Sunday, February 28, 2010

When This Kiss Is Over It Will Start Again

In heaven, it is always spring, always the very beginning of spring:  each blue and green day dawning as if the days before it had been gray and icy cold.  I am awakened by the sunlight coming through a window, along with a sea breeze and the cawing of distant gulls.

Breakfast is eggs benedict, asparagus, hash browns, English muffins, sweet butter, pineapple preserves, orange slices, and champagne.  I eat till I’m full while my dog Tom Ripley gnaws his rawhide at my feet.  Somebody next door is playing the GymnopĂ©dies on the piano.

I walk along the white-sand beach with my friends, one or two at a time.  When my friends are called elsewhere, immediately one or two other friends take their places.  We talk about the things that matter to us—Why do we think this or that person is beautiful and good?  Why is this or that sexual position exciting?  What sort of poem would suit this particular day?  How lovely it is to change—and how we sometimes miss the subtle pleasures of mutability, even when they were involved in the pains of mere earthly existence!

After my walk, I watch tall handsome men wrestle in a small peristyle arena.  They have dark close-cropped hair and trimmed beards, eyes as black as onyx, with strong noses and jaw lines, hairy chests, hard round shoulders, firm bellies, and sturdy thighs.  They are as fierce as they are tantalizing to watch.  They enjoy the fight, coax me to jump in with them, their speedy violent moves gradually tapering to long, sweaty, languorous holds.

Afterwards, we shower and eat steaming salty bloody steaks and cool salads of lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, peperoncini, olives, feta, anchovies, cracked black pepper, lemon, oil, and vinegar, washing it all down with cold dark lager.

I siesta in another room, my dog Ripley at my side.  Compositions by Brian Kenny, Jean Cocteau, Paul Klee, and Willaim Blake hang on the walls—a life-sized cast of Rodin’s L’age d’airain stands at the window.  Billie Holiday sings on my iPod.  In my dreams Auguste Neyt poses at my bedside while Rimbaud reads from Illuminations, Whitman from Leaves of Grass, and Rilke from Neue Gedichte

I awake to drumming.  People, friends, are dancing outside.  I join in.  We pass hashish and bottles of wine as we move.  The rhythm is relentless and frenzied.  We all glow with perspiration and vitality.  Our muscles glimmer liquidly under our skin.  We are all reveling pagans without gods—saints as we bless each other, but require no other hand to bless us.

This heaven has never known a Christian (or a monotheist of any type) and never will.  This heaven had and lost its gods long long ago—lusty, beautiful, natural gods, who relinquished their power and thus their existence when nature lost its cruelty and death ceased to be a necessary escape.

When we tire of dancing, we fuck, tirelessly, with joyful mischief and laughter.  Again we drift to sleep in one another’s arms in the cool dry grass, a short nap.

It’s twilight when we awake.  For a couple of hours we read—Proust, Didion, Burroughs, Kafka, Salinger, the Arabian Nights—every word taken in with new eyes as if for the very first time.  Then we graze at a buffet—carrot cake, peach cobbler, vanilla ice cream, flan, coconut cake, shortbread, butterscotch candies, Jordan almonds, grapes, pistachios, fresh pineapple—while on a sheet stretched out between trees we watch old movies from the 1930s and 1940s.

After the movies everyone wanders off in twos and threes—and solitarily, as the mood dictates.  Ripley and I crawl under clean blankets and sheets, scented with cedar.  The ghosts of everyone I have ever loved hover around us.

As we drift off to sleep, it starts to rain.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Don't Let the Son Go Down on Me

Christian Voice and the Christian Institute (neither of which I've heard of before) have decried Elton John's assertion in a recent magazine interview that Jesus was a gay man.  Christian Voice had the balls to say that John was simply attention grabbing--hardly a surprise, given the fact that the singer/songwriter is an entertainer, duh, and blithely blind to the irony that Christian Voice (did I say I'd never heard of it before?) seems overly anxious to pin its name on a controversy involving an internationally recognized pop star.

It seems to me like there are many groups (Christian and gay and whatever) whose sole purpose in the universe is to take offense and fly to the media to show off their chagrin to the blinding flashbulbs.

Groups similar to these two were red in the face, spitting polka-dotted piss, when Martin Scorsese in 1988 released The Last Temptation of Christ, which suggested that Christ might have taken a wife--in a flashback, alternative-reality fantasy--though when the book upon which the film was based came out almost 30 years earlier, apparently not an eyebrow had been raised.

It is not so much assertions about Christ's sexuality as it is the opportunity to grab some face time on TV that fires up this type of Christian.

And, oh, by the way Elton John is hardly the first to suggest that Jesus had homosexual tendencies--in the twelfth century, St Aelred of Rievaulx suggested that Jesus and John the beloved disciple were not only an item, but actually married to each other.  (So also believed James I of England, the King James of King James Bible fame.)

Which brings me to my point.

If Jesus came to save the world, the whole wide world, why is it that such a small group of crackpots owns the copyright on him?

Surely, John and St Aelred have as much right to surmise that Jesus was a fisher of menfolk as Christian Voice does to imagine him as some sort of Caucasian NFL hunk with right-wing politics and a five-step program for personal financial success.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Twenty-Four (or Twenty-Five) Favorite Movies (As of Right Now, Anyway)

Avatar (2009)
Nashville (1975)
A Single Man (2009)
Harold and Maude (1971)
Kings and Queen (2004)
Irreversible (2002)
3 Women (1977)
Psycho (1960)
The Cement Garden (1993)
Happy Together (1997)
A Man Escaped (1956)
King Kong (1933 and 2005)
The Exorcist (1973)
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Diva (1981)
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Querelle (1982)
Persona (1966)
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
The Third Man (1949)
The Scarlet Empress (1934)
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)

Some Notes on Suicide, Cries for Help, and Growing Some Nuts and Moving On

I am the least suicidal person I know.  The word "suicide" seldom springs to mind in reference to myself.  I would not even know how to go about it, not properly anyway, never having had sufficient interest in the subject of my own death to look up the most painless--or preferably the most fun (me, the bon vivant of the gallows)--way to off oneself.  Even in my days and nights of darkest despair--and there have been a few that were very very very dark indeed--even when I have consciously wished to be dead or never to have been born--the thought of my actually doing the fatal deed has seemed preposterous.

So, first, this is not a suicide note.  Just to set the record straight.  (Neither is it a "cry for help," thank you.)

There are times, more frequent now the older I get, when my detachment from the idea of self-slaughter--to the point of ignorance--strikes me as rather unfortunate, since in principle I can accept suicide as a rational and, in some cases, even honorable choice.  It is a point of interest to me that the wisest words on the subject--at least the wisest I have come across--come from comedians, not tragedians or philosophers.  Bill Maher said something once to the effect that suicide is man's way of telling God, "You can't fire me; I quit!"  Doug Stanhope once compared life to a movie, and if you get halfway through it and it has sucked for the first hour, nobody's going to blame you for walking out in the middle.   But like George Carlin, I "couldn't commit suicide if my life depended on it."

Suicide requires a temperament I do not have.  And I call myself a pessimist.  Still, I am a cheerful pessimist.  I suspect suicide requires a certain form of optimism--that death at least will not be an anticlimax--but I'm inclined to go with the Peggy Lee song "Is That All There Is?":

"I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment."

So why do I bring the subject up?  Well, a couple of days ago, I wished to myself (but aloud) that I were dead.  I have wished the same thing before when my life was especially calamitous, and I have many times observed that I was ready to die, if need be.  But readiness is not a wish, and my life right now is not calamitous.

What I was reacting to was the feeling--no, more than that, the recognition--that now, turning 57 next month, I am well past my prime.  Yes, yes, yes, I know people who have started love affairs in their eighties (my father, for instance) or, like Penelope Fitzgerald, started a glorious literary career at age 58 or, like Grandma Moses, began a career as a painter in her seventies.  So it's not the age thing I am talking about.

I have seen Harold and Maude, like, six or seven times.  I mention this only because I'm aware that I still have a good 23 years before I am "just marking time."

It's something different than the age thing, though arguably related to it.  I sense a loss of momentum.  Slowing down is not an altogether bad experience--I rather like most aspects of it.  But my self concept has long been the image of myself as creative, sexual, free, experimental, evolving, and actually accomplishing something, and these very qualities are the ones in peril.

I keep trying, though:  arguably, blogging can be justified as some kind of creative expression--and really you don't want the details on my present sex life.

Having been more or less sedentary for the past twelve years makes me feel considerably less "free," "experimental," and "evolving" than I was in my thirties and early forties, though I'd have to say I am now much freer than I was in my Christ-haunted teens and early agonized twenties--which, when (rarely) the temptation to envy the youth of my students arises, serve as a reminder to me that, no, I do not want to return to my youth--or usurp anyone else's, that whole stage of life being just too fraught with insecurities and fear of the future.

Changing residences this past summer was a nice small move in the right direction for me.  Like a houseplant, I benefit from occasional re-potting.

I still feel that I accomplish something as a college teacher, but most days it's hard to look out at smug blank faces and think that it is much that I'm accomplishing--even though on occasion, rather frequently these past couple of weeks, in fact, individual students have made a point of expressing their appreciation for what I do.

More worrisome, for some time now, I have been at a loss to name anything likely to make me happier than I am when I am fast asleep--an ardent young lover?  yes, but it boggles the mind; travel? nice, but probably not; money? sure, till it's gone; bingo? oh Christ no!  Exercise?  A good idea, a very good idea, in fact. 

I have a dog, but he is old, too.  It worries me to think of my outliving him, though it's asinine for me to hope otherwise.  He is, even as he slows down too, a source of instant hilarity for me.  I have wonderful friends--my one "blessing" is and always has been friendship, about which I feel romantic and always hopeful, ... but they too are slowing down and seem as a rule more inclined to sink into comfortable furniture for glasses of wine than to embark on a road trip to watch cage fights in another state or seek out the world's scariest roller-coaster or dance all night to house music.  I have a job I like.  I have an income--as well as a growing credit-card debt ... which, happily, no heirs of mine will ever have to lose sleep over.  My body is feeling the pull of gravity.  I have lived to see the nation's first African-American President, but am left with the lament, a la Peggy Lee again, "Is that all there is to a black Commander-in-Chief?"  I have lived to see Avatar in 3-D, three times, and I have to say that it was well worth staying alive for.  At the very least I outlived the Bush years, which is something.

Do I wish I were dead right now?  Not at all.  As I said, the thought came and went a few days ago.  It was a springboard for, naturally, some thoughts on my mortality, some self-examination concerning my qualms over the subject of suicide (fears of missing the Clash of the Titans remake, I suspect), and a trial walkabout in the new shoes of being an old man--they're still tight, these shoes, they hurt, in fact, but in time, I suspect, they will break in just fine.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I live in the present, but the past holds on to me.  The sorrows of the past are gone, the loves of the past are gone, the promises of the past are gone, yet they are still part of who I am now.  They are gone, but I bear their impressions, not so much like fossils, but perhaps, come to think of it, a little bit like fossils, still more like the shaping influence of wind and water on stones--not so much a fixed photographic image of the past as an abstract, attitudinal, vestigial pattern.

I have forgotten much ... involuntarily and voluntarily.  Not every memory is something I need, and I am not the sort of person to cherish memories indiscriminately.  I am not a hog for nostalgia.  I am not a strict preservationist.  We have to chose our memories carefully.  According to modern theories of consciousness, our memory is something we actively construct ... it is an act of will.  Memory itself is a means for composing our identity, our present state, giving the moment right now some kind of shape in the context of what we remember of lost moments.

I think it's bad advice to tell the bereaved that they will "get over it."  They won't.  They may forget, but that's unlikely.  What's more likely is that, to cite a fairly common expression these days, they will find a "new normal."  What doesn't kill us becomes a part of the "new normal."

I have loved a lot of people--not nations or a whole world of people, but a charm-bracelet full of friends and lovers over time.  I'd roughly estimate 50 people or so.  I am guessing, though.  I still have feelings--feelings very much like love--for every one of them, even some one-night stands.  Still, I have let them go, too.

How can this be?  How can I have feelings for ex-lovers, and yet no longer want to be with them?  Well, the answer is, I suppose, I have been with them.

They have left their imprints on me and I on them ... and then we reached a point in our lives when we had no more room in ourselves for each other's imprint.  But I have not wished to forget them, to purge them from my mind (as in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and have not wished to rid myself of their influence on my present condition.

There are, no doubt, some old friends and lovers I would happily bring back into my life now, but even then they would have to return under new circumstances--circumstances that they to some degree brought about, but are no longer a presence in them--and in a real sense we both would have to build a new friendship and a new love out of the existing materials--keeping in mind that what once was, no longer is, no longer exists.

Out of my will and my memory, I have a certain fidelity to times past.  I celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, especially birthdays, which are kind of my thing to do.  My house is a small, unimpressive museum of artifacts left to me by people who are no longer around.  Where I am now, I see some drawings by Dutch, whom I haven't seen in 22 years, I see some bookends my mother gave me, I see photographs from Vince, I see a "box" made of pine needles my grandmother made.  I see a figurine Luis once handled.  From time to time, though, I throw out some things that I had once thought had sentimental value but, as it turns out, they do not ... or I find that they present a false notion of who I am now and of the effect the times they represent have on me.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I was not built to love forever ... or to grieve forever ... but that is not to say that my loves and griefs have not become a real part of who I am.  And unlike what some people report, new loves have never entirely wiped the slate clean of my old loves.  I grasp ... or try to grasp ... the moment while it's here.

Nothing is forever.

I am faithful to love not because I will always love, but because I will choose to keep that love in my memory.  It has its place--a revered place--in how I think of me and my life--but that does not mean I am willing to pretend it is still a living presence.  And I am faithful to my grief, to my loneliness, to my triumph, to my laughter in pretty much the same way.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Whitman's Letters from God

Over the December holiday, I reread a lot of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, in preparation for the American Literature class I'm teaching this semester.  Whitman was the first author we looked at in the class, and weeks ago we moved on to Dickinson's gnomic poems and now Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which we're now halfway through and which continues to surprise and amaze me--for some reason I keep forgetting how brilliant it is, fully deserving Hemingway's often repeated praise: "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn'"--no less true today than when Hemingway first voiced it 76 years ago.

But back to Whitman.  I tell students and people in general that Leaves of Grass is what I read for years, every day, devotionally, once I lost my faith in God and Christianity.  His words were uncloyingly uplifting, sensuous, wonderstruck, and wise.  Rereading him only confirms the sense I had of him then, now decades ago.  A saint of no particular religion, but rather a saint of life and the material world.  A prophet who foretold in 1855 that the tastes of common people would come to define what "America" is, not the treatises of statesmen and theologians.  While his fellow Quakers waited in silence for the silence that might be construed as godlike, Whitman heard America singing--and his own voice rolled out along with those of sea captains, fur traders and their native-American brides, mothers, prostitutes, slaves, slave masters, his beloved athletes, panhandlers, poets, babies, and on and on.

Whitman did not foresee the role that electronic media and mass production would play in commodifying American popular culture, or the effects of the military-corporate state--but if he came back today he would not be surprised that in the eyes of the world blue jeans, sneakers, jazz, blues, rock and roll, hiphop, baseball, cowboys, gangsters, sit-coms, skyscrapers, car crashes, explosions, cigarettes, hot dogs, Coca-Cola, and cheeseburgers are what define "America," not the Constitution, not the Bible, not the vaguely distinguishable Democratic and Republican parties, not the Mormons, not the Scientologists, not the hardwired-for-crazy bible thumpers, not Harvard, not Yale, not the national parks, not the Smithsonian Institution.

What Whitman provided my god-deprived soul was the steadfastness of virtues borne of human fellow-feeling, growing from the ground up, not trickling down from plutocrats or aristocrats or incorporeal gods, commonsense virtues closely similar to the ones delineated by the philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville in his lovely 1996 A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues, which I'm now reading--only, to my mind, no philosopher or messiah has ever topped Whitman's own commandments, thirteen of them, not ten, inscribed in his Preface to Leaves of Grass, which I all but make my students memorize:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, reexamine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
Whitman embraced the flesh--and that in itself was liberating and refreshing to me as I peeled off layer on layer of encrusted superstition and dogma.  The bible teaches obedience, discipleship, and servitude (even slavery), but Whitman teaches wonder, unbowed self-respect, and freedom.  What holiness is to monotheisms, the human touch was to Whitman, self-dubbed the "caresser of life":  "I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy, / To touch my person to some one else's is about as much as I can stand."  For Whitman, the material world was not fallen from grace, but rather the vehicle through which true, immediate transcendence could be obtained:  "I accept Reality and dare not question it, / Materialism first and last imbuing."

In fact, like me, in my now thirteen-year adventure with my friend and guru Tom Ripley, who happens to be a dog, Whitman saw that at-one-ment (atonement) could be learned from the natural physical world, attentiveness and mindfulness of the senses, rather than wistful reveries on abstractions, ideals, revelations, and spiritual fakery such as that practiced in religions requiring holy books and priests to detect and explain the undetectable and inexplicable:

     I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained,
     I stand and look at them long and long.

     They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
     They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
     They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
     Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
     Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
     Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

In Whitman, too, I saw the exaltation of beauty, youth, violent intensity and force, dancing agility, loafing, and sensual pleasure, all of them demonized in sermons and religious tracts in my youth, all suspect in American Puritan culture, all transient, therefore bad.  He restored these concepts as virtues to live my life by, as they had been in the lives of the classical Greeks and the native American sages.  His standards were those of nature, not divine revelation; of matter, not mind; of the senses, not deduction from abstract premises:  "All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain."

The concept that "all men are created equal" is nowhere to be found in the teachings of Moses, the prophets, Jesus, or the apostles, but taking it at second- or third-hand from John Locke, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, Whitman made this premise central to his ethics and aesthetics, never once confusing equality with conformity, never once opposing it to ideas of excellence, diversity, and unfettered eccentricity.  Equality, for Whitman, is what it is for animals and nature--it is what is, plain and simple--life and death are what equalizes us, not legislation--we take others as equal because they, as we do, exist:  "I exist as I am, that is enough, / If no other in the world be aware I sit content, / And if each and all be aware I sit content."

This existence in and of itself is the transcendent truth that Whitman grasps and imparts in his great poem "Song of Myself," a poem whose theme is easily and often deliberately misunderstood as mere amoral egotism, not as the great display of human sympathy that it is.  We all live and die--variegated and individual on the outside, we are, like the leaves of grass, connected under the surface at the root--and that root is being itself:

     I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
     And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
     And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's self is,
     And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral dressed in his shroud,
     And I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth,
     And to glance with an eye or show a bean in its pod confounds the learning of all times,
     And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
     And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheeled universe,
     And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.
     And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
     For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,
     (No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death.)

     I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
     Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

     Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
     I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
     In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
     I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is signed by God's name,
     And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
     Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

The Last Known Survivor Stalks His Prey in the Night

Besides being Valentine's Day, the day when pre-Christian Europeans believed that the birds selected their mates for the spring, today begins the Chinese New Year, which will be the Year of the Tiger, specifically the Year of the Metal Tiger.

"A year of small but numerous irritations," warns my worn copy of Theodora Lau's The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, addressing those born in a Year of the Snake (e.g., me).  It looks like a year for me to be drawn into other people's conflicts.  As I recall, such was the case back in 1998, the last tiger year--the year I pulled up my stakes and moved to North Carolina on the expectation that a friend had found me a position in industry that would make my fortune, but then her 10+-year love relationship suddenly fell apart, which then became a focus for both her and me, dashing my hopes for the lucrative position, which, I suspect now, I never would have liked anyway--so, though I see myself as anything but superstitious, the prophecy rings true.

Lau sensibly advises me and my fellow snakes to hold on to our sense of humor and not be vengeful.  The trouble is ... we snakes rarely have years lucky enough that we do not need a good sense of humor ... a good year for us is lackluster, a good year is the one when not much is expected, thus not much disappoints.  What I like about Chinese astrology is that it does not blow a lot of smoke up one's ass.

We have just left the Year of the Ox, a year of drudgery and hard work.  The tiger year, by contrast, is "explosive."  "It usually begins with a bang and ends with a whimper," Lau tells us.  "A year earmarked for war, disagreement and disasters of all kinds."  Looks like we have had a good jump on the tiger year these past few years.

"But it will also be a big, bold year."  Now that's something ... because despite the grandiose scale of Haitian earthquakes and east coast blizzards, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the emergence of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck as political forces to be reckoned with, the disasters of the last several years have had a blandly bureaucratic air to them, the news delivered to us through our mass media in terms of debit columns and credit columns, the end of the world amortized over, well, actually, the last thirty years or so.

"Nothing will be done on a small, timid scale."  Hear that, Congressional Democrats?  "Everything, good and bad, can and will be carried to extremes."  Extreme good might be interesting, eh?  For a change?  What exactly would extreme good entail, anyway?  "[T]he forceful and vigorous Tiger year can also be used to inject new life and vitality into lost causes, sinking ventures and drab or failing industries."  Which means, as I see it, it may be a good year for health-care reform ... General Motors ... or the Republican Party.

"The fiery heat of the Tiger's year will no doubt touch everyone's life.  In spite of its negative aspects, we must realize that it could have a cleansing effect."  Great.  Just great.  The year of the kind of painful high colonic.  Can't wait.

The birds have it figured out.  The birds of Europe do, at any rate.  Instead of bracing themselves for the coming conflagration, they are busy picking out who'd they'd like to fuck in the next six weeks.  Spring will happen--perhaps a colder, more "silent" spring than in years before--but some nookie will be gotten, hearts will beat faster--then, next year, on February 14th, cock-robin gets to do it all over again with a brand new piece of tail.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Moral Relativism

I wrote this yesterday.  It is a response to a stream of comments on a friend's Facebook posting, in which a number of his friends were hounding him over disparaging remarks he made, first regarding the trustworthiness of Fox News and then regarding a statistic that 60% of Americans believe that the story of Noah's ark is literally, historically true.  One respondent, a believer in the Noah story, wrote, "The simple fact is, truth is not relative and there [are] absolutes":

Why is it that believers think non-believers are all moral relativists, when, by and large, it is the believers who think the most relativistically--seeing God's word as inspired when it condemns sodomy, but not so much when it condemns eating shrimp ... or possessing great wealth! Or through some twisted solipsism they argue that science is just another form of religious faith (even atheism is called a "religion" by some)--usually when they're trying to stack their absurd magical stories (lovely as they are as poetry) up against the theories of evolution at school board meetings--don't words have any meaning at all?

Sure, as a nonbeliever, I lack the "certainty" that many Christians claim to possess, but that hardly makes me a moral relativist. I believe in right and wrong. Most Christian teachings are highly improbable, reliant on irrational leaps of faith, and many are even ethically suspect--historically siding with slavery, with colonization, with witch-burning, with bloody idealistic wars on other idealists, with the desecration of the planet ... but against birth control, against women's rights, against sex for pleasure.

Contrary to new Christianist teachings, reason is NOT relative or amoral--the principles of judging probability on the basis of close observation of physical evidence, experience and/or experimentation, and theories of cause and effect have given us not only democracy, human rights, and the premise that all men are created equal (in contradiction to the tenor and tone of most of the bible) but also, for whatever they're worth, lunar landings, electron microscopes, polio vaccines, and the Internet.

The story of Noah's ark has, by contrast, given us some lovely pageants and a view of the Creator of the Universe as petty, quixotic, and befuddled, ultimately back-pedaling (after the fact) on the destruction of virtually all mankind, first repenting "that he had made man on the earth" in the first place (Gen. 6.6) and, after a good whiff of Noah's barbecue, deciding not to curse the ground anymore for man's sake because "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8.21)--whuh??--he just figured that out? AFTER he killed everybody except for one small family with substance-abuse issues?

The God of the bible would be a great comic invention, were it not for his mean streak and his indifferent and willy-nilly treatment of even his most faithful followers (The Book of Job, anyone?)

No, truth is not relative ... and very little of what the bible says or what preachers or priests say in pulpits is even remotely true. But you are welcome to your delusions--just please stop trying to give them the force of law to coerce the rest of us into the small, fear-wracked, desperately hopeful, but numbly blissful lives you choose for yourselves.


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