The Purgatorial Trenches of Wilfred Owen Print E-mail

TS Jan 2017(The Truth Seeker January 15, 2017)

In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud describes how humankind made up from the intolerable “helplessness” of our childhood fears and the hellish randomness of nature, fate, and human society the balm of religion—in our jurisdiction, Christianity. His is among the most cogent explanations for a system of divine judgment and afterlife protection that insists people conform to the creator’s (human-authored) mandate. Freud says “the gist” of the Christian presumption is this:

     Life in the world serves a higher purpose; no doubt it is not easy to guess what that purpose is, but it certainly signifies a perfecting of man’s nature. It is probably the spiritual part of man, the soul, which in the course of time has so slowly and unwillingly detached itself from the body, that is the object of this elevation and exaltation. Everything that happens in this world is an expression of the intentions of an intelligence superior to us . . . which in the end . . . orders everything for the best.

That humans have felt pulled between here and beyond in our being has always been true. We contrast our carnal embodiment with an eternal dimension, body and soul. We live, we die, and we cease to be is not how we have defined ourselves. That which is unlived or treasured in us, we hope not to give up—for ourselves, for those we love and mourn, or for those whose deaths, say, an enemy combatant we killed, feel unfinished. All these lead us to assume some reverse incarnation of self in death. (Soul, mind, self, spirit—it’s all rather confusing.) Since it clearly cannot be the body, whose remains are composted by worms and time, it must be the soul, a nonmaterial substance, that lives on, even, some say, progresses and purifies through eternity. Religions regard the soul’s immortality, its existence separated post-death, as their faith’s highest virtue and capitalize on it, to say the least.

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Who Are You Calling An Atheist? Print E-mail

36711e907274b8e28cf98d12304b9fa5(Church & State UK October 16, 2016)

Are there any good reasons these days to declare yourself an atheist? Won’t the label’s tribal militancy, its prickly company, its easy derision, dishonor your family, alienate your friends, and upend your career? And if you are one—and you don’t fess up—might not that lack of honesty trouble you? After all, it is the truth, isn’t it? What’s more, if you don’t make the call (choose, instead, the less excitable “humanist” or “secularist”), someone else will mark you, a stamp that may stick, inerasable, like a Sharpie on your forehead. Whosoever’s badge you go with, how high on your chest will you wear it?

Take the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, host of Cosmos and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. When Bill Moyers asked him whether he supported “the effort” by well-meaning people “to reconcile faith and reason,” Tyson said flatly, “they’re irreconcilable.” All attempts to describe science with faith “have failed. Anyone who tried to explain the nature of the universe, based on Bible passages, got the wrong answer.” To the charge that dark matter is God, he perked up: “If that’s where you’re going to put your God in this world, then God is an ever-receding pocket of ignorance. Get ready to have that [mystery] undone.”

Christploitation @ the Movies Print E-mail

waltcover 2(The Truth Seeker October 1, 2016)

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Why, oh why, oh why do Christians keep killing Jesus? Why, for nearly two millennia, has the nonviolent Lamb of God and politically framed Son of Man been put to death, imaginatively speaking, in gospel, painting, frieze, sculpture, choral mass—and, of late, in HD movies—not to mention sermons that detail his torturous demise to millions of frightened children and unatoned adults? Indeed, the pageantry of his death has been shown in countless artistic scenes and real-life reenactments: from such flat statements as John 19:23—“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments”—to Matthias Grunewald’s 1516 “Isenheim Altarpiece,” picturing Christ’s agonal, emaciated, plague-scarred and thorn-nettled body, to the Good Friday crucifixion rite in the Philippines where penitents self-flagellate and are nailed to crosses and hoisted aloft, willingly, the bloodletting posted on YouTube.

San Diego's Oldest . . . Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20160831(San Diego Reader August 31, 2016)


The thing about the dead that haunts us, in addition to having lost them, is that they are here, in the ground, buried or scattered, bones or ash. Their “remains” are marked, heralded, and sensed, and they are never out of our presence. “To be human,” Robert Pogue Harrison writes, “means above all to bury.” Elephants haunt the places where elephants die. Mammologists have found that the animals weep and nervously pace over their kind. As do we. In San Diego, we have a couple of huge tracts where mourners congregate—the city’s graveyard, Mount Hope Cemetery, with 76,000 internments, and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery where more than 90,000, “who served the U.S. honorably in war and peace,” have been laid, beginning in 1846, and overlook the azure crescent of San Diego Bay.

A New Art Aloud: On Margaret Noble Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

Margaret-Noble-Head-in-the-Sand t670(San Diego Reader June 8, 2016)

Every scene in a drama, according to the late director, Mike Nichols, is either a fight, a seduction, or a negotiation. He added, as a footnote, the same is true in life. The thrill, or the chaos, is that these three passages may occur in any order. Start, stop, go back, restart, leap forward, keep going, or not. Form follows helter-skelter. So it may also be true of the skittish interactivity experimental artists ask of audiences.

Consume, Discard, Repeat: The Industrial Landscapes of Kim Reasor Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

Winner Takes All 2015-1024x763(San Diego Reader June 1, 2016)

Virtually no one ogles the industrial vistas of Southern California. Those unsightly realms where giant cranes stipple the skyline. Where ship containers are stacked unemptied of their new Curvy Barbie dolls for Wal-Mart. Where thickets of brightly painted gas pipes crowd the dead spaces beneath Interstate overpasses. Where electrical towers look like praying mantises and factories like Tinker Towns. Reasor, who is a young-looking 50 and who grew up in Denver under its “dramatic skies and high-altitude light,” has strikingly intense eyes; she has a numinous, intense gaze, seeming to record and compose whatever she beholds.

A Secular Founding Father: On Ian Ruskin's "Thomas Paine" Print E-mail

Thomas Paine(The Truth Seeker May, 2016)

The one- or two-hour biography, whether film or play or documentary, is fraught with landmines: the portrayal reduces the life, redacts the ideas, rings the subject’s good bells, tosses in a token failure or two, and pumps up an artificial destiny. All was meant to be, we see in hindsight, ’tis great-man history. Such unnuanced bios—I’m thinking of films like Ali and Steve Jobs—re-mythologize the life to salvage one on whom history has been confused or ungenerous. We make a flawed man great again if we carefully rehab him. Think of the slow Teddy-Bearing of George W. Bush.

There may be no better candidate for reconstitution than Thomas Paine, secularism’s favorite anti-British British hero of American independence, perhaps the finest polemicist our republic has ever known. During his life (1737-1809), Paine was loved and reviled, the latter, the loudest. In his sixties and an American citizen, he became the “filthy little atheist” and the “devil incarnate,” a pariah to the cause of liberty. One obituary said Paine “had lived long, done some good, and much harm.” His haters’ wrath centered on The Age of Reason (1794-6), a lucid refutation of religion. In days of yore when dissent in print or speech led to the guillotine, Paine disavowed all creeds and clerical authority, judged the Bible a scurrilous tale of a cruel deity, and thought Jesus Christ just another wayward stargazer. A deist, Paine marveled at the Creation and lovingly called the Creator, God.

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