Saturday, December 29, 2012

What I Learned from Cockroaches About Love (A Christmas Story)

I am often told by people that call themselves "spiritual" that Christianity is wrong because it associates fear with God. And while this is an understandable critique (especially for those who allow it to paralyze them), it is more than a little naive to regard fear as useless altogether. The world is a dangerous place and sometimes it is quite rational to be afraid of things. Cliffs, for example, should inspire a reasonable concern as to their whereabouts, lest one should find one's self falling over one. Hence, it should be abundantly clear that fear is not always and everywhere a bad thing. As a matter of fact, in the Old Testament we learn that "fear of the Lord" is the first stage of wisdom. Some may be inclined to dismiss such a "stifling" injunction in favor of John's more popular "God is love." But before we do so, let us first consider the value of each in their own right.

"What wisdom could there possibly be in fearing the Lord"? First of all, it should be noted that Scripture does not say that "fear of the Lord" has the last word on wisdom, only the first. In other words, fear is to be regarded as a necessary first step in the process of coming to know God and ourselves. It is the necessary recognition that God is God and we are not. For when someone or something is undeniably greater than you, common sense dictates that you acknowledge that fact. You don't have to like it- but you do have to deal with it. And if God is indeed all-powerful, then it is only rational to acknowledge that He holds all the cards, and we none. Call it humbling, call it a dictatorship if you like, but do not call it unreasonable for a man to tremble before so menacing a Force.

In Isaiah chapter 6, the prophet is caught up in a vision in which he finds himself standing before the throne of God. In the midst of this he exclaims: "Woe is me! For I am a doomed man; because I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people with unclean lips" Isaiah 6:5. If one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament cannot stand in the presence of God without feeling as if his face is going to melt off (like the Nazi's in Raiders of the Lost Ark), then what chance do the rest of us have? Some might call it humility, others realism, but in either case it cannot be regarded as logically unsound to recognize one's vulnerability in such a position. It should also be pointed out that when people choose to humble themselves in Scripture, God tells them; "Be not afraid", but when they are patently full of themselves (e.g. the Pharisees) he tells them, in essence, 'Be afraid; be very afraid'.

Yet this is not an exhaustive explanation of Biblical fear. As suggested before, the New Testament introduces a new kind of divine trepidation, one that is even more terrifying than the former. The birth of Jesus Christ did not alter the definition of fear, but it did reveal a surprising new feature. Thanks to the Incarnation, fear now has the face of a child. It is easy enough to feel overwhelmed in the presence of a metaphysical giant, but who would have suspected this bizarre turn of events- the idea that men would come from east and west to fall prostrate before an infant child in the backwater of Bethlehem.

It was revolutionary in the truest sense of the word. Everything that had previously been considered upside down, was now right side up. Indeed, a new order had been established, a kingdom wherein powerlessness turns out to be mightier than power, and where God's foolishness turns out to be wiser than the wisdom of men. But the foolishness of God is vindicated. For what merit would it have been if God had simply crushed humanity with his giant hand (or a meteor)? Such a victory would have been even less impressive than Lebron James postering a five year old. What God did instead is the very definition of paradox- he won a great victory because he found a way to triumph even in defeat.

Before I married my wife I was a bit squeamish about cockroaches- especially the idea that one might be crawling over me in the middle of the night. Shortly after our wedding, I was awakened one night by a blood-curdling scream. I honestly thought someone had died. I leapt out of the bed and quickly discovered the horrible menace that had provoked her. I turns out she was traumatized because a cockroach had just crawled across her face and had disappeared somewhere underneath the covers. On that day I ceased to be afraid of cockroaches, and instead developed an even greater fear... fear of my wife's fear of cockroaches. To put it plainly, when one finds one's self sincerely in love, their greatest concern is not their own peace of mind, but rather that of their beloved. Granted, I also feared that those roaches might disturb my own domestic bliss, but that nevertheless doesn't diminish the fact that love inexorably changes the locus of one's concern.

The cross is a prime example of how love tends outward. Jesus was not the only one crucified on Good Friday. Apart from the two thieves, there were two others who were pierced through as a result of this event. Indeed, such is the nature of perfect love, that the greatest punishment is not to suffer personal malady. Rather, the greatest punishment is to watch the flesh of your own flesh in Godforsaken agony. Hence, a trinity of perfect love was crucified that day: God the Father, God the Son, and the Mother of Sorrows, Mary.

Which brings us back to the truth behind that "terrifying" child; that fundamental mark of God's revelation to humanity; that power even more intimidating than omnipotence. In the most unusual way, Christmas changes the significance and meaning of fear. Now when we tremble, it is not simply in the spirit of Isaiah before the throne of God, but rather with the awe and reverence of a mother who has just given birth to a child. And now when we cower our heads at the feet of some great mystery, we do not do it only in the spirit of Moses who begged to be shielded from the countenance of God, we do it with the fear of a father gazing into the face of his baby girl for the first time. Fear and love are now one in the Incarnation, and though heaven and earth may pass away, this will not. I cannot say exactly what caused Isaiah to despair in the presence of God, but the story of the Nativity convinces me that it involves more than a case of divine intimidation. Something tells me that the reason that those six-winged seraphs shielded their eyes from the glory of God, has much less to do with His overwhelming omnipotence, and everything to do with His unbearable beauty. And so we must marvel at so great a Christmas mystery, a dread that comes not principally from the fear of facing God, but from the fear of losing Him.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ironic Atheist Billboards: Can You Spot the Irony?

For each of these I recommend the exercise of first trying to spot on your own what is ironic about each of these anti-religious billboards. Then afterwards see if my observations match your own. I am sure you will discover many things that I missed:

1. Keep the Merry! Dump the Myth

Irony: Santa Claus is in part a mythologized version of St. Nicholas, who I understand was generous, but was neither rotund, nor always jolly (he apparently punched the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea). As for having a sleigh and wearing furry red attire, not so much either. On the other hand, Jesus of Nazareth does appear to be a real historical figure (whatever you think about his identity), and the events depicted above do appear to be real and historical. Thus, what our dear "American Atheists" seem to be saying is in fact the opposite of what they intended. Atheists are always talking about guarding reason against those dreadful and dangerous fairy tales, but here it appears they are the ones upholding the myth, while Christians are defending the reality.

Secondly, a very practical point. If you dispose of the source of your celebration, then there can hardly be any substantial reason to celebrate. It's like saying "Keep the body, but cut out the heart." Now an atheist might say that pagans celebrated the winter solstice long before Christians, and that Christians merely plagiarized it. No one is saying that pagans had no celebrations- the question is, what provides more cause for celebration, the movement (or behavior) of a celestial body, or a raucous and jubilant birthday party that goes on for days and days?

2. There's Probably No God...

Irony: When I first looked at this billboard I thought that perhaps Dunkin Donuts sponsored it due to the colors, but I cannot confirm that. The first irony here is the phrase "God probably doesn't exist." Assuming that this sign comes from an atheist group, I have to marvel at their lack of faith in, well, their lack of faith. If I said to a fellow Christian that God probably exists, he would in all likelihood tell me, and rightly so, that I am a poor Christian, or at best, that I lack faith. Thus, I say the same to this atheist; "You sir, are a poor excuse for an atheist, and if you belong to a club of them, then you should be excommunicated.

The second irony is the implication that someone who believes in God simply goes around burning with anxiety about doing the right (or wrong) thing. This therefore proves that religion is altogether a bad proposition. I might argue, however, that it is better to burn with anxiety about doing the right thing than to feel nothing if you don't. Serial killers and mass murderers are quite content with their handiwork. Sociopaths are unmoved by their trail of misery. Is this the type of "enjoyment of life" that an atheist prefers?

3. This Season, Celebrate Reason!

Irony: The biggest problem for atheists is that they never get around to first principles. Contrary to what they assert, they are the ones who believe in castles in the air, for it is they who would argue that everything exists without any original "ground" of being. So, for instance, in the rhetorical statement above they declare that the story of the Magi is false because it is a myth. What never occurs to them to ask is where these myths come from? And secondly, do these so called myths have any basis in reality? I for one do not have trouble imagining that a set of Magi/astrologers followed the stars in order to find some truth. Is that not what astrologers do? For that matter, is that not what scientists do? The atheist cannot prove that it didn't happen, so he does the only "rational" thing... dismiss it without further investigation. "Why isn't it true? Because it's a dumb fairy tale!" Very academic if you ask me. But the real irony here is the notion that our time would be better spent "celebrating reason" as opposed to Jesus. While we're at it, why not throw a party for oxygen, or what about the vitreous humor. I can already hear the kids brimming with enthusiasm! I am all for celebrating "reason," "oxygen", the "brain", or whatever else causes one to marvel, but what seems to me the very opposite of reason is the notion that we should use reason to prove that there is no reason at all. In other words, if reason is really worth celebrating, then should it not lead us to something that we can truly rejoice over (like hope and/or meaning). Instead we are told that we should exult over the fact that we are little more than an accident, a mutation, a mistake, a tiny speck of nothing floating for a milli-second in a cold and loveless universe, on a planet which is utterly indifferent- if not hostile- to our presence. Yeah, that's worth celebrating!

4. Choice on Earth

Irony:  This is not technically an atheist billboard, but I felt that its anti-Christmas theme was somehow apropos of the general idea of this post. Some forms off rhetorical irony are so sinister that you wonder if the person is not simply mocking you with it. In any case, the result of this one is the logical equivalent of comparing a child being born to a child being dismembered. But I suppose in an upside down world the death of a child really is something to chirp about (as you can see above). When it comes to Planned Parenthood, nothing shocks me anymore. Along with their "choice on earth" campaign, they also offer a very special holiday gift certificate- kind of like the ones you get from Barnes and Noble. However, in this case you do not use it to acquire books, but rather, in the spirit of Christmas, you march yourself into one of those magical Planned Parenthood clinics and avail yourself of a previously payed-for abortion. The biggest irony of all is the fact that there would be no "Choice on Earth" campaign were Planned Parenthood to have had their way in the first place, for they would certainly have counseled the Mother of our Lord to do the only right and responsible thing (especially considering Joseph's dubious paternity, as well as their unfortunate financial circumstances), thereby canceling Christmas forever.

5. I Do Not Find in Christianity One Redeeming Feature

Irony: Really? You do not find one redeeming feature in Christianity? What about Redemption? After all, you do make good use of it in this statement. It has been reported that Jefferson never actually said this- and that in truth it is little more than historical fantasy. If this is the case, then it would only add to the irony, what with all the wishful thinking and mythologizing that must have gone into it.

6. I Can Be Good Without God


Irony: It has always struck me as more than a little odd when people try to put a happy face on something that would not necessarily inspire true happiness. For instance, it's like having a picture of a smiling woman saying "I had an abortion and I'm quite pleased about it". Something just doesn't connect. In this case, the disconnect comes from the fact that in this billboard we have a smiling man, who is apparently doing so because God isn't there. For this reason, atheism seems to me a little like worshipping a doughnut hole. Woo-hoo, unicorns don't exist! Why am I grinning from ear to ear? Because I just found out that there are no such things as fairy Godmothers or guardian angels! Let's take a picture of me smiling about it. I guess what I'm saying is that it just comes off as a bit disingenuous. As for that accompanying phrase "I can be good without God" it reminds me of that song "Missing You" by John Waite; "I ain't missing you at all..." Are you sure about that, 'cause you sound like you're protesting a little too much....

The second irony has to do with the lack of coherence in the atheistic argument. I would never argue that an atheist can't be kind or friendly. The question is what is the basis of this kindness. If it's a natural inclination to be kind, then I would simply say that they do it, not for goodness sake, but because it makes them feel good. But even if they do do it for the sake of pure altruism, why do they feel compelled, as pure Darwinian primates, to defend it in the first place? This would seem to militate against the view that the only virtue in evolution is survival. The other question is on what basis does one even call something good if one is an atheist? Goodness cannot be empirically verified, therefore it would seem to me that it can only be explained in one of two ways: as a superstition, or a religious sensibility.

7. All Religions are Fairytales


Irony: Yes, I would have to agree... if by fairy tale, you mean that all religions (or at least most) seek to affirm what appears to be the deepest longing of the human heart (i.e. immortal gladness). Interesting rationale: because our hearts long for something, that therefore proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it doesn't exist.

8. Sadistic God; Useless Savior

Irony: 4 quick comments on each of these accusations; 1) Is it "simply reasonable" to begin your criticism of Christianity with an ad hominem attack? "Christianity is sadistic and evil". That's not an argument, that's an accusation. What if I were to say, "All atheists are stupid!" ? Would you regard that as a rhetorically astute statement? Of course not! The truth is the bottom of this billboard should not read "Atheism: Simply Reasonable"; it should read, "Atheism: Simply Emotional";  2) I am pleased to see that atheists are using a common Catholic argument to point out the problem with denominationalism (i.e. 30,000+ "versions" of the truth). I wholeheartedly agree with this criticism;  3) It is always comforting to know that atheists place such a high value on love, and equally disconcerting to know that Christians, whose God is defined as such, are the true source of all the hatred in the world. That's right, Jesus' command to "love your enemies" is the real reason violence persists in our world today. Maybe we should amend the Scriptures so that instead of it saying that "God is love", it should say; "Atheism is love!" 4) I'm sorry, I have to admit that if a clear image of Jesus appeared in my morning toast, I would have to call it a miracle... or at minimum, remarkable. Maybe that makes me credulous, but I have to go with the numbers here.    

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas in Hell

One assignment that my students seem to enjoy quite a bit is describing "their own private hell." I am proud to announce that only occasionally do I figure into that equation. And while most of their examples are remarkably entertaining, perhaps my favorite kind is the "hell of ironic punishments." For example, Homer Simpson loves donuts. Thus, his hell would be having to eat donuts for all of eternity without ever being able to stop (the show actually used this in an episode but Homer never grew tired of it so he got kicked out of hell). As for me, I think my ironic punishment would be having to celebrate Christmas every day of the year while being forced to be jolly and sing carols in August. One song that they would play over and over again would be Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas", with one line repeating; "Really having a wonderful Christmas time... Really having a wonderful Christmas time." Oh, they already do that in the song? Never mind then. At any rate, in my home town there really is a store called "Christmas Everyday." I believe the names of the owners are Jezebel and Beelzebub, but I could be wrong. There is one thing that the anti-Christmas atheist and I have in common: neither of us wishes to have Christmas dictated to us by Christmas commercialism. The truth is the battle is rather annoying on both sides. On the one hand you have people who want to refer to Christmas trees as Festival Trees, and on the other you have people carting out their Christmas lights in October. On one side you have people demanding that equal attention be afforded the Winter Solstice, and on the other, you have people going around saying that the antidote to this is to have people arbitrarily declaring Merry Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over.

In my opinion, both of these views are contributing to the diminishment of the Christmas spirit. Yes, I know, the intention of the former is better than the latter, but both, I would argue, amount to the same thing. I too dislike the fact that people are more inclined to denounce a creche rather than condemn a strip club, but how does it help the cause of Christmas to simply associate it with the rest of the chaos and tumult of the commercial season? The secular season of Christmas begins with that magnificent ode to thankfulness known as Black Friday. We then move into December, wherein it is not uncommon to see parents punching and/or scratching the other's eyes out (whichever the case be) in order to vouchsafe for their child something about as worthwhile as a Furby or a Tickle Me Elmo. After observing such barbarism, I don't blame the father of the great George Costanza for preferring Festivus to this kind of mania.

Part of the irony of all of this is the fact that the first Christmas was incredibly spartan and austere. Those mean conditions in that primitive barn (known loosely as a cave), were anything but commercially promising. There were no beautiful Christmas lights, or a thousand marching Santas saying Merry Christmas in November with giant candy canes, or even those richly adorned Christmas trees with felt snow surrounding them. Nor was there (mercifully) a radio station that played only Christmas music starting the day after Halloween. It was simply the occasion of a couple who were desperately seeking somewhere-anywhere- to give birth to a child. If we fail to understand this basic truth, the whole spirit of the Christmas season will be lost. The circumstances of the first Christmas should inspire in us, as it did in Mary and Joseph, a marvelous contemplation; a silence which is truly pregnant with the presence of God. The light of this season comes not from a manufactured mall setting, but rather from the light of the world. Indeed, all of the appetite that we still have for celebrating with song, dance, food and family, proceeds directly from the heart of that little cave. He is the light without which no subsequent light is possible. Discard the baby, and expect the rest to follow.

From the Church's perspective, the purpose of Advent is to create a season wherein there is a kind anticipatory space- a "pregnant pause" if you will- so that one can begin to look forward to (which is in essence the meaning of the word Advent) the entirety of the Christmas season. However, the world does everything in reverse. It front loads pleasure, and attempts to obliterate anything which would interfere with its program of instant gratification (my brother-in-law calls it the "cult of immediacy"). The Church, on the other hand, truly understands the rhythm and order of happiness, which is to say that the most pleasurable things in life require a necessary build-up. For example, no matter how good the chorus of a song might be, without a satisfactory verse that builds up nicely towards it, the chorus will eventually become cloying. And that is precisely what the world is all about. In an age of choruses, we are destined to be starved of any real opportunity to "look forward" to anything. My greatest fear is that we will attempt to solve this ache, not by recognizing the wisdom and foresight of a season of preparation, but by upping the dosage of the same thing- until at last, like in hell, we have killed the very thing we were trying desperately to save. This is why I say that the store "Christmas Everyday" is straight out of the bowels of hell, because it matches quite accurately the psychology of the abyss. Its philosophy essentially goes something like this; 'let's filch out all of the merry-making from the season we can, and when we're done dispose of the body.'

In this sense then, the champion of saying "Merry Christmas" is not all that different from those who most recently put up that anti-Christmas billboard in New York City; a sign which informs us to "Keep the Merry" and "Dump the Myth". Both parties are in a sense promoting the same kind of disconnect. In the case of the atheist, he is telling us to be "merry" for no reason, while the one who declares that they want to hear a proliferations of "Merry Christmas'" wants us to celebrate because it reminds them of a happier and more gentle time (i.e for sentimental reasons). And while, again, the latter is certainly more sympathetic, neither one truly promotes Christmas anymore than wearing a giant American flag sweat shirt promotes patriotism. The question is if Advent isn't important, nor the season of Christmas itself, then why not just start saying Merry Christmas everyday, or better yet, why don't we just say Happy Halloween in the middle of August, or "Happy 4th of July" on June 28th? Sound arbitrary? It is.

Some may argue that I am being too much of a Grinch, and that it is fine to gorge one's self on the season even when it is not yet the season. This kind of logic reminds of those who say that Valentine's Day should be every day. First of all, that is an extremely exhausting thought, and secondly, it may be true up to a point, but my guess is the one who expresses this "Valentines everyday" approach is probably the last one to celebrate it any day. We are human beings, and while animals don't need calendars, we do. Just as time orients us- so also the seasons and feast days allow us the opportunity to enjoy each one in their proper order with the appropriate focus (as opposed to the maddening suggestion that we should celebrate all things at all times). So let us celebrate the impending season as it was attended, not in the spirit of Veruca Salt, but in the spirit of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose anticipation must have been filled with an incredible sense of longing, and whose jubilation- no doubt- went on for days and days after the actual Nativity of her Son.




Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Ghost of Jacob Marley in Popular Music

Memento Mori is a Latin phrase which means "remember death". Traditionally. one hears these words (or the translation thereof) during the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday as ashes are applied to the forehead; "You are dust and to dust you shall return." This may seem like a gloomy thing to write about during a season whose purpose is to bring light as opposed to darkness, but I would argue to the contrary. It is precisely in contemplating your own death that you do consider what is most life affirming. The first line in the story A Christmas Carol goes something like this; "Jacob Marley was as dead as a doornail. For anything good to come out of this story you must first understand this." The point of this morbid opening line is to emphasize that the power of the story hinges upon the realization that death is irrevocable. Once you understand this then you can begin to understand what is at stake in how we live our lives. Yet the force of the story is not merely in the fact that Scrooge experiences the consequence of his sin, but rather in doing so, he, who was formerly a monster, has finally discovered how to become a man. Indeed, it is as a result of being confronted with his own (imminent) demise that he learns how to live for the first time. And we, fellow Scrooges, also rejoice in embracing this tale- if only for a moment- that we too might exorcise some of our own personal "humbug". Thus, far from being a depressing tale, it turns out to be the epitome of the Christmas spirit, which is to say that it is not until one realizes how close he is to perdition, that he can even begin to appreciate having been offered the gift of salvation.

Time - Pink Floyd

The classic album Dark Side of the Moon is a concept album which explores the many roots of insanity.   The aptly titled song Time explores one of these "roots". Filled with various clock-like noises, the song  emphasizes the way in which time always seems to slip through our collective hands; "Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day. You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain. And you are young and life is long and there is time to kill today. And then one day you'll find ten years have got behind you. No one one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun. So you run and run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking racing around to come up behind you again..." The point is whether you waste your time, and "ten years have got behind you," or you try to keep up with the sun, it's always "racing around to come up behind you again." This certainly isn't meant to be a comforting song (after all, the album is about madness), but it does describe rather succinctly the unfortunate condition of man. Certainly the man who lives well is to be lauded, but in either case, as Ecclesiastes says, "all is vanity", and no man, no matter how virtuous, can escape death. However, there is a hint of consolation which comes at the end of the song; "Home, home again, I like to be here when I can. And when I come home cold and tired, it's good to warm my bones beside the fire. Far away across the field, the tolling of the iron bell, calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly spoken magic spell." Pink Floyd would never be accused of being a religious band, but they do seem to suggest in these closing lines (and in the song that follows) that there is only one true solution. We are all running out of time whether we like it or not, and by facing this we are confronted with the fact that we cannot cling to this world. Consequently, we are forced to contemplate eternity and all the important questions that are to be wrestled with concerning God and the afterlife.

Hurt - Johnny Cash      

The last album that Johnny Cash produced before his death was an album of covers. However, in doing so he didn't necessarily select songs that anyone might suspect. Among the list of songs he tackled were Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage" and Trent Reznor's "Hurt." In the case of the latter, the result was incredibly satisfying. Understandably, Trent Reznor was skeptical that his industrial style would mesh well with an aging country legend. But after hearing the finished product he was amazed and essentially declared it to be the definitive version. Not only did the rendering of the song work, but the subsequent video that accompanied the piece was extremely powerful as well. In essence, the video is shot as a kind of retrospective taken from Cash's life in music and movies. His life is literally flashing before his eyes, and as a result a flood of guilt rushes over him, or at least the words suggest it; "What have I become, my sweetest friend. Everyone I know goes away in the end. And you could have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, I will make you hurt." Bubbling with pent up emotion, the song builds and ultimately becomes even more poignant as one realizes that this was the last video he ever shot. Making it even more powerful are the intermittent flashes of Christ crucified interspersed with the the aforementioned images. The song itself never fully comes out and says it, but it really does serve as a kind of penitential hymn (though perhaps without any discrete absolution). One other important idea suggested in the lyrics is the recognition that all our possessions (in light of mortality) amount to "an empire of dirt". Once again, this may be unsettling- and a little "too Ecclesiastes" for some." but it does shine a spotlight on the impermanence of worldly success. Indeed, when placed in the context of our death, one quickly realizes the absurdity of devoting so much attention to something so transitory.

Natural Blues - Moby

In this particular song, the artist known as Moby, samples the song "Trouble So Hard" from American folk singer, Vera Hall. The primary lyric, which is repeated throughout, goes like this; "Ooh Lordy, trouble so hard, ooh lordy, trouble so hard. Don't nobody know my troubles but God; don't nobody know my troubles but God." In light of the genre, which is electronica, this repetition is somehow appropriate and seems to amplify the power of the message. Like "Hurt", the song and video work well together. The video takes place in a nursing home, wherein an aged Moby finds himself being shuttled down the hallway past various other elderly people who are all watching the sun repeatedly set on a TV screen. Meanwhile, the same phrase is uttered over and over (Ooh Lordy, trouble so hard...) to a techno beat. Eventually Moby arrives in the main room where the rest of the residence are gathered. As he sits in this room, he watches moments from his life appear on the main T.V. set. Yet unlike the previous video, the images that appear are primarily happy ones from days gone by. The genius of the video is not just that it takes place in a nursing home, which is novel enough, but that we get to see the young artist as he might look sixty years down the road. Hence, we are reminded that when we see the elderly, and have to listen to them chatter on about former days, or even listen to them talk incoherently, we should never mock them, for we are looking in a mirror of the future; "There, but for the grace of God go I." In the face of this inevitability, our posture should be one of humility and compassion, not haughtiness and superiority. Incidentally, the video/song ends with an angel, played by Christina Ricci, carrying the body of Moby gracefully down the hall. The last image is of a baby (presumably Moby) being held up by the angel as an offering to God.

Afternoons and Coffeespoons - Crash Test Dummies

This little diamond in the rough comes from the Crash Test Dummies album "God Shuffled His Feet". It details the story of a man who, it would seem, is dealing with, or imagining himself to be dealing with, a cancer diagnosis; "I've had my lungs checked out with X-rays. I've smelled the hospital hallways. Someday I'll have a disappearing hair line. Someday I'll wear pajamas in the daytime, and ohhhho afternoons will be measured out, measure out, measured with, coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot." There is very little subtlety in this song, which is part of its charm. It is a description of the thoughts, smells, and feelings of one who is going through the rather unpleasant (if not banal) process of getting treated for cancer. Moreover, it offers a rather ironic itinerary of what one's day might consist of were it to be "measured out by coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot"; "Times when the day is like a play by Sartre. When it seems a book burning's in perfect order. I've watched the summer evening pass by, I've heard the rattle in my bronchi." Yet as dark as this may all sound, it is comforting in a way. After all, the worst fears are often those we are unwilling to talk about. When we allow the unnamed shadows to build up in our imagination, we become even more terrified. By contrast, when that terror is confronted and named, especially with a little good humor and a willingness to make light of the situation (which this song certainly does), it then can take some of the sting out of that terrible reality; "O death where is thy sting! O' death where is your victory?" And so by expressing these thoughts and feelings we don't feel so alone anymore- as if we were the only one ever to go through this. This is the importance of empathy, to know that someone else has walked the same difficult path that you have without completely losing their bearings.

Live Like You Were Dying - Tim McGraw

Hopefully people have recovered from the fact that this song saturated the airwaves back in the early aughts because, whatever you think about country music, it is a well written song. Country music writers seem to have a remarkable knack for capturing lightening in a bottle with pithy ideas and well phrased truisms. Live Like You Were Dying is no exception. We have all thought about how tragedy can make us reevaluate our lives, or how losing someone can make you realize just how much you love them. But how do you communicate that to someone in a simple way. Enter Live Like You Were Dying. As most of you know, the song details the story of a man in his early 40's who finds out that he has been diagnosed with some form of cancer. As a consequence, he is completely at a loss for what to do. But instead of sulking about the fact that "this really might be the real end", he sets out to do all of those things that he should have been doing in the first place; "I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing. I spent 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu. And I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying. And he said some day I hope you'll get the chance to live like you were dying." Mr. McGraw (and the songwriter) cut right to the heart of Memento Mori here. One does not think about their death for death's sake- they think about it in order to live as if every moment were a precious gift, never to be taken for granted, or frittered away. When we are young we tend to think about our lives as extravagantly lengthy, and therefore there is a lack of urgency when it comes to how we approach life. But imagine with what efficiency we might perform acts of charity and generosity were we to imagine that each day was potentially our last. Alongside this healthy attitude, there is also a more aberrant form of "living life to its fullest," which can be best summed up with the popular acronym YOLO (You Only Live Once). What is implied in this phrase is the rather flippant notion that one should do whatever one feels like, because, hey, you're going to die anyway, so what difference does it make? However, if we do believe in God (as opposed to this nothing burger) then the phrase immediately takes on new meaning. Because we live only once, we must do what we must, not because we have nothing to lose, but because we have everything to gain.                

The Living Years - Mike and the Mechanics

This late 1980's hit probably brought tears to the eyes of many a son and daughter, especially those that had a difficult relationship with their parents. The reason it had such power was not simply because we could all relate to having parental problems (which most of us could in some form). Its power derives from the combination of the dispute, coupled with the fact that the son is unable to reconcile with his father because he has already died. As was the case in a Christmas Carol, nothing good can come out of this song unless you realize that the singer's father is dead as a door nail; "I wasn't there that morning when my father passed away. I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say. I think I caught his spirit later that same year, I'm sure I heard his echo in my baby's new born tears. I just wish I could have told him in the Living Years." In a sense Mike Rutherford (the one who wrote the song) is like the ghost of Marley here saying, I can't change this, my father is gone- but you can. Make peace with your father/mother before it's too late. Don't let pride get in the way- or as John Mayer expresses it on the soundtrack to the movie The Bucket List; "Even if your hands are shaking, and your faith is broken, even as your eyes are closin'... say what you need to say." It is far better to be rebuffed by the one with whom you are trying to reconcile, than to live with the fact that you were too proud to try at all.  


Sunday, December 2, 2012

What I Learned From Charlie Sheen

In recent days, Angus T. Jones, the youngest actor on the show "Two and a Half Men", has garnered much attention for his negative comments surrounding the sitcom. Among other things, the actor, known as Jake Harper on the show, said the comedy was "filth" and begged viewers not to watch. Oddly enough,  he has not said whether or not he will continue to act on the show or receive the $350,000 dollars an episode that he purportedly makes. In any case, what fascinated me most about this form of celebrity sedition is just how out of the ordinary it is. How many actors, much less child actors, personally protest the raunchiness of a show that they themselves have acted in for years. Not many. One could perhaps bring up Kirk Cameron, but "Growing Pains" wasn't exactly "The New Normal", or "That 70's Show". For his part, Charlie Sheen, who was formerly on the show, but who, for highly publicized reasons left, compared the boy's comments to that of a religious fanatic. He claimed that Jones' remarks reminded him of the Heaven's Gate cult leader (the group who famously committed mass suicide so that they could reach the "alien ship" that was hidden inside the comet Hale Bopp).

I am not sure that comparing Mr. Jones moralistic statement to a bunch of Kool-Aid drinking crazies is fair, but then again who am I to question the wisdom and insight of a man who describes himself as a "warlock with tiger blood"? Yet whether you think Mr. Jones is an ingrate, a religious fanatic, or right on the money, he does highlight something that seems relatively undeniable concerning television sitcoms over the past thirty years. I myself was raised on the show "Three's Company" (which is Leave it to Beaver by today's standards), and I loved the characters mainly because they were attractive as well as funny. Still, there was another reason I liked it as a young man, and I am pretty sure it has something to do with the trios living arrangement. Due in large part to the fact that the show depicted two women living with one man... platonically, there was inevitably wall to wall sexual tension, and I ate it up. Let me first state that I have nothing against good sexual tension woven into a plot, especially when it is based on what goes unsaid. What I object to as an adult ('cause I sure didn't when I was a kid) is the kind of sexual tension where nothing is left unsaid. "It can't be hilarious unless there is some form of sexual innuendo" is the motto of today's comedy. What is frightening is just how progressively foul this has all become. Since the days of "Three's Company", they have practically made an industry out of this kind of libidinous adolescent male behavior. In the 80's we had "Married with Children", which at least made the immoral behavior of the characters unglamorous (Al Bundy and his daughter weren't exactly anything you wanted to imitate). However, by the time the 90's rolled around, you began to see the unabashed celebration of people who had no scruples at all.

Take the show Friends for instance. Can anyone, even today, get that infernal theme song out of their  mind? It seemed as innocent and awful as watching a bunch of Teletubbies roaming about the countryside. Initially the show was relatively well written and tame, but as it went on (as is wont to happen), the writers depended far less on character development, and much more on preserving that oh so popular adolescent spirit. Thus, never being allowed to grow up, what else are the characters going to do in their free time but sleep around. The show quickly morphed from the aptly titled "Friends" to something more accurately described as "Friends With Benefits" (which they were never honest enough to call it). Saturday Night Live rather adroitly pointed this out in one of their commercial spoofs; "On a very special episode of Friends, finally Joey and Chandler get together. Why? Because there's no one left."

Yet the larger point is not that these shows have immoral themes, or even that they make platonic friendship seem implausible, but that they pretend that if you sleep with a bunch of people you will inevitably be as happy and bouncy as a little school girl. In other words, having recreational sex with everyone and everything is as natural and healthy as breathing and/or eating organic lettuce. The only real enemy is sexual restraint. If one should dare suggest that there is ever a bad time for consensual sex, then you might as well be the father from Footloose. I mean really, what can a little sex do to you? Isn't it empirically obvious that only happiness proceeds from a little meaningless self-gratifying sex. Never has sex been heard to inspire depression, suicide, divorce, abortion, disease, murder, unfaithfulness, recklessness, and narcissism. And anyone who brings this up might as well be a troglodyte incapable of having a good time. Now shut up and listen to this mind-numbing classic that is sure to free you from the terrible responsibility of thinking any real thoughts:    

All the same, the purpose of this post is not to rant about immorality in television (though it is easy to do), but rather to point out just how rarely we are permitted to see behind the artifice of this counterfeit and deceitful happiness. Look beyond the award shows and photo-ops, and you will rarely see anywhere near the same level of contentment in the lives of these actors. In fact, it is far more likely for an actor's life to resemble a tragedy rather than a comedy (unless, like Lisa Kudrow, one's choices in life dramatically diverge from those they embody on TV). The actor may even have enough money to- in some sense- cover their subsequent trail of misery. But the numbers in this case do not lie. Simply behold the carnage of all the comedic actors who have enjoyed their success to the point of despair and/or death. This is not to say that such despair is inevitable, but I do think that it is somewhat undeniable that if an actor plays a gigolo on TV- and then mimics that in real life- the chances of him/her living happily ever after is about as likely as someone coming out of the Mickey Mouse Club a well-adjusted member of society.

Just this week the girl who played the attractive Laurie on "That 70's Show" was arrested... again. I bring this up not to bring further shame to this poor girl, but to demonstrate the alarming disparity between the shiny happy persona presented to the audience and the cold reality that- fame, glamour, and sexual appeal- can only bring happiness to the extent that there is some real virtue and substance behind them. I know nothing of this woman's life- there may be some other explanation for her situation, but I do not think it is terribly far-fetched to say that she would not be the first actor to come out of Hollywood to discover that the tinsel of Tinseltown was a chimera and a counterfeit. Happiness in Hollywood is the exception not the rule.          

Which leads me back to Charlie Sheen. So rarely do we get to see the true face which looms behind the utopian mask of T.V. and movies. In most cases, the actors somehow keep it together enough not to lose their bearings too much. But in the spring of 2011, Mr. Sheen broke that unwritten rule; a rule which states that one is not to engage in such craziness that one utterly discredits the pernicious lies perpetrated by their characters on T.V. Nevertheless, in his case, the monster did in fact break free from its cage, and when it did it came out declaring that it was "winning". It is also stated that it was a "Vatican assassin warlock". Despite the fact that I kind of liked that Mr. Sheen made the witches in Salem, Massachusetts angry (they really were), I have to say that his "wins" seem to me, and perhaps the rest of humanity, more like "losses." The toothless bandit that you see above is the awful reality that lives behind the character known as Charlie Harper (the one he played on the show). They are the same person. Charlie Harper is the alluring mask, while the Sheen you have seen in the last year or so is the reality. But whereas the show would never present that side of things (for obvious reasons), reality and the law of physics have kindly done the honor for us. To put it plainly, the "Two and a Half Men" Charlie is the cause, and the "Vatican Warlock Assassin" Charlie is the effect. Only on T.V. shows and in eulogies does ill behavior receive such generous treatment. I do not relish the demise of any human being, including Mr. Sheen, nor do I feel that I am superior to any of these tragic figures. What I do appreciate, however, is the opportunity to catch the devil at one of his most successful games (you might know it as the old bait and switch). Like some mythical Sasquatch or Lake Monster, it is difficult to prove to people that the glamour of the world is fraudulent, but occasionally you can snap a photo of this elusive beast (albeit one that is blurred). And as the old Polaroid slowly comes into focus- one finally begins to observe the glaring evidence that those likeable characters who so often cajoled us into believing that we could use our bodies anyhow, have themselves fallen victim to their own propaganda.            

Monday, November 19, 2012

"COEXIST" Set to Popular Music

When I think about comparative religions the first thing that comes to mind is that ubiquitous Co-exist bumper sticker; a slogan which implies (in essence) that all religions amount to the same thing. Interestingly, some of these bumper stickers even include ideologies that are not technically religions at all (like the symbol of sexual equality), which, I think, points to the problem of simply comparing every important idea about life to a religion. In one sense this is understandable because one's whole worldview is a kind of religion. In another sense, however, it is completely ridiculous, for it reduces religion to a mere sentiment. Thus, the flying spaghetti monster of the Pastafarians becomes as reasonable a candidate for religion as any other under this criterion. In this post I will not focus on the mockery that men have made of religion, but instead focus on those ideas that have genuine staying power; those ideas which time has apparently endorsed as authentic responses to the mystery of life. It is true that some of the following are more a matter of philosophy than religion, but due to the attention they have received over the course of time I feel it would be foolish to overlook their influence. Are all religions essentially the same? I will let you decide.

Across the Universe (Fiona Apple) - Taoism

For one who follows the Tao or "The Way", balance and nonintervention is the key to living in accordance with it. In other words, the best that we can do as humans living in the world is to allow the forces that are beyond us to operate without interruption. In Taoism there is no good or evil- only complimentary principles like, light and dark, male and female, night and day. And in order for the Universe to be harmonious these forces must work themselves out until there is some kind of cosmic equilibrium. Thus, when we see bad things going on in the world, they are perhaps not what we think they are, but rather some necessary shadow which is merely accompanying the light. The goal of each man is to achieve a kind existential stillness, and to abide in the world without upsetting the balance of these forces (like a stone which falls in the water but makes no ripples). For this reason, I have selected a cover of Across the Universe (originally written and performed by the Beatles) because I feel the video alongside the music, offers the perfect juxtaposition. I suppose it is no big surprise then that Lennon and the Beatles, who for a time were so enamored with Eastern religions, would reflect such sentiments in their music. Nevertheless, the two things to watch for are the chorus; "Nothing's gonna change my world", combined with Ms. Apple's complete and utter detachment from the craziness that surrounds her.

Imagine (John Lennon) - Buddhism

To begin with, I did not use the happy fat guy as an image for Buddha, because, despite what many think, that is not in fact Buddha. The figure that individuals generally associate with Buddha is actually a figure named Budai, whose image is meant to represent contented happiness in Chinese culture (and besides, does it really make sense that Buddha would be fat? Nowhere in the Buddhist philosophy is there anything about gorging yourself). As alluded to before, the Beatles dabbled in eastern mysticism. To all appearances, both Lennon and Harrison were the ones most interested in it. Even up until the end of his life Harrison was a great proponent of "Krishna Consciousness", which is a version of Hinduism that tends towards a more personal idea of the Deity rather than the impersonal Brahmin (they are like the Hare Krishna's). On the other hand, Lennon possessed (at least for a period of time) a more Buddhistic approach to things. The first thing to understand about Buddhism is that it takes no position whatsoever on the existence of God. The aim of Buddhism is not holiness but rather enlightenment and liberation. We are not to be in the world, we are to transcend the world by emptying ourselves and annihilating any attachment to it. The best way to accomplish this, according to the Buddha (which means "enlightened one"), is not to engage in extreme fasting or penance, but to attain it through a kind of "Middle Way", or moderate approach to the world. Use the world without using it, they might say. Obviously Christians agree with this philosophy up to a point, however, most Christians do not take such a throughly negative view of the material world. From a Christian point of view, the aim is not to regard the world as simply a lie and an illusion, but as something good that has been misused and perverted. The Christian is not so much to transcend material attachment as he is to restore it to its original meaning. The following song (and video) I believe captures the distinction I have attempted to make between the two. Indeed, in a certain sense there can really only be one Buddhist song, for the aim of Buddhism is to reduce to "nothing" all that we regard as something in the world.          

   Bullet with Butterfly Wings (Smashing Pumpkins) - Hinduism

Hinduism is more like a religion than Buddhism. However, one might also argue, as did the Buddha, that in some ways it is far too religious. What I mean is that Hinduism is/was a tangle of any number of mythologies which aren't necessarily consistent with one another. This is no doubt due in part to their syncretistic view of religion. In fact, they are really the only world religion that regards (up to a point) all religions as valid paths to God and/or enlightenment. From a contemporary standpoint, this is a very appealing position to take, and if we were talking about our favorite colors or preferred ice cream, I would be right there with them. But what we are talking about here is the meaning of our existence, not what appeals to us in a superficial way. So, for example, I do think it matters whether or not the material world is an illusion or whether it is real. I do think that it matters whether or not the body is a good thing, or essentially amounts to a disposable napkin. And I do think that it is valuable to distinguish between belief in a god like Kali (the Hindu Goddess of Destruction as pictured above) or one that is more like Jesus. These are undeniably valid questions and simply reducing them to a matter of personal disposition, doesn't get us anywhere. The song I have selected does not encapsulate all of the spirit of Hinduism. After all, Hindus believe in benevolent deities as well as wicked ones (but then again so did the Greeks). Even so, I do think that this Smashing Pumpkins song does embody in a general way their philosophical worldview. When it comes to humanity, one thing is certain, everyone that is alive is subject to an endless cycle of suffering and decay, which, for a Hindu, is a just reward for karmic ignorance. According to Hindu belief, this karmic punishment will play itself out over countless lifetimes (perhaps millions), ceasing only when one fully comes to the recognition that we are not, and that there is no "I" in I. At this point, assuming one is fully enlightened, one then returns to the indistinguishable impersonal sea of being known as Brahman. From their point of view, we don't need to be saved so much as realize that we are Brahmin. In an odd sort of way, grunge is the perfect medium for this kind of spiritual cynicism. Whether it's Nirvana (a very Hindu/Buddhist name), Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, or any other band of this ilk, what they all seem to have in common is a great love affair with death and despair. In "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", Corgan declares that the "world is a vampire... sent to drain." Indeed, even the guitar hook has a kind of circular hamster wheel-like quality to it. And appropriate to the spirit of re-incarnation, there are several points in the song in which Corgan describes himself as little more than an "animal" or a "rat" in a cage. Ironically, he does compare himself in the song to the Old Testament figure Job (poor little Corgan), though I would argue that what he describes is more of a Hindu-like Job, than one looking to be consoled by the God of Israel.

Desert Rose (Sting) - Islam

The last three religions on this list technically derive from the same origin. In other words, all three worship the God of Abraham. However, that is precisely where they all diverge. Islam believes itself to be a restoration of the Abrahamic faith; a return to the old religion. In certain ways Muslims do share many similarities with the Christian and Jewish faith. Yet in its attempt to go backwards, there really is an element within Islam that is redundant. You could argue that some of this "redundancy" is necessary, but you cannot say that Islam originates it.  Mohammad is the final prophet, but Islam offers no Messiah to look forward to, only the promise of a return to the tribal world of Abraham. Subsequently, what results in Islam is not a greater intimacy with God, but simply a reestablishing of the yawning chasm that exists between God and man. Muslims do not deny this fact, for when they talk about the afterlife it does not involve, like the Christian, a face to face encounter with the Deity. God is so far beyond our comprehension that the just man can only go to a kind of earthly paradise, while the divine abode is forever inaccessible. In many ways the music of the Middle East seems to echo this sentiment. And while I would never dare pretend to be any kind of expert on music in that region of the world, the music that I have heard has a very distinct character to it. When I listen to it I cannot help but to think of desert convection and the burning hot son looming high above me, relentless, like some divine drill sergeant. Perhaps this is what inspired Sting to hire Cheb Mami to sing a song about longing for a garden in the desert. I'm not a huge fan of this glorified car commercial, however, I always listen to it if only to hear Mami do his classic middle eastern chant. Vocally, it is one of the more odd forms of vocalizing. Unlike most singing in the West- where the vocals proceed outward from the throat- this form of singing involves an eerie kind of swallowing of the notes. It sounds to me like someone falling into a bottomless pit, or someone reaching upward towards a God that is forever retreating from him. Haunting is the only word to describe it.


Alleluia (Leonard Cohen) - Judaism

Though Leonard Cohen claims to be a Buddhist, his poetical instincts are more reminiscent of his Jewish heritage. Of the monotheistic religions, Judaism is the only one  that can rightly claim to be the spiritual father of them all. Nevertheless, Judaism is in many ways a cliffhanger without a next season, a verse without a chorus, a joke without a punchline. By its own admission it is a religion that is yet to be fulfilled. For Jews, the Messiah has not yet come. What is most interesting to me about Judaism is how it maintains an intimacy with God (especially in the Psalms) while at the same time preserving the infinite disparity between the two parties. The song Alleluia embodies this spirit of Judaism well. If I were to compare it to a hymn I would compare it to "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel". The song offers hope, but it is a very muted hope. Indeed, the "rejoice rejoice" feels more like melancholy than enthusiasm. There may be joy awaiting you, but it is not yet here. Both the lyrics and the music embody the aforementioned spirit. The first two verses are about David and the tragic manner in which he "achieves" his Alleluia. The verses that follow shift their attention to the songwriter, who also discovers that love is not always a "victory march", but rather a "cold and broken" Alleluia. The music itself builds as it reaches the chorus, but when the chorus arrives, the music descends as opposed to ascending. Just as in "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel", the moment when the words are most uplifting is precisely the moment when it becomes most somber and mournful. Redemption is on the way, but redemption has been delayed, and until it arrives our Alleluia can only be one of longing and anticipation.

In Your Eyes (Peter Gabriel) - Christianity

The primary contention of the Christian Faith is not that man has found God through his philosophical formulations, but that God, through a remarkable act of self-abasement, has condescended to find us and lift us out of our own basement. God in former times made a promise to save his people, and that same God delivered on the promise in the person of Jesus Christ. The longing that was found in the "verse" of the Old Testament, has its fulfillment in the "chorus" of the New Testament. Perhaps this is why it is the only religion that demands that its followers spread the message, for it is not so much a philosophy, as it is an announcement; "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!" The truth is philosophies are great, admonitions are wonderful, but when you're down in a black pit of misery you really don't want either; you want to be saved. Whether or not you actually believe that Christ saves is another matter, though I do think it is important to note that he is the only founder of a religion that claims to accomplish this. It is also worth noting that the whole idea that music should reach some kind of resolution, or have a specific narrative arc, is something that finds its roots in the Christian West. For example, if you look at most world music it is more dedicated to a feeling, or an atmosphere, rather than a specific story that has a beginning, middle, and end. By contrast, when we look at music in the West, we see all sorts of examples of this- in opera, classical, and contemporary music. In Your Eyes embodies this Christian spirit in an undeniable way. The verses are a bit somber and melancholic, though never in a despairing way; "Love, I get so lost sometimes. Days pass, and this emptiness fill my heart... I get so tired working so hard for our survival. I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive." In essence, the verse describes man in his attempt to climb the mountain of God and persevere amidst every manner of uncertainty. However, unlike in the previous song, his perseverance is not met with a distant hope that his suffering will eventually amount to something beautiful. No, his prayer, if you will, is answered. The chorus is truly a release and a resolution in both a musical and lyrical sense; "In your eyes, the light the heat, (your eyes) I am complete, (your eyes) I see the doorway to a thousand churches, (your eyes), the resolution of all the fruitless searches." Indeed, this talk of feeling "complete" and of "resolution" is both the point (and the joy) of the Christian Faith (not to mention the point and pleasure of the song). We all love a good chorus, but a chorus without the necessary build up is a bit anti-climatic. And in the same way, Christ's coming without the requisite ache of Israel would have had the same practical effect. Interestingly, at the end of the Peter Gabriel song, he introduces African tribal chanting which gives the song an ancient, if mystical, quality. The sentiment he is trying to express at this point is meant to go beyond words. This is important in the context of what the Christian Faith says about other religions, for it does not reject anything that is true in them. To the contrary, she seeks to give greater meaning and context to the wisdom and insight that men have gleaned throughout the ages. Thus, the song embodies what is true and beautiful about the Christian faith, while at the same time affirming the natural instincts and insights of men. As for chant itself, it truly embodies a timeless quality, but since the Christian Faith is also a religion rooted in time, it is most appropriate that both sentiments get a hearing.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The 10 Worst/Best PETA Campaigns

Is it wrong to be grateful for an organization like PETA? I cannot say. What I can say is that without this organization's willingness to take their philosophy to such extremes, no one would believe that such absurdity were possible. However, thanks to their willingness to go completely off the rails, everyone can now observe first hand what happens when you worship the wrong things. From PETA's perspective, they are simply representing reality as they see it. For the rest of humanity they are (or at least should be) a mirror of what life would look like if everyone believed that animals were humans. In fact, in many ways, these modern day Manichees have reversed the order of dignity, perceiving man to be the great obstacle and enemy of an otherwise harmonious and utterly benevolent ecosystem. Like any heresy of thought, it is not one's regard for a certain idea that is problematic, but rather the exaggerated sense of importance that they place on it. For example, PETA worries about cows being exploited for their milk, but strangely they take no position on abortion. One might even ascertain from their behavior on these matters that they are down right antagonistic when it comes to human concerns. At any rate, below you will find a most spectacular list of examples of what transpires when you manage to liberate yourself from what animal rights group call "speciesism", and instead regard chicken, fish, and other tasty meated creatures (I'm getting hungry already) as the moral equivalent to human beings. The question is if the PETA people really believe that Auschwitz is going on everywhere (yes, that includes even your local KFC), then how do they even get out of bed in the morning? I will leave that to the PETA experts to explain, and instead consign myself to presenting what they themselves have presented to the public.

10. Caged Wisdom

It is no secret that PETA people like to get naked in order to make their point. I am not sure what point they are trying to make other than "Look at me! I'm naked and good looking, oh and also don't exploit and/or abuse animals." Of course, it is alright for humans to exploit themselves for such advertising, but please love animals because they are naked. On the other hand, maybe the nakedness is the result of these brave individuals standing in solidarity with their animal buddies who themselves are clearly naked (though some animals do wear fur, which I think should be prohibited in the animal kingdom). But whatever the reason, what this particular campaign seeks to do is to associate the people in the cage with the animals that find themselves in the same position. Quite often such individuals will paint their bodies in the pattern of a cheetah, or some such creature, and move about the cage behaving like one. I don't know what is more amusing- adults in a cage imitating wild animals, or the seriousness with which these souls perform their feral duties.

9. The PETA Coloring Book

Former "Clueless" star, Alicia Silverstone, is evidently so dedicated to the PETA cause, that she feeds her little baby boy, Bear Blu, like a mother bird feeds her nestling (I wonder why she doesn't just feed him like a bear, but I digress), masticating the food, and then placing it in the mouth of her child; "He literally crawls across the room to attack my mouth if I'm eating." It is one thing to proselytize to adults about the evils of a carnivorous diet, but when such propaganda is geared towards children, it just really gets weird. The above picture is taken from a PETA coloring book which is of course targeted to little children. Nothing like a coloring book in which you ask children to skillfully color an elephant that is at the present moment receiving shock treatments from his trainer (though based on the above photo, they both look as if they are receiving it). I'm not saying that I approve of the methods that circus' use in order to train their animals, but neither do I approve of children weeping as they attempt to color various pictures that depict animals being tortured. This tells you just how serious this group is about their cause, for who else would seek to expose children to such brutality unless they had first consumed every last drop of that infamous Kool-Aid. Imagine asking children to color a picture of one boy "tazing" another as a means to raise awareness about the cruelty of bullies. I fear that they might enjoy it just a little too much.


8. Clofu

In another lame attempt to "sexify" the idea of vegetarianism, PETA declared that they would take samples of George Clooney's perspiration (au de Clooney) and use it to make a magnificent batch of Tofu. I'm no expert on the making of Tofu, but I never would have suspected that the secret ingredient was human sweat. I guess vegans are willing to try just about anything in order to make something so bland and flavorless (as Tofu clearly is) the slightest bit more palatable. At any rate, it doesn't say much for Tofu that it must be marinated in sweat in order to give it appeal, even if that sweat does belong to the great George Clooney.  

7. Got Autism?

One of the things that makes PETA so great is their complete disregard for any form of good taste. However, you certainly cannot accuse them of inconsistency, for they carry their animal logic about as far as one can possibly carry it (though they seem strangely aloof to the animal known as "human"). But if you thought that they were only focused on the killing and/or torturing of animals, you would be wrong. PETA also concerns itself with the exploitive practice of stealing milk from cows (which is to PETA the equivalent of stealing candy from a baby). Whereas most people would regard this as an ethical use of animals, PETA views this as a violation of their hanimal rights. But it is not enough for them to simply reject this "unethical" practice, rather they have to offend everyone else in the process. I am not precisely sure which studies show that the consumption of cow's milk causes autism, but my guess is that such insignificant details matter very little to the PETA people. The only thing that matters is convincing/scaring people into thinking that if they break one of these taboos they will be cursed with some terrible disease. Not since the religious pamphleteer Jack Chick, have I seen such divine bombast directed towards potential converts. But the milk campaign does not simply end here, for PETA has also targeted the famous Ben and Jerry's and encouraged them to permanently swear off cow's milk. What do they recommend as a replacement? Human breast milk.

6. Sea Kittens and Fish Memorials       

When it comes to fish, the people from PETA are no less passionate. Recently in California there was a truck carrying a large quantity of fish that got into a three car collision. Were the drivers OK? Who cares! From PETA's perspective, it is not sufficient to simply lament the death of these poor little fishies. No, one must also demand that government officials put up a sign memorializing the date on which these innocent fish were brutally slaughtered. As part of a similar campaign to protect fish, they have also sought to draw an equivalency between kittens and fish sticks. Unlike the above photo which utilizes the grotesque to make its point, these so called "sea kittens" look like something out of Finding Nemo. With an image such as this they may not be seeking to change the hearts of the dedicated fish slaughterers, but they do hope to persuade people that have never thought about how eating a grouper was like chomping on a batch of little kittens. I suppose I do find it a little ironic that they are trying to prevent us humans from eating fish, but in the mean time equating those fish with an animal that would love nothing more than to get his paws on one.


5. PETA and Jeffrey Dahmer

It speaks for itself.

4. KFC and Crippled Babies in a Bucket

Just to let you know how serious they are about protecting chickens, PETA recently brought their traveling band of lunatics to a Trappist monastery. Why? Because the monastery was supporting themselves, at least in part, by the production of fresh eggs. This was unacceptable to PETA, and seeing an easy target they brought their noisy parade to Mepkin Abbey. Seeking to preserve their silence, the monks understandably succumbed to the wishes of this human scream machine. Therefore, we should not be shocked to discover a rift between PETA and that dear old man named The Colonel. Indeed, according to PETA, not only is this man a remorseless redneck chicken murderer, but he apparently even puts crippled baby chickens in those magnificent buckets. I have never personally had that particular combo, but I suppose it could be on the menu. Once again, the great irony here is that if The Colonel put real crippled babies in a bucket and fed them to people, PETA would have very little to say about it (in fact they might regard it as good for the environment), but when it comes to those crunchy little crippled baby chickies, it is an abomination beyond all others. You may think this an exaggeration, but don't. This week I received a special e-mail from PETA (their spies must have noticed that I have been searching for information on them) granting me the opportunity to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Mind you, not the human victims who are still suffering beyond measure, but rather only the animals who have been displaced or abandoned. PETA is in truth a satire killer. They have stolen about every single joke that I could possibly make simply because they have already made them.

3. Chickens and Jews

This particular campaign is also about chickens, but I felt it deserved a category all its own. A riddle: what is more offensive, suggesting that chickens are equivalent to Jews, or that Jews are equivalent to chickens? The answer is yes. Such a correlation should prove to everyone once and for all that PETA really doesn't care who they offend. They may care about "what" they offend because to them what is who and who is what. To put it in perspective (which is the opposite of what is being presented above), there is obviously room to be appalled by some of the conditions and/or treatment that chickens receive. For example, it is not wrong for anyone to suggest, as PETA did with the Jeffrey Dahmer campaign, that one who takes pleasure in torturing animals as a child is not likely to be much of a humanitarian. Where they go off the rails is when they ascribe human rights to animals who themselves have no desire or capacity to adhere to those very same principles. Thus, even as PETA disregards human concerns, they admit the dominion (or if you like, stewardship) of humanity by reifying animals with concepts that would not exist were it not for humans. What we have here in this particular campaign is a sanity test. Admittedly, it is a low bar to pass, but it is simply this: if you look at the above image with a sense of horror, shock, and dismay, or at least with a sense of laughter at the absurd nature of it, you still have some marbles left. On the other hand, if you look at the image and nod in solemn agreement, then I don't have to tell you just how far you are from a full box of crayons.            


2. The KKK and Dog Shows

I'll give PETA this much- they are not in the traditional sense, "politically correct". Whereas most extremist will go out of their way only to offend certain groups- while skillfully avoiding others- this cannot be said of PETA. They really have no regard for any humans whatsoever (except themselves). So when it comes to comparing racism to what goes on at a dog show, why should it matter that they have single-handedly managed to trivialize the historical experience of blacks (I wonder if they have ever considered a similar campaign in order to rail against those who dare to ride horses)? Yet this is more than racially insensitive, but rather racism in the truest sense. After all, are they not equating the black man with a dog? Indeed, not even our president is safe from the ever watchful eye of PETA, for during an interview a few years back, he dared to swat a fly while appearing to take pleasure it. Consequently, PETA immediately rebuked him and expressed their dismay that he could not have found an alternative to this blatant form of insecticide. All the same, I think it would be inaccurate to call them racist in their behavior, for their bigotry seems to reach across all races and cultures. I would prefer describe them as egalitarian in their misanthropy.

1. The Unhappy Meal

I'm not sure exactly why this is my favorite PETA moment, other than the fact that I think it represents in the most basic sense what a kill-joy PETA is. I mean, is there any pleasure in life that is safe from this organization. What about that cruel creature we call the Easter Bunny, who goes about stealing eggs from innocent chickens and then winds up selling them to greedy children who paint them with blood red dye? Or what about SANTA CLAWS, that wicked fat man who has clearly gorged himself on various seasonal meats, not to mention all of that virgin cow milk he has put down his gullet over the years? And of course, how could we possibly forget that wicked clown that everyone recognizes as Ronald McDonald? As for myself, I am not much of a clown man; nevertheless, it is not so much the clown that they are interested in as those glorious "happy meals" which children of all ages clamor for (I think it's the toy inside that makes it so magical). Oh PETA, can we have nothing sacred except cows? Must every childhood pleasure be subjected to the McCruelty test? Thank you PETA! Because of  you the last vestiges of my childhood innocence are officially gone. Mission accomplished.

A few bonus photos for your viewing pleasure:

This ad was in response to a story about a Florida man losing his leg to a shark while fishing. Seems like a reasonable response, doesn't it?