Mugwump

I am not a mugwump atheist…sitting on the fence and calling myself agnostic. I call myself an agnostic out of belief in evidence and empiricism…and because I subscribe – at least in principle – to the decency of humility. I try to avoid the term belief altogether where possible, preferring faith, as the deepest meaning of this word is confidence. I fear scientists in general do a disservice to reason in calling themselves atheists until they are backed into a corner and forced to admit they are in fact agnostics. I would go so far as to say science is another name for agnosticism. I do not pretend to know what is not known…or knowable. It is not for the sake of clarity, but of convenience that scientists use the term atheist, although it is as legitimate  to say they don’t believe in gods because they have no reason or evidence to do so.

Agnostic that I am, I love hearing Bach’s B minor mass, the St. Matthew Passion, the Verdi Requiem and many other such works. I suspect they inspire no less awe in me than they do in somebody wearing a symbol of capital punishment around his neck. Awe is not belief. I am as in awe of the universe…as any saint! The christian myths may indeed recount “the greatest story ever told”, [although my vote would go for Prometheus, who pays eternally his love of mankind ] however it is just that: a story.

But getting back to so called sacred music: I used to love to sing hymns with the choir [and no choirmaster ever rejected my rather decent soprano because I was an avowed heathen ] One of my favourites was We Gather Together, a hymn of Dutch origin – Wilt heden nu treden – written by A. Valerius in 1597. Call me pagan, a devil, a witch, but I laughed before I cried upon learning it was composed in honor of a Dutch military victory over the Spanish. Nothing like the killing of a few thousand fellow christians to get the creative juices flowing, eh?

From century to century we ask…Is nothing sacred? Not Sacred Heart in Paris, that’s for sure. It was built to commemorate the crushing of the “socialist” Paris Commune. It is, in my view, a tasteless embodiment of conservative moral order, which says, basically, might makes right.

Is nothing sacred? Is nothing sacred? [Can you see me pulling what remains of my hair out?] Man was a wolf to man before the nazarene tale and perhaps even moreso since. Let me take a break from my turmoil to pass on a quote from the preface of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I don’t care if you saw the show; read the book. He was writing about an earlier commune, but it hardly matters: So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.

Pretty stories and glorious music are not likely to get the job done, however…

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The heathen sings grace (no foolin’)

ευχαριστώ – πολύ πολύ
ευχαριστώ – πολύ πολύ
ευχαριστώ – pour le soleil
ευχαριστώ – pour le ciel gris
ευχαριστώ – pour la journée
ευχαριστώ – la nuit aussi
ευχαριστώ – πο – λύ

ευχαριστώ – πολύ πολύ
ευχαριστώ – πολύ πολύ
ευχαριστώ – pour le poulet
ευχαριστώ – pour le perdrix
ευχαριστώ – pour le maquereau
tous les légumes et tous les fruits
ευχαριστώ – πο – λύ

The Backstroke and Beyond

mama’s hem was first crutch – dad’s trouser leg came then
steadily we tried to grasp the upright position
keen to give up crawling – to be just like other men
and somehow or other we passed the audition;

the ways of our fathers – we took in with mother’s milk:
who we were, who they were, to which the velvet, which the cotton;
nothing more important though than kith and kin …our ilk
and the hidden costs of all this? Unknown, perhaps forgotten;

wedded to our mythic forebears, lotsa fabled Big Begetters
[one wonders if there’s one among us singular at all]
if only folks bent down to glean sweet charity midst the letters –
I mean, if there were lesser fallout after the fall.

Listen friend, these ships might prove less sturdy than they seem
[even when you’re piloting your very own boat]
crash an iceberg – what remains? If you’re lucky, one strong beam;
best not even count on that – learn to face the sky… and float.

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For the beggar on the corner

Hard
to keep your balance
when you lose your footing –
or your foot…arm, leg, eye
on the John Wayne Highway
to make the world safe
for democracy… or Monsanto,
Exxon…I don’t know
Godamn-Sachs, the gospel
according to Matthew, Mark
Locke and Smith.

Separation
of church and state, my ass,
more like separation of life and limb.
Don’t quite see it? Hard to face
when it might cost you
that year-end holiday bonus.
THE HOLY DAYS OF SHOPPING
(Mammon was a pipsqueak)

God Bless
it said on the guy’s
curbside cardboard calling card –
hand written with a red marker
and of course the maimed vet believes !
Who wouldn’t hope for a fair shake
in the next round.

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New Testament Hogwash

Luke says Heli was Joseph’s father
Jacob’s the one that Matthew names –
beats me still why either’d bother
with any paternal geneological games
unless they were trying to make the case
for an earthly king – a political race –
that’s what messiah means in Hebrew shorthand
a Jewish king… for a tormented occupied land…

and that is probably what the first century bible authors were after.

Matthew can count back to David
in 26 go-rounds – It takes Luke 41 begats
to cover the exact same ground.
One gospel takes him back to Nathan
the other via Solomon’s son
but nowhere even a minor ovation
for the Jewish Miriam’s annointed son.

That a man is a Jew by his mother
hasn’t yet occurred to either.
Any who could find such gospels infallible
are, by these lights, more than just gullible.

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My Hero

His birth is in some way miraculous
Sooner or later he is son of a god or a god himself.
His own people do not recognize him
and he dies a dramatic and sorrowful death —
Sound familiar?
Could be any one of a dozen
mythological or legendary characters,
invested with traits that seem to satisfy
a very wide-spread human need
for this kind of thing.

The figure known as Christ Jesus
[no one was called this in the 3rd century]
exhibits 19 of some two dozen such traits…
and the higher the number, the more likely
the character is purely fictional – mythological –
which is interesting, as Robin Hood
exhibits only 13.

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a ridiculously condensed synopsis of seminal works by Joseph Campbell,
F. R. S. Raglan, and Alan Dundes.

[Other examples Oedipus (22) Romulus (17) Hercules (17) Perseus (16) Zeus (15) Jason (15) Apollo (11) …]

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In the beginning. . .

When adults (like yourself)
picture the first man
they dream up a creature replete
with their own fears and worries,
yet when humanity
like some bright idea
dawned on this planet
we entered naked –
devoid of vanity –
pure, imperious, awed,
curious, indefatigable
as was the child you were –
and even that first tentative
encounter with eternal sleep –
a snail? a mouse? a fly? –
was a curiosity among so many
just as strange; it is only by and by…

Toddling infant does not
imagine himself. He is
unconscious living,
synonym of now – wiser
than the wisest sage; no need
for mediated values in the present tense;
he is beyond age, until language
invents imagination, shattering self
into experience
and memory.

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Clarification

Get thee beyond
          Sister Margaret’s
                    second grade

    This is verily-cum-truly
        The Day The Lord Hath Made

    Cierge wax may be waning
           but the lux Light’s the same

     If Life’s a brief candle
            THIS DAY
                      is the flame.

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