More remedial poetry

I had always assumed that “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone” was just an old saying found on eternally-reblogged Tumblr pictures and the covers of overpriced diaries at Barnes & Noble. But as Heather was quick to inform me, it’s actually part of a longer work: “Solitude” by Edna Wheeler Wilcox. Rather than what would first appear to be a call for joy and focusing on the positive things in life, it turns out to be a bitterly depressing portrayal of the stark isolation of pain:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

Ultimately, the central message seems to be less like “Cheer up!”, and more like “Fuck people.”

Good comment of the day

On my video about “non-denominational” public school prayers, someone left this comment:

in junior high school we proposed ‘Invictus’ – by William Ernest Henley as a non-denominational invocation to replace other pledges and prayers in school. Didn’t go over well. What do you think?

I don’t know how I managed to miss this poem. It reads like a Klingon war song:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

It may not be entirely secular, but it is entirely badass.

A Morality Tale

If you’re not a believer, you may be perplexed
When you see how they treat their most sacred of texts
Interpreted, twisted, distorted, and flexed,
Their exegesis leaves us feeling quite vexed
For whenever you quote what their holy book said,
They’ll claim that it doesn’t – you must have misread
If you think you’ve found something to leave their face red,
They’ve reasoned it means something different instead.

Six days made the earth? Just a metaphor, fool
We’re allowed to buy slaves? That’s no longer a rule
And Adam and Eve, with a literate snake?
It’s only a parable, make no mistake
Does it preach death for gays? No, they’re just damned to hell
You can let witches live, but they’re hellbound as well
And all of those laws that regard menstruation?
An old, obsolete, bureaucratic creation!

Excuses abound, with their long-practiced skill
They can write off most anything – you know they will
But then comes the twist in this splitting of hairs:
Their comrades have much different answers from theirs!
They’ve rationalized it a whole different way
You won’t get a straight answer, I’m sorry to say
For the doctrines of everyone other than they
Are the very beliefs against which they inveigh.

From Catholic to Baptist, Messianic Jew,
Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran too,
LDS, Christian Science, they all get their due
As each one insists that the rest are untrue
So who’s figured out the correct world view?
Which one do we follow? Which ones to eschew?
Who among them is right? Have they even a clue?
There’s so much to sort through. So let’s start our review…

Can women be clergy, or only the men?
What happens when Jesus comes back here again?
Was he even a god? Or a man, nothing more?
Was he stuck to the cross with three nails or four?
Could this holy wafer be part of his head?
A leg or a thigh, or just plain old white bread?
Did humans evolve? Were they made in a week?
Is Hell full of screaming, or nary a squeak?

Is the pontiff the antichrist? Some say it’s true
Is salvation by faith, or are works needed too?
Are gays really sinners? Just maybe, they’re not
Should saints be ignored, or petitioned a lot?
Must priests remain celibate? What’s the result?
Should infants be baptized, or only adults?
Is the Bible correct to the very last letter?
Did Joseph Smith Jr. write something much better?

And let’s not forget the apocalypse lore,
With horsemen and dragons and angels galore
Do we all have our own resurrection in store?
Or just one-hundred-forty-four thousand, no more?
Do we even know when it might happen, if ever?
Like 2012, on the fifteenth of never?
You might be surprised, because some people say
That the world ends once there are too many gays.

And that’s just a slice of the faith smorgasbord,
The diversity’s simply too vast to record
But if you cite the Bible, you won’t be ignored
You’ll be set upon by a devout, raging horde
From every direction, in mob and in throng,
They’ll rush to accuse you of reading it wrong
Though they shouldn’t be shocked when this doesn’t hold sway
For they all would be wrong, if they all had their way.

You can see how it makes for a frustrating time
When this mishmash of faith has no reason or rhyme
It’s enough to make atheists throw up their hands
And tell Christians to go figure out where they stand
But amidst all the turmoil, confusion and stress
Something very revealing comes out of this mess
For these plain contradictions, dissensions and shouts
Give us great ammunition for our kind of doubts.

In particular, one frequent question you’ll see
Can be answered quite swiftly – if you’ve got the key
“So God’s not your thing,” pounds the old Christian drum,
“But where do you get your morality from?”

Yes, it’s common enough to make anyone ill
Do they really believe that we’ll swallow this pill?
As if no one could possibly know wrong from right
Without putting their faith in a myth that’s so trite
Nope, I’d have no idea just what I should do
If I hadn’t read tales from around the year 2
I’d be paralyzed, frozen, bewildered and lost
Without moral advice from some guy on a cross.

To claim this sincerely is silly enough
Yet it raises a question that’s really quite tough
You’re telling me that’s how your ethics were seeded,
But how did you know it was this that you needed?
Just why did you think that the Bible was true,
And not the Qur’an, or the Mormon books too?
And once you’d picked out your religion of choice,
How’d you find the best church with the right faithful voice?

What made you decide contraception was bad,
And the Catholics are right when they get very mad?
Why did you believe that God loves all the gays,
And the liberal churches have found the true way?
What made you dismiss all that snake-handling crap?
Does your church say religion’s a self-righteous trap?
On origins, sexism, Hell, and the pope,
What made up your mind? Tell me, how did you cope?

It’s clear that you couldn’t be morally impotent
You picked your own favorite brand of omnipotent!
That was your ethical judgment in action
And we have that, too – it’s not owned by your faction
We use our own judgment to filter beliefs,
We just don’t make religion our ethical chief
While you claim your morals are guided by scripture,
I think we all know this is not the whole picture.

No matter your faith, and no matter how strong,
You use your own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong
Meta-ethically speaking, your god’s not a plus,
So please don’t pretend that you’re better than us.