Thursday, October 26, 2017

God Damned

It would not be correct to say, “The devil made me do it.” Rather, what moved me to write this post was the coincidence in my reading this week of three people who had a problem with God.

The first I came across was that flypaper for idiocy Bill O’Reilly:
As CNN notes, O’Reilly has previously blamed the reports of his alleged sexual misconduct on the media, but now it looks as though he’s decided to throw shade at a higher power as well. “You know, am I mad at God? Yeah, I’m mad at him,” O’Reilly said on Monday during the latest episode of his web series, No Spin News. “I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. Yeah, I’m mad at him.”*
So, mad because God wasn’t his wingman. 


The second person with a problem with God was alleged actor Mark Wahlberg. I discovered his problem with God in yesterday’s edition of the Guardian’s satirical question-and-answer feature “Pass Notes”:
Name: Mark Wahlberg.
Age: 46.
Appearance: Contrite potato.
Why contrite? The actor is seeking almighty God’s forgiveness.
For what? For being in a film.
He’s an actor. Does he do this every time? A specific film. Speaking recently at a Catholic conference in Chicago, Wahlberg said: “I just always hope that God is a movie fan and also forgiving, because I’ve made some poor choices in my past.” When asked to elaborate, he said: “Boogie Nights is up there at the top of the list.”
So, the problem here is that God might just be a hostile Rotten Tomatoes type (always assuming that the heavenly being finds time off to visit the local cinema).


We have to go back in time 500 years for the third person with a God problem—Martin Luther. 

In the October, 30, 2017 issue of The New Yorker Joan Acocella, reviewing several books about the reformer, wrote how “this passionately religious young man . . . discover[ed] his anger against God” [emphasis hers]:
Luther spoke of his rage at the description of God’s righteousness, and of his grief that, as he was certain, he would not be judged worthy: “I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.”***
So, because Luther was certain of his own unworthiness, it was fine to hate the “righteous God.” 


A number of years ago, I found myself feeling sorry for God. “Poor God,” I said to myself. How he was being blamed for all the disasters in the world, for the murder of humans created in his own image no less. A destructive hurricane or earthquake, with thousands of people killed? It was God’s doing, prophets and preachers, rabbis and imams exclaimed, because of man’s sinfulness (usually nowadays due to gay marriage). 

A secondary thought I had was how chutzpahdic those prophets and preachers, rabbis and imams were to assume that they could read the mind, to know the reasoning, of the entity that was grand enough to create the heavens and the earth. 


I have found a way to free “Poor God” from the hatred, blame, and scorn that has unfairly come his way over time. I have decided to assume that the universe was not his creation (hence not his to be blamed for), but was created in an enormous explosion some five-billion years ago (although I haven’t exactly figured out the small details—I do have my scientists working on them).

And so now God can proclaim: “Free at last! Thank God Almighty (oops, sorry about that). I’m free at last!”



Friday, October 20, 2017

"And the Winner is . . ."

The Man Booker literary award has just been announced. The Nobel and the MacArthur “genius” award winners were named just a few weeks ago. If you haven’t pocketed one or another, don’t despair; by the time the 2018 autumnal equinox rolls around, there will be the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, BAFTAs, Pulitzers, Pritzkers, Giller, Golden Globes, Golden Boots, Golden Gloves, MVPs, Vezina, Lady Byng and so on and so forth. With so many prizes up for grabs each year, one might think the whole business was fashioned by Lewis Carroll’s Dodo, who proclaimed: “EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.”

Despite this plethora of prizes, I would ask your indulgence as I sneak one more into the mix. I hereby announce: The Cain Award. Named after that Biblical fellow, who famously asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The winner of the inaugural Cain Award (and winner by ten lengths over all other runners in the field) is Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin.
When asked by a high school student in Wisconsin whether he considered health care a right or a privilege, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) compared access to health care to access to food and shelter, arguing that all three should be considered “privileges” for those who can afford them.
“I think it’s probably more of a privilege,” Johnson said in response to the question. “Do you consider food a right? Do you consider clothing a right? Do you consider shelter a right?”*
Johnson has been a staunch proponent of removing the requirement that health insurers not discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. He has defended his position with the analogy that 
people with pre-existing conditions [are like] drivers that have been in a car accident, [and] that the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions is tantamount to requiring auto insurers to sell insurance to people that have crashed their car.
So, what can the unprivileged—those without food or shelter or clothes or health care—do when Senator un-Good Samaritan walks on down the road, ignoring them—the beaten and naked—lying in the ditch. Perhaps they can resort to prayer. Remember the envelope I mentioned in an earlier post, the one containing the Tibetan prayer flags?**

Well, maybe we can mail a set to each of them—but wait, they have no right to shelter, so they probably have no mailbox to receive the flags. Sorry, folks, you don't have a prayer.


Monday, October 16, 2017

R.I.P. Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur, American poet, died two days ago. He was 96 years old. 

I first became aware of Wilbur’s poetry about six decades ago when I read his “Epistemology” in a paperback anthology of new American verse. 
Kick at the rock, Sam Johnson, break your bones: 
But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones.

We milk the cow of the world, and as we do
We whisper in her ear, 'You are not true.' 
I didn’t (couldn’t, perhaps) at the time articulate why I liked the poem; it was, I assume, its wittiness and its concreteness, however, that made me intuit its philosophical underpinnings (which would become clearer in time). 

A few years later, in graduate school, we used an anthology of classical French plays which included Wilbur’s translation of Moliere’s The Misanthrope. The French alexandrines rendered into English rhymed couplets, Wilbur’s translation became my standard text whenever I taught that play in a drama or satire course.

I also regularly taught Wilbur’s poem “Place Pigalle” in my freshman English course.


About two decades ago I was fortunate to meet Wilbur after he gave a reading at my university. It was an opportunity that I relished, for there was in my mind one sticking point in “Place Pigalle” that I couldn’t work out. But here, I hoped, was the poet himself to help me. The poet was a tall, well-dressed man and very friendly when I approached him. I told him of my affection for his Misanthrope and then explained that I couldn’t work out the phrase “with Arden ease” in “Place Pigalle.” (I had always wondered whether, as the setting was indoors, the reference was to some kind of furniture. Certainly not Elizabeth Arden—and so I toyed with that Arden for years, but what was it? I could not contextualize it.)

Wilbur hesitated for just a moment. “I think,” he replied, “that I was referring to the Forest of Arden.”

Of course! Of course! I shriveled inside my clothes and glanced at the poet, hoping he was not tilting his head to one side with his eyes searching for the heavens and thinking, “What kind of moron have we here?”

And so my search for enlightenment was successful. But to this day I—who taught As You Like It approximately every other semester in my Shakespeare course—occasionally look in the mirror and remember a big dummy who couldn’t put two obvious pieces of information together, or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say, “Couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Dead

Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge
In my previous blogpost, “Re-enter the Loons,” I quoted Bill O’Reilly as saying that the upside of the murder of 58 people at the Las Vegas country music concert was that that was “the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.” Allowed to roam free with assault weaponry at their disposal. The dead, thus, had their use; they brought freedom for nuts and gun nuts. 
In the November 2017 issue of The Atlantic* Caitlin Flanagan investigates the death of Tim Piazza, a freshman at Penn State University, after a night of horrendous hazing by the brothers of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. In her article Ms Flanagan relates a conversation with Jud Horras, a former assistant secretary of the fraternity’s national organization and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, the trade association for social fraternities. 
I knew [Flanagan writes] he was not prepared for the hardest question I had for him, which I would return to over and over again: Why hadn’t Beta Theta Pi taken the simple, obvious steps that would have saved Tim Piazza’s life?
Horras defended the fraternity saying that 
at some point, you have to trust young men to make the right decisions. . . .  Giving members the freedom to [make poor decisions] was part of what the fraternity was about. If they screwed up and got caught—well, that was on them. 
But what about the death of Tim Piazza? 

Horras acknowledged that it was “a tragedy for him and his family.”  BUT
it would provide the industry with the impetus needed to make some necessary reforms. In fact, his death was a “golden opportunity.”
Ecclesiates tells us, 
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.
Apparently, when it is one’s time to die, others will find a purpose in one’s death—an opportunity to use it for their own ends. 


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Re-enter the Loons

Now I don’t know whether you’d want to chalk it up to pure coincidence or to some super power in the universe with a sense of appropriateness, but today I received in the mail the following:

Coming just days after the mass murder of concert-goers in Las Vegas by a gunman wielding a high-powered automatic attack weapon, the gift of “Prayer Flags” will allow me to indulge—together with so many politicos—in a round of after-the-fact thoughts-and-prayersing. 

I have not yet opened the envelope to determine what these “Prayer Flags” will actually do. Perhaps, unlike the hollow prayers of gun-moneyed politicians, these Tibetan artifacts will promise to be intercessory, which is
holy, believing, persevering prayer whereby someone pleads with God on behalf of another or others who desperately need God's intervention.*
Certainly, when someone is firing off round after round of ammunition your way, you would hope for a good samaritan’s prayer to make the lead arc harmlessly away or to impose itself—like Wonder Woman’s bracelets**—between you and the bullets.
Responding to the massacre in Vegas, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin tweeted:
Governor Matt Bevin ✔@GovMattBevinTo all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs...You can't regulate evil...10:38 AM - Oct 2, 2017

But then again he knows how to combat gun violence:
"Almost all were there, I think, because they genuinely want to be part of a solution," Gov. Matt Bevin said of a meeting he held in Louisville to call for prayer groups to help combat gun violence in Louisville on June 1, 2017.***
Frankly, I’d prefer Wonder Woman.
And then there’s Bill O’Reilly (you thought he’d vanish from the face of the earth after being ousted from Fox News?):
The NRA and its supporters want easy access to weapons, while the left wants them banned. This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are. The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.**** 
Think of all those Las Vegas martyrs to freedom—the involuntary Nathan Hales who gave up their lives so that more Americans in future can be blasted away in other venues by other weapon-toting freedom fighters.

All those Las Vegas dead who gave the “freedom” spouters the opportunity—once again—to drain the reservoir of thoughts-and-prayers, thereby mocking the wounds of the survivors and the tears of the loved ones of the murdered. 

**"These bracelets have thus far proven indestructible and able to absorb the impact of incoming attacks, allowing Wonder Woman to not only deflect automatic weapon fire, energy blasts and other projectile weaponry, but also to absorb forces from a long fall."  Wikipedia