Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trust the Rich


Pastors say all kinds of things. At one time, they'd raise hell and curse damnation on anyone not . . . what, accepting the love of god? Not belonging to their loving church? Not loving the right neighbors? Oh, the irony.

Today, pastors are more likely to say things that support the plutocracy.


Isn't that the party line? For which party? Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Evangelical party, Right-to-Life party. You name it. Even atheists toe that line, the one that says "Trust the rich. The rich people know what's best for all of us."





Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sleep: Another Offering to Mammon

One of the research stories highlighted in Discover Magazine this month was about "Social Jet Lag," a fancy name for the irregular sleep pattern common among young adults who work hard and lack for sleep all week, then stay up late and sleep late on weekends. The story reports that irregular sleep patterns are associated with obesity and higher rates of diabetes. Shift work is another culprit, but even slightly shifted sleep patterns can impact your pancreatic function.

My mom didn't need any scientific study to know that a good night's sleep was essential to my health and well being. Regular sleep patterns are natural for humans. Why not go to bed with the darkness and wake with the light? Don't you feel better after a good night's sleep? More alert, more energetic? You catch fewer colds when you get regular sleep. You do better on tests.

But Americans are getting less sleep than ever and a majority say they don't get the sleep they know they need. An active social life and work demands reduce available sleep time. The 24-7 world in which we live is constantly stimulating, ever-present stress encourages sleep-impacting drug use (for example alcohol and coffee), and always-on electric lights create irregular sleep patterns. The alarm clock wakes us before we're ready. The TV special lures us to stay up late.

The demands of the marketplace society never end: Wake up and produce! Get going and consume! There's no time for a social life in between those demands, so we take our social time out of our sleep time and we shop and work and watch screens when we could be eating, or relaxing, or lovemaking, or music playing, or running around chasing a ball with the family dog.

The demands of the marketplace society never end: The Fiscal Times reports that sleeplessness is a 32.4 billion dollar business. They've got us coming and going.

Sleep. One more sacrifice at the altar of Mammon.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Which God?


The monotheists have been bickering for quite a while now over which one is the real one, the only real and true mono-god. The Big "G." He [sic]-Who-is-Everything. They still haven't figured out that the very fact of their bickering shows that there exists more than one god.

The great earth pantheon is home to more gods than are written about in the monotheists' various sacred books. When we celebrate Christmas in an orgy of consumption, we are performing the ritual of Mammon, God of Money and Greed. When we tune in faithfully to American Idol and do exegesis on OK! magazine, we are participating in the Cult of Celebrity. Our screens are altars to the Techno-Deity. Our politics a peon to Power.

I don't give a shit how many gods there are in this little piece of universe, or whether some churches think they hold the monopoly on the god-thing. What I care about is which gods a person chooses to love and follow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What have the Christians been up to for 2000 years?


What? No healing the sick? What have these Christians been up to for the past 2000 years? Not following Jesus, that's for sure because Jesus told us specifically to heal the sick in his name.

Universal health care is a topic of particular importance to me, because my husband and I have no health insurance and neither do two of our three adult children. That's not because we can be labeled as no-good trailer trash free-loaders. My husband and I are both professional people with 20 + years of experience, but we took a sabbatical, time off from work to serve god, and we were left high and dry. Our children all work, and the one who has health care gets it from a campus clinic where she goes to school.

Meanwhile, my relatives in Canada receive the care they need when they need it. When my dad was in his last years, Canada took care of his medical needs and gave my stepmom caregiver respite time. Yes, for free. Yes, high quality. Yes, from their taxes. What better thing to spend our taxes on than health care? Would you rather the government spent it bailing out the banks? Dropping bombs? My stepmom was able to carry on after my dad died without being burdened by huge medical debt.

Some people say that universal health care would lower standards and we'd get lousy doctoring. Why? Do they think doctors are only in it for the money and that paying them less would mean they'd stop caring and do a bad job? Do we think so little of our doctors? And would I want a man or woman who was only in it for the money to even touch my body?

Current medical training, the profit-based health care system, and the focus on technology all conspire to lower the quality of health care in the United States. Just look at what a mess our bodies are, with obesity and related diseases skyrocketing, infant mortality at a shameful 6 per 1000 (making us number 50 among the nations and well below the countries with universal health care), depression and anxiety rampant, death from cigarettes and alcohol still high . . . More to the point, iatrogenic (doctor caused) mortality is listed as 225,000 yearly in the U.S. (To compare, in the U.S. per year: all cancers 567,000; alcohol related deaths, 75,000; marijuana related deaths, 0.)

For-profit medical care is not the best. Not by a long shot. And it seems to me that healing the sick for free is what Jesus would do. In fact, that's exactly what he did.




Monday, November 26, 2012

Preaching Money


Preaching the goodness of money has roots deep in the Protestant tradition, roots that are well documented by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905, trans into English 1930). Weber is the man who coined the phrase "Protestant work ethic" and he described it as one of hard work, frugality, and responsibility. Those who work are righteous, no matter how lowly their position in life, and those few men possessed of great wealth are especially blessed by God. In Weber's day, according to the ethic, the wealthy were expected to contribute to the community according to their means. Check out Andrew Carnegie's 1889 Gospel of Wealth for a stunning example of the era's understanding of the Protestant work ethic.

Weber explained how the rise of Protestantism in Europe, Calvinism in particular, coincided with the rise of capitalism and provided it with theological support. Work, after all, turns the wheels of enterprise and in spite of its recent fall from favor, the Protestant work ethic has sustained the astronomic rise of the United States as an economic, social, and political superpower throughout the 18th and 19th and most of the 20th century. Ben Franklin's writings in the late 18th century contributed to the popularization of the work ethic among immigrants pouring into the country from all backgrounds and it has remained an important part of mainstream American culture until post-modernist times.

By the early 20th century, however, American society was well on its way to making the "great transformation" from a society with a marketplace to a marketplace society. Every institution was being sucked into the machinery of economics, subsumed within capitalist culture, and evaluated by the values of profit, efficiency, production, and the generation of wealth. Christianity was not immune from this transformation. In 1925, Bruce Barton wrote The Man Nobody Knows, re-imagining the son of God as a manly man, hard-muscled and work roughened . . .  and the best salesman of all time. After the second World War, the prosperity gospel was preached in earnest, beginning with Oral Roberts from the pulpit in 1947, moving on to A. A. Allen's Secret to Scriptural Financial Success in 1953, and then exploding through the world of televangelism.

Today, this "prosperity theology" is well integrated into most Pentecostal and Evangelical churches and is espoused by the biggest names in Christian self-help, such as Joel Osteen and Bruce Wilkinson. Somewhere along the way from work ethic to prosperity theology, however, the gospel of wealth had changed. From an ethic steeped in the bourgeois values of hard work and frugality, it had morphed into a consumerist fantasy of wealth through faith. Simply put, God loves you so he'll give you whatever you want. Just ask.

No work necessary. No thinking to bother you. No messy Christian values to trip you up with getting your camel through the eye of a needle. "Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz . . ."

God approves of money. God wants you to prosper. Believe and be financially saved. It reminds me of the new and improved, no effort, easy, convenient way to salvation now sold like a drug by the pushers of religion-lite. God approves of you no matter what an asshole you are. Believe and be saved. No contribution to the poor necessary. No follow-me-to-the-cross nonsense. You don't even have to worry about climate change or genocide anymore. Just believe.

Meanwhile, the real American gospel is one of wealth and power, beauty, celebrity, ease and comfort and speed and technology. These are the things we're told will save us. In the words of Mammon: believe and be saved!




Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's good to be ordinary


Here I am on the beach in Naples. We had a wonderful time in Florida enjoying nature in her many southern forms, from palm-lined beaches to the sea of grass. Nature appeared to be different from both our upstate NY tree-land and our KY horse farms, but the same spirit ran through her.

I drew the picture during one of those still rare but increasingly evident moments of peace, in which I knew that I was known and loved by a being greater than I. I'm grateful for this fleeting lifetime in the flesh, here on our Mother Earth. I'm grateful to be living awake and aware, to be able to see beyond the obvious, to be able to walk between the worlds.

Oh, give thanks to our Creator, for he is good! For his mercy endureth forever! (Psalm 136)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ditch the screens


Screens! Screens! We spend our lives in front of screens, screens as large as an iMax theater screen, as tiny as an iPhone. The other day, we passed by a development of new houses near a highway. How awful, I said to Jack, that these huge, expensive houses have such tiny plots of land and are located smack up against the highway. It doesn't matter to the families, though, he said, because they live inside in front of their screens.

I was walking on the Ithaca Commons last spring, on a most glorious sunny day, watching the amazing show of humanity, feeling the warmth of the sun, and then I noticed that every other person who walked along nearby were engaged not in the reality around them, but in the tiny screens they carried in front of them, their eyes cast down, their thumbs busy.

Computer, television and movie screens mediate our experience of what is real until we become confused and think that what the screens show is more real than the material world itself. We lose sight of reality and one another. This communication we have here through a blog is better than nothing, but it does not replace your presence at my kitchen table, sipping tea, eating fragrant apple coffee cake and sharing ideas. That experience is round and rich and full. I can notice the way your face changes when you feel deeply about your topic, how you sip carefully at the hot tea. I can feel the touch of your hand on mine and know you deeply, and experience the person-to-person contact we humans desperately need.

This screen is flat. You can't reach out and touch me. You can't see how my eyes fill with tears when I think about what will happen to the children in a world of only screens.



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ain't gonna happen on my watch!


This cartoon expresses the heart of my work. I write and draw and work magic with this one goal in mind: to resist the apocalypse with everything I've got and make the world safe for our grandchildren.

I read an excellent book recently titled, The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us About America, by Mathew Gross and Mel Gilles. It discusses the myth of the apocalypse, both from a historical point of view and as it reflects America's 21st century culture. The authors write well and with humor to make their point: that we are worrying about wildly improbable apocalyptic scenarios such as the return of the angry god or a comet smashing into the earth, while we allow the human-supporting global environment to fall to bits around us. Their opening chapter about the ubiquitous nature of the myth was chilling. In the end, however, they renewed my hope that in the event of a collapse, humans will be able to pick up the pieces and start over again.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Billboards




Driving south through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida last week, I enjoyed watching the changing environment along the sides of the interstate. Tree species changed, the hills fell away to farmland, and billboards sprouted along both sides of the highway. The billboards were for motels, of course, and car dealerships and eateries, but also for lawyers and doctors and a life coach. How interesting, I thought, that professionals are now advertising like used car salesmen, one more sign of the encroachment of a crass capitalism into areas of our life that had once held a sacred boundary against it.



As we traveled southwards, we saw an increasing number of billboards advertising Jesus, more anti-abortion signs, more aggressive, spit-in-your-face political billboards and more billboards for sex services and products. What an interesting combination! Did they go together, I wondered? They must, because as the towns became more conservative religiously and politically, the advertising for pornography also increased. Dozens of colorful signs enticed truckers and drivers into “Exotic Massage Spas” and “Adult Superstores” with names like Cafe Risque and The Lion’s Den.



The so-called Christian billboards were chilling, including one with Jesus watching over scenes of destruction, starvation and war with the caption. “Don’t worry. God is still in charge." Another said simply, “You’re going to heaven or you’re going to hell,” while a third showed the crucified Christ with the caption “He loves you this much.” See my recent post about the association of love and violence for my thoughts about that one!


The political billboards were also increasingly violent—it was just a few days before the election—with threats against Obama such as “Now it’s personal . . . America is coming for you” and “The Navy Seals removed one threat to America. Now voters have to remove the other one” which also used the popular conflation of Obama with terrorism. He was called a jerk and an idiot, a socialist and a loser. Boy, oh, boy. Welcome to the American South.



The anti-abortion billboards made me want to cry. They made statements about embryos alongside images of 6 month old babies. If it really was true, as the billboards said, that the heart begins to beat at 18 days, that still wouldn’t transform an embryo into a human child. (The heart actually begins to beat during the 6th week of gestation.)
 
The simple-mindedness of the billboard arguments only increases their power. When a beautiful baby speaks to me from the roadside and says, “My mommy wants to murder me,” my own heart misses a beat and I want to protect that child. Uneducated or unthinking people are easily swayed by these messages, all of them, the religious, the political, and the social.



And among all these other billboards, in sad testimony to the unmet human need for physical comfort and sexual release, promises of private booths and virtual lovers called out to us all along the highway.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Write your own caption . . .


Maybe it stands alone and doesn't need a caption. What would you have the character say?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Religious Maverick

Maverick. The word defined:
  • An unbranded range animal, especially a calf that has become separated from its mother, traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it.
  • Being independent in thought and action or exhibiting such independence.

My dad was a maverick—in this I am my father's daughter—but it didn't do his career any good. He was a federal probation officer who spoke for and published about restorative justice as an alternative to the then-current attitudes in criminology of social vengeance, punishment, and deterrence. The people in his office made fun of him and he was passed over for promotion throughout his 35 year career, ending it at the same level at which he'd entered. Finding another position would have been impossible, especially after he started teaching evening classes in comparative religion, but he accepted the label "weirdo" with a great good humor that I can't seem to find inside myself.

I've been deeply impacted by his beliefs, especially his religious beliefs. He called himself a Buddhist Unitarian Jew, and he steadfastly refused to give up on any of those, insisting that at the heart of all religions was the same impulse to love god and do good. The Jews rejected him outright for this, the Buddhists cheerfully came to our Passover Seders in their stead, and the Unitarians invited him to speak from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.

My father, the maverick, has long gone off to his safe corral in the sky. That's his picture along with a self-portrait. Like him, I feel myself to be deeply religious and like him, no one institutionalized form encompasses the spiritual reality in which I live. I am an animist, which means that I believe all material being is alive, intelligent, and infused with soul. I'm polytheistic, which means that I believe in the existence of many gods, and I worship a pantheon I call the Gods of Love. I'm also a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, seeking to live the radical love to which he called the world.

I worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit side-by-side with people who would see me as destined for hell and sip bourbon with scientific materialists who find all of my religious beliefs anathema. Like my dad, I refuse to give any of them up, but unlike my dad, I've been hiding in a closet all my life, afraid of the sting of rejection, unable to find that enormous sense of humor that can encompass even humiliation and ostracism. It's time to come out and laugh a little.

A maverick, by definition, is unbranded, but perhaps there are others like me, wandering the spiritual metropolis without a home but with a fierce faith in something greater than human. Could that be you? I'd love to hear from you!

PS: Since writing this post, I've become aware of Huston Smith, a religious scholar who has practiced a number of religions throughout his long life. He's an inveterate seeker after truth and he believes that for all its faults, religion is as valid a path to truth as science. More about Mr. Smith is easy to find with a simple google search.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

MegaChurch

Last Sunday I went to two churches and the differences between them became stunningly clear.

The first was an old-fashioned downtown church with a congregation that had been raised on post-war community feeling and 60s radicalism. We sang with gusto from a hymnal while the organ drowned everyone out, and we took communion together, and we listened to a teaching about the blind beggar whom Jesus had healed on the Jericho Road. After the service, we met in groups. My group had a lively conversation from which I took away a renewed confidence in my personal experience of the divine.

During the service and after, several people shared with me about how they served the community. One young woman had organized a letter writing campaign asking senators to support legislation that brings food to the hungry. (Would I please write a letter?) An older woman gave me papers to read about the needs of the mentally ill who, she said, were cast aside by our health care system. (Could I come to a meeting?) In this church, the homeless are housed and the hungry are fed. I left feeling connected, uplifted.

But, I also love to worship with my hands raised, so afterwards I moved on to a megachurch where I had heard that the music was grand. Before I got to the doors someone approached me and gave me a church tee-shirt and a DVD. Then, I walked through glass doors into a sparkling lobby filled with young people and young families, with a cafe in one corner dealing lattes and pastries and a shop in another corner selling books and CDs, and a comfortable lounge with a crackling fireplace. TV screens set here and there showed a variety of church-related video. Down the hall, a multilevel children's area was bursting with eye-candy, like a kids' science museum. Everything was new and classy, but the auditorium (I don't think they dared to call it a sanctuary) beat all that.

The stage was set for Broadway, and when the band came onstage, lights flashed and smoke machines poured out pretend smoke, and giant screens brought us close up to the drummer and the bass was so intense, I thought my heart would give out.

There's more, but I'll skip it. What hit me hard was when four people got up on stage and said they were going to share how they served the community. I was all set to hear more about caring for the needy and poor. One of them said he worked in the church nursery during services. Another directed traffic in the enormous parking lot. The third was involved in the church's theater group and the last one managed music production on Sunday mornings. They served, not Jesus, not the community, but the church.

The people on stage said that Jesus had led them to this service, that this was what Jesus wanted them to do: work for the church. Their church's stated mission is to make converts. The people who go there serve the church. I should have known better, but I'd almost been suckered in by the glitter and I left feeling tainted and sad.

It had been dark in that auditorium. We couldn't see one another once the stage was lit.







Monday, October 29, 2012

Art, Truth and David Sedaris

Charlie tells me that the more my art tells the truth, the more powerful it will be, no matter what my level of skill.

Telling the truth means to me being honest about the reality I experience and the visions I have—but the more truth I tell, the more vulnerable I become.

What if my philosophy doesn't conform to media established norms? Then, do I hide my truth behind glib facebook posts? What if my economic truth is considered pathological or politically incorrect on both sides of the debate? What if my religious truth would get me fired from my job or get my kids taken away? But as an artist, I have to speak truth, because truth feeds my art.

Then there's the most terrifying kind of truth to reveal: the personal realities, the truth of my friendships and kinships and who I really am inside. This turns the world of privacy inside out and leaves me vulnerable, not only to the world's condemnation, but to hurting the people whose reality intersects with mine. I will have outted them with my honesty, revealing the soft insides of themselves that they would choose to keep away from the public eye. And yet, this personal truth is what fires my art and raises it above the level of whatever money or celebrity it may generate.

I think of David Sedaris here and his book Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, from which I know more than I feel comfortable knowing about his siblings. Did they choose, I wonder, whether or not he would reveal them to me in their spiritual nakedness? If I was in Mr. Sedaris's family, I'd change my name and move to a small town west of the Rockies, just to resist this invasion of my private self. It may be the reader's discomfort with this intrusion on the secrets of the unwilling that makes his stories so compelling in the first place, but I don't like it. Even though I keep reading them, I feel like a voyeur or a thief.

Then again, what's so different about his dragging the Sedaris family skeletons across the New York Times bestseller lists and my dragging out that old story about my divorce?

Then again, I don't think it would be worth the pain I might cause—you'll notice that I didn't actually drag out that old story about my divorce here, although I was tempted to—but short of hurting someone else, what am I willing to risk for the sake of my art? I don't want to lay my foibles and eccentricities at the feet of the google mobs and potential bosses. Hell, no! But that's what I'm called to do with my art. Very slowly, I start to sign my work with my own name.

This compulsion to speak the truth in public comes over us artists because we know that truth is what empowers art. I suspect it is as old as the first artist who ever scratched the picture of a deer upon a rock. Charlie says:
 
Truth opens the spirit eyes of your art so that it looks back at the viewer and the viewer is changed.

And job hunt be damned . . .








Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Party's Over


Sophie told me that she wasn't sure at first what attitude the announcer had. Was he sarcastic? Serious? In this cartoon, I was imagining what a real radio announcer would think of a news item like that in 1952. The '50s mainstream called religious fundamentalists "bible thumpers" and pictured them as ignorant, southern trailer trash listening to radio evangelists who preached with a hate-filled oratory. Not a nice assessment, of course, but far from the political power they've become in the 21st century.

Apocalypse at that time was associated with nuclear annihilation and was much feared. Now, a majority of Americans anticipate some kind of world-destroying scenario, with polls showing up to 50% of us expecting an imminent apocalypse.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nectar From the Holy Fruit

Nectar from the Holy Fruit which grows on a tree in the smack damn center of the Garden of Eden is available to you now at your corner liquor store. Yes, I'm talking about bourbon.

Although I loved whiskies of various kinds before we moved here to Bluegrass Country, in the past couple of months I've come to enjoy bourbon in particular. A single malt scotch used to be my best bottle, say an Ardberg or Lugavulen, but now my best is a single barrel from Wild Turkey, a liquor that is to my senses like an afternoon in August when distant thunder rolls across the hills.

This place in which I live is bourbon's birthplace and its only true home, the meadows and streams of the Kentucky River ecosystem, where winters are just cold enough to draw the liquor back into the barrel after a long, delirious Kentucky summer.

My father comes to visit me more often in Lexington. His name was Fred Greenwald. He sang me to sleep with Kentucky lullabies, and in my imagination this state was the land of milk and honeysuckle vines. Fred loved the Kentucky of his dreams and he shared those dreams with me, and now here I am in the old home of lullabies, horses, and bourbon.

If you'd like to share in my love affair with this native American whiskey, you need to shun any blended whiskies and avoid the bottom shelf of bourbons. You can make a Manhattan with one of them, I suppose, but why bother? Learn about the difference between single barrel and small batch, either of which is a sure bet, and start to taste.

Take it neat, or on the rocks, or with just a splash of good water. This one has the sweetness of corn. That one the kick of rye. In the best of them, you can taste the soul of the oak wood that makes the barrel and you share in the numinous kindness of those trees. You can taste the magic of a water that seeped its patient way through limestone cracks for one hundred thousand years.

Bourbon is the drink of sexy winter evenings and long summer nights. It wears a tie, but loosens the knot as the hour goes by. Taste it and you long to hear a saxophone, or maybe you hear a saxophone that other people, the people drinking vodka or rum, could never hear.

Listen, I've got a few good bottles here I'd love to share. Stop by anytime and we'll sit on the back porch in the slanted Indian Summer light, and drink to the bluegrass and horses of Kentucky.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Surprised Tea Party Voter

It seems to me that health care is a particularly Christian value, and any Christian worth his salt and light should be fighting for it.

Didn't Jesus heal the sick, and didn't he send his disciples to go out to all the towns around and heal poor people in his name?

Sometimes—often—I'm ashamed to be known as a follower of Christ, Jesus because of the hypocrisy of the churches, a hypocrisy so obvious that it would be laughable except that its adherents do great harm.

I have three adult children, and only one of them has health insurance, something that's part of a university student program. My husband and I are currently uninsured. We've worked all our lives serving the community, raising our children to be good citizens, and still in our fifties we find ourselves uninsured.

We are not filthy beggars on the street, but what if we were? Is any one of us less worthy in the eyes of our Creator? I pray for the day when everyone in this country, and all around the world, will be healed for free in the name of a generous god.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Love and Cruelty

Hey, it doesn't make sense to me, either, but it makes sense to a shocking number of bible worshipers.

Here's the story: God loves everyone so much, that just after he created us he led us into temptation, like some divine practical joker, and we fell for it and ate an apple from the wrong tree. For this, he condemned us to a lifetime of torment on earth followed by eternal torment in the afterlife. Four or five thousand years later, he decided to give us a break, so he sent his only son, so that his son might be hounded and abused and tortured instead of us, at least, instead of some of us—but only those of us who believe that our Creator demands blood sacrifice for the eating of an apple.

There are many sad things about this story. One is that since bible worshipers have assumed a monopoly on religion in our country, people think they have to choose between the god of this story or no god at all. For most thoughtful, contemporary people the only choice they can make with integrity is no god at all. Who wants a nasty, torturing god? But, what a shame that with so many wonderful gods of love, people are being forced into atheism by this false choice.

The thing that concerns me most about this story, however, is the association of love and cruelty. The god who created us on purpose and saw that we were good is also the god who would make life on earth a vale of tears, filled with agony and suffering, demanding violence, setting nation against nation, and condemning us for the very things that make us human. It's a mind fuck, my friends.

When you love someone, you seek their pleasure and happiness. You do not hurt them. When you care, you are kind. You are filled with compassion. You seek to serve. But the bible is permeated with the contradiction of a god who both loves and hurts, and so is our culture.

Bible Christians proclaim the love of god for all of us, and say that they practice the love of Jesus Christ, a love so radical that it seeks even the welfare of one's enemies and oppressors. Yet in practice they show only disdain, not only to their enemies, but to anyone or any group that doesn't meet their standards of thought or behavior. They would withhold health care from the sick, food from the poor, and care from the fatherless children and do these things in the name of love. Theirs is a god who would send his only son to die in wretched agony and still would not be satisfied.

I see this contradiction expressed, in particular, in the association of sex and violence, not merely in the media concurrence of sexual with violent imagery, but in the rise of sharing sexual love in our own bedrooms by inflicting pain. The book Fifty Shades of Grey is, of course, the latest expression of this perversion, and it's made plenty of money for the author. There are now sequels, magazines, and related merchandise dedicated to the fantasy of repeated sexual assault in an intimate setting, which illustrates how deeply the association of love and violence has been integrated into our culture.

Underneath culture is religion, and a religion that associates love with cruelty, and whose god claims to be loving while inflicting pain, lies deep beneath our 21st century American culture.







Monday, October 15, 2012

Very Good News


Who is like you?

Mi chamochah ba'elim Adonai? 
Who is like you among the gods, Oh, Lord?

These words echo in my mind from my earliest years. One of the few pieces of the liturgy still sung in Hebrew in even the most Reform of Jewish temples, Mi Chamochah is from the "Song at the Sea," raised by the ancient Hebrews as they stood on the far shore of the Red Sea after the flight from Egypt. (Exodus 15:1-18). Now no longer slaves, but free people, the Hebrews sang glory to their god, for, "He is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation; this is my god, and I will glorify him!"

My god, not the god. Who is like him among the gods!

Oh, Lord! Among the gods. Plural gods.

In those days, even the Hebrews knew that there existed more than one god, and although they cherished their god and had been chosen by him, and prayed that one day every knee would bow to him, and said they would have no other gods before him and that he would be their only one, and although they claimed that he was the Great One, the One who had created the heavens and the earth, they were well aware that there existed other gods. After all, they were surrounded by other gods and many people living all around them in the ancient world were polytheists, worshiping more than one god. The understanding that there exist many gods but that only one is worthy of worship makes the ancient Hebrews "monolatrists" rather than monotheists.
  • A monolatrist believes in the existence of many gods, but chooses one as the only worthy god.
  • A monotheist is someone who believes that there exists only one god, the Great One-and-Only Everything "G"od. The capital "G" sets their god apart from other gods, which by definition cannot really exist.
  • A henotheist believes in the existence of many gods, and worships one god, which he or she chooses as worthy from among equally valid gods.
  • A polytheist believes in the existence of many gods and worships many gods at one time. *
As Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other book religions evolved over time, they became highly monotheistic, claiming that their particular god was the only real one, that all other gods were fictions or superstitions. Since there could only be one, and theirs was the one, it was inevitable that conflict should arise between the various monotheistic religions. Meanwhile, we have social anthropologists and monotheistic apologists claiming that monotheism is the most highly evolved form of religion, the most authoritative, even the most scientific, and this claim has become generally accepted as true.

When I look around me today, however, I see many gods and goddesses, just as my ancestors did on the shores of the Red Sea. There's Islam's Allah and the Jews' Adonai, the Hindu pantheon, the gods of the Eastern religions and the African religions, the resurrected gods of the neo-Pagans, and enough varieties of Jesus Christ to spin your head around, to say nothing of the Creator "G"od of the Christians and the Virgin Mary, who is "venerated" instead of worshiped, but who sure looks like a goddess to me.

Lots of gods. And why shouldn't there be? The universe is defined by diversity. Seven billion people, 9 sextillion stars, and 7,500,000,000,000,000,000 grains of sand in the world (according to the University of Hawaii) . . . and only one god? I'm not even convinced that there's only one universe, or only one dimensional reality, and neither are the scientists. Only one god? Bunk and hokum! Thousands of gods that we humans seem to know. The question that concerns me is not "which god is the real one," since they all apparently exist, but "which god do you follow and where is he leading you?"



* These definitions are simplified, but they will help us to have a conversation about polytheism and monotheism. 



Saturday, October 13, 2012

Greetings from Kentucky

Hello from Lexington, KY,
That's right, we've moved south, and we find the human people here to be warm and friendly, but oh how we miss the tree people! We have two big oaks in the back yard, and live on a street with mature trees of various kinds, willows, larch, even a maple tree or two or three, but the woods that surrounded us in upstate New York are missing, and they are missed indeed.

Every once in a while, someone will write me a note through this blog, to tell me that he or she appreciates my words. I'm grateful for those who write to tell me that I am not alone, but many of my readers feel lonely themselves, young people who feel uncertain or scared by their animist experiences, folks of all ages who have been shamed or ostracized for their beliefs.

Now that the word religion has become synonymous with determined ignorance and the word spirituality is often used to denote a vague and happy new age selfishness, what word can we use to describe ourselves? Even the liberal churches tend to a Cartesian dualism between matter and spirit, while the unity or interfusion of matter and spirit is the defining belief of animism.

There's no pigeonhole into which we fit, but we can find one another online, and that gives comfort to many of us who are otherwise isolated. Please keep writing! I'm so happy to hear from you!
Puny Human

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Since I've Been Gone

Wow! Since I've been gone from blogging, Google has created an entirely new interface. It'll take a little time to get used to. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to my return to the blog-o-sphere, because, yes, I'm leaving my job. Turn on? Check! Tune in? Check! Drop out? June 22 is my last day at work. Jack and I scrimped and saved for three years and we have enough money to take a sabbatical for six months, move south, and start over. I'll probably never have a professional job again—good-bye money—but we'll make enough to live on. Heck, we might even be able to start out own business. And a sabbatical is essential. I mean what I call it, a sabbath to our gods of love. Time out from ordinary reality so we can rest and health both body and soul. Time out for art, music and nature. Time to give praise and worship our glorious and wonderful poly-gods of love. Just 8 working days to go.