Ireland has just voted in favor of gay marriage. This is a victory for sanity, dignity, and love. Ireland, a country that was oppressed by the Church for many years, is now officially more progressive than parts of our country on this issue. Although I know we will get there eventually, it is shameful that so many people here in the USA are still firmly rooted in the ideas of the past. All sane people know that those who were against Civil Rights in the 60’s will look eternally foolish when remembered in history books. So will those that oppose gay marriage now. However, today is a day to celebrate. Today brings the world one step closer to justice and equality.
From the article at Daily Kos
Pope Francis said Monday that “many powerful people don’t want peace because they live off war”. The Argentine pontiff made the hard-hitting comment in response to a question from one of the 7,000 children taking part in an audience held with the Peace Factory organisation. “This is serious,” Francis told the children.
“Some powerful people make their living with the production of arms.
“It’s the industry of death”.
Pope Francis has said so many things that make sense. Although I’m not joining anytime soon, or any other religious organization, he has made me think of the Catholic Church in a new light. Although I know there are still views that he has that I don’t agree with, he seems by and large a true force for good, someone that is striving for economic justice, environmental sanity, and peace.
A note to people of other sects and faiths: If you want to be taken seriously outside of your bubble of fellow believers, do things in the name of your religion that actually bring about a better world.
Why should it be that Pope Francis seems to tower above so many religious leaders? Why is it such a shock that an extremely high ranking religious leader is actually standing against so many of the things that cause human suffering?
If you go to the above link there is a pretty hilarious flow chart that shows how silly religious arguments against gay marriage are. Worth a moment of your time. And we won’t even get into the whole idea of how marriage has constantly been changing as society changes.
“As sure as the sun rises and falls, witches will burn.” – Black Death*
Tonight I had a couple good laughs watching the medieval horror/thrill Black Death. The movie was not an intended comedy, nor do I mean to make light of the film or to say that it was intentionally funny. But once you have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is hard not to remember it when there is anything to do with the Black Plague or witch burning. This is not the fault of the filmmakers. The movie itself is unique, interesting, and gritty. Although it pulls from other films like The Wicker Man, it puts things together in an original combination.
The film stars Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne plays a young monk during the bubonic plague in the 1300’s. His monastery is wracked with the dead. He has a secret love of a girl in the local village. Due to this he secretly wants to leave the monastery and the death that surrounds him. When Sean Bean, who is a knight in service for the church, says that he needs a guide, circumstances drive Osmund, Redmayne’s character, to lead Ulrich, Bean’s character, on a journey. They are searching for a village that has not been touched by the plague. They believe it has made it untouched by the plague due to a necromancer and black magic.
The movie treats the situation as realistic, from the viewpoint of the people that are living in that time and place. The viewer does not know until late in the movie if there is any supernatural element to the movie, or it is just the superstition of a backwards religious people. This is a dark film, with gritty violence and all manner of barbarism carried out in the name of religion. It is suspenseful and bleak. Torturing and many forms of dismembering take place throughout the film.
However, Hannah Arendt once said, “that the horrible can be not only ludicrous but outright funny.” As Monty Python demonstrated, through the clarity of hindsight, the beliefs of those times are completely absurd and ridiculous. Although the characters may or may not be dealing with the supernatural, I don’t want to spoil anything, you know that they are largely on a fools errand. When local villagers want to burn a woman at the stake for supposedly putting a curse on the local water supply, one can’t help but feel, knowing such things happened, as being a complete folly. The actions of many of the people in the movie are so absurd, yet realistic, that is somehow passes through the looking glass and becomes somewhat of a comedy of human behavior. I don’t want to portray the movie as a farce. I’m not even saying that the movie depicts the actions of these people with anything other than serious. However, it is because it is so straight that you realize just how absurd this behavior is. When a character is drawn and quartered it is completely horrific. Yet once upon a time our ancestors did that kind of thing.
Watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder why this time period is depicted in more movies. It is strange and horrifying enough to be almost fantastic, yet interesting because it is not fantasy. This movie takes liberties with the time period, and the story itself is fiction, but many of the things that people do to one another, many of the beliefs, are real. I found this movie to be entertaining, gripping, interesting, and yes funny at times. It is also batshit insane. When they are venturing out to find the possibly supernatural village they come across men walking down a stream whipping themselves and carrying a large cross. These people are punishing themselves to make penance with God. They warn the main group not to go any further. If these are the people warning them, what kind of further insanity waits down the road?
Although this movie is first and foremost a horror movie or thriller, it does ask questions about the nature of evil, religious belief, and human nature. One can’t help thinking about what is going on in the world currently due to religious strife while watching it. It is entertainment with intelligence. It looks and feels differently than the typical Hollywood movie and that is because it was filmed in Germany, even if it has several stars in it. The camera work and art direction is gritty and realistic, though gothic in fitting with the time period.
Tragedy plus time equals comedy. While I watched this film I couldn’t help but wonder what actions of modern times will look completely ridiculous to those hundreds of years in the future.
The famous witch scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
* This quote may be slightly paraphrased. It was late, we were already watching something else, and my internet searches came up empty. If not exact it gets close enough to the original’s intent.
This is a deeply strange country. Sometimes it too closely resembles the movie Blue Velvet, where a seemingly normal veneer masks a darker underbelly. The other night on tour I found myself with the rare solo hotel room. It was late, but since I don’t have cable, I decided to see if there was anything interesting on that I would normally not get to watch. I was in Oklahoma. What I found was perverse mixture of religion and crime.
The first thing that I stumbled upon was the televangelist Mike Murdock. He looked like he should have been hosting a Vegas magic show with a black sequined shirt on, hair that was so black it was almost blue, and a black goatee. He was giving a strange mixture of religious and finical advice. He wanted viewers to “sow” the “seeds” of their future for just $83 a month. He was hoping that 120 souls would send him a thousand dollars a piece. He was shamefully asking for money like a late-night infomercial host while holding a Bible. Televangelists have been around a long time, but the sheer look of this guy was creepy, like if he tried to sell you a used car you would be suspicious. However, he clearly has enough money to appear on not one, but two channels at the same time. Someone out there in the American night was buying into his insane schtick, long after Jimmy Swaggart’s deal went south.
The strange thing was, he wasn’t even the only televangelist on. In flipping the channel I again not only found him again, but another one on at the same time in the same state. Between these I saw the equally strange infomercials that so dominate late night television. Bad ideas for those that just might be in a state to believe anything. Some guy that looked like an albino was trying to sell personal generators incase U.S. power grid going down. I understand that in someplace like Oklahoma, where tornados are a reality, there may occasionally be a need for such a thing, but this was beyond that. This was trying to strike fear into the average person to make them think that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was right around the corner.
Even weirder still, every channel that I turned on that did not feature religious or business hucksters of some kind, featured crime and punishment. These were, for the most part, true crime shows, that let one know what kind of savagery was waiting outside their door. i finally settled on a show that was about Arizona’s famous tent city prison, where inmates sleep under tents in the stifling Arizona heat and do hard labor by day. The part of the show that I watched was about someone that was a new inmate serving six months for meth. Apparently if he did his time in tent city he could avoid a lengthier sentence in a “real” prison. If he broke the rules in tent city his sentence would be extended and he would again be sent to that “real” prison. However, like prison in general, the inmates formed gangs by race. If they broker the rules of the gangs, which often were the opposite of the rules of the prison, they would get the living fuck beaten out of them. This didn’t have to put the fear into people. This actually resembled Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
So here in Oklahoma, people were being preyed upon by religious hucksters and slimy sale men. Meanwhile they are constantly receiving messages of fear: Fear that they are going to go broke, fear that hell awaits, fear that criminals await, and fear that if they break any rules they will go to a prison that animals aren’t fit to live in. No wonder so many people in this country are crazy!
Strangely enough, I have been trying to finish Dante’s Inferno the last couple of days. In Dante’s version of hell, those that use God to commit fraud are worse than those that actually steal. However, in our country we give those people TV programs and tax breaks while those that commit non-violent crimes are put in a living version of hell. Someone might go to jail for theft that, while still wrong, pales in comparison to what these religious con-artists are doing. Someone that robs people of thousands of dollars by prettying upon their fears and religious beliefs becomes a rich celebrity in America. Now there is a lot of absurdity in The Divine Comedy, but I can’t help but feel that our own moral code is often absurd as well.
I went to sleep deeply troubled that night. I try not to be under any illusions as to what is out there. I’ve been well aware of all of the above for quite some time. However, it was jarring seeing it all back to back, channel after channel. Images of unrelenting insanity are being pumped into millions of homes on a daily basis. I’ve read enough to know that over the long game of history that progress is real. I know that change is possible. But for a brief moment I couldn’t help but feel that we were just monkeys with machine guns, gathered around televisions instead of campfires, telling superstitious stories, under the influence of a skull white moon.
Over at Salon is an article that starts out with Scientology and Going Clear, the book and documentary about it, but then deals in the much broader realm of belief. It deals with everything from the Rwandan genocide to the Mob and how people, once caught up in a group, use belief to justify the things that they have done. At a certain point belief in something is more painful than coming to terms with the reality of a situation. An interesting read.
I recently read Candide by Voltaire. I will add my voice to the many over the years that have deemed it a classic. I think I would even say it is one of my favorite books I have read. If you were to tell someone to read a book that was written by a French intellectual in the 1700’s, many would imagine something dense and challenging. However, despite the amazing wealth of ideas in the book, it is direct, accessible, funny, and full of truths that still resonate in the modern day. I almost felt in certain ways that I was reading a precursor to Carlin or Vonnegut, people that are able to speak truth to power in very direct and clear way, while making you laugh out loud at things you shouldn’t be laughing at.
I was a history major at WVU for several years, before finally graduating with an American Studies degree from Penn State. One of the things in history that always comes up is trying to justify or condemn someone for what they did based upon the times that they live in. “Well so and so owned slaves, but you have to understand the times that they lived in.” I think something like that is only completely true if you know how far thought had progressed in certain societies. If slavery or some other evil is accepted by almost everyone, then you might not be able to judge someone if the light of truth hadn’t been shown on that particular evil yet. On the other side, if people knew something was evil, or unethical, than you can judge those people in their own time.
Reading Voltaire makes me think that the argument, you have to understand the times, doesn’t hold water as much as I thought. Voltaire satirizes almost all of the evils of his time and ours: Violence over religion, colonialism, exploiting other humans for profit, violence against women, war, and on and on. The book was written in 1759, before the United States even existed, yet there is a passage where he points out how absurd it is to treat those of another race cruelly, especially in the name of God and country. He is constantly satirizing different religious sects for fighting with each other over beliefs.
The book basically follows the title character, a well meaning but naive man from Germany who is told by a court philosopher that all is for the best, that all is part of some natural order. When Candide gets kicked out of the castle he is living in, for being with a woman that he shouldn’t be, his story becomes a downward spiral of the tragic and comic as one bad thing happens after another. The language is very direct and simple, but the amount of terrible deeds listed almost becomes poetic in its scope. It certainly is one of those works where things are so terrible it goes through the looking glass, where the awful becomes funny as a result of perceived absurdity. The book holds a mirror up to the human race, asking the question, almost screaming, “What are you doing?!!!”
The forward to the book makes the case that above all, Voltaire was against superstition. It was superstition, belief in things that have no basis in nature, that is man’s biggest folly. He understood the cruelty that humans could do to one another through created orders like religion and nation states.
Although Voltaire doesn’t have any answers, he does have a direction by the end of the book that at least points towards ways in which humans could lead lives worth living. Although this is a book largely of darkness, even if hilariously conveyed, this is not a book completely without light.
Although the world has progressed in certain ways since the time of Voltaire, many of these problems are still with us. I couldn’t help but ask myself several questions: How did he have such a clear view of the world before modern science and so much other knowledge existed? If he had such a clear view of the world of the world, why were so many others in his time so lost in the dark? If he had such a clear view of the world in 1759, why is it that so many of these problems still persist? How is it that someone writing in the 1700’s could see the world, when so many people, SO MANY PEOPLE, of right now are so lost in the woods? Why do so many idiocies associated with religion and superstition still exist, if he knew so much then and we have gained so much knowledge since his time?
Who knows such things…