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.


Empty Chair

I’m not a Roman Catholic.  Nevertheless, I admire much about the tradition.  Its perceived unchanged continuity with the past is a big draw.  Still, one of the largest issues most religions face as they evolve is that things change.  No religion can stop it.  Edward Jarvis’ brilliant Sede Vacante: The Life and Legacy of Archbishop Thục explores the life and possible theological motivations for one of the most fascinating people in recent church history.  Ngô-dinh-Thục became a Roman Catholic Archbishop in his native Vietnam.  He was the brother of Ngô-dình-Diệm, the first president of South Vietnam, and likely one of the reasons behind the Vietnam War.  In fact, Thục had two other extremely prominent brothers and the four of them formed a junta that ruled the country with authoritarian vigor and utilized all the corruption for which authoritarianism is famed.  They became enormously wealthy, they used torture and extortion to get what they wanted, and Thục supported all of this.

Eventually excommunicated (twice), Thục had to leave Vietnam.  Two of his brothers were arrested and assassinated.  After his self-imposed exile Thục attended Vatican II, the papers of which he signed, but his prominence faded.  Without his holdings in Vietnam he was poor, and in fact lived in poverty.  Then he started consecrating bishops for breakaway Catholic groups, including the strange sect of the Palmarians.  This led to his first excommunication.  Later in life, after restored to the graces of the church, he again started consecrating bishops for the Sedevanctantists.  These were Catholics who believed the Pope was invalid and his chair (sede) was vacant (vacante).  He was excommunicated again and, after moving to the United States, died in poverty.

I keep these posts brief enough that I don’t have space to spell out all the amazing angles from which this life could be viewed (read the book for that).  In our authoritarian-loving times, however, the nature of those who reject “modernization” stood out.  Many Sedevanctantists insist on the restoration of the Latin mass.  They somehow believe the Popes since about Pius X have been liberals(!).  Like Trumpists, they believe it is possible to halt the movement of culture and go back to the way things were in the 1950s when outward conformity was all the rage.  Even Fonzie, after all, was really a nice guy instead of a dangerous biker.  Although there is some theological minutiae here, I recommend this book for anyone who has even the slightest interest in the history of Vietnam, the Roman Catholic Church, or the mindset of those who reject the modern world.


Fight for Mom

The spring holidays come think and fast.  Depending on when you start spring we’ve got Valentine’s Day followed a month later by St. Pat’s.  On it’s roving schedule Easter hops along, with its precursor Mardi Gras.  There’s Earth Day, May Day, and Mother’s Day.  One thing they all have in common, apart from being holidays, is they’re not worthy enough to be days off work.  You have to wait for Memorial Day for that.  Today, in any case, is Mother’s Day.  We stop to think, as if we shouldn’t every day, about our mothers.  Women are pretty poorly represented in the holiday scheme, unless you’re Catholic (and even those aren’t days off).  Mother’s Day always comes on a Sunday so employers are eternally thankful.  A holiday with no consequences.  But should it be?

We’re only just beginning, after being “civilized” for five thousand years, to give women their due.  Only just beginning because capitalist systems are built on male fantasies of growing rich without the female humane element.  It’s not a system friendly to mothers unless we find a way to make people spend money.  Women remind us to look for cooperation and not just competition.  Working together we can make things better for everyone.  Men, left to their own devices, go to war.  Men take what they want and women act as our conscience.  Mothers sacrifice to keep us safe and alive.  Their self-denial resonates better with the Christianity suborned by men into a money-making venture.

It’s Mother’s Day.  It’s a day to put aside our acquisitive, war-like tendencies and think of someone else.  It’s a day to imagine what it might be like if we made a habit of good behaviors.  It’s like those grades they used to give in school for “deportment.”  It wasn’t all just about how well we learned our facts.  Mothers teach us what it means to set aside our own wants for the needs of another person.  Without that the human race simply wouldn’t survive.  Instead of politically stacked courts taking away women’s rights, today we recognize that without women none of us would be here.  The human experiment only succeeds when women are recognized for all that they contribute to life.  To civilization.  To society.  We may not have commodified it, so why not listen to our mothers’ wisdom?  Why not make it every day instead of just the second Sunday of May?  Don’t forget to thank your mother today.  Better yet, fight for her rights.


Wicker Lessons

Beltane creeps up unnoticed.  Not an official holiday in these parts, it is, hopefully, a sign of slightly warmer weather than we’ve been having in April.  It’s also the day that I can’t help but think of The Wicker Man.  One of the early intelligent horror offerings, it came out 49 years ago.  My book on the movie, as far as I know, is still scheduled to come out next year, on its fiftieth anniversary.  Watch this space for further announcements.  In any case, today I have a piece on The Wicker Tree—the “spiritual sequel” to the movie, appearing on Horror Homeroom.  Societies in old Europe tended to celebrate this as the beginning of summer, which explains why Midsummer comes half-way through June.  The seasons aren’t always the same in all times and places.

In Germanic countries, Walpurgisnacht, which began last night, was a time of concern about witches.  Our modern calendar tries to concentrate our fears in late October, but they are appropriate any time of year.  These days Beltane’s more of a day when we expect warmer weather to start rolling in and perhaps, especially this year, hopes for peace.  May tends to be a hopeful time—it’s a transition.  The persistence of our fears suggests that learning to deal with them might well be a good idea.  Instead of hiding monsters away, why not face them?  The Wicker Tree isn’t a great horror movie, but something holds true for it—the monsters are us.  In that film capitalism is the real horror.

What makes The Wicker Man the classic that it is is religion.  More specifically, the clash between religions, neither of which is willing to yield.  This is largely behind religious violence throughout history, up to the present.  Religions convinced that they’re the only possible way to the truth can’t recognize that believers of other religions feel exactly the same way.  Yet May is about transitions—one season giving way to another.  It’s part of the inexorable change that marks life on this planet.  We may not fear witches in the mountains any more, but we still fear what’s out there.  Beltane is a hopeful holiday—a day of blessing animals and building fires to encourage the strengthening sun.  Instead of making it a day of clashing beliefs, perhaps we should look for our common humanity in it.  Perhaps we can learn a deeper lesson from The Wicker Man.


Love Your Mother

It’s not exactly a birthday, for we don’t know when exactly she was born.  We choose April 22 to think of our mother—the mother of us all.  For many of us concerned about the environment, not only is today Earth Day, but April has become Earth Month.  To me one of the saddest aspects of our environmental crisis is that certain sects of Christianity are largely responsible for it.  Religion working against the betterment of humankind.  So it was in the beginning, is now, and hopefully we won’t have to finish the triad.  Granted, religions help us to keep our mind on spiritual matters.  The problem is when such things become dogma and the real needs of real people are ignored so that a fervently desired fantasy can be lived out by destroying our planet.

In response there are what have been called “deep green” religions.  It’s difficult to gain a critical mass, however, when many of those who think deeply about the environment have left religion out of the equation.  It seems to me that we’ve got to make peace with our evolved tendencies toward religion in order to have any meaningful discussion about this.  Meanwhile global warming continues.  It does so with the blessing of a kind of Christianity that sees this world as expendable and exploitable based on an idiosyncratic reading of Genesis.  Even though all the evidence points in the opposite direction, we have networks (here’s looking at you, Fox), owned by billionaires who know you can sway Christianity simply by kissing your hand to the moon.

It’s my hope that this Earth Day we might start to think about how to integrate some deep green theology into the kind that sees no room for green in the red, white, and blue.  The self-convinced have no desire for conversation about this and those already certain that religion is nothing but superstition tend to agree.  Since antiquity, however, the wise have realized that progress comes from the middle ground.  Politicians, in their own self-interest, have stoked the fires of division and hatred, knowing that they get reelected that way.  Mother Earth, I suspect, is rolling her eyes.  She will survive even if we succumb to our own mythologies.  We need to learn to talk to one another.  We need to accept that we evolved to be religious.  We need to look for middle ground while there’s still dry ground on which to stand.  It’s not exactly a birthday, but it is a holiday that should be taken seriously. It’s only right to love your mother.

From NASA’s photo library

Looking North

As organized religion continues its slow decline, mythology remains.  Indeed, it seems to be growing in interest.  The problem with many mythologies, for monolinguals, is that they come in languages other than English.  Translation always loses something, which is why, I suspect, Neil Gaiman was tapped to retell the Norse myths.  A very talented story-teller, Gaiman has written about gods before.  He knows their literary potential.  Norse mythology is rather odd in the canon of western thought.  The stories feature gods with as many foibles as humans and with conflicting motivations.  In some ways they are more believable than the monotheistic tradition.  They are both fun to read and poignant.

At the same time Norse Mythology is a somewhat perplexing book.  It’s difficult to tell, without being an expert, what is Gaiman and what is ancient.  In fact, the book sits next to another one with the exact same title on my shelf.  That one is labeled nonfiction, and it’s a bit more academic.  Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard that I tend to want to approach mythology in original languages, if possible.  I’ve never studied Nordic tongues and it would be a little difficult to justify starting now, with all the other things I’ve got to do.  It’s not that I don’t trust Gaiman, it’s just that every retelling is an interpretation.  Still, I’m sure the book gives the flavor of the records that survive.  One of the fascinating features of Norse mythology is that gods die.  Since it ends with Ragnarok, that seems inevitable.

Many mythologies have the world ending with the establishment of the happy reign of a singular deity.  Ragnarok, which Gaiman (and perhaps the originals) sets in the past, sees the gods dying on the battlefield against Loki and the giants.  As the earlier myths make clear, however, death in battle is the most glorious way for the Norse to end their lives.  (And seeing how it has led to a pretty peaceful adult nation, one wonders if the mythology had a calming effect.)  I’ve not read extensively in other versions of Norse mythology so I don’t know if Gaiman’s ending with Balder returning and the world starting anew is his innovation or part of the original.  Having gods who die, however, seems like a potential leveler for humans who suffer from greater powers.  There’s a sobriety to it that lends gravitas to the whole.  And like all good books, Norse Mythology has left me hungry for learning more.


Masking the Devil

There are many books on the Devil.  In fact, entire horror movies such as The Ninth Gate are based on that fact.  Since writing a book on demons (Nightmares with the Bible), I read a few of the many.  I’ve continued to read some further since, and one of them is Luther Link’s The Devil: A Mask without a Face.  The first thing to note about this book is that it is the same as The Devil: The Archfiend in Art from the Sixth to the Sixteenth Century, as it was published simultaneously in the United States.  (The former was published in the United Kingdom.)  Many authors don’t realize that when you sign a publishing contract you’re selling the rights (the copyright) for your book.  Some publishers or agents will sell the rights in different territories to different publishers.  They don’t have to use the same title largely because, prior to Amazon it was difficult to buy UK published books in the US and vice-versa.  Now a lot of “buying around” happens so books published anywhere can be purchased anywhere.  (Except in authoritarian states.)

In any case, this book is a study of the Devil in art.  The UK subtitle, A Mask without a Face, focuses on the conclusions drawn, whereas the US subtitle is more descriptive of the contents.  There are a number of interesting points made by Link.  One of the most important is that of his conclusion—the Devil, in the biblical and theological worlds of the long Middle Ages, really isn’t so much a character or “person”as a representation of “the enemy.” His looks and actions depend on the circumstances.  As Link points out, to the Pope Luther was inspired by the Devil, to Luther the Pope was inspired by the Devil.  Both, Link concludes, were dealing with a mask without, well, a face. Further, since the Devil does God’s bidding, whether he can be considered evil or not must be questioned.

Another interesting point is the strange continuity and lack thereof that characterize the representations of the Devil.  Some of the continuities go back to an antiquity (such as ancient Mesopotamia) that had by lost by the Middle Ages.  There was no real avenue of transmission since who remembered Humbaba after the tablets of Gilgamesh had been buried for centuries?  This seems to point to what Jung would’ve considered archetypes.  Or it could be that the same things scare people across the ages.  The point of the book isn’t to be comprehensive, but it does make a good point.  Anyone accusing someone of being the Devil opens themselves to the exact same charge.


Leathers

It’s an occupational hazard for the vegan Bible editor.  Leather.  Leather Bibles, although expensive, are popular.  If you want free fetishistic deliveries of colored leather to arrive at your door, well, it’s part of a Bible editor’s life.  Morally I’m opposed to leather and I eagerly await the day when cactus leather is considered a suitable alternative.  Leather began being used in bookbinding early on, when books were treasured possessions.  It was readily available because animal slaughter was a part of everyday life.  It’s also extremely durable.  These days it’s just a status symbol.  When Bibles are produced there’s generally a market for whatever translation in leather.  In my time I’ve seen some well enough used to perhaps justify such extravagance, but not very often.  Usually it’s merely for show.

There’s an entire vocabulary associated with leather bookbinding.  Tooling, or engraving the smooth leather to look like something else, embossing, or pressing a design in the leather, gilding, or the use of gold paint on leather, and dentelle, or having a border run around the outside edge.  All of these were (and still are) signs of the artistry of the binder.  The practice dates back to before the nineteenth century when books were bound by booksellers, not publishers.  Perhaps this is why we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  In any case, apart from tradition there’s no need to kill animals to bind books any more.  Law books and Bibles are the major purveyors of leather binding.  It continues simply because it continues.

One term used for traditions unwilling to change is “hidebound.”  While this seems originally to have referred to emaciated cattle, it has come to be associated with codified, as in leather books.  Pigskin, or other cheaper hides, are often used.  Or “bonded leather,” which is as much plastic (if not more) than actual leather.  The Bible isn’t a terribly animal-friendly book.  Dogs are unclean and cats aren’t mentioned at all (except the large, wild kinds).  Yes, there are shepherds—both good and bad—but sheep were kept to be exploited.  And perhaps turned into leather.  There’s something strangely symbolic about this.  And not in a propitious way.  Where does obeying the rules get you?  Sheep are praised for their docility, their willingness to be thoughtlessly exploited, slaughtered, skinned, and eaten.  To do the job, a Bible editor must learn about leather.  Perhaps its a profession best left to carnivores.


Future Ministry

I’ve been on the Green Committee at work almost since I started the job.  Occasionally for Earth Day we’ll have a book discussion.  Usually it revolves around nonfiction books that my press publishes.  This year they selected Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future.  It’s an environmentalism tale of what global warming may well be like and the political machinations it might take (and the millions of deaths along the way) before we stop burning carbon.  It’s a long and detailed and political story.  Robinson is known as an intellectual science fiction writer and there are sci-fi elements to the book, but its style is realist and its outlook, while ultimately hopeful, is staid.  Even when humans start to move in the right direction.  It’s also a very long book.

Reading it got me to thinking again of a somewhat bewildering truth: environmentalism books tend not to sell overly well and sustained reading, even by supporters, is difficult.  Many of us know that we’re beyond the tipping point for environmental disaster.  The Trump years assured us that it is coming.  One of the elements Robinson makes clear is just how politically entrenched it is.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for the despair.  The vast majority of people in the world want a more environmentally conscious government, but plutocracy tends to bring narcissists to the top and the needs of all others are less important.  In Robinson’s version of the story, targeted violence is the only thing that works.  Near the end of the story an interesting idea is raised: the Ministry of the Future (which is a government ministry, not the church kind) concludes a new religion is needed.

The masses of people, you see, are followers.  Religious leaders reinforce the idea that God told their founders—and by extension their followers—the only truth.  Their jobs (and ministries are jobs) include reinforcing those ideas to people who’ve been raised or converted to that particular brand of religion.  A number of New Religious Movements, and even a couple of prescient ancient religions, have been purposely constructed.  The trick is to get followers to accept that the religion is legitimate.  Most western religions around today have been based on the idea that humans can do whatever they want with the planet—even destroy it to force God to return.  I kind of like Robinson’s idea better.  Perhaps that’s why religions form around movies like Avatar.  Not a bad thought, when your job has you reading a sci-fi novel.  A religion saving the earth feels like a novel idea.


D Evil

The Devil, they say, is in the details.  T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley look into those details in The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots.  It’s often a surprise to Christian readers that the Devil clearly evolves in the Bible.  From being virtually absent in the Hebrew section, he appears, almost full blown, in the New Testament.  This, of course, flies in the face of the idea that the truth was pretty much revealed from the beginning and that it’s consistent throughout.  The Devil in the details proves that it’s not.  The Bible has multiple suggestions of whence evil arises, God among them.  The Devil came to be one explanation of the origin of evil, but he’s not the only biblical one.

One of the things I found fascinating here, however, was that the authors often refer to popular culture to illustrate their point.  They particularly favor movies.  The authors are biblical scholars and it’s not at all unusual to find movie fans among them.  I suspect that since biblical scholars (apart from the linguists) specialize in stories it’s only natural that movies appeal.  They aren’t given extended discussion here, and indeed, a book about the Devil in the movies would be very thick if it attempted to be comprehensive.  Satan is a movie star.  Since he evolves into the embodiment of evil this is probably not surprising.  A good plot needs some evil in it, and one character in the western canon is the granddaddy of all evil.

Those looking for a fuller biography of the Prince of Evil may be disappointed that this book keeps to its remit—the biblical Satan.  There are, however, many more books about the Devil.  Maybe even more than movies in which he appears.  Scholars and laity both seem interested in this character.  He appears late on the scene, only within the last century or so of the biblical writing period.  His fullest portrait there is the highly symbolic book of Revelation.  And no matter what else you say about it, we can all admit Revelation is tricky to understand.  Since we take the Bible so seriously, one aspect of Satan that isn’t addressed here is his role as trickster.  Folkloric characters who cause chaos (which the Devil does) are often tricksters doing it for no particular reason.  We don’t know why the Devil is bad.  The Bible has no clear origin story for him, since he’s built up from several other cultures’ ideas of bad deities.  To sort it all out requires, well, the details.


In War’s Domain

Good for absolutely nothing, to borrow the wisdom of Edwin Starr, war has again marred Europe.  We could see it coming from afar because people keep electing autocrats and strong men always want to fight one another.  There should be international laws banning their election, but instead innocent people die because one man has to prove he’s bigger than another.  The evils of the Trump years will be with us for decades.  There’s nothing Christian about waging war.  Seems that some folks have forgotten their Sunday School.  Wasn’t the selfless, self-sacrificing carpenter from Nazareth known as the “prince of peace?”  Of course, Ukraine became Christian long before Russia did.  What deep-seated insecurity such “world leaders” have!

While not wanting to be drawn into open conflict yet again, the world has pretty much all sided with Ukraine.  It has the misfortune of being nestled next to a weary nation with a dictator who despises the west.  Who pulls down his pants and shows off his missiles when anyone starts to open their mouth.  Who isolates himself and his people in the name of self-aggrandizement.  We came close to that over here.  So close that it still makes me shiver.  We feel for the people of Ukraine.  They did nothing to provoke attack, and they probably knew other world leaders would keep their distance.  Putin, like Stalin, wants a USSR.  An empire to put the evil west in check.  Hadn’t we left that kind of thinking behind?  Hadn’t we grown up after World War Two?  Strong men learn nothing from history.  They look at it and see only a mirror reflecting only themselves.

Hitler annexed Poland.  Russia, which has more land than it knows what to do with, doesn’t need Ukraine to be part of it.  The good people of Russia are protesting, just like the women brave enough to march on Washington to protest the fascism America embraced for four years.  I’ve put off writing about this because it’s so difficult to do without dissolving into tears.  Beware of either bare-chested or chest-thumping politicians worldwide!  It’s time to end the era of the alpha male.  We need mothers to nurse us back to health.  They call it “Mother Russia” but what mother acts this way?  The women aren’t impressed, Vlad—they’re in the streets bravely protesting.  It’s International Women’s Day.  Let’s honor women. It’s time to let the women lead.  It’s time to put war behind us forever.

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

Banning Ideas

It’s been in the news lately that some communities, in keeping with the current fascist trends, are starting to ban books.  One of the plays in the Nazi book was to burn them, followed soon after by destroying the people who read them.  Ideas are, by their very nature, dangerous things.  Trying to destroy them by banning books, however, doesn’t work.  The kinds of books being banned are predictable: those that portray races as equal, those that offer understanding and acceptance of those differently gendered or oriented, and books that show the white man caught with his pants down (metaphorically, although in actual life this happens quite often literally as well).  Books premised on lies are just fine, but as soon as we get to ideas that make us think, well, we ban and burn.

Book banning is normally presented as protecting the children.  Something any attentive parent knows is that children understand a lot more than we think they do.  I suspect they realize that books are prohibited because they contain the truth.  Nobody bans a book of “harmless” fantasy—books where white men have all the answers and solve all the problems.  And when they lose their tempers they start wars, which, of course, the white guys always win.  Such stories, based as they are on basic untruths, are fantasy indeed.  Our slow move into the new millennium from the growing awareness of the sixties, has shown us the necessity of looking deeper.  Expanding beyond the stories white men tell to comfort themselves.  Those invested in this narrative are very reluctant, of course, to let it go.

The more we move into the new millennium the more determined we seem to repeat the last one.  That one had a pandemic near the beginning and wars and white men only on the front pages.  The younger generation, thankfully, by and large doesn’t share these poison biases.  They were read to as children.  Teachers and other heroes didn’t ban books, but encouraged reading them.  Local communities are making a concerted effort to break down learning and then we wonder why the United States has the highest infection rates in the world.  If only there were some way to figure out why that might be!  Reading books with uncomfortable truths might be a good start.  Ideas that can’t stand up to logical challenges may not be the best ones for building a society.   Read a book rather than banning it, and see if we all might learn something.


Maudren Saint

Saint Maud is one of those movies that requires some thought.  (And I’ve been giving it plenty.)   It follows a brief time in the life of Maud, a hospice nurse who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of one of her patients.  Maud has direct experiences of God, like Teresa of Ávila but the film doesn’t make it clear, until the very end, if she suffers delusions.  After the traumatic loss of a patient at the beginning of the film she becomes a devout Catholic and when she feels she isn’t succeeding in her mission she punishes herself by using medieval-level means.  She hears God talking to her and what he (yes, he’s male) demands makes the viewer wonder if she’s found the correct spiritual entity.  Moody, edgy, and theological, Saint Maud is another example of how horror and religion work together.

It’s one of those movies that, when you finish it you start looking around for someone to talk to about it.  Of course, I watched it alone, wearing headphones, so I had dialogue with my own imagination.  One of the founding principles of cinema was the realization that viewers liked to discuss what they’d just experienced.  The other horror fans I know tend to be academics far removed from here.  I don’t know any of them well enough to pick up the phone, or call up on  Zoom, and say “Hey, let’s talk about Saint Maud.”  The thing is, I understand some of the doubts and motivations of Maud.  It’s always that way when religious interactions are with an invisible, petulantly silent deity.  Kind of like watching horror movies alone.

Horror has proven to be a kind of therapy for me.  The stresses of life are many and unrelenting.  Watching someone even worse off can help, as long as it’s fiction.  The world we’ve created is a very unfair place.  Many people suffer so that a few can enjoy more than they deserve.  Their lifestyle is protected by lawmakers that they buy while others suffer.  I’d just spend a day hearing about such injustices, and then paying hefty bills, and it seemed that some weekend horror was just what the doctor ordered.  I’ll probably watch Saint Maud again once I’ve had time to recover, and to think about the implications of the story.  Horror and religion have a viable partnership.  Such films occasionally become blockbusters, but sometimes they’re smaller affairs waiting to haunt us on weekends after hearing about the sad state of the Frankenstein world we’ve all created together.


Rusticated Fears

I don’t recommend sick days.  This one was weird with all the symptoms of illness but really having them just be the side-effects of a shingles vaccine.  I don’t recommend it, but I was able to use the day, between dozing off, by watching Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.  This late 2021 documentary is over 3 hours long and I’d been wondering when I’d have the chance to view such a lengthy movie.  Besides, when you’re feeling utterly miserable, horror is a kind of elixir to make it all better.  Watching the film made me aware of just how many movies I haven’t seen.  Another way of putting it is that I still have my work cut out for me.

Folk horror, you see, has a natural appeal for those of us who grew up away from urban centers.  Much that we did in the small towns of my childhood was, frankly, weird.  As the interviewees make plain, cities are the centers of economic and cultural power.  The big educational institutions are there and those of us from the hinterlands might not obey the rules that city dwellers seem to absorb through their feet.  In reality, I suspect, urban culture largely derives from folk culture.  Those who venture away into the large cities take pieces of their home with them.  Cities tend to blend all this together and transform it into something different.  Those in rural areas, however, have their own way of doing things.

Perhaps it’s embarrassing to center this much, but it was clear to me in watching Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched that much of the fear showcased to city folks (for movies tend to be shown in urban settings) is the weird religion of the country cousins.  Both the words “pagan” and “heathen” are references to those who dwell outside urban areas.  “Pagan” comes from Latin for rustic, while “heathen” means those out in the heath.  Mainstream religion is that of the cities—the Vatican is located in Rome, and the large mosques, synagogues, and cathedrals are in population centers.  There’s no telling what the country dwellers might get up to if left to their own devices.  And religion taken seriously can be quite dangerous to outsiders, as we’ve seen time and time again.  Folk horror never really went away but it is undergoing a resurgence at the moment.  As the documentary suggests, this tends to happen in times of social instability.  At least we have something to look forward to as the world collapses around us.  Folk horror will help us cope, if my experience is anything to go by.


The Nature of Epiphany

Last year on January 6 we had an epiphany.  Many of us thought, I suspect, that since the angry mob wanted to kill Republicans and Democrats both that their actions would be condemned unilaterally.  Instead we learned that the Republican Party said, “Boys will be boys.”  And of course boys like to kill things.  A year later the GOP has stalwartly refused to condemn the attempt of a violent takeover of the government by a legitimately defeated candidate.  If the other party tried this they’d be calling “treason.”  We had an epiphany of a double-standard masquerading as evangelical Christianity.  Now, instead of thinking of today as the Christian epiphany, well, wait a minute.  Maybe that’s the epiphany we had—understanding what Christianity can become.

One of the tenets of democracy includes the freedom of religion.  Studying ancient religion can be quite revealing.  For one thing, we get a better idea of what religion was.  Few ancient authorities were concerned about what individuals actually believed.  Religion was largely what the powerful and influential did to placate gods who were easily bribed by sacrifice and praise.  The role of the average person was to be taxed to support this, and the monarchy.  I’ve been watching how, since the 1970s, the United States has been going that route.  We’ve always been a religious nation (“Christian” is much more debatable), but Richard Nixon’s ploy to swing evangelicals to the Republican Party worked.  Those not blinded by ideology will know that evangelicals tended to be staunchly Democrat.  Through the ensuing decades we watched Republican presidents giving our tax money to religious organizations they supported.  Why not throw another lamb on the altar while you’re at it?

The sacrificial system, you see, supported the temple staff.  Somebody had to eat all that meat!  Even in the Bible it was recognized that God didn’t exactly consume it the way a human being would.  Then last year on Epiphany, the party that’s supported just this kind of thing tried to throw all but Trump—yes, even Pence—onto their sacrificial pyre.  A year later we see those very senators saying, “well, it might be useful to have such people in reserve, just in case.”  Early Christians believed that you could tell another believer by their actions.  In that they weren’t wrong.  And those who are able and eager to kill in order to get their way have revealed, by their actions, their true beliefs.  It was, and still is, an epiphany indeed.