Rest and Be Thankful

Many years on Thanksgiving I find myself distressed.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for all the good things in my life—and they are more than I regularly stop to count—but life has a way of tossing reality bombs into the mix.  This year, though, there is much for which I’m feeling particularly grateful.  Family and friends foremost.  Fairly good health and a day or two off work.  These are all wonderful.  This year gave us a couple more great gifts: the rejection of a leader who always and only thought of himself and convinced millions that he cared for their interests and beliefs.  A “leader” who refused to acknowledge defeat but just this week began a transition that should’ve begun nearly three weeks ago.  Many are inexpressibly thankful for this.

Although on a much smaller scale, I’m thankful for Nightmares.  Nightmares with the Bible, that is.  Although it’s expensive (I’ll thankfully give a discount code to all askers), it is with a publisher that will promote it better than Holy Horror.  It was a very pleasant surprise to receive the book before Thanksgiving, even with its Halloweenish theme.  Anyone who puts years of their life into a project knows the gratitude in seeing it come to fruition.  Nightmares was a labor of love and I hope all who venture to read it will be thankful that they did.  I know I”m grateful for having lots of other book ideas.  That’s one area where there’s a substantial surplus.

Like many people I’m becoming aware of the dark under-narrative to the American Thanksgiving myth.  What we were presented in state-sanctioned school curricula was a story of grateful pilgrims wanting to share abundance with the American Indians.  History shows that their motivations in colonizing were actually subjugation and making slaves of the indigenous people, something we now recognize as a form of evil.  Such lessons are difficult to learn as an adult when the holiday has so many happy, cozy memories associated with it.  We have just been through four years of national chaos in which “othering” became a wedge intended to fracture the fragile unity of this country.  Yes, the guilt is real.  We cannot, or at least should not, deny what history reveals about our motives.  Instead we should widen our tables.  Invite others to join us.  (Virtually this year.)    And be truly thankful for the many good things—some very large, and others very small—which we have.

Timely Terror

Fear comes in many colors.  Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic was getting such positive press that I didn’t wait for the paperback.  At first the title threw me a bit, but creepy old houses can be found in many places around the world, and the gothic often lurks in such structures.  The story builds slowly until the supernatural begins to seep in steadily and the reader realizes they’ve been hooked along the way.  In some ways it reminded me of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, but the setting in Mexico gives Moreno-Garcia’s tale its own kind of zest.  Having a strong hispanic, female protagonist is a nice corrective to the political rhetoric we’ve been fed for the past four years.  As I said, fear comes in many colors.

Perhaps I’m not as afraid as I used to be when I read fiction.  Gothic, however, is all about setting the right mood.  It’s a creepy sensation that boundaries are being crossed and such things often take place in isolated locations.  The house owned by the Doyles—not exactly colonialists, but symbols are seldom exact matches—is marked by greed and power.  A kind of rot is everywhere evident, but the family must keep power within its own circle.  The parallels to a Trumpian outlook were perhaps not intentional, but national trauma can make you see things in a different way.  As Noemí attempts to rescue her cousin from the house, High Place itself participates in thwarting their escape.

Reflection after reading draws out some further insights.  Not only is the white Doyle family the  oppressive element here, they do so by religion.  Secret rituals and practices have made the patriarch a god—and here let the reader ponder—who builds his power on the oppression of others.  I have no idea if Moreno-Garcia was influenced by the nepotistic White House we’ve just experienced—eager to use political office for overt personal gain, and yes, worship—but she’s laid bare the ugly truths of white power.  I dislike racializing people, but race was invented by Europeans as a mean of oppression and keeping wealth within the grasp of a few individuals who would be surrounded by an empowered “white” race.  It worked in Nazi Germany and it came close to working officially in the United States that fought to vanquish it just seventy years ago.  Mexican Gothic is a moody book indeed.  It’s also a book, whether intentionally or not, that is an object lesson for our times.

Raven Wisdom

Just twenty pages in and I was reflecting on how Christianities and the cultures they cultivated have caused so much suffering in the world.  Assuming there is only one way to be, and that way is pink, European, and monotheistic, has led to so many displaced people thrown aside as collateral damage.  Ernestine Hayes’ The Tao of Raven is a remarkable book.  A native Alaskan, Hayes participated in the colonialist venture of higher education to try to also participate in the “American dream.” If this book doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin, I don’t know that you’re human.  As I mentioned in a recent post, I have a deep interest and lasting guilt to learn about indigenous peoples of the country where I was born.  About the culture that is so Bible-driven it can’t see the human beneath.  The capitalism that takes no prisoners.

The Tao of Raven is one of the most honest books I’ve ever read.  Hayes refuses to sugar-coat the alcoholism, the broken promises, the poverty offered to native Alaskans.  Even as Trump’s final rages go on, he has opened the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge for drilling, to the highest bidder.  Apart from those whose wealth will increase as a result, we will all suffer.  Those who lived in Alaska before the colonists arrived the most.  The idea of colonizing, without which capitalism just can’t work, reveals its evil here.  When a voice like that of Hayes is able to make itself heard we cannot but feel the condemnation.  When over seventy-million people vote for a hater, we all tremble.

The book ends much as it begins.  A sincere regret for those who’d been fed the contradictory messages of missionaries.  Those told to accept suffering on earth so that they could go to the white person’s Heaven, while those inflicting the suffering lead comfortable lives with modern conveniences.  The double-standards that allow people to die on the street like dogs.  The double-standards that can’t see that you need not be Christian to upend the tables of money-changers.  Indeed, the last time someone dared to such a thing was two millennia ago.  When Christianity slipped its fingers between those of capitalism a monster would surely be born.  The cost would come in human lives, even as a quarter-million lay dead in this country from a virus a rich man can’t be bothered to address.  Do yourself, do the world a favor.  Read this book.  Read it with your eyes open and learn from Raven.

Documented Error

Back in September I wrote a post on documentaries.  One of those I’d watched was Hostage to the Devil, on the life of Malachi Martin.  Curious, I began looking for biographical information, only to find conflicting reports.  Robert Blair Kaiser, a journalist, was interviewed in the documentary and he claims that Martin is not to be trusted.  Given that Martin had academic credentials and academic publications, it’s clear that something is up here.  So I decided to read Kaiser’s Clerical Error.  As an award-winning journalist, Kaiser had written a book on Vatican II that sold fairly well, establishing his own credibility.  Clerical Error is a book, in large part, that was intended to discredit Malachi Martin because Martin had an affair with Kaiser’s wife.  That spices things up a bit.  (And explains the cover photo.)

It’s an odd book, overall.  Kaiser begins by describing how he became a Jesuit.  Autobiographical works are generally most interesting during the early years, and Kaiser does a good job illustrating how he was naive and probably joined the Jesuits out of fear of sexuality.  Some of the disciplines (including self-flagellation) are difficult to reconcile with the twentieth century (when they took place) but demonstrate the command religion can have over life.  Confronting church politics, he decided to become a journalist instead of a priest.  When he was assigned to Vatican II a couple things happen—his book gets lost in the weeds, and, he meets Malachi Martin (spelled Malachy throughout).  At first taken with Martin, the two became friends.  Martin helped him access places in the Vatican that would’ve otherwise been blocked to him, as a layman, even if a former Jesuit.

Then the tale becomes sordid.  According to Kaiser, Martin, still a Jesuit priest, began an affair with his wife.  The final third of the book has the draw of a soap opera as Kaiser tries to confirm what he suspects.  Overworked, he checked into a mental health facility, and this fact gave his detractors the grounds for claiming that Kaiser was mentally unbalanced and that Martin was really as he presented himself—a Jesuit priest, academic, and exorcist.  According to this book, which never made a large splash, the evidence is clear.  And the ability of the church to cover up scandals is legendary.  The most damaging parts, in my purposes for reading the book, are the allegations that Martin was a pathological liar.  (Why do we have so many of these?)  If true, nothing he wrote can really be trusted.  This is the very reason that of late I’ve been obsessed with the idea that lies are a clear sign of the one the Bible calls “the father of lies.”

Constipated Democracy

Vows apparently mean nothing anymore.  I suppose that’s what happens when you begin your administration with “alternative facts” and keep it up for four years.  When you vow to uphold the Constitution—hand on the Bible—that means you’ll play by the rules.  Instead we find ourselves with a bad case of constitutional constipation and we all know that we need a national enema.  It has been a week now since it’s been mathematically impossible for Trump to win the electoral college.  Yet even his evangelical followers can’t seem to recall that hand on the Bible, that promise to obey.  Apparently it’s okay to lie before God, if you think like we do.  If you don’t want to have conversation but want to talk at others and say you’re right.  It saddens me that so many Americans simply don’t care what the majority clearly wants.

This is especially the case because Trump is being treated as some messianic figure.  An overweight, womanizing, pathologically lying Jesus.  And people are saying, “Yes, that’s what the Bible tells us is good, and right, and just.”  Those who are settled in good paying jobs—people of my generation—have been beneficiaries of the systems of education and government programs that the Trump administration has spent four years dismantling.  And they have the audacity to call themselves Christian while their lives are saying “I got mine, I don’t care about anybody else.”  And they’re the ones who wore WWJD paraphernalia just a couple decades ago.  WHCB?  What Has Christianity Become?

Many of us (the excluded majority, in fact—Trump won the 2016 election while losing the popular vote) knew the greatest danger would be that he would be “normalized.”  This would all come to be seen as the normal course of politics.  People from Trump’s own family have gone on record that his run for office was a publicity stunt meant to drum up business for his failing empire.  And those who acted/wrote/supposed that he had any “plan” or “strategy” at all were simply failing to see a career grifter fleecing the country while playing golf and having his “fixers” do the work.  Until he one-by-one threw them under the bus.  This was all done in the public eye and yet his followers think he really has the best interests of this country at heart.  He has torn countless families apart, and not just at the border.  And now that he’s been defeated he keeps the charade going while his followers bow down and worship.  Excuse me, but I think I need to use the restroom.

Childhood’s End

Childhood.  It’s a time of many lessons that we soon learn to apply to all of life.  One of those earliest lessons is “Don’t be a sore loser.”  When someone else wins you congratulate them with a smile, even if you’re inwardly aching.  Fair play, it’s called.  Or morality.  All of these characteristics are sadly lacking in the Grand Old Party, it seems.  There has been no evidence of voter fraud, Biden currently leads by over 5 million votes, and yet Trump refuses to concede.  Not only that, the dissembler in chief, Mitch McConnell encourages such behavior.  In my fundamentalist church you’d have failed Sunday School for less than that.  And where are the biblical literalists?  Right there with them, thumping their Bibles but not reading them.  What happened to turn the other cheek?  Or even, for God’s sake, an eye for an eye?

Instead the world is watching as a putatively grown man throws a temper tantrum about losing.  Hilary Clinton conceded on the night of the election.  I’m sure it didn’t feel good to do so.  Nor did it feel pleasant for the 44 other losing candidates (in fact, more) who had to go home with their hats in their hands.  Not content to act like a king, Trump is behaving like a monarch for life.  His followers, perhaps aware that Americans will never again put up with such a travesty of a presidency, insist that someone must’ve miscounted by about five million.  They won’t be content until they can count themselves, throwing away any ballots they disagree with.  And they’ll continue to call themselves Christians.  Because, like the Donald, they can.

I’ve reached the stage in life where childhood has become a lingering preoccupation.  I sure got some things wrong.  Not being a sore loser isn’t one of them, however.  Like all people I’ve lost my fair share of contests.  Sometimes the stakes have been very high.  If you want to retain any dignity or moral standing at all, you know you simply have to admit, “I lost.”  We knew as soon as Trump was nominated in 2016 that he wouldn’t admit he lost then, even if he had.  We knew four years ago he’d never admit he lost when he would.  The Republican enablers stoked those fires in which to burn the Constitution.  Some of us, at least 77 million at latest count, are tired of all this political theater.  Big boy pants, it seems, are difficult to locate this season.

Favorite Color

Blue has always been my favorite color.  Even growing up Republican, I preferred it.  Like many Americans I awoke last Wednesday to a national map mostly red and pink, and watched gradually as more and more states turned blue.  I don’t mind confessing I wept when Biden took the lead in Pennsylvania.  These past four years have been torture against all that’s descent and humane.  White people killing blacks and being told there are very fine people on both sides of the issue.  Watching a virus run out of control here like nowhere else in the world because one man can’t be bothered with the troubles of 330 million (stop and think about that number) people.  A man personally enriching himself while not paying his own taxes and getting breaks for those wealthy like himself.  Endless lies.  Loud, brash, and crude.  Groping women as if they are commodities to be owned.

We have, at the embarrassingly late age of 244, finally elected a female vice-president.  Many other nations have realized that gender should not be the basis for electing leaders.  Poisoned by various forms of Christianity that assert male superiority, our culture has feared female leadership since it has become a real possibility.  I voted for Geraldine Ferraro as much as for Walter Mondale in that fateful year of 1984.  We’ve actually reached Orwell’s vision of it in 2016, but now it seems there might be legitimate hope.  I could never have imagined a presidency that would make me think Nixon, Reagan, and Bush weren’t so bad after all.  (And they weren’t good.)  This reconstruction of the Republican Party has been courtesy of the religious right, which is really neither.

Today, however, I’m enjoying my favorite color and thinking that hopefully we’ll have some peaceful years to work on true equity and the ideals on which this nation was founded.  I’m hoping it will signal to the other fascists of the world that gaming elections only works if people with consciences are complacent.  I’ve been told that many Trump supporters think Democrats incite violence.  The Dems I know are tree-hugging, owl-saving, vegan types.  We value all people, even Republicans, and ask only that all people be accepted.  We don’t tote weapons to state houses or threaten those who are counting ballots.  Yes, we may fear election outcomes—we’re just humans—but we believe in the process.  The many protests in which I’ve marched over the past four years have all been peaceful.  And I breathe, as I tear up again at the sight of blue, dona nobis pacem.

Please Vote

If you haven’t done so already, please vote.  This day has never felt so portentous before.  I’ve been voting since the 1980s and we’ve had some real unsavory choices in some past years.  Never had we had a monstrous incumbent set on destroying the very nation that made him what he is.  Those who don’t, or won’t read the facts haven’t learned what’s obvious even to lifelong Republicans I know—Trump cares only for himself.  His family confirms it.  His policies, such as they are, show it.  He provides lip service to anti-abortion while using stem cells from fetuses to cure his own case of Covid-19 that he caught only by ignoring the science that tells us masks and distancing are necessary.  Even as our infection rates pass what they’ve ever been before, he fiddles while America burns.

Some of us have noticed a profound quiet for the past week or so.  It’s like the country’s running a low-grade fever.  Republicans have been attempting to prevent people from voting, wanting a country more like them, mean and unforgiving, that they can call “Christian.”  To me this feels like 9-11 did, only we have known the plot all along and have been too stunned to do anything about it.  Democracies are founded on the principle of the choice of the electorate.  The only way that we can make that choice known is to vote.  It’s the only way left to be a patriot.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was faced with a similar situation in his native Germany.  An evangelical Christian, he didn’t acquiesce to Hitler, glorying in the rush of power.  He wrote that when a madman is driving the wheel must be wrenched from his hands.  Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis he tried to displace, but his spiritual eyesight was clear.  Faith can blind believers to the truth.  We’ve seen this happen time and time and time again.  Instead of condemning we need to help them since they cannot help themselves.  This is the truest form of what Jesus stood for.  Read the gospels if you doubt.  This year the decision isn’t for Democrat or Republican, it’s for clear-eyed assessment or self-adoring narcissism.  If a mirror’s held too close, we can’t see what’s truly reflected.  We must vote today to show what we want America to be.  The eyes of both the past and the future are upon us.  How will we want them to be remembered?

Electricity

After the oven incident (see last Monday’s post), I took some time to examine the burned out bake element from the range.  Clearly a break in the piece led to some arcing like you might get in Frankenstein’s laboratory.  By the time I’d arrived on the scene (I always seem to be behind my time), the fire was snaking along the element itself and now that the piece is cooled and removed I was fascinated by the damage it caused.  I suspect this is why I leave any electrical repairs to experts.  This is dangerous stuff.  Interestingly, in the realm of monsters electricity is most frequently associated (in my mind, anyway) with Frankenstein’s creature.  Mary Shelley’s novel isn’t explicit about how galvanism resurrected the patchwork human, but it was clearly part of the tale.

Electricity retains a certain element of mystery for some of us.  If we stop and reflect on how recent our understanding and harnessing of it is, that further adds to the drama.  People have been thinking about and trying to understand religion for thousands of years.  Like early electricity, religion involves invisible forces.  Of course, lightning and sparks and arcing oven elements can be seen, but seeing isn’t the same as comprehending.  We are a curious species and we want to understand.  Being inside the situation, however, our understanding will never be complete.  We can get a pretty good grasp, a functional one even, but our brains will always limit just how much we can understand.

It should come as no surprise that those of us who chose to study religion are intrigued by mysteries.  The divine, the transcendent—no matter what you want to call it—can never be fully understood.  Thus the impatience with evangelicals and others who pretend they’ve got all the answers.  No, we’re all still attempting to get to the bottom (or top) of this mystery.  Like electricity, religion can do an enormous amount of damage.  Motivating those who have only a cursory understanding how it works has historically led to debacle after debacle.  It has generated wars and perpetuated human misery.  Like electricity, when used properly religion has done a tremendous amount of good in the world as well.  The thing is, as my bake element shows, we have all come to learn that electricity should be handled by those who know what they’re doing.  Ironically, religion has never gathered the same level of respect for the specialists.

No Way Out

Racism is evil.  The grading of the shading of humans degrades us all.  Robin DiAngelo knows much about the subject and as we watch Trump rally the openly racist, she gives us all pause for thought.  Our entire culture is one of white supremacy.  Progressives, determined to combat it, are also part of it.  White Fragility is not an easy book to read.  It allows no escape for anyone “white” to use.  We must confront our racist culture and admit that we benefit from it.  When we try to explain that we’re misunderstood, she anticipates.  She has heard it all before.  The only thing we can do is confess, interrupt, and try to break down the system that continues to support the systemic evil we’ve embraced.

One thought occurred to me as I was reading.  No doubt DiAngelo would suggest I’m deflecting, and it may be that I am, but those of us who struggle with a perpetually low self-image, even if “white,” may not participate in feeling superior to anyone.  There are individuals whose natural assumption is the superiority of others.  I’ve experienced it time and again in my professional and personal life.  I assume the other is more adept and worthy than me.  In such circumstances a bit more carrot and less stick might’ve been helpful.  I know many both at work and more voluntary activities, for whom a word of encouragement is rare.  For those of us who assume the superiority of others, such encouragement goes far.

Even as I was thinking this I saw a post on Nextdoor.com.  The app, intended to help you find contractors or dentists or whatever, receives many posts on all kinds of topics from identifying animal droppings to alerts regarding crime.  The post to which I refer was from a security camera showing a “prowler.”  The young man seemed more to be walking than prowling to me.  His skin tone and the time of night led to a string of assumptions built on assumptions.  Since I’m often awake just an hour after the alleged “prowling” took place, I knew that were I caught on a security camera I’d merely be considered an insomniac.  Add some melanin and some racism and suddenly a walker is a prowler.  The words I was reading in White Fragility hit me with incredible force.  We have a massive amount of work to do.  “White” people have to own their history.  Own it and overcome it.

Tooth Less

The words “difficult extraction” are not what you want to hear, seated in a dentist chair.  Fortunately mine was not difficult.  I’m squeamish about most things, and like many kids raised in humble circumstances, experienced dental care at the largess of various government programs.  I remember going home nearly every time in a state of shock regarding how much it hurt and what he had done to us.  It has taken a lifetime to get over the fear of the dentist.  Now I patronize a local female dentist who is gentle and caring—something that didn’t exist, and we couldn’t have afforded anyway, when I was a child.  Even so, she’s telling me a tooth has to come out.  I’m being stoic and starting my meditation mantra.

Health care in the United States, as Trump’s recent treatment for a virus to which he carelessly exposed himself shows, is horribly uneven.  Those who are systemically kept poor—especially those who are “of color”—often have few choices and die younger.  Yet supporters of 45 see no problem with this.  Now, I wish I weren’t in this dentist chair right now.  I’m not looking forward to the novocaine shots or the tugging on my jaw.  Or the hours of gauze in my mouth afterward.  But at least I can afford this.  It pains me even more that there are others who can’t.  And that those who claim to follow a man who healed for free are voting for a man who has pledged to keep inequality as “the American way.”

I grew up taking care of my teeth the way the poor often do—that is to say, not enough.  The solutions involve education and empathy, both of which our government has chosen to eject for jingoism and bravado.  I’m not so much worried about having one tooth less.  I am worried about a government that feels it has the right to oppress the poor so that the wealthy can continue to gain more money that can, in turn, be used to control the government.  This is wrong.  There’s no way that it can be made to be “Christian,” no matter what evangelicals may say.  I’m sitting here in the dentist chair and the needle’s getting closer.  I’ll have a mouth full of gauze for the next few hours and I’ll be on a soft food diet for a while.  I may be in some pain.  But still I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

Dangers of Experience

I’m so used to being behind everyone else that when I turn out to be ahead of the curve it occasions genuine surprise.  That’s the way it appears when I think about the dominance of the far right in American politics.  As an editor I get to read proposals for other editors on the board.  Political scientists are trying to analyze how we’ve come to be a nation of religious far-righters when we seemed so progressive that we put a smart phone in everyone’s pocket and Alexa in everyone’s voice range.  I grew up as a far-righter when it certainly felt alienating.  Apart from people we met at church I didn’t know any others outside my family.  People we knew were, well, just different.  Back in those days we didn’t judge them.  We accepted them for who they were.

One of the aspects of my life to which I’ve grown accustomed is being ignored.  I’m not a big person, nor am I a loud one.  It isn’t unusual for me to be overlooked at work and even at religious gatherings (a field in which I’m a bona fide expert).  Nevertheless, I have a wealth of experience among the far-righters and I think it might help to understand our political climate.  I think I have a pretty good grip on what motivates this crowd.  Since I grew up (serious study will do that to you) and am no longer arrested at that stage, I’ve blended into the crowd as someone just as perplexed as everyone else.  I do, however, have an idea of what they’re after.  Our particular sect didn’t push this—we seemed more worried about our own souls staying out of Hell—but many fundamentalists wanted to take over the nation.  In fact, they have.

The fact that 45 isn’t one of them is immaterial.  Power is the thing.  Power to make others conform or suffer.  This particular faith is built on fear, not love.  It’s as if their New Testament lacks the gospel of John.  You see, I was ahead of the curve.  I was part of it before it took over congress, the White House and the supreme court.  Things move so far these days that thinkers just don’t have time to think about everything.  Work days are long and covid still complicates everything.  Who has the time to seek out those who grew out of the very source that now endangers our democracy?  I think I prefer running a little behind, don’t you, Cassie?

Belief and its Discontents

In this day of self-driving cars and instant, world-wide video conferencing, it is difficult to believe we still prejudice belief in God.  Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation isn’t exactly what I thought it would be.  Leigh Eric Schmidt is an historian, so this is an historical treatment.  Specifically focusing on four characters from the nineteenth (to early twentieth) century (Samuel Porter Putnam, Watson Heston, Charles B. Reynolds, and Elmina Drake Slenker), Schmidt focuses on a term I’d seldom heard before his book, “the village atheists.”  These men and women objected to the preferential treatment accorded to Christian believers in a nation founded on religious equality.  In the epilogue Schmidt shows that we are still not a nation committed to fairness.

The only crime these people committed (and two of them were clergy) was honesty in their search for the truth.  This was an actionable offense into last century.  Such was the hold of biblical religion in America that holding public office, being on a jury, or even protection under the law was disallowed for those who questioned the existence of the Almighty.  For sure Schmidt has picked out some colorful characters to sketch, but their common theme was that they were simply following where reason led.  In America this was a crime.  Secularists today who claim it’s not still haven’t come to terms with the power of religious ideology.  A deep distrust of the unbeliever remains, even after the four horsemen of earlier this millennium.

For me the question comes down to honesty.  Belief shifts over life, depending on your circumstances and your outlook.  Most people unreflectively stay with the religion into which they’re born.  Those who study it learn to ask questions and the result is belief that may shift over time.  Making what you believe a measure of your integrity is therefore a temporary thing.  This is well illustrated in Village Atheists; some of these people began as fervent ministers.  They, however, were honest about their thought process and were counted criminals.  You have to wonder about a religion that punishes honesty.  Perhaps it’s no wonder that evangelicals have no trouble with Trump’s incessant lying.  To be honest is to be vulnerable.  The people profiled in this study, tried for things we would have trouble believing count as a crime (consider what 45 has been able to get away with), came out of their trials with integrity.  It would be great if the same thing could have been said about their accusers.

Behind the Exorcist

Some books from the 1970s are difficult to locate.  Since that was some half-century ago I suppose that’s not at all unusual.  One of those that I had been anxious to read since working on Nightmares with the Bible was Diabolical Possession and Exorcism, by John J. Nicola.  The main reason for my desire was that many people involved in the narrative about demons in the modern world are difficult to document, at least on the internet.  For academics, or even journalists, with budgets and release or research time, there’s the possibility of travel and interviews and archive searching.  I have none of those things, and I was curious about Nicola’s book since he wrote a forward to The Amityville Horror, vouching for its authenticity, and he was also technical advisor for The Exorcist.

I didn’t locate a copy of his book until after Nightmares was well into production, but research, even as I conduct it, is never-ending.  The book is kind of a memoir and kind of a “you should listen to your priest” lecture.  What’s fascinating about it is Nicola has no difficulty accepting both the paranormal and the standard Catholic teaching in matters of faith.  He does come across as somewhat credulous, and somewhat academic in this book.  His chapter on his role in The Exorcist is quite informative.  One of my main questions regarding both the man and his book was what his particular expertise is/was (even finding out if he’s still alive, via the web, is difficult; he is on the 2017 honor roll of giving for a Catholic charity).  The book provides a partial answer, but it also raises many questions.

This book is rare enough to have given rise to its own kind of mythology.  I would classify that in the same category as the various stories about The Exorcist production being plagued with curses and strange phenomena.  They’re all part of a culture of creating a belief structure that allows the supernatural back into an overly materialist worldview.  Kind of like Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance,” it causes pleasant shivers because it doesn’t really explain anything.  The book itself is though-provoking, but like the books of Gabriele Amorth, expends pages on the wonders of the Virgin Mary and building up a Catholic outlook on the spiritual world as the basis for combatting evil.  Nicola, correctly in my opinion, points to the (then impending) influence of The Exorcist movie.  This is a topic that I take up in Nightmares, for those interested in knowing more.

BBW

It’s a measure of how busy I am when Banned Book Week has started before I realize it.  Most years I make it a point to read a banned book at this time, but my reading schedule is so crowded that I seem to have missed the opportunity this year—I didn’t see it coming.   I’ve read a great number of the top 100 banned books over the years, and I’m sure I’ll read more.  I’ve recently been reading about America’s troubled history with free expression.  Probably due to a strong dose of Calvinism combined with Catholicism, many of the books challenged and banned, as well as prevented from ever seeing the light of day, have to do with bodily functions.  Sex, especially.  In American society, as freely as this is discussed, we still have a real problem when someone writes about it.

Why might that be so?  Many religions recognize the privacy aspect of sexuality without condemning the phenomenon itself.  The Bible (which is on the list of Banned Books) talks of the subject pretty openly and fairly often.  Our hangups about it must be post-biblical, then.  Much of it, I suspect, goes to Augustine of Hippo.  Although he had a wild youth, Augustine decided that nobody else should be able to do so guilt free, and gave us the doctrine of original sin.  Add to that the legalistic interpretation of Paul and his school, and soon the topic itself becomes difficult to address.  Victorian values, obviously, played into this as well.  Literature, which explores every aspect of being human, is naturally drawn to what is a universal human drive.

Banned Books also treat race—another topic that haunts America—or use coarse language.  Some challenge religious holy grails, such as special creation or Christian superiority.  It seems we fear our children being exposed to ideas.  The wisdom of such banning is suspect.  The publishing industry has many safeguards in place to create age-appropriate literature.  Banning tends only to increase interest by casting the “forbidden” pall over something that is, in all likelihood, not news to our children.  American self-righteousness tends to show itself in many ways, making much of the rest of the world wonder at us.  We seem so advanced, but we fear a great number of rather innocuous books.  The reasons are similar to those behind why we can support tax-cheating, womanizing, narcissists as leaders: our faith blinds us.  I may be late in getting to my banned book this year, so I guess I’ll just have to read two next time.