and no such sexual designs.  Life with her, while ordinary, would never be feral or dangerous; and sex while never existential and always predictable, would always be procreative, physical and uncomplicated.  Neither she nor sex would change anything. 

Of course Brent quickly tired of the routine and longed for Lacey, although she was long dead and buried in an Amboy cemetery, visible from the Garden State Parkway, unceremoniously laid to rest with only a few mourners by the graveside and none of her lovers.  His failure with Lacey, his non-compliance with her non-negotiable sexual demands, and his being left on the curb did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm and his awkward sexuality.  Lacey would always be his Marilyn Monroe – a sexual icon, unattainable but more desirous because of it.

Beth was temperate, forgiving, longsuffering, and loving; and no matter how often or how far Brent strayed, she took him back; and he always came back, never contrite but exhausted.  Beth was always a safe haven.  Burton, Mungo Park, and Speke all had homes to which to return; or at least the dream of having one.  For Brent, he could never have had his own adventures without the guarantee of safe return and safe haven. 

Image result for images burton richard explorer

Why, one might ask, would a man like Brent Lively seek another Black Widow, a woman whose sexuality was impossible to satisfy and whose demands were intimidating and threatening?  Yet most men are like Mellors and see sex as metaphysical as Lawrence did.  While sex might be incidental and forgettable, without significance, a burnishing of ego at best, and a drunken and clumsy event at worst, the idea of sexual balance - an expression of complementary wills -  an ineradicable  piece of memory, and a defining experience was irresistible.

From this perspective Brent’s affairs were desultory and predictable.  There were sexually hungry women but whose voracity came from some petty psychological and all too familiar twist – an indifferent father, a demanding mother, a bad marriage, an overactive ego, or a distorted self-image – and never from the Nietzschean lust described by Lawrence. 

All the great words, it seemed to Connie, were cancelled for her generation: love, joy, happiness, home, mother, father, husband, all these great, dynamic words were half dead now, and dying from day to day. Home was a place you lived in, love was a thing you didn't fool yourself about, joy was a word you applied to a good Charleston, happiness was a term of hypocrisy used to bluff other people, a father was an individual who enjoyed his own existence, a husband was a man you lived with and kept going in spirits.

As for sex, the last of the great words, it was just a cocktail term for an excitement that bucked you up for a while, then left you more raggy than ever. Frayed! It was as if the very material you were made of was cheap stuff, and was fraying out to nothing.

Sex without something more than simple physical satisfaction or the temporary resolution of old, minor sexual issues was never worth it.  There had to be something more.  Connie found it in Mellors, a sexual twin, an ontological partner, but few other women or men ever do.  Lacey was too devouring, too insistent on reaching a transcendental orgasm, to emasculating to find complementarity.  Brent was too timid, and although sexually aware, was reluctant to be devoured and consummated.

For Lawrence sexual complementarity was far from today’s sense of mutual respect, patience, and carefully-balanced parity.  It was the complementarity of wills – one dominant, the other submissive, regardless of gender.  Women in Love, Lawrence’s long, often preachy, and windy book about the sexual dynamics between the partners of two couples, gets at this idea of will.  Each of the characters struggles to come to grips with their sexual will or lack of it; and most are conflicted between desires of submission and desires of dominance.  They challenge all the social conventions,  parental authority and patriarchy, feminine and masculine expectations to try to achieve sexual independence and identity.  They stumble and get so caught up in their intellectual pretensions to follow their natural instincts.

Image result for imges d h lawrence

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a book published after Women in Love and Lawrence’s last, he creates in Connie a woman without such pretentions.  Connie is as desirous as Gudrun and Ursula and as motivated, but far more mature and honest.

The beautiful pure freedom of a woman was infinitely more wonderful than any sexual love. The only unfortunate thing was that men lagged so far behind women in the matter. They insisted on the sex thing like dogs.

And a woman had to yield; but a woman could yield to a man without yielding her inner, free self. That the poets and talkers about sex did not seem to have taken sufficiently into account. A woman could take a man without really giving herself away. Certainly she could take him without giving herself into his power. Rather she could use this sex thing to have power over him. For she only had to hold herself back in sexual intercourse, and let him finish and expend himself without herself coming to the crisis: and then she could prolong the connection and achieve her orgasm and her crisis while he was merely her tool.

Mellors, while sharing sexual experience with Connie, follows her.  The women in Lawrence’s novels are always sexual leaders.  They are the ones with will, determination, and purpose; and the men in their lives rarely match up.  From Margaret, Paul’s mother in the autobiographical Sons and Lovers to Connie Chatterley, it is the women who have an insight into the limitless potential and power of sex. While Mellors and Brent may have sensed the importance of mating with powerful women, they were not always up to it.  Brent was nearly devoured and Mellors lost his way.  Strindberg’s Miss Julie was another sexually powerful, determined woman who used Jean, her valet for her own sexual ends; but both were too confined by society, culture, and bourgeois expectations to fulfil them. Ibsen’s women succeeded in realizing their power, but – like Lacey – destroyed the men they sought to manipulate.

In Women in Love after Birkin and Ursula have finally made love, Birkin expresses Lawrence’s central idea:

He knew what it was to have the strange and magical current of force in his back and loins, and down his legs, force so perfect that it stayed him immobile, and left his face subtly, mindlessly smiling. He knew what it was to be awake and potent in that other basic mind, the deepest physical mind. And from this source he had a pure and magic control, magical, mystical, a force in darkness, like electricity. It was very difficult to speak; it was so perfect to sit in this pure living silence, subtle, full of unthinkable knowledge and unthinkable force, upheld immemorially in timeless force…

Image result for images book women in love

Yet Birkin like Gerald cannot retain the focus, and have mated with imperfectly sexual women.  Neither Ursula nor Gudrun have achieved the sexual maturity of Connie Chatterley and therefore are distracting.  Although Birkin has an intimation of the power of sex, without the clear singularity of purpose of his lover, his intentions are diverted.

Lawrence’s idea of complete sexual parity, a complementarity of sexual wills, and the epiphanic nature of a perfect sexual union, is Platonic at best and romantic at worst.  Yet Brent like most men understood it well. Being nearly devoured by Lacey was only the beginning of his sexual maturity; and he had the resolve to keep looking.

Most men keep looking well beyond their ability to attract and keep a mate.  God’s greatest irony was to create men with a limited sexual life but condemned to an obsessive perennial fascination and desire for women.  A sexual Sisyphus, doomed to desire and flogged daily for it, almost reaching their sexual ideal, but turned back near the top.

Brent, like most men, returned to his wife and their predictable, comfortable older years.  At least he had tried, although that was cold comfort since he never stopped looking for another Lacey, albeit from his armchai

Friday, September 20, 2019

Justin Trudeau - Meaningless Apologies In The Sanctimonious Age Of Social McCarthyism

Peter Sellers played an Indian in The Party.  His imitations were spot on and hilarious.

Image result for peter sellers as an indian in movieImage result for peter sellers as an indian in movie

Eddy Murphy’s imitations of white people are just as funny, particularly his impressions of Jews.  His Jewish tailor in Coming to America was stereotypical, and his looks, accent, intonation, dress, and body language were perfect. 

Image result for eddie murphy coming to america images jewish tailor

The Wayans Brothers movie White Chicks was in the same comedic spirit.

Image result for images Movie White Chicks

Al Jolson, a popular Russian-Jewish vaudevillian actor of the 20s and 30s made his reputation and popular appeal performing in blackface.

Image result for al jolson in blackface

In all four cases the comedy is particularly funny because of the weird racial/ethnic/gender twists – Sellers was a white comedian playing on Indian stereotypes.  Eddie Murphy is a black man who does impeccable hilarious impersonations of white people.  The black Wayans brothers take this burlesque comedy to a completely other playing white girls.

So, of course Justin Trudeau performed in brownface as Aladdin and in Al Jolson-style blackface.  In the untamed, still adolescent college days of Trudeau’s Canadian youth, like in America, anything went.  It was a time for the ridiculous, the shameless, the fraternity, and the silly.  Men dressed up as women, whooped and hollered like Plains Indian, did the pimp walk, and performed as super-macho Tarzan pursuing Jane.   It was a freer, less concerned and far less sanctimonious time.

Mocking stereotypes is an time-honored comedic tradition in America, and was the stock-in-trade of the Borscht Belt comedians who could make fun of anyone.  As importantly, they never did it in a mean-spirited, ugly way.  Even those pilloried for their stereotypical behavior appreciated the humor – there was indeed something funny about the way new immigrants tried to be American and yet could never lose their roots in Sicily, Russia, Ireland, or Poland.  Skits about the blind, the crippled, and the deaf were funny because of luckless twists of fate, exaggerated humanity, and ungainliness. A man slipping on a banana peel and falling unceremoniously - ungainly, without decorum or social privilege is funny .  The skits were not meanspirited, hateful, or immoral.  They were simply funny, playing on everyone’s sense of human nature, life, and luck.

The point is not so much that Trudeau dressed up and acted in brown- and blackface, but that he apologized for it.  His apologies were senseless, meaningless, and irrelevant.  He had performed in a more open, less fragile society with little sanctimony and righteousness.  Had he committed an act that for the time was unconscionable – a hurtful, irresponsible act which reflected on his character and soul – then admission might be in order.  Not an apology, but an act of contrition, a willingness to confess to moral failure, a lack of rectitude, and ignorance.  Apologizing to no one in particular and everyone in general for a very understandable act which only in this oversensitive, fearful age of political correctness is concerned wrong. 

Image result for images justin trudeau

Anyone who is paying the slightest attention, sees Trudeau’s apologies for what they are – self-serving admissions designed only to minimize the political damage and fallout from the revelation of his youthful hijinks.  Trudeau knows that he did no wrong, that he has no need to apologize; but rather than be honest about the corrosive influence of reformist politics, the cult of inclusivity and identity, and the damages done to social integrity, he bends over, bends down, and plays into the hand of the Stalag Left.

Politicians have always apologized in as meaningless a way as Trudeau over far more serious accusations.  Many have had indefensible affairs and when finally exposed simply apologize.  “I am sorry that my actions have caused so much hurt and pain to my family, friends and colleagues”, they say, careful never to say they are sorry for the act itself. They are as adept at twisting apologies for their own ends as the English.   I didn’t do anything wrong, said Newt Gingrich after admitting infidelities while his wife was being treated for cancer:

Let's remember, Newt famously dumped wife #1 for wife #2 while wife #1 was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. As in literally went to the hospital to present her with divorce papers while she was recovering from surgery for uterine cancer.

He eventually dumped wife #2 for wife #3 shortly after wife #2 was diagnosed with MS back in 1999. And he was having the affair on wife #2 with wife #3 while he was turning the country upside down trying to drive Bill Clinton from office over his affair with Monica Lewinsky (Josh Marshall, New York Magazine 3.9.11)

John Edwards was no different:

When Edwards first admitted to the affair, he stated that Elizabeth was in remission from breast cancer. However, it became clear that the affair was still ongoing, even after he and his wife made a joint announcement that her cancer had returned and was found to be incurable. Elizabeth Edwards died on December 7, 2010. (Wikipedia)

Yes, he was philandering while his wife was dying.  Yes, he lied to her; and yes, he bribed an underling to say he was the father of Edwards’ illegitimate child; but he never apologized for wrong-doing, just for the hurt that he caused:

Edwards wrote in a statement, “It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me….To all those I have disappointed and hurt, these words will never be enough, but I am truly sorry.” (Keith Huffman, Washington POST, 1.22.10)

Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who lied to everyone about his affair and told the press that he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail when he actually was headed to Buenos Aires to be with his firecracker, is now back in office as a Representative to the Congress of the United States. He apologized - abject apologies not for his dereliction of office, cheating on his wife, or for blatant lies, but for causing hurt and pain.

It is not surprising then that in this day of insincere apologies that whole countries feel the need to apologize.  Poor Queen Elizabeth was forced into apologizing for British atrocities in Kenya, convinced by her Prime Minister that such an apology for alleged murders of Mau Mau ‘freedom fighters’ would tighten the bond between the two countries.

The apology must have really stuck in the craw of the Queen, old enough to remember the glory days of Empire, when Kenya was the jewel in crown of British Africa, when her forbearers had brought civilization to the natives and prosperity to the land.  Her advisors of course had to tell her of the even more savage brutality of the Mau Mau who reputedly chopped up British soldiers and grilled them over charcoal in the Great Rift Valley.  The Queen must have had to practice her apology speech very hard indeed and muster all her English self-control to utter it.

The British don’t have to go back very far in history to find other events to apologize for -  the massacres of the Boer War, the Sepoy Rebellion, and Amritsar are just a few.  In keeping with the protocol of this Age of Apology, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, did offer an apology for Amritsar, but stopped short of making it official.  As he explained to reporters in Amritsar, history is history, after all, and you can’t change it.  So in proper British fashion he said ‘Sorry’ without really meaning it.

Amritsar Massacre

We are still waiting for the Mongolians to apologize for the outrages of Genghis Khan who killed at least 40 million people in his rampages out of the steppes to Europe and the Far East.

Image result for Images Genghis Khan

Recently Congress, feeling the growing pressures from the reformist Left passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and Jim Crow, but were careful to avoid any legal missteps and never waded into human rights territory.  No one voted ‘Nay’ and so Congress granted us all absolution for the past. We didn’t have to get fussed about anything.

Meaningless, empty political apologies such as those expressed by Justin Trudeau are shameless, venal, and hopelessly transparent.  There is nothing in his confessions to admire.

‘Racism’ has become a catch-all phrase which includes everything from the most serious and academic look at racial disparity in performance, crime, and education; to virulent expressions of hate for all black people.  To publicly declaim racism confers an automatic green card.  It is a sign of being ‘woke’, being born again as a newly aware, committed, and faithful follower of social justice and a signifier for all progressive causes – not only racism but homophobia, sexism, income inequality, violence, and xenophobia.

In other words it is a banner to fly, a badge of belonging, and a key to the right clubs; and under this banner progressives shout, ‘J’accuse!’, exposing anyone who falls short of their impossible standards of right.  They are the McCarthyites of the 21st century; and the likes of Justin Trudeau play into their antidemocratic, divisive hands.