Sunday, October 28, 2012

* Waiting for Sandy with Thornton Wilder

The Skin of Our Teeth,
with glacier approaching.

The Eastern Seaboard,
with Sandy approaching.

The  Tiny Capsules of Our Own Chronologies

The more I think about it as I wait for Hurricane Sandy to come ashore tomorrow, high up in Vermont which will still be vulnerable to her winds, Thornton Wilder did a lot to prepare me for this moment.

The meteorologists say that Sandy is the biggest storm in history (EVER) to hit the East Coast.

Thornton Wilder would not have been surprised.

He was always trying to jolt his readers out of the little capsule of their own chronology into the unfathomable abyss of unrecorded history.

His perennially staged Our Town is full of the “crisscross” wanderings of the stars,  dead as "chalk” whose light takes “millions of years" to reach earth after it flickered out for the last time eons ago.  The whole world gets so tired in one day that everyone has to lie down and  take a “rest” for awhile. 

Emily’s  premature death  in childbirth is not mitigated by the other dead in the Grovers Corners cemetery, especially her own mother-in-law.  On the contrary, it is Mrs. Gibbs who tells Emily that it’s "not wise” to ramble in the memories of the world she left. Indeed, the job of the dead is to “gradually’ forget all that, to get “weaned away from the earth”, she warns,  as the stars make their “crisscross journeys” overhead while she speaks from her grave.

In Wilder's next Pulitzer Prize winner, The Skin of Our Teeth, a glacier is moving toward the Antrobus family in Excelsior New Jersey (which seems tonight as I write, a prophetic Wilder choice for  location,  as the world  waits for Sandy to pulverize New Jersey’s shores tomorrow). 

It is clear , as in Our Town, that Wilder wants us to be shocked out of the discomfort of our little eighty-year biographies in the richest nation in the world. 

The Excelsior  glacier, ( again a strangely prophetic Wilder image: a kind of inverse Global Warming but equally menacing)  is the playwright's equivalent of the chalk-like emptiness of the galaxies that hovers above the pastoral pleasantries of  George and Emily’s Grovers Corner’s. 

Like our wait for Sandy this evening , there is even a boardwalk scene on the Jersey shore in The Skin of Our Teeth with meteorological weather socks being flown  to alert the crowds of impending weather disaster, even three pennants for "the end of the world."  

For that matter, someone in Our Town (is it the milkman, Howie Newsome?) talks about a "three day blow", just the storm Sandy promises to be, even though she is supposed to be unique according to the record keepers.

For years as divinity graduate, I  ended every eulogy I wrote with the final line of Thornton Wilder’s first Pulitzer Prize winning book, the novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey: 
“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

I thought it was a beautiful line and an affirmation of some kind of meaning in life which would satisfy those who needed to believe in an Emerald City in the Sky, without my having to stoop to using that anthropomorphic New Yorker-cartoon imagery of an afterlife.

I’ve stopped using it. 

I have decided Wilder’s emphasis was not on the “bridge” but on the word “only”.

"Only", as in, there is no other meaning, no other survival. 

I don't want to lead people on ---- 

even though I think Thornton Wilder did.

Friday, October 26, 2012

*God is not dead. He is vomiting. (PK)

This peppery exchange speaks for itself. (The YDN article from which it was spawned follows the comments.)


theantiyale 3 days, 13 hours ago

"America was, and we can only hope it remains, a Christian nation insofar as the values and rights that are the bedrock of our society — for example, equality before God, a belief in the innate worth of the individual and basic freedom of action — are Christian and depend upon faith." Alec Torres '12
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (King James Bible)
Mr. Torres:
Christianity is NOT egalitarian. It is the most elitist of the country-club-snobby religions. You CANNOT have access to God UNLESS you accept Jesus.
(PS: no bolt of lightning struck me dead for saying that.)

Gobias 3 days, 11 hours ago

It did feel pretty country club when Romans were feeding them to lions.

theantiyale 3 days, 11 hours ago

The elitist Christian proposition is the same with or without Roman sadism:: MY divine way or the highway.
The same fanatic fantasies about rewards in the Emerald City in the Sky still undergird martyrism today, only instead of Lions we have dynamite.

Gobias 3 days, 11 hours ago

That's like saying the kid who gets beaten up and doesn't hit back is acting in the same spirit as the kid who does the beating up and doesn't care if he gets hit back.

Dowager 3 days, 10 hours ago

Excellent article. If we do not base our laws on Judeo/Christian beliefs (i.e. Ten Commandments) then who is to say murder, incest, and theft is unacceptable? Do you make that decision? Do I? Does the UN? Does your neighbor Sally? Why are these things necessarily wrong? Says who?
I don't want anarchy. There are plenty of other nations that do not base their laws on Christian beliefs and the beauty of being a citizen of this country is that you are free to leave and never come back.
I sleep better at night knowing that our laws are based on a belief in an omnipotent God and that people conduct themselves accordingly, based on those laws, instead of say, laws based on the Pai Marire religion which embraces cannibalism.
Pretending the forefathers believed any differently is to embrace revisionist history.

Goldsmith11 3 days, 8 hours ago

Wow! Have you ever taken a political science course?
How does your logic allow for civil societies prior to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments? It is laughable to assume that humans would have never developed the tenets for civil society (or modern laws) if Moses had not accidentally eaten a psychedelic plant on Mt. Sinai. Haven't you ever heard of social-contract theory?

ldffly 3 days, 8 hours ago

"Social contract theory"? Covenant? Better check out John Calvin here.

SY10 3 days, 7 hours ago

Because all societies not based on Christianity (or at least the God of Abraham) permit murder, incest, and theft? Except, of course, Japan, China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, etc., etc. (And in case you're thinking about getting cute and noting that many (though certainly not all) of those places underwent European colonialism, and have legal systems derived from it, I'll point out that murder, incest, and theft were not legal in any of those places prior to colonialism either). Where do you people get this stuff? Oh, and before you tell me to move to one of those places, consider that there might be reasons I want to live in the country I was born other than the supposed divine origin of its laws. Especially since I don't consider America's laws to actually be based on the Ten Commandments in any meaningful sense. I seriously challenge you to name one principle based on the Ten Commandments enshrined in American law that isn't found in the law of every one of the countries I named above, none of which can conceivably be said to have "Judeo/Christian" government.

Credo 2 days, 12 hours ago

I just said this above... Christianity if obviously not necessary for civil society. And if you think that's what the author said, you must be VERY arrogant to think someone smart enough to get into Yale would make such an assertion.
The article defends Christianity's link with liberal democratic ideals of respecting individual freedoms as an ends in itself (re-read the article and this because blatantly obvious).
To which case your examples suddenly don't matter. Because lets be honest, your 'rights' in any of the countries you just listed are not secure and inevitably tied to the size of your bank account ... but then again, maybe all of these Yale protests over the Singapore campus are for another reason?

Credo 2 days, 12 hours ago

The problem is that we find ourselves in a situation where you must ask 'what actually counts as Christian?'
Because running the hypothetical purely secular nation that protect individual freedoms as an ends (vs a means), citizens must ask 'why should we care about this freedom?' Inevitably the answer I hear from most is that everyone has 'innate' value. Where does that come from? The world at large, balance in the universe, a bond that unites humans, things beyond our understanding? Is it too much of a stretch for us to call this greater unknown 'God?'
But then again, I might be making assumptions about the values you hold... maybe you are ok sacrificing rights in-exchange for utility which is a popular position that is gaining strength in America today. See sentiments on the Individual Mandate.
Or you can give me a different source of innate value that doesn't come from beyond us because I'd be super open to hearing about it!

HighStreet2010 3 days, 6 hours ago

I too sleep better at night knowing that Jesus wants me to only drive 35mph in a school zone, frowns on the trading of stocks with insider information, and absolutely detests the carrying of more than 3 ounces of liquid on a commercial aircraft.
Thanks Jesus for your omnipotence in creating these laws such that we can have a happy, wonderful, cannibal-free society! Couldn't have done it without you!

HighStreet2010 3 days, 6 hours ago

And to follow up on your point - who makes these decisions if you base your laws on beliefs? The Pope? The Lutheran Church? Some anabaptist sect, or their reformed version, or whichever one militarily controls your city-state? The Sun King Louis XIV, anointed as ruler of men by divine right of God?
I'm pretty sure we in Western civilization have already fought those wars and evolved through those stages. Now we have laws based on the representative democratic majority opinion of what we want our society to be like. If you want to throw that away and go back to having the priest tell you what 'God's will' is as the basis for our laws- well, good for you I guess, but I'll take democracy thanks.
Getting to the point of the article - you absolutely can reject 'religious rationale' for anything. 'Religious rationale' is varying degrees of bullshit. We don't institute kosher slaughtering rules at the FDA despite it being religious. We don't prosecute usury. Sure, we accept some of the broadest of religious principles - like 'equality before God' and 'do good onto others' - while completely rejecting other highly important ones like 'thou shall have no gods before Me'. The reason is that some 'religious principles' also fit into our secular framework, while others don't. Because we reject the majority of Judeo-Christian teachings while only accepting the ones that fit in that framework, we cannot be termed a Judeo-Christian society.
PS 'Never before has religious principle been seen as an illegitimate basis of debate or law' - I'm pretty sure this happened and was called the Enlightenment, could someone please fact check me here

ldffly 3 days, 6 hours ago

The secular rationale for our form of government has origins in many sources. Among them are what I would describe as some (note that I say some) generalized fundaments of Calvinism. Among them, the radical evil in human nature and its tendency to infect not only individuals, but also the collectives created by individuals. This formed part of the founders' rationale for limited government.
No, one doesn't need a Lawgiver or a super thinker or a philosopher king. One needs people who are capable of reflection on these ideas who also have the guts and initiative to put them to work.

theantiyale 3 days, 10 hours ago

The "forefathers" methodically removed the "G" word from their discourse.
The "Creator" (a decidedly Unitarian appellation) is hardly the great Voyeur/Scorekeeper residing in the Emerald City in the Sky which popular "christian" piety proposes.
I think Dowager's point is valid.: Religion is an elaborate Skinner Box which burns the fingers of those who get too close to the boundaries.
That, however, does not mean that religion is anything other than a myth.
Useful, but a myth nonetheless.

SuperNintendoChalmers 3 days, 9 hours ago

Agnostic here, voicing some agreement.
Assuming religion isn't true, it can still be beneficial. Aggressive atheists tend to conflate these two points in their discussions of religion. i.e. Religion is stupid and it causes problems x, y, and z. But an honest assessment requires that you consider the benefits as well. It helps give people a sense of purpose or meaning, it provides solace during hard times, it provides community activities and can aid social cohesion (while, I'll admit, sometimes creating strife). Finally, as the author argues, in the case of Christianity, it might be an important ingredient in our freedom and prosperity. Of course, there are quite a few other free and prosperous secular nations these days, so who knows.
Furthermore, from a secular point of view, some religions are better than others. That is, they provide the benefits listed above with fewer ugly side-effects.

HighStreet2010 3 days, 6 hours ago

True, religion is the opiate of the masses. Unless, of course, we give them opiates - best keep those illegal. I'd suggest using religion as the reason for it.

theantiyale 3 days, 8 hours ago

Religion is for people who want directions. Do this. Don't do that.
It is also for people who want rewards.
Unitarians find the rewards in the Here and Now, a kind of buddhist serenity.
Evangelicals find it in Bye and Bye of the Emerald City in the Sky and the Great Punisher who makes folks pay for evil.
NB: The Cosmic Voyeur/Scorekeeper merely makes psychiatrists rich.

SY 3 days, 6 hours ago

Franklin's autobiography interesting reference--most historians, like Yale's Edmund Morgan, focus on his unchurched life. Another to your point is Washington's Farewell Address: a nation's economic and political prosperity depends on virtue, which depends on religion.
"Any good, free society needs religion to survive." That raises a question if the progressive state of the last century is our secular substitute for religion. The progressive state is going broke. First, in Europe. Will we walk it back, or go broke and replace the progressive state? Replace it with what? The crisis for the next 15 or 20 years, I think.

theantiyale 3 days, 4 hours ago

We will grow jobs.
A new bubble will emerge,
it will bust.
we will gasp,
tighten belts,
grow jobs,
and repeat the cycle.

basho 2 days, 9 hours ago

the prose is so stilted and forced... yuck

lakia 1 day, 22 hours ago

I'm very sorry for you. I really am :(

xfxjuice 1 day, 7 hours ago

How can something that never was, die?

theantiyale 1 day, 22 hours ago

God is not dead. He is vomiting. (PK, The Anti-Yale )

TORRES: Preserving free society

There is a mistaken assumption amongst the haughty secularists of modern Western society that religion is not only antiquated and destructive, but also has no place on the political stage or in the public forum. The American secularists rightly acknowledge that church and state should be separated insofar as the state should not adopt a religion. But they mistakenly conflate the idea of the separation of church and state with the complete secularization of public life and the severance of all religious doctrine, belief and morality from entering the public sphere.
To be clear, a separation of church and state is not a separation of religion and politics. Religion, and the requisite morality and virtue of religion, not only have a right to be involved in the public sphere and in political discourse, but they are also necessary for a free polity to exist and thrive.
Alexis de Tocqueville stated that freedom “considers religion as the safeguard of mores; and mores as the guarantee of laws and the pledge of its own duration.” Without religion, political rights and the freedom that we enjoy are badly secured and easily restricted. Religion was and is the basis of the rights we enjoy because it establishes our rights on the foundation of God, which even the most powerful man in the world cannot cross. Religion transcends politics and gives man higher worth and moral protection that would otherwise be absent. The secular view that man is merely an animal in a material world with neither a soul nor innate worth can’t provide the robust concept of human dignity on which our human order depends.
Without religion every freedom we enjoy and every privilege we come to think is our right is only preserved to the extent that the sovereign of the nation wishes it to be preserved. Natural rights have no basis if not in religion, hence the reason why the Declaration of Independence claims that the natural rights of people are “endowed by their Creator.” No other source of endowment would be sufficient.
Now, if being a Christian nation means that our government must adopt Christianity as the state religion and form all law upon the precepts of religious dogma then we are not a Christian nation. However, this straw man is a completely inadequate representation of what it means to be a Christian nation. America was, and we can only hope it remains, a Christian nation insofar as the values and rights that are the bedrock of our society — for example, equality before God, a belief in the innate worth of the individual and basic freedom of action — are Christian and depend upon faith.
To say we cannot have a religious rationale for our public actions, our laws and our rights is to reject the fundamental principles of the republican order in which we live.
Only in the past few generations have Americans believed that government must adopt the religion of secularism in order to preserve the separation of church and state. Never before has religious principle been seen as an illegitimate basis of debate or law because never before has religion been so irrationally misunderstood.
Now the secularist may set up another straw man stating that some founders were deistic and obviously they wanted religion as far away from American politics and public life as possible. While the extent to which the founders were deistic is always highly over exaggerated (I welcome everyone to read the first four paragraphs of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and contest the fact that the most deistic founder still believed in a very active God), their values and the core of their political beliefs were Christian.
Whether or not the religious people of America are on the right or wrong side of history is irrelevant. The course of history is neither progressive nor normative and all who think we properly and continually march forward toward a non-religious, pleasure-centered, utopian, social-democratic polity are deceiving themselves with the false pretenses of their own irrational dreams.
Any good, free society needs religion to survive. The American religion has been and continues to be, albeit in a weakened form, Christianity. As such, we should not only recognize that America is a Christian nation, but love the fact that it is so.
Alec Torres is a senior in Trumbull College. Contact him at .