What Would Jesus Say to the Man in the White House?

As Jesus reminded us way back when, it’s as difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle as it is for a rich man to get to heaven.  What’s the answer for a rich man who wants to enter those pearly gates? Help the poor.   Jesus taught us that those who are well off should be giving to those who are not.   It’s called charity, alms, or–to give it a nice glossy feel by putting it in French–noblesse oblige: the privileged have a duty to help those below them.  Jesus didn’t speak French ( He could have, of course, even though it wasn’t invented yet), but noblesse oblige is what he meant.  How far this duty goes and how much to give away is up for discussion, but whatever the answer, it’s not just about money.   Noblesse oblige  also contains the idea that the privileged have a moral duty to set an example of good behavior for the rest of us.

Jesus would need a good month, maybe even a year, to educate the guy in the White House.  He’d have to talk about the needs of migrants at the border, how the poor need health care,  about giving away more of his wealth and how to work on keeping his temper…but what would He say about the treatment of women?

Unfortunately, in our blighted century we have an equally ancient trend that has eclipsed noblesse oblige—the droit de seigneur or ius primae noctus– that charming custom of the Middle Ages that allowed the lord of the manor to bed a village maid on her wedding night while her groom paced in agony outside.  Charlton Heston gave a memorable demonstration of this (the bedding, not the pacing) in a film of the 1960s, The Warlord.  He had come a long way from his Moses and Ben-Hur.

These days le droit has morphed into open season on women for the rich and famous.  Our modern lords of the manor are guys like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and of course the current occupant of the Oval Office, men who seem to think that their wealth, celebrity status and the power that goes with that allows them a free hand to  force their attentions and worse on any woman who strikes their fancy.  Far from setting a good example their attacks have set a new low standard, and a certain type of man is, no doubt, acting out his own predatory fantasies about women by saying  to himself, “if the President has done it, why not me?”

Women are fighting back in all kinds of ways, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could get back to a place where men in the news, especially those we elect to high office, treat women well?  Where they approach them with a courtly dignity?   I understand why Melania might still be hanging on–maybe she believes her son’s welfare is on the line. But  I’m completely baffled by the Vice-President, an Evangelical who agreed to serve with someone so obviously reprehensible in this regard.   Why, would you do that, Mike? What are you telling your kids?

Parents, especially Christian parents, get busy and make sure your children know that the man in the White House is an example of what NOT to do.  Then maybe if enough of you go to the polls and make your disgust known, we can live in a country where the news is not dominated by porn stars, adultery, hush money, groping, rape and lies, lies, lies.

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How are Sex and the Arts Alike? James Joyce’s Answer

In Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man there is an incredible passage that comes from nowhere.   His “young man” of the title,  Stephen Dedelus, wakes up in the morning with “an enchantment of the heart” after a night in which “he had known the ecstasy of seraphic life.”

He felt words forming in his waking mind, a poem demanding to be born.

“A spirit filled him, pure as the purest water, sweet as dew, moving as music.”

He has transcended to another world, a sublime world, so sweet, so alive with possibilities, so rife with thoughts and images he can hardly bear it.  Drawing on the language of the New Testament Joyce writes:

“In the virgin womb of the imagination the word was made flesh.  Gabriel the seraph had come to the virgin’s chamber.”

Stephen’s experience as he slept brought him “the word” –the rhythms and rhymes of a poem that must be written.  This creative force that brings forth new works of art, music, poetry is the same sacred force that creates new life in the womb of humankind.  The physical union of male and female, and the embrace of the artist and his muse are One.  The Word, the Logos… It’s the story of the creation of the universe, the creation of the Christ child, and the creation of a song.  We are in the presence of the Spirit. It’s glorious.

 

What Would Be the Best Outcome from the Kavanaugh Hearings?

 

The dramatic, depressing stories from 36 years ago that were beamed around the world last week are now stuck in our minds.   Our country has been brought together to witness some gripping political theatre and some horrific personal tragedies.  Anyone with an ounce of compassion must feel the pain of Christine Blasey Ford, and, yes, the pain of Brett Kavanaugh too.  The images conjured up by the hearings will stay with us for a long time: of drunken teenagers, partying in parent-less homes; of a frightened girl attacked and scarred for life; of smug, sophomoric comments in high-school yearbooks; of jocks smirking over supposed sexual conquests and lionizing inebriation. Yes, the hearings brought us together to watch, glued to our seats, only to shatter into warring camps to the drumbeat of fatuous political rhetoric. Pathetic. Disturbing.

I can just imagine the ayatollahs and imams in the Middle East shaking their heads knowingly : “This is why we insist women must wear the veil.  It is the only way to protect them from the lusts of men, and particularly young foolish men, barely out of boyhood.  This is why we forbid alcohol.  Come here, my daughter, and cover yourself from head to toe so that you will not be a temptation for young men to sin.”

But is there no other answer than this? If only we could use this important moment to get at something even greater than a Supreme Court seat: the treatment of women.  The Catholics call marriage a Sacrament, but the act of sexual union itself is what is sacred, or should be, an intimate, beautiful manifestation of love and commitment, not a pastime, not a game.   To think of sex as an appetite to be indulged puts us at the level of the beasts.  Can’t we tune in to our higher selves without entombing women in shapeless cocoons?

Joseph Campbell warned us long ago, that we are society without a rite of passage for young men, and if none exists, they will create their own.  Drunken binges and scoring with girls have become the ritual for too many, especially when boys and young men come together in groups.  We should do all in our power to create a new respect for the Sacrament of Sexual Union.

Here are some suggestions:

Every father and mother should now go to their young boys and say, “Whatever you do in life, always treat women with respect.” Repeat this frequently throughout their adolescence.

Every coach of every team in high school and college should gather their players and insist (as many already do): “You guys are here to be examples to the wider community, so if I hear about any drunken binges, or parties with strippers or hookers, you’re off the team.”

Every president of every college and university should let fraternities and sororities know that the days of worshipping the keg are over. No more Animal House—it’s not funny anymore.

Every captain in the armed forces should meet with their troops and crews: “I know you guys need to relax and have fun, but do it within reason, and men, always treat women as your equals, not as objects, not as prey.”

In the meantime, women, watch out, and fight back.

The War on Women

If you always thought World War III would begin in the Middle East or on the Korean Peninsula, you’d be wrong. It has already started, right here in North America, and it’s a Civil War,  with attackers on one side and victims on the other.  It’s a War on Women, based on the notion some men have, that the female of the species owes them something, that each man is endowed by his Creator with the right to possess a woman who will love him, and him alone, never turning away from him once a bond has formed between them. If she does, if your wife says she wants a divorce, if your girlfriend wants to break up, or if the one you’re pursuing isn’t interested, well, that’s a blow to your manhood that cannot go unpunished.

It’s been going on forever, of course, but lately has taken a turn for the worse. There have been mass shootings at the hands of men who are unable to find women interested in them. There are high school students killing the girls who did nothing more than refuse to go out with them. Men and boys who might never have thought of such a thing have found inspiration in the easy-to-come-by news that other rejectees have taken their revenge with a gun—so why not me too? The theory of Unintended Consequences practically guaranteed this would happen once the Internet was created: so many great ideas out there to be shared—so many dangerous ideas as well, dangerous to the point of mass destruction, and that’s where we are.

Not many people had heard of incels (involuntary celibates) until the Toronto killings in April of this year. Now we know that the Internet is providing an easy way for angry, frustrated men to rant and urge each other on to violence against women. It’s what the Rwandan hatemongers did on the radio before the genocide of the 1990s.  Now we’re facing a kind of gender-cide : “If I can’t have you no one will.”

What can be done about this? We can forbid hate speech and hire regulators to monitor it. No one should be allowed to urge others to kill.   Beyond that, it falls to families, mothers and fathers, to teach their offspring from an early age that Life does not include an entitlement clause.  It’s a sad reality that there are some people who will never find themselves in a relationship with the opposite sex–more than ever, in fact, when you consider the world as a whole.   In China, India, Vietnam, and some other countries the ratio between males and females is way out of balance because of selective abortion of female fetuses.   There are 30 million more males than females in China alone, and competition for a wife is tough.  This is a recipe for disaster.

It also falls to schools to help with a solution.   Every school should be teaching about healthy relationships, the realities of breakups, and how to handle those painful moments. The sexual urge is the driving force of our existence. We want a mate so badly that at certain times in our lives we can’t think of anything else.  Take that urge, the immaturity of young men,  lots of guns, a handy, unregulated social soapbox, and you’ve got something as explosive as nitroglycerin.

 

At Last a Unified Front on Sexual Harassment!–Or Not Quite…

Weinstein, Cosby, the heads of corporations, …the list goes on and will continue to grow as more and more women come forward to tell their horror stories of powerful men grabbing them or attacking them. Social media now allows the shaming of even the non-celebrities as women all over the world recount their experiences with the male animal.   In my book I described what it’s like for women riding the crowded subways in Japan or walking down the street in Paris or taking a bus in Mexico City: the groping, the comments, the unending harassment. Women are prey in a perversion of what the relationship between the sexes should be: a divine union of two loving people. Let’s hope this is the turning point, where all of our sisters, daughters and mothers can walk down the street or walk into a room without a predator planning his next move.

But not all women are on board with this. A well-known actress in Austria, Nina Proll, has gone on Facebook to tell us that she finds male attempts to “approach” women “enjoyable” (erfreulich) which could even be translated as “delightful”. She asks, “Why do the feminists always insist that women are victims? I don’t understand that.” She goes on further to say that in the 20 years she’s been an actress, she has never been harassed by a man, but that’s presumably because, she says, she takes their “approaches” as a compliment, and not as harassment. The worst thing she’s felt is pity for the men who were making advances. She’d be ashamed to now go “peddling” those stories to the media, “because what kind of society do we want to live in? Do we want to just denounce each other and drag each other to court?” She asks why we can’t just look each other in the eye and say “no” if we don’t like something. Are we going to forbid men from making sexual advances? Or can we be happy that a man is trying to get us into bed? She ends her tirade by saying maybe we should just outlaw sex, then all the problems would go away.

Not surprisingly, some men have been very pleased indeed to see her take this position. Felix Baumgartner wrote “Nina Proll is simply great!”—calling her a “fearless woman” for standing up to the mainstream. You may remember Baumgartner. He’s the Austrian skydiver who, not content with leaping out of airplanes, decided he needed a bigger thrill so sailed into the stratosphere using helium balloons and jumped.

Proll may be fearless but she’s blind to reality. Or maybe she’s like the guy in that old tale from Grimm who didn’t know what it meant to be scared so they shut him up for three nights in a haunted castle with a bloody ghost. My suggestion is that we lock her in a hotel room with Harvey Weinstein overnight and see how fearless she is. Maybe Baumgartner could parachute in and rescue her for his next thrill.

Based on an article in Die Presse

The Fantastic Power of Music: A Note from 1667

When the diarist Samuel Pepys went out to the theatre one night in the late 17th century, something truly amazing happened.   The play was Massinger and Dekker’s The Virgin Martyr, and at one point an angel appears in a kind of Christian deus ex machina. The recorders, a relatively new instrument at that time in England, began playing as the angel descended and Pepys was completely blown away.  In one of the most exquisite passages of his diary he writes:

“But that which did please me beyond any thing in the whole world was the wind-musique when the angel comes down, which is so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home, and at home, I was able to think of any thing, but remained all night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any musick hath that real command over the soul of a man as this did upon me.”

I’m sure this has happened to you.   You hear music so thrilling, so soul-piercing that you actually feel sick, like life is hardly worth living anymore because a different world has been revealed, a divine world far from the everyday concerns of this one.   It’s a siren song that makes your heart yearn for something you can’t even describe, and it stays with you for days.

That’s the Sacrament of the Arts.

This “transportation” that “commands your soul” can also come from a play, from a book, from a painting, a statute, or a song. And yes, Pepys gets it exactly right– it’s like being in love for the first time, when that glorious feeling seizes you, grips you, binds you to that other human being who has shown through the most secret acts of intimacy, that you are loved in return.  That’s a sacrament too.

The Virgin Martyr is rarely played anymore, and I’m not sure that particular bit of wind-music has been preserved, but what Pepys is describing has not been lost– it’s there for all of us to experience, not just when we fall in love, but also when we find that ineffable connection to the arts that ravishes us to our very souls.

Jimmy Carter Edits the Bible

An astonishing bit of news from former President Jimmy Carter on behalf of a group called the Elders:

“The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

In short: don’t believe everything you read in the Bible.   What’s more, because the Southern Baptist Convention does in fact find the discrimination of women “acceptable” (i.e., biblical, so just do it) Carter has ended his association with that influential group. Let me remind you that the Southern Baptists are  15 million strong—second in size only to Catholics in the USA.

The astonishing part is the reason Carter gives for deeming this practice of discrimination unacceptable:

“The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.”

Wow.   President Carter rejects certain verses because they can’t be direct orders from a divine Being despite the fact that they are in a holy book. Why can’t they? Because there is a higher authority than what some guy thousands of years ago wrote down on a piece of papyrus, a higher authority that lies within each of us: Reason. If a practice like slavery causes suffering to a whole class of people, it cannot be just or what God wants us to do. If half the population is reduced to a kind of sexual slavery because of a certain verse on an old parchment passed down from father to son for a couple of millennia, then toss that verse in the trash can of oblivion and let’s live according to a different standard: the Greater Good based on the rights of all human beings.

Carter’s welcome apostasy opens up the door to a room we so badly need right now in the world: the editing room, a place where so-called holy writ is analyzed and large sections consigned to the dustbin, from Balaam’s ass to the virgin birth. People have been busily at work in this room since Epicurus first wrote that the gods have no interest in us mortals, so lets get on with finding the best way to enjoy our lives together. It’s a room where Socrates, Hus, Bruno and a host of others have labored until overwhelmed by the forces of the dark side.

President Carter’s declaration means we should think about each and every verse in the Bible and every other holy book, asking ourselves “is this a keeper?”  and the gauge can be found in the precepts of Humanism.

For more on this subject try “Sam Harris to Muslims: Edit Your Sacred Texts!”

Freedom of Speech on the Internet: the Case of Revenge Porn and Hate Speech

 

Germany has a law in the works that would fine social media companies up to $53 million if any postings with criminal content or offensive material show up on their sites. The companies would have 24 hours to remove the “criminal content” and 7 days for “offensive material”. Apparently youtube does a pretty good job of this already, but Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others do not.

Is this a good idea? Let’s break it down into its parts:

Freedom of Speech   Free speech advocates will deplore this law, but let’s get real. What the Founding Fathers wanted was not the freedom to say anything. As I’ve written before, the German term Meinungsfreiheit (Freedom of Opinion) is a better way to describe what any free society should be aiming for.   We want a marketplace of ideas and opinions, but that does not mean we can say or publish anything we want.   We live in an age where some people have slipped so far into the Dark Side that they are getting their kicks from posting naked shots of those who have spurned them, or even filming and uploading rapes. How low can we go in our race to the bottom? Images like this have nothing to do with opinions.  It turns the Sacrament of Sexual Union into a societal sickness.  Making sure the sickness doesn’t spread should be a high priority.

Enforcement  Is it possible to police this? Yes.  The big dollar amount is meant to get the attention of these companies that are making criminal activity possible. That makes sense.   If there were a TV network that allowed criminals to conduct their dealings on the air, or a newspaper that published revenge porn, they would be sued, put out of business, and their owners sent to the penitentiary. If it’s going to exist at all, Facebook should make sure it can police itself—hire more staff, whatever it takes to ensure that we don’t have to live in a world where the pseudopods of the Dark Side gradually engulf us all.

Who will decide what is criminal content? The companies themselves will have to set limits. If they want to play it safe, those limits will err on the side of caution, and that would not be a bad thing. Social media is so powerful– a good idea or an uplifting moment can reach millions instantaneously.  But so can a bad idea or a propaganda piece urging jihadists to go lone wolf.  This “platform” is so powerful, that far from being a soapbox on a street corner, it’s a stage as big as the world itself. Someone has to edit the scripts that are being read on that stage.

Who will decide what is offensive? The companies again will have to decide what to delete, and, again, as I’ve written before, the gauge should be respect. Many are offended by much of what Donald Trump says, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to say it. But if the utterances are couched in scurrilous or scabrous language or images, –it’s trash talk, send it to the trash.

The larger point here is this: yes, it’s censorship!  Embrace it–we need it.   We don’t need a tool that allows us to upload pornography, rapes, torture, or beatings onto the internet. We could get along fine without it.  So if we’re going to allow it to exist, it should only be under strict conditions.  If you’re going to argue that we need to be free to put anything we want out there for public consumption —no, we don’t. Because the yahoos of the world will take that freedom and use it to abuse others. We need a law like the Germans are proposing in order to protect ourselves from ourselves.

For more on this subject:  Freedom of Speech in Germany? Up to  a Point

Free Speech Crisis in Germany

Our Sexual Emergency: Watch out, World

I just nominated “sexual emergency” as the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2016 in the category of “most euphemistic.”   For those who missed it, there was an appalling case out of Austria where a 20-year old man at a public pool grabbed a 10-year old boy in a changing room and raped him. The man then went back to the pool and was practicing on the diving board when the boy notified the lifeguard who notified the police who arrested this guy.   This horrible story made headlines around the world because although he admitted he’d made a huge “mistake” and scarred the boy for life, his defense was that he had had a “sexual emergency”: he was a refugee from Iraq and had not had sex for four months. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to 4 years in prison, but in a development out of the Twilight Zone, on appeal the verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court because it wasn’t clear if the boy had agreed to the encounter.   Fortunately, when the case was then re-tried, the justices found that consent had indeed not been given, and ended up handing down an even longer sentence.

For the moment, let’s ignore the fact that he was a migrant from Iraq, and the bizarre twist in the verdict.   Let’s focus on that word.   “Sexual emergency” (sexuller Notstand) is new to English, but has been around for a while in the German language.   There was a women’s punk band that had a top-selling song of that title back in 1981. I tried to listen to the lyrics, but because it’s hard to hear and because the song itself is not something you’d want to listen to more than about zero times, I gave up. However if you google the term “sexueller Notstand” you come up with a lot of chat rooms where women are trying to figure out what’s going on with their men. Sometimes the term refers to women whose sex lives have dwindled to nothing, and sometimes it refers to men who are desperately in need of sex.

So sexual emergency is another way of saying you haven’t had as much sex in your life as you’d like to. But to try to excuse what this man did … What next? Would we excuse all those attacks in Cologne last New Year’s Eve in the same way? Or just a few days ago in Innsbruck? Viewed that way, life itself is a sexual emergency.   We’re programmed by our DNA to want sex, and in fact not just to want it, to crave it desperately and do just about anything to get it at certain times of our lives.   Our hormones go berserk and our animal brains seem to demand we give in to the reproductive urge.

But would anyone dispute the idea that one of the most important things in life is to learn to control this urge? It’s called “civilization.” You don’t just follow your desires, your appetites unless you’re some medieval barbarian warlord.   Those strands of DNA inside of us are tyrants, demanding that we yield to their decrees if we want to survive. But Reason has elevated us to a different level of being. We’re not beasts anymore, though the veneer of civilization is spread pretty thinly over our lizard brains.

The “emergency” around sex is that we are not treating it as something sacred, something greater than a mere appetite, or vehicle for continuing the race.  Until we can figure out how to teach every individual on this planet self-control,to respect women, girls, boys and not treat them as “objects of desire” then stories like this one will continue to plague us. We need to get onto this universal education project urgently.  Either that or develop the artificial sex partner, Gigolo Joe and Gigolo Jill, at a price anyone can afford.  The faster the better for everyone.

Respect for Women!

Whatever else we take away from the 2016 election season, I think everyone will agree that it’s a whole new world as far as how we’re talking about women—and by that I mean, how they have been talked about in public forums. Women have always had it rough : sized up by men in those infamous locker rooms and harassed by anonymous cat-callers on city streets.   But now things have taken a dive deeper into the slime. The soon-to-be leader of our country is on record as not only publically laughing at women he finds unattractive, but of bringing taboo words and taboo subjects out in the open.   Whatever he said the media covered, ad nauseum.  The green light is now on to say any crass thing you want in any forum at any time and we need to turn it off.

These words and subjects have to do with what I call “the sacrament of sexual union”. The sanctity of this beautiful experience has been verbally violated many times in the past few months. Making this violation commonplace has created a culture that is, …yeah, let’s say it!–deplorable.   We might as well be cavemen, leering at women we find appealing and jeering at those we don’t. Forget the meek, it’s the internet trolls who have inherited the earth in 2016.

We need taboo words to remain taboo!  The original meaning of “taboo” in the South Sea Islands was “sacred”, and in that sense “forbidden”—more like the Greek root of the word “Mystery”—”that which is not spoken of.”   Sexual union is a Mystery in this capital-letter sense, a thrilling, private, after-dark intimacy, but to subject it to the harsh light of day and the thoughtless, crass, drooling language of the troglodytes among us is to lose any chance of experiencing something greater than a momentary spasm of pleasure. The opportunity is there for transcendence, for a union not just of bodies, but of souls through the body.  To get there, we need to approach it with respect.

So lets slap down our lizard brains whenever they want to break the taboo in public forums.  Parents, teach your children to always speak respectfully of women and the mysteries surrounding  intimacy!

For more on this subject go to The Sacrament of Sexual Union