Mark Eddy Smith's Blog
January 30, 2012
I never meant to be a heretic. Quite the opposite, in fact. I thought there was plenty of room to be creative and original within the context of broadly accepted Christian doctrine. I knew, of course, when I started writing Love's Anarchy that it would stray from the evangelical party line, but anarchy is not necessarily the same as heresy. Nevertheless, by following the peculiar logic of my writing process I ended up leaving many of the major tenets of orthodoxy abjectly in the dust. It reminds me of the time I attended a court-ordered alcohol awareness program in college: One of the couselors there told me he was being "kind" by saying I was in the "early stages" of "alcoholism." Likewise, it would now be "kind" to call me "unorthodox." I'm a heretic. I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, but I can no longer subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity, which is more or less the touchstone of midwestern evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox orthodoxy.
It's been said that a little knowledge is dangerous, and I have but little knowledge of the Council of Nicaea convened by the emperor Constantine, and that but recently, but that knowledge has convinced me that the Nicene Creed is a purely political document and that orthodoxy itself is ill-advised. The Arian heresy that the creed was created to counter is simply the belief that the the Son is not coeternal with the Father—that there was a time when the Father existed and the Son did not. Arius, the heresy's namesake, did believe that the Son existed before Jesus was born (in accordance with the Gospel of John, which states in the ﬁrst chapter that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… . And the Word became ﬂesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-2, 14 NRSV)), but he believed there was a time when God the Father existed alone, before he spoke the Word that was his Son. Many a conservative theologian will insist that belief in the coeternal nature of Jesus is absolutely crucial to a proper understanding of the Christian faith, but I say (with a hint of a British accent), "Bosh."
For one thing, such a fact is unknowable. Obviously. For another, the doctrine exists largely to defend against the charge of polytheism. God is One, say those of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, so you can't worship Jesus the Son and God the Father without worshiping a plurality of gods. Christianity answered by proclaiming the Father and Son to be of a single essence and by more-or-less inventing the identity of a third person of equal essence who proceeds from one or both of the other two-in-one. It's patently absurd. And I say that as someone who once considered it a true and beautiful mystery. I still agree that it's an elegant solution to a number of thorny problems in Scripture, but I also now believe it to be pure crap.
The Holy Spirit is God. Full stop. Not two persons with one essence, but one and the same, without distinction of any kind. The Bible states that "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and that "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16). The Holy Spirit of God is just that: God's holy spirit. Jesus ascended into heaven in order to send us the entirety of God to be our paraclete, our helper, comforter and friend. Jesus himself is God's son, begotten by God on the day he was baptised by his cousin John. To believe anything more than that is to take John the gospel-writer a bit too literally.
"In the beginning was the Word" and "the Word became ﬂesh." This is high-level theology, and I don't question it's truthfulness as such, but if the baby Jesus was in any sense God, no matter how emptied, the baby qua baby becomes nonsensical. How can a baby be God in any meaningful way? Was God not capable beforehand of so fully identifying with any human child that there was no aspect of being a baby with which he was not already intimately familiar? I say thee nay.
I suspect Jesus' father was not Joseph but some other human male, and while I can hope that the relationship was between two star-crossed lovers, I further suspect that it was forced. I would go so far as to assume that his father was a Roman soldier, and that the experience of being impregnated was not pleasant for young Mary. For anyone incapable of reading between the lines (and, if the comments section of various websites are any indication, there are always a few), I'm talking about rape, and when I say "not pleasant," I mean, "painful and horriﬁcally traumatic."
I also believe that Jesus was and is the Messiah, the Chosen One, anointed by God to redeem the whole of creation. I believe that his literal resurrection is the sine qua non of humanity's escape from the ﬁres of hell.
Are you confused? Well, so am I, a little bit, and I don't presume to believe that I am actually correct in all my beliefs, even if I honestly believe I am correct in some of them, even (or perhaps especially) the heretical ones. Call it speculation, intuition or the leading of God's Holy Spirit, but I believe that I have been given special knowledge of various facts that have remained hidden from the time of Adam. Not that I think I'm the only one to whom they've been revealed. It's just that a thing may remain hidden even after it's been found. It's highly unlikely, for instance, that enough people will read my conjectures that my discoveries will no longer be hidden even now.
The revelation started when I was going through Genesis, offering my thoughts on the various stories contained therein. When I reached the bit about Abraham's nephew Lot hiding out in a cave after the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah, I found that I couldn't accept the idea that Lot's daughters, concerned about who would continue their father's line, decided to get him drunk in order to sleep with him. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was a bald-faced, and even an obvious, lie. Lot got drunk and raped his teenaged daughters. They got pregnant at a place and time when there was no one else around to blame, so he blamed them. I trust this is not an unfamiliar story.
The fundamentalists are correct in at least one assertion: to question the absolute authority of the Bible at any one point is to call the entirety of scripture into question. If Genesis 1 is false, then so is Revelation 22. By pulling one weak thread out of Genesis, I ended up unraveling my whole Bible. Is there anyone who can help me weave it back together?
January 27, 2012
[In response to a question posed by a facebook friend (and discussed elsewhere on the internet).]
When Jon Stewart asked Ralph Fiennes who would win a swordﬁght between Voldemort and Darth Vader Herman Cain, Ralph's response was that it probably depended on the size of the wand (skip to 6:09 to get to that part).
[Warning: SPOILER ALERTS for Star Wars and Harry Potter]
Simple answer: In a wizard's duel between Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort, Voldemort would win because he's using real magic, not some amorphous "dark side" of a "life force." In a Jedi duel, Darth Vader would win because he's the better swordsman.
But before delving into a deeper discussion of who would win, we would need to invent a plausible mechanism for bringing them together in the ﬁrst place. Darth Vader, aka Anakin Skywalker, died "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." Voldemort was killed in 1997 in northern Britain. So we would need an alternate timeline or two (or possibly clones) in order for them to meet. The easiest way for Vader to win would involve installing a hyperdrive in the Death Star and simply traveling to the Milky Way to blow up Earth. I think Voldemort would ﬁnd horcruxes inadequate to the task of keeping him alive beyond the destruction of the planet.
However, the implausibility of such a scenario is such that I believe we are forced to consider them in their current state. In short, what we're talking about is a ﬁght between ghosts. Vader is ﬁrmly established as a spirit within the canon of the movies, and I see no canonical reason why Voldemort might not choose to be a ghost himself. As a ghost, it is conceivable that Voldemort, still consumed by his fear of death, might actively be striving to return to life and power. Since time and distance mean little on the spiritual plane, I believe a scenario could be envisioned wherein the former Lord of the Sith would be in a position to attempt to intervene should the Dark Lord's efforts threaten to create an irreparable rift in the space-time continuum.
It's worth remembering here the differences between the ghost of Anakin Skywalker and the putative ghost of Tom Riddle, the most signiﬁcant being that Anakin died a reformed man, reconciled to his son after destroying both his masters, while Tom was killed unrepentant, remorseless, and he never called anyone "master" but himself.
On this plane– the plane of good versus evil–deciding upon a winner between two immortal shades becomes a question of eschatology: does Good or does Evil win out in the end? From my study of stories, I have concluded that good only ever ultimaterly triumphs by losing, by surrendering, by sacriﬁcing one's self. This is seen in both galaxies, with Ben Kenobi and Harry Potter both embodying the principle. I believe the ﬁght would end with Anakin throwing his immortal soul into the growing chasm between realities (possibly taking Voldemort with him), with his sacriﬁce thereby healing the seam, with his soul becoming part of the fabric of the cosmos.
So they both lose, but Vader is credited with the win because his purpose is accomplished.
January 20, 2012
I remain fascinated by the Occupy Wall Street movement, though I confess my avidity is waning. I want to be part of the revolution, but the question remains: Is this the revolution I've been waiting for? If I lived in a city I'd be there, but Concord is over an hour's drive away, and its Occupy contingent relatively small. I heard a rumor there was an Occupy event right here in my little home town not long ago, but I didn't hear about it in time to attend. So much for the power of social media to organize.
The question I and many others have is: What do we, the 99%, want to accomplish? To phrase it more accurately: What do I want the revolution to accomplish?
How many groans will I receive for my answer? I was shocked when I heard my sister, as a teen, shout it from the kitchen:
The key to how shall we then live is to be found in the parable of the good Samaritan, which is, like all such ultimate answers, simultaneously easy and difﬁcult. Simple and hard. Obvious and subtle. You get the idea.
I have always had a tendency to read the story with an eye toward the easy way out. Much like those who ﬁrst heard it. "Who is our neighbor?" they asked. Who, exactly, should we love as we love ourselves? Is it everyone in the whole wide world or only those who live next door? In other words, I (like they) want to fulﬁll the mission for which Jesus has commissioned me, but I don't want to have to work too hard or travel too far outside my comfort zone in order to do it.
Jesus's answer is a bit of a tesseract. On the face of it, the story reveals an astoundingly easy answer: your neighbor is whoever is willing to stop and give you a hand when you're in need.
Wow. I can do that. I can wholeheartedly love the person who saved my life.
But then, true to form, Jesus turns the moral on its head by saying, "Go thou and do likewise."
Oh God! You mean I'm supposed to be the good Samaritan?
Yes. That's exactly what he means. But that doesn't mean there's no weasel room left. You see, the Samaritan wasn't out looking for robbed and beaten folks. He was simply going about his business on a dangerous road, and when he saw the guy that everyone else was passing by, he had compassion on him and stopped to lend a hand. Extravagently, yes, but not constantly. Not every day–just when the need arose. To look at the life of Jesus, such willingness to help can easily turn into an all-day, every-day, world-without-end-until-they-crucify-you deal, but that's not necessarily the commission.
The commission is simple: Stop turning a blind eye. The task of giving sight to the 1% is all but impossible, but if we the 99% could open our eyes, individually and collectively, I believe that would be revolution enough.
January 17, 2012
[I didn't so much stop writing over the holidays as suffer an unexpected attack of shyness. So over the next week or so I plan to post the things I wrote but didn't share.]
This year I'm thinking that celebrating Christmas is and always has been a mistake. I don't remember thinking this in previous years, and I may change my mind by next, but right now it feels like a time of obligation and not-so-clearly-deﬁned expectations– as though the entire month of December has been sacriﬁced for the sake of this tacky little celebration of the Incarnation of the Lord's Anointed.
It doesn't help that my theology has been in ﬂux of late. I hardly know what I believe anymore. Not the Trinity but still the Christ. Not the command to sacriﬁce Isaac but still the atonement. Not the efﬁcacy of confessing Jesus' name but still a personal relationship with the name-bearer's self.
For some of you, what I'm saying will not even make denotational sense. For others, it will not make connotational sense. The rest of you will likely just ﬁnd it confusing.
Given my own confusion, perhaps it's not surprising that I'm questioning the celebration of Jesus' birth. I used to be a big fan of the liturgical seasons, and I loved C. S. Lewis' meditation on the repetitiveness of it, but in the past few years the church as an organization has fallen out of favor with me.
What do you mean, that sounds arrogant?
I particularly love Lewis' dance analogy: "As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance." I have loved the midnight Christmas Eve service at the Episcopal church of my childhood, and even "danced" as an acolyte, and … I guess my desire to expunge this holiday from the calendar is not so much about Christmas services as it is about the usual complaints: busy-ness, consumerism, and holiday-induced neuroses.
Christmas is supposed to be about family and community closeness, and yet there's something deeply wrong in a society where only one day (two, if you count Thanksgiving) out of every year is set apart for this closeness when every day should … What I'm trying to say is that in a more perfect world we'd have holidays from our intense intimacy with one another.
Bah. I don't even know what I'm saying.
It was a bad day. I had a bad day, and I don't even know why. The closest I can come to explaining it, even to myself, is to remember a Christmas Eve seven years ago when my six-month marriage was spiraling out of control–was already crashed and burning even though I hadn't yet given up hope that maybe we'd manage to pull up before hitting the unforgiving tarmac. Unfortunately, we hadn't been ﬂying all that high to begin with.
That was a long time ago. Water under the bridge. Sands through the hourglass. Dust in the wind.
Shit through the fan. Christmas is hard. I knew it was hard for some folks long before I temporarily got hitched, and now it's hard for me. No big revelation, no profound insight, just a little more shit through one more fan.
May yours be merrier.
January 13, 2012
I can't speak to the ediﬁcatience of this sermon-type oration, but I offer it as an exercise in humility. I apologize for ending gender-speciﬁcally, also for rambling, and for probably being wrong. Et cetera. Enjoy!
If you're interested in how I came to some of my conclusions, the explanation can be found in Love's Anarchy. If you're interested in a more concise and focused version, a second edition is forthcoming. Soon, Lord willing.
Also, please forgive the white noise. I've grown so used to the fan that draws heat from the woodstove into the kitchen that I didn't think to turn it off before I started ﬁlming.
November 12, 2011
I went for a walk the other day (along the path pictured at the top of my blog), and I was thinking about a question my sister had asked me a night or two before: "Do you think Obama is doing a good job?" My response was that he was doing as well as could be expected, but, no, not really. It seems to me that he started out naïvely believing he could preside over Congress in such a way that compromises could be reached so that shit could get done, but the problem was that the opposition party was so entirely focused on making sure he was a one-term president that they forced him to over-compromise pretty severely, only to vote against his proposals anyway.
Then, in what seemed to me a transparent ruse, they complained loudly that he was failing to provide strong leadership, by which they meant failing to come up with his own concrete plans. Obviously, they didn't want his plans to succeed so much as they desired an opportunity concretely to ridicule them. Obama fell into their trap and came up with a jobs bill that combined the worst of Democratic ideas with strategies that have already largely failed in the recent past, and I thought (as I traipsed through the woods), "Why not propose something truly innovative, or at least some outside-the-box solution that would go beyond maybe dropping the unemployment rate a single percentage point?" The next logical question, of course, was "Okay, Mr. Smarty-pants" (by which I meant me), "like what?"
Well. The idea I came up with did not seem so extraordinary or even so very far outside the box, but it was this: Why not combine the microﬁnancing idea, the Wikipedia model and the buy-local movement to create jobs for literally everyone who wants one, sponsored by the willing participation of the 1%?
It seemed to me like a brilliant concept, and a little bit of web-searching put a better name on "the Wikipedia model" portion of it: "crowdsourcing." In other words, I'm not the ﬁrst to come up with the idea. At its heart, of course, it's just the way society has always worked, with some people needing stuff and other people being in a position to provide it, but having never heard the term crowdsourcing before, it seemed as if the trees themselves had been suggesting it for years and waiting for someone to walk amongst them and listen.
I have almost no ability to implement my own version of the idea, but I would imagine that the place to start would be with a wikipedia-style web site functioning similarly to a microﬁnancing site. The ﬁrst thing you'd do as webmaster would be to set up an entry for your own job. People who wanted to ﬁnance the job of webmaster would contribute money to that position, and that would be the sole source of the webmaster's income (within the scope of this project–you could keep your job at Macy⋆s®, or whatever). The trick with all the positions on the site is that they would be continuously available to multiple people. A webmaster would be paid according to the number of pages created or–I don't know–I'm thinking NOT hours worked, but rather, work accomplished, discrete chunks of work the quality of which could be veriﬁed by a second tier of workers whose job would be veriﬁcation.
Other jobs I thought of were things like making clothes, building houses, scanning books into a digital library (like Google® was trying to do before copyright holders started to complain). Modules could be developed for complex tasks like this, so that they easily could be broken down into component parts (so that, for instance, materials could be purchased by some, delivered by others and assembled by anyone with the requisite skills and equipment).
Actually, building houses in this day and age probably would not be necessary. Foreclosed properties could be put on sale through the site, multiple people could contribute to any given purchase, which could then be given to a homeless family. (Based on what? I don't know. Would people sign up for several properties, provide some basic information and be voted up or down by random contributors? That doesn't sound quite right, but surely the problem isn't insurmountable.)
With the book scanning, some people's job would be to acquire the rights ﬁrst. (To be honest, this was my ﬁrst idea: Book digitizing funded by the government. But the microﬁnancing model does away with the need for (and bureaucracy of) the government.) Others would scan/type, or proofread, or format, etc.
Logins and passwords would be freely available. Multiple logins (even anonymous logins) would be acceptable, since payment would be based on work accomplished and independently veriﬁed. People could log in from any computer, public or private. Funds could be direct-deposited into bank accounts or … or jobs and money could be distributed through local service centers, which could be set up as projects of their own.
The idea of using the internet to match needs to workers is hardly new, but this would be targeted at unskilled labor and uncentralized. It wouldn't be Levi's® asking people to sew jeans. Instead it would be some random person signing up to receive a pair of pants, someone else donating a sewing machine, fabric and/or funding, and yet another person receiving the sewing machine, doing the work and getting paid. The need to ship such goods could end up being the salvation of the Postal Service™.
The whole thing would be like Craigslist® except, rather than individual people selling individual things or services to other individuals, it would be individuals submitting ideas, multiple other individuals taking a liking to the idea and either implementing or funding it.
Earnings would be roughly the same for every job, so that people would choose work based on what they like to do rather than on what makes them the most money. It should work out to be better than minimum wage. At least twice, in my opinion, but I can almost see the list of questions expanding in your mind.
Such ideas are always more complicated than they seem. Who would be employing whom? How would people pay taxes on their income? Would reporting be volunary, or would we have to collect SS#s and send out W-2s? Would there be age restrictions? What about health insurance? Would it put a squeeze on small businesses who might lose employees to the success of this scheme? Most importantly of all, could people be prevented from operating virtual sweat shops?
The main point of the idea is that we as a larger community would be taking matters into our own hands to provide employment for one other. Are there so many legal restrictions imposed on us that such a thing is impossible? If so, then are we okay with that, or would we like Congress to lift some of those restrictions? I'm assuming we wouldn't want some big corporation to come in and turn it into a huge proﬁt-making vehicle for their shareholders and CEO, but that notion brings up yet another question: Can this venture become self-sustaining?
Would it always be a charitable organization, or might there be income through the sale of goods and services as well? Can such a project be run without a single person in charge (or ultimately accountable)? Should it be that, instead of being funded by the 1% (or 10%, or whatever), it should be entirely by, for and of the 14 million who are unemployed? Through creative sharing, limited resources like food, shelter, clothing and learning could be redistributed to everyone in need.
It was roughly at this point in my writing that I decided to do a Google® search or two on the topic, which led me (ﬁrst of all to the term "crowd-sourcing" and then) to a facebook app called CloudCrowd that provided me with the hope of ending my own erstwhile search for employment. Funny that I'd never heard of it until I came up with the concept on my own. I had tried Elance® a couple of years ago, but never got so much as a nibble on my proposals. CloudCrowd's reliance on "credibility points" in lieu of submitting a proposal to each potential client seemed like a huge leap forward.
It didn't work out. Many of the jobs I was interested in required me to pass a test in "Writing (General)" or "(English) Editing." I took both tests and eagerly awaited the results.
They both were rejected (by my peers, apparently). The ﬁrst for not being written in the third person (which was not part of the instructions) and the second for incorrect capitalization and ESL phrasing. The latter assignment had been to take 80-100 words from a Japanese web page that had already been translated into poor English and edit said words into proper English. The website advertised "Noodle Making Machines," which I mistakenly considered to be the proper name of the machines and so failed to change the capitalization. As for the ESL phrasing, well, you've read enough of my writing in this very article to decide whether or not I am sounding like native speaker.
Web searches for CloudCrowd provided plenty of negative reactions from former workers, but of course it's hard to say, looking in from the outside, how deep the problems lie. The problems I encountered on the ﬁrst day were enough to convince me not to waste my time trying to appeal my rejections. I simply deleted the app from my facebook account and returned to blogging (and whatever else I might ﬁnd to ﬁll my days). My suspicion is that CloudCrowd workers have found ways of gaming the system, to keep the good jobs for themselves and to keep out unwanted competition, but maybe I'm just being big-(and/or pig-)headed.
As for the danger of people learning to game my own crowdsourcing idea, I have to believe it's possible to disincentivize such activity, but that sort of thinking is not really my forté. I'm better at writing ﬁction (or so I like to believe), and I certainly lack the programming skills even to begin such an undertaking. It seems likely, then, that this post has been little more than an exercise in futility, but if I really believed in the potential of my concept I suppose I would teach myself how to implement it. Who knows? If the idea continues to grow on me even after I've ﬁnished my novel, I just might try.
October 14, 2011
What do you think when you hear the term, Love's Anarchy? I would sincerely appreciate any answers you would be willing to post in the comments section below, but while I wait for that, let me tell you a bit about what I mean by it.
First let me give you my answer to "What is at the extreme ends of the political spectrum?" Because I think anarchy is fundamentally a political position. Your answer, or even the "correct" answer, may vary, but on the left you've got communists, and on the right, anarchists. Democrats and Republicans overlap in the middle somewhere, while socialists sit between Democrats and communists, and libertarianists between Republicans and anarchists. As a matter of fact, "libertarian" is what the French anarchists called themselves after anarchy was outlawed, even though now it means something like Republicanism X-treme. Likewise, socialism is more or less just communism lite.
Communism (as a theory, as a desire) is the idea that everything should be held in common and no one should have power over another. Anarchy (as my theory and desire) is the idea that rules are ineffectual and counterproductive, and that we'd all be better off without them. The problem with communism is that everyone must be forced (whether by actual force or through social coercion, shaming, punishment/reward, etc.) to abide by the principles and ideals of communism, whereas the problem with anarchy is that it is mere chaos, with those who desire power pursuing and exerting power, while those who desire peace pursue and extend peace (and likely suffer under the thumbs of those desiring power).
But what if, instead of thinking of it as a two-dimensional spectrum with two extremes, we imagined it as a sort of mobius strip, where anarchy and communism could blend into one another at the twist?
To state it plain: As love's anarchist, I want everything to be held in common, just like a communist, but I want the sharing to be entirely voluntary, just like an anarchist.
I'll just sit here patiently until your reaction dies down. Okay. Yes, I, too, live in the real world where such a society would be untenable, unsustainable, and all but unimaginable. My contention is that none of that matters. Love's anarchy can and does coexist within this broken, evil world. Where? I don't know. A little bit here, a little bit there. Where it looks like it's occurring, it probably isn't. Look harder–they've got an ulterior motive. Where it doesn't look like it's happening at all, look closer–there may be sacrificial love going on that could humble Ma Theresa.
You say you can't see it? Even though you've looked as close and as hard as you can? Perhaps I'm wrong. Or perhaps you just can't see the childhoods, the hidden passions, the traumas and the gifts. In order to see clearly enough, you might have to fall in love with that person. Sure, maybe all of that person's love and passion are misdirected–aimed at gaining and exerting more power, but if you were truly in love you might see purity in that love and passion nonetheless. To state what we all should know by now: falling in love does not require that the object of our affection be worthy. To love completely is to identify fully, not blind to flaws, but able to see blemishes as terrible yet honorable scars rather than irredeemable character defects.
Love's anarchists aren't worried about whether other people are sharing their share; their only concern is to give out of their own abundance and receive into their own poverty.
Does that come close to answering the question?
October 3, 2011
As a Christian, and a writer of book-length manuscripts, I am typically on the trailing edge of current events. I tend to want perspective and a sense of other people's opinions before I advance my own. I have been trying, recently, to catch up with the news cycle, but the results of my efforts have been mixed. I didn't blog about Troy Davis until a few hours after he was killed. I didn't arrive at The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear until ﬁve minutes before the rally was over. I was blogging about that experience for a month. By the time this gets posted (where it might, eventually, be read by a hundred people), the #occupywallst folks may have found the focus they have so far been lacking. They may even have issued their one demand. But I hope not.
For one thing, to be leaderless and without demands is to act like anarchists, and, as you may have gathered, I love anarchy. But that is not the only reason I hope they will continue to eschew leaders and demands. Or maybe it is, I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that the last thing this country needs is a liberal Tea Party, and the moment the 99% start making demands is, in all likelihood, the moment they can be dismissed as the 49.5%.
To my way of thinking, the two demands they have been making from the start are sufficient: the right to assemble and the right to make their voices heard. They are demanding to be allowed to do what Egyptians did in Tahrir Square–peaceably protest the powers that be–only with no fear of reprisal because this is America, right? Except that yesterday (okay, the day before—I'm a slow writer), 700 of them were arrested in a brilliantly coordinated effort by the police. This after video surfaced last week showing a white-shirted police ofﬁcer macing a couple of noisy women and then walking away. So long as the protesters continue to make such demands and so long as their rights are subverted or denied, their movement will continue to grow.
Sure, they're on Wall Street because they have a beef with the 1%, and they would be more comprehensible to the media and even to their fellow citizenry if they established some clear objectives in regards to how exactly they wish to curtail corporate greed, but I'm unconvinced that the benefits would outweigh the risks. As far as I can tell, their conduct thus far has been exemplary. They have behaved as a large group of individuals rather than like a mob, and I'm afraid they'll mess that up by attempting to speak with a single voice.
Nevertheless, I understand the desire. In Tahrir they issued one demand over and over again: Mubarek must go. If nothing else, it provided them with an identifiable moment when it was time to say, "Thank you, goodbye!" But I don't think the choice of demand is quite so clear in this case. An obvious candidate is that corporations be stripped of their personhood, but even that is more complicated than it may seem. On the other hand, it's fun to wonder what the country would look like if we could somehow accomplish the larger goal of stripping politics of money.
I can hardly say that with a straight face–it seems so unlikely as to be impossible–but just imagine.
A lot of people down there are wearing the same Guy Fawkes mask worn in V for Vendetta. The money quote from that ﬁlm, in case you haven't seen it, is "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." I've said elsewhere that I'm a paciﬁst in practice but not in theory, but in this case, I'm a paciﬁcist in theory, as well. Nonviolence is the only effective weapon against disciplined forces with superior firepower. If you can nonviolently goad those forces into taking violent action against you while refraining from responding in kind, you've won. You may be dead or severely injured, but you're also victorious, and your sacrifice may inspire some of the rest of us to get up off our couches and into the street. On a personal note, I'm sorry that it might take such sacrifice on your part to convince me to come join you.
I pray it won't come to that. I pray that the protest will be a time of good fellowship between differently-minded but equally passionate people, that ideas will be honed and seeds planted for a larger movement that truly represents the 99%, and that it will succeed in stoking the fires of outrage in the American people.
September 25, 2011
Suddenly I understand the climate change debate. An article in my iPhone's AP News app persuaded me. I was persuaded before, mind you, but until today I didn't know how much credence to give the skeptics (correct answer: none at all). The article quoted a scientist who said, "It's just physics." (Carbon dioxide traps heat. The process of burning fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The predictions scientists made back in 1975 or so have pretty much come true on schedule.) The oil, gas and coal companies have taken the lead in denouncing the science, and the reason people have sided with them and been skeptical of the science is pretty much self-explanatory: to accept the prognosis is to accept the need to change everything about the society in which we live. The situation is very much analogous to the need to quit smoking because the doctor has told us that lung cancer, emphysema, even diabetes and hair loss are imminent if we continue to smoke three packs a day. No more fossil fuels means no more industry. No more cars, no more factories, no more superpower status.
God forbid we should become just another third-world country.
The fun thing, as far as my anarchistic theories are concerned, is that it doesn't matter what we do. We have a choice and God is in control. Any theological questions those two statements may raise about God's goodness, etc. boil down to a case of first-world whining.
It is my wholly unsubstantiated opinion that people who suffer the way impoverished, majority-world people suffer tend not to ask such questions, or at least not in the same way. Their questions tend more towards "Why haven't you smitten those fracking first-worlders, yet?" I may be wrong. Damned if I know what kinds of questions such people ask.
But let's consider our first-world options, at least at the two extremes:
Number one: We fail to address the problem, keep our blinders on, and find out what happens in a hundred or two hundred years—this is the option we will most likely take. Since none of the climate change predictions for our lifetimes are too outré, let's let our children and grandchildren scramble to find a solution. In truth, their panicked efforts to save Amsterdam, Manhattan, etc, from drowning are highly likely to make things worse. This is in accordance with the laws of unintended consequence. It is my opinion that launching millions of tiny mirrors into space, or pumping huge amounts of sulfur into the atmosphere, or whatever, is a very bad idea. We know this from past experience, or at least we should. At some point, however, we are almost guaranteed to try to install some sort of global thermostat. Next stop: ice age.
But here's how God works, if I understand correctly: Justice often takes centuries. The wicked prosper; the poor are oppressed. For generations nothing changes. Then the poor start crying out to God in earnest, and soon the oppressors' world collapses. A remnant is preserved, and peace is restored.
Don't get me wrong—life doesn't suddenly get easy for the remnant, but that's not the point. Life was never meant to be as easy as it is for the extremely wealthy (by which I mean, for example, the American middle and upper classes). When I say that peace is restored, I simply mean that simple people are simply left alone. At least until they start clamoring for the easy life again, or find something valuable that they'll kill to defend, etc. (I say "et cetera" as if you all know what the hell I'm talking about, when really I'm making allusions to my own peculiar theology, which very few others even know about let alone agree with or even understand how I can believe it makes sense, but in a nutshell, the biblical book of Judges is my idea of the way the world should be. Trust God and all shall be well; trust earthly power (yours or anyone else's) and all shall take a little bit more time to be well.)
Option two: We repent. Ha ha ha. This is God's preferred option, unlikely as it is that we will take it. Ironically, climate scientists are being faithful prophets, and the people are refusing to believe and thus refusing to act, and soon enough (in God's timeframe) it will all be over. Yes, it is mostly the conservative Christians (in the political sense of the word) who are ignoring the prophetic words, but they are us. Make no mistake: No matter how liberal an activist or active a liberal you may be, the conservatives are right to tell you to love America or leave it. To stay (unless you're extremely poor) is to accept the privileges of oppressive wealth. I'm not 100% certain (because I haven't looked into it, myself), but I'm pretty sure Mexico would welcome you if you and your family wanted to walk down there and live in a remote village somewhere within its borders. Just try not to be a burden on the people who are already there, okay? (Aaaand somehow I manage to sound sanctimonious in spite of myself.)
God is a slow activist, but an effective one. And don't get me wrong—we are allowed to participate in his activism; it's just that living like a prince is generally incompatible with living like a prophet. How that jibes with my assertion that scientists are being "faithful prophets" I don't know; I'm just a writer who carries the white-man's burden, and I can't find any compelling reason to put it down. By any standard I can think of, white men are guilty. I'm a white man, living a white man's life, therefore I'm guilty. And I don't think I should stop feeling that way. If I can't even bear up under this anemic cross, how will I shoulder the one Jesus asked me take? How will I ever be able to take up my cross and follow Jesus through the eye of a needle into the kingdom of heaven unless God takes away my wealth and security?
Our imminent economic collapse is not just God's justice, but God's mercy, as well.
All I'm trying to say, in regards to option two, is that we can repent of our wealth. The option is on the table. Or rather, not so much our wealth as the passion with which we cling to it. The sense that we're entitled to it. The evil we condone, turn a blind eye to, and occasionally actively participate in in order to gain and/or keep it. Regarding all these things we are allowed to repent. Having done so we may yet avert the coming climatic catastrophe simply by quitting our greenhouse-gas-producing habits. If we don't, our civilization will be destroyed. And, more than likely, much of the less-prosperous world will fail alongside us. That may seem unfair to the victims of our crimes and lacks of compassion, but, if my theories are correct, the world, when it recovers, will be a paradise like we cannot imagine. Thanks to global warming, Antarctica may well be restored, after thousands of millennia of wintry exile, to fruitful vivacity. Such is God's justice. Such is God's mercy. May the creatures who thrive there never stop thanking you for it.
September 22, 2011
Tonight I was at the local tavern for Trivia Night. While the TV sets around the bar showed NYY vs. TB, Troy Davis was preparing to die. While my trivia partner and I fought (with marginal success) to stay out of last place, Troy Davis was asking God to have mercy on the souls of those who were about to witness his death. I got home early tonight: around 10:30. I turned to the Comedy Central Network and watched a South Park rerun: Coon vs. Coon and Friends. South Park was followed by The Daily Show, which was followed by The Colbert Report, which I turned off after 20 minutes. I sat down at my computer and poked around a bit until a friend's facebook update reminded me to Google Troy Davis, to see what had become of the massive international effort to stay his execution. As of the writing of this very sentence, he has been dead for 55 minutes.
If you want to read a good Christian response to Davis's plight, take a look at the article Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote for Red Letter Christians. If you'd rather read something totally unrelated to Troy Davis, take a look at my previous blog post, which I rushed to upload before heading out to Trivia Night. Please excuse my language, but it's a fucking fairy tale. Literally. My previous blog post is a literal fucking fairy tale. You're welcome.
I had never heard of Troy Davis until, let's say, three days ago. Maybe less. I don't know him personally, I don't know if he was guilty or innocent, I don't know anything except what I've heard: that seven of the nine nonpolice eyewitnesses who testiﬁed against him 20 years ago recanted their testimony, claiming that they had been pressured by the police, and that one of the two who did not recant may actually, in fact, be guilty of the crime.
I also know that the last public lynching of a black man in this country (i.e., an extrajudicial hanging for which no one was prosecuted) occurred in the year of my birth, 1967. In trying to ﬁnd a citation for this, I came across the following quote from Martin Luther King Jr. "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also."
I had a few other racial-injustice nuggets of knowledge that the internet was unable to corroborate for me, so I deleted them, and will instead merely suggest that MLK may have been wrong: The law can legitimate lynching.
I have always, as a matter of personal opinion, opposed the death penalty. All it took to convince me of the rightness of this position were the words of a ﬁctitious wizard responding to a make-believe orphan's statement that a wizened creature whose diet included human infants deserved to die:
Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, page 59).
I sincerely hope that Troy Davis's execution will be the ﬁnal catalyst for the movement to abolish the death penalty. It is but a small step on the path to justice for the least of these (by which I mean those with whom Christ most identiﬁed himself), but it is not a Trivial step. I believe that Troy Davis is at this very moment dining with Jesus in heaven (though I have no ﬁrst-hand knowledge of what that might look like), and that his happily-ever-after is not a Fairy Tale.
My own fairy tale seemed trivial while I was writing it, but then the ending came over me like a revelation, like an afﬁrmation that writing fairy tales is one of the things God put me on earth to do. I don't know whether any reader ever will agree with me on that point, but it doesn't matter. By my inaction in the face of Troy Davis's death, I stand condemned. My own beliefs about Jesus (and his call to pick up my cross and follow him) condemn me. Many people can proudly (and sadly) proclaim, "I am Troy Davis," but I, to my shame and chagrin, cannot.
Troy Davis was strapped to a table shaped like a cross. His ﬁnal words were, "For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls." And then, at 11:08 pm, Wednesday, September 21, 2011, he was poisoned to death.
My fairy tale, coincidentally, portrays a little girl poisoning almost 50 frogs in her quest to ﬁnd one who might be a prince.
May God have mercy on us all.