In the Shade of Those Trees

If I want to possibly catch a glimpse of God
I’ll go out into Hill Country
Where the majestic oaks are more beautiful
Than any art made by man
How many people died raising the pyramids?
How many died building the cathedrals in Europe?
Not one died creating those trees
I’ll tell you where I won’t go
To church on Sunday
Where a person the same as me
No matter what kind of funny outfit they have on
Claims that they have some kind of
Supernatural information
Even though it was probably
Passed down to them
By some ancestor
That slew another
In the shade of those trees

Austin 7/28/14

The Quare Fellow

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I am reading Brendan Behan’s play The Quare Fellow.  It takes place in the Irish Prison Mountjoy.  This play is where one of my favorite songs of all time originated, The Auld Triangle.  In the following excerpt a young prisoner makes a disparaging remark about the Bible and the older prisoners comment upon it:

Other Fellow:  And talking so disrespectfully about the Bible.

Neighbour:  Belied and they needn’t; many’s the time the Bible was a consolation to a fellow all alone in the old cell.  The lovely thin paper with a bit of mattress coir in it, if you could get a match or a bit of tinder or any class of light, was as good a smoke as ever I tasted.  Am I right, Dunlavin?

Dunlavin:  Damn the lie, Neighbour.  The first twelve months I done, I smoked my way half-way through the book of Genesis and three inches of my mattress.  When the Free State came in we were afraid of our life they were going to change the mattresses for feather beds.  And you couldn’t smoke feathers, no, be God, if they were rolled in the Song of Solomon itself.  But sure, thanks to God, the Free State didn’t change anything more than the badge of the warders’ cap.  

The Billboard

GOD IS NOT DEAD!
Read the billboard
If He is not dead
I would hope The Supreme Being
Is above cheap advertising
If He is dead
Then the billboard is a lie
And if He never existed at all
Then the billboard might as well have read:
PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON IS NOT DEAD!
Anyway you cut it
Whoever put that billboard up
Was wasting their fucking time

South Dakota 7/14/14

Brendan Behan on Religion

This passage was written by Irish writer Brendan Behan and it is from the book Borstal Boy.   A borstal is a reform school for underage prisoners as an alternative to prison.  Walton is a jail in Liverpool that Behan was in before being moved to his reform school.  He was imprisoned for being caught in Liverpool with bombs as an I.R.A. member.  Because he would not renounce the I.R.A. he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.  However, while at reform school he was allowed to serve Mass because he could read Latin, despite not being able to receive the Sacraments.   This passage is his reflection on religion right before he is about to serve Mass:

But I wasn’t bitter.  When I am in good humor, I could not be bitter about anything.  It was different in Liverpool, where the priest was an active enemy.  Here the priest had nothing to do with me, and I nearly lost interest in Sacraments,  and whether I was deprived of them or not.  Walton scalded my heart with regard to my religion, but it also lightened it.  My sins had fallen from me, because I had almost forgotten that there were such things and, when I got over it, my expulsion from religion, it was like being pushed outside a prison and told not to come back.  If I was willing to serve Mass, it was in memory of my ancestors standing around a rock, in a lonely glen, for fear of the landlords and their yeomen, or sneaking through a back – lane in Dublin, and giving the password,  to hear Mass in a slum public house, when a priest’s head was worth five pounds and an Irish Catholic had no existence in law. 

There were few Catholics in this part of the world and the priest had a forlorn sort of a job but Walton had cured me of any idea that religion of any description had anything to do with mercy or pity or love. 

English Catholics had no time for the Irish, except when they were begging from them.  They had no use for Paddy the navvy and Biddy the scivvy,  beyond taking their money when a new church was being built.  The aristocratic old English Catholics had some kind of double dealt immunity from the penal laws, and the conversions only started when the Irish got the Emancipation and it became legal and safe to be a Catholic,  and a lot of English shopkeepers’ sons gave up Methodist and became Catholics because the more romantic minded of them thought it brought them into contact with the great world of Italy and France, which was atheist or Catholic, but always lively. 

One of the fascinating things about Behan, from reading this book, is how open minded he is.  Even at a young age he is able to see the difference between the British Empire as a system and the English people, as many of his friends in prison and reform school are English.  He was able to have a disdain for religion but feel for a priest with a forlorn job.  He could be against a system, but treat people within that system as individuals.  He had a great mind.  I now understand why so many writers and songwriters remember him fondly. 

Dirty Old Right Wing Sods!

Just got to Chicago,  scene of the first gig of the Shinyribs tour.  You can check out dates at http://www.shinyribs.org.  ; In the meantime I thought I would share this article from Salon.

We are a corporate theocracy now: The Christian right seeks cultural and political domination http://www.salon.com/2014/07/03/we_are_a_corporate_theocracy_now_the_christian_right_seeks_cultural_and_political_domination/ via @Salon

The Comedy of Religion

When I opened the New York Times this morning I saw the completely insane picture of Shiite men marching in Iraq wearing matching camo pants, black t-shirts, ski masks, all with bombs strapped to their chest which at least resembles bundles of TNT.  I’m sure if you were to stumble upon this on the street it would be completely horrifying.  Viewed from the safety of the morning paper there was something strangely comical about it.  I always think the Greeks got an aspect of the gods right.  I imagine superior beings atop Mount Olympus laughing at the folly of man.  These men are coordinating, even down to the color, outfits of death all in the name of an invisible figure that they cannot see.  Life when viewed up close is often a tragedy.  When it is viewed with a certain degree of remove it is almost always a comedy. 

One of my recent entertainment pleasures has been the discovery of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced TV series An Idiot Abroad.  In this show the two creators of The Office send their friend, and idiot of the title, Karl Pilkington to various foreign countries.  Pilkington is the friend that we all have that never wishes to leave their hometown and can’t help but literally say what is on his\her mind because there simply doesn’t exist the guile to do otherwise.  The comedy from the show often comes from someone being confronted with the wonder of the world at large and simply being indifferent to it, or quite often being annoyed by it.  They do sometimes send him to certain places to purposely torture him, however even in places like The Great Wall of China Pilkington seems unimpressed to comical effect. 

However, sometimes Pilkington stumbles onto strange truths without even realizing it.  When he is in Jerusalem he finds it extremely bizarre that around every corner some different religion is approaching with a different bizarre outfit on.  He compares Jerusalem to Pac-Man as to him it reminds him of a place where, much like the ghosts in Pac-Man, something is popping out at you from around every corner.  Somehow this “idiot” has stumbled upon the absurdity of religious believers in this area.  They are all from the same region, they all wear ridiculous clothing, the all believe they have a lock on the truth, and all while having absolutely no proof to support their claims.  It is like a Monty Python skit come to life. 

This Sunday morning I will leave you with quotes from the great George Carlin:

What is this religious fascination with head gear?  Every religion’s got a different fucking hat.  Did you ever notice that?  The Hindus have a turban, the sheiks have a tall white turban, the Jews have a yarmulke, Muslims have the keffiyah, the Bishop has a pointy hat one day and a round hat on another day, Cardinal has a red hate, Pope has a white hat, everybody’s got a fucking hat!  One group takes them off, another group puts them on.  Personally I would not want to be a member of any group where you either have to wear a hat or you can’t wear a hat.  I think all religions should have one rule, and one rule only: hat’s optional!

You ever notice that?  Any time you see two groups of people who really hate each other chances are good they’re wearing different kinds of hats.  Keep an eye on that, it might be important. 

God is (Not?) Dead

While I was looking through movies to possibly go to tonight I happened to notice a movie with the title God’s Not Dead.  The movie is about a person of faith that has a college professor that asks his class to write God is Dead on the first day of class.  If they will not do this they face a failing grade.  As you can predict the student of faith challenges his professor and apparently this results in a movie that ends in a face off between the person of faith and the college professor.  I haven’t seen the movie so I am not going to criticize it.  Maybe it is even an interesting intellectual debate, but I doubt it.

However, it made me want to convey several ideas.  Let’s say for sake of argument that there is a God.  If he/she is all powerful and created the entire universe does he/she need mere mortals defending him/her?

Also, again if he is all powerful and created everything doesn’t that mean he created humor and insults too?  Can he not laugh at him/herself and take some insults?  Is he/she really going to get their panties in a bunch if I say he/she doesn’t exist?  Is his/her ego so big that they need to constantly be praised all of the time?  Wouldn’t a truly enlightened being much rather see us treat the poor and weak among us kindly, rather than use all of our energy building shrines and praising someone that already has unlimited power?

I think our purpose here on earth is, like Kurt Vonnegut says, “to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”  If there is nothing after this world than we have defiantly been kind in the face of nothing.  I would say that is pretty noble.  If there is a god then hopefully they are a kind enlightened being that will judge us for how kind we have been, and not based upon if we observed a bunch of superstitious rituals.  If he/she isn’t so kind then maybe we will need to help each other in the next world too.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Review

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is an incredibly powerful film.  It is somehow able to pack in all of the ideas of a great book or the best of a college course, while also being highly entertaining.  It combines films, philosophy, religion, psychoanalysis, history, and politics.  Although the film was directed by Sophie Fiennes, whose visual mastery should not go unnoticed, the film belongs to the narrator and star Slavoj Zizek.

Zizek uses films such as They Live, Full Metal Jacket, The Sound of Music, and others to dive into big ideas.  Clips from the films are shown interspersed with shots of Zizek appearing on recreations of the sets of the same films.  Zizek’s narration is powerful because he is able to make even the headiest of ideas understandable.  The movie is so packed with interesting ideas that I feel that I would be doing the film a disservice without watching it again, or several times, before I tried to list all of the things it covered.

One of the biggest ideas in the movie is that all power, whether that is in the form of religion or even totalitarian atheism, drives from peoples’ belief in the Big Other.  The Big Other could be God or history or any idea that exists outside of the self that allows people to follow orders without questioning them.

He also talks about having the right and wrong dreams.  We often dream of an idealized version of the reality that is presented to us, a dream which would not make us happy if achieved.  In order to make the world a better place we need to change the kind of dreams we have.  An example is our common thinking that we would just be happy if we had more money, etc.; when it is very possible that the organizing principles of our society are what bring about so much unhappiness.  He focuses on ideology because from the very beginning he talks about how trying to see outside of ideology is painful and we often resist it.

He also talks about capitalism vs. environmentalism.  He asks the question why is it easier in some ways in our existing order to imagine the end of life as we know it rather than make a few small adjustments to our economic system.

Even if you end up not agreeing with Zizek, if you are the kind of person that welcomes big ideas this film will leave you with plenty to chew on.  I feel as if I am not doing this film justice.  This is a subversive, intelligent, entertaining movie that should be watched if you are looking for something stimulating.

P.S.  Make sure that if you watch the film that you watch through to the end of the credits.  This film is available for streaming on Netflix currently.  

Church for One, For Anyone

I went to church today.  No, I did not go to the place with the stain glass windows and the boring guy at the front.  (And before you get all bent out of shape for calling your religious leader boring, let’s just admit that even many of you that go to real church on a regular basis are bored stiff.  I once had a friend’s father that used to always fall asleep in church and say he was just, “deep in thought.”)  My church is out in nature while listening to music.  No one is excluded, no one tells me what to think, and no one is going to hell, except possibly me.

Today I walked through a park in my home town.  I came home for three days to celebrate my Dad’s birthday.  Spring was in full bloom and the air was cool and crisp.  For my sermon I listened to Damon Albarn’s new album Everyday Robots.  The beautiful melancholic music perfectly matches early spring here in the North East.  Nature and art dance with each other and each enhances the other.  I contemplate the mystery and wonder of the universe.  Although the land is full of memories for me, I am simultaneously present in the moment.  I take my headphones off temporarily and listen to birdsong and the rippling of a stream, the first music in the world.

I understand everyone is different, but I simply don’t need anything else to feel part of something bigger.  When I go into a regular church it simply cannot match creation as it stands.  As I have traveled the country I often wonder why places that have so much organized religion are often, though not always, places where the land is also being abused by industry.  Maybe organized religion is a way to cope with the destruction that we so often bring to the world?  Who knows such things…

George Carlin and the Ten Commandments

I miss George Carlin.  Through humor he helped keep us sane in an insane world.  He was as much a philosopher as he was a comedian.  Here is George Carlin on the Ten Commandments:

Here is my problem with the ten commandments- why exactly are there 10? 

You simply do not need ten. The list of ten commandments was artificially and deliberately inflated to get it up to ten. Here’s what happened: 

About 5,000 years ago a bunch of religious and political hustlers got together to try to figure out how to control people and keep them in line. They knew people were basically stupid and would believe anything they were told, so they announced that God had given them some commandments, up on a mountain, when no one was around.

Well let me ask you this- when they were making this shit up, why did they pick 10? Why not 9 or 11? I’ll tell you why- because 10 sound official. Ten sounds important! Ten is the basis for the decimal system, it’s a decade, it’s a psychologically satisfying number (the top ten, the ten most wanted, the ten best dressed). So having ten commandments was really a marketing decision! It is clearly a bullshit list. It’s a political document artificially inflated to sell better. I will now show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that’s a little more workable and logical. I am going to use the Roman Catholic version because those were the ones I was taught as a little boy.

Let’s start with the first three: 

I AM THE LORD THY GOD THOU SHALT NOT HAVE STRANGE GODS BEFORE ME

THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN

THOU SHALT KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH

Right off the bat the first three are pure bullshit. Sabbath day? Lord’s name? strange gods? Spooky language! Designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious nonsense like this apply to the lives of intelligent civilized humans in the 21st century. So now we’re down to 7. Next:

HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER

Obedience, respect for authority. Just another name for controlling people. The truth is that obedience and respect shouldn’t be automatic. They should be earned and based on the parent’s performance. Some parents deserve respect, but most of them don’t, period. You’re down to six.

Now in the interest of logic, something religion is very uncomfortable with, we’re going to jump around the list a little bit.

THOU SHALT NOT STEAL

THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS

Stealing and lying. Well actually, these two both prohibit the same kind of behavior- dishonesty. So you don’t really need two you combine them and call the commandment “thou shalt not be dishonest”. And suddenly you’re down to 5.

And as long as we’re combining I have two others that belong together:

THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTRY

THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE

Once again, these two prohibit the same type of behavior. In this case it is marital infidelity. The difference is- coveting takes place in the mind. But I don’t think you should outlaw fantasizing about someone else’s wife because what is a guy gonna think about when he’s waxing his carrot? But, marital infidelity is a good idea so we’re gonna keep this one and call it “thou shalt not be unfaithful”. And suddenly we’re down to four.

But when you think about it, honesty and infidelity are really part of the same overall value so, in truth, you could combine the two honesty commandments with the two fidelity commandments and give them simpler language, positive language instead of negative language and call the whole thing “thou shalt always be honest and faithful” and we’re down to 3.

THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR”S GOODS

This one is just plain fuckin’ stupid. Coveting your neighbor’s goods is what keeps the economy going! Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays “o come o ye faithful”, and you want one too! Coveting creates jobs, so leave it alone. You throw out coveting and you’re down to 2 now- the big honesty and fidelity commandment and the one we haven’t talked about yet:

THOU SHALT NOT KILL

Murder. But when you think about it, religion has never really had a big problem with murder. More people have been killed in the name of god than for any other reason. All you have to do is look at Northern Ireland, Cashmire, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the World Trade Center to see how seriously the religious folks take thou shalt not kill. The more devout they are, the more they see murder as being negotiable. It depends on who’s doin the killin’ and who’s gettin’ killed. So, with all of this in mind, I give you my revised list of the two commandments:

Thou shalt always be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie.

&

Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course they pray to a different invisible man than you.

Two is all you need; Moses could have carried them down the hill in his fuckin’ pocket. I wouldn’t mind those folks in Alabama posting them on the courthouse wall, as long as they provided one additional commandment:

Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.