The weather around here has been appropriately gloomy for the autumnal equinox. Although Hurricane Florence gave us a day of rain, the heavy clouds have been part of a pattern that has held largely since May. Given the gray skies, we opted to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds last night. My wife isn’t a horror fan, but she does like Hitch. We’ve watched The Birds together many times, but this is the first time since I wrote Holy Horror. I was somewhat surprised to recall how much Scripture plays into the script. This is mostly due to a drunken doomsday sayer in the diner. After the attack on the school kids of Bodega Bay, he declares that it’s the end of the world and begins citing the Bible. He’s there for comic relief, but the way the movie ends he could be right.
When I was writing Holy Horror I had a few moments of panic myself. Had I found all the horror films with the Bible in them? Could anyone do so (without an academic job and perhaps a grant to take time off to watch movies)? I eventually realized that I was merely providing a sample in that analysis. Several weeks after I submitted the manuscript I watched The Blair Witch Project. There was the Bible. The same thing happened last night under a glowering late September sky. The Birds has the Bible. Two weeks ago I saw The Nun; well, that one’s almost cheating. But you get the picture—the Good Book appears rather frequently in horror. That’s what inspired me to write the book in the first place.
Now that nights are longer, and cooler, the grass has somewhat poignantly relinquished its aggressive summer growth. Most of the ailanthus trees have been cut down (I must be part lumberjack). My outside hours are limited not only by work but by the fading light. In the words of the sage, “winter’s tuning up.” We moved to a house we saw in the spring as days were lengthening. Now we’ve come to the dividing line that will slowly leech the light from our evening skies. I suspect that as I go back and watch some of my old favorites again I’ll discover something I already knew. The Bible and horror belong together because both are means of coping with the darkness. Call it puerile if you will, but there is something profound about this connection. It just has to be dark for you to see it.
Posted in Animals, Bible, Memoirs, Movies, Posts
Tagged Alfred Hitchcock, autumnal equinox, Bible, Holy Horror, The Birds, The Blair Witch Project, tree of heaven
Like most people I have a cell phone. If I use it to take a picture, I can send that photo any number of places with a tap, swipe, and tap. It works that way with scanned documents as well. Using a hand-held phone, I can scan important papers, convert them to PDFs, and send them via email, text, “AirDrop” (whatever that is), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—you name it. Except fax. That I cannot do. The other day a company wanted me to send them a document by fax. Within seconds I had scanned it with my phone and was ready to send it, but instead experienced electronic constipation. The company had no email; it had to come by fax.
Now, like most reasonably modern people, we have no fax machine at home. We still have some in the office in New York, but they are clunky, noisy, and seldom actually work. The technology to receive documents has improved beyond the photostatic smear that facsimiles represent. I worked for a company where the warehouse insisted on orders by fax. You’d fax them the order and wait for the phone to ring. They couldn’t read the fax and you had to tell them what it said. Well, this particular company I was dealing with wanted a fax. I downloaded two or three “free” fax apps. They suspiciously wanted my credit card info. Besides, if you send more than one page they wanted at least ten bucks for a “package” deal. I had to send a three-page document. I checked to see if my laptop could do it. The manufacturer’s website said it could, but the menu option it told me about didn’t appear. Who insists on faxes any more?
This is the dilemma of mixed technologies. It’s like those movies where the streets of some exotic city are filled with rickshaws, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. The fax, in this analogy, is the pedestrian. My mother doesn’t have email, let alone the capability to text (or fax). Ours is a telephone relationship. Yet in my hand I hold a device that can send this document anywhere in the world with a tap, swipe, and tap. I recall my first trip to Jerusalem where hand-drawn carts, cars, and yes, camels, shared the streets. This was in the days before the internet. To contact home even by telephone was cumbersome and costly. Yet somehow we survived. I’d arranged the trip utilizing a travel agency and funded it by a letter-writing campaign. The Ektachrome slides I took are now a pain to look at because technology has so improved our lives. Unless, of course, you need to send a fax. Delivery by camel can at least be arranged via the internet.
Posted in Current Events, Just for Fun, Posts, Science, Travel
Tagged Ektachrome, email, fax, Jerusalem, Luddite, technology, text, travel agency
“Turn! Turn! Turn,” the Byrds sang. “For everything there is a season,” quoth Solomon. Perhaps it’s the way we acquire knowledge, but lately many fields in academia are experiencing “turns.” The idea seems to be that if fields continue to turn, they will eventually all converge on the same intersection and true knowledge will be obtained. The post-modern turn, however, suggests that there is no objective knowledge. It kind of makes me dizzy, all this turning. Although I find the use of this particular noun in such phrases a touch unsophisticated, it’s here to stay. At least until academia takes another turn. Public intellectuals, after all, have to have something to say. And academics are capital imitators.
Ironically, within the same week I read of the “religious turn” in the humanities and a different turn within religious studies. This “religious turn” is not to suggest the humanities have found that old time religion, but rather that many disciplines are now realizing that religion has played, and continues to play, a very important role in human affairs. Fields that have traditionally avoided religious topics are now “turning” that way. At the same time that others are turning toward religion, religious studies is taking a “material turn.” The public intellectuals smile at the maze they’ve created as the paychecks roll in. The “material turn,” if I understand correctly, is that the ideas of religion can be explained via the real world needs that various religions meet. There’s no need for any divine character or intervention. There is no sacred or profane, but rather kinetic movement of shifting patterns that at any one time or place might be denominated as religions.
I’m all for progress, but I think I might’ve missed the turn. To my old school way of thinking, sacred and profane, Eliadian though they may be, still have great explanatory value. I don’t know if there’s objective knowledge to be found by fallen mortals such as we. The material world we experience through our senses is mediated by those very senses so our understanding is, of necessity, limited. We can’t touch naked reality even if we try. Our quest, in circumstances such as these, would seem to be digging deeper until we come to that which resists any tunneling. It’s like coming to the end of the physical universe and wondering what’s beyond this natural limit. Then, I suppose, you’d have to turn. Until such time as that, however, all of this present day turning is for the Byrds.
In America’s ever roving commercial eye, Día de Muertos has become an extension of Halloween. Retailers have realized that people will spend a lot on their fear, and the autumnal holidays delve into that primal territory. Since the Day of the Dead, being a mix of indigenous Mexican religions and the Catholic celebration of All Souls’ Day, comes two days after Halloween why not blur them together with greenbacks? So capitalist thinking goes. While certainly not free of monied interests, the Disney/Pixar movie Coco has the virtue of addressing Día de Muertos as the separate holiday that it is. A form of ancestor worship—a religion extremely common around the world—the thought-world of the film shares in common with Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride this idea that the afterlife is colorful, if not joyous.
I realize I’m jumping the gun here, but I just saw Coco for the first time over the weekend. Not just a culturally sensitive treatment of an indigenous holiday, it is also a celebration of music. In a very real sense, music is life in the film, and even the dead continue to thrive in its presence. Again, the connection with Corpse Bride suggests itself. The key difference, from a religionist’s point of view, is that Coco is based on, to an extent, actual religious traditions. An irony of this is that, together with the worship of Santa Muerte, the focus on death sometimes makes the Catholic Church nervous. Focus should be on resurrection, not death. But what if death isn’t seen as evil? Where is thy sting? This can be a real challenge when your organization is offering escape from death.
The fear of death is natural enough. It’s the ultimate unknown. It fuels both religion and horror. In that sense films like Coco that show a joyful aspect of the hereafter do an end-run around traditions that base their wares on ways to avoid the consequences of death. Hell becomes a threat to be avoided—the forgotten dead in Coco face annihilation, a fate that Héctor notes comes to everyone eventually. Eternal torment isn’t in the picture. I have to wonder if this view doesn’t present a form of salvation that is unwelcome among rival religions. Although Catholics don’t have the hostility toward Halloween that many Evangelicals display, there is a challenge of rival faiths here. Stores have already begun offering this year’s Halloween wares, and increasingly among them are Day of the Dead decorations. The holidays are quite distinct, although related, and movies like Coco suggest what we fear may be more a matter of perspective than of the decree of an angry deity.
Posted in American Religion, Consciousness, Holidays, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Sects
Tagged All Souls Day, Catholicism, Coco, Corpse Bride, Day of the Dead, Día de Muertos, Halloween, Hell, indigenous religion, music, Santa Muerte, Tim Burton
Inside, outside, upside-down. The more life moves toward binary code—what isn’t computerized these days?—the more scholars are moving away from simple binaries. Just when I thought I was getting used to this sacred/profane divide, academics are scrapping it for more nuanced paradigms not based on any assumptions of presumed deities and their projected wishes. Nothing as simple as “either/or” could justify all these salaries for stuff you can just look up on the internet, after all. Still, binaries are a very human way of looking at the world. Light and dark doesn’t mean there aren’t all the shades in between. And the very basic difference between inside and outside may be far more helpful than it might appear.
Being inside a religious tradition—really being inside—creates a pattern of thinking that frames all of one’s experience of life. While reading about the Book of Mormon recently this became clear to me. Looking at it from the outside is something those on the inside have great trouble doing. The same is true of various Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions, or Evangelicalism. Those living on the inside of tightly constrained ways of thinking—believing—can’t see what it looks like from the outside. I suspect that not all religions traditions fall into such ways of thinking; there are shades here. “Mainstream” Christianities, for example, tend to blend at the edges and those inside might have an idea of how those on the outside view them. Lutherans know the jokes about their outlooks and can even tell them. Methodists and Presbyterians too. They tend to conform a bit to expectations and tend not to be extremist about things. Being mainstream will do that to you.
It is unusual for a person to change religious traditions. Those who do can see their former tradition from the outside—whether mainstream of not—with a kind of objectivity that frightens true believers. Most religions have some tenets that look a bit unbelievable when viewed from outside. Once seen from that perspective, however, there’s no unseeing it. I grew up Fundamentalist. After some time in the mainstream Methodist tradition I could see Fundamentalism from the outside. When I eventually joined the Episcopal Church I had been viewing it from the outside my entire life up to that point. Looking at faith traditions inside out offers perspectives otherwise not to be had. Nobody wants to believe the wrong religion. Perhaps that’s why it’s so difficult to look at your own from the outside. You have to be willing to accept shades of gray, even if looking at it in a binary way.