Thursday, December 27, 2007

"What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?"

- Nick Lowe, sung by Elvis Costello

First off, apologies to all on yesterday's post. Posting excerpts from professional works in progress is always an 'iffy' proposition, and in a moment of exhaustion (after about three hours sleep) I decided, "Oh, what the hell," and posted my own draft of a full chapter from the collaborative venture The Neil Gaiman Companion -- only to come home last night to a phone message advising caution and suggesting I take it down. What made this most unfortunate is that my old amigo Neil had posted a link from his own blog (and comments to this blog), which brought tons of traffic in. Good publicity, or too much, too soon? In any case, sorry for the blog misfire, folks, and I'll be more careful in future -- except with my own solo projects. With those, I'll drive like a drunk man on New Year's Eve.

Speaking of which...

The meat of today's rant is prompted by exchanges witnessed between close, dear friends of late, and the amped rhetoric of this election season reaching deafening levels, aggravated by the ongoing Bush Administration outrages (someday soon, we'll be able to refer to them as the "outgoing Bush Administration," and won't that be peachy?). I won't name names, because enough hurt feelings to go around have already been generated and apologies and such have circulated. But I can't help but touch upon it here, as I see it happening everywhere, really, and imagine we're hardly alone in these frayed emotions erupting in homes and holiday gatherings everywhere.

My good friend Jean-Marc Lofficier reminded me of this sequence from the classic early era of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four, in which the Hatemonger's speech, the crowd's reaction, and more telling the Fantastic Four's reaction reflects just how far we've come in 2007 from what was considered "middle of the road" conservative rationalism in 1963.

I mean, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were hardly lefties in their day, particularly during this era: communists were the villains of choice at Marvel. Lee's open embrace of the college campuses came later in the '60s, and even then Marvel avoided any commentary on Vietnam, Nixon, protests, drugs (save for the 1969 anti-drug Spider-Man two-parter Lee insists was initiated by the FDA and DEA requests) and politics like the plague. Tolerance was the great leveler for Kirby & Lee: it characterized their pre-Marvel superhero era sf and monster comics, it propelled the original Black Panther stories in FF, and from the very beginning it was the fuel of X-Men as a series (love those mutants).

But where are we now? The Hatemonger is pretty much the party line for Fox News, extremist right-wing pundits and many GOP politicians these days; how did we get here? Are we so far from the middle-American ideals of the early '60s? We indeed are.

An email exchange between two friends during Thanksgiving sets the stage for a very different permutation of this schism last week. First, the Thanksgiving exchange:

Subject line: "That's It"

Having just read the Reuters report copied below, I am officially beyond the notion that we can accomplish anything in the Middle East. Warlike Republicans, peaceful Democrats, nobody is going to fix this sort of crap. We might as well try to democratize ants.

"BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Three suspected al Qaeda militants, including two sisters, beheaded their uncle and his wife, forcing the couple's children to watch, Iraqi police said on Friday.

The militants considered that school guard Youssef al-Hayali was an infidel because he did not pray and wore western-style trousers, they told police interrogators after being arrested in Diyala province northwest of Baghdad.

The three cousins executed Hayali and his wife Zeinab Kamel at the all-boys school in Jalawlah in Diyala province, village police chief Captain Ahmed Khalifa said.

No further details were available."

Amid the responses that followed, reflecting considerable American impatience with the process President Bush has thrust us, as a nation, via war into in the Middle East, this voice of reason was raised:

...think of Afghanistan as a Salem witch hunt.

When you put a country through a decade of Soviet invasion, then an imposed ruler, then lynch him in public, hang his body up for all to see, and install a series of puppet rulers, then an American air and ground invasion to rout out al Qaeda, all the while leaving the roadsides and buildings and schools and hospitals in piles of rubble and the people dependent on poppy cultivation to survive, folks sort of lose it. They are helpless to do anything about it, so they start with what they CAN control -- their own families and communities.

This is what happened in Salem, Mass., circa 1692. The government collapsed, the crops failed, the Indians invaded, and for what? All anybody had done was pray and try to be perfect Christians. So they purged themselves. Hence, Gallows Hill.

There ain't nothing wrong with the Afghanis that we wouldn't all do in their circumstances. And as for peace in the Middle East. Funny, ain't it, that Bush & Co. decide to do an Israeli-Palestinian effort now, after having ignored it for six years. Ole Bill Clinton, bless his heart, was on the verge of a peacemaking breakthrough when he left office. I honestly believe that if Bush had only taken the torch from Clinton back then, no planes would have flown into the World Trade Center.

9/11, in my humble opinion, is the answer to the question, "Ah, why SHOULD we work so hard and spend so much money to get the damned Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table? They'll never agree to anything anyway."

Mohammad Atta answered that for us.

My humble opinion, anyway...

During a Christmas gathering last week with friends, the contemporary caricature of Christians in America today, conflated and inflated beyond reason during the current campaign cycles (which, as everyone knows, have launched far earlier, and with more intensity, than any time in recent U.S. history), resulted in a heated exchange. I won't go into details -- it's nobody's business but our own, really -- suffice to say hurt feelings were expressed and resulted.

But, thankfully, so did discussion.

I won't quote any but my own response, since this is "my" rant --

I think we're all sick of the 'faith/politics' was just sad to see the flare-up. No blame, to my mind.

Yes, the Democrats are as shameless this cycle as the Republicans... I loathe 'em all when they get on the religion soapboxes, honestly.

The essential separation of church and state is paramount in my mind as an American, and I'm sickened by the utter breakdown of that necessary social contract. America was founded on fractured, extremist exiled factions of European Christianity fleeing to far shores in search of somewhere to practice their faiths, and there's little glory in that history once you study it [and the genocide of Native Americans part and parcel of it, as well]. Adding the (Vermont-born -- both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young harked from hereabouts) founding and splintering of what became the Church of Latter Day Saints is just another eruption of such fusions of devotion, faith, zealotry and tragedy, and having Mitt Romney in the mix this election cycle has only complicated matters incredibly....

The GOP and Christian Right argument that America was always rooted in Christian faith presumes there was any unity among the Christian factions: it was the triumph of pluralism and tolerance, not shared values per se, that elevated America as a functional democracy. In truth, the history of American religious belief is pretty terrifying.

Xenophobia, genocide and religious zealotry characterizes much of it, and the ongoing flaunting of 'Manifest Destiny' (though never under that term in the 21st Century) just demonstrates how deep and irrevocable the madness runs, generation to generation.

I am NOT saying practicing Christians=zealotry. I am Christian, myself, though I've moved away from the church I was raised in (Catholic) and gravitated toward none. I try to live the basic teachings of Christ as a person -- I always try, really try, to treat others as I wish to be treated myself, and practice kindness, charity, love for my fellow man, etc. I really try to live that, and [my friends are] among the kindest [people] I've ever known, and live [their] faith as well... This is part of the bond between us, really, isn't it?

I AM saying, though, the argument that the U.S. must assert itself as a solely Christian nation is ill-founded and historically incorrect. Christians do not themselves agree on core values or bedrock issues of faith; there are countless factions, churches, sub-divisions of churches and faiths, and many Americans... do not count themselves as either Christian or even believing in God.

I wholeheartedly agree... that we cannot blame the Republicans alone, given the historic span of events. In our lifetime, it was Jimmy Carter that really opened this can of worms. That the Christian Right embraced the Republican Party, and vice-versa, is as much a conjunction of accidents as it is a collusion of those seeking power: the end result, though, has been disastrous.

The flames have been fanned since, with the utter hypocrisy of the present President/Administration pushing many into utter despair -- how can one "value life" and wage war? Profess Christian values and torture? Claim to be "Pro-Life" and savor capital punishment? So publicly flaunt faith in Jesus and yet champion the so-called unregulated corporation-centric "free market" that has caused so much poverty, pain and human suffering? Evoke "freedom" as a God-given right and yet practice "extraordinary rendition"? Claim devotion to the Ten Commandments and yet lie, cheat, steal, covet, kill?

The irreconcilable conflicts -- between espoused beliefs and real-world action -- is literally endless as of this point in time.

The schism between espoused faith and real-world actions has become so vast and obvious, it leads to the frustration with any eruption in the personal sphere of "religion" -- wherein ANY overt demonstration of faith and ego... becomes a focal point for expressing one's rage and frustration....

What I see [today in many circles] is ANY expression of faith -- genuine or pious -- is immediately suspect to this new generation. They're just FED UP with it, really... The "you're either with us, or you're against us" Presidential speech of 2001 has resonated into every corner of our culture, and the inability to (a) recognize zealots as just being zealots, aberrations, rather than representatives of entire faiths (Christian, Muslim, what have you) or (b) find common ground when faced with differences over matters of faith has become a divisive, hair-trigger elephant in every room.

We're arriving at a sorry ground zero where ANY comment can trigger the ire of 'either side' -- in this case, the quietly faithful... tired of being associated with the caricature of Christianity two terms of Bush has asserted indelibly into the arena; the 'enough is enough' frustration of [those]... sick of both the public and private... abuses asserted and apparently supported by the so-called Christian community.

The support the Christian communities gave Bush pushed real buttons... Those of us who didn't EVER see the man or his circle of cronies as anything BUT cruel, manipulative, calculated and utterly cynical power-brokers have had almost eight years of unfailing evocations of Jesus Christ, the Christian God and Christian values welded to their unprecedented abuses of power.

Forgive, please, the eight years of swallowing vast vats of Christian rhetoric associated with the most horrendous transgressions imaginable by a world power at last reaching complete intolerance with anything associated with that toxic fusion of "faith + abusive power" -- which was, really, what [caused the Christmas event that prompted this writing]... I just love you all, and am sad to see this go down.

I also see last night's... altercation as endemic of what unspoken frustrations at life-in-the-U.S.-of-A. circa 2007 brings to the dinner table. I had too many similar moments at home with my parents in the '70s (over Nixon, Vietnam and that era's over-the-top GOP) to flinch any longer; it was just, well, sad.

Well, no answers here. Just a snapshot of my own end-of-year thoughts for 2007, in hopes 2008 is a kinder year.

Have a Thrilling Thursday.