Saturday, May 2, 2015

On "The Thought Criminal"

Deleting through my old e-mails, I found one that informed me that I have no right to call myself "The Thought Criminal".   Of all the things I do that I expect will be annoying to my opponents, that wasn't what I thought would be one of them because, you see, they were the ones who, continually, over the course of my public writing have told me that I'm not allowed to think the things I think. When I wrote for Echidne's blog that was a constant feature of my challenges to the orthodoxy of the alleged left which, whatever else you might say about it, was so demonstrably not a political success.  Despite everything else, there has been one constant in my blogging and that is I am a political blogger.  My first and foremost goal is the transformation of lives for the better through political action.  No, come to think of it, that's not true, not mere "action" but political SUCCESS!  Winning elections, changing laws, sustaining them through the opposition of the Supreme Court and other inbuilt obstacles and their implementation to make the lives of the poor, the destitute, the haggard and harrassed lower and middle classes better and, since all of them depend on that, the preservation of the environment.

When I began almost nine years ago (May 13, 2006) I didn't know how deep the problem went, how entirely my own assumptions and beliefs would have to change in light of the evidence I would discover and through learning how basically wrong the common received wisdom of the alleged left was.  I didn't expect to ever confront the issues of atheism, materialism, scientism, etc.  I did think I knew that confronting the conceit and snobbery of so many of the left would be necessary - for some reason those folks who never tire of declaiming their brilliance didn't realize you had to win the most votes to win an election - but I didn't realize how addicted to self-congratulation the alleged leftists would prove to be.  

All through that, continuing today, I have constantly been told that what I say is not allowed to be said, what I think is not allowed to be thought.  Which I have to admit, hasn't made it any less fun to think and say those things.  In doing the necessary reading and consideration of these issues, I have come to a far, far deeper appreciation of a genuine leftist tradition that actually was able to accomplish things, largely through a far greater appeal to the very people on whose behalf the left is alleged to exist.   In that I have to say I have come to respect the thinking and the sincerity of many unstylish and unfashionable people and to reject the condescending model of top down leftism, the defeated and conceited "left" that it was inevitable that I would leave even if I were not actually kicked out of it.   I don't regret that in any way.

Update:  Ah, well, yes, I'm always told that "winning elections isn't the point" that "changing the 'discussion,' the 'debate', etc is the goal" or some such other tripe.   I strongly suspect those ridiculous political formulations are a necessary ruse to rope in the dupes when the ones sloganizing thus have no hope of ever winning an election, gaining office and actually changing reality.   Any "left" which includes counting on not winning elections is a "left" that is left behind, left out and better left for dead.

Update:  I could care less about what is said there but it would be more work than it is worth.

See also:  

Friday, May 1, 2015

Chavez Merits Canonization For Lifetime Ministry - Fridays With Richard McBrien

Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers of America, died last month at age 66 while on union business in Arizona.

If we were living at any time during the first ten centuries of the Christian era, Cesar Chavez would already have been proclaimed a saint by the people who knew him best or who personally gained from his lifelong, non-violent struggle for social justice. That number is in the thousands, more likely the millions.

It was not until the end of the 10th century that the first historically attested canonization took place. In the early Church martyrs were publicly venerated by the faithful. From the fourth century on, veneration was extended to those who suffered for the faith, but short of martyrdom. They were called confessors.

As various cults developed, they came under the control of local bishops and councils, but frequently they spread beyond the limits of a diocese and even of a country.

Eventually the papacy intervened. After the publication of the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX in 1234, only the pope had the authority to canonize a saint.

But most of the early Church's greatest saints, including the Twelve Apostles and Paul, were never formally canonized. They were simply recognized as such after their deaths.

Cesar Chavez would have been a natural choice for sainthood under those earlier norms.

He devoted himself wholeheartedly and without any personal reward to the welfare of some of the most economically oppressed people who have ever worked in the United States, those of whom John Steinbeck had written so movingly in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

Chavez captured the world's attention in the 1960's when he led a lonely battle to unionize the migrant farm workers in the fields and orchards of California. He used the strike (La Huelga), fastings, boycotts, and long marches to advance La Causa.

He fasted for 25 days in the spring of 1968, losing a fifth of his body weight. The end of the fast was marked by the celebration of an open-air mass at which he took Communion. But he was too weak to speak.

His famous call, also in 1968, for a boycott of grapes was honored by 17 million Americans and his campaign for justice won the support of key political and religious leaders.

The late Robert F. Kennedy described Chavez as "one of the heroic figures of our time." He was also supported by several Catholic bishops, including two auxiliaries in my own Archdiocese of Hartford: the late Bishop Joseph Donnelly, one of the pioneer labor priests of the 1950's and 60', and Bishop Peter Rosazza.

Because of Cesar Chavez's efforts, the California legislature in 1975 passed the nation's first collective bargaining act outside Hawaii for farm workers laborers who are largely excluded from the protection of Federal law.

But Chavez never realized his dream of creating a nationwide union, for a variety of reasons: competition from the Teamsters, internal conflicts, opposition from conservative politicians, and continued resistance from the growers.

In most of the country, therefore, farm workers continue to work at the low end of the wage-scale, in poor housing, without medical insurance or job security, and vulnerable to exploitation.

In spite of his national and international reputation as a major labor leader, Cesar Chavez was a small, shy, frail man who did not excel at public speaking.

A devoted family man with eight children, he was also deeply religious, a living example of authentic Catholic spirituality.

Unlike the counterfeit piety of those who fail to see God in the faces of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, Chavez's spirituality was one of total dedication to the needs of others without regard for himself. He had a virtual vow of poverty, taking a weekly salary of $5. (You read it right: five dollars!) 

Like Jesus, who "came not to be served but to serve" (Mark 10:45). 

Chavez saw his monastic existence as a "powerful weapon" for justice. "When you sacrifice," he once said, "you force others to do the same.

"When you work and sacrifice more than anyone around you, others feel the need to do at least a little bit more than they were doing before." 

In an age of racial polarization, Chavez built alliances with Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans, and whites. "Our belief is to help everybody, not just one race," he said. "Humanity is our belief." 

As I pointed out above, during the first ten centuries of the Church's history, before the formal process of canonization began, Cesar Chavez would even now have been proclaimed, "St. Cesar," patron of farm workers. As a profoundly religious family man with a virtual vow of poverty, a person whose whole life was devoted to securing justice for the poor and the powerless, Cesar Chavez would merit canonization even under the present rules.

The pope would do well to make it official sometime soon.

5 / 21 / 1993

And It Still Is News

In April, 2012, Sara Horowitz wrote an interesting short article pointing out the little noticed part of the story of Exodus as things were building up to the slaves in Egypt escaping slavery.

Millions of families around the world, including my own, will sit down together this weekend for Passover Seder to read and celebrate the story of the Jews freeing themselves from enslavement. Independence is an important and powerful part of the story. But I think we're also celebrating something else: the first great moment in labor history.


The parallels come easily. The workers (Israelites) asked their union rep (Moses) to stand up to the boss (Pharaoh) about their terrible working conditions. In Exodus: Chapter 5, the boss denied Moses and doubled the workers' load...

The workers' only recourse was to leave. This was a really strike, but on a biblical scale. It was one of the first times that workers stood up for their collective power. 

This is a good example of how the stories of Moses are still of deepest relevance to the downtrodden, the oppressed, the overworked (you really should read what Marilynne Robinson has to say about the sabbath in her essay) and the underpaid.

Every way I see it, liberals shot themselves in the knee if not the head when they gave up this heritage and the power that it confers and left it to the far right to lie about and distort in their own ways to their own ends.  And we did it at the behest of alleged scholars who had ends of their own in distorting it in other ways.  I would argue, ends that aren't all that much different from those of the hirelings of the billionaires and other oligarchs.

If more union organizing were done around the story of Exodus instead of Marx and the such, I doubt we'd have the labor unions on the mat as they are today.

John Davis And The Georgia Sea Island Singers - Moses, Don't Get Lost

" every phrase that is used to condemn them, they supplied,in their incredible self-scrutiny and self-judgement "

One of the most absurd accusations made by atheists and other ignorant people is that the monotheistic religions lack self-criticism such as science is alleged to practice.  And that only proves that those who make that claim have never even read the very scriptures that they misrepresent.   And it's not only atheists who seem to be entirely ignorant of the scriptures that are the basis of those religions but people who can rise in the most intellectually accomplished clergies.   I mentioned that Marilynne Robinson goes over Bishop John Shelby Spong at length*.  It should be understood just what Robinson, a passionately strong Christian,  is doing in these essays which are full of vigorous criticism of her own religious tradition as it is practiced in real life.  Atheism and, I dare say, scientists seldom if ever practice this form of criticism of their own beliefs and practices.**

But this passage begins with the viciously genteel characterizations of Jews and God by one of the enlightenment's brightest blooms, David Hume.

Scholarly books on the Scriptures typically claim objectivity and may sometimes aspire to it, though their definitions of objectivity inevitably vary with the intentions of their writers.  But to assume a posture of seeming objectivity relative to any controverted subject is a very old polemical maneuver.   David Hume, in an endnote to his Natural History of Religion (written in 1751, published in 1779), quotes Chevalier Ramsay, who quotes an imagined Chinese or Indian philosopher's reaction to Christianity: "The God of the Jews is the most cruel, unjust partial, and fantastical being... This chosen nation was... the most stupid, ungrateful, rebellious and perfidious of all nations . . . [God's son dies to appease his vindictive wrath, but the vast majority of the world are excluded from any benefit. This makes God] . . . a cruel, vindictive tyrant, an impotent or a wrathful daemon."  And so on.

Even pious critics seem never to remember that, in the Old Testament, the Jews were talking among themselves, interpreting their own experience to themselves.  Every negative thing we know about them, every phrase that is used to condemn them, they supplied,in their incredible self-scrutiny and self-judgement.   Who but the ancient Jews would have thought to blame themselves for, in effect, lying along the invasion route of the Babylonians?  They preserved and magnified their vision of the high holiness of God by absorbing into themselves responsibility for their sufferings. and this made them passionately self-accusatory, in ways no other people would have thought of being.  This incomparable literature would surely have been lost if they had imagined the use it would be put to, and had written to justify themselves and to defend their descendants in the eyes of the nations rather than to ponder their life in openness toward God.  By what standard but their own could Israel have been considered ungrateful or rebellious or corrupt?  Granting crimes and errors, which they recorded, and preserved and pondered the records of for centuries, and which were otherwise so historically minor that no one would ever have heard of them - how do these crimes compare with those of other peoples, their contemporaries or ours?  When Hume wrote the English gibbets More describes were still as full as ever.  The grandeur of the Old Testament, and the fact that such great significance is attached to it, distracts readers from a sense of its unique communal inwardness.  It is an endless reconciliation achieved at great cost by a people whose relation to God is astonishingly brave and generous.  To misappropriate it as a damning witness against the Jews and "the Jewish God" is vulgar beyond belief.  And not at all uncommon, therefore.  It is useful to consider how the New Testament would read, if it had gone on to chronicle the Crusades and the Inquisition. 

*  In one of those points she makes concerning Spong, she demolishes the charge that Jews considered themselves as set above all other people because they considered themselves to be a chosen people.

It is entirely appropriate for Christians to come to whatever terms they must with the difficulties of their own sacred narrative, their own mythopoesis.  But the Old Testament is another matter. It is not in the same sense theirs, and if they refuse to grant it its terms, or give it their respectful attention, then it is not theirs in any sense at all.  When Bishop Spong says, "The Jewish God in the Hebrew scriptures was assumed to hate anyone that the nation of Israel hated," he offers no evidence of the truth of his harshly negative remark.  This assumption is made that Israel and "the Jewish God" are both given to hatred, when two great exemplary figures of righteousness and graciousness in the Old Testament, Job and Ruth, are not Jews, are in fact an Edomite and a Moabite, despised people if one were to believe what one is told about the narrow tribalism of the Hebrew scriptures.  Jonah is sent to save terrifying Nineveh, a great enemy city, which "the Jewish God" cares for and is at pains to spare.  However one passage or another might be read, there is much unambiguous evidence of striking universalism to discredit this hostile characterization of the Hebrew scriptures.  Elsewhere the bishop says that Jesus "lived in a world where cultural barriers were drawn that defined women as subhumans and children as not worthy of God's concern."  He offers no evidence of the truth  of this statement, and coincidentally perhaps, the Bible contains no evidence of the truth of it.

If anyone is aware of a scriptural literature that is so relentlessly self-critical as the Jewish scriptures, I'd like to know what it is.  I know that the social-sciences would disappear over night if they practiced the same kind of self-criticism, including the entire work of several of the bright lights of atheist invective against the Jewish tradition.

I have to say that Spong has been most useful in my experience to those who are hostile to the Jewish and Christian religions, whether atheists, agnostics or some variety or other of "Pagan".  What he says is often presented as authoritative, probably due to his position in the Episcopal church.   Marilynne Robinson may not agree or may be too polite to say it but in Spong's declarations I smell the mildewed genteel, British tradition of anti-Semitism, an odor that permeates most of that kind of literature.  I suspect that, just as with American slaves, the British underclass has a far different understanding of the narratives and moral codes of the Mosaic tradition than the affluent and those who aspire to affluence. It's also been my experience that people who live in more modest circumstances are somewhat more likely to have actually read the texts that so many who have been to college don't seem to have, depending on the characterization of such folk as Spong who bring them the kind of good news they want to hear.

Oh, I can't resist, Robinson said it better than I could.

If what is desired is a God who presents no difficulties and makes no demands, the Old Testament must surely be rejected.  But to reject it is one thing, to denounce it is another, and to misrepresent it in the course of denouncing it is another still.  The Old Testament is not for Christians to denounce because we need only put it respectfully aside, as a Methodist might the Book of Mormon, as a Jew might the New Testament.  The Old Testament certainly is not ours to misrepresent, since in doing so we slander the culture we took it from, an old and still evil habit among us.  Since Friedrich Nietzsche seems to be on every curriculum, unshakably canonized for all his deadness, whiteness and maleness, I need only mention his familiar theory that Judeo-Christianity was foisted on Europeans by vengeful Jews.  I have never seen anyone else even speculate as to how it has come about that we consider ourselves victimized for having made inappropriate use of someone else's scriptures.  Yet this sense of victimization is everywhere - it is even proposed in certain of these books that the Old testament predisposed us to genocide. 

And I will add that kind of nonsense isn't restricted to Christians or even post-Christian atheists but is hinted at by almost anyone who hankers after a reputation of sophistication.  The issue of fashion and conformity in a study of genteel anti-Semitism is one that needs more study and when I say fashion, I include academic fashion.

**  Richard Lewontin is one of the very few atheists and scientists I'm aware of who does practice a similar level of self-questioning and criticism of his own beliefs and his field.   If it is a remnant of his cultural heritage I don't know, though I do know he has endorsed the pilpul of the Orthodox study houses as an example of rigorous intellectual questioning.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Law Is Truly And Entirely More Radical Than Marx And Its Inspiration More Politically Potent Than Would-be Science

Since she is a fine, even a great writer and an unusually deep scholar and thinker, especially by the ambient standards of our time, it's hard to choose what to leave out in studying one of Marilynne Robinson's essays.  But unless you're intending to break copyright laws it's necessary.

Right before the passage I'm going to post this morning, Marilynne Robinson notes that The Law's focus isn't the protection of wealth but the righteousness of individuals and the goodness of individual and communal life.   It would be impossible to sustain Margaret Thatcher's declaration that society doesn't exist under the theories that The Law of Moses are based in.  Thatcher's is a totally secular idea that could not have come from the Mosaic tradition of thought.

Robinson says that "The relation of law to prophecy, of prohibition to liberation, is very clear."  It is very unpopular today to attribute any inspiration of the American Constitution and laws to The Law, as found in The Bible, as if reading of Roman law, from the period before Rome was an empire or after, or Greek ideas about the law, or John Locke* or, heaven help us, the French thought around their revolution.  That is, admittedly, due to the fact that it is almost exclusively right-wing fanatics who appropriate THE NAME AND WORD, "THE BIBLE" when what is said in that book would be poison to their current political aspirations.  If The Law were imposed on us, the Republicans entire economic system, their war against the poor, the alien, the dispossessed, would crumble and the system that replaced it would be anathema to them.  That current liberals don't know this and don't use that fact in promoting their ideas which are certainly derived from those very scriptures, several generations removed, perhaps, has certainly not produced their political survival, either the welfare laws of the past or the political survival of liberalism.

The laws of Moses assume that the land is God's. that the Hebrews are strangers and sojourners there who cannot really own it but who enjoy it at God's pleasure (Liviticus 25:23).  The land is apportioned to the tribes, excepting the priestly Levites.  It can be sold ( the assumption seems to be that this would be done under pressure of debt or poverty) but a kinsman has the right to buy it back, that is, redeem it, and restore it to its owner.  In any case, in every fiftieth year the lands are restored to the tribes and households to whom they were first given. Every seventh year Hebrew slaves were freed, each taking with him or her enough of the master's goods to "furnish him liberally" (Deuteronomy 15:14 all quotations are from the Revised Standard Version).  In these years also all debts are to be forgiven,  Obviously these laws would have the effect of preventing accumulations of wealth and preventing as well the emergence of a caste of people who are permanently dispossessed.  Furthermore, in every seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath, to lie fallow, "that the poor of your people may eat and what they leave the wild beasts may eat" (Exodus 23:11). Others are to live on what it produces without cultivation and on what has been set aside (Leviticus 25:1-7, 20-23).  At all times people are forbidden to reap the corners of their fields, to glean after they have reaped, to harvest their vineyards and their olive tress thoroughly, to go back into the field for a sheaf they have forgotten:  "It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this" (Deuteronomy 24:21-22).  

These laws would preserve those who were poor from the kind of wretchedness More describes by giving them an assured subsistence.  While charity in Christendom was urged as a virtue - one that has always been unevenly aspired to - here the poor have thier portion at the hand of God, and at the behest of the law.  If a commandment is something in the nature of the promise ("Ten Commandments" is an English imposition, in Hebrew they are called the Ten Words), then not only "you are not to be stolen from" but also "you will not steal" would be in some part fulfilled, first because the poor are given the right to take what would be elsewhere have been someone else's property, and second because they are sheltered fro the extreme of desperation that drives the needy to theft.  The law of Moses so far values life above property that it forbids killing a thief who is breaking and entering by daylight (Exodus 22:2).  Judgement in criminal matters is based on the testimony of at least two witnesses, and not, as in premodern European civil law, on judicial torture and self-incrimination, which often led to the deaths of accused who insisted on their innocence.  In many ways Moses would have lifted the terrible onus of manslaughter from the whole civilization.  The benefits to everyone involved in terms of dignity and peace would have been incalculable. 

And it is certainly to be noted that no conditions limit God's largess toward the poor.  They need not be pious, or Jewish, or worthy, or conspicuously in need, or intent on removing themselves from their condition of dependency.  The Bible never considers the poor otherwise than with tender respect, and this is fully as true where the speaker is "the Jewish God" as it is when the speaker is Jesus. What laws could be more full of compassion than these?

You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  Exodus 23:9

You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you;  he shall dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose within one of your towns, where it pleases him best;  you shall not oppress him, Deuteronomy 23:15-16

You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge.  Deuteronomy 24:17

You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be sin in you.  Deuteronomy 25:14-15

If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.... You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and all that you undertake.  For the poor will never cease out of the land therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.  Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11

Then there is the Sabbath, the day in which one may not exploit and cannot be exploited, even by one's family or oneself.  

Six days you shall labor and do all your work;  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God;  in it you shall not do any work, you , or your son or your daughter, or your manservant, or our maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you.  You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.  Deuteronomy 5:12-15


One of the most commonly made accusations against religion these days is that The Bible was the inspiration of what we generally understand to be slavery, meaning that kind of slavery practiced in the American colonies and states, including all of the original colonies, from what would become Maine, down to Georgia.  But if just these laws in the Bible that was widely read in all of those states was the foundation of American slavery, it would have been almost nothing like the system of slavery which the American Constitution made a part of the foundation of our political system and which it and the laws passed and sustained under it maintained for almost a century into the government's existence.  That is the reason that when slaves and those who escaped slavery, such as David Walker mounted the organized and serious attempt to abolish slavery, they used those books of the Hebrew Bible quoted by Marilynne Robinson in opposition to such heroes of The Federalist Society as Thomas Jefferson.

And as Marilynne Robinson mentioned earlier in her essay, capitalism, not to mention most of the oppressive laws and institutions of Europe and in other countries deputed to be "Christian" could never have been adopted or enforced. If The Law that Jesus said he came to uphold to the letter had been fully adopted by Christians, almost the entire program of slander, derision and mockery that we have been witness to in the past century would have been known to have been a lie.  The world would be entirely different.   It would surpass anything that today's liberals envision as a good society, a just society.

If, as well, the commentary on The Law that Jesus made were to inform the law of Christian Europe and the Americas, even the penalty of capital punishment which our Supreme Court is hearing today as I type this would be in question.  As I noted, Jesus gave the qualification of complete inculpability as a prerequisite for people taking the life of someone who violated one of the Mosaic laws which prescribed death.   A qualification which Christians had to believe has been met only once in history, in the person of Jesus (and for Catholics and some others who subscribe to that theory of Mariology , his mother).

Liberals are stupid if they don't publicize these facts, laid out in Marilynne Robinson's essays and use them to challenge those who have stolen the most potent of moral and so political theories that would transform our politics, entirely.  The few passages in those books which violate our modern sensibility are generally either attributable to a far different understanding of sexuality or magic than we have today.  That the inspiration of God - and I can't imagine how they would have come up with such inspired thinking from common human experience - has to have come through human limitations has certainly given their expressions some defects but those in the Mosaic law are tiny as compared to our own Constitution.  As human beings, it is for us to figure out how to weed out the bad ideas from those which are truly good.  I entirely believe that taking our cues from the general tenor of The Law of Moses is a far better place to start from than those usually held up as heroes of modern political theory.  The law of Jefferson, Madison, Locke, Marx, etc. are certainly not without their vicious and undesirable consequences.   The "scientific" thinking advocated by many of those who despise The Law produced even worse, their body counts, far higher.

*  In her essay,  Open They Hand Wide: Moses and the Origins of American Liberalism, Robinson points out that the legal system that John Locke wrote up for the Carolina colonies,The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina,  instituted an actual feudal system, one which institutes virtual rule by aristocracy.  That the purported prophet of modern democracy had that as a vision of good government should certainly discredit his current reputation that could only be held in ignorance of that example of his ideas in action.  That Locke is lionized by the oligarchic party in America today is far more understandable than that liberals would think he, a full fledged member of the lionized enlightenment, were a better model of thought than The Law which is, in almost all respects, far more liberal.  I'm not well enough versed in the history of the Carolinas, but they quickly abandoned the enlightened system of Locke.  I suspect that was more out of refusal of people to be lorded over in a new land than it was out of anything more in line with sustained virtue.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bela Bartok - Spring from 27 Choruses for Children or Women's Voices

Women of the Pecs Chamber Choir
Aurell Talai - conductor


The swallow is a beautiful bird and beautifully he sings
In the morning when the dew and falls off the branches
The young skylark rips the sky with its wings
Sings marvelously  and treads on sunbeams

All animals rejoice the little birds awake to life
In the dawn full of pearly dew the little birds flock
The flowers open, the grasses are fragrant in the meadow

The spring wind blows, the farmer goes to plow
yokes his oxen and surely tills the soil
He does his work and turns the furrows well.

His Majesty, God blesses him
and sustains the plowman and his work
It is He who works the plow and sickle
And all the farmer's tools.
He disposes over life on Earth and salvation in heaven.

Brahms - Viola Sonata in f minor

William Primrose: viola
Rudolf Firkusny: piano

The Necessity of Reading These Essays Cannot Be Overstated

The next two or so days, I'm going to go over a long passage from Marilynne Robinson's essay,  "The Fate of Ideas:  Moses".   I'm not really prepared to discuss it in full because, just as reading her essays on Calvinism forced a total reconsideration of everything I was taught about Calvinism in college and through reading*  what is purported to be serious writing on that topic, so it is with her two essays on Moses.  There is so much to unlearn that I used to think was learned, since most of what one gets from such a preparation isn't based on an honest consideration of what the texts say and in comparison with other texts and in the context in which it was said.  I did, occasionally do a little of that revising before I read the essays in question, such as on the absurd things said about the story of Abraham and Isaac, but the question of Moses goes to the heart of the matter.

Before typing out the first passages, I'll point out that Robinson makes it clear what she is talking about when she says, "Moses", she means " the ethos and spirit of Mosaic law, however it came to be articulated".


In his Utopia,Thomas More, the sixteenth-century statesman and scholar, notes one great difference between the regime of Christian England and the laws laid down by Moses.  English thieves were hanged in great numbers, sometimes twenty on a scaffold, whereas "to be short, Moses' law, though it were ungentle and sharp, as a law that was given to bondmen, yea, and them very obstinate, stubborn and stiff-necked, yet it punished theft by the purse, and not with death [emphasis mine].   And let us not think that God in the new law of clemency and mercy, under which He ruleth us with fatherly gentleness, as his dear children, hath given us greater scope and license to the execution of cruelty upon one another.'  More wrote his book in Latin, and the learned could not be hanged (if they were male) -- this is the actual meaning of the phrase "benefit of clergy" -- so those to whom his thoughts would have been of pressing interest would not have been among his readers.  But a very valuable point is made here, which is seldom made, and which, if we were honest, would force us to consider many things.  

Moses (by whom I mean the ethos and spirit of Mosaic law, however it came to be articulated) in fact does not authorize any physical punishment for crimes of property.  The entire economic and social history of Christendom would have been transformed if Moses had been harkened to only in this one particular.  Feudalism, not to mention early capitalism, is hardly to be imagined where such restraint was observed in defense of the rights of ownership.   Anyone familiar with European history is aware of the zeal for brutal punishment., the terrible ingenuity with which the human body was tormented and insulted through the eighteenth century at least, very often to deter theft on the part of the wretched.  Moses authorizes nothing of the kind, nor indeed does he countenance any oppression of the poor.   More is entirely conventional, as he would still, in describing the law of Moses as "sharp" beside the merciful governance of Christ.  But how could Europe have been more effectively Christianized - understand the sense in which I use the word - than by adherence to these laws of Moses?   Granting the severity of the holiness codes in the Torah,  they do not compare unfavorably with laws touching on religious matters in more's England.  More himself called for the burning of William Tyndale, the great early translator of the Bible into English, who was in fact burned.  It is often said that Eurpoeans learned religious intolerance from the Old Testament.  Then how did we happen to skip over the parts where the laws protect and provide for the poor, and where oppression of them is most fiercely forbidden?  It is surely dishonest to suggest we learned anything at all from the Torah, if we have not learned anything good from it.  Better to say our vices are our own than to try to exculpate ourselves by implying that our attention strayed during the humane and visionary passages.  The law of Moses puts liberation theology to shame in its passionate loyalty to the poor.  Why do we not know this yet? 

Utopia describes the consequences of the nightmarish policy of clearance and enclosure, persisted in for centuries, which drove the rural poor out of the English countryside. 

"For look in what parts of the realm doth grow the finest and therefore 
dearest wool, where noblemen and gentlemen, yea and certain abbots, 
 holy men no doubt much annoying the public weal,  leave no room for 
tillage.  They enclose all into pastures; they throw down houses, they 
pluck  down towns, and leave nothing standing but a church to be made 
a sheep-house.  .... [The poor] must needs depart away, poor, silly, 
wretched souls, men women, husbands, wives, fatherless children, 
widows, woeful mothers with their young babes .... Away they trudge,  
I say, out of their known and accustomed houses, finding no place 
to rest in ... [ When they have sold whatever they have ] what can 
they else do but to steal,  and then justly be hanged, or else go about 
a-begging?   And yet then also they can be cast into prison as 
vagabonds, because they go out and work not, whom no man will set 
a-work, though they never so willingly proffer themselves thereto."

As I will demonstrate from the text, all this violates the laws of Moses, in letter and in spirit.  How is it to be reconciled with any conceivable intention of Jesus I cannot imagine, but that is not the issue here.  In fact, the laws of Moses establish a highly coherent system of minimizing and alleviating poverty, a brilliant economics based in a religious ethic marked by nothing more strongly than by an anxious solicitude for the well-being of the needy and the vulnerable.   

It would be fair for us to consider the use of capital punishment for property crimes didn't diminish in the period called and lauded as The Enlightenment but actually became more severe under the Bloody Code in England and in the American colonies.  And that during the 18th century, under the intellectual regime of the Enlightenment, the number of crimes punished by execution in Britain increased several fold.  I have not looked at the legal codes in other places, primarily because as an American, the influence of that British law to my country is so great.  It would be extremely interesting to know about the use of capital punishment in other "enlightened" countries.

In her other great essay defending The Law,  Robinson points out that in the universally condemned harshness of Puritan Massachusetts, following the understanding of The Law of the Hebrew Bible that is contained in Calvin's commentary on it, the use of capital punishment was far less than in virtually every other place and, as well, no property crime was punished with death.  And, as important, the treatment of the poor and destitute was at least in legal theory, far more liberal than it is in many places today.  It was only in the period after the restoration of the monarchy, after the Commonwealth, that the liberality of the law in Massachusetts was altered to conform more to British practice.

Taken as a group, Jews are about the most liberal of all Americans, something which would be no mystery if the liberality of The Law, its establishment of mandatory equality and justice were to be taken into account. Even among those who might disdain the religion of their ancestors could still benefit from the familial and cultural vestiges of the thinking learned from it.  Which could also account, to some extent, why Massachusetts, under influences and politicians who could hardly be considered liberals, retains something of an identity as among the most liberal of states.  I don't think that either phenomenon just happened in the places and among the people who comprise the phenomenon. Their thinking does actually have a role in explaining their cultures, it isn't a physical occurrence unrelated to their minds.


I don't know of any single essay other than the one I'm excerpting that does more to overturn the innumerable holdings of anti-Semitism and stereotyping than this one by Robinson. Together with "Open Thy Hand Wide:  Moses and the Origins of American Liberalism" she demolishes both the most vulgar and crude form of anti-Semitism, taken as anti-Semitism, proper, and what is probably as insidious, the genteel anti-Semitism that is still common in academia and, as I've noted recently, is embedded in much of the anti-religious content of evolutionary-psychology and even what is held to be comedy.

Robinson continues with that, perhaps, unintended project of wrecking the common received knowledge about the Mosaic tradition which is a major part of the stock and trade of ideological atheism.

Ah, but the people Moses brought out of slavery invaded and took the land of the Canaanites!  The Israelites are much abused these days for their treatment of the Canaanites.  The historicity of the invasion stories as they occur in Joshua is questionable;  archaeology does not confirm them.  Nor does the book of Judges, which names the peoples "the Lord left" in Canaan: Philistines, Sidonians, Hivites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, and Jebusites (Judges 3:3-5).  The Israelites may well have been Canaanites themselves, or a mixed population of those who were slaves in Egypt rather than a tribe or people.   The number of those who left Egypt may have been small and have grown in retrospect, like the French resistance [Robinson's sense of humor is subtle but never wasted through unnecessary use.],  Possession of Canaan was never complete.  Other inhabitants, for example Hittites and Philistines were also invaders.  Ancient Near Eastern records often describe the defeat of enemies as their extermination;  in fact the one known mention of Israel in Egyptian writing, dated about 1230 BCE, boasts that "Israel is laid waste, his seed is not."   In any case, whatever happened in Canaan, a violent epic was made of it which is the basis of much vilification of "the Jewish God."

As ancient narrative, and as history, this story of conquest is certainly the least remarkable part of the Bible, and a very modest event as conquests go,  the gradual claiming of an enclave in a territory that would be utterly negligible by the lights of the real conquerors such as Alexander the Great or Augustus Caesar or even Ashurbanipal.  The suggestion that God was behind it maybe makes it worse than the campaigns of self-aggrandizement that destroyed many larger and greater cities, though it is not clear to me that it should.  A consequence which follows from God's role in the conquest of Canaan, asserted with terrible emphasis in Leviticus and elsewhere, is that God will deal with the Israelites exactly as he has dealt with the Canaanites, casting them out of the land in their turn if they cease to deserve it.  Abraham is told in a dream that possession of the promised land will be delayed an astonishing four hundred years until, in effect, the Amorites (that is, Canaanites) have lost their right to it.  We Anglo-European invaders do not know yet if we will have four hundred years in this land. 

Furthermore, as they approach Canaan, the Hebrews are told they may not take any land of the Edomites or the Moabites because God has already given those people their lands, having driven out former inhabitants (Deuteronomy 2:4-11).  This is not the thinking of racial supremacists, or of people who believe they alone have God's attention.  Certainly it implies that God honors righteousness in those outside the Abrahamic covenant - otherwise the Canaanites could not have held the land while they did.  In any case, only ignorance can excuse the notion that Europeans learned aggression and tribalism while perusing the Bible.  The Peloponnesian Wars by themselves are a sufficient demonstration of that point.

These are only a few of the points Marilynne Robinson makes in powerful essays that overturn some of the most destructive cultural habits of thought that are in full flower among us and still part of our casual academic discourse as certainly as they were in late 19th century Germany and elsewhere, including Britain and the United States.  Earlier in the essay she gently demolishes several modern authors, academic and popular, who push the same form of common popular understanding of The Law and, though more genteelly put than in formerly, the people to whom that law was given.  Her take down of John Shelby Spong was, I will admit, especially gratifying to me, considering how often his nonsense has been brought up to me in approximately the past fifteen years.

In his introduction to the published edition of Our Town, Thornton Wilder was, it seems to me, anxious to put to rest any suspicion that he was violating atheist propriety in the graveyard scene at the end of the play.  I can't find my copy of it this morning but as I recall he sanctifies his use of implications of the afterlife by relating it to classic literature, Dante, perhaps.  He assures us he doesn't believe in such nonsense.   I remember when I first read that it opened my eyes to the fact that atheism is considered a pre-requisite for being taken seriously in much of the academic world and the world of wider culture that takes itself as sophisticated.   That requirement of modernism is what I think is at work in the long term project of distortion, misreading and unequal treatment of, certainly the Hebrew Bible and, to an increasing extent, the Second Testament as well. That is the stuff I have to get past in dealing with the points Marilynne Robinson makes in these essays,  though the use of the death penalty prescribed by those laws is something I am conscience bound to reject entirely, as is the common reading of much of it.

As a gay man, I know it is possible to be good and gay at the same time, though I certainly acknowledge that gay sex can be used to oppress as certainly as straight sex can.  In fact, during the same period, being exposed to massive amounts of gay pornography has taught me that it is gay sex removed from the same moral foundation of equality and dignity that is bound to continue to oppress gay men even if all other legal and social discrimination and oppression of us ends.

The books containing the law and the historical narratives are not easy and contain passages that are troubling and difficult and even, by my own lights, wrong, that concerning witches, for example.  At the same time I have to say that Robinson's hypothesis that American liberalism, the very liberalism that has freed all of us who would otherwise be oppressed, is founded on the very same Law, stands as proven for me, at least.  That freedom didn't come from The Enlightenment, it was present for millenia before that cultural trend, it was culturally far more influential in democratic politics.  The slaves and abolitionists didn't cite the authors of the enlightenment, they cited the Torah in making their arguments.  At the end of the essay, in a passage that was bound to effect me very deeply because it references the Gospel passage I chose to read at my mother's funeral because it was so important to her,  Marilynne Robinson makes a point as to what The Law was to Jesus, what he meant when he talked about The Law, which he said he did not come to overturn in any way.

When Jesus describes Judgment, the famous separation of the sheep from the goats, he does not mention religious affiliation or sexual orientation or family values.  He says, "I was hungry, and ye fed me not" (Matthew 25:42). Whether he was a rabbi, a prophet, or the Second Person of the Trinity, the ethic he invokes comes straight from Moses.

*  As a child I never, once, heard any kind of vilification of Moses or the Mosaic tradition from my Catholic parents, from any Catholic priest or nun.  Everything I got about that I read in things which I suspect my parents and even the Catholic Church would rather I'd chosen not to read.  I think I can safely say that the overwhelming majority of it came from atheists writing in the modernist  and "scientific" modes of discourse, citing other such figures far more often than they did the texts of the Hebrew Bible. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Out Sick For The Day 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Does This Qualify As Not Knowing Your Ass From Your Elbow?

I can't help but note that in the "top stories" column at Salon just now, these appear one right over the other. 

Bill Maher's bizarre anti-vaccine rant: Stop calling these people "kooks and liars"

 Congratulations, Bill Maher! The winner of the first televised Bruce Jenner joke contest

I don't know much about the "Bruce Jenner" gossip that's all over the place, I do think it's rather bizarre for people who are allegedly so interested in dignity and respect for transgender people to think it's a good topic for a "joke contest".   Just to show you how the "liberals" are not liberals, these days, they are libertarians. Maher is the poster boy for that phenomenon. 

Update:  And now Salon has another "top story" anti-religious bigot, Jeffrey Tayler defending Maher against the charge that he does what he does, being a bigot.

Bill Maher, American hero: Laughing at religion is exactly what the world needs

The "Journalistic Standards" of Alternet-Salon, Again

Click bait scribbler Valerie Tarico  has a rather sensational piece up at Salon, originating in that other home of the happy clickers, Alternet, in which she says:

In generations past, nursing care was provided by nuns and teachers were spinsters, because avoiding sexual intimacy was the only way women could avoid unpredictable childbearing and so be freed up to serve their communities in other capacities. But if you think that abstinence should be our model for modern fertility management, consider the mass graves that get found every so often under old nunneries.

The link is to one of the pieces pushing the sensational reports of hundreds of skeletons of children found in a "sewer" at what was formerly a home for unwed mothers in Tuam co. Ireland, run by nuns.  It wasn't a "nunnery" and before that it had been a British work house.  I never have seen an analysis that dated any burials, in or out of sewers on the site that dated the bodies to the period that it was operated by the nuns.  Though I have seen that even the local historian, "Catherine Corless, who played a primary role in uncovering the scope of problem," said what she had said was distorted in almost all of the "news" stories and that she'd said no such thing.

‘I never used that word ‘dumped’,” Catherine Corless, a local historian in Co Galway, tells The Irish Times. “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”

In her piece at Alternet-Salon, Tarico implies that this had something to do with abortion, no doubt invoking the wide spread accusation about nuns having secretly becoming pregnant (no doubt by priests) and either having abortions or committing infanticide to get rid of the unfortunate evidence of their lack of chastity.  I've never researched those often told stories, a staple of the trashiest anti-Catholic, protestant lore taken over whole hog by atheists,  but suspect they are on the same level of reporting that the world-wide gossip spreading by the allegedly legit media practiced in regard to the Tuam "scandal".   When it comes to Catholic nuns, the same practices that promoted the blood libel* and the Protocols of Zion reign in the media, today.

I wrote two posts on this issue at the time the "scandal" broke last year. Apparently other people noticed what I did then, that any skeletons found on the site might have been from the longer period of time it operated as a British work house and that large numbers of children died in Ireland and Britain even when they weren't in institutions.   One of the things I read this morning but which I haven't got the time to follow up on puts the rest to the most sensational aspect of the "reports" the "sewer burials".

The most recent revelation has cast an entirely different light on the story. Journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes has interviewed Mary Moriarty, who claims to have fallen into a burial plot on the grounds of the home in the 1970s, when the ground there subsided. She apparently uncovered an underground space containing infant bodies.

Moriarty said she subsequently spoke with a former employee of the home, who recalled helping the nuns to carry deceased infants along an underground tunnel to a burial vault. As Boucher-Hayes states, “Whatever cruelties you could lay at the nuns’ feet, however harsh or medically incompetent the regime they ran was, it was always hard to believe that they would have knowingly put babies in a septic tank. Because there may have been a tunnel running up and into this vault/crypt/space — this one at least is highly unlikely to have been a septic tank.”

This latest revelation correlates with the suggestion of Finbar McCormick, an archaeologist at Queen’s University in Belfast, who stated that the structure uncovered by Sweeney and Hopkins in 1975 is “more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many parts of Europe.”

The take away lesson from that is that while secular institutions, such as the British Workhouses, are held to a far more lenient standard than anything which can be related to religion and that line will run in today's media as surely as it would in the worst of 19th century yellow journalism.  And online media in the age of neo-atheism has only made that situation worse.  And such fables, myths and lies told about religious figures need never to be corrected.  The utility of a story in anti-religious invective is what is valued, not exposing any kind of inadequate treatment of children and other people which could reform similar practices today.  Living children today are an inconvenient expense and are routinely ignored by the same media.

I am waiting for the widespread atheist condemnation of the school of atheist "ethics" that asserts that infanticide should be legal pushed by such stars of atheism as Peter Singer.  Actual infanticide has been promoted by a long line of atheist heroes in the modern period.   I'm waiting but not very hard.

* I mention the blood libel because it's been a lot on my mind.  I had been doing research on that topic even before I read Marilynne Robinson's amazing and fine essays defending Moses, which I intend to write on at length. I have already learned a lot which I'd never known before, including that Tertullian talked about an earlier form of the blood libel used against Christians in the Roman empire. But spring is a bad time for me to start on a topic I hadn't researched before.  I generally don't like to just go with the common received non-wisdom that apparently could get me a paid gig at Alternet or Salon.

Carla Bley & Phil Haines - Why? from Escalator Over The Hill - Linda Ronstadt

The other day I was kind of shocked to read someone making a snarky comment about Linda Ronstadt. Apparently among some people of fashion, as they obviously take themselves for,  she's considered to be uncool.   What's unfashionable seldom has anything to do with quality in art, fashion has proven itself to be entirely able to disdain the greatest art and champion the most trivial. These days it loves the stupid and ephemerally sensational but most of all the commercial.

I always liked Linda Ronstadt, she certainly had a varied career singing everything from pop songs to Mexican popular songs [ It wouldn't surprise me if that was what made her persona non grata with some fashionable folks.] and lots of other genres including her role as the first Ginger in Carla Bley's  jazz opera, Escalator Over The Hill. Her voice was undeniably very good and Ronstadt was enough of an artist to be able to sing the difficult music on texts that don't have conventional or narrative content and make it compelling.   She must have had something that one of the great composers of our time saw,  singers as good as Jeanne Lee (Ginger 2) and Sheila Jordan were also involved with the original recording.

This weekend I also found out that Linda Ronstadt was forced to retire due to a serious illness.  I hope she's as well as can be.

Update:  Ah, well, see my post yesterday on that topic.  I used to think he lied about what I said because he was functionally illiterate due to having read his own stuff for so many years.  Now I think he's just an habitual liar.  I don't care if he lies to the c. 35 people who read his lies.  They're hardly the whole world.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bela Bartok Plays Selections from Mikrokosmos Volume 5

When I first heard the recordings Bartok made of his own music it was clear he really meant the general instructions he gave in the introduction to his Mikrokosmos. The marked times and tempos were to be regarded as required, something that so many who play his music ignore.  Bartok was a great pianist, very clear, very subtle, perfectly balanced and, in his own works, literally definitive.  Anyone who is serious about playing his music authentically has to consult those recordings as certainly as they do the best available editions of them.   Here are selections from Volume 5 of the Mikrokosmos. 

I wish he'd recorded all of them.   Here he plays the best known pieces in the collection, the final Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm. 

So many point that could be made.   The amount of tension that comes from taking the tempos as indicated as opposed to playing them "more freely" is obvious.   I hope I get a student who gets this far soon so we can go over the recordings with the score.  I suspect I'll learn as much about these pieces I've been playing and teaching for years and years.   A while back I got some snark from people who apparently don't realize that classical musicians who are worth anything don't play things identically over and over for decades, that if they're worth anything they learn every time they play a piece and that is reflected in their playing.  At least that's what any classical musician worth listening to aspires to.   

I'm Not Going Back There Again - An Answer To An E-Mail

Don't bother to tempt me because I'm not going back.

If those bloggers and writers want their blogs to service the percentage of atheists who are loud mouthed, religion hating bigots, they willingly give up the large majority of people who will either be driven out by the people they host or who won't chose to return even once, that's their choice. Unfortunately, as I have said before, it is the same stupid choice made in far too much of the left starting in the late 1960s, the period which began the long exile of the left from political success.  

The percentage of the population they choose to appeal to is the tiny percentage of atheists, agnostics and associated haters who are not conservatives (a considerable number of all three -groups are, actually conservatives), who are not indifferent to politics or who are not turned off by such counter-productive, politically suicidal discourse. As critical as I am of atheists, I would guess that there are quite a number of atheists who aren't bigoted jerks who would take delight in a steady diet of bigotry, most of those I know aren't. 

Once you start subtracting the conservatives, the indifferent and those who don't share the pleasure such folks take in marinating in self-congratulatory hate from the less than 6% of atheists and agnostics, you can see how such a strategy was bound to produce political failure. There is a reason that no atheist, anti-religious government has ever taken power democratically or ruled democratically. 

If the number of those serviced by such blogs is even 1% of the general population, I'd be surprised.  I think anyone who would estimate them as more than 3% is probably delusional.  They could never swing an election or have more than a destructive effect in politics.  Anyone who sacrifices the possible support of far larger numbers of far less unreasonable people to please them is a liability in democratic politics. 

Once you do the calculations, even straining reality with the most generous of estimates, those blogs are safely ignored because they will never amount to anything in real life, no matter how much attention they get from the tiny numbers paying attention to them in the scribbling class.  

RMJ has similar thoughts.  

Update:  Oh, I don't care how much he lies about me there because no one goes there anymore except a rump which they didn't Heather out of the place.  I suspect the Phelps cult is far bigger.

Update 2:  The end of  January I counted up how many comments he got per day over the period of several days.  I remember back when he used to get more comments on one comment thread than he gets all day now.  And when I counted the number of commentators on two or three, it was fewer than the c. 40 members of the Phelps cult.  That's as far as I took it, part of what made me think that taking notice was not only not mandatory or even worth while but was far more in the category "waste of time".   I heard a kind of mean joke once about the paucity of last names in one of our states on his blog.  Looks like they've become a similar phenomenon.