IAGY?

Here’s how messed up “America first” is.  As we’re forced to try to protect ourselves from a drunken, sexually abusive Supreme Court nominee, Indonesia is trying to recover from an earthquake and tsunami that have killed at least 1,400 people.  Of course, it’s “America first.”  The powers that be want us to buy their narrative that we only are important, the chosen ones.  You don’t even have to be non-American to be excluded.  Just ask the people of Puerto Rico.  No, it is far more important to railroad through an anti-abortion judge so we can cause misery to countless numbers of people in America first.  Natural disasters strike even here (Florence), and we can only glance away a moment from the constant drama being roiled in that ever bubbling swamp.  I thought it was supposed to be drained by now.  They did find some slimy choices for high offices, in any case.

This new form of Manifest Destiny is as bad as the old one was.  People are suffering from a terrible tragedy and our lips are chapped from calling our senators to try to get them not to vote for someone a vast majority of normal citizens find highly objectionable.  The Republican abuse of power is only overshadowed by its abuse of women.  When even Kellyanne Conway speaks out stating that we need to listen to the victims, it’s clear something is amiss.  How slowly they awaken, these creatures of the swamp.  “America first” looked like a party game for a while, but now that its true and ugly agenda is being shown those who climbed aboard that bus aren’t quite sure how to signal that they want off.

What of Indonesia?  What of a president who can’t even point to it on a map?  It’s not here, so it’s not our problem.  Nice drunken frat boys who feel up women are the best we can offer for the highest court in the land.  Elsewhere in the world they’re trying to address the global warming that is causing more and more extreme weather.  We can charge tariffs and still call ourselves Republican.  If we can’t start actual wars we’ll start trade wars.  You can’t be great until others bow before you, even if they’re bowed in grief for a natural disaster that claimed hundreds of lives.  We’ll make America first even if we have to fall into last place to do it.

Time Isn’t Holding Us

Ancient is much more recent than it used to be. Perhaps it has something to do with the two massive earthquakes over the last couple of years that have together sped the earth’s rotation by almost three microseconds. Perhaps. A more likely explanation is that excessive technology makes us soft. We expect new toys, new tech solutions on nearly a daily basis, and with the communications revolution, we are rarely disappointed. I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to help ourselves. This is especially evident in the lack of initiative I sense among many students. Of course, I am ancient.

When exam time rolls around, the present-day student requires a study guide. When I was a student, after dodging all the dinosaurs running around the campus, I never received a study guide for a test. If a test is coming, read, re-read, i.e., study, your notes. Maybe read a textbook? Nowadays a study guide is required for that message to be sent home. And then there’s the emails. Once the study guide is distributed (electronically, of course) the emails gush in asking what exactly I mean by this or that. Since I reiterated the point endlessly in class, accompanied by a PowerPoint slide with the answer writ large, verily, I roll my eyes and drop to my three-legged stool in dismay. Can it really be that college students require detailed answers in advance for a multiple-choice test of only 40 questions? Back in my day, a multiple-choice test was a gift that felt like sixth grade had rolled around again.

Sixth grade: what's he got in his hands?

Time, since Einstein, has been relative. And since I am an antiquity, I can perhaps be forgiven for citing Supertramp’s “The Logical Song.” As a studious young man, religious from epidermis to viscera, I was sent off to get an education. Years later, kicked out of the academy for good behavior, I see the wisdom of the lackluster 70’s band: “But at night, when all the world’s asleep, the questions run so deep for such a simple man.” The lyrics are easily found on the Internet. It is simpler than walking over to the CD rack to check manually. Back in my day, I would never have even imagined skipping an exam and then asking the professor what he was going to do about it in the next class period. Email, in this instance, is easily forgotten. I’ll get back to you once I engage the electronic lock to keep out this velociraptor (if anyone can remember back to 1993).

Sex and Violence in Ancient Pompeii

The earthquakes and tsunami that have devastated northern Japan have me thinking about natural disasters. Currently in New York City there is a display of artifacts from Pompeii, an exhibit I have not yet had a chance to visit. The parallelism of the two tragedies, however, has not escaped me. Pompeii’s destruction by Mount Vesuvius in 79 of the Common Era and its subsequent rediscovery and excavation are the stuff of legend. An unsuspecting city in the shadow of a sleepy volcano, at the pinnicle of its civilization, suddenly snuffed out. Forgotten for centuries, and eventually rediscovered. But rediscovery led to embarrassing revelations.

How will you be remembered?

Some of the first artifacts recovered from Pompeii were the erotic frescos that adorned many of the buried structures. Further, such images as super-sized phalli and other cultic implements of questionable morality led to reburial of some of the material because of more recent sensibilities. We judge ancient and extinct societies on the basis of modern predispositions on decency and propriety without considering that it is our view that is the innovation. Even a cursory read through the Holy Bible will reveal many stories where sexuality plays a prominent role. This suggests that biblical writers, like most people of antiquity, were less shy of sexuality than their post-Victorian heirs.

Natural disasters have a way of stopping time. Not just in the sense of speeding up the rotation of the earth by another 1.6 microseconds either. Surveying the wreckage of what we believed was a stable status quo, priorities are suddenly shifted. Compassion, rescue, and survival outweigh the petty differences of just the night before. Disasters are snapshots of the human condition. As the hot ash settled on Pompeii, lovers clasped in their final moments, never imagining that some two millennia further on that more modern, civilized tourists would be embarrassed by so human a response. Disasters are harsh teachers, but we may learn in the face of an unfeeling nature that we are all humans after all.

Mother’s Day and Earthquakes

It is Earth Day, a holiday that all the world should join hands to celebrate since it is secular and concerns all people. Except the religious. Theologies are inured to common celebration; any admission that others might be right is a chink in the implacable armor of conviction. So it was not such a great surprise when an Iranian cleric this week blamed Iran’s earthquakes on women. Fuming like Eyjafjallajokull, the imam cited immodesty on the part of women as leading men to temptation and the very earth whose day we celebrate shakes in rage. Why it is that the burden to prevent sexual temptation should fall on women alone is unfathomable. If men have such trouble controlling their urges perhaps they ought to explore real estate on Mars, although it is doubtful they would be happy there.

The earth, our common home, was conceived to be female by many ancient societies. The Greeks of the Classical era called her Gaia and gave her the honor of being the earliest deity to emerge from Chaos. In the Bible, desexed and depersonalized, the earth was constructed on the first three days before any living inhabitants cluttered its pristine surface. With the drive of Christian conviction that this unruly mother should be subdued under human dominion the industrial revolution began a process of disrobing and dismembering Gaia, an impersonal “it” to be exploited. The Bible could be cited as demanding such action; we were commanded to take control. And our religions provided the ethics to underscore our mandate.

If not for the second great awakening in the 1960s, Earth Day would never have found its fundamental expression. We would continue subduing and dominating, as per Genesis 1, until the great white man above would be forced to send his son on a great white horse to end it all. But the earth is our mother. The missing woman from the all-too masculine Trinity. Instead of blaming her daughters for the unstoppable lusts of her sons, and instead of repeatedly defiling her to keep up with the Republicans, we should take a moment today to honor her. She is the only such mother we have.

Son, behold thy mother.

Alaska’s Temblors

There are rumblings under Alaska. Some people are just a bit nervous after last week’s earthquakes in Mexico – could it be our turn next? Mount Redoubt, remote from human population zones, has been sputtering and steaming and making itself look large. It is preparing for something big.

In apocalyptic literature we see a similar image: the small horn that boasts and makes itself out to be the greatest of the ten that speckle the head of the great beast from the sea. The little horn called Antiochus, so enamored of his own abilities that he surnamed himself Epiphanes, “the manifestation.” And uncritical people, taken in by his bravado, followed him until he started torturing and killing those who didn’t agree with his religion. Those who would not bow to his own personal Zeus would be martyred in nasty ways.

Now an active volcano is sputtering in Alaska. Could it be the sign of the end times? I doubt it. The end does not come ushered in by mere movements in the earth’s crust. According to Revelation there has to be a harlot on the back of a hideous beast. And that’s only if you believe Revelation is predicting something that hasn’t already happened. No, I believe Mount Redoubt is just doing what volcanoes always do – threatening, making noise, and occasionally erupting. They may blanket their surroundings with ash and magma, but these are often only temporary postures on the part of nature. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

More than just a redoubtable mountain?

When Your World Rocks

The prophet Amos famously dates his oracles as “two years before the earthquake.” In ancient times (and some modern, dimly lit regions of some religious minds) earthquakes were thought to be signs of divine displeasure. We lost that naïve, magical view with the discovery of tectonic plates and fault zones, but it is hard not to take earthquakes personally. A third major earthquake of the year hit Turkey on Sunday, leaving further human distress in its wake. While scientists assure us that earthquakes are not increasing in frequency, we nevertheless hear more and more about them.

Although we have the technology to build earthquake-proof buildings, the nations suffering from the recent quakes do not have the luxury of ensuring that those who live around fault zones all have housing to withstand that unsuspected temblor. Those who cannot afford high cost housing are fated to be victims. We don’t cause the earthquakes, but we can ensure that affluent cities will withstand them. Haiti, Chile, and Turkey seem a long way distant.

Whose fault is it anyway?

Scanning the unfair distribution of wealth across the world, it is far easier to see an angry god behind an earthquake than it is to relinquish our personal gain. Perhaps it is a result of our biological urge to survive that we constantly seek to increase our own advantage while shaking our heads sadly as people we don’t know become the victims. Meanwhile neo-cons and prosperity gospelers bray loudly that wealth is their god’s reward for lives of righteousness in this wicked world. It is a scenario worthy of Amos himself.

Childhood Never Ends

Yesterday’s 8.8 earthquake in Chile has people asking once again what has angered the almighty. Guilt, unassuaged by human suffering, accompanies natural disasters around the world. This perspective is nothing new, but rather an inherited burden from our cultural forebears who believed gods to be perpetually vindictive or indifferent to people, and who would strike out without warning. One of Poseidon’s favored titles in Homer is “earth-shaker.” When something as stable as the very planet rocks, the gods must be angry.

Psychologists have long delved into the all-too-human reaction of guilt to momentous occasions. Guilt is also generally recognized as a universal human emotion, occasionally supposed to be in evidence among the great apes. Perhaps our primate progenitors were born with an innate sense of having wronged the powers that be, for like children we still cry out for deliverance from blizzards, hurricanes, wild fires, volcanoes and earthquakes. No matter how much we grow up, we never outgrow our sense of having angered that great parent in the sky.

Science has revealed to us a natural world with physical causes. We know that massive plates of the earth’s crust rub past each other as they float on a hellish, viscous ocean of molten rock. We know that incredible stresses and pressures find release in the freeing jolts of earthquakes. This we know, but we find the concept more frightening that we are the victims of nature than the fantasy that we are victims of God. Better to put a human face, albeit an angry one, on natural disasters since we may at least beg for mercy.

There is no divine “why” to such disasters. Even the Bible affirms that things just happen sometimes with no divine intentionality. As this artificial world we constructed shivers from natural forces we are led by natural feelings to irrational conclusions that empower us. We are children looking for an absent parent. And Poseidon, it seems, evaporated long ago.

Never trust a god with a fork!