Rachel Weeping

“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” I just can’t get it out of my head. The tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut is the madness of Herod repeated over and over again. I stand outside my daughter’s room and weep as she sleeps, terrified of what we’ve become. For the right of one person to own guns, twenty-eight are dead. The balance of power is way off-kilter, like a fishing vessel in a perfect storm. Those who protest are those who are unarmed who wish to remain that way. The bravado of the NRA says, “I would protect them, if I were there.” If I were there. I would feel no safer. Where was the NRA in Stockton, California, Iowa City, Iowa, Jonesboro, Arkansas, Littleton, Colorado, Red Lake, Minnesota, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, Blacksburg, Virginia, DeKalb, Illinois, Oakland, California, or Newtown, Connecticut? Polishing their rifles in readiness, no doubt.

The time has come to put an end to easy access to guns. Life was more civilized in the days of the flintlock and musket—at least people had time to react or flee before another shot was loaded. Instead we tell people they will be safer if they can squeeze off forty-one shots before that crazy idiot shoots another. Drop to your knees and beg for mercy, you’ll be safer. While you’re down there, say one for a nation that loves its firearms more than its children.

Days like this it feels like God has us in his sights. The longer I ponder this the blacker my thoughts grow. We may blame the madman, but it is society that allows this to happen. Herod was king, and even the mother of God fled. But what of those left behind in Bethlehem? They paid the price for a man in love with power. I see a man in a cage, being sprayed by an upright ape holding a firehose. The man is one of the most vocal supporters of the NRA, but now he is the inferior being. “It’s a madhouse!” he cries. Yes, Mr. Heston, it is a madhouse indeed. Only those aren’t apes outside the cage, and those are firehoses in their hands. On further reflection, perhaps they are truly apes. Rachel is weeping for her children, while Herod reloads.

Slaughter of the innocents, 2.0

Slaughter of the innocents, 2.0

Theology of the Apes

“Alter what you believe to be the course of the future by slaughtering two innocents, or rather three now that one of them is pregnant? Herod tried that and Christ survived.”

“Sir President, Herod lacked our facilities.”

So the conversation between Dr. Otto Hasslein and the President goes in the 1971 continuation of the saga, Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Few probably pondered the weighty theological significance of this dialogue; it is not represented on IMDB’s quotes page from the movie. In fact, many critics aver that the Planet of the Apes movies devolved as they went on becoming less and less original. Nevertheless, the number of serious issues thoughtfully addressed in Escape made it one of the most well received pieces in the series. The world was a scary place in the early 1970’s, as I experienced it. It was easy to believe that we were on the brink of our own destruction—there were enough nuclear warheads to assure mutual destruction, and even a little boy in Rouseville, Pennsylvania could believe that his small town was significant enough to be a target. That message I’d heard as early as the final scene of the original movie.

The Planet of the Apes series is profoundly theological. I rewatched Escape from the Planet of the Apes recently, and was struck by just how many social issues were addressed. Consumerism, abortion, racism, espionage, the arms race, and even eugenics. In each instance the humans are inferior to the apes who had not even developed the combustion engine before learning to fly a spacecraft back through time. The conservative fear of Dr. Otto Hasslein drives the plot; he is ambivalent about the apes and what they portend. It is the destruction of his own comfortable way of life. He suggests quietly killing the apes, succeeding where Herod failed. (Think through the implications!)

“Before I have them shot against the wall I want convincing that the writing on the wall is calculably true,” the President biblically insists.

“How many futures are there? Which future has God, if there is a god, chosen for man’s destiny? If I urge the destruction of these two apes, am I defying God’s will or obeying it? Am I his enemy or his instrument?” Otto Hasslein does not know. His science which tells him there is no God also worries him that he is the very enemy of the non-existent deity. No, the Planet of the Apes movies are not the most profound films ever to escape the camera, but there is, as in any good theology, the raising of questions. And like any theology worthy of latter-day Herods, there will always be far more questions than answers.

Ruby Tuesday

If you’re reading this, you survived Cyber Monday. Not that I personally remember the Middle Ages—I have no desire to return to them—but there was a time when nearly every day of the year was known by a saint’s name. Even as an Episcopalian, nominally Protestant, I was surprised just how many red letter days there were. Black letter days seemed special by comparison. Now, however, our days are named by the shopping expectations. Not only do we have Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we have the moveable feasts of “shopping days before Christmas.” And many other holidays participate in this bonanza dedicated to Mammon. Halloween is a major cash-generating holiday and Valentines can be counted on for buying love. St. Patrick’s for buying green with gold. Ironically, all of these were once, at some remote time, holidays decreed by the church. Many of them are even older than that, going back to pagan times, but religious nonetheless.

In a sluggish economy such times are indeed anticipated. Still, I don’t hear of the one percenters suffering during these difficult times. “Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette once was supposed to have said. Cakes are celebratory desserts, of course. We make them everyday occurrences with birthdays that should, in theory, keep the river of cash flowing all year long. The great corporate cathedrals require the offerings of the average citizen, and they insist on far more than a tithe. Then the investment firms complain that people don’t think ahead and save their money for retirement. We see many who live long enough to experience want in their declining years. There should be an app for that.

I wonder if there is something much deeper going on. Those who run so fast usually have something from which they wish to hide. There is the story of King Herod who, according to popular reconstruction, tried to buy the favor of his subjects by monumental building. Herod was not a popular king, and he had a reputation for being bloodthirsty when enraged. It is difficult to verify, but the basics of the story still ring true; when his way of running society was threatened he decided to kill the innocents. Such stories, one might hear a pontiff declare, fall within the genre of the folktale, the story told to make a point. What might that point be? Might it not be that each day is itself a gift and that spending money is not the only way to make time sacred? Of course, as long as you’re online, why not just PayPal your way to true happiness?

A techno-log on Cyber Monday.