It’s odd. Finding God in middle age brought more joy and peace into my life than I ever thought to expect, and yet listening to people talk about religion and reading modern writers on the subject often leaves me cold, alienated. I don’t care how brilliantly they refute the atheists. I don’t care whom they think God wants me to sleep with, or how they believe I should say my prayers. When they tell me I cannot call myself a Christian unless I condemn what they condemn and despise whom they despise, it makes me faintly nauseous. And though I’ve read many sentences that begin “If you only knew your Bible, you would see…” I’ve never reached the end of any of them.
What good religious discourse does — what good religious writing does — what they do for me, at least — is reorient my spirit toward its lodestar, which is Christ. For some reason, this is less likely to be achieved through flashy logic and pompous denunciations than through humble seeking and painfully honest self-examination. Go figure.
At any rate, here’s a lovely little book of really good religious writing: Strange Gods, by Elizabeth Scalia, who is also known by her blogging name The Anchoress. For reasons I’ll explain, it is an excellent corrective to our ferocious historical moment.
I was first led to the Anchoress by — who else? — Instapundit, (Him By Whom All Good Things are Linked!). I was taken with the gracefulness of her prose and the graciousness of her outlook and often found them an antidote to the fever of political confrontation. It’s not that she doesn’t have her opinions, she just usually manages to remain open-hearted toward her opposition while expressing them. No common thing these days and no mean trick either.
In Strange Gods, subtitled “Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life,” she examines a few of the infinite ways in which she and all the rest of us break the first commandment. She speaks personally and movingly about how an excess of attention to ego, ideas, ideology, coolness, sex — even the films made from Jane Austen novels! — can position these false idols between ourselves and the source of all goodness.
“Why do people allow their relationship with God to become disoriented? Sadly, the problem usually starts with love. The human heart craves attention and love — love is the common longing of our lives. We may search for a career, or wealth, or status, but the desire to be loved and valued is usually at the root of our strivings… Sometimes, discouraged or impatient in our search, we chase illusions…”
What is it about the word “art”? Pronounce it, and the IQ of susceptible folk is instantly halved. (I’ve seen cases where it is diminished by 87 percent.) Normally sensible people who do not, as a rule, appreciate being being made fools of stand idly by as someone tells them that a video of some charlatan climbing naked up a scaffolding while applying vaseline to sensitive parts of his body is “the most important American artist of his generation.” Instead of throwing something soft and rotting at such mountebanks, they nod solemnly and reach for their wallets. They are only too eager, when a stiffy arrives from the Museum of Modern Art or some similar establishment, to don the soup and fish and buzz round to the super exclusive evening event where scores of beautiful people line up to sip the shampoo and admire a tank full of formaldehyde and a dead tiger shark.
What is it about the word “art” that endows it with this mind-and-character-wrecking property? Why does it induce incontinent gibbering, not to mention mind-boggling extravagance, among normally hard-headed souls? A full answer would take us deep into the pathology of our time. It has something to do with what I’ve called elsewhere the institutionalization of the avant-garde, the contradictory project whereby the tics and outré attitudes of the avant-garde go mainstream. The half-comic, half-contemptible result is that ordinary bourgeois adults find themselves in the embarrassing position of celebrating the juvenile, anti-bourgeois antics of people who detest them.
Our misuse of the word “art” also has something to do with our age’s tendency to look to art for spiritual satisfactions traditionally afforded by religion. “In the absence of a belief in God,” Wallace Stevens observed, “poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.”
That, anyway, is the idea, though exactly what sort of “redemption” may be had from much that goes by the name of “art” today is another question. Consider, to take an example I read about just a couple of days ago, Millie Brown. This 26-year-old deep thinker drinks tinted milk and then regurgitates it over a canvas. That’s her claim to immortality. And good news! The Daily Mail reports that Brown’s “unique vomit-art canvases will be available for purchase.” Act quickly! “Many maintain that now is a great time to invest in this hotly tipped artist.” Who knows? The Mail also reports that one of Millie’s most avid fans is the pop singer Lady Gaga, “who personally chose the artist to feature in her own performance video,” in which “Millie can be seen vomiting shimmering turquoise liquid over the singer.” The paper compares Millie Brown to Jackson Pollock. People — not art people — used to say contemptuously that their child of five could paint something indiscernible from a Jackson Pollock painting. Perhaps so. Millie has gone a step further: her creations are indiscernible from the “creations” of one year olds, whose canvases are the products not of their hands but of other organs.
The bravest part of Jason Collins’s coming-out feature in Sports Illustrated was not the part where he revealed he is gay. It was this:
I celebrate being an African-American and the hardships of the past that still resonate today. But I don’t let my race define me any more than I want my sexual orientation to. I don’t want to be labeled, and I can’t let someone else’s label define me.
I have a prediction: Collins is going to ruffle a few feathers in the gay world for that comment.
It normalizes gayness, instead of letting one counterculture, ultra-liberal, activist niche own the image of homosexuality. If you can be a gay NBA star, why not a gay conservative? If your sexual orientation is just one part of your life, why does it have to dictate your entire worldview?
You can’t be easily herded if you insist on being yourself.
If you’re skeptical that the gay activist Old Guard would be against lifestyle diversity, read this Slate article about how some of them are reluctantly accepting of the “Gaybro” movement. The subtitle says it all: “They like sports, hunting, and beer. They make the gay community mad.”
Jason Collins: thanks for making them mad. It’s time someone shook this place up a bit. And I don’t mean the hetero-normative sports world. I mean the liberal-normative gay world.
So, you want to pitch a TV show — a sitcom no less! Or maybe you’re just an armchair TV enthusiast, a mental writer playing out episodes of the ideal sitcom in your head. Whether your concept is ideal or idyllic, if you want to get it off the ground, you need to get your head out of the clouds and start viewing your human reality in terms of numbers — good numbers. Take a tip from Seth MacFarlane: Be sure to include an African American, a disabled character, and an Asian reporter if you want to stand a chance in TV land.
In other words, start counting your minorities.
It’s all in the spirit of being fair that we view people based on their color, class, gender, or physical ability. Not only is it fair, it is super easy to follow the 4-step program for crafting your perfectly pitch-able TV sitcom.
So, get out your calculators and get ready for a math lesson in how to write a situation comedy for television!
1. Belief in God Is Logical. God’s Fingerprints Cover the Universe. It Is Irrational to Believe That the Universe Was Created Out of Nothingness.
Dear [Insert Name of Your Secularist Friend or Family Member Who Does Not Understand Why You No Longer Share Their Hatred of Traditional Religion Anymore],
It seems like our arguments on Facebook and over email have been increasing lately with all the horrific news stories. And again you continue to misunderstand why I approach the stories of the day from Kermit Gosnell to the Boston Bombers with a good and evil, Bible-based perspective.
One of the best places online you can go to better understand my approach to these issues is Prager University. Every month they release two five-minute courses designed to educate people in a quick, entertaining way about history, philosophy, religion, and politics. I discovered Prager University’s videos when I noticed that they decided to start featuring every new one at PJ Lifestyle, a publication that I enjoy reading which shares the same goals of reaching out and engaging with the culture at large instead of just preaching to the choir.
I’ve collected six of Prager University’s videos on God and religion, starting with their newest one above that they just released yesterday featuring Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft answering the question “God or Atheism — Which is More Rational?” I hope if you want to understand better how it is that I’ve come to reject your ideology and returned to faith in the God of the Bible you would consider these videos along with these six points I’ve written in relation to them.
- Version 1.0 of my 2013 Self-Improvement Program: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal
- Version 1.5, published a month later after my 29th birthday: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s
Today I am joining Charlie Martin and Sarah Hoyt in attempting a 13 Weeks Blogging Self-Improvement Program. I invite others to join me and assist in the continued development of what we should call The Charlie Martin 13 Weeks Method. (Has a nice alliterative ring to it, methinks.) Back in February Charlie laid out his approach:
By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.
- Decide there’s something you want to change.
- Find ways to measure your progress.
- Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.
- Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.
So here’s my 1-2-3-4 for The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen:
1. The problem that I’d like to change is the one that Sarah identified in her PJ Lifestyle article yesterday: being buried in books for research. Over the past year I’ve tried to figure out how to organize the various subjects that I want to study in order to best make sense of them and find the connections across the disciplines. I want to read more books and do a better job of staying organized with the ideas and research that I find in them for my future writing and editing projects. I want to continue to explore connections across disciplines, reading both novels and a wide variety of nonfiction, both very serious philosophy and absurd satire.
2. I will continue to share the most interesting nuggets of my research in one daily PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf post that features an excerpt. Additional snapshots from my research will appear at my Instagram and Twitter accounts which can be followed here and here.
3. I will only create seven piles of books, one for each day, and then base each day’s reading on the titles from that pile. I won’t have to think about which books I’ll read each day. I’ll just draw from each pile. Each day will be based on 1-3 authors and 1-4 related subjects that I want to juxtapose together. This will not be a hard rule that I can only read from that day’s pile. If a book on another subject has caught my enthusiasm then I can still read it after dong the day’s necessary reading.
But I need to find at least two excerpts worth Instagramming and at least one of them should appear as a PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection to inspire debate and discussion. (That’s the purpose of those posts — for the regular readers who have complained, asking why I don’t take a few paragraphs to spell out my opinion of each excerpt offered. They appear because I am more interested in hearing reader feedback on them than pontificating my own ideas.) These seven piles will then flow into the six categories that I created in my original Counterculture Conservative book list from back in October. The seventh (and last) category I plan to add will be based on my list of the The 15 Best Books for Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology. (This will be the basis for Friday’s systematic exploration of evil ideas.)
4. I will create a calendar on a page of my journal broken up into 13 weeks and at the beginning of each day I will notate which page I am on in the books that I am reading associated with that day. I will photograph this calendar and blog about it each week, noting and analyzing my results on Tuesdays (the PJ Lifestyle day focused on writing, media, and technology). At the end of the 13 weeks I will see the progress I made on each author and subject. Then I will decide how to adjust each day’s reading focus, maybe taking a break from an author for a bit or adding another writer whose ideas are worth juxtaposing with the other thinkers of the day.
So what will the reading subjects be for the seven days of this “first season,” as Charlie calls it, of the The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen? I’m doubling down on the authors and subjects of previous self-improvement plans, but focusing some plans and expanding others. As always, your recommendations for additional books and authors that I need to read are sincerely appreciated. Please leave suggestions in the comments or email me.
And publishers, authors and publicists: any and all paperback/hardback books received by mail will be photographed and blogged about. (And e-books that are especially interesting may also be featured. But actual books are of course more photogenic.)
Part 1 of a 4 Part series Deconstructing Family Guy
When Seth MacFarlane sang about boobs at the Oscars, I’m pretty sure he was referring to his own fans.
Most of the time it is taken for granted that we recognize the latent moronic nature of most television programming today.
Then again, do we?
If we agreed as a culture that television programming like Family Guy is so moronic, why would a collective cheer rise up at the sight of another Emmy win? Would we be told by media commentary royalty to worship Seth MacFarlane, the show’s creator, as fascinating? Not only does the guy have mega street cred in the pop culture universe, the primetime structure he’s so wholeheartedly mocked is singing his praises. In fact, it could be said that Family Guy’s seemingly counterculture humor has been legalized by the mainstream.
What’s more, like a bad addiction, Family Guy is the drug that has turned a generation of Boob-Tube addicts into junkies. So, what are the signs, Doctor? How do you know when a co-worker, a friend, even a loved one has become a total Boob? Let’s play MediaMD as we examine the 5 most common side effects of watching Family Guy.
Something vile and horrific happened in a courtroom in Ohio last week, and as I’ve reflected upon the event, I’ve been disturbed by the thought that we have become a nation of compliant sheep that no longer produces citizens capable of standing up to injustice.
At a sentencing hearing for school shooter T.J. Lane, who gunned down six high school students, killing three and paralyzing one from the chest down, Judge David Fuhry gave Lane three life sentences in prison, to be served consecutively.
In what should have been a day of closure and justice for the families of the victims and the community of Chardon that suffered so much in the wake of the school shooting last year, a courtroom full of people stood by and allowed T.J. Lane to victimize the families in a base, contemptible way that likely added exponentially to the heavy burden the families already bear.
The courtroom for Lane’s sentencing hearing on Tuesday was packed with families of the victims, students, teachers, and members of the media. As the hearing began, Lane slipped off the button-down shirt he was wearing, revealing a t-shirt onto which he had written “KILLER” with a marker. A collective gasp filled the courtroom. As the families of the victims gave their statements, Lane smiled and leered at the families, almost seeming to enjoy the moment.
After the sentence was read, Lane had the opportunity to make a statement. At that point, he said something so horrific that I’m not even going to write it here, simply to spare you if you haven’t already heard it. (You can read it and watch the video here.) Trust me, you will have to bleach your soul once you hear it. It should be added to The Book of Things That Shall Never Be Repeated. Then Lane flipped the families the middle finger as a parting shot and said, “F*** all of you!” As a mother, I had a visceral — almost physical — reaction. I almost vomited, thinking about the pain his contemptible words caused the families and how they’ll never be able to scrub them from their minds.
People called talk-radio programs that day to vent their anger. Along with vicious prison-retribution wishes, caller after caller said they would have been arrested had they been in the courtroom. They wouldn’t have stood by while Lane visually and verbally tortured the parents.
WTAM host Bob Frantz said: “I would have been shot dead today. I would have leapt tables to get to that kid.”
Everyone stood by and let it happen.
It’s nearly impossible to review a show on the fly, so I’ve relied on DVRing each new episode of Doomsday Preppers, and reviewing it the next day. This worked great until last week, when for whatever reason episode 14, “A Fortress at Sea,” didn’t record. I chalked it up to there being a mid-season re-run (they happen), and didn’t know otherwise until a reader asked my why I didn’t review it. Oops.
So, this week we’re going to do the best we can and condense two episodes “A Fortress at Sea” and “Let Her Rip” into one post. Call it “Ripped at Sea,” which is what I’m going to wish I was after doing a twofer.
Ready? Here we go!
Kevin and Annissa Coy live in Washington atate and were impacted by the explosion of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Along with their children and grandchildren, they are preparing against the threat of another eruption from one of five active volcanoes within striking distance of their home, including the country-killer, Yellowstone.
They have multiple vehicles to bug-out in, including a truck towing a 5th-wheel RV, a converted Greyhound bus, a 27-foot sailboat on a trailer, and a rollback wrecker to tote a micro-house in case the worst happens. They’ve got livestock (chickens, pigs, rabbits, etc), a year’s supply of food for the entire family… and problems.
Prior to the show, their efforts, while generally well thought-out, had been hypothetical. When it came time to put the theory into practice, that hit several serious snags. The truck that they had to pull the livestock trailer was jacked up too high to connect to the trailer, so they were forced to leave most large livestock behind to die in the hypothetical ash cloud (sorry, Porky). The chickens and rabbits ended up shoved into the luggage compartments of the bus, and I frankly think they stand a decent chance of dying of carbon monoxide poisoning since those aren’t very well-ventilated.
The micro-house Kevin built for Annissa, sadly, wouldn’t load up on the flatbed. Presumably, they need a better skid system under it.
The show’s experts at Practical Preppers dinged the Coys pretty hard for not having adequate water filtration figured out (if someone knows of a volcanic ash-/sludge-rated water filter, please let me know) and for security preps. I was a little uncertain about that, but since the only firearms showed on their segment were a bolt action .22LR and a scoped-deer rifle, it might mean they didn’t have sufficient firepower and/or numbers, since it is rather difficult to drive and shoot. They give them 11 months of survival time.
Ah, lucky 13. We’ve hit the 13th episode of Doomsday Preppers, Season Two, and what have we learned so far?
We’ve developed an understanding that the single most common reason for prepping is the imminent collapse of the economy and the ensuing chaos that follows such an event. We’ve learned that the producers of this show — and to be fair, the producers of almost every “reality” show — have an eye for the eccentric and the absurd. The more outlandish and unhinged the prepper, it seems, the better chance they stand of getting on the show. That allowed, there have been some very ingenious preppers who have made the cut this season as well and impressed even the most grizzled critics with their ingenuity.
Craig Compeau lives in southeastern Alaska, the “last frontier,” with his wife and teenage daughters. The owner of a boat sales company, Craig fears an economic collapse and popular revolt that leads to martial law.
Should that eventuality come to pass, Craig intends to get his family out of Fairbanks fast and into Alaska’s rugged interior where limited government forces aren’t likely to try and chase down individual families in the bush.
For the time being, Craig’s family is split up. His wife and older daughter are in a different part of Alaska pursuing medical degrees, while he keeps the home-fires burning and the preps, er, prepping. This isn’t easy on his younger daughter, Emily, who, like most teens, thinks her parents are nuts.
True to form for the show, Craig wakes Emily before dawn and takes her on on a forced retreat to their bug-out location.
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
The Dallas Sci-Fi Expo wrapped up on Sunday, February 10. We snapped photos of some of the best, most creative and most disturbing costumes of the show. Click on a thumbnail below to view photo galleries. They’re divided into Girls, Groups, and Guys.
You can see more costumes from the Dallas Sci-Fi Expo here.
We interviewed Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer, here.
And ran into MickeyDeadMau5Trooper here.
Image courtesy Shutterstock / Robert Spriggs
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
On Tuesday I turned 29. Apparently this is one of those “milestone” birthdays meant to suggest that now I’m really growing old and should start worrying or feeling worse about myself in some abstract way. Apparently when you’re 30 it means that the party decade is over and you should scrape the cheeto dust out of your navel, put some pants on, and finally grow up.
So be it. Growing old has never really bothered me. (Though I wish the hair wasn’t going so fast…) I’ve felt like a cranky old man trapped in a young person’s body since at least junior high. So how about this for an old-fashioned way to really put the last 362 days of the third decade of my life to use: actually writing out a plan for the year. Here’s what I’m going to try to do so that when the 30th birthday hits in 2014 I can look back and not feel too much embarrassment at another wasted year.
In December I declared my “7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal” and then began the process of integrating these general self-improvement goals into both my daily routine and the weekly schedule of my PJ Lifestyle blogging. I left them somewhat vague so over the course of the month more concrete goals could materialize. And here they are, revised from my original list but generalized so perhaps others might still find them useful to consider as potential additions to their own Lifestyle self-programming.
1. Family Life on Monday: Rediscover and Celebrate Your Family’s Origins.
On Monday this week I blogged an open letter to my wife informing her that the time had come to change directions with our Netflix diet. The number of Dexter/Battlestar Galactica-level cable shows on DVD had dried up and new releases offered little hope of consistent entertainment satisfaction. We had to start mining older regions of film and TV history — but could we agree on a path forward?
Turns out we still can. April selected the first option:
1. Watch the entire Criterion Collection. Maybe in order?
You’re always complaining (rightfully) that the past few years I’ve spent too much time on politics and don’t show you weird, artsy movies anymore. Well here’s the mother lode and now we should start exploring it.
April suggested we call it “The Criterion Challenge.” We’re going to attempt to watch as many as we can this year — and yes, as close to in the order of their release as we can. We started last night with my copy of The Seven Samurai (spine #2) and watched the first hour. I’d forgotten how entertaining a film it was — and was delighted when April got into it too.
In charting this new entertainment course for us, we’re really going back to the origins of our relationship. I never realized what a role my oddball movie tastes had for April. When we began dating seriously for a second time in the fall of 2006 (a few months after I’d graduated and she was starting her sophomore undergraduate year), I would drive up to Muncie from Indianapolis on weekends with different art movie DVDs to share with her.
But in the years since our marriage I’ve neglected this original film guide role. My movie obsession fell by the wayside to make way for political warfare and new media trouble-making. Now’s a good time to correct course as I seek to re-balance my life between the legs of culture, religion, and politics. (Instead of the ideological focus that it’s largely been for the last three years…)
And we’re both on the same page in why we’re watching this series of classic films — to further develop our own understanding of the visual arts. What makes a beautiful, powerful image? How does film tell stories and evoke feelings? April and I are going to explore these questions together and I’ll try and blog a few thoughts on each film. Also, keeping with the return to film, for our year off from Disney Land I’m going to make a point to explore the ideas that brought it into existence.
Monday Bookshelf and Blogging Focus: Research the life, work, and ideas of Walt Disney to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Author James Wasserman posted this image on Facebook last week and noted:
Laura Wiggers sent me this photo of Robert Anton Wilson in Gurney’s apartment (1986) for the post-lecture evening described on page 216 of In the Center of the Fire when a certain Nancy Wasserman drove me half crazy, probably in collusion with Laura if memory serves. Not that anyone was drinking in those days!
In trying to figure out a regular angle for my third resolution, it dawned on me the other day how many Robert Anton Wilson (RAW) books — particularly his novels — I still had not read. Maybe for my excerpts for funny PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf recommendations I should highlight his jokes? Hence today’s excerpt from Schrodinger’s Cat: The Universe Next Door.
As with many countercultural and spiritual wanderers of the past 40 years, one of my most cherished guides and influence was RAW, a comedic philosopher-intellectual and novelist most well known for his mind-bending memoir Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati and The Illuminatus! Trilogy (co-authored with Robert Shea.)
The idea uniting Wilson’s books is one that I still sympathize with but no longer embrace: radical agnosticism. Wilson sought to provoke his readers to learn to always question their perceptions and assumptions, to strive to look through other people’s “reality tunnels.” As a general principle this is still a sound cause to triumph. But I understand now, having imbibed a few more glasses of painful life experience, that this as an overarching ideology cannot sustain itself.
Recognizing a multiplicity of potentially valuable, useful reality tunnels is one thing. But figuring out how to value one as more effective than another is something else entirely. And looking back now across Wilson’s work I see how he failed to do that. His list of influences runs across the gamut from the genuinely brilliant to the malevolent charlatans. And his storyteller and raconteur’s gifts then apply to help popularize both. Perpetually doubting and always striving to see from another’s perspective means that when the time comes to really stand strong on an important principle it can be very hard to do. Insist long enough that we live in a world of endless shades of gray and someday you’ll stumble into a darkness far bleaker than anything imaginable. And doubt can stand against it?
No, but laughter can. And just because Wilson couldn’t realize that some of the ideas and authors he trumpeted were better than others it doesn’t me that we cannot.
For Wednesday’s humorous blogging I’m going to start going through my old RAW books and highlighting what I discover now through my more seasoned, less naive eyes. I want to try and figure out what Wilson got right and where he went off the rails. Which of his 11 novels and 18 nonfiction books merit inclusion on the Counterculture Conservative book list?
But I’ll still try and stick to the New Year’s Resolution and offer up some humor too and not just dwell on the darkness that he and so many of his generation and many since chose to escape confronting.
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
If President Obama’s goal with the inaugural prayers was to marginalize and offend devout, conservative Christians and orthodox Jews, it would be fair to say: mission accomplished.
The choice of Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, departed from historical protocol. She was the first female and first non-clergy member to lead an inaugural prayer. She did so in the wake of Pastor Louie Giglio’s unceremonious removal from the dais after the discovery he had preached a sermon 20 years ago expositing the Bible’s position on homosexuality. While it’s understandable that Evers-Williams would feel the need to temper her prayers, lest the current administration banish her from future public speaking engagements, her words represent a stunning departure from historical inaugural prayers and from anything resembling a Christian, Jewish, or even a generic Judeo-Christian prayer.
Evers-Williams, when asked to describe her religious affiliation by Religion News Service, said,
I have been Baptist, I have been Methodist, I have been Presbyterian. I have attended all of those churches depending on where I have lived in my life.
The answer seems rather dodgy, but nothing out of the ordinary, so when her “prayer” began as something of an announcement, we waited for the “prayer” part to begin:
America, we are here, our nation’s Capitol on this January the 21st 2013, the inauguration of our 45th [editor’s note, should be 44th] president Barack Obama.
And we waited some more…
We come at this time to ask blessings upon our leaders, the president, vice president, members of Congress, all elected and appointed officials of the United States of America. We are here to ask blessings upon our armed forces, blessings upon all who contribute to the essence of the American spirit, the American dream. The opportunity to become whatever our mankind, womankind, allows us to be. This is the promise of America.
Was this a prayer or a speech? If it was a prayer, note that Mrs. Evers-Williams addressed it simply to “America,” imploring “America” to bestow blessings upon our leaders and our country.
Golly, I feel old sometimes.
I became a buddhist in 1966. It turns out my new favorite Zen Master — boy, he’s gonna flinch if he reads that — is a guy who was about four years old at the time. His name is Brad Warner, and he’s rockin’ the Zen world.
Literally. Brad is a hardcore punk rock bass player, who recorded with hardcore bands like 0DFX (Zero Defex) and started a psychedelic band Dementia 13, and I’m telling you right here and now that my knowledge of punk rock is entirely derived from reading Brad’s books and a couple of Wikipedia articles: when punkers were listening to the Dead Kennedys, I was listening to Styx and Kansas.
I also like Glenn Miller. Sue me.
Brad then moved to Japan, where after a year of teaching English, managed to wangle a job working for Tsuburya Productions, which made Ultraman; he acted in bit parts in a number of Ultraman movies and did promotion in English for the company. He also married. While he was there, he also started to study Zen with Gudo Nishijima, a teacher in the Soto lineage, and as he tells it in his first book Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality, Nishijima-sensei decided to confer Transmission, making him an official certified Zen Master and Nishijima’s Dharma heir. He then moved back to the US, lost his job, got divorced, and began writing for the general public with Hardcore Zen, followed by becoming a columnist for the Suicide Girls website, largely a repository of pictures of young hipster girls with lots of tattoos and few clothes.
Brad has been controversial more or less from the start. (Not every Zen Master writes for a porn site.) First of all, he doesn’t look the part.
This guy looks like a Zen Master.
This guy looks like a Zen Master.
And then there’s Brad.
According to Boxofficemojo.com, Marvel’s The Avengers ranks as the third most successful film of all time with a global haul of $1.5 billion. Rotten Tomatoes notes the alignment of critics (92% approval) and audiences (96%.) Like other epic fantasy franchises at the top of the list — from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and The Matrix — The Avengers resonates universally with audiences and critics across the globe because of its exciting reinventions of classical mythology, religious metaphor, and esoteric symbols.
What follows is my attempt to unpack some of these references and describe what I believe to be their cumulative effect: The Avengers is the best superhero film yet made, both in its entertainment level and moral values. Over at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last and Travis D. Smith can have their debate of Batman vs Spider-Man. The Avengers rise over them both, providing a much richer fantasy for young people to embrace as they begin the journey toward adulthood.
1. The Invigorating “Live to Rise” Theme Song Explicitly Reveals the Film’s Hidden Hermetic Goal: Directing the Viewer to Understand Their Life as an Expression of the Rise, Fall, Death, and Resurrection of the Sun.
The lyrics to the new Soundgarden song — embedded above — used prominently in the film’s advertising and closing credits:
What if all you understand,
Could fit into the center of our hand,
Then you found it wasn’t you,
Who held the sum of everything you knew,
Like the sun we will live to rise,
Like the sun we will live and die,
And then ignite again,
Like the sun we will live to rise again,
Dr. Israel Regardie’s The One Year Manual: Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment offers a series of short chapters with practical exercises for improving one’s life. The book distills a lifetime’s worth of engagement with Hermeticism to transform a spiritual practice cloaked in mystery and confusion into an accessible tool for those of all faith traditions.
The book’s exercises involve instruction in prayer, relaxation, rhythmic breathing, meditative ritual, and the development of concentration. Throughout the text Regardie draws from ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and scientific traditions to show how one can plug in any deity and use the book’s rituals to help grow closer to one’s conception of the Higher Power.
My friend Rob Taylor suggested The One Year Manual to me last December and I experimented with its techniques throughout 2012. I agree with the author that the book’s first exercise — the Four Adorations — is the most essential and the only one to practice daily, which I do:
In former great ages, man realized intuitively his relationship to nature and to the living universe in which he lived and was a part. He felt his unity with all the elements. In the fullness of his life he worshipped the Sun as a visible symbol of the unknown God in whom we live and move and have our being. It is axiomatic that light is life and both are dependent upon the Sun — which thus becomes a vital symbol of God.
In our modern scientific age of gadgets and things, with our unnatural way of life divorced from contact with the dynamic root of things, we may once more progress towards the full awareness of the source of life and love and liberty, we make ritual gestures of affirming a link between the Sun and ourselves. Upon the basis of these gestures of adoration, every act in life may be dedicated in such a way that living itself becomes sanctified and transformed.
Though God is a unity, the Sun, as a symbol of God, appears differently at each of its four daily stations — dawn, noon, sunset and midnight. Therefore an adoration is directed towards the Sun at each of these four stations.
At dawn, or upon arising, he should perform whatever abulations are customary and then turning towards the East, say audibly:
Hail unto Thee who art Ra in thy rising,
Even unto Thee who art Ra in thy strength,
Who travellest over the Heavens in Thy bark
At the Uprising of the Sun.
Tahuti standeth in His splendour at the prow
And Ra-Hoor abideth at the helm.
Hail unto Thee from the Abodes of the Night!
Much of the symbolism inherent in this simple adoration may be missed by the student for some considerable time. It does not matter just yet. But this should not be permitted to serve as an obstacle to daily practice, nor to deter him from adoring God in the form of the rising Sun every day of his life.
Regardie then explains how the prayer changes at each time of day with different Egyptian gods representing the sun later at noon, sunrise, and night. Here’s a hieroglyph depicting the image of the prayer and the deities referenced: Tahuti (Thoth, the ankh,) Ra-Hoor (Horus the Hawk-headed), and the sun deity Ra (the solar disk):
The great value of the “Four Adorations” comes not in the words of the prayer or the Egyptian gods Regardie suggests. Evangelical Christians could just as easily substitute God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. What matters is how the prayer — adapted from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead — breaks up the idea of God into multiple parts, asserting that individual deities can only express aspects of a Transcendent God existing beyond human comprehension. We can only hold pieces of God in our head at a time.
What if all you understand,
Could fit into the center of our hand,
Then you found it wasn’t you,
Who held the sum of everything you knew,
Here we see the mechanism for the gradual transition from polytheism to monotheism. It’s not just a matter of belief in one god versus the worship of many. The revolution came not in the idea of a single deity, but an abstract deity defined not in a single symbol — like a Golden Calf — but in the ongoing transformation of one symbol into another. In the Judeo-Christian monotheism that arose out of the polytheism of the Mediterranean world, God was not a Thing. God was the invisible process through which nothing transforms into something. God isn’t a man sitting up in the clouds or an animal-headed supernatural being sailing across the sky in a boat. God is the four-fold process we see manifest in the rise of the sun and the turn of the seasons. And the more we worship this process — Regardie recommends stopping at the same time every day for a moment of reflection and devotion — the more we can apply it to transform ourselves and our world.
Its with this Hermetic understanding — God as a process of continual death and resurrection, “Like the sun we will live to rise again,” — that I approach the heroes and villains of The Avengers with the Tarot deck in hand. The cards each represent aspects of this process of transformation. They are not a fortune-telling or future-predicting device any more than the future changes when the individual seeing the cards chooses to respond to the reminder of the values they represent.
The next 8 pages will each focus on the mythological significance of each hero and villain in The Avengers. The conclusion will explore what story pours out after all these elements liquify in the blender of cinema. My apologies for the length — this is really more of a short ebook rather than a long article. Caveat emptor.
We begin first with the film that carved a space for Marvel at the box office, 2008′s Iron Man and its brilliant, capitalist-hero Tony Stark, an exciting reinvention of the suit of Swords (spades in the playing card deck) fueled by a $140 million budget.
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And here I was thinking that on the very first day I’d fail to deliver on point 3 from my list of New Year’s Resolutions (my promise to find and present funny things on Wednesdays at PJ Lifestyle.)
For the record: I agree with Breitbart and still adore John Waters after my ideological shift. I suppose it would make sense for some of Waters’ books to join Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World! on my counterculture conservative book list…
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