“The first woman you ever slept with was a prostitute, of course?” asked Gisors… “What did you feel afterwards?”
Ch’en clenched his fists.
“At being a man?”
“At not being a woman.”
This is dialogue between Asian communist revolutionaries quoted from Andre Malraux’s novel “Man’s Fate.” So much has changed for us men since 1936.
Today, masculinity seems obsolete and shameful, since it is held to be responsible for all wars and crimes. Men, it seems, are eternally guilty of having committed History. Our public schools, administered for the most part by women, systematically punish normal instincts in boys. Pride in manhood must be broken early and thoroughly because virility is only admirable in women.
Yet, this same deep-focused historical perspective equally reveals William Blake’s “Eternal Female.” And because, from earliest girlhood, females, pretty or not, constantly feel the cool appraising stare of males, “the fair sex” is forever self-conscious. Nowadays, eye to eye with men, she is also expected to feel especially self-conscious about not being more of a man herself.
Our human nature balances ladies’ vanities against what men, in return, always and everywhere see demanded of them by a women’s glance, which is to demonstrate not handsome comeliness so much as the irrefutable force of masculine will in action. And, like it or not, most men just want to win and don’t much care how they look doing it. After all, women are drawn to winners, however ill-favored of face or figure.
A few of the traditional masculine virtues — once upon a time held to be instinctive — are self-reliance, a will to dominate balanced by a desire to protect, and a scrupulous overall sense of what is fair. Why else play games, growing up, if not to explore these very traits? And boys and men naturally fall in behind fellows in whom they sense a superabundance of masculine resources. We speak of natural leaders. Such a man was Nobel Prize Laureate Ernest Hemingway.
In the 20th century, no masculinity was more disputed than Ernest Hemingway’s. Papa, as he grew to be called, was so effortlessly manly, he became a slightly hysterical scandal among women of both sexes. To this day, in schools, students are still carefully instructed to construe Ernest’s indomitable virility as a clever public disguise for an inner and, to him, shameful excess of femininity, like a gay actor, self-conscious as any girl, forever playing at being a tough guy.
If there is also in this world an Eternal Male, how sub specie aeternitatis are the disparaged swinging-dicks of these latter days to discover what we ought to expect of ourselves? Here, for our comparison, is an admittedly extreme model. Watch Hemingway in action, as glimpsed in his letters to professional-soldier pals who would certainly know if he were lying, or else to literary gents whom he admired and so reported to honestly — perhaps, to exorcise personal demons, but never just to brag or boast.
Is this Hemingway, to us now, a good man, an admirable person? Is something like this what a man ought to try to be? And, if so, who’s stopping us and, above all, why?
Note: Hemingway never went to college. He became an international war correspondent for the Toronto Star straight out of high school. Ultra-literate as his reportage and fiction was, his correspondences’ spelling and grammar and syntax were ad-libbed, a drink or two into the day, because he hated writing letters and refused to fuss over them. Rather than stop the action to explain who everybody is he refers to, let’s just overhear a little of what he had to say.
From the Selected Letters (1917 – 1961) of Ernest Hemingway…
To Colonel Charles T. Lanham April 20, 1945… “At the shooting club last Saturday one of the members said, they had evidently been having an argument, “Ernesto you were never actually under fire were you?” “Shit no,” I said, “Do you think I’m crazy?”
To publisher Charles Scribner August 27, 1949… “One time I killed a snotty SS kraut who, when I told him I would kill him unless he revealed what his escape route signs were said: You will not kill me, the kraut stated. Because you are afraid to and because you are a race of mongrel degenerates. Besides it is against the Geneva Convention.
“What a mistake you made, brother, I told him and shot him three times in the belly fast and then, when he went down on his knees, shot him on the topside so his brains came out of his mouth or I guess it was his nose.
“So the next SS I interrogated talked wonderfully… After that we chased them very fast because we knew exactly what the signs they chalked up meant and who and how many they were.
“Will now try to go back to being a christian again.”
To F. Scott Fitzgerald biographer Arthur Mizener May 12, 1950… “Could it be that I have been shot twice through the scrotam and through the right hand, left hand, right foot and left foot and through both knees and the head? (Not to mention seven serious battlefield concussions.)”
To Arthur Mizener June 2, 1950… “I have 22 wounds that are visible… and have killed 122 sures beside the possibles. The last, no not the last, but the one made me feel the worst, was a soldier in a German uniform with helmet rideing on a bicycle along their escape route toward Aachen they (that) we had gotten astride of above St. Quentin. I did not want them to fire the fifty’s and maybe spook others that would be coming in vehicles so I said, “Let me take him” and I shot him with an M1. When we went over to search him and re-set the trap he was a boy of about the age of my son Patrick at the time and I had shot him through the spine and the bullet had come out through the liver. There was not any way to get him back and so I laid him out as comfortable as possible and gave him my morphine tablets and a French kid came up and wanted the bicycle because the German’s had stolen his and we gave it to him and told him to get the hell into the estaminet at the cross-roads and we re-set the trap.”
To Charles Scribner June 28, 1947… “Been rugged here (at Vinca Vigia, Cuba) with (son) Patrick and (wife) Mary both so sick. This is the 76th day with Patrick… We had to feed Patrick rectally for 45 days. He’s eating fine now, regaining weight, getting very strong and completely lucid for as many as four and five hours at a time.”
To General Charles T. Lanham August 25, 1946… “Came in here (Casper, Wyoming) a week ago tonight. Casper that is; not the hospital. Monday morning (19 August) while I was packing the car Mary woke 0700 in great pain. To skip details: was a tubular pregnancy and tube had burst. Got best local surgeon and got her to this hospital. Very heavy internal hemmorage. Had to try to get enough fluid and plasma into her so she would be operable. Finally operated at 2030 Monday night. While Dr. was administering the spinal anaesthetic preparatory to operating M’s veins collapsed, there was no pulse and he could not get a needle in to give plasma. Dr. told me was hopeless; impossible to operate; she couldn’t stand the shock; to tell her goodbye (useless manoever since she unconscious). I got asst. to cut for a vein and got plasma going (they were very short handed and the plasma tubeing had bubbles in it and a too tightly plugged air vent and wouldn’t flow). I took over the plasma administration, cleared line by milking the tube down and raising and tilting until we got it flowing, and by the latter end of the first pint she was coming back enough so that insisted they operate.
“To skip again: She took 4 bottles of plasma during operation, two blood transfusions after, been under oxygen tent ever since and now today is feeling fine, blood count O.K., pulse and temperature normal and will have stitches out next Wed. or Thursday. Ate a good breakfast this am and will have lunch shortly. They removed the ruptured tube and other tube and all other organs are intact and OK.
“But Buck it was closest one I’ve ever seen. Dr. had given her up — and taken off his gloves. Certainly shows never pays to quit… Was closest I’ve ever seen with anybody.“
Also, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Read him sometime, man.
“In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it anymore.” – from In Another Country
Starting out newly married and living over a saw mill in Nineteen-Twenties Paris, Illinois-born Ernest Hemingway became an international idol of Modernism as much for his larger-than-life personality as because of his startling disillusioned prose. Other writers whose careers he eclipsed became bitterly jealous of his youth, genius, and movie-star good-looks, his World War I heroism under fire and love of boxing, skiing, bull-fighting, fishing, and big-game hunting in Africa. As Edmund Wilson noted, the young men in bars were all trying to talk like Hemingway. And Hemingway was trying to write like Gertrude Stein.
Hemingway always credited Stein with teaching him how to rewrite “Big Two-Hearted River” until it became one of the three or four best short stories of the 20th century. A great teacher who never took her own advice, Stein’s impatient complaint to a slow-working garage mechanic — “You are all a lost generation!” — served as epigram for Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and gave his generation their legend.
Something personal happened between the two as the Nineteen-Thirties Great Depression banished the easy-living tourists from the French Quarter bistros. Gertrude Stein’s 1933 The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas launched the bitchy sneer that Ernest was too virile to be true and so must be play-acting. She even called him “yellow.” Hemingway’s excuse for his friend’s treachery — aside from her lover Toklas’ jealousy — was that the egotistic teacher could not admit her pupil’s short stories had taught her how to write dialogue.
Stein’s sublimated envy became critically fashionable. Talented but unpleasant Wyndham Lewis in 1934 spoke of how Hemingway’s work possesses a “penetrating quality, like an animal speaking,” and then named the animal: a dumb ox. Lewis damned the Hemingway hero as fatally passive, somebody “to whom things happened.” Ernest shrugged and, three decades later in A Moveable Feast, skewered the painter-author as having “the eyes of an unsuccessful rapist.”
Hemingway’s “rugged individualism” and romantic antebellum weltschmerz got a rude dismissal from Thirties socialist group-thinkers, who saw in his manly example a threat to political conformity. Critic Max Eastman, in a 1937 review (“Bull in the Afternoon”) of Death in the Afternoon, at last managed to push anti-Hemingway slander to its logical ultimate: “Come out from behind that false hair on your chest, Ernest. We all know you.” Hemingway disliked “fairies” and to be called one led to a famous scuffle in editor Maxwell Perkin’s New York City office at Scribners, Hemingway’s lifelong publisher.
So, in his Selected Letters, Hemingway occasionally griped about how everybody wanted a piece of him, in print or, increasingly often, by out-and-out physical assault. One particular fist-fight boasts the sort of glittery popular-fiction symmetries Hemingway would never have allowed in his own writing. Nonetheless, the violent encounter between the greatest novelist and the greatest poet of their era perhaps shows how “things that happen to people are like them,” as Aldous Huxley argued in his famous novel Point Counterpoint.
Hemingway wrote about this particular fight in a February 27, 1936 letter to Sara Murphy. Sara and Gerald Murphy were well-to-do Twenties French Riviera expatriates — he was scion to the Mark Cross Leather business — a golden American couple who themselves became figures in the mythology of Modernism. F. Scott Fitzgerald based the two main characters of Tender is the Night on the Murphys because of their nearly magic ability to gather geniuses together socially.
If it sounds unlikely Hemingway and a poet would battle, Wallace Stevens was even more unlikely as a poet. A Harvard-educated Modernist poet, Stevens won the Pulitzer Prize for his Collected Poetry in 1955, yet worked all day most of his life as a Hartford Insurance executive.
In Hemingway’s own words and spelling and grammar…
“Remember Mr. Stevens? Nice Mr. Stevens. This year he came again sort of unpleasant like the cholera and first I knew of it my nice sister Ura (Irsula) was coming into the house crying because she had been at a cocktail party at which Mr. Stevens had made her cry by telling her forcefully what a sap I was, no man, etc. So I said, this was a week ago, “All right, that’s the third time we’ve had enough of Mr. Stevens.” So I headed out into the rainy past twilight and met Mr. Stevens who was just issuing from the door (of a bar) haveing just said, I learned later, “By God I wish I had that Hemingway here now I’d knock him out with a single punch.” So who should show up but poor old Papa and Mr. Steven swung that same fabled punch but fertunatly missed and I knocked all of him down several times and gave him a good beating. Only trouble was that first three times put him down I still had my glasses on. Then took them off at the insistence of the judge (Arthur Powell) who wanted to see a good clean fight without glasses in it and after I took them off Mr. Stevens hit me flush on the jaw with his Sunday punch bam like that. And this is very funny. Broke his hand in two places. Didn’t harm my jaw at all and so put him down again and then fixed him good so he was in his room for five days with a nurse and Dr. working on him. But you mustn’t tell this to anybody. Because he is very worried about his respectable insurance standing and I promised not to tell anybody and the official story is that Mr. Stevens fell down a stairs. I agreed to that and said it was o.k. with me if he fell down the lighthouse stairs. So please promise not to tell anybody. But Pauline (Hemingway’s wife) who hates me to fight was delighted. Ura had never seen a fight before and couldn’t sleep for fear Mr. Stevens was going to die. Anyway last night Mr. Stevens comes over to make up and we are made up. But on mature reflection I don’t know anybody needed to be hit worse than Mr. S. Was very pleased last night to see how large Mr. Stevens was (Mr. Stevens is 6 feet 2 weighs 225 lbs.) and am sure that if I had a good look at him before it all started would not have felt up to hitting him. But can assure you that there is no one like Mr. Stevens to go down in a spectacular fashion especially into a large puddle of water in the street in front of your old waddel street home where all took place… I think he is really one of those mirror fighters who swells his muscles and practices lethal punches in the bathroom while he hates his betters. But maybe I am wrong. Anyway I think Gertrude Stein ought to give all these people who pick fights with poor old papa at least their money back. I am getting damn tired of it but not nearly as tired as Mr. Stevens.”
In a July 29, 1948 letter to W.G. Rogers, Hemingway put the last word to his relationship with Gertrude Stein in the Twenties. “…I used to listen and learn and I always wanted to fuck her and she knew it and it was a good healthy feeling and made more sense than some of the talk.”
I knew, even in grade school, that I was not like other boys.
Oh, I tried to fit in, to be “one of the guys,” but my heart was never in it. Although young and confused about life, I already sensed my… difference.
I remember how, leafing through a six-grade textbook one day, I chanced to see an illustration which disturbed but also fascinated my young soul. I blushed and gulped and quickly shut the book and pretended what had happened in my heart never occurred. But I was lying to myself, and somehow I knew that, too.
Soon I had checked out of the library, and even stolen from book stores, those tomes which, reviewed late at night by flashlight under my bed covers, thrilled me with a special private delight. My parents suspected nothing. I watched the TV shows they expected me to like, and Halloween became a dull annual hell of pretending to want to pretend to be a comic book superhero.
Yet I began, as years went by, to skip school and spend more and more time at the National Zoo. I don’t recall the exact date when I finally put words to my desires, but I do remember that fateful Saturday afternoon, standing for the hundredth time in the bear house, trembling as I locked eyes with a Kodiak.
It was only then I admitted the truth about myself to myself. I was not a normal American boy. All that was a lie, a lie I was sick of because, finally, I knew without a shadow of a doubt what I really and truly am.
I am a trans-species-ite. I am not a pallid pink two-legged homo sapien. Manhood is but the false outward trappings masking my true identity.
I am a bear.
I know, reading these words, you are repulsed, even nauseated. I can no longer be held responsible for your inability to face reality. I am here, under sway of the law and all compassionate public opinion, on my own four feet, unashamed to say I thought of that Kodiak as my true father. Claude, as the zoo-keepers named him, was my author, not the kindly, hard-working man who called me son.
In my teenage years and beyond, during college, I began seeking out certain anonymous bars and bistros tucked away down side streets in poorer neighborhoods, where my kind met in twilight to huddle together, sharing, at least, the understanding and compassion of others like ourselves.
Finally, in the Sixties, came the famous incident, changing my kind forever, in which a Greenwich Village police raid caused the patrons of Menagerie-a-Tois finally to rise up and fight back in the style of our true animal selves. That night, New York’s Finest discovered a new meaning to terms like “hen pecked,” “mauled by dogs,” “cat scratched,” and, in one tragic case of overreach, “nibbled to death by ducks.” For my part, many a cop, that night, knew the wallop a bear claw can deliver, even if the bear might be mistaken for a slim law student.
A national politics came into being due to public incidents like the riot at the Menagerie in 1969, that great time of liberation. Years later, after passing the bar exam and putting in endless hard work for the cause, I myself led the East Coast delegation — easily swatting down an ambitious marmoset and two fawns — to our 1984 national convention in Alaska. And, I am proud to recall, it was I who introduced to the gathered throngs of “Noah’s Second Ark” from over sixty nations, Dr. Harry Ursine, the world-renowned surgeon who first proposed trans-species surgery to finally make it possible for us to quell our pain and to quiet our outrage and fear and to live sane and open lives.
We have come a long way, as a movement, since the days when normal people used to sneer and make hateful jokes within earshot. “Is he one? Does a zoo bear shit in a cage?” Or, “Is that hairy beast his girl-friend, or does he date fur coats?”
I think, historically speaking, the turning point came when Hollywood money began flooding into our fund-raising drives. Certainly, the addition to her gorgeous rump of a Persian pussycat tail — not to mention the perky ears, sensitive nose, and sharp little teeth — made one Oscar-winning star the poster girl for trans-species-ites. Suddenly, we were everywhere — on TV talk shows, portrayed in the movies — who can forget Sean Penn’s brilliant star turn as a weasel in New Zoo Review? – as sympathetic running characters in several popular reality series culminating in that hugely successful cultural game-changer “So You Want to be an Animal?”
Yes, it is true I stayed in human shape, denying myself the blessing of recovering my true identity in order to travel around the world, pushing an agenda which was now gaining cult status and increasing political clout. My election from the state of Maryland to Congress came true after running on a populist “people are who they say they are” platform. And yet that was my downfall.
I address you today — the parole board — in full knowledge of my guilt at having stolen citizens’ political contributions to keep me in raw salmon and cute little girl bears in that one specialty brothel in Vegas. But I am arguing that my arrest, conviction, and incarceration, while technically fair, exceed true justice because I was of unsound mind at the time. And my unsoundness was caused by society’s refusal to get over human-normative prejudices, to let me and my kind be free to be ourselves thanks to radical new medical procedures.
So, gentlemen and ladies of the board, I throw myself on your mercy. I ask to be paroled. As you are aware, I am currently undergoing the drug treatments which prepare me for the surgery which will at last set me free and guarantee my absolute rationality. This inappropriate bare flesh will be luxurious fur, as it should and must be! Either I am put on the street again, to finish my transformation with private funds set aside for me, or else I can demand the operation be performed here in the penitentiary, as is my legal right, while I finish my sentence.
My attorney has set before you the recommendations of the Human-Animal Resource League, the UCLA, two ex-Presidents, and an animal house full of post-humans whose names are known, respected, and loved by millions of human beings of whatever race, creed, or mating habits. I demand my rights under the law. And, as a celebrated martyr, I salute our famous international trans-species flag depicting, in my honor, a zoo-bear’s heroic droppings. It is simply who I am.
In the name of social justice, then, I ask either immediate parole, or that you to turn me into a giant grizzly at the tax-payers’ expense while I serve out the remainder of my sentence. It is time some rational sanity again became the norm in our national life.
Thank you and — gggrrowl!
The following broadcast may not be suitable for one-eyed Lithuanian midgets with false noses.
Easy to spoof one, but, in truth, all those tedious little disclaimers are what make American television possible. Because, although there is no Constitutional Right not to be offended, defamation and slander are both serious crimes liable, upon trial and conviction, to cost big fines, possible professional ruin, and even jail time.
So, disclaimers limit broadcasters’ legal liabilities. Engaging a nation teeming with grievance-collectors and their hungry lawyers, today’s TV might have ended up largely sports, cartoons, and cooking shows. Instead, before an episode opens, viewers can be warned about program content which might upset them. If they chose to watch anyway, they are chasing the shock they get. This fact alone comfortably alters a defendant’s standing in any free-speech suit brought against a network, producers, or sponsors.
Everybody is so used to them by now, we barely notice anymore, although, so happens, I was there on the night of January 15, 1959 when my father invented TV disclaimers.
Herbert Borkland Sr. grew up in Long Meadow, Massachusetts, son of a manufacturer so well thought of, the only instillation Rolls Royce ever built outside Europe went up next door to grandfather’s plant, since he had declined the prestigious company’s invitation to relocate to England instead. Herbert studied Law at Harvard University and went on to become Second Assistant to the Attorney General during the Roosevelt Administration. After World War II, when General Eisenhower was elected President, Herbert went into private practice with First Assistant Herbert Bergson, a direct descendent of French “vitalist” philosopher Henri Bergson.
After work, Herbert played hard at a country club bachelor’s life, excelling in amateur athletics, especially golf and tennis — Spalding used to send over new gear for him to test before they put it on the market — until marrying famous beauty Margaret Mangan after her much-publicized divorce from the scion of the Bliss family, owners of the largest Washington, D.C. real-estate holdings ever amassed in private hands. Washington-based Bergson & Borkland became the most prominent anti-trust firm in the country, as was noted in the Sixties’ best-seller The Super Lawyers.
Mum and I called him Borky. Borky was a serious but far from humorless father who proved to be among the most thoroughly honest Washingtonians of his generation. We know this because the Republican President’s FBI illegally raided Borky’s bank safety deposit box, searching for something, anything, to use to smear the previous Democratic Administration. The agents came up empty-handed. Mum and I could have warned them, knowing and loving the man as we did.
Now in the late Fifties, one of Borky’s clients, Paramount Television, bought the rights to a best-selling autobiography about the 1930s Prohibition Era war against crime-lord Al Capone waged by lawman Elliot Ness and his incorruptible crew Chicago newspapers dubbed “The Untouchables.” Nobly wooden Robert Stack played Ness, and tough-looking Neville Brand was Capone.
The hard-hitting show became an immediate Sunday night success but was also controversial because pressure groups and even Frank Sinatra accused “The Untouchables” of defaming Italian Americans. As a result, Desi Arnaz — “I Love Lucy” co-star turned successful producer — bleached the Italian accents out of the cast and crafted scripts to also depict the positive side of Italian Americans.
The Italian Anti-Defamation League was mollified, but a much worse brouhaha soon broke out over a two-part drama called “The Big Train,” whose first episode aired on January 5, 1959. In its storyline, mob enforcer Frank Nitti goes to Alcatraz prison but is treated more like a celebrity than a hood by the prison guards, and a scheme to jail-break Nitti soon develops.
Part one absolutely infuriated the present day warden of Alcatraz. The plot was made-up, to begin with, and the very idea guards would coddle, much less help any convict to escape, offended him professionally and personally. Starting Monday morning after the broadcast, the warden began to raise hell. He contacted every important office-holder he knew in government. His threat was simple.
If the second episode was aired, he vowed to move heaven and earth to get the American Broadcasting Company’s license revoked. ABC even then was worth a billion dollars; and the warden had an incalculable amount of deadly serious clout at the highest levels. The threat was far from idle, but, on the other hand, broadcasters cannot blow with the wind, not only because rights of free expression are involved, but because programming would become impossible if anybody could stall any series at will.
A solid week of increasingly frantic dithering shook up the ABC executive suites. The impasse seemed unbreakable. The warden was not interested in backing down and neither was the network. Finally, literally a few hours before “The Untouchables” was due to go on, somebody thought to call Herb Borkland.
I’ll never forget, although it took years to realize what I’d been in on the birth of. The telephone rang in our warm little “womb room” next to the kitchen, and Borky answered. Mum and I saw him get immediately very thoughtful while he listened. I can remember what he answered as clearly as if it were yesterday.
“What you can do is use a disclaimer. Run a notice before the show saying that the following episode of ‘The Untouchables’ is completely fictitious and in no way meant to reflect on the fine work done by the warden and staff of Alcatraz… Yes, it should work…. Glad to help. Goodbye.”
The rest, like the man said, is History.
“A mighty fortress is our God,” proclaims Martin Luther’s sixteenth century hymn.
Invulnerable within Himself is the Lord, but not so much, anymore, the worshipers inside His earthly houses. Pews, it turns out, make bad barricades.
Today, across two-thirds of The Big Blue Marble, Christ is a crime, and His followers are executed hourly in thrashing droves. Safely elsewhere, tense and empty, urban post-Christians shelter among the dregs of what used to be the Free World, fashionably scornful of the church while having never once in their entire lives drawn one breath not made fruitful by Judeo-Christian values and Judeo-Christian culture.
Churches once grew up on sites made sacred by what living martyrs suffered there. So much so, fourth-through-seventeenth century English law recognized churches as sanctuaries from civil arrest. The Right of Asylum turned back armed men closing in on fleeing criminals and cornered rebels, if only for as long as the outlaws loitered within sacred cloisters.
The spirit of the Middle Ages waned. Around the world, by the nineteenth century, armies often trampled down churches, although, on March 6, 1836 in America, we remember the Alamo made a valiant redoubt in the battle for Texas liberty. During World War II, the German Luftwaffe intentionally targeted three beloved seventeenth century churches designed by Christopher Wren. The City of London landmarks were demolished to wound British tradition and pride, not primarily to kill local parishioners.
Everywhere today it is both the physical churches and now their congregations, too, being torn and gutted. The 21st century goes harshly for lambs of God, as it also does for the free-market capitalism by which they prefer to bake, sell, and buy their daily bread. It gathers a fateful dark momentum, this world war on Christ, but is not new. As always, China is strenuously inhospitable to the Bible, but, ruthless as Communism can be, even state-sanctioned persecutions lack the raw slaughter of the Middle East and Africa, where the humblest churches pass for killing floors.
Within the last decade, reports The Vatican and Center for the Study of Global Christianity, every single year an average of 100,000 Christians were murdered in “a situation of witness,” meaning: “for motives related to their faith.”
Over the last ten years, for daring to love Jesus, every twenty-four hours an average of eleven Christians per hour – men, women, children, infants — have been cut down by cheering, jeering, dancing savages. And along with them, billions of others, in their savage hearts, also rejoice. We know, too, there has been torture: some of the cruelest martyrdoms since the Coliseum games of ancient Rome. Goes unreported internationally.
Where’s the outrage? To the degree that the existence of a Christian Holocaust is at all officially acknowledged, muted global reactions run a predictable gamut from institutional protests, to private negotiations, to picking up a gun yourself. Pope Francis, in May 2013, spoke of his concerns, his anguish, but what can even he do? Aside from a personal body guard of one hundred Swiss Guards, as Stalin famously sneered: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”
At the opposite end of the scale, we acknowledge contemporary Christian soldiers like biker Sam Childers, “The Machine Gun Preacher,” who protected South Sudan children by fighting along side of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army against war-criminals who styled themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army.
And what characterizes most Americans’ immediate reaction to slaughtering religious world war? The shrugging indifference of a participation-trophy generation blinded by their own reflections in a wilderness of flat-screens. Government schools spew out millions who believe they are free from superstition because they sneer at religion while being taxed to extinction by politicians who tell them the weather must be appeased so Gaea is safe.
Human life striving under heaven, as seen by Eighteenth Century visionary William Blake, is an intertwining of Each with All as sensitive as a spiderweb: “A dog starved at his master’s gate/ Predicts the ruin of the state.” Similarly, the public dismemberment of a church-goer in Uganda simultaneously publishes a death warrant for some anti-theist New York hipster whose sentence is stayed only incidentally by lack of the purchase price of a few hours of inter-continental airline travel.
…Your eyes brush over the words, but let’s be frank. Personally, you don’t care about not feeling bad about not caring. Not caring about church or God or Christmas. Your kind has a name. Look, you, where the bony finger points.
Whose name is chiseled on that headstone, Scrooge?
Tip of the fedora to Elena, who challenged me, this year, to do “Christmas — Past, Present, and Future.”
Old can be ancient, and ancient perhaps sacred, and it is we the living who must assay the difference in value between an artifact and a legacy.
A legacy is a beloved old something-meaningful you happily inherit by clear right of succession. Artifacts only stand for themselves, for “still standing,” have only the value of being their age, and must be held in trust because they belong to nobody. There is also such a thing as a legacy of artifacts, and it is bestowed by one generation on the next of museum-keepers. Is the house of God today a kind of museum? Are priests, then, as atheists argue, artifacts of a spent Judeo-Christian legacy?
Millions of atheists desperately hope — almost to the point of praying — to witness Christ, God The Father, the Holy Spirit, and all Heaven’s angelic claptrap finally go the way of agrarian Stone Age gods. Indeed, the revealed truth of “God is dead?” is, for atheists, their Ol’-Time Religion.
“God is dead.” — an orthodoxy first preached in the Eighteen-Hundreds by German philosopher Nietzsche and Russian novelist Dostoevsky. Geniuses both, to be sure, but even genius can be wrong. A straight-faced Christian tries to respect this deeply-held traditional faith so solemnly handed down by generations of pious middle-class materialists.
Now, of course, the last thing materialists want is a spiritual shock. So their academic scholars often overview human history and professorially dismiss all religions. They label worship as “tribal mass-delusion” brought on either by fear of facing the unknown alone, or for political control over peoples’ lives, or in smug self-justification for whatever the tribes take themselves to be — “God wills it!”
How long something lasts among us is the simplest gauge of its human worth. And what we witness today in Christian churches are two-thousand year old ceremonies still largely intact. Weigh this mysterious survival of religion against what anthropology teaches about “tribal mass-delusions.” They don’t last.
Fads, cults, priestly dictatorships, madness of crowds, “holy” charlatans’ cynical hoaxes, however brilliantly staged — all gutter out fast, often within the first generation. On the other hand, since almost nothing else human has lasted longer among us than religion, ipso facto – sheer endurance proves actual “spirituality” is both true to human nature and invaluable for our well-being. Worshiping god turns out to be healthy and normal. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The basic insight is anthropological and not theological, which means its religious truth is rooted in observed human nature, not in the supernatural. This is another way of saying religion flows naturally from us. Notice, too, there is a circular and reciprocal legitimizing going on here. A “cult” lasts for centuries, thus establishing it is a true religion, while the historical fact of longevity also demonstrates such a thing as truth in religion exists.
Yes, atheists have always been with us, too, but they forever come in second, since they depend on disagreeing with somebody who already found God first. “The Church of Atheism” is sad empty rhetoric. By definition, the ungodly may convene but cannot hold services. You do not prove there is no Santa Claus by becoming him.
Is Christianity dying? All world religions are our persistent renewal of this ancient, not altogether one-sided dialogue between Man and God, but the permanent human intuition of a divinity protects no single faith. Once-mighty religions can dwindle into a wind blowing trash through a neglected temple. Ancient tongues beseeching lost gods echo uproariously down History’s marble halls. Deities can die. Old folk-tales say the forest gods left Europe on the day an iron ax first bit into green wood. Metal quenched the Immortals. Might not wi-fi quench Christ?
Be that as it may, the fading away of any one religion does not at all prove our theological impulses are inauthentic, only that we are after all essentially fallible. Even the most sublime inspiration sputters. Nothing humans make lasts except what we make of ourselves. And what we become depends on the original means granted to us. And some in every generation are born crippled, some tone-deaf, others color-blind…
Christendom, for centuries, set our lives to a slow but steady pulse by the mellowness of church bells metering the hours and days of circling seasons. Just below the high Cross, steeples often showed clock faces, so the godly need never be late to services. There was a time for every purpose unto Heaven.
Then, around the turn of the 20th century, the two most feminine affectations of the Victorian Era — smoking cigarettes and wearing a wrist watch — caught on among everyday men as well. It was a sign. Enter the Age of the Machine. Time was never again to simply be the human tempo of our beating hearts. People began living at a more peremptory pace than ever was counted out by tower bells, or grandfather clocks standing coffin-like in hallways, or “Christmas” clocks — wound up once a year — upon fireplace mantlepieces.
So, wrist watches made good sense. Time must be kept closer now. Revolutionary inventions were forcing on Moderns a newly-accelerated and monetized sense of time — “Time is Money.” And cigarettes? Puffing hurriedly through a cigarette suited busy city men better than lingering over the studied formalities of clipping, piercing and perhaps dipping in brandy a fine cigar, or the leisurely cleaning, reaming and tamping of loose tobacco into a favorite pipe.
So much happened so awfully quickly. Perhaps the single most epic change — after four millenniums of being central to human existence, the horse became obsolete. Multi-horse-power Ford automobiles left behind no smoking turds in the streets, but crime and sex ran wild. Before police could respond, storefront stick-ups came and went so fast, gunmen had already disappeared into the web of the city. And “Flaming Youth” caught fire when “dating” replaced “courtship” because young motorists drove off freely by themselves, together without chaperones.
Samuel Morse’s telegraphy shrank, first, nations, then the world, by making even trans-oceanic communications normal. You could wire Timbuktu. Pictures moved. Less than a generation after Louis Lumiere, live stage actors applauded by a few thousand theater-goers in a season, suddenly had to compete for audiences with the nationwide release every month of moving — if silent — pictures. Nostalgic folks wanted to see former Broadway Shakespearean leading man William S. Hart ride like a cowboy centaur his famous half-wild stallion Fritz, “The greatest all-round horse that ever lived.”
The Wright Brothers gave man wings two weeks after the most authoritative physicist of his day declared heavier-than-air flight “impossible.” Voices, too, flew through space. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, refused to have one of the damned things in his own home because it so outrageously made possible strangers demanding a hearing at any time of the day or night. Yet soon, thanks to Tesla and Marconi, whole households spent hours “listening in” to their radio; and now, for the first time, fathers daily permitted into their family circle unknown strangers whom the family soon realized possessed more authority than father himself.
And we know all too well about changes in warfare. Man-to-man war, if it had ever once claimed a shred of nobility and honor, now became global butchery, first as a mechanized slaughter house, then, for a second time, as a blitzkrieg lightning strike of monster tanks trampling down national borders, and finally to be ended only by something even worse: nuclear weapons so destructive they threatened all human life on the planet.
So Henry Ford’s seminal invention of mass production, when writ large around the world, turned out to have a profound reciprocal effect on the workers who toiled at each stage of the endless assembly lines. Global warfare against civilian populations and a ruinous international economic depression — the howling naked anguish of hundreds of millions of human beings — proved how the rise of the machines had made the 20th century, for all its creature comforts, the most miserably deadly era since the plagues of the middle ages.
And machines begot more machines; change, both good and bad, nonetheless kept accelerating. Radio became TV, little silent movies got loud and big, the hard-wired electric circuit was transistorized, and the transistor soon shrank into a silicon chip. A booming American “consumer economy” grew up around cheap “labor-saving” devices advertised by Madison Avenue as guarantees of greater ease and leisure but which instead somehow created a restless uneasy sense of not having enough time to do anything anymore. The choices of what to do were never more various or inviting, and yet, it turned out, the long-promised good life just kept you running.
As World War II drew to a close, before the advent of television, movie-going stood at an all-time high. Up there on the silver screen, in a friendly communal darkness innocent as popcorn, there was still to be seen the positive optimism about ourselves and our nation which the coming Cold War with the Soviet Union began to corrode. And just as the obsolescence of the horse had helped to put cowboys among the biggest Hollywood stars, a similar but perhaps more secretly desperate nostalgia was at work among these mid-century audiences.
What was it we were harking back to when the biggest hit of 1945 became a Leo McCarey movie starring crooner Bing Crosby as a priest and Ingrid Bergman playing a nun? Not the simplicities of Christian faith, which the horrors of contemporary history had undermined among so many. Not even the idea of the church itself and the good deeds forever needing to be done in a war-shattered world.
No, those restless audiences — haggard by rush-rush-rushing around being spared labors which, in retrospect, turned out to have been decent and fruitful ways of life — they bought tickets searching for a half-remembered world, unmechanical, to be sure, and full of horses, but of a time when time itself came to our ears ringing like The Bells of St. Mary’s.