Haunting History

It’s difficult to do without feeling guilty, even if you personally had nothing to do with it.  It does seem that “Whites” have to take the initiative to dismantle systemic racism before any kind of fairness can settle on the world.  Toni Morrison is a great example of why that’s so important.  Beloved is perhaps her best-known work.  Although it involves a ghost it’s not so much a ghost story as it is a haunted story.  Black experience has been one of enforced poverty, after the emancipation proclamation—much like the American Indian experience.  Morrison represents this in a non-accusatory way, but she indicates in her story how the pain and mistreatment persists.  Her work is more important now than ever.  White supremacists are controlling the narrative in much of the country although they are the minority.  They need to read this book.

There will be spoilers here, if you’re even later coming to Beloved than I am.  Sethe was a slave.  The novel is set just after manumission, but she escaped before that.  She had four children and when she was sexually assaulted she realized this could happen to her children and she decided to spare them that fate.  Although she was stopped before she could kill all four, her first daughter, Beloved, was her victim.  This story is about what happens when Beloved returns to live with Sethe and her remaining daughter.  It is a haunting story.  No “boos” or jump startles, it sets up a sad atmosphere of a woman falling apart because of guilt.  Guilt for an event that would’ve never happened if she’d been treated like a human being.

Apart from the schoolteacher and his cohort, the whites in the story are kindly to Sethe.  Her “owner” was a slaveholder who gave his “possessions” respect.  She was saved from hanging after the death of Beloved by a local white man who understood what slavery might do to a person’s mind.  Even so, these kind people think of Blacks as servants rather than as people in their own right.  It’s difficult to read books like this.  That’s one of the reasons that it’s important to do so.  There is a lot to analyze here, much to reflect over.  If we put books like this on reading lists instead of banning them, it would help to bring understanding and sympathy rather than hatred and fear.  The future only improves when we admit our past errors and move to heal the scars we continue to inflict.


False Focus

I seldom use my iPhone.  I admit that I like having a camera with me most of the time and I don’t look like a tourist.  I don’t text and when I feel like tweeting I do it from my laptop.  I often forget where I put my phone and walk out of the house without it.  What I’m trying to say is that it’s not a distraction.  Now I realize companies (which seldom undertake to comprehend those of us who are anomalous) have to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  In iPhone world this means that they now want you to use “Focus.”  In other words, if you’re behind the wheel or in danger of losing your job for being distracted all the time, you can filter what gets through.  I recently had a request from my phone to send me Focus notifications when I’m home.  Of course it knows when I’m home!

It seems unnerving to me that we need to have our devices remind us not to use them.  What does it say about our love-love relationship with devices?  We use them to guide us when we’re driving—no longer experiencing the wonder of getting lost.  We read on them, forgetting the feel, smell, and non-reflective look of a book.  Some people even smoke their devices.  Many people now protect their houses with devices that allow them to see who’s at the door.  Do we really feel safer with our devices taking care of us all the time?  Perhaps we do.  Perhaps the cyborg revolution has already begun.

When I see how simple things like telling an apple from a tomato still flummox machine sensors (and even if they learn to tell this difference, the point remains the same), I realize just how much life experience teaches us.  We’re constantly taking in sensory data and interpreting it.  Often subconsciously.  I can smell and feel the difference if the same shirt is dried in a dryer or on a line.  I know which is better but I struggle to find the words to describe why.  I can tell the difference between the taste of this peanut and that one.  Some scents can trigger euphoria while others warn that a mustelid is nearby and wants to be left alone.  I know to look around for a skunk, to honor its wishes.  I can infer that the apples that have started to go bad are why that opossum is in our compost bin.  Perhaps I’ll pull out my phone and take a picture.


On Campus

It’s still the pandemic and I don’t get out much.  It seems prudent and only a little paranoid.  I had the opportunity to meet someone from Lehigh University recently.  The interesting thing is, I’ve become shy about going onto college campuses unless invited.  I can still usually pass for a professor (the beard and glasses help, along with a natural disheveledness) and I behave well in public.  Still, universities are all about belonging.  If you’re an alum you can come in.  You’ve paid a lot of money, and, the thinking goes, hopefully you’ll pay more.  Of course you’re welcome!  The last time I visited Boston University I remember thinking how small it was compared to my younger memories of wider corridors and more welcoming faculty.  Many ways exist for measuring how we grow.

When offered the chance for a quick stroll around Lehigh I had to say yes.  Like Syracuse University, it’s set on a hill.  From downtown south-side Bethlehem you need to walk up.  Even growing up in Pennsylvania I didn’t hear much about Lehigh.  The western part is dominated by the University of Pittsburgh and the eastern by Penn.  In the middle there’s Penn State.  There are actually many colleges in the commonwealth, about 140 if you separate out branch campuses.  Still, I was struck by the classic feel to Lehigh’s campus.  As you come down the hill it grows more modern, but I always like the older buildings.  Something about their solidity is comforting.  How’ve I been here nearly four years and not found it?

My host pointed out one of the libraries and suggested I stop in before leaving campus.  I had a mask and a minute so I did just that.  There’s a danger to stopping into libraries.  It’s too easy to fall in love in them.  I could see myself whiling away the hours there.  I spent plenty of hours in my own undergrad library, even though it wasn’t nearly so nice.  The only bad thing about visiting campuses is that I eventually have to face the exile from them I feel each and every day.  Many people can’t wait to graduate and get away.  Some of the rest of us never want to leave.  I suppose it’s an artificial environment, but if a small segment of the population can make it work, I wonder why we can’t get more of the world to emulate it.  I may not get out much, but I like to make those rare trips worth the effort.


Annotating Irving

Really concentrating on a short story is sometimes difficult to do.  I don’t have a degree in literature (I took a few courses, but my specialization was religion).  I’ve been on a bit of a Sleepy Hollow kick lately and I wanted to move beyond just the short story by Washington Irving.  Although I’m sure working through the entire Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., the book in which “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was published, would probably be rewarding, it would also be time consuming.  Irving was trying to find his way as a writer and this particular story has been his lasting contribution.  So I turned to local historian Henry John Steiner’s annotated edition.  It has a useful introduction, but still wouldn’t be “book length” without several pages of photos and a large font size.

Sleepy Hollow may lay claim to several signs of historical importance.  It featured in the Revolutionary War.  Washington Irving did eventually settle there.  As a getaway it attracted the wealthy and powerful from New York City because it’s not that far from Manhattan.  Several movie and television renditions have been made of Irving’s story.  This book generally provides local place connections in the annotations.  A visitor to Sleepy Hollow might wonder where this or that event in the story was set.  This book will help with that.  Still, it left me looking for a bit more substantial treatment.  Not necessarily a literary-theory kind.  Let’s face it, academic writers tend to write for other academics. No, a bit more of the folklore, I suppose.

It did allow me to slow down and really concentrate on the story.  Books have an endpoint that really helps in that regard.  This little book (as was the one I recently read on the Old Dutch Church) was published when the Fox series Sleepy Hollow was taking off.  That all-important media tie-in helps to sell books.  Interestingly, the details of a closer reading are revealing.  This isn’t, in origin, a Halloween story.  It’s a tall tale told American style.  Steiner indicates it was based on an older legend—this is something I’d be interested in hearing more about.  Writers are great recyclers.  I suppose a book on the folklore of the lower Hudson Valley might have more of what I’m seeking.  Nevertheless I came away from this edition feeling as if I’d gotten to know the story better.  Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” also appears in his Sketch Book, but perhaps it’s asking too much to have both analyzed together.


Blood Money

The overdose crisis is very real and very sad.  Even so I couldn’t help being stopped and shocked by how economics was brought into it in a recent New York Times article.  Lab-made drugs are cheaper, so dealers pass on the savings to users.  Does anyone else see the problem here?  Isn’t the real drug capitalism?  Or take the Republican acceptance of violence as a legitimate political tool, also highlighted in a recent Times article.  Their blind followers think it’s about saving unborn babies but anyone who’s studied politics knows it’s about the money.  If you can distract the electorate with an emotional issue you can pick their pocket at the same time.  Capitalism smiles on the wealthy.  And only on the wealthy.

I’m not naive enough to suppose we can do without the dismal science, but the more I learn of economics, the more dismal the dismal science becomes.  I was recently reading about the ranching industry in early American expansion and the amount of power concentrated in those who raise animals for slaughter would make the most bloodthirsty of gods smile.  Indeed, Europeans coming to a new country wanted to make it in the image of their lives back home (they were largely successful).  Especially those who raised specially bred varieties of sheep, goats, and cattle.  Since grazers and browsers require a lot of land, the American west appealed to them.  Although big beef and big dairy produce more environmental problems than most big industry does, we let economics make the decisions.  And in economics the big and the selfish always win.

Photo by Tanner Yould on Unsplash

A bit of wisdom comes from the musical 1776 where John Dickinson explains in “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” that the common person will always vote for those who preserve the (near impossibility) of becoming rich, the myth of capitalism.  The average person lives each day not worrying that they will be struck by lightning.  Those who are often believe it isn’t likely and remain out in a storm.  What are the chances of a poor person actually becoming rich?  In this economic system?  Don’t go outside in a lightning storm.  Americans have been taught to retch at the word socialism despite the fact that it works extremely well in most of Europe.  Instead we proliferate guns and drugs on the free market model and wonder what could possibly go wrong.  Yes, there really is an elephant in the room.  And we’re burying far too many people because of it.


Evening Out

It feels like magic.  The morning after staying up late for something special has a transcendent quality to it.  You can almost touch the veil.  Now, for me it’s an admittedly low bar.  I get up around 3:00 a.m. most days, so “late” is when I venture past about 8:00 p.m.  And I don’t mean for a board meeting where you’re trying to solve the problems of the world.  No, I mean staying up for something you anticipate.  Or even if it’s something you experience only by association.  I had to pick somebody up in Easton after an evening event recently.  It wasn’t over until after I’m normally asleep, but I made plans to hole up in Dunkin’ Donuts and perhaps even sip a coffee if I had to, for the drive home.

This was a Tuesday night so most businesses were closed.  After parking the car I found out that Dunkin’ wasn’t keeping evening hours either.  I try always to travel with a book.  The one thing I learned from my brief stint in Boy Scouts was “be prepared.”  With no Dunkin’ the only places open were bars and clubs.  Thankfully it was a warm evening, so I found a free bit of curb on which to sit to read my book.  Easton’s a college town so young people were out and about.  It was good to see other folks enjoying life.  Then a woman stopped and leaned down.  She was looking at the cover of my book.  “Just wondering what you’re reading,” she said.  “I’m always on the look out for something good.”

Reading in public

I can’t recall the last time a stranger struck up a conversation with me.  Especially about literature.  I was reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved (more anon) and she asked what it was about.  (You, dear reader, will need to wait a few more days if you don’t already know.)   I told her as best I could in a sentence or two, but I was in shock that someone I didn’t know was taking a moment out of her busy life to ask me about a book.  Her companion was ready to get going, so she left.  Shortly after that the event ended and I picked up my charge and headed home.  The next morning had that magic feeling.  I slept later than normal although it was a work day and when I went for my morning walk a startled bald eagle took off from the ground and flew less than twenty feet over my head.  Staying up late, talking about books, and a dawn-time walk in the morning.  Even everyday life can be magical, when it’s rare enough.


Foreign Christianity

I’ve been reading about missionaries in Southeast Asia.  One of the things that has become clear to me is that as Christians moved into different cultures they perhaps didn’t realize just how their religion was being blended with a completely foreign worldview.  Catholic missionaries were particularly savvy about accommodating local outlooks.  Add the mass on top of them and you’ve got your converts.  What they were, perhaps unknowingly, doing was changing Christianity.  Yet again.  Monotheism has a myth of the pure religion.  The fact is that as soon as Paul disagreed with Peter Christianity had begun to splinter with each faction believing it had the pure form.  When this protean religion moves into other cultures with other ways of thinking, interesting new forms emerge.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Today there’s a lot of interest in Celtic Catholicism.  This is another example of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Christianity, particularly in Ireland, took on a pronounced Celtic flavor.  It doesn’t always play by the rules, but as long as Rome’s okay with that, well, who’s to complain?  What is Catholicism?  What is Methodism?  What is Anglicanism?  It depends on where you join it.  Doesn’t that problematize those absolute truth claims?  Churches are savvy political players.  The rank and file believer has little idea what goes on behind closed doors.  They might be distressed to find out just how much bishops talk about budgets.  Theology is left to the public view.  No organization can survive without money and church leaders understand this.  Missionaries go to under-developed countries and make them capitalists.

People living in different parts of the world view life from varying perspectives.  Many see change as the nature of life where western religions see fixity.  Many religions know we’re reincarnated.  Western religions see one ride per ticket with souls ending up in a final holding place.  When it comes to eternity, people obviously want some security.  Even with reincarnation a badly lived human life can lead to a worse next life.  The question of what happens when such ideas come into contact with Christianity, or Islam, is a fascinating one.  Judaism, the root of monotheistic traditions, never really embraced missionary activity.  When missionaries encounter those whose very ways of thinking about life approach the question from a different direction, creative mixes are bound to occur.  It’s safe to say that when early Christians were sent out to “the whole world” they had no idea how big that world actually was, under the dome in which lived the sun, moon, and stars.  Nor had they any idea what interesting hybrid religions would emerge after their fertile preaching.


Status Check

It took many months, but one of my few Twitter followers was removed not for trying to take the nation by force, but because he’d died.  If I learn to tweet from beyond perhaps I’ll score a few more followers.  The situation, however, is one of the oddities of our socially mediated world.  I was trying to find some information on a potential author the other day and the only online presence I could locate was LinkedIn.  I clicked on the profile only to see the latest update was “Deceased.”  More than that, the Experience column indicated that “Deceased” continued from the date of passing up to the present.  I guess once you’re gone, your gone for good.  Social media, however, will perhaps find a way to keep you alive.

When I’m gone, I imagine WordPress will shut this blog down because nobody will be paying for it.  It’ll probably take a while for Facebook or Twitter to figure out I’m in the new category of “deceased.”  I do hope Academia.edu will keep my downloaded papers there for free. Real immortality, it seems to me, lies in the writing of books.  They too will eventually disappear, and who knows about the real longevity of social media.  It’s pretty difficult to believe Facebook wasn’t even around at the turn of the millennium.  I drive a car that’s older than Facebook.  I keep thinking of LinkedIn listing “Deceased” as a vocation.  Isn’t it really the ultimate vocation for all of us?  If you can’t be found online, do your really exist at all?

While experts debate social media, my job prevents me from using Facebook or Twitter during the day.  After work I’m anxious to get on to the other things in life that virtual friends and followers have to wait.  Early in the mornings I write and research.  I have mere minutes a day to look over social media.  I check Facebook only for alerts.  Life is short.  Is social media making it better?  It’s easy enough to be overlooked in real life, so why indulge in it virtually as well?  Of course, many see social media as a place to vent their spleen.  Why not try to inject some good into the virtual world instead?  There is hope for the dead, for they may still publish.  Their tweets may become somewhat less frequent.  Only the most callous, however, would drop them as friends for being dead.  Let’s just wait for Zuckerberg or Musk to notice.  It may take a few months.


Falling Usher

Roger Corman is a name well known to film buffs.  The producer of many low-budget, obviously cheaply filmed movies shot over a matter of days, his early career was prolific.  Often working in genre films, he directed horror (among other projects), occasionally drawing on Edgar Allan Poe.  The problem of adapting a short story to a length required for cinema release could be solved in a number of ways, but padding out the story was common.  I had only a few minutes to watch a horror movie over the weekend, so I pulled out a Vincent Price collection I’d bought some time ago.  A number of them are Corman films and I may have seen them when I was younger, but if so the path recall is completely eroded.  I decided to watch The Fall of the House of Usher.

This story by Poe remains my favorite for its sheer moodiness and imagery.  The premise is brief and the action little.  I knew Corman would have had to have changed quite a bit.  It turns out that he’d brought Richard Matheson in as the writer.  Many films can be made or broken by the writer.  While it doesn’t improve on Poe it is certainly a watchable effort that develops a mood in its own right.  The low budget is evident, but despite that the story is a slow build using many of Poe’s famous concerns such as premature burial and isolation in dangerous locations.  While not scary in the same way as modern horror, and stretched out by a dream sequence and overture, it nevertheless works.

Given my particular angle on horror, I noticed the introduced religious aspects.  While identification is difficult due to the lack of focus, there seem to have been two large, iconic Bibles in the story.  Indeed, the Ushers have a private chapel in which Roderick prays over his dead (?) sister.  The curse of the Ushers has to do with family evil that is being punished, causing Philip Winthrop to quote the Bible in his denial of the passing down of divine wrath.  The paintings of the Usher ancestor as Roderick explains this are the scariest part of the movie.  Not all Corman adaptions of Poe work well, but with the ministrations of Matheson and the rich ground for development from the original story, this is an atmospheric contribution to early horror.  And it works if you only have a few minutes on a busy weekend for your favorite avocation.


Television Fed

There have been a number of television shows—The Simpsons primary among them—that instead of castigating the media-raised generation, celebrate it.  As I watch the younger, internet-raised generation, I realize that we were the kids raised on television.  Before the fifties and sixties televisions were too expensive to reach into every home.  Although we were poor, we managed to scrape and scrounge enough to buy a color television by the time I was an early teen (what’s now technically a tween).  And even before that I had a television habit.  Dark Shadows, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and the list could go on and on.  Since neither of my parents finished high school, we used television as a window into the wider, more educated world.

Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

As an adult I’ve moved beyond that academic stage of being embarrassed about being raised on television.  I’m inclined now to embrace it.  It was forming me long before I started reading and these days I prefer reading to television, which I practically never watch.  Still, I have a great appreciation for its formative influence.  How else are you supposed to learn about the world when you’re poor and uneducated?  Dark Shadows taught me about vampires.  The Twilight Zone made me appreciate the strangeness of life.  Star Trek awoke wonder about space.  Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart taught me to laugh in tough times.  The Partridge Family taught me about music and the Brady Bunch prepared me for Zoom.

For many years I’ve tried to put this behind me as a cause of shame.  I was an academic.  A book-learner.  That way of life, however, shouldn’t deny what has made us who we are.  While following the new rendition of Sleepy Hollow in television format, I came to realize that there was a new direction to go.  Religion in horror had been lurking in the background for many years, even before my career malfunction.  To deny it was to deny the same academic pretentiousness that has refused me a place.  Media can hold meaning for us.  There’s no replacing those younger years in front of the tube, the intravenous meaning that successful writers and media producers of the sixties and seventies were giving us.  When you don’t have the free time for research, you can still access what childhood taught you in the first place.  And perhaps, if you’re lucky, move it forward.


Old Churches

I doubled its authenticity, but it was revered in a way similar to the Shroud of Turin.  The old guide, a priest if I recall, showed us an actual lantern hung for Paul Revere’s ride.  This was the Old North Church in Boston, of course.  Its history is so storied that children across the country learned about it in school.  A similar feeling comes from reading The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow by Janie Couch Allen and Elinor Griffith.  Subtitled Legends and Lore: The Oldest Church in New York, it is clearly a celebratory work, printed in full color and with pictures on every page.  This church’s claim to fame isn’t as much historical as it’s the result of the imagination of Washington Irving.  It features in his short story “The Legend of Sleep Hollow.”

Built in 1685, it was already an old building by the time Irving had settled in North Tarrytown.  Being early enough, Irving had immense influence on the culture of a young country.  Although born in New York City, and although he lived for many years overseas, he came to represent the voice of the emerging American literary tradition.  America has been home to many writers since then, some successful, many not.  But this book is about the church, not Irving.  Irving does play a big part in its story, although he was never a member.  I kept thinking as I read how influential a single story can become.  And even a small Dutch Reformed Church can benefit from it.  This book gives a high-level overview of the history of the area and some of its colorful characters.  It turns a few times to the Headless Horseman, but it also explains the trials and triumphs of a small church.

Although most towns can’t claim such a storied structure, American churches have had an outsized influence on who we are as a people.  I’ve sat through meetings lamenting the lack of funds for the operating budget as money grows tighter even as the worldview of ancient Palestine effaces.  As an historian of religion I tend to look back.  I don’t believe our future will be entirely electronic or virtual.  If it is, I think I’d rather find myself on a chill, uncomfortable pew in the Old Dutch Church lit by candles on a Christmas Eve, shivering but still alive.  No matter what a person believes—and with the varieties of churches we can’t all be right—we know that it’s part of what makes us human.


Horror Deprivation

Is there such a thing as horror deprivation?  Life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to carve out the time to watch any horror movies for several weeks now.  That steady diet has given me blog topics and a strange kind of personal comfort in this all-too-scary world.  More than that, it is often a coping mechanism.  I sometimes think more people might read this blog if I “rebranded” it as horror-themed, but perhaps there’s a different way to go about it.  Some writers, with enough shares and likes, have their daily observations become part of the national wisdom.  The rest of us, it seems, are simply background noise.  I’ve also been told blogs are passè and that may be the case.  I have trouble keeping up.  I don’t even have time to watch horror!

As with most things in life, I keep a list of movies I need to see.  Like claws such a list continues to grow unless it’s trimmed once in a while.  A movie is a couple-hour commitment and when even weekends are programmed to the last minute it’s difficult to squeeze them in.  I always welcome the more pleasant weather of spring, but so does the yard.  I’ve always thought, like good haunted house owners, that I would let the yard go.  Here in town there are ordinances, though.  It doesn’t look tidy—right now dandelions exceed the tolerated grass length a mere day after mowing.  Like triffids they pop up and won’t go away.  I could be in, watching a movie.  My credibility’s on the line here!

The pandemic, from which horror movies will arise, led many people to having too much time.  Netflix soared.  For whatever reason, it had the opposite effect on me—is this a special effect?—I had even less time than before.  I had to cancel my Netflix account because I had no time to use it.  Horror is a coping technique.  Real horrors spill from the headlines daily.  Sometimes the antidote is in the poison itself.  The way to be less scared is to watch more horror.  We’re still in the pandemic and Putin decides to start a war.  Republicans confess that Trump tried to take over by force and then backtrack.  Global warming continues apace.  There comes a point when the only therapy is to watch something worse unfold, as long as it’s fiction.  It’s Saturday.  It’s raining.  What can one possibly do?


Free Research

I’ve lost track of how many times it’s happened, but it has been relatively few.  Someone I don’t know will approach me and ask me to post about something on my blog.  Sometimes they’ll even send me a book to highlight.  Perhaps not the most effective way to build a library, I’ll admit.  And some of the books haven’t been great.  I admire them nonetheless.  It takes great effort to write a book.  And not a small amount of faith, too.  Many books—perhaps most—never get published.  A great many are self-published.  (Those who work in publishing can be a stuck-up lot sometimes.)  Even those professionally published can use a push from time to time.  On this blog I’ve actively resisted the urge to make it about one thing.  Why?  Is life just one thing?

In a recent conversation I laid out for someone new what had been my research agenda as a young professor.  It had a direction still reflected in some of the categories you’ll find on the right column of this blog.  After writing on Asherah, I was going to give similar treatment to the other ancient goddesses attested at Ugarit.  This was perhaps ambitious for an academic waif at Nashotah House, but it was well underway.  My book on Shapshu was making good progress when the market (that dragon to every St. George) led friends to suggest turning biblical, which led to Weathering the Psalms.  A new research agenda—explore the weather terminology (the meteorotheology) of other biblical books—arose.  There were storms, after all, becalmed over lakes.  Horror entered in the jobless period and beyond.

And social justice.  I’m not a thrice-failed minister for nothing!  In fact, a recent freebie was a book on social justice.  I have a colleague as interested in monsters as me.  This particular scholar had decided to focus on the cause of the poor.  Even economists are starting to say the unequal distribution of wealth is hurting us.  While the rich fly to space on personally owned rockets, the rest of us have trouble filling up at the service station, even if we have jobs.  So it is that this blog is eclectic.  A friend told me early on that it would be more popular if I just stuck to one topic.  That’s probably true, but my mind can’t settle down like that.  And when people send me things to talk about, I’m happy to do so, if it fits somewhere in my mind.


Tweets from Heaven

What do the ultra-rich know about morals?  I read recently that now that Elon Musk has purchased Twitter for billions and billions of dollars, that he’s going to allow Trump back on because it’s “morally wrong” to prevent him.  Heaven help us when the plutocrats start dictating morals.  One of the odd things about my strange career is that I was an undecided major in college.  I settled eventually on religion, but my transcript shows a restless mind.  One subject that I came back to time and again was ethics.  I want to know what is right.  Shutting up a deranged narcissist who wants to run the country only to enhance his image of himself seems a moral no-brainer.  The case was different before he was elected the first time.  Now we know.  Now we have a responsibility.

Those who can afford to buy the moon shouldn’t make declarations on what is moral.  The church, however, has largely become irrelevant.  “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,” a famous moralist, whose name is unfortunately forgotten, once said.  The moral compass of the uberwealthy is irrevocably squewed by a massive loadstone known as personal wealth.  Indeed, our very laws are made by the wealthy to protect the interests of the wealthy.  They do this by courting biblicists who seem to have forgotten—what is his name again?  You know, the one who seemed to have a problem with the rich?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Morality has somehow become confused with concerns about other people’s genitalia.  We don’t ask what the wealthy do with theirs—it’s pretty clear what one tweeting resident of Mar-a-Lago has done with his.  Ironically Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church largely because of the sale of indulgences.  The idea that the rich could buy their way out of sins rankled sixteenth-century moralists into saying sola scriptura.  But now they have lost even their solaScriptura, for its part, is unequivocal about one thing—the problem of the rich.  The poor aren’t the problem.  In this new gospel, however, victims are blamed while the powerful rightly rule all.  The divine right of riches.  The wealthy, so misunderstood; the poor are the way they are because they’re lazy.  There’s no systemic cause for anyone not to have as much money as he wants (and it seems they’re generally he’s).  And they have a right to say whatever they want because their word comes down from heaven, echoing out from their private space rockets to the stars.


Consistency

Consistency.  Back in Wisconsin I belonged to a group of Hebrew Bible professors who read a book and got together to critique it.  We came from different schools—Marquette, Sacred Heart, Carroll College, and Nashotah House (me).  We took turns on different campuses and spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon discussing our selected title.  Soon one of our members, an Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Milwaukee, began to look at me right off and ask if the author had been consistent—my most frequent criticism was inconsistency.  It’s the way I think.  If is an argument is being made, or a story is being told, it has to be consistent in order to be convincing.  Recently I realized that this has carried over into my writing on horror.

The dream of many authors and auteurs is to establish a successful series.  Publishers and studios like them too.  Follow one success with another just like it, so the thinking goes.  People like to see how the story ends.  The longer a series goes, however, the more difficult it is to maintain consistency.  I’ve been noticing this in the articles I’ve been writing lately.  I follow the stories closely and inconsistencies creep in.  I noted this in a recent post about Dark Shadows and I wrote about it when looking at The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity franchises in Nightmares with the Bible.  I realize, just as my Bishop friend pointed out, that consistency is my problem.  Sometimes it gets in the way of enjoying the tale.  Deft authors and auteurs will tease you with it.  It’s part of the literalist mindset.

Being raised as a literalist, from my youngest days I learned that the story goes only one way.  The world, however, is much more ambiguous than that.  Stories have multiple points of view and endless iterations.  Not only that, but not even the author or auteur has the final say in what “really happened.” When I first learned of reader-response theory I was suspicious of it.  Even with a doctorate and teaching experience I was still looking for consistency.  Get the story straight!  But stories are crooked and queer and untamed.  They follow the imagination and defy literary convention.  Those that succeed best are remembered as classics.  The rest are nevertheless expressions of fertile minds with tales to tell.  I doubt I’ll ever get over my watching out for consistency.  I should, however, pay attention to that gentle teasing my erstwhile colleagues gave.  Relax and enjoy learning how it goes this time.