Evangelical Angels

Angels are everywhere at this time of year.  The Christmas stories of the gospels of Matthew and Luke have made them an indelible part of the tradition.  It’s not unusual for entirely secular individuals to be decorating with them and they are generally without controversy in public displays of holiday spirit.   A colleague once asked me why Americans were so credulous when it comes to a belief in angels—the numbers of believers are quite high, statistically.  I wonder if it’s because we need them.  Considering that the Republican Party is the Evangelical’s party, it’s no small wonder that even atheists embrace angels.  We all could use a little help from on high.  This time of year, such hope can be disguised behind tinsel and bows.

America must seem a strange country to those who immigrate (or had immigrated, when that was possible).  We wear our religiosity—and this is not the same thing as true religion—not only on our Christmas trees, but even on billboards by decidedly secular highways.  It’s as if even all the things America stands for, such as love of money, guns, and automobiles, only hold together with the saccharine glue of a sickly sweet religion.  A Bible-believing nation that has no idea what the Bible actually says and lauds a president who breaks at least a commandment a day and gains no reprimands.  We have shown our red neck to the rest of the world and yee-haw we are proud of it.  And we got the Good Book to prove it.

After all this shakes out we’ll be needing some angels, I suspect.  My colleague felt that sophisticates, big city skeptics, ought to be more willing to dismiss unenlightened beliefs such as those in spiritual beings.  The thing is, spiritual beings serve a very useful purpose.  They keep us honest—and I don’t mean in an Evangelical way; I’ve seen Evangelical honesty and it’s as corrupt as the Devil.  No, I mean that angels are important to show that we have hope.  Maybe they are secular angels—even the Bible doesn’t give any description of them at all, so how can you tell a secular from a religious angel?  That lack of pedigree doesn’t mean we don’t want them watching over us.  Belief is an important part of being human, secular or not.  The billboard space tends to go to those who want your money, and that applies to the ones that appear to be religious as well.  If this is the way the religious behave, we’d better hope there are angels everywhere.

You’re History

A story from Inside Higher Ed discusses a study of history majors and their rapid decline.  This occurs during a sudden onset of “job related” majors and the graph accompanying the article shows how STEM has taken over higher education.  These are the fields with actual occupations awaiting them at the end of the degree, while disciplines such as history and religion (also very near the bottom) have less clear career paths.  Indeed, when I’ve been in the job market I find that a religion degree is less than useless, no matter what the department recruiters tell you.  If you’re not bound for the clergy you undertake the study at your own peril.  History, I expect, suffers from a similar dynamic, but the peril in this case is to all of civilization.

We’ve seen over the past two years how a stunning lack of knowledge of history sets a nation on the path to chaos.  Businessmen with no classical education don’t make good national leaders.  Knowing where we’ve been, as Santayana so eloquently stated, is the only thing that keeps us from repeating past failures.  History is our only safeguard in this respect.  Over the Thanksgiving break I spent a little time delving into family history.  Since I don’t come from illustrious lineage, I felt the frustration of finding out what happened to obscure people from the last couple of centuries.  Lack of history on a personal level.  On a professional level, my doctorate is really in the history of religions (ancient religions) and I’ve become keenly aware of just how little history there is to the very popular modern Fundamentalist movement.

Maybe I said that wrong.  They do have a history, but the belief system that is touted as ancient is really quite modern.  Anti-modern, in fact.  When historical knowledge is lacking, however, people can make all kinds of claims based on nothing more than wishful thinking.  History keeps us honest.  Or it used to.  When we’ve outlived the need for history we’ve started down a path unlit by any embers of past human foibles.  We’ve been living in a culture in love with technology but not so much with critical reflection of where such innovations might take us.  Doctors are beginning to complain that they spend more time on their computers than with their patients.  The time freed up by the internet has been taken up by the internet.  And when all of this comes to its natural culmination, we would be well served by historians to make a record of what went wrong.  If we could find any.

 

Goddess Lore

From where I sit to write this blog in this particular season (when it’s too cold to sit in an unheated attic) I watch Venus rise in the eastern sky.  While it is still dark, I notice a bright yellow glow appearing over the top of a business located on the eastern side of the block.  It hovers there a moment before disappearing briefly behind various rooftop accoutrements of the building across the street, appearing again minutes later on the other side.  The planet rises rapidly before sunrise, and with the unnatural markers of human structures, it’s fairly simple to keep track of her progress with occasional glances out the window.  Venus is, as I’ve mentioned before, both the morning and evening “star” of antiquity.  We now know her identity as a planet rather than a goddess, but we’re becoming more attuned to planets’ roles as mothers, or at least we should be.

Some ancient peoples considered our own earth as a mother.  It is the womb in which we gestate as living beings.  Without the warmth she gives we could not survive, and even our forays into nearby space are possible only with the replication of her body heat through artificial means.  It may be metaphor, yes, but metaphors may be truer than bald statements of chemical compositions and mathematical formulas.  Scientist, politician, or theologian, none of us survive without our planetary nurture.  This thought is sobering in the light of government policies over the past two years, which have denied that human pillaging of nature is problematic.  The Republican Party, which collectively lacks respect for our earthly home, has followed thoughtlessly in the tracks of a man proud of his refusal to read.  And so I look to Venus.

Venus is beautiful.  We know, however, that her surface is hot enough to melt lead.  Soviet-era probes landed there and melted.  Planets, it seems, can unleash fury that mere humans can’t hope to withstand.  One of the forgotten graces of nature, it seems, is the warning sign.  Even as the rattlesnake warns before striking, our mother has been sending messages that we’ve been going too far.  Hurricanes are growing stronger and threaten to scour us off the very face of the land we disrespect and exploit.  Venus, it turns out, is too hot to handle.  Mars, whom the ancients feared for his propensity to irrational war, is too cold.  It’s difficult to imagine where politicians think we might go when our own mother turns us out.  I would invite them over to watch Venus perform her morning dance outside my window, but to see it you must first believe in goddesses.

Like One of Us

Some envision America as a nation of—God help them!—only people like themselves.  This is Trump’s America, and therefore, the America of the Republican Party.  We can’t quite say it’s a white male America because there are many white males who simply don’t share that vision, but it is hate-filled enough to rouse bombers and shooters and Mitch McConnell.  American terrorists, in a word.  Yesterday, the Sabbath, saw a shooter in my familiar city of Pittsburgh who left 11 dead.  The response of Trump?  The synagogue should’ve had armed guards.  I propose that we ought to put walk-through metal detectors outside churches—better yet, full body scanners like they use at airports.  Might as well see everything the faithful bring with them.

Apart from the obvious tragedy of the innocent victims, another disturbing element of this horrific event is that Trump can’t see that his own rhetoric encourages it.  His mouth may say we shouldn’t hate, but his mouth says a lot of things.  Most of them lies.  His public posturing as the angry white man, the “Christian” bully, the Rambo of the Lord, has jarred people across the world.  When you rail against the media daily from the highest position in the land, you’ve got to expect sycophants (e.g. Republicans) to try to please you with their own acts of outrage.  What more cowardly way can one devise than to shoot those at worship?  Does 45 not understand that armed guards would make a very mockery of what goes on inside?  What do they teach at his church?

Coming up on two years ago, after election day, many people warned that just this sort of thing would happen.  Knowing that the Manchurian candidate they’d nominated couldn’t think for himself, the GOP decided it was a good time to polish up their hit-list.  Those who don’t belong in their white bread, white face, white male country.  This is evangelicalism gone wild, no, Rev. Graham?  Those who can think for themselves are not welcome in a party run by hatred so pure and rife that decent people feel they must take a shower after they leave its presence.  And what of the dead?  For the “party of Lincoln” they have died in vain.  They should’ve had armed guards, as if worship were some kind of dangerous, subversive activity.  The party of the NRA, formerly known as the GOP, has never watched The Witness.  It has never shed a tear for the dead.  And it most assuredly has never been to church, or synagogue.

Image credit: Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, via Wikimedia Commons

Café Américain

What with the Republican approved method of mailing bombs to Democrats (and, interestingly, not vice-versa) I have to wonder if democracy is gone for good.  I recently watched Casablanca again with my wife.  What struck me about it this time around was how, although many of the characters clearly hated one another, they were civil—downright polite—unless safely locked out of sight by the Nazis.  It also struck me that in the 1940s Nazis were bad whereas now they are the legitimate nickname of the GOP.  It used to be calm, collected enemies playing by the rules even with their hatred intact.  Now politics has become gaming the system itself so that the other side can’t win to the point that Major Strasser looks like Colonel Klink.

I suppose what’s most distressing about all of this is that moderate Republicans have so quickly acquiesced to Trump’s agenda of hatred.  Not one speaks out against him, fearing his money.  Somehow they manage to sleep at night.  I’m guess that if they watch Casablanca they don’t see what some of us do.  There comes a point, when a game gets too serious, that most of us know to back off and do something else for a while.  When we were kids we knew it instinctively.  What began as playful rivalry started to feel like hatred.  The twelve year old knows that at this point it’s time to back away, otherwise it will come to blows and we will feel regret.  There is no regret in the Grand Old Party.  They only regret that Tricky Dicky didn’t get away with it.  Welcome to the most unfair democracy in the world.

Ah, but I digress from Rick’s.  It we come downstairs we will hear Victor Laszlo leading the band in “La Marseillaise,”a national anthem far more robust than bombs bursting in the air.  These, after all, are patriots, not panderers after personal power.  Even Major Strasser doesn’t start lobbing pipe-bombs in Rick’s Café Américain, and he orders Captain Renault to find a legal reason to shut the place down.  This is the rule of law, no matter how crooked.  In the end, however, Victor Laszlo and Ilsa Lund are on a plane to Lisbon, and Rick and Louis are planning their flight from the city to take on more noble pursuits.  The swamp in the desert has been left by those of any integrity, save the underground.  Casablanca, after all, translates to “white house.”

Fear Factory

Every politician knows that fear wins elections.  Just how deep into Orwellian territory we are became clear at 2:18 p.m. on Wednesday.  A man I loath and distrust, who happens hold high office sent out a national presidential alert to cell phones everywhere.  After being awakened at odd hours a time or two over my cell phone owning years, I’d turned off my smart phone alerts.  I wasn’t out driving to spot amber alert situations in the middle of the night.  If there’s a severe thunderstorm coming, I’m already awake.  The idea that if everyone with a phone is on the lookout we’ll all be safe seems a bogus one to me.  There is, however, no way to turn off a presidential alert.  Like most Americans I was working when my phone went off.  I wasn’t afraid.  Just annoyed.

Random scary sounds are among the most frightening things people experience.  I recently started writing in the attic (if you read this blog regularly you won’t even ask why).  As I was writing this post a gust of wind blew and it sounded like the roof might collapse upon me.  Sudden load sounds make us look for comfort in a strong person.  On a national scale that means, God help us, politicians.  When my phone alert goes off, it’s telling me to vote for the party in power.  There’s psychology afoot here.  This was no accidental coincidence.  Midterm elections are just weeks away.

I know something about fear.  Not only do I write about horror films, I grew up with so many childhood phobias that my mother wondered how I would ever get along.  Those phobias may have gone underground when I became an adult, but they never truly left me.  I don’t encounter them on a daily basis, but I can draw on them for my fiction.  I don’t, however, appreciate my government using them against me.  Perhaps this sounds paranoid.  If paranoid it’s by design.  Even if 45 can’t see beyond his own proboscis, those on his team know the fear factor works.  Winston will come to love big brother.  Fear robs rationality.  We’re mere primates, after all.  Was it coincidence that there was what appeared to be an impromptu Trump rally later that afternoon?  There is a difference between paranoia and naiveté.  We’re a wired nation and the Republican Party has the phone number of each and every one of us.  If this is not a drill, you know where to find me. 

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.