Let me introduce you to Mr. Gary Kleck, a man who's mustache has made quite an impression on gun discussion for almost fifty years.
In addition to sporting a tweed Jacket, a style so suave he feels comfortable buttening his shirt all the way to the top, and that upper-lip arc of black smack that would make Selleck's mark look as impotent as a Hitler 'stache, Mr. Kleck is nothing short of a brilliant and brunt erudite of the highest caliber.
What Robert Price is to the historical Jesus debate, Gary Kleck is to that of gun control: a sardonic, witty, brutally erudition professor who tells the truth as he sees no matter what the consequences, and makes you laugh a little bit in the process, too.
I swear, it's something about the beards.
Kleck is a gruff and opinionated criminologist who's done the research. And he has a meticulous, borderline obsessive quality of work to use it. Every time a gun-control lobby pundit publishes a paper or study, he reads it and tears it to shreds in his own article, and not ideologically either, but based on an adroit understanding of study methodology and his own massive erudition pertaining to crime and guns in America. He knows what he's talking about. He's done dozens of studies on effects of guns, effects of stricter punishments and longer prison sentences, the death penalty, intentionality, instrumentality, and, his magnum opus, a landmark study on effects of guns on crime deterrence in the United States. Kleck won the 1993 Michael J. Hindelang Award from the American Society of Criminology for his book Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, and his work was instrumental in the Supreme Court's landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision, that struck down the D.C. handgun ban and said the Second Amendment protects individual right to keep and bear arms. A decision which, mind you, arguably reduced the DC homicide rate to its lowest in over 30 years (104 in 2013 as opposed to 186 in 2008 when it was passed, though, to be fair, the trend had already been downward since 1986).
Anyways, remember instrumentality? The idea that guns, when used, increase the legality of crimes committed? Kleck calls BS on it. Instead, Kleck argues that the intent of the criminal is more to blame for higher lethality of crimes in which guns are used; namely, more hardcore criminals more often use guns, they're more hardcore; less hardcore criminals more often use knives and other less hardcore weapons, they're less hardcore. The more hardcore criminal, even if they are deprived of their gun, will still be just as lethal because of their intent to be so, not because of the weapon they use.
Now, I'll be honest, it's the one area I think Kleck is reaching a bit too far. A 1968 study by Zimring found that gun attacks were about five times as deadly as knife attacks, the next most-deadly weapon (Nisbit 223). Kleck knows of these studies and holds to his position. That being said, common sense says a hardcore criminal, his intentions of the same vehemence, armed with a gun could do far more damage in the same amount of time in a school shooting that one with a knife. But then again, common sense is what has gotten us into this mess...
That being said, the "deterrance hypothesis" is Kleck's really big shooter. Essentially it says that guns deter more crime and violence than they cause. And with his 1995 study crafted and written with Marc Gertz, Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Naue of Self-Defense With a Gun, he mowed down the control-activists' assertions that they cause more violence than they prevent.
In his study, he found that nearly 2.5 million DGUs (defensive-gun-uses) occurred annually in the United States, nearly three-times the most liberal previous estimate (Nisbit 431). He also found that in nearly 400,000 of these cases defenders claim that their actions "almost certainly" saved someone's life. Now, that's a hugely subjective claim, as Kleck acknowledges in his published paper. However, he also notes that if even one in ten of those claims are accurate the number of lives saved still outweighs the annual number of gun homicides in the US. Which is true.
And the response of the gun-control advocates? Well, from what I've read, silence... Kleck's barrel sits and smokes, and not a responding gunshot to be heard. Except one, a shot from Marvin E. Wolfgang, called the "most influential criminologist in the English-speaking world" by the British Journal of Criminology. But his shot isn't at the study, rather it's a salute to it:
"The methodological soundness of the current Kleck and Gertz study is clear. I cannot further debate it... The Kleck and Gertz study impresses me for the caution the authors exercise and the elaborate nuances to examine methodological. I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I cannot fault their methodology."
This from the guy who says “If I were Mustapha Mond of Brave New World, I would eliminate all guns from the civilian population and maybe even from the police.”
This salute may sound like a bland compliment, but from one criminologist to another, this is the equivalent of saying I hate it but you've proven me wrong.
All this being said, I've now done a pretty good survey of the basic arguments for and against gun control, and have seen the statistics, quotes, and ethos of the respective representatives of each camp. And I have to say, the gun-control lobby has brought a bubble gun to an M-16 match.
That all being said, I still hate America's gun situation.
Guns, from what it seems like, do not cause violence. Nor do they have a significant positively correlated effect on the homicide rates of any particular country. In fact, the statistics seem to suggest that they, in fact, reduce the number of deaths, especially the lives of law-abiding citizens.
Yet, the fact is that our nation is one in which hundreds of thousands of households need to own a gun in order to feel safe sleeping at night. This is, at best, sad. Further, our 'gun culture's' massive mistrust of our nation's government sings a similar societal jeremiad. Why do nearly half of handgun owners cite 'self-defense' as the number one need to keep firearms in their homes? What are they protecting themselves from, and why don't they trust the law enforcement to do it?
America's obsession with guns isn't the problem, and it doesn't seem to be the cause. But it sure as hell points to a few.
First, our nation's massive governmental mistrust. Why do massive amounts of people mistrust our government to perform its basic functions? Where did this mistrust spring from? Has it always been like this? I'm no history major, but shouldn't our people at minimum trust the government with the small number of societal tasks we entrust to it?
Now, I'm a firm believer that government should only serve to provide services that individuals and private groups or companies fail to, cannot, or should not provide. When a government is forced to provide a service, it points to either the failure of individuals to perform that service for themselves or a practical necessity of its delegation. Why would we need massive healthcare system and Obamacare if we, as individuals and families and social groups, took better care of ourselves and those closest to us physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Why would we need to delegate education to governmental-funded institutions if our families, private organizations, and, hell, the students themselves were doing a better job at education? And in this case, why would we need a government with strong gun-control laws when individuals are raising children and relatives in a culture spiritually, economically, and interpersonally conducive to lower crime rates, tranquil community, and enlightened ethics? Which, we're not, if you haven't noticed the statistics on crime in youth.
Sure, there are certain responsibilities more practically in the hands of a central governing body: some level of healthcare, national-defense, and a centralized justice system should be delegated to this body in some affect in order to save lives, keep armies organized, and prevent the resurgence of the wild-wild-west vigilante justice system. But gun-control, healthcare, and education are not three things necessarily fully in the hands of the government.
That being said, the fact the government has largely taken over in these areas doesn't point to a conspiracy of evil Illuminati sitting in the white house planning world takeover and the institution of Plato's philosopher kings. No, it points to a failure of local communities and individuals in themselves to perform the services without government intervention. If we took care of the damn poor on our own, we wouldn't need social services, or did you Conservatives miss that?
So, when taken in relation to gun-control, the simple need for gun control points not to an evil government, but to a large-scale failure by us as individuals, as well as our families, communities, and our nation to culture an environment where guns aren't needed for anything but hunting, sport shooting, and looking at and singing, "Ooh, shiney!" We've failed, we as individuals, not the government. The government is just there to pick up the slack, and there's a whole hell of a lot of rope to be pulled up these days.
We as people need to stop whining about the government about to take our guns, stop looking at them as Big Brother just waiting to happen if we give too much ground, and get down to business crafting a nation where the government doesn't have to.
Second, I would never use a gun to kill even a criminal, no matter the cost to myself. Yes, guns protect property. Yes, guns scare off and even kill criminals. Yes, guns prevent rape and violence. Yes, Kleck, guns are socially practical and deter crime. But the fact is our nation is one so uncomfortable with its spiritual and moral values that it's more morally acceptable for "defenders", as Kleck and Gertz term them, to kill a robber, a human robber, then lose their plasma screen TV.
How many dollars must be saved every year on property or hospital bills for criminal-caused broken noses, to equal the value of a single human life, even that of a criminal?
Now, there will be cases in which it will be life for life, life for rape, or life for the life of a loved one. What would I do if someone threatened my father, mother, sister, close friend, or myself? What if the use of a gun could save me at only the expense of some poor strung-out heroin addict? Would I use it?
Each person must decide this one for themselves.
I, for one, because of my spiritual and pacifistic beliefs, wouldn't. It would be the most agonizing decision I'd ever made. At least, I hope I wouldn't. I can't even imagine the internal conflict of someone pointing a gun at my mother Patty's face and forcing myself to stand by and do nothing. But I'd try. Call me a terrible person, but I'd try. I can never warrant trading one life for another on my own volition, no matter how much I care about the life at the end of the barrel. Plus, most of those close to me I feel confident with their 'eternal' continuation, if such a thing exists. I couldn't say the same thing about the person pointing the gun, for obvious reasons.
Yet, as I said, each person must decide this one for themselves.
I imagine a culture in which guns are tools, toys, and trophies, and nothing else. Like bicycles, snowmachines, or ATVs, each gun would be no more 'evil' than a banana. Sure, some people might slip on the peels and bonk their heads on occasion. But the object itself would hardly be to blame. But that won't come with more or less control, that will come with a whole new culture and outlook on violence, responsibility, and self, none of which are easy or cheap to fix, unlike gun regulations, either for more or less of them.
I leave you with one last quote from James Wright, a professor of sociology at Tulane University.
“And there is a sense in which violence is a public health problem. So let me illustrate the limitations of this line of reasoning with a public-health analogy.
After research disclosed that mosquitos were the vector for transmission of yellow fever, the disease is not controlled by sending men in white coats to the swamps to remove the mouth parts from all the insects they could find. The only sensible, efficient way to stop the biting was to attack the environment where the mosquitoes bred.
Guns are the mouthparts of the violence epidemic. The contemporary urban environment breeds violence no less than swamps breed mosquitoes. Attempting to control the problem of violence by trying to disarm the perpetrators is a hopeless as trying to contain yellow ever through mandible control” (Wright qtd. in Nisbit 372).
Whew. Now that's a blog post.
You know, sitting here in my basement apartment, Dan Gibson's Solicitudes and Liquid Mind slipping slowly in my ears and cultivating a deep subconscious calm, a serpent's tongue of steam rising from my cup, I was going to write in depth about how it feels to be graduated. I suppose you're all expecting some radical change, some ephiphany of magnitude about life, a turning point from which I'm going to change my ways, right my path, and come to terms with "the real world," as all my jobless fellow graduates have denominated post-graduation life.
But, to be honest, it feels pretty much the same. Now that I've returned from Wallawa Lake, a week with my family, the Bowman passel as loud and beautiful as Rage against the Machine, I'm back to work: rising early in the morning, reading, writing, and working my day away, with some time for food and lovely individuals I all my crew speckled in like salt to season the hours. Every day, I still
To be honest, I never had issues with senioritis like other students. Why? Because, well, I was never in school for school's sake. In every one of my classes, on every one of my assignments, I put my all into them, dedicating myself to tell the truth every word and never cut corners. It was exhausting, but it made for some excellent work and I enjoyed it, most of the time. The fact that I don't really see post-graduation any different, and that can't viscerally feel much difference is, well, expected because I don't see myself really doing anything differently. I still try to put my all into every moment of every day. That hasn't changed. So why should anything feel any different?
Oh, yeah, wait. There is that one thing: I'm no longer paying anyone to assign me work. There is that. Hey, hey!
So, what exactly am I working on? Well, for one, guns baby!
There's a very distinct possibility I'm going to do some travelling this summer and next year. Where, why? All over. Shooting (heh) documentary interviews about (dun, dun, dun!) gun control! I know, right? The pacifist gunning for info on gun control? There's gotta be some small-caliber irony loaded somewhere in there.
And if I'm going to be doing interviews, I want to know my stuff. I've been researching. So, what do I know about gun legislation and national personal and communal violence? Well, previous to the research, I knew absolutely nothing. My barrel was, and still is to a point, pathetically empty. But I've been loading up.
The first thing I've learned? American gun dialectic is steeped in ignorance, emotion, and intellectual apathy. Be careful what you see on the internet, kids. Or hear on the news. Or pretty much anywhere else.
The gun control conversation is between two camps, camps pitching their tents farther and farther apart every day. First, the gun lobby, groups like the NRA and individuals who believe gun regulations should be kept to a minimum for everyday, mentally and emotionally stable Americans. Second, the gun control lobby, groups like HCI (Handgun Control, INC) who think--a vast majority of them anyways--that guns are the most-evil thing to hit the states since Marylin Manson, and elimination of guns would have a great effect on reducing the lethality of violence in America, the most violent nation in the world!
And there's your first blatant sillyness. As Weir points out in his book, A Well-Regulated Militia, America is hardly the most violent nation in the world, contrary to what many control lobbyists like to assert. It's also hardly the most violent industrialized nation in the world. Or democratic nation, for that matter. Nations like Columbia, Brazil, and Russia have inordinately more homicides that we do. "There is so much crime here," says Everett G. Martin, a Times reporter in Rio de Janeiro, "and so much toting of weapons, that news of violence just doesn't generate much excitement any more" (Weir 225). The US has a homicide rate of 7-10 per 1000 people annually, somewhere in the middle of the global spectrum. Some of these nations--some of them very civilized, very industrial, and very democratic--have numbers from 30 to 80. 30 to 80 per 1000 people, that's incredible! Yet the popular media and gun control groups keep blathering on about this idea that the US is the most violent "democratic, industrialized, modern nation" in the world. We're not, but, with this rhetorical strategy, if you keep narrowing down the allowed attributes, sure, eventually we might get up there. But to say America has anything but a moderate violence level in the world is like saying of all the middle-class, popular Italian chain restaurants in the western hemisphere, Olive Garden is worst for your health. Sure, that might be true, but I'd much rather get devilishly unhealthy dinner at Olive Garden than the Arbys or Micky-D's down the street. Despite America's profuse, or so the gun control lobby sees it, amount of guns (~150 million as of 2004), we're hardly the most violent nation on the planet, or even close, for that matter.
And what does "modern" even mean? Is there this implicit assumption that industrialization and democracy are intrinsically the way all nations must take to become modern? Are these necessary attributes for a nation to join the hoity-toity gentlemen's club that is modernity and, by way of implication, us superior nations? Marx just rolled over in his grave. So did Ghandi, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Jesus, for that matter. Well, the latter depending on what you believe, but that's for a different blog post.
Two, what's this rhetoric about gun violence iordinantly affecting children and police officers?
“As surely a you’re reading this letter, right now, somewhere in America an innocent child is bleeding to death on a ‘Safe’ suburban sidewalk, caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting...Somewhere in America a police officer is about to be gunned down in the line of duty.” (Weir 114)
That's was leading spokesperson for the gun control lobby, appealing to all the concerned citizens about a grave danger to our children and law-enforement heroes, individuals affected greately--far more greatly than you or I--by America's gun epidemic. But do the statistics support his pathos? Nope. Truth is, less police are killed by guns per capita--any type of gun--than average citizens per year. There has never been a case of a child (unless you mean a teenage child, which isn't what comes across here) bleeding to death on a sidewalk of a drive-by shooting, unless, of course, the five-year-old was in a gang with a Saturday night special pointed right back toward the other gang.
This is the kinds of rhetoric politicians use to sway Americans on gun control issues, and political issues in general. And it's disgusting.
Next is this idea that guns are intrinsically evil, their only legitimate purpose being hunting or, I guess, killing Afghan women, children, and fathers in defense of "the greatest nation in the world", good God-blessed USA in our government-sanctioned "War on Terror". As for the first assumption of this statement, the popular bumper sticker that reads "Guns don't kill people, people do" (despite the fact it's stuck to bumper stickers of F350s driven by pot-bellied hillbillies who haven't read a book since trade school) does have some small truth to it. Even if you believe guns increase the lethality of violence, a gun must have a finger to pull the trigger, thus they are impotent to perform good or evil without an instigating force. "An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force." Guns can't unbalance themselves: no gun has ever picked itself up and shot a child for good or evil motives. Or a bear or deer or rabbit, for that matter. So, maybe the more intellectually credible provenance of Newton quote, when applied to guns, will appeal to those who reject bumper stickers on trucks with less than 20 mpg out of principle. And for the second statement? Saying a gun has only a single legitimate purpose of hunting is, as Weir notes, like saying no one needs a horse except to commute and other purposes shouldn't be tolerated either (187). Besides, nobody needs three televisions in the house. Nobody needs a caramel frap. But we don't live in a need-based economy, and I don't see very many transcendentalists of the Thoreau strain walking around preaching simplicity these days.
Truth is, most of the popular arguments for gun control are simply dumb, ignorant, and emotional, hardly backed by statistics, polls, or data. They're gut-instinct based hatreds propagated by the misleading rhetoric of big lobby organizations and the pro-control slanted popular news media. Most people when it comes to gun control are, pardon me for my incurable puns, shooting from the hip. And this is statement from yours truly, an individual previously to research (and still to a point) inclined toward pro-control.
But pro-control orgs are hardly the only organizations blowing smoke out their muzzles. Most of those F-350 driving, flannel wearing hill dwellers with pictures of Randy Weaver above their mantel will tell you that as soon as the NRA and America give one inch to the pro-control movement, soon they'll be coming for everything, even little Billy's BB shooter he uses to scare off the ferrets from the chicken coop. It's a "slippery slope" to give even an inch on their constitutional--no--God ordained right to bear hand cannons.
Now, to be fair, many of the pro-control movements have made their end goal very clear: total elimination of all guns from public hands in America. Disregarding this extremist view, if everyone took the same "slippery slope" stance on other issues, the death penalty, for example, it "might be argued that use of the death penalty for murder or long mandatory prison sentenes for serious violent cimes might lead t applying them to petty theft, then to minor traffic violatnion, and eventually to spittin gon the sidewalk or speaking anunkind word to ne’s neighbor.” (Kleck 82) If we're too scared to give any ground, we'll never make any progress and things will continue to polarize. Yes, there have been regimes where speaking unkindly or disrespectfully to your neighbor on the street has lead to executions. But if we take an incorrigible stance on every issue, how will progress ever be made in, well, anything ever? 'But they gonna take my guns!' Oie.
Now, when you finally dig through all the crap, through all the popular, callow whining on both sides, from what I've read--which isn't much to point, only a couple books-- there is a real conversation to be had. The debate, it seems to me, comes down to this. There's two debates going on.
However, what is also agreed on by the plethora of pundits on either side is that guns increase the damage done by violent acts, regardless of their provenance. This is called "instrumentality," and it's the center of informed gun control discussion today. Essentially, there are myriad variables of why a nation has greater violence or less. But the violence that is already there is made far deadlier by the presence of guns. According to a 1968 study, in Chicago assaults, the death rate was five times higher when a gun was used versus a knife, the next most-deadly weapon. Essentially, if 100 assaults were committed with kives and 100 with guns, if 10 victims died from the former group 50 would die from the latter.
Likewise, guns or no guns don't increase suicide rates, but guns sure make those who decide to off themselves far more successful at it.
It's not really known whether guns in households increase or decrease robberies and burglaries, but what is known is that gun-armed robbers are far more likely to succeed than those equipped with non-firearms, and confrontations turn out more deadly.
So, the real question of gun control legislation or non is this: how much effect do gun control laws really reduce the lethality of America's violent acts, what policies could we institute to do so, and are they constitutional and worth dedicating resources for legislation and enforcement?
However, that all being said, the real issue facing America isn't question two, in my an Weir's opinion, it's question one. Regardless of other nations' rates of violence, America--especially urban, low-class America--is a very violent place, guns or no. As Zimring & Hawkins note, “Only a very polite society can be heavily armed without paying a high price...The United States of the 1990s is far from that polite society. Our considerable propensity for violent conflict would be a serious societal problem even if gun availability and use were low” (Nisbet 231). As Weir points out, social stratification, our degrading social communities and families, political polarization, a lack of a middle class and industrial jobs, and a host of other contributing factors have slowly eroded much of our communal foundation in America, resulting in a highly violent nation. And while gun interdiction may help minutely reduce the number of deaths from assault or prevent a few suicides from succeeding, the answer to why the former was assaulting and the latter trying to kill himself are questions you can't answer with guns, guns, guns, no matter how much politicians say you can.
“Some gun laws could help the situation--a little," writes Weir. "Call them band-Aids. The great advantage of gun laws is that they are cheap (except for gun owners). But to make any substantial progress against crime, violence, and murder, we need radical surgery” (236). Radical surgery is tough, though. Painful, expensive, and probably unpopular. And while we continue to bicker over how many days we force people to wait to get their precious 25th "assault weapon", the lower-class of America will continue to suffer and burn, turning to crime and violence to satisfy their most-basic economic needs, food and purpose.
More to come as I continue to research.
It's getting late so I'll be brief on this one.
I'm reading my Bible again; hardly as the inerrant "Word of God" but certainly a book of immeasurable value to me, which I won't go into right now. My spirituality is healing in many ways, but this healing is currently but a scab, and I'm not going to expose it too soon and risk it being prematurely ripped off.
I'm reading in John.
Okay, let's be honest, Christians. John's pretty much an antisemite. Sort of. "The Jews" did this, "the Jews" did that. He's not very kind to them, and it's little wonder how a surface-level reading of John could have led to books like On the Jews and Their Lies by our precious Martin Luther, not to mention the Holocaust and near 2000 years of anti-Jewish sentiment in the west. See Michale Walter's review of David Niernberg's book "Anti Judaism: The Western Tradition" for a survey of some interesting hostile pictures of Jews over those last two millennium. A sad, sad article, for all the truth it contains.
That being said, when you pay attention, the Jews really attacked by John's polemics are the hyper-conservatives. These are the Scripture scholars. These are the dudes that sit in their temple corners and read the Torah all day long, and can recite parts of it from memory. They are the theology nerds, the defenders of "correct doctrine," those who have it all figured out--or at least more than you--and they know it, making it very clear to you.
The Jews Jesus attacks in John's gospel are those so attached to their reading of God's Scriptures and their relation to God's Prophets they reject anything which could threaten to upset the fragile theological system though which they understand the Writings and spirituality itself.
Don't say this too loud, but they're the Southern Baptists of bible-times.
That being said, why are they so hostile? Why do they so vehemently reject Jesus' liberal doctrine? Because they care. Hell, for themselves and the Jewish people they love, is serious business, and with all the so-called 'messiahs' running around those days, performing 'miracles' and 'signs', they damn well had to be careful. Sounds kinda like today. What people believe affects their hearts, their hearts affect their acts, and acts bring either judgement or blessing. Hell or Heaven. And, as the guardians of Jewish spirituality, these spiritual leaders rightly take the beliefs of their treasured nation very seriously.
Conservatism is birthed of an ultimate care for those it seeks to intellectually repress, and every religious or political individual who gives a rip is dangerously inclined toward it. The danger of conservatism is becoming so concerned with correctness, so concerned with preserving the tranquility of the status quo, so scared of making the wrong step for yourself and those you lead, you miss possibilities for progress or positive reform, despite the possibility of messy upheaval in the process.
There are some good Jews in the gospel, though. Those willing to give Jesus a chance. Those willing to see things in a new way. Liberal Jews *gasp!*. Jews like Nicodemus, or so the story goes. Maybe John isn't completely antisemitic after all.
I was going to also write about John's brilliant use of miracles for rhetoric, but that will have to wait. Next week, perhaps.
My, my. It feels good to be alive! And after this year, it literally is a blessing to be sitting here, sipping hot liquid, feeling my eyes bulge from staring at the screen for too long. Good night! I leave you with a picture of my future cat. We will discover the world together.
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Mark 2:27
Hell, Jesus could have just as easily said "Habit was made for man, not man for the Habit," if he was a talkin' to me.
I really struggle with this one.
"There is no Essence of Being, but only infinite Being in infinite manifestations. It is only through the manifestations of Being and only with those with who I enter into relations, that my being has any introduction with infinite Being. The devotion of my being to infinite Being means devotion of my being to all the manifestations of Being which need my devotion, and to which I am able to devote myself."
Albert Schweitzer, From My Life and Thought
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
So, I have a little more time this term, I think. In order to use this blog, I'm gonna use it like a sounding board: every time I read or engage something interesting, I'm gonna write a blurb. Very brief. Low time consumption.
First blurb, baby.
Just finished a piece by Michael Waltzer (link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/imaginary-jews/?insrc=hpma) in which he reviews David Niernberg's book "Anti Judaism: The Western Tradition." In his article, he introduces and summarizes Niernberg's argument which is, essentially, that since the time of the Gospel writers we, in the West, have inherited an anti-Jewish rhetorical polemic, in which we, again, as the Christian West, apply to various 'others,' really Jewish or not, Jewish stereotypes, accusing them of 'judaising' in realms economic, cultural, and spiritual. Materialism over Heaven, Law over Spirit, etc, etc. This has continued over the last 2 millennia, from St. Ambrose to Edmond Burke and Karl Marx.
My thoughts: the pornographic reduction of Jews to their negative stereotypes of hyper-materialistic legalists and the perpetuation and use of these stereotypes as polemical is, simply put, a tragedy, and not to mention, bull crap. I can't count how many times in high school I got 'Jewed' out of a better deal. Niernberg is, unfortunately, correct in his assertion that the anti-jewish stereotypes are still alive and prevalent today.
But can we say this anti-semnitism has its roots in the Christian Gospels? Isn't that ignoring the fact that the Gospels were, in all actuality, written by Jews, even Christian Jews, revealing a prevalent discontent within Judaism's own community and culture that existed at the time and long before the Christian movement already began? Isn't it ignoring the hundred some years of persecution by the Roman empire that preceded the Christian development? Is this, as Nirenberg seems to accept/assert, a singlularly 'Christian' polemic? Or is it simply one that Christians inherited and perpetuated, owing to the fact that, for the past 2000 years, Christianity has been the mainstream culture of all things Western? Can we blame the Christians for beginning it? Or only continuing it? I don't know for sure, but the former seems to me to be an oversimplification.
Sadly, books like this, though good for bringing to light the still-prevalent anti-semnitism we have in the West, do little to disarm the Judaism-Christianity war of opprobations and anathemas in which Jews are stereotyped as the root of all cultural, economic, and spiritual issues by Christians across the age while Christians are equally anathematized as the horrific oppressors of Jews, the inceptors of the anti-Jewish age, and the Gospels as the origins of all that is and can be seen as anti-Rabbinical. Isn't this perpetuating the war rather than serving to bring an end to it?
Woah, a blog post? What ho!
Alright, keep your trousers on... I apologize for the hiatus, but this post isn't long, neither will there be many upcoming posts after this one either.
That being said, I promise, I haven't forgotten this blog! It won't let me. Occasionally it sits down next to me at my desk, taps me on the shoulder, wondering where I've gone and why I never touch it any more. And I proceed to punch it in the face for its audacity.
So far this year this school year, I've been writing in my journal, on my comparative religions project, close to a poem a week, a short story every two weeks, a bi-weekly column for the EOU campus newspaper The Voice, and, in my scarce free time, much-needed hand-written letters to friends.
I've also been helping with Cornerstone, planning service projects and Ars Poetica readings, doing the final edit on my senior film, exercising for an hour a day, reading my bible for 30 minutes, and about another book-per-week.
And school. Did I mention school?
So inquisitive readers, and my small blog sitting on the rocking chair, gazing at me with lovelorn eyes, I haven't forgotten you. Someday we'll be together again. Until then, I'm with my other lovers. Yeah. Sorry.
P.S. Did I mention I bought a portable typewriter? She's sexy and austere, everything I like in a woman. You think I'm kidding...
Tale of Two Cities in Hawaii08/22/2013
Hawaii is fecund. Fecund and variegated. Hawaii's adjectives. Freaking fecund.
Vivaciously variegated. Yup. All those green and red overlapping leaves--broad
and veined--forking off small, snaking branches, spread into overhead canopies,
coalescing into thicker branched stalks, arcing back into even thicker trunks,
curving down and down to the ground, surrounded by flowers and foilage: green,
raspberry red, periwinkle pink, coral-sea blue. Seriously. Variegated. Crayola
crayon color denominators must live in Hawaii.
A amidst this cornucopia of colors and plant life, a literary cornucopia of
description and language: A Tale of Two Cities.
First off, Charles Dickens is the Stephen Colbert of the 19th century, but far more
poignant, intellectual, and eloquent, hence far more profound. Hence far more
"Yes. It took four men, all four a-blaze with gorgeous decoration, and the Chief
of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watches in his pocket,
emulative of the noble and chaste fashion set by monseigneur, to conduct the
happy chocolate to Monseigneur's lips... It was impossible for Monseigneur to
dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place
under the admiring Heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if
his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he must have died of
Hah. Funny. Sarcastic and devastatingly invective to the then-contemporary monarchy
and their decadence.
His sarcastic remarks are raspberries on the side of a forest trail: walk by them
hundreds of times and you may miss them if you're not paying attention, buried
as they are in the foilage. Yet, attentive eyes and and a slow pace will reveal
the tiny bundles of red, and sweet will be their juicy explosions and seeds in
your mouth. Yummy.
His remarks are reminiscent of another well-known literary wit: Shakespeare, in
particular through his character Falstaff. Loquacious, garrulous, and always
profound, both Dickens and Falstaff are proof that humor can be intellectually
satisfying, transcending the well-warn humor so popular to contemporary
comedians,undergraduates, and YouTube: yo' mama jokes and anything to do with
Seriously. Dickens and Falstaff should do standup. Free dictionaries at the door,
compliments of the house. Yeah, yeah. They'd go broke the first night. Artists
and teachers are all in poverty.
So, imagine Charles Dickens were a genie, I, a wish-hungry Arabian, meandering
thrift-stores stroking small brass oil lamps. If I found him (he'd be green, I
just know it), and he gave me one wish, I'd wish he'd rewrite the story with
Madam Defarge appearing earlier in the book. She's the best character thus far!
And he waits until over half-way through the book to bring her (in any
significant manner), with the exception of a few descriptions, hidden, discrete,
small like precious ming vases hidden and inconspicuous on the back shelves of
the thrift stores, into the story! I suppose anticipation heightens the
pleasure, sure. But this treasure, this poised, purposed, devious, brooding
seamstress should be displayed on the central shelf!
"It is a long time," repeated his wife; "and when is it not a long time?
Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule...Tell me how long
it takes to prepare the earthquake?"
"A long time I suppose," said Defarge.
"But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything before
it. In the meantime, it is always preparing, through it is not seen or heard.
That is your consolation. Keep it."
She tied a knot with flashing eyes, as if it throttled a foe.
Whew. Cold. I think I'd hire a full-time taste tester if I knew this praying mantis
was really crawling the plant-stalks of life.
Particulars aside, more and more as I'm immersed in quality literature and art, films and
poems and stories, worlds and locations, I'm affirmed and affirmed in the
conviction that people matter. Not in the sociological sense, in that
interpersonal relationships are (or should be) life's primary focus. Sure,
everyone knows that. Sort of... But I mean literary people. People that writerly
people create. Story people. In a story characters can't just be characters.
They must be persons, deep, vibrant, and interesting (even if interestingly
boring) if they are to capture a relationally-thirsty audience. To invest in a
story is to begin relationships with the characters, both as a reader and as a
Seriously, in good literature plot is secondary to character. Very boring characters can do very interesting things and fail utterly at literary profundity. And very
interesting characters can do very boring things and still brutally encompass
the human condition. Ingmar Bergman created an entire filmographic career, and a
pretty darn good one at that, by placing fascinating upper-middle-class,
emotionally pent up people in small rural houses and filming them break down and
talk to each other. That's it. No wars, battles, car chases, explosions,
assasinations, nothing. Just conversations. Real conversations. And the result
is fantastic! Seriously. He's the Shakespeare of film. Harry Levin says ****.
Both Shakespeare plays and Bergman films are pungent with it.
Back to the mantis. I can't decide whether if I met Madam Defarge if I'd ask for an
autograph or start checking my break lines before driving:
All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things... As the fingers went, the
eyes went, and the thoughts. And as Madame Defarge moved on from group to group,
all three went quicker and fiercer among every little knot of women that she had
spoken with, and left behind.
Her busband smoked at his door, looking after her with admiration. "A great
woman," said he, "a strong woman, a grand woman, a frightfully grand
Seriously, Mr. Defarge. If you ever have kids, watch it if your wife ever asks you to clean
inside the stove.
Another interesting Dickens thing. Dickens' scene descriptions have multiple layers of description:
The day was very hot, and heaps of flies, who were extending their inquisitive and
adventurous perquisitihons into all the glutinous little glasses near madame,
fell dead at the bottom. Their decease made no impression on the other flies out
promenading, who looked at them in the coolest manner (as if they themselves
were elephants, or something as far removed), until they met the same fate.
Curious to consider how heedless flies are!--perhaps they thought as much at
Court that sunny summer day.
As seen with the initial quote of this post, Dickens' descriptions don't only serve
to describe the thing, but also to comment on it. Often overt and detailed, they
are not necessarily Dickens' own commentary, though sometimes they are, but
sometimes, as in this case, double as character- or ambience-building language
for elements, characters, or groups in the story. The flies in the middle of St.
Antoine's become not only flies in a bar but also a metaphor for the way the
aristocracy views the layman of 18th century France. And we hate the snobs all
the more for it! This is quality description, hand picked elements from Dickens'
mental scenes that are both expert description and narrative character and mood
revelation. And that's one of many reasons why Dickens is a literary jaguar:
every move is precise and purposed. And I heard a rumor he had black fur
covering his entire body. Entire body. Yet, it could just be a rumor...
Enough for today. I'm on the beach and need to roll over, or I'll look like a pizza
cooked too close to the stove floor: black on my back, baby.
The soft water hiss from the faucet, wet droplets of liquid catching the sunset light--red, slowly dimming--shooting through the window above the sink; the damp, wrinkled feel of slow, circling, pruny hands. The smell of chemical pine.
Doing the dishes is numinous. And cleaning in general, for that matter. Bringing of order and cleanlieness to something disorganized, dirty, stacked like the leaning tower of Pisa, perilous to fall. Order from of chaos. In the beginning the dishes were without form, dirty. Flies hovered over the stagnant waters. And he said, Let them be washed. And they were washed.
I like systems. Paradigms. I like the world to make sense to me. Who doesn't, I suppose. I've always had a relentless desire to pigeonhole the world, to see it exhibit itself to me neatly, clean, organized into some sort of a cogent system I can understand and manipulate. To understand the fundamental principal that governs the cosmos around and the cosmos inside. A system I can fit myself into and exist with a small star to call my own.
I think that's why I enjoy cleaning so much. If my rooms are clean, I can understand them, fit into them. When things have a place, a home, and when they go where they're supposed to go they're easily accessible, fit into smaller spaces, and don't get in the way of my progression throughout the day.
Mental systems, for me, are the same.
Every day each of us takes in thousands of images (a deer snatching leaves from a branch, a red bicycle with a golden bell), countless sounds (the hiss of cooking pancakes, a 5 a.m. train), tastes (pancakes, blackberries), smells (a blown out candle, honey chamomile tea), and profuse bits of information we glean from books, poems, conversations, television shows, etc.
With so much information flowing through our sensorium, it's helpful to have someplace to put everything. Like in a house: when we obtain a new item, it's helpful to have a location for it. Cupboards labelled with small white pieces from the label maker, transparent plastic tubes and bags with big, permanent-marker scrawls on top indicating the contents, book shelves dedicated to disparate genres (unless you're a postmodernist and into the whole post-genre thing, in which you probably organize by color), rooms for beds, rooms for Cutco knives, rooms for bath salts, soft-bristle toothbrushes, and pink fluffy loofas. Systems, even if misguided, are certainly practical.
Yet, occasionally, that new item enters our home that refuses to be pigeonholed into our organizational system. That new Ford F150 that is just too fat for our garage bulged with Husqvarna power tools. The poofy, puffy, big-boned sofa that just won't (damnit) fit through the door into the back living room where we'd planned for it to go. The hot tub we want installed to feel the small, bubble-filled jets dig into our lower backs, that's just too-damn big for the bathroom. And so we say: let the reorganization begin.
Yet, reorganizing is never clean. We've all our items strewn out across the house like loose leaf paper across a desk: no system, no organization, all disturbed to accommodate that new item we brought into our home. Hubby is asking where his power saw is, little Freida
wants her favourite Teddy (which is buried somewhere in the torn up garage storage boxes) and the boss just called wanting those reports which, well, may have been used in the chaos by Freida to draw little pictures of Barney in the clouds with the Carebears. Stuff's everywhere.
And it's always invasive. We have so many things to do: parties to plan, meals to cook, work for our husband to do in the garage with the power tools, relatives and friends and homeless we want to invite to stay in our spare rooms. Yet, in order to accommodate the new item, this process of reorganization is essential, inescapable. All contingent tasks must be put on hold until the process is complete, or, at least, a temporary system can be instituted while the remodelling/reorganizing is in-progress.
Now, anyone who feels threatened by such an upsetting destruction of their domestic system may think twice about keeping the invading item. Such individuals are often quite intelligent. Couches can always be returned, if the reorganization process is frustrating enough.
However, (and here's where the metaphor breaks down) in mental systems, some things can never be returned. In real life, you cant un-know something, no matter how hard you close your eyelids, roll the eyes into the back of your skull, and scrunch your nose in tenacious defiance of reality. information can never be forgotten, it can only be suppressed. Doing such is self-deception. And who wishes upon themselves the title of insincere?
Modern culture tells us to talk. Speak up! Be Bold! Cast your Vote! You have a voice! Garrulity, good. Reflexivity, pensiveness, weakness. Silent, contemplative individuals are often seen as indecisive and impractical to society.
In college, students study in an atmosphere hot with the expectation to produce, to use their crafts learned to speak, to say something worthwhile. Poets, publish verse; filmmakers, direct shorts and films with profound existential meaning; scientists, perform research and publish studies. If you don't speak, you haven't learned, or so it seems to eager young minds.
As a result, we live in a room with a thousand voices. Rush Limbough on the radio, Richard Dawkins, Kay Ryan, Josh McKinney, Terrence Hays, William Lane Craig in books and poems, Ellen and Opera and Larry King and Stephen Colbert on the television, all screaming, all yelling "I have something to say!" Voices reverberate and coalesce and conflict and contrast, bouncing between walls, echoing across floors and ceilings. The result is deafening.
All this yelling causes the reflexive to wonder: why are we, as students, young academics, and simply callow individuals in general, just coming into the world, fresh out of high-school, college, adolescence, with so little practical and intellectual erudition to confirm our opinions, expected to speak with so much vehemance, passion, confidence, and voice, through the practical languages we study and learn? We are a generation so obsessed with learning how to say something (voice, pen, poem, prose, technical craft, political rhetoric, etc.) we neglect self-reflection on what to say.
And what a terrible prospect! How horrible to become the best, most-perfect, most-convincing propagator of the basest, most incorrect opinions!
How many times have we looked back at callow convictions held in previous life stages and wished we could gag our previous selves! How many times have we become disillusioned to past fondly-held opinions we were, previously, so gosh-darn sure about! How many ignorant fellow seekers, children, friends have we misled through our often under-thought or simply inherited opinions?
A deep brick indentation into the mahogany wall, iridescent light. Red, curving tips of flame flick like whips from the fireplace logs. Long shadows of furniture across the otherwise dim room. A taxidermied moose head with heavy shadows darkening the sockets around its pitch-black marble eyes. A pot of Camomile on the end table to my right, steam rising from the point of the curved, china neck; the bulged, black-stencilled body and handle.
Around the living room, my cardboard boxes are stacked, some half-unpacked, some still taped entirely closed. Papers are tossed on the ground like fifty-card pickup mess. Typewriters, hoses, exercise bikes, black and red cushy reclining chairs. From the rooms off the hall, profuse items spill into the semi-cleared hallway. Tables are covered with candles, laptop cases, small, meticulously-designed ship models with cloth sails and balsa-wood hulls.
The dishes are undone, stacked higher than the cupboards, leaned, orbited by flies flitting on and off, dabbing the dirty plates and bowls and spoons with their small proboscis.
I need to clean. To function in such a mess, to me, is a small room, closing in, the walls pushing smaller and smaller.
Yet, I will not refuse more items. Such a denial is both impossible and impractical. My goal will not be simply to clean the home, but to institute a system which invites and has room for all items that may some day find their way into my abode.
Further, I will not invite many others to live in my spare rooms until I have reorganized. I know, the homeless are waiting. However, to invite a homeless into a room fraught with workout benches, rugs rolled and stacked, mousetraps, broken beer bottles, is a disservice to my guests. Yes, such dangers can never be entirely avoided, to be sure. However, I have a long life and some time spent cleaning now, instituting a quality organizational system will eliminate accidents later in life, I think.
So I will clean in silence, for a time. I will listen to the sink's soft water hiss and demand none join me.
Some day, I hope, my home will be clean enough to have ragged, dirty boots stain the entry way. Brown smears on a wide, fluffy doormat, painted with a large 'Welcome!," large letters set into the cozy, inviting, otherwise clean and prisine small carpet strands. But for now, I clean. Order will come to my home. I will enjoy the red, silent sunset reflected from the soap drops in the meanwhile.
Outside the back window of my apartment, there's a large, slanted willow tree. At night, it's a silhouette that bends and shudders, especially on windy evenings. It shrouds an orange streetlamp that halos the edges. But some nights the streetlamp fails to ignite, leaving the tree as a sad, jet-black shape against a sad, dark-gray cemetery.
Losing faith, I think, feels like someone tying a small string to the terminus of a single blood vessel. They then pull, slowly, extracting your circulation system one capillary at a time. At least, that's the way it feels for me.
When I say the gospel is a jewel I've worn around my neck these past seven years, I mean it. I've walked the rocky beaches of the world's intellectual beach: small, brown pebbles, shards of granite, an occasional topaz, or even ancient remnant of an arthropod you pick up, put in your back pocket, place on your mantle to appreciate and collect dust. Mostly sand. I've never found something so brilliant as the stone resting just below my clavicle.
But even zirconium can be polished to shine like a diamond.
As a result of the gospel in my life, I've seen many small flowers begin to grow in my garden. My relationship with my father has budded, petticups opened under the sun, petals like fingers on unclenched fists. I've walked drug addicts and porn addicts and alcoholics to or back to Christ, seen their addictions fall from them like dead, gray dandelion seeds and blow away in the wind. Cold winds of depression have given way to heavy, damp summer breezes parturient with life in many people's lives.
In my own life, I've spent hours and hours pulling those incessant little sprouts of chicken weed, perennials, crab grass and ragweed, but they always came back. Never once have I weeded my own garden and it has stayed clean. Yet, people notice my garden is remarkably empty of weeds. Schliermacher, an 19th century German theologian, said true religion is complete dependence. And it's true: I'm dependent on God to weed my garden. He has weeded out addictions to pornography, video games, wrath, and now an eating disorder. How can I tell people my garden is clean only because I've mastered the art of begging? Begging God to weed my garden for me?
And in the process Christianity has ruined the world for me. I don't mean that I hate the small, red raspberries off and eat on my way to work. They taste wonderful: the sweet liquid, the small wet seeds rolling around my tongue like little bits of sand. I love them.
But building in the world is like building sand art on the beach. You arrive early in the morning, erect magnificent castles, scrawl words and sentences, dig moats, carve out reservoirs. You leave with the orange sunset feeling accomplished, meaningful, only to arrive the next morning and see your work washed away by the nocturnal high tide. What I mean is:
"3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course,"
"10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun,"
"And the world is passing away along with its desires,"
In the end, I've fulfilled both Schliermacher's and Jesus' vision of true Christianity: I'm totally dependent on God for meaning and purpose. For everything. Worldly desires are nothing but sand castles to me. I've burned my ships, it seems sometimes. I don't know if there's any going home.
Neichze says that meaning and morality, in the absence of objectivity, are imposed by strong men onto reality. Nihilism the destruction of all objective meaning and purpose in the cosmos, is only beneficial when it has been moved past complete negation into imposed morality and purpose, willed morality and purpose. It's a matter of strength, he says, to impose one's morality and meaning on a moral- and meaning-bereft cosmos.
Problem is, I've never been a strong person. Most people say I'm disciplined. Yes, I wake up every morning and exercise, read my Bible. Yes, I discipline my mind through reading and writing. Yes, I have widespread influence on-campus, profound intellect, money saved in the bank in a retirement account. I run near-marathons. I'm a vegetarian, and I eat for less than 40 dollars a month. I'm a 'successful person', I suppose.
Yet, all my strengths are the result of incessant begging. Like I said, I've mastered the art: first, kneel. Fold your hands. Next, (when you just-freaking let go) sprawl yourself out on the carpet. Let the small tufts of carpet tickle your cheek. Admit your own insufficiency. Verbally, not just in your head. It's the truth, or normally it is. Try to force yourself to cry a little bit. It feels good. And God will answer your prayer, if it's in his Will.
I guess that's my only intrinsic strength: my God-given gift to admit my own weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:12 has become an axiom to me:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
In Christian terms, I'm a man after God's own heart. Like David:
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?..
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
So what happens when that grace becomes insufficient? When my enemies triumph over me? When the sorrow in my heart becomes too great to retain trust? What do I boast? All my gifts are the result of my weakness, God's strength. But what happens when there is no Dirt fill in the hole? Can I become Neichze's superman? Can I, like Heidegger says, impose my Will to Power on the universe?
This post isn't a syllogism. I'm hardly trying to convince anyone of anything. It's a confession, though a poorly-written one. If it seems convoluted and rambling it's because that's how I feel: my garden is overgrown with weeds of doubt. To be honest, I don't know if I'm losing my faith. That would be contingent on me reallyknowing anything. But the plants are rampant, and I can't see the sun above the canopy. It's up to Christ to weed it now. I have this hope...
Alright. If I asked you what tunes you'd play if sitting in a small, cramped video-editing suite, fan spinning behind you, small stacks of DV tapes stacked like legos beside you, writing about the Mormon theology of salvation, what would you suggest?
Well, here's the title of my Pandora playlist!
Tarzan Soundtrack! Son of Man by Phil Collins, baby!
Son of Man, look to the sky
Lift your spirit, set it free
Some day you'll walk tall with pride
Son of Man, a man in time you'll be...
Yeah... That's right. I bet when the Daniel (and a plethora of other Jewish apocalyptic writers of the 2nd Kingdom) were writing about the Son of Man who would come, cast out the taskmasters of God's people, gather the 12 tribes, restore Zion, and make big, bushy Jew-beards a mandatory requirement for entry into Jerusalem (O.K., the last one isn't true, but it should be!) he couldn't have imagined their concept of 'son of man' would be bastardized into a vine-swingen', totally-ripped, near-clean-shaven Caucasian-American ape man with Steven Tyler hair and a totally-bad loin cloth.
And I'm not even talking about Tarzan.
This has been the second installment of "Will's Abhorrent American Jesus Pictures."
So, I make a disclaimer: I've been staring at either a computer or a book with really-shiney pages all day. My eyes feel like I've been blowing up those really tiny variegated water balloons all day. Puffy and raw.
Also, my thoughts are interlocutory. I don't have this whole Mormonism thing all figured out just yet, and I reserve the right to be wrong. But, heck, let's take a stab at it.
First, like a good Platonist, definitions.
Mercy: not allowing a something bad to happen to someone who doesn't deserve it.
Grace: giving a gift from one's own merit/resources to someone who doesn't deserve it.
Flesh: the physical manifestation of the Mormon conception of matter.
Spirit: the spiritual (mental, intellectual) manifestation of the Mormon conception of matter. Tiny-tiny matter we can't initially perceive with our fleshly eyes without help of the Spirit.
Soul: a spirit inhabiting a flesh body; e.g., the sum of the parts.
Mormonism begins from the a priori assumption inherited from historic Christianity that God must be both perfectly merciful and perfectly just. He must be both to be God.
So, back in the day there were these two pseudo-Tarzan people (about as intelligent, more naked, less acrobatic) who God created to have dominion over the earth. (And be exalted. But we'll get there in another blog post) To these two God gave what's called 'Law' and 'Agency.' These two concepts, in Mormon theology, are inseparable. God planted two trees in the garden: tree of life, tree of knowledge. Sound familiar yet? Now, God told these two "I've put these two trees here. I'm telling you: DON'T EAT THE KNOWLEDGE TREE (Law). However, you have the choice to disobey me (Agency). Don't screw this up or you'll die."
The rest is history (well...). Satan possesses the snake, snake pulls a Paris and gives the apple (or some other fruit) to the babe, babe eats apple (yum!), dude eats apple, both get kicked out of Eden.
Alright, so here comes the first offshoot from (some facets of) historic Christianity.
God is stumped. Just for a moment. (for only, like, one-trillionth of a half-second or so).
Here's the dealio. God is enslaved to keep both his Word and to honor man's Agency. They ate the apple: now, even though God wants to show them mercy and bring them to Exaltation, in order for God to remain perfectly just He had to kick them out of the garden and abandon their bodies and spirits to Satan. Thus, man's flesh becomes carnal and fallen, and Satan now has a claim on their spirits.
Well, crap. I hope the apple was a Mt. Fuji and worth it...
So, God really wants to be merciful to Man because he's perfectly Merciful. He has to be! But in order to maintain his good image of a Just God, disobedience to his law must be punished with death (both physical and spiritual). SOOOOO, God has a quick-plan session with Father, Son, HS, and comes up with what's called 'the plan of happiness,' or 'plan of salvation' to rescue his fallen spirit-children.
According to this plan, in about 5500 years, in order to satisfy His own Just character, God's gonna 'take on flesh' and condense into the world of physical matter (as Jesus Christ), die on a cross, and make INFINATE ATONEMENT for all mankind. Infinite. For all sin. Everywhere. Even that one spot under your ugly brown living-room rug you haven't swept in about forever. If there's any human spirits down there, Atonement is for them. Such will satisfy the demands of Justice that his Word demands be enacted on mankind.
Essentially, God finds a loophole in his own character.
So, He does it. On April 20 (depending on if it's a leap year or not) in year 0 B.C. (or would it be A.D... wait...) God condescends into Mary's womb, is born of flesh, spends 30 years going 'from grace to grace' growing in a knowledge of his Spiritual Self (the Father) and then paints the sky black with his death. Atonement done.
This is grace. God gives himself, his death. Because original sin warranted both spiritual and physical death to negate the latter there had to be an infinitely atoning physical death or nobody would ever resurrect physically. Spirits, eternally divorced from their body, would wander around the spiritual plane and turn into demons. Jesus' death enables a resurrection for all men, not just those who accept him.
But how did all the unfortunate souls who died before Jesus died on the cross? Did they just get the short stick off the Tree of Life? Well, God doesn't keep this plan a secret from his people (the Jews). He reveals very early to them (first to the prophet Zenos, that we know of, as recounted in Jacob 5) that he's going to send himself as a Christ named Jesus, that he's going to be born of a Virgin, die on a cross, rise again, and in the process Atone for all mankind. This is where, like I wrote several days ago, the patriarchs had to preach Christ. All pre-Jesus-death people were saved by conscious profession of the coming messiah. Commence redaction.
So, Christ has come, Jesus died, rose again. Grace has come into the world. So, it's all good, right? Wrong.
Justice has been satisfied for both physical and spiritual death, but only the physical death is automatically efficient. There's still man's Agency to be satisfied. The negation of man's 'spiritual' death still hasn't been enacted because it was Adam and Eve's spirits that made the conscious decision to disobey God. Jesus' death intrinsically satisfied only the physical death. In order for spiritual mercy to be enacted (e.g., for God to say GTFO to Satan when he comes at the first death and on the last day and demands your spirit for his own) man must consciously choose to return into covenant with God. God can't wiggle out of this one.
So, to return into covenant (e.g., agreement to obey God's commandments in return for eternal life and eventual exaltation) two things must happen. Repentance and baptism.
In order to have baptism, you must have repented.
In order to repent, you must have faith.
In order to have faith, you must believe in Christ.
In order to believe in Christ, you must believe what God's messengers and disciples say about Christ, his relationship to you, and how you can be reconciled with Him. (and everything else, for that matter. But we won't get into that now...)
Thus, God sends out his angels, apostles, and (eventually) disciples to preach belief and faith that leads to repentance which results in covenant by baptism into the Church of Christ. Baptism is the act of re-entering into covenant with God and is literally necessary for salvation, as the Catholic church also preaches. But don't get baptized into the Catholic church, the great whore of the earth. That would bebaaaaaddddd...
So, people believe and get baptized. Whoo hoo! Covenant is restored like it was in the beginning before the Tarzan pair swung out of the garden on big-black snakes! Man can inherit eternal life! When Satan comes, first, at physical death, and demands your spirit for the first hell (yes, there's multiple hells in Mormon theology) God will say take a hike and your spirit will go to paradise until the final physical resurrection. Do you get virgins and fruits and wines and baths in cool, brisk streams wearing no goggles (no pesky water ever gets in your eyes) on 85 degree days like in Islamic theology? LDS scriptures don't say. Maybe if the angry black mobs hadn't martyred Joseph Smith in Missouri we would have found out. We didn't. But I'm sure paradise will be good.
So, it's all good, right? Not quite.
O.K. So, ironically, the Mormons and the Catholics agree on something. Rather than seeing eternal salvation as something that happens at a point in this worldly life (like Protestant theologians), according to Mormon theology salvation is the act of God rejecting Satan's claim on your spirit first at death and second on the last day of Judgement. Until then, ultimate mercy hasn't been given, at least Ultimate Mercy (sounds kinda like a WWE wrestler, doesn't it? Body slammed by Ultimate Mercy!).
So, in order that Ultimate Mercy will be given you must endure in covenant until death. You can't pull an Adam and Eve. Don't break the covenant. Don't be that guy (or girl).
This involves following the new Law set down by Christ through Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church. Essentially, what the LDS Scriptures, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the ongoing Church Presidency says you do, you do. Your covenant with God is through them and the LDS Law. If you reject the LDS Church after you're baptized, you're rejecting the Holy Ghost that has been made manifest truthto you. Blaspheming the Holy Ghost.
Stop reading my blog, grab your Bible, and read Mark 3:28-29 to see what happens to Holy Ghost blasphemers. We'll cover Outer Darkness in another blog post.
Now, so far most of this seems pretty traditional, correct? That's because it is.
Up to this point, to my knowledge, the Catholic and Mormon doctrines of salvation are strikingly similar. Mormon and Protestant doctrines of salvation are also mostly similar minus the concepts of Agency (if you're a Frozen Chosen as my wonderful charismatic friend likes to denominate) and Church. A Protestant's covenant is in his heart with the Spirit alone, and with no one else, though that covenant manifests in his/her interactions with others.
After this point is where Smith's revelations really get fun.
We'll cover that in another blog post because it's nearly 8 o'clock and Grampa's bedtime is in an hour. Big papa Will still has to sit cross-legged on his torn-up prayer mat and watch blotches of light through his eyelids play Aurora Borealis. And pray, of course.
Edit: As I was freewriting this morning I had a thought. Well, I had many. But this one applied to this post.
I believe that I was incorrect in asserting that the doctrines of salvation between Mormonism and Catholicism are nearly identical. Many of the means are similar, as is the progression; however, the Mormon doctrine of salvation seems to be a hybrid between the salvation models of penal substitution (God dying to satisfy God's claim to Justice) and ransom theory (God dying to ransom human spirits from Satan), the former being the predominant Catholic (since Anselm) and Protestant doctrine, while hardly the only one extant (as is assumed by most Protestants).
The soft orange glow of the late sun gently pressing the sky above Mt. Emily. Damn. I've overslept.
I think of a refrigerator.
I pull my legs in and my plaid-green ripping covers above my hair, as if a tattered quilt could deflect the thoughts inside my own head. I tell the pillow repeatedly toshut up and get out, shut up and get out.
My life is one tinctured with an eating disorder.
Most of you who read this blog already know about my struggle. You who don't, I'm very open to talking about it, as I began to be near the end of my 7-year addiction to pornography that concluded, by the grace of God, nearly three years ago.
As a person, I have a favorite color: it's red. I wear size 11.5 shoes, go swimming or to the gym every morning. I hate the idea of a 'fart button' app for the iPhone. My favorite novel is Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. I weigh between 168 and 173 pounds on various days and am tall with dark-razzled hair that curls at the edges. And I smile incessantly.
Most people who meet me won't guess I binge eat.
Today, for my disorder, I have accountability partners, coping strategies. I've read books and spent countless hours praying, countless dollars indulging. It hurts. A lot.
Self-reflection is a forced hobby. Many people I meet insist I have an overabundance of intelligence. That may be true, and whatever powers of reflection I've been given are most often dedicated to analyzing and wrestling with my own vices.
Some days, I thank God for this. Confucious said, "a gentleman adheres to his own moral principals, beginning with self-cultivation, and thereby brings peace and order to the world." Thomas Hobbes wrote, "Nosce te ipsum." Paul: "Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good." The surest way to solve world hunger is to eat less and give the rest away.
Other nights, deep-red shafts of La Grande sunset rays painting my dark apartment, I beat my fist on the floor and scream at God how I'm so tired of struggling. How I want to simply be. To compromise and feel O.K. doing it. To eat three bowls of ice cream without knowing I'm going someplace other than God's grace for my comfort and stress-coping. After rolling your eyes back, directing your pupils into your own brain long enough, your forehead hurts. It would be easy to just stop looking inward.
But I can't. I'm incapable. Whatever 'intelligence' I have synthesized with a developed uncompromising sincerity won't let me simply accept my 'sins,' my 'maya' dependence, my coping methods. So I think a lot about my disorder.
Addictions, I think, are subconscious acts of transference.
Each of us has, beneath the layers of clothes (jobs worked, hobbies developed, cars purchased, recipes from Pinterest cooked, artwork conceptualized, created) we have a cold, naked corpse of understanding that death is an algid breeze. It's night, we're standing in the middle of the freeway, and, though we turn and face down-traffic from the oncoming lane, we see the headlights of the oncoming tractor trailer illuminate the concrete around us. And it's terrifying, though we pretend we can't see. Worse, we realize our inability to step off the highway.
So we get jobs, we go to college, we get married, we take pictures of our kids and hang them around our houses. We post pithy stati to our Facebook wall hoping someone will click the little blue thumb and affirm our attempts to tell ourselves and others that something has real meaning. We paint Starry Night or directMidnight Sonata or develop philosophical systems like hypothetical realism orphenomenalism or nhilism (the system of there being no system) all in a hope to pigenhole reality into a smooth stone we can hold in our hands, turn over, inspect, brush the dust off, into which we can eventually carve our eulogy.
But we fail even at these things. We get fired. We flunk out of college. Marriages end or become hangnails you can't pull out. Nobody clicks the small, blue hand. And even if we have some level of worldly success, though the crowd roars at the sonata we've composed, we know its crescendos will never impress the reaper.
Next stop, addictions. Compulsions.
To be brutally honest, binging, in a way, feels right. As I stuff profuse dinner rolls, several plates of spaghetti, Cliffbar after Cliffbar into my gullet; as I spoon ice cream, soups, small peas, carrots and cereal between my lips; as maculatory drips of Dr Pepper flow from the corners of my mouth onto my pure-white t-shirt, I know it's right. This is who I really am. A poetaster. A small, pathetic, worm of a man with greasy potato chips spilled over his hairy torso. A man who reads philosophy and theology in desperate attempts to make some kind of intellectual sense of the cosmos around him. The little boy who slapped his sister in the Honda CRV because she wouldn't let him have the radio on his own station. The fury who carved small bits of flesh out of my father's face with his knuckles when he was 16. The doctor who wants to provide the world's panacea but can't even diagnose himself.
Addictions are humans' way of matching our acts with our deepest-seated feelings of insufficiency, I think. Of transferring all our feelings of insufficiency into one act of emotional sincerity. Of allowing all our doubts, frustrations, brutally honest convictions about the depravity of who we really are to flow into and through a single act or habit from our inner convictions to our exterior actions. I binge not because food is of any special importance to me. It's not (honestly, I'm kind of of a stoic). Rather, I have an irrepressible urge for the world to see me for who I really am. To see myself for who I really am. When I binge, for just that hour, and for the hours following, my actions match my mental self-image: a young man desperate for something to fill, desperate to feel stuffed, to have his existential hunger satisfied. And, in a disgusting, depressing kind of way, it feels good.
Next stop, grace.
Christianity has been, for many years, a small, quiet room with gentle-blue curtains where I can retreat to in my more honest moments. Well, not necessarily Christianity the religion, I suppose, with all its entrapping of liturgy, dogma, history, mythology, eccelsiology and prophesy hung from it like dozens of plastic grocery bags hooked to my arms while I try to climb the porch stairs and fumble with the keys. If I'm being brutally honest, in my deepest convictions I dropped many of those a long time ago on the porch of agnosticism. When will Jesus come back? Is it pre-mill or post-mill? Is there even a mill? Was the Torah written by Moses or compiled by a redactor? Was Jesus an escatalogical prophet in the pure or a small child who clapped his hands together gaily as a child and birds popped out and fluttered away (as is asserted in several of the Gnostic gospels)? Was he a historical person or are we left with only the keyrgma of Christ? I have my convictions, but, honestly, much of it I just don't know.
Further, I've read nearly all the scriptures of the world's major religions, several surveys on and a small portion of the original works of Western philosophy, changed from an unreflexive realist to an Berkelian idealist, from a dualist to a monist, from a monist to a dualist, from a dualist to an I-don't-know-ist, from an assumed-fundamentalist to a liberal Christian, from an Armenian to a hypercalvinist, from a hypercalvinist to something of more uncertain convictions. I'll probably change again.
Philosophies and theological systems are furry hats we purchase and throw away, put on and take off to keep our heads comfortable depending on the seasons.
However, I've realized I'm not a 'Christian' because it makes sense of the noumenal world, scientifically explains the cosmos, or even parts of it, logically describes the world of 'sense objects', serves as a satisfying historical lens, or makes sense of human consciousness. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, depending on how honest I'm being with myself. And honestly, simple Christianity isn't the most theologically or intellectually satisfying of the world religions. It's true. Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Mormonism have much more self-contained and logically rational systems.
I guess, for me, it comes down to this. Every religion (and here I go theologizing again) postulates some ideal state of Being and describes how man is to achieve that state. Buddhism: Nirvana, achieved through Enlightenment by self-annihilation in meditation. Hinduism: Union with Brahman, achieved through Enlightenment by self-realization in meditation, through works of compassion, or by the way of knowledge (the three yogas postulated in the Bhagavad Gita). Islam: Paradise, achieved through belief in church doctrine and good works. Etc, etc, etc.
Christianity, however, all its mythology, ecclesiology, religious practice and symbolism aside, postulates Heaven: by grace, only through faith and trust in that grace. The sects and facets of Christianity that have always attracted me the most are the ones most honest to the human condition. We are 22-year-old heavily bearded boys, sitting on our couch, stuffed full of our depression and insufficiency and immorality and inability to fix our world and our own lives, trying desperately to fill the void. How could one such as that ever achieve union with Being by his striving? I can sit, covered in potato chip remains, stuffed full of my own insufficiency and irrelevance, and read the the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus (supposedly) says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs are the kingdom," are know he's talking to me. Because that's what Jesus is all about. Grace. "Grace fills empty holes," says Simone Weil. And when I look at the fumblings of the human race, most intimately my own parcel of it, I'm looking down a deep well and don't see the bottom. I've dropped a rock and have yet to hear the plunk.
Occasionally I think about death. That cold, angry breeze we only escape in this life by turning on our pathetic little heaters. If this life is any gauge, all of us, sitting in our cars when the gas runs out and the frigid breeze slips into our vehicle, when the molecules stop dancing, will have no clothes to keep us warm. And maybe religion is just another parka.
I suppose, then, grace is really more of a hope. A hope that if I stand naked after death, if there is an after death, because didn't trust those bargain-brand trousers from Value Village or small, furry hats sewn at the local Walmart, but I wanted something warmer, there will be an Inkeeper who will set a blanket over my shoulders and take me into the lodge.
My eating disorder is not my first compulsion. Video games, vicious anger, pornography and masturbation have all been God-given glasses through which I saw my own real condition. And maybe that's why God gives them (yes, gives them) to us, little hints of what it will feel like to stand naked in the cold.
And nothing proceeding is to assert addictions are inescapable, as my list of past-addictions shows. I've come through them by grace in moments or over extended periods when, sometimes after years of feeling the dirty carpet tickle my cheek during desperate begging sessions, God has taken them away. As of now, I haven't actually binged in about a month, which is quite a bit considering two years ago it was about every 3 days. I've been talking about it, admitting it, repainting the self I show to others to match the self I paint on my mirror every morning. This helps. A lot. "Sincerity is the key to the spiritual life," wrote Albert Schweitzer. I think it's they key to a lot of things.
I'll binge again, I'm sure. Like Paul, I've asked God to take away my 'thorn in the flesh' more times than Jesus said to forgive. More times than Zeus cheated on Hera. I'm not sure which was more. But, like with Paul, I keep hearing my grace is sufficient for you in my mind. Is it God, a divine Being wiping the chips off my chest in my depression? Maybe not, but I hope so.
Terrance hays writes in his poem Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy, "All species have a notion of emptiness, / and yet the flowers don't quit opening." Grace is the sun that spreads my petals.
And through my struggles, though minuscule in comparison to the hardships of some others, I think I've learned things about Being and our reunion with it. I won't work my way through my eating disorder. I'll try, but I'll fail. But I'll keep asking God to take it away. Someday, I hope, years or maybe hours in the future, I'll open my front door and there'll be a small package--plain, light, wrapped in newspapers and torn out Bible pages, no return address--sitting on my doorstep. I'll open it, meticulously unwrap the box, remove the contents. I'll never binge again. I hope Being (whatever name you want to call it) is achieved the same way.
Aaaaand three hours later he returns to homework.
Will Bowman's desperate attempt to pigeonhole the cosmos into some sort of a logical system of metaphors for sense objects... Oh, you all call them words.