March 2010

The Sins of the Fathers

There is this quality of being human that allows us to project the horror. The horror of what another human being might have felt, might have experienced. When I first heard that a Catholic priest had molested deaf boys (200 cases), I thought how can this be? It’s a transgression so offensive as to be nearly unimaginable. You sometimes hear of children as young as two or three being raped and I, for one, consider the death penalty appropriate for such abominable crimes against humanity. I would have no qualms pulling the trigger.

You can display behavior so egregious that you forfeit your membership in the tribe of humanity.

About ten or so years ago, it started becoming public that the Catholic Church in America had a problem. In diocese after diocese, mostly men were coming forward to state that when they were boys they had been sexually molested by priests. These were not isolated incidents confined to only Boston or Los Angeles but all over America victims of priestly abuse were coming “out of the closet” of shame to seek vindication, validation and justice. The American Catholic Church, of course, stonewalled but the truth did out. And continues to shame (and severely compromise the moral authority of) the Church today.

What became readily apparent was that the Church would repeatedly deny the incidents or minimize them. We are talking about thousands upon thousands of cases of priests sexually abusing children under their jurisdiction. It gets worse.

How you might legitimately ask can it get worse? Than the sexual molestation of children? Of robbing children of their innocence and childhoods? Of scarring children for the rest of their lives? How does it get worse?

By doing nothing to the perpetrators of these crimes. By transferring offending priests to other parishes where they continued their abuse. For decades. By publicly denying the problem and/or suggesting that it was a small inconsequential “issue” that the Church was looking into and meaningfully dealing with. By not turning over to civil authorities for investigation and prosecution the raping priests of the Catholic Church.

I cannot even begin to imagine the moral hoops and hurdles the Church must jump to square such institutionalized degradation with the “true” believers among the Catholic faithful. How do you confess to your congregation that good ol’ Father Murphy was for years molesting young deaf boys.

Deaf boys!?! I picture Edvard Munch’s, “The Scream.” What kind of warped human being molests children and then compounds the crime by ratcheting-up the offense by violating an even more vulnerable human being. Who does such crimes against humanity? An ordained Catholic priest. From an institution that repeatedly denied the charges of institutionalized sexual abuse and covered-up the crimes of molestation and rape for decades.

Who ever handles the pubic relations for the Catholic Church and the Vatican made a horrible mistake. Among many. When all the abuses were surfacing in America they should have convened a meeting at the Vatican that dealt with the PR side of the issue and they should have decided to come clean worldwide. Ten years ago. Get it all out at once. Scour the attic, look under the couch, clean the basement and reveal all the dirty linen of sexual abuse. Reveal all (to the best of their ability to determine) the crimes against humanity committed by church officials. Come clean. Confess. Pay whatever financial reparations are called for. Say the requisite Hail Mary’s, Our Father’s, the mea culpas and get on with rebuilding the damage the church inflicted upon itself.

But no, that is not what happened and now you have Europe erupting with Church abuse cases (Ireland, Germany & renewed interest in America offenses) that lead all the way to Pope Benedict XVI.

Evidence is coming forward in the very public German case that when Pope Benedict XVI was the Archbishop of Munich in the 1980s that he failed to remove a Father Peter Hullermann, the infamous pedophile priest. This beast of a priest was reassigned and continued to work with children. All this occurred under the Archbishop’s jurisdiction of responsibilities. Vatican officials are quickly scrambling with explanations as to why the Pope is not, indeed, responsible. They say he got up to a thousand memos a year (that’s 1,000 total in one year) on church business. That’s less than three a day as Maureen Dowd in the New York Times so succinctly pointed out.

Is it believable that he was completely unaware that the Hullermann “case” was then cycling (perhaps that should be recycling) through his office. Is it possible a priestly pedophile (under the Archbishop’s management) was not of sufficient importance. Can that be? That the Archbishop wouldn’t have been advised that Hullermann was being reassigned to another parish. That he didn’t sign-off on such a weighty matter. Is that believable? Is it possible?

Well, it’s certainly laughable. Not the crime of sexual molestation. Just the church again denying responsibility. I’ve read two interesting arguments as to why all these priests were so actively abusing children in the 1970s. This is funny. Catholic liberals argue that it’s because priests can’t marry or that women cannot become priests that caused (is causing) all the problems in the priesthood. Catholic conservatives, on the other hand, argue that it is the moral relativity of the changing Western cultures that is the problem.

Is that a gas or what? Moral relativism is affecting how Catholic priests behave and has since the 1970s? Hmmm? I consider myself a secular humorist, a moral relativist and you know what, not once in the 1970s (or ever for that matter) did I determine that it was ever okay to rape and molest children. I guess I’m not schooled in the intricacies of priestly logic and behavior. Or, of the justifications by conservative church apologists who try to explain away church problems by blaming them on a permissive culture.

If there is a dysfunctional culture and if it is morally bankrupt, it is surely within the Church itself, too. And as we see today, it does go all the way to the top.

Just ask any of the 200 deaf Catholic boys who couldn’t hear their own screams but no doubt remember the heaving, priestly breath as they were. . .

“The horror, the horror.”

No Par?

I wonder a bit about those claiming they don’t keep score. Not so much in the win/loss column but in some reflective “total scheme of life” manner.

What we all have is time. Some assert that if we live a particular way or believe a particular notion that time is endless. No matter how appealing that idea, I cannot subscribe. As much as our emotions may desire—our bodies (and minds) will deny. Consciousness is temporary, fleeting and far to short.

We’re all on track (birth to death) so keeping score ought to be a relatively straight forward process. But we are not issued, we are not born with a helpful scorecard. We tee up for the 18 holes of life and soon discover there is no par.

Wouldn’t it be far easier if each of us was born tightly clutching a tiny scorecard in his or her little hand. Birth would be our first hazard and no matter how well we shot the “rapids”—mom would record, would deliver our first score.

So we trek through life, frequently without a clue, not only looking for meaning but searching for the “way” to live as well. Most of us come to grips (denial/acceptance) with the transitory nature of our existence. Absent, however, is the universal scorecard.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Compensation prompted this little treatise. Emerson is writing, to a degree, about score keeping. Reread Emerson’s essays for a jolt of sanity.

I believe time is a river that for awhile we travel.

By what benchmarks do we evaluate that journey? By our physical possessions—what we have accumulated? Our knowledge? Our effort? Our passions? By compensation? Or, by any meaning we simply give it (our lives)?

“How am I doing, Coach?”

Compared to what? One of the misfortunes (a sadness) of human life is our apparent need to compare ourselves with/to others. We are so wrapped-up in “Keeping Up With The Jones,” not only in material possessions, but we unthinkingly adopt their shopworn ideas and absurd values as well.

Tragically and comically, we track our lives on someone else’s scorecard.

We are born with a song in our hearts that is unique and distinctive. WE ARE. Some of us sing early. Some of us sing late. Some of us never sing and some of us have their song beaten out of them. For the most part we write our own scores and for some it’s “three strikes and you’re out,” and for others, it’s an “Ode to Joy!”

We are born like water poured into a teakettle and as we boil along and vapor away, we sing our songs. We do, however, pick the song we sing.

And that, my fellow choir members, is the most important score of all to track.

It’s not the dying, it’s the ending.

I’m sixty-sucking-one this week. I’m old. In my fifties, I used the F-word to count my way through that decade. Instead of sucking. I do not particularly like aging for two reasons. Regardless of the hype to the contrary, I am physically less of the man I was 20 years ago. I don’t like that. But even more than that I’m closer to being dead.

And, I so love life. I’m one of those guys who says, “I want to live for ever.” I do. Puh-leeeese, do not send me your favorite Biblical passage promising eternal bliss as a footstool or nightstand or fawning, singing acolyte to God. I’m talking about life life. Life where choices have to be made. Life where pain is commonplace. Life where death is the best man or gorgeous bridesmaid at every celebration.

That’s one contradiction about death. It makes life precious.

That may be the downside to eternal life (if it were an option), what would get you excited? Actually, it’s a common enough theme in fiction. The bored aristocrat—yawn, yawn—the guy with the lavish English gardens who speaks fluent Italian, reads Greek and shoots skeet like James Bond in “From Russia With Love.” And the poor chap, he’s so bored. My brother says, “Life is boring to boring people.” I tend to agree with Uncle Stevie. But acknowledging that “remote” possibility doesn’t staunch my longing for more time.

My wish to live forever is, no doubt, predicated on a number of things. My health is still good, as far as I know. And isn’t that the damned truth. You reach a certain age, oh, say, sixty-sucking-one and you know folks who just up and die. Young people. Not people who enlisted for combat and subsequently died being all they could be. But educators who wake-up with a headache and are dead eleven months later (my sister at age 54 of glioblastoma multiforme). Or, killed in traffic accident. Or, had her breasts removed and then died cancerous anyway. Here one day and gone tomorrow.

Actually that is how I feel about what I hope is the 81 or so years I am alive. Here one day, gone tomorrow. That’s about what I’ll get. 83 years. And it is so short, so brief a time span as to be, here today, gone tomorrow. And because I am healthy I want more. I’m human, I want. More life. More happiness. More joy. More love. And to have that in life requires that you have more pain. More sorrow. More heartache.

That is one of life’s true dichotomies. To have exhilaration you will have doubt. And disappointment. And despair at times. And each of us has some internal “scale” that constantly evaluates and answers, “How am I doing today?” And the reply you give to yourself is what puts the skip in your step or the wiggle in your walk. Or the giggle in your talk.

So life still excites you and you want more. Yet, alas, sigh, more is a finite number. I’ve been seriously aware of my own mortality and what a screw life is at the end because you’ve acquired all this “perspective” and then shazam, it’s over. How fair is that? At age 21, one of those lightbulbs went off, you know, one of those. They hang from an ancient electrical cord dangling from an open rafter in a rustic, remote Minnesota cabin. Primitive. You’re standing next to it and the chain hanging from the dirty bulb is swinging as “POP!” On goes that light in your mind like the bright bolt of illumination that it is and something concretely registers in your mind.

The last time this had occurred was with my father while standing on our front porch at age 16 at two one hot July morning with the taillights of the police car fading down the street. My father got his left eyeball four inches from my right eyeball and succinctly asked, “When are you going to learn?” He sternly turned in his purple flannel robe and went back to bed leaving me to ponder just that question. That particular lightbulb experience was an important lesson.

My lightbulb experience five years later wasn’t a lesson but a recognition. About life having a “very” real stop point. And, that at age 21, I was already a quarter cooked!!! And here I am at sixty-sucking-one, wanting more. Good Golly Miss Molly! Three-quarters in the can!

Friends, people say, oh, your’re not old Chris. It’s only people my age or older who say that and have any believability quotient. I subscribe to a lot of magazines and see a lot of movies, I know old and I is it.

As much as I am disgruntled by the inherent unfairness of it all—my not living for a nanosecond-like 10,000 years—I’m totally okay with it, too.

“Marcus Welby,” as my Sainted Mother used to say. Might as well be. Accepting of one’s fate.

The crux of the matter is how to live life. How to shove as much of what you love and want “into” your life right up to the day you die. And then cross your legs, hopefully sigh thoughtfully, and expire. Who-o-o-o-oooosh! Here today. Gone tomorrow. My mother died like that.

I’ve been thinking of giving death a name. And “Chuck” sounds good to me. By giving death a name we would personalize him a bit more. He’d become more accessible. You know when you’re with a woman and you overhear something to the effect “Aunt Flow” is visiting. Well, if Aunt Flow can personalize a menstrual cycle, Chuck, sure as “My Friend” can stand in (be the—wink, wink—code word) for death. The applications are endless. “Chuck took your Granny away, Little Mary. Don’t cry.” I’m too much. Hah!

It’s not the dying, it’s the ending.

Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. Shakespeare said that.

Okay, we have this wonderful consciousness that quickly lets us know it’s all temporary. Even knowing our outcomes life has us wanting more. It could be construed as cruel but that begs the question of intent.

It simply is. And to the degree that we have control over our lives and destinies I so recommend that we all embrace what life we have left with the same gusto, verve and pleasure as the newborn babe suckles at his mother’s breast.

M-mm-M-mm, Good.

I’m in heaven! Life is. Even at sixty-sucking-one.

I said earlier, and I quote myself, “It’s not the dying, it’s the ending.”

No, my good friend, it’s the living.

The Revenge of the Empire

I do not particularly blame either Congress or the Presidency for where America has arrived in 2010. It would be disingenuous to do so. How in a representative democracy can you hold harmless the braindead electorate who elect these numbchucks in the first place? The American electorate is ignorant, infantile and just out and out goofy.

I am somewhat sympathetic with Tea Party folks, right up to the point where they place the blame exclusively on Washington, as if that somehow exonerates them (us) from our civic duty to 1.) thoroughly understand the issues and 2.) vote intelligently. That a majority of Americans do neither is the crux of the problem for our nation.

The Greeks, the Athenians specifically came up with the word “idiotis.” It meant any man who was blandly indifferent to public affairs. An idiot in other words. Indifferent, ignorant, infantile. And idiotic. That is your fellow American.

The current “vogue” on the Right is to preach or make the claim of American Exceptionalism. As a student of history I can and do appreciate how and under what circumstances the United States came into being and the values that our “Founding Fathers” prized as outlined in our Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The talk of being exceptional, however, strikes me as comically juvenile, something the genuinely insecure require to validate themselves. If America can “truly” make the claim to exceptionalism, it is an exceptionalism that today is tarnished and compromised. We have become like every other imperial power historically. How exceptional is that?

As a liberal, a progressive if you will, I am astounded by my fellow Baby Boomers. Folks, the only way that our nation can do anything from a social perspective is to have our financial house in order. We need taxes in line with expenditures. To clean-up the environment, to educate our children, to have efficient, effective transportation, to have art (in all forms) that inspires requires a vibrant economy capable of producing wealth sufficient to fund these priorities.

First, let’s put Social Security on the table. Two things need to occur. In combination with one another. All income needs to be taxed for Social Security purposes. Retirement ages need to be extended. We’re going to have to work longer, people. Determine the formula of revenue vs. benefits and do the deal that puts this program on a long term sustainable mode. All will pay more and all will work longer. That is realistic. That is mature. That is what is required.

Second. If we are incapable of having a single-payer healthcare system because we are so myopically tied to the illusion that capitalism is the only answer to providing “quality” healthcare, well, that simply won’t cut it from a financial solvency prospect will it? Either we actually control health care costs or we cut benefits? Like Social Security, our healthcare system must be sustainable. Expensive end-of-life care has to be brought under control.

It is asserted that a minimum of 25% of all Medicare expenditures are for end-of-life services for dying folks during the last year of their lives. That is an obscenity. The old, and I count myself among them, need to man-up and learn to die with dignity. If you are 80 years old and require a new heart or kidney, well, get in line. If you’re fat and diabetic and your kidneys are giving out because you refused over your life (It’s really hard to diet!) to responsibly eat, that’s tough. Life’s tough. If you’ve smoked for the past 30 years and you’re a wheezing asthmatic with circulatory problems, please don’t expect scarce public dollars to underwrite your poor healthcare choices.

I’d much rather that money provide services to our children or for public health. We’ve only so much revenue available for so many people. If the two are out of sinc (which they are), it is unsustainable. Again, a mature, realistic electorate would understand this and demand responsible behavior from ourselves and our elected officials in order to achieve it. But we aren’t mature. We aren’t realistic.

Our Congressional goofs are the biggest hypocrites going. Ask any of them if they want to “fix” Social Security and they’ll cue immediately in the line for reform. Ask them for specifics on how to fix it and they’ll become a bunch of mumbling monkeys. Know why? Because all they want is to get re-elected and we the electorate don’t have the brains or cojones to demand that decisions need to be made now that will require more taxes and longer individual work lives. Same goes for healthcare. Either we raise more money and/or provide fewer services in order for our current healthcare model to continue or we inexorably bankrupt ourselves. And the specific alternatives offered by Republicans are no more than simplistic, idiotic slogans about letting capitalism be unchained to do its magic (Magic? See current recession). Yeah, right.

We are at a crossroads folks requiring that we bring our budget in line with our resources. Everything has to be on the table for revision and recalibration. Social Security, Medicare and national defense are the only three areas where we can realistically get our budget in line with revenues. Ask your Congressman to speak honestly about all three. Ask them specifically if they want to cut Social Security benefits? And then laugh in their face.

We are an imperialistic, jingoistic nation and have been since the 1840s. We are constantly preparing for war or are at war. We do not mind our own business. We are meddlesome and aggressive. And we’ve allowed our military industries to corrupt our nation and our democracy. We have over 700 military bases ABROAD! and we spend 45% of the entire world’s expenditures on war or preparing for war. Our nearest rival spends 8%. President’s Washington and Eisenhower, generals both, presciently warned us exactly what would happen to America. And we the citizens have allowed it to happen because we are indifferent, uninterested or too stupid to care. (Google: Chalmers Johnson).

We spend nearly a trillion a year on war or preparing for war (or for the euphemism of “homeland security”). It is killing us, literally. It is killing us financially. It is killing us democratically. It will destroy us as a people and as a nation. We are, America is imperialistic. Imperial Rome is gone. Imperial Spain is gone. Imperial Britain is gone. Imperial America is inevitably gone, too. And should be.

We will not get our economic house in order unless we redefine who we are as people and what kind of a people we are among the family of nations. We have for so long been such a belligerent, imperialistic nation that we either reconnect to what our Founding Fathers envisioned for America internationally or we succumb to what we have become—an arrogant, militaristic tyrant that will inevitably stumble and fall. A failed state.

Either we get smart as an electorate and fix our economic mess (Social security, Medicare and our Imperialism appropriations) and redefine as well our role internationally or it is just a matter of time until we join the rather long list of “has-been’s” in the dustbin of history. “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Either we get rid of our imperialistic ways or our Empire shall have its revenge. It will, literally, consume us all.

Raise your hand now if you think any meaningful change is going to happen. And where, my fellow citizen, will the fault lie? For the failure of America?

Satan As A Card Dealer

An apology for the devil: it must be remembered that we have heard only one side of the case. God has written all the books. —Samuel Butler

I was reading an editorial written by Al Gore in last Sunday’s New York Times. He was talking about the climate and, in passing, made a brief observation about hurricanes. It inspired in me the following joke.

An alarmed Floridian breathlessly asked his neighbor if she wanted to hear the good news first or the bad news first concerning the environment?

Thinking this was a joke and not wanting to be the punch line she hemmed and hawed, “Uh, uh, uh, ah jeez, oh, okay, the bad news first!”

“The bad news is they are going to be more intense!”

Puzzled, she asked, “Well, what’s the good news then?”

“There’s gonna be fewer of’um!” Hah-Hah!

Hurricanes! Florida is going to have fewer hurricanes but they are going to be more intense and more deadly.

Something to look forward too, huh? Hah-Hah!

Man, Oh, Manischewitz, what is the planet coming to these days!?!

Earthquakes, tsunamis, extreme weather, wars, uprisings, violence, rape, pillage. If locusts and plagues show-up, would any of us be surprised?

The Devil is afoot, is surely among us. No doubt about it. Satan’s been a bad boy of late, not content to merely tempt us with earthly delights (erotically hum a few bars of “I’m in heaven” in your girlfriend’s ear), the ol’ Goat has unleashed a plethora of natural catastrophes of truly Biblical proportions.

What a bum rap the Devil’s been handed. It’s all compared to what, isn’t it? Consider the quote by Havelock Ellis, “A religion can no more afford to degrade its Devil than to degrade its God.” When you reflect on that idea you see the infinite logic in it. For a God to be truly “divine,” does he not require an equivalent, seductively powerful opponent? For, after all, how would we know “the good” without the option of “the bad?” If goodness were the only choice we were presented as human beings, well, what would be the point of organized religion?

That’s a conundrum for me. If God is both omnipotent and omniscient then the evil (devil) in this world is of his making? Correct? But “No,” that is not the acceptable explanation for evil.

Epicurus proffered the following:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

It is hard not to appreciate the logic of Epicurus’ assessment of God but on a bad day why not succumb to, “It’s all Satan’s fault!”

This is what I do not understand (comprehend). The exoneration of God for how things turn out. God establishes the game (life), the rules (Biblical exhortations) and the players (us). Everything is of God’s making yet for some inexplicable reason he is left faultless when things turn out, well, dreary. You’re omnipotent, you’re omniscient, yet you (God) are “upset” with our (human) choices? Hmmm? God must have planned on being upset right from the git-go knowing full well exactly how beastly the 20th century was going to turn out.

Is Satan not the ultimate fall guy for God? Why not blame it on Satan? “The Devil made me do it.” The Devil as the quintessential “strawman.” Consider (reflect). God plays a little Three Card Monte on us but the real deception is not the deft manipulation of the cards but in presenting Satan as the card dealer. What was that famous line from the Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Uh, kids, Satan, poor stooge that he is, is just a bit “character” player, a convenient, toss away explanation, the penultimate scapegoat for how things turn out on Earth.

I recommend that everyone read Mark Twain’s unfinished “Letters From the Earth.” It is as good a fictionalized account (for after all, what else could there actually be?) of/for Satan’s role in this world as any. And you will laugh.

Mark Twain observed, “Satan hasn’t a single salaried helper; the Opposition employs a million.”

Ironically, or would that be tragically, if I were to identify a truly “Satanic” force on the planet, one would have to look no further than organized religion. Example.

Perhaps you have heard of last year’s Brazilian medical case of the nine-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather. Let me repeat, a nine-year old girl is repeated raped by her stepfather. She finds herself pregnant with twins (this nine-year-old child) and the girl’s mother decides her child will have an abortion and she does. Carol Glatz of the Catholic News Service writes, “After doctors in Recife, Brazil, aborted the twins of the girl, who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife announced the excommunication of the girl’s mother and the doctors involved, saying the abortion was “a crime in the eyes of the church.”

Don’t-cha just love this stuff? The attending doctors had determined that her nine-year-old body was simply not mature enough to safely deliver twins, that this little girl could have died if her pregnancy continued. She was four months along and had been reporting pain. The doctors performed an abortion.

This is what Olimpio Moraes, one of the attending physicians said, as reported by Reuters on March 5, 2009, “As doctors, we could not allow a girl of 9 to suffer like this or until she paid with her own life.”

Yet the Catholic Church says this is unacceptable. Let the little-girl-mother suffer, let her die. If “need” be. Abortion is a “crime in the eyes of the church.”

Last week, a year after these events in Brazil, the Vatican was embroiled in controversy over this issue as five members of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life called for the resignation of Monsignor Renato Fisichella (the Vatican’s top bioethics official) because this priest had defended the doctors and the mother’s decision to intervene in order to save the little-girl-mother’s life.

We are left with two distinct options.

If Satan is afoot, we have to look no further than who sometimes wears the clerical collar. And, alas, there is a profound rottenness in Denmark (the Church)!

Or, an unapologetic, misogynistic priesthood of men locked into a defenseless dogma of sheer insanity and claiming to be the Holy spokesmen of the one true God continue to wreak terror on many of Earth’s most vulnerable, it’s females.

Which do you prefer as the “logical” explanation?

Poor Satan.