Elizabeth Brockway, after Piero della Francesca. Resurrection is what we make of it. Here is to the hope that we can take the country back from nationalist "Christians"
AT THE CEMETERY OF THE HOLY CROSS
When it’s green after winter rains,
I imagine you straining away
from roots that seek to pierce
your chest, nail down your hands.
You shape yourself back,
Adam from the earth;
the skin stitches itself,
regathers loose fibers.
And I, on the other shore
of the river of breath,
read the bronze plaque
as if I couldn’t understand
between the two dates.
The hills shimmer so green,
I almost reach to pull you up —
and for brief silence the sky
stops. Then wind brings the sharp
tang of eucalyptus leaves,
the traffic’s hum and drone,
its prayer to move on, move on.
I straighten and walk away,
down the mowed slopes
toward the cold city.
This is one of my many poems about a young man I once loved, who ended up committing suicide. A suicide often produces a storm of conflicting emotions. But they eventually calm down to a resignation in the face of the finality of death.
~ “Here's my question: If God raised Jesus from the dead, why not make it public so everyone could see and believe? If the empty tomb is a deal breaker — all that gnashing of teeth and eternal damnation — why be so secretive? What kind of God plays games like that?
If Jesus wanted everyone in the world to know that he resurrected from the tomb, why didn't he make at least a one public appearance for history's sake? Why only to a handful of biased believers who didn't even know how to read or write?
Why not appear to the people who killed him — like say, Pontius Pilate, or Judas Iscariot, or the Sanhedrin Council who'd been plotting his death for years? If all these were too scary, then why not at least show up for Pilate's wife who, according to the bible, told her husband to leave the poor guy alone! That's honorable mention stuff right there.
Or better yet, why not go back to the vulgar crowds in Jerusalem — the fickle folks who supposedly threw palms at his feet before they turned against him? These were the people who needed convincing, for crying out loud, not his mom and his best friends.
Lets face it: Since the future of the world depended on it — not to mention the billions of people about to go to hell for lack of even a shred of evidence or logic — we're looking at a totally unfair and unjust religious belief system. This makes no sense. None. Nada. Zip. Zero.
We could argue that, “Jesus wanted to reward his disciples for their faithfulness, so that's why he didn’t let anyone else see him.”
But that means he put the whole burden on his disciples to go forth and convince the world. That makes no sense because they had no credibility — people knew they were already believers. And besides, they were not only illiterate, but they'd likely be dead before anyone else started to write about the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.
In fact, it would be 40 more years before the anonymous “Mark” wrote about the death of Jesus, and guess what? Mark never mentioned a single sighting of Jesus, or the name of anyone who claimed he or she had ever SEEN Jesus after he died.
And then there's this: The tomb of Jesus was located at the thriving city of Jerusalem — the historic and religious center of the whole Jewish religion. Wait. Weren't these the same Jewish people whom Jesus said he came to save? So why did Jesus not at least go into Jerusalem after the resurrection, and shake a few hands?
Why would God not want the Jews of Jerusalem to see and hear for themselves that Jesus was alive and well? This makes absolutely no sense.
UNLESS . . . there was no resurrection. Unless Jesus was actually a Jewish rabbi — and a revolutionary who turned the tables on the status quo. In that case, it all makes sense. The mission of Jesus was to bust down the doors of the encrusted, established religion of the day — and bust the whole crowd of rich, religious hypocrites for the ways in which they oppressed the poor and the outcast. His mission was to call them out for their lack of love, compassion, grace, and basic decency. He busted them for failing to be human.
Their privilege had corrupted their humanity, and they didn't like being exposed and busted.
In that case, there was no need for a resurrection. Only a crucifixion." ~ Noah Einstein
The Dead Sea at sunset; photo: Rachel Heimowitz (The shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest land elevation on earth)
I was always puzzled by the scattered and seemingly pointless appearances of Jesus after the alleged resurrection. There is something anti-climactic about them. The powerful narrative we might expect — e.g. another triumphant entry into Jerusalem, even if just to say “I told you so” — is no more.
As Noah points out, the Jews of Jerusalem are cheated of their salvation. Pontius Pilate gets no second visit, about which he’d no doubt write in a long letter to the Emperor, possibly changing the history of the world. If a visit would be too tall an order — you can’t just drop in on a Roman governor, not even with the news that you just rose from the dead — how about a dream? The ancient world ran on dreams and prophecies. Pilate’s sympathetic wife certainly deserved at least a second dream.
But Noah already said it all: what kind of god would play those secrecy games? It’s shocking how the invisible looks just like the non-existent . . .
(Neil Carter’s comment is interesting: “If the resurrection of Jesus really happened, we wouldn’t be still debating its historicity today. The present-day evidence for the other claims of the Christian faith would be overwhelming, and all around us. They would leave little room for doubt. The very fact that we are still dissecting these ancient stories, looking for clues to determine whether or not they really happened says enough, don’t you think?”
(Michael Shermer has argued that if compelling evidence of the resurrection existed, surely a few scholars outside of Christianity would have noticed? Yet belief in the resurrection appears to be a 100% Christian phenomenon.) (And it turns out that not even all Christians believe in the resurrection — see the “Survey” post that follows.)
(Why go over this stuff? For several reasons, one of which is simply thinking things through after a childhood and early youth of not being allowed to think. Independent thinking was the “whispers of Satan.” Why did Jesus curse the poor fig tree whose “season was not yet”? Why did he mock the custom of washing one’s hands before eating — surely an omniscient god would know about bacteria and would encourage his followers to observe hygiene? No, such thoughts were to be suppressed. Doubt itself was not a sin, the priest explained, but not struggling against the doubt was a sin. And I struggled.)
Here is something real: the manicured gardens of the Baha’i Temple in Haifa, Israel. It seems the best thing about this religion (originated in Iran and persecuted there) is that it promotes gardening. I wish all religions promoted gardening and planting trees.
Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? ~ Douglas Adams
SURVEY: NEARLY A QUARTER OF BRITISH CHRISTIANS DON’T BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION
BBC News has a story describing an interesting survey. Several particular results stand out: Half of the respondents reported that they do not believe that the Resurrection happened. But of these, many also identified as Christians. About one-fourth of respondents who identified as Christians reported that they do not believe that the Resurrection occurred.
According to the BBC story, it is also true that 9% of people identifying as non-religious reported believing that the Resurrection did occur [don’t ask].
Vegreville Pisanka (decorated Easter egg), Alberta, Canada
Of course no metaphorical interpretation was allowed back when I was the daughter of the church. We had to believe that Jesus was raised on the cross exactly at high noon on Friday and died exactly at 3 pm. Then he walked out of the tomb exactly at the crack of dawn on Easter Sunday. The dates kept changing because Easter is not a fixed holiday (it can be as early as March 22 or as late as April 25), but that wasn’t questioned (nothing was questioned). He died on a Friday at exactly 3 pm — this was not an optional belief. No belief was optional back then.
Did the rainbow exist before Noah’s Flood? You didn’t even dare think about it.
A rainbow in the Carpathians; Piotr Krzaczkowski
Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock. ~ Sigmund Freud
~ “You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.” ~ Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
BUT IF THERE WAS NO RESURRECTION, DOES LIFE HAVE A MEANING?
from the series: Samuel Beckett Motivational Cat Posters
It’s been pointed out, by the Mythicists who don’t believe that Jesus actually existed, but not only by them, that deities that die and are then resurrected are by no means rare in various religions. The powerful story of Inanna’s Descent into the realm of Death may be the earliest recorded example. The way she’s stripped at each gate still makes me shudder — that’s what aging does to us. And yet she revives and ascends again.
Then there were of course the Eleusinian Mysteries and the dismemberment and resurrection of Dionysus. Persephone’s yearly return from the Underworld is perhaps not exactly the same as a resurrection, but it resembles it. And we have also the ancient myth of the Phoenix reborn from his ashes.
We need those stories of death and rebirth because of the First Noble Truth: “shit happens.” We need to be told that most suffering is survivable.
Life consists of countless deaths and resurrections. We manage to survive — until we don’t.
But until that time, life can have any meaning we manage to endow it with. We both find meaning and create it — each person through his or her uniqueness in the now. No invisible persons in the sky are needed for this. But real people — yes, they are necessary for us to have a meaning, since we are a part of the greater human story.
YOU ARE NOT INHERENTLY EVIL — YOU ARE INHERENTLY HUMAN
“You are not inherently evil -- you are inherently human” and “trust yourself” — ah, if only such messages were around me when I was growing up . . . Unfortunately, what I heard was the opposite, i.e. I was inherently evil BECAUSE I was human. The voice of reason was the “whispers of Satan.” It’s astonishing to ponder the enormity of the hatred of humanity, of life, of this beautiful earth that is the foundation of all major religions.
THE LADY WITH THE UNICORN
The old are kind.
The young are hot.
Love may be blind.
Desire is not.
~ Leonard Cohen
The first two lines strike me as wisdom. I sometimes mention the "cruelty of youth." Empathy deepens with age, experience, and the growing knowledge that we all suffer and will die; we get to see that it's more meaningful to hold hands than to have sex.
Raphael, Lady with a Unicorn, 1505. Apparently a miniature variety, a lap unicorn.
The unicorn was probably chosen as a symbol of virginity. But there is also a peculiar “madonna and child” quality about the painting. Virginity, however, is #1 here. The unicorn was a symbol of purity; it would come only to a virgin; its horn was supposed to have the power to purify water of poison or pollution.
This may be the only representation of a lap unicorn in art. And this brings us to the problem of belief and reality. Theists think it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Prove to me that god doesn’t exist. You can’t, can you?” And they think they’ve scored a triumph.
Actually they’ve just made an error in logic. One of the principles of logic is “you can’t prove a negative.” If someone says, “There’s a teapot orbiting the Moon,” the burden of proof is on them.
If the statement about the invisible teapot is challenged, the teapot believers can’t legitimately respond with “Then prove to me that a teapot is NOT orbiting the moon. You can’t, can you?” That makes nonsense of the rules of evidence.
(I know, it completely shocks theists if you say that the burden of proof is on THEM.They are making the outrageous assertion that an invisible man in the sky exists, and now they are supposed to PROVE it? Well, “it’s in the book.”)
Of course poets can write unicorn sonnets and painters can paint unicorns. Scotland can adopt the unicorn as its national animal (by the way, the national flower of Scotland is the thistle). But here comes high tech — infrared photography, UV, X-rays — and now we are told that Raphael did not paint the unicorn. Nor did he paint the lapdog that underlies the image. Other artists added those — and the lap unicorn stayed. It does look somewhat “off” — but I don’t think anyone would vote to have it removed because we want authenticity. No: we want romance.
(Shockingly, a small but vocal group is seeking to remove the unicorn as Scotland’s national animal. They claim it should be replaced with Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. “How many people visit Scotland hoping to see a unicorn?” they ask.)
Unicorn purifying water, 15th century medical manuscript
But isn’t a unicorn’s horn, ahem, a phallic symbol? Well, humans have a fantastic ability to twist anything around . . . so the unicorn came to be regarded as a symbol of Christ, just as a pomegranate became a symbol of Christ’s passion. Don’t ask.
(A shameless digression: Ah, purity! It’s one of the primary conservative values. The Christian pastor who recently killed his wife and an 8-year-old child in a San Bernardino schoolroom posted about her in February, effusively praising her purity.)
CAKE AND MISSILES: TRUMP RECOUNTS HOW HE TOLD PRESIDENT XI ABOUT THE MISSILE STRIKE (confusing Iraq and Syria)
~ “I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We're now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it. And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do? And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way. And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you. This was during dessert.
We've just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing. ... It's so incredible. It's brilliant. It's genius. Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five. I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing. Now we're going to start getting it, because, you know, the military has been cut back and depleted so badly by the past administration and by the war in Iraq, which was another disaster. So what happens is I said *we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq* and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.
[Fox Business News Maria] BARTIROMO: Heading to Syria?
TRUMP: Yes. Heading toward Syria. In other words, we've just launched 59 missiles heading toward Syria. And I want you to know that, because I didn't want him to go home. We were almost finished. It was a full day in Palm Beach. We're almost finished and I — what does he do, finish his dessert and go home and then they say, you know, the guy you just had dinner with just attacked a country?
BARTIROMO: How did he react?
TRUMP: So he paused for 10 seconds and then he asked the interpreter to please say it again. I didn't think that was a good sign. And he said to me, anybody that uses gases — you could almost say or anything else — but anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that young children and babies, it's OK.” ~
from Robert Reich’s Facebook page. The transcript of the whole interview is fairly long, but for those interested: https://www.facebook.com/RBReich/posts/1535368513142406
Washington Post commented: “Trump seems dazzled by being able to bomb Syria over dessert.” Indeed, who could doubt that it was “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever seen”?
The obscenity of the US’s legally questionable power projection is that it wins no battles and gains no territory. Western armies are clearly exhausted by fruitless ground wars in distant parts of the world. As a result, drones, cruise missiles and Moabs are forced to bear the burden of “something must be done”. ~ Simon Jenkins, The Guardian
“SILENCE IS MY CLOISTER” ~ Beckett
“Might have damaged myself beyond repair last night in the bathroom,” Beckett writes at the age of 69 to his life-long mistress Barbara Bray in 1975. “Had got out of the bath & was drying myself with my back to it when my feet slipped and I fell in backward.” Two years later he writes, “I slipped and fell in the street yesterday, but could pick myself up and go on cursing God and man.”
In three separate letters, Beckett discusses his remorse about not going to work for the Guinness beer company in Dublin just as his middle-class father had repeatedly suggested. It’s a detail that many unfulfilled workers should ponder: A life as a successful musician, or All-Pro quarterback, or even as a Nobel Prize-winning writer for that matter, does not exempt one from the pangs of occupational regret. You can be brilliant; you can write Waiting for Godot, you can have an apartment in Paris and a house in the French countryside, and still wonder if you’d be happier being a 9-to-5 drone in a Dublin office cubicle.
The joy of Bellow’s letters—in contrast to Beckett’s straightforward correspondence—is that they often combine geriatric insight with his customary literary flare. In a 1997 letter where he mentions a recent ICU stint, he adds, “Then there is the stamp of old age on the face, head, hands, and ankles. These blue-cheese ankles—what a punishment for narcissists!”—a perfect image of how the human body changes and how this process agonizes the ego. And then, astutely describing the sense of both violation and intimacy one feels toward aging, he writes two years later, “I often feel these days that death is a derelict or what Americans nowadays call a street person who has moved into the house with me and whom I can find no way to get rid of.”
“NOTHING IS HARDER TO BEAR THAN A SUCCESSION OF FAIR DAYS” — HOW DID GOETHE KNOW THIS WITHOUT HAVING LIVED IN CALIFORNIA?
“One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of ‘Creation’. What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is by its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Goethe indeed warns us that ‘nothing is harder to bear than a succession of fair days.’ But this may be an exaggeration.” ~ Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
Come to think of it, Goethe lived for a while in Italy. But nothing like Southern California if you want to discover how much you love clouds and rain. By the way, Freud really makes a good point about happiness. The most intense kind is based on contrast. Fortunately there is also contentment (“mild contentment” is fine with me) and a sense of well-being.
Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers. ~ Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
As the Home Owners' Association keeps saying in the heading of their threatening letters, "A FRIENDLY REMINDER"
IS THE END OF CAPITALISM GOING TO BE LIKE THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE?
This is the premise of his latest book, How Will Capitalism End?, which goes well beyond Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Piketty thinks capitalism is getting back into the saddle after being ruined in two world wars. Streeck thinks capitalism is its own worst enemy and has effectively cut itself off from all hope of rescue by destroying all its potential rescuers.
According to Streeck, salvation doesn’t lie in going back to Marx, or social democracy, or any other system, because there is no salvation at all. “What comes after capitalism in its final crisis, now under way, is, I suggest, not socialism or some other defined social order, but a lasting interregnum — no new world system equilibrium... but a prolonged period of social entropy or disorder.”
All these problems and more have grown through “three crises: the global inflation of the 1970s, the explosion of public debt in the 1980s, and rapidly rising private indebtedness in the subsequent decade, resulting in the collapse of financial markets in 2008.” Anyone of a certain age in British Columbia has vivid personal recollections of these crises and the hurt they caused. The strikes and inflation of the 1970s preceded the “restraint” era, and now we mortgage our lives for a foothold in the housing market. Streeck reminds us that it was nothing personal, just business. We weren’t just coping with one damn thing after another; given his perspective, we can see how it all fit together with an awful inevitability.
When the bubble pops
And it continues to fit together. Temporary foreign workers and other immigrants make unions’ jobs harder. “Recovery” amounts to replacing unemployment with underemployment. Education is an expensive holding tank to keep young people off the labor market. Women are encouraged to work so they can be taxed. But middle-class families need two incomes anyway to maintain their status, so they import underpaid immigrant women as nannies.
Marx thought communism would see the withering-away of the state. Instead, capitalism has reduced the state until its chief functions are protecting the rich and policing the poor.
But in the process, capitalism has killed off its rescuers. Who’s going to save the banks in the next collapse? Who’s going to bail out the masters of the financial universe when artificial intelligence takes their jobs? And who’s going to police the poor when taxpayers can’t pay for the cops and the rich are hiring cops for their own gated communities? Wolfgang Streeck sees neither a single cause of capitalism’s collapse nor any obvious successor regime.
The European Union may break up. Climate change may drown south Florida, including Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Refugees will keep coming north; they will eventually overwhelm the fences and guards and create new enclaves in Europe and the U.S.A. and Canada.
New pandemics will sweep unchallenged around the world. No coherent political communities will be there to respond to such disasters. Such communities may arise centuries from now, but if Streeck is right, capitalism has ensured that we and our children will never live in them.
a bit more on the subject:
~ “Why should the new oligarchs be interested in their countries’ future productive capacities and present democratic stability if, apparently, they can be rich without it, processing back and forth the synthetic money produced for them at no cost by a central bank for which the sky is the limit, at each stage diverting from it hefty fees and unprecedented salaries, bonuses, and profits as long as it is forthcoming – and then leave their country to its remaining devices and withdraw to some privately owned island?” ~ Wolfgang Streeck
This summer, Britons mutinied against their government, their experts and the EU – and consigned themselves to a poorer, angrier future. Such frenzies of collective self-harm were explained by Streeck in the 2012 lectures later collected in Buying Time:
~ Citizens too can “panic” and react “irrationally”, just like financial investors … even though they have no banknotes as arguments but only words and (who knows?) paving stones. ~
In its deepest crises, he says, modern capitalism has relied on its enemies to wade in with the lifebelt of reform. During the Great Depression of the 30s, it was FDR’s Democrats who rolled out the New Deal, while Britain’s trade unionists allied with Keynes.
Compare that with now. Over 40 years, neoliberal capitalism has destroyed its opposition. When Margaret Thatcher was asked to give her greatest achievement, she nominated “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.”
Public discontent is fitful and fragmented, ready to fall into Trump’s tiny hands. Meanwhile, capitalism – unrestrained and unreformed – will die.
This isn’t the violent overthrow envisaged by Marx and Engels. In The Communist Manifesto, they argued that capitalism’s “gravediggers” would be the proletariat. Nearly 170 years later, Streeck is predicting that the capitalists will be their own gravediggers, through having destroyed the workers and the dissidents they needed to maintain the system. What comes next is not some better replacement but is more akin to the centuries-long rotting away of the Roman empire.
“I spent a long time in my life exploring the possibilities for an intelligent social democratic solution of the class conflict,” he explains over lunch. “The idea that we could modify capitalism towards equality and social justice. That we could tame the beast. Now I think those are more or less utopian ideals.”
The great disillusionment came upon returning to Germany in 1995, after years teaching industrial relations in the US. It was the era of Germany being labelled “the sick man of Europe”, when one in five east German workers were unemployed. Through the metalworkers’ trade union, Streeck was invited to join a committee of trade unions, employers and government. Called the Alliance for Jobs (Bündnis für Arbeit), its task was to reform labour laws. Streeck believed this was “the last call for trade unions and social democracy”: the final chance to get more people into work without stripping workers of their rights.
“We came up with a good model, but everything we proposed was blocked – not just by the employers but by the unions, too.”
But doesn’t he want something better than a new dark ages for his grandchildren? “If I am honest, now I am thankful for every passing year that is good and peaceful. And I hope for another one. Very short-term, I know, but those are my horizons.”
Oriana: But for the moment at least, we still have a bit nature left . . .
Great Gray Owl here. I'm putting down my landing gear.
RUSSIA’S FAMOUS TAME FOXES
As director of the newly-minted Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Belyaev was curious as to how dogs first became domesticated. He decided that to fully understand the process, he must attempt to replicate the early days of domestication. He picked foxes for the experiment because of their close family ties with dogs (both are canids). His research team visited fur farms across the Soviet Union and purchased the tamest foxes on hand. They figured using the most docile of the wild foxes for their breeding program would hasten the pace of domestication, relative to the thousands of years it took to breed dogs.
Unfortunately, Belyaev died before seeing the final results. But today, 58 years after the start of the program, there is now a large, sustainable population of domesticated foxes. These animals have no fear of humans, and actively seek out human companionship. The most friendly are known as “elite” foxes.
“By the tenth generation, 18 percent of fox pups were elite; by the 20th, the figure had reached 35 percent,” Lyudmilla Trut, one of the lead researchers at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, wrote in a paper describing the experiment in 1999. “Today elite foxes make up 70 to 80 percent of our experimentally selected population.”
One of the lab’s most interesting findings is that the friendly foxes exhibit physical traits not seen in the wild, such as spots in their fur and curled tails. Their ears show weird traits, too.
Like puppies, young foxes have floppy ears. But the ears of domesticated foxes stay floppier for a longer time after birth, said Jennifer Johnson, a biologist who has worked with Kukekova since the early 2000s.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the domesticated fox experiment fell on hard times as public funding for the project evaporated. The researchers realized quickly that keeping more than 300 foxes is an expensive enterprise. In the 1990s, the lab switched to selling some of the foxes as fur pelts to sustain the breeding program.
ending on beauty:
Climb up with me, American love.
Kiss me with the secret stones.
The torrential silver of the Urubamba
strews pollen to the yellow cup.
And the sanguinary shadow of the condor
crosses the clock like a black ship.
~ Pablo Neruda, The Heights of Macchu Picchu
The Andes in Peru — reminds me of my teenage dream of starting at the tip of Tierra del Fuego and slowly traveling up the Ring of Fire, all the way to the tip of Alaska. But mainly I wanted to see the Andes.