Friday, September 15, 2006

The Everlasting Gospel

THE VISION OF CHRIST that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy.


--William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

Pope Benedict 16 has now offended Islam.  While yours truly loves nothing more than stirring up a hornet's nest, especially when it comes to sacred cows, of which Islam is FULL, it does seem somewhat ill-advised on "his holiness'" part.  Still, the vast majority of Islamic adherents are unwilling to accept any criticism whatsoever, or even enter into a discussion of what their religion means.  If someone misstates what they stand for, then it is up to them to educate--rather than condemn and demonize.  If their religion really is about love and brotherhood, let them correct misunderstandings, rather than just rant, rave and wail about their bruised sensibilities.  I've had it with Muslims and their negligible cultural ability to enter into any kind of meaningful dialog with Western Civilization. 

I disagree with 99.99% of what Pope Benedict says and stands for--but he was making a point about spreading religion by the sword.  He should not apologize.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Kidding in the cage

Apparently, it wasn't the judge's head Saddam squished vicariously.  Apparently the judge is biased toward the defense.  "You were not a dictator" he said yesterday to Saddam.  Hmm.  What happens if they find him "not guilty?"  "Freedom" should not be forced on societies that are too immature to appreciate it.  Appreciating it in this situation is to understand that Saddam is guilty--he has to be, or there is utterly no rationale to go to war with Iraq is there?

Who didn't make sure that Saddam "shot himself in the head" just prior to being discovered in his spider hole ... ?  I don't know what's worse, this Administration's ineptitude with regard to such matters, or the fact that they're so public about it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Kid in the Cage

Fox News is reporting that a furious Saddam Hussein exploded in court the other day, vowing to "crush your heads."  I don't know about you, but that leaves me wondering if the deposed dictator gets Comedy Central in his jail cell and watches too much Canadian sketch comedy.  It reminds me of that old Kids in the Hall skit wherein Mark McKinney as Mr. Ticsic, would look at people from a distance, and because of the optical illusion of foreshortening, put that person's head between his thumb and forefinger and say in a creepy little voice, "I crush your head!"  The joke is that the guy is an odious loser whose impotent rage can only be expressed in this pathetic way.  I can imagine Saddam sitting in his cage, getting the Judge's head between his thumb and forefinger and sniveling "I crush your head.  Flat!"  Talk about odious losers.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rhapsody in Blue

Depression: High.  Probably has something to do with the 9/11 anniversary.  I wouldn't be surprised.  9/11 devastated me: profound sorrow for those who lost their lives and loved ones.  Unquestionable terror when I imagine how I would have felt and reacted were I on one of those planes, or trapped inside one of those buildings.  And rage against those responsible for the death and destruction.  I don't think I've had very many days since then that I haven't thought about those events. 

It makes my own emotional suffering insignificant by comparison. 

Friday, September 8, 2006

Sin and Fear

I'm all undone by a website I made the mistake of reading yesterday.  It is the personal "ministry" site of an Ohio general practitioner.  He fancies himself a minister, and preaches a extremely fundamentalist message.  One can sense the irony at work as one views the doctor's beautiful, aryan family, their seeming good cheer, juxtaposed with the vitriol that spews forth from the text.  There's a profound disconnection there.  One thing that struck my interest was his letter from and response to Cady, a young person (can't tell if boy or girl) who is proud of daddy for coming out and being true to himself.

In another letter, Doctor Johnson (not to be confused with Samuel Johnson) defends and supports his railing, rebuking tactics with biblical verses. (BTW: This page is a little off--you have to scroll down to read the letter and response.)

"God fearing" to this ministry is literal.  This is not the meek, mild Jesus he is selling, but the thundering, righteous Jesus.  We are not to find comfort in Jesus' message, but terror.  I'm not a Biblical scholar.  I've read it, but I don't study it, or memorize passages other than those which have moved me personally.  But it seems to me that this minister's focus is at odds with much of what Jesus taught (the beatitudes--Sermon on the Mount, for example).  I find a profound disconnection between this minister's depiction of Jesus and the Jesus who said, "let he among you without sin cast the first stone."  This fellow believes that it is entirely possible to remove the log in your own eye, and after doing so, you can freely condemn the specks in everyone else's.

And doubly troublesome to me personally, is that something deep inside responds to this guy.  I am afraid.  I am inspired to look again to God (his view of God--which he justifies as being the true biblical representation), rather than my own view of God (the God of movies and Sunday School).  Although this picture of God does not square at all with my experience of God, I find myself falling under its spell.  Who among us doesn't have guilt and shame over something--even if it's just free-floating?  Is my neurotic personality flaw responding to the message of self-loathing implicit in the fundamentalist world-view?

Is this not classic cult conditioning?  Destroying someone's self-image so that it can be replaced with something else?  Now that I am in this miasma of revulsion and terror, of horror, how easy it would be to wildly give myself over to someone who can facilitate a cleansing, a rejuvenation, a healing--and then what?  Wouldn't I be obliged to seek regular maintenance of that state of being? 

Although this minister's tactics may be biblically based, there's a deep psychological coercion at work as well.  I can feel it.  I think it could be very dangerous--volatile.  It's cultish.  It feels to me more manipulative than spiritual.  I would appreciate a frank discussion of this so feel free to leave responses.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Art and Nuance

Sometimes I'm bowled over, thunderstruck and left speechless or sobbing at the end of a particularly artful story.  Such was the case of A Passage to India, David Lean's epic masterpiece, based on E.M. Forster's novel.  I loved it because the tale, although simple, was very much about something--imperialist racism, the east is east, west is west mentality of Great Britain, British distain for conquered people. 

Through the point of view of Dr. Aziz we see the Indian desire to emulate the British, while preserving a sense of pride.  He is able to navigate his own stratafied society with ease, which to the British is inscruitable and utterly mysterious.  Judy Davis, as Miss Quested, is undeniably brilliant.  Is she is a Freudian hysteric, or a legitimate victim?  Somewhat ambiguous, though not as ambiguous as the novel, apparently. 

The scene wherein she takes the path less traveled, and runs across tantric statues and a tribe of angry monkeys, is magnificent.  Magical.  One feels strongly the risk, the danger, and how the film makers intensified the stakes at issue.

Age of Innocence is, by contrast, a much more subdued film.  Gestures and glances are fraught with ambiguous meaning.  On the surface nothing happens.  But the mystery of the relationships, the ambivalence of the characters, the unrequited desire--all create a profound subtext.  In that sense, the film is literary.  Two totally different styles of film making are at work.  Both films make the viewer feel something, or know something ineffable--they both have subtextual elements that communicate implicitly.  I didn't have an emotional response to Age of Innocence.  I rather disliked it.  But then it began to gnaw at me. 

Both films are brilliantly directed by film makers who know exactly what they're doing.  They have the economy of brilliant works of art--nothing is wasted.  The difference though, is that Age of Innocence is so subtle that it takes repeated viewings to make sense of it, whereas A Passage to India is operatic in its intensions and unmistakable.  Both films have much to offer.

One last note.  I find that A Passage to India, with its theme of racism and rape, prefigures the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird and was written 40 years before.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Drifting towards the Center

Maybe all pragmatists eventually settle for moderation in all things, especially when it comes to politics.  I certainly find that to be true.  More and more I find the right wing less fearsome, and the left wing less righteous.  I was thinking about that yesterday.  Roy M. Cohn--I don't know why he suddenly occupied my thoughts.  I was surfing the web, trying to find images of Halston, the designer and famous 70's party-animal.  There was a picture of Roy M. Cohn snug between Halston and Steve Rubell at Studio 54.  How utterly fabulous is that! 

For my readers unaware of who Roy M. Cohn was, he was a special counsel to the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), the McCarthy Hearings, during which the government purged itself of communists and communist sympathizers, and then moved on to other segments of society, most notably, film and television artists.  "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?"  was the question asked.  I used to think that was the darkest hour in the history of American democracy.  Do I think it went too far?  Yes.  Was it corrupt?  Of course it was.  It was the ugliest politics ever to come out of Washington.  But we reap the benefits of it to this day.  Today we have a graceful society based on integration and assimilation into the ideals of personal freedom and responsibility to the community and nation.  We aren't largely troubled by anarchist, subversive groups.  We have almost no communists and socialists, and those who do perservere do so at the fringes.

So while the actions of McCarthy and his cronies were doubtless motivated to secure their own political fortunes, they also accomplished something that made America a better place to live. 

And they did so at great personal price.  Cohn was unable to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality even at the end.  Cohn's view of the world was distorted and delusional.  Right up to the end he maintained that he had cancer.  The lens through which he viewed the world was skewed.  Because of that, he destroyed those who opposed him, and used any lie in the furtherance of his own objectives.  But he also had an impact on society which has lasted to this day.