Of Shame and Embarrassment

Have you no shame?

Shame on you for suggesting that!

Take the walk of shame down the hall of shame.

I can’t, I am beyond shame.

What a shame — you’re naked;

cover your shame!

But, I have no shame.

Well, it is a bit small, but nothing to be ashamed of.

Adam and Eve left the garden, ashamed.

Ain’t that a shame?

A low-down dirty shame!

The strong-arm enforcer of our own psychological behavior is “shame.” It is a great tool of conscience to protect our own standards of virtue. We may be prewired for it, but the specifics of shame are learned from our home life and society. Those rules become deeply embedded within our core.

Embarrassment is the emotional reaction when someone has, or is seen as having broken a convention of their group or society such as walking into a room with a fly zipper down. It’s intimately tied to shame and guilt but not as profound: toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe. Shame is internalized. It is the emotion of knowing yourself to be flawed. It is personal. Those who feel shame know that they are bad. An embarrassing moment passes by. Shame lives within.

I know of a person who is a master of preemptive shame. He tends to speak in ‘lectures’ when he wants someone to know what the rules are. His lectures are structured to include an experience of preemptive shame so that the listener will truly feel the shame of the violation during the lecture. He means to instruct the listener thoroughly by using this technique, so he wants the lesson to be experiential. As children his offspring would walk away from one of these lectures feeling guilty for something they hadn’t ever done nor considered doing. The extra gut-punch of preemptive shaming was effective, I mean his lesson was learned, but it also had an effect that wasn’t beneficial. Shame lives within, so the build-up of unearned and undeserved shame became psychologically problematic. The repeated implication of fault at an emotional level of this magnitude destroys self confidence regardless of its cautionary intent.

Guilt is the product of shame. If you violate the laws of a group or society you must pay the penalty.  If the violation is small the punishment is embarrassment alone. When the severity of the offense grows, guilt is added to embarrassment. Additional shame is required to produce that guilt. It’s a simple progression. Problems arise when people start thinking for themselves instead of following the existing rules.  Rational thought often invalidates older codes and the chimera of theology. Rational thought voids shame as a mechanism for conformity and control.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself” is the older person’s cry to the young “offender.” If the response is “Why?” there had better be a good reason. Rational thought is the foundation of social rebellion. The emotionalism of both racism and civil rights were put into rational context by Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963  Letter from Birmingham Jail. He was publicly shamed by the police, but it was five white religious leaders who tried to shame him with a letter published in the local paper. He turned around in the adverse discomfort of a jail cell and rationally and emotionally tore down their bigotry and made the rational case for action. It provided an extraordinary moment of clarity in a charged environment of conflicting values. His document is now a standard text for college freshmen across the country. All because he stood up and said this is why you can’t shame me. He gave reasons. Among the multitude of lessons available from his letter is the assertion that reason can be a tool to defeat irrational shame and guilt.

So when does sex become shameful? Religions have always made it so, but to the enlightened rational mind, where should the line be drawn?  Well, child rape by Priests or other adults is obviously on the bad side. Any rape for that matter, or perhaps we could say unwanted, harmful or involuntary sex is wrong. Incest that leads to psychological problems, or genetically mutated offspring is wrong. There is some concern for keeping sexual relations out of public view.  That just about covers it.

Those who would support only conventional sex may use ‘possibilities’ as a rational argument against the full range of sexual expression such as, possibly, acquiring a disease, or getting pregnant, or some other unintended consequence. That risk is as fundamental a risk as can be found in any other activity, depending upon its form, so the “possibility” argument is not persuasive. When the religious argument is used the debate shifts away from rationality making it irrelevant. Moral standards of the society on the topic of sex tend to be based in religion not rationality. All that is left is the ‘ick’ factor: ‘it doesn’t feel right,’ ‘that’s just icky,’ ‘I would never even think of doing that!’ Some may wish to keep their children ignorant of sexual variety. The non-participating public’s icky feelings are not a rationally persuasive argument. There is no rational argument outside the question of harm against any sexual expression. So, why be ashamed?

When I came out of the closet to my parents I preemptively eliminated the possibility of them shaming me. I spent several years coming up with a strategy that used personal confidence and absolute surety. I’d read most of the limited available literature in 1979 and anticipated their response. They had no knowledge of what being gay means, so they argued from their built-in prejudice with its theological underpinnings.  By eliminating the option of shame from their arsenal of argument it was easier to show them their own ignorance of the topic. This was the healthiest way for me to share my identity with them.

Shame is the glue that binds moral societies together. Unfortunately, it becomes a useful tool for adult bullies. They thrive on destroying reputations. They often remain anonymous while manipulating others to achieve their goals. Adult bullies are usually smart and enjoy playing out strategies that undermine a person’s credibility. They choose their targets capriciously. They manipulate the target’s need to avoid shame. Adult bullies are patient and covert, their strategy plays out over time. If reputation weren’t such a valued part of identity, and shame so devastating, especially in the workplace, the bully’s play toys would disappear.

I don’t mean to imply my parents are bullies by saying this, but by removing the potency of shame when I came out to them I removed their ability to use the bullying tactics inherent in the manipulation of shame to “fix” me for being gay. There is no easy mechanism to fight an adult bully. They are secretive and plotting and evil in their intent. In the workplace 70% of targets leave their job. Only 10% of bullies are found out and fewer are punished. Fighting a bully demands that you lower yourself to their moral level (assuming you can discover who they are). This action alone is devastating to reputation. You end up using the bully’s tactics to fight; that is humiliating. The bully has the advantage of being psychologically driven to do harm while the target is forced into uncharacteristic and abusive behaviors for their own defense. They become a bully to fight the bully, but there is never a winner. The choice to compete in this battle itself destroys reputations.

Ain’t that a low-down dirty shame?

Smile With My Oppressor

Art, as a tool of life and love, is available to all of us. We make use of it as both creator and consumer. Passions must be expressed and managed. Dreams must be interpreted. Sorrows must be soothed. Anger must be assuaged. Depression must be diminished. Love must be loudly proclaimed.

Art and passion are largely ignored in the conscience of daily life because they are surreptitious components of existence. We are often not aware of their presence:

  • If you are going to get a root canal you know that there will be pain and discomfort. To help with this an endodontist will often hang detailed pieces of art throughout the office to give the patient something else to think about. The mind wanders into the world of the painting not the anxiety of anticipation. In contrast, a car dealership wants you to focus on nothing but the car. Their walls are drab, grease-marked and devoid of interest. You have no choice but to look at the highly designed automobile. And don’t get me started on accountant’s offices — the most interesting artifact I’ve ever seen in one of those is a plastic snow globe.
  • The carpet in a funeral home has a dark field and richly detailed patterns and deep colors to help somber people with their lowered heads pass from thought to thought. A blank, solid-color carpet would be harsh, unfeeling and stressful to look at.
  • A high volume restaurant wants people to eat quickly, then leave. The music is structured to cycle through songs that motivate customers to leave. It’s just like the utility company that plays one awful scratchy song repeatedly while you are on hold for hours on end. They want you to give up on that $6.58 mistake on your bill out of sheer aggravation.
  • Had a run-in with the boss, a teacher, an enemy? Jump in the car; crank up the tunes.

My escape from stress is to read Harry Potter books. They are all quite long, easy to read, well constructed, and they transport me into another familiar world so I can forget about this one for a while. I am also an artist so I don’t just consume art, I make it.

An artist creates a product to express an idea or emotion. People who specialize in creating art have structured their minds and bodies to be suitable for the task. Amateurs too, conceive and produce art. All of us have the capacity to generate art, sometimes, without being aware we are doing it. Sometimes, whole communities cause art to thrive due to cultural standards existing within their shared experience.

In school I fell in love with the word, ‘zeitgeist’: it means “the spirit of the times,”or the common undercurrent of thought or a societal attitude present within a culture. The esoteric nature of a zeitgeist means that it is hard to define because of the ebb and flow of time and change, but those who are creative and tuned-in can illustrate it best. In society it often becomes manifest through artcreated at a particular time. The resultant artwork is a snapshot of the spirit at that moment. Think about the evolution of Rap and Hip-Hop music which came into existence through the zeitgeist of urban ghetto life. The social undercurrent of poverty, drugs, prison, guns, racism and death evokes imagery that is violent and crude, but honest. Honesty is holy even if it’s an ugly truth. Unexpected listeners such as teens from rural farms who have never even driven past a ghetto recognize the truth inherent in its form, and the passions evoked by these cultural artistic expressions. The music and its presentational style comes from a pure and honest evocation of a holy truth. 

 

Every person experiencing that life could give you a list of problems in their daily lives as well as lists of their dreams and aspirations. Making a list, complaining, reacting to death and misery simply isn’t enough to ease the pain. So, just like the metamorphosis of blues and jazz in previous generations, a new art form evolved into existence to make harsh reality bearable; rap and its stylistic successors came along to speak the truth of the urban zeitgeist. The spirit of that group, at that time, became manifest through the art of music and words.

It is the next evolutionary musical step begun in the Harlem Renaissance where queer clubs, forced into hidden dark corners of Harlem’s cultural shadows, provided a natural breeding ground for the Blues with it’s sexual double entendre and joyful put-upon sadness. Artists such as Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith and Gladys Bentley, provided a foundation for the Blues stylistic form. It’s a long road from this lament in the blues standard from 1928, “nobody knows you when you’re down and out” to the forceful bluntness of “they don’t like my rhymes, see my style is like lecture, but I’d rather die, than smile with my oppressor.” from Lowkey, “My Soul” in 2011. Both recognize the (same?) problem through the context of art, while the attitude has changed over eighty-some years from “woeful acceptance” to “we are fighting here.” They both reflect the time and place from which they came.

Three Dots Blinking – The Messenger Is Dead

Contemporary movies and TV shows often have trouble keeping up with the changing tide of technology and the way it is used by characters in their stories. The cellphone, for example, voids traditional dramatic devices such as the messenger. Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “Just use your cellphone, stupid” during some TV show attempting realism? Young folks text one another at all hours of the day and night, who needs to wait for a letter, a telegram, or messenger? Think of those science-fiction movies where the “scientist” character explains the “science” behind the fiction. Siri just doesn’t have the same dramatic impact as a fully realized human character who takes time to research the answer and provide the solution at the last possible moment.

A ‘text’ simply isn’t as dramatic as seeing a bloodied messenger from the battlefield. The blood on the messenger’s costume and face tells its own story, the audience is able to imagine what he has been through. A soldier simply answering a phone doesn’t convey very much of that kind of context.  Dramatic time has to be manipulated to the storyteller’s advantage. The time it takes to get the message through the battlefield causes tension, which builds drama. Will he get there in time? Instant knowledge may help win the battle, but it changes dramatic time as a tool for storytelling.

The shape and drama of a story is determined by strategically revealing or not revealing information from one character to another or to the audience. Dramatic tensions build as expository information is revealed or kept secret. The play could start with a gun shot, allowing the events of the story to be revealed strategically over the time it takes to present the play; the same story could also play out first and then end with the gunshot. Either choice can be theatrical, based upon the strategic use of dramatic tension.

The audience needs to be teased, but they want it to be done artfully with skill and imagination. The playwright’s job follows the same strategy as a highly skilled prostitute. (I’ve tried using this metaphor with college students, but sex for them is instantaneous so they don’t grasp the concept.) Good sex takes place over time, it starts with simple, gentle stimulations with small peaks of arousal followed by periods of rest. This is repeated with increasingly more variety and intensity of stimulation, persisting over a prolonged period of time. The peaks of excitement and valleys of rest – tension and release as Martha Graham described it in dance – provide a cumulative biological need to climax, to purge, to have a catharsis.

Playwrights follow the same procedure engaging the mind and heart instead of the crotch. They stimulate your intellect and emotion with a question, What’s going to happen? Who are these people, what is their circumstance, who should I care about? The answers come in the form of exposition which provides details that answer basic questions. Those answers lead to more sophisticated, interesting, intellectual questions. Events build to peaks of tension followed by a release; each set of peaks and valleys takes us deeper into a greater involvement with the characters and the world of the story until the moment of release – the climax, near the end.

So the future of storytelling is going to evolve with a new generation. The landmark story of the Millennials is Harry Potter; yet Wizards don’t use cell phones! (Think of the problems that would have been quickly solved in that story if they did!)  It is one thing to speak to children of a slowed-down, fantasy, wizard world, distant from their own, but present day realism is a different matter. How would one authentically, yet artfully, portray the contemporary world we live in? Kids with heads tilted down, focused on phones and ears plugged with music are boring. All the drama is in the device! Three dots blinking in sequence, how will she respond? Snore!

Reputation and Chelsea Manning

 

Chelsea Manning has me considering reputation and vulnerability. There is an article about her in the NYTimes this week,  The Long, Lonely Road of Chelsea Manning, by Matthew Shaer. Toward the end of the article the reporter describes the time they spent together after her release from prison,

 

“But she is determined not to dwell on her reputation, and for that week in Manhattan, she seemed happy being free.”

That comment stuck a cord with me.

Repute means the things other people say about you – gossip. Reputation is a more formal version of gossip. Reputation is associated with the time, place and community in which a person exists. It is temporal but feels at times as if it is eternal. Reputation relies upon the word of the people around you and how you interact with them. Reputation is subjective and easily altered at the whim of ‘others’.

Reputation has weight. People often carry that weight through life without exploring what it truly means. They become attached to the values they associate with reputation and work to maintain them. They identify with the reputed merit of their reputation and believe it follows them around like some sort of aura that anyone can perceive. If they are merely consistent in their approach to life and moral actions that aura may indeed be perceptible to all people in areas beyond the home space.

Some people construct a facade to maintain a reputation. They don’t have the consistency of character to allow a natural aura so they construct a theatrical costume to wear in the world. This conveys for them the elements of reputation in a socially acceptable manner. Society establishes rules to guide everyone toward a unified facade of conformity. Those who don’t abide by the rules acquire ill-repute.

So, you could be a ‘natural,’ a good and consistent person who happens to fit the mould of conformity easily and earn a good reputation. You could be a person who doesn’t fit the mould comfortably who wants to be a conformist by making a ‘facade’ of conformity. There are those who will ‘never fit’ the mould through choice, circumstance or misfortune. Then there are those who choose to ‘change’ the mould as Chelsea Manning has done.

It is an easy thing for a conformist to condemn a non-conformist, after all there are a lot of identical opinions out there. But then there is what Ben Platt said in his Tony Award acceptance speech this weekend: “The things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” This is blasphemy to the conformists yet obvious to the Chelsea Mannings of the world. If your strangeness makes you double-down on your facade, or excludes you like a never-fit, life is less comfortable and often painful.

When you nurture and honor the unique strangeness that is you, the facade is unnecessary, you declare yourself as one who will fit, and you cast a new mould that includes your contribution to society. Chelsea’s path had many twist in it that made it even more of a challenge, and she was ready to die rather than conform. The strength of her character built her a new reputation more noble than any she’d had before. It’s a bittersweet place to be, but anytime you fight a bully there is no reward for winning. Society and the pressures of reputation in that society are a bully-like force, it is the way of the world, to break the pattern is to re-define “reputation”.

The character of a natural is the same as Chelsea Manning’s. Her’s is an honest state of being; it is natural for her. She is not living behind a facade, a lie to deceive the world, she doesn’t need one. She has demanded a place to fit within the greater culture. The things that made her strange to the norms of reputation are the things that made her strong.

Think about the journey her reputation has taken. She was bullied in school and boot camp until she found her niche in intelligence. She, out of principle, broke rules and was sentenced to jail. She was vulnerable in that place, but had little reputation to lose. She transitioned quite publicly there, teaching the world about that process through her unasked-for notoriety and survived the process as an enemy to some and a hero to others.

If you fear the destruction of your reputation then the bully can keep you right where he wants you. Get rid of that fear and the bully no longer has power over you. A reputation is ephemeral, it ebbs and flows, it can be rebuilt when it is damaged. It is based in what other people think and you can’t control that. But you can control what you think about yourself.

The best way to get rid of the fear of damage to your reputation is to “know thyself.” Confidence in who and what you are allows you the fortitude to endure the inevitable assault. When you choose to oppose the attacking force, being fearless is like pulling their horses out from under them; they lose their momentum and gravity throws them into the dirt. This is especially effective when sexual and gender identity issues are in play; those old stereotypes are lies based in ignorance, they deserve to loose momentum.

Sorry ’bout’ that

This is not about Harry Potter. The title of this post is, however, a quote from Hagrid, a character in the books, but this post is not about those books. Nope, I won’t do that to you again. Four or five posts running is plenty and we’re all adults here. Well, maybe some of you aren’t adults yet but it doesn’t really matter ‘cause I’m done with H.P..

And, no more Trump either, I’ve had enough of that shit! Oops, sorry kids.

And, while I’m at it, sorry about the post that only remained posted an hour, and the one that had no title for a day. I had second thoughts on the first one and no access to my site for the second. I didn’t even know it had been posted what with all the network problems.

Today we’re sticking to the subject. The subject is martyrs. Not the people blowing themselves up in crowded markets, I’m talking about the psychological condition: martyr complex.

My students often developed this complex due to always being at the theatre rehearsing, building, sewing, painting, dancing or whatever in preparation for a show. When one works that hard it’s not unusual to feel put-upon. Jumping into the next show when previous one closes is the nature of the business where earning a living is a challenge anyway. I would tell them, “The road to success in professional theatre is paved with obstacles; you have to enjoy climbing over, digging under, or blowing them up to achieve success.” Those who don’t appreciate or are overcome by that challenge seldom stick around.

Often non-pros still crave the joys and rewards of theatre and some become martyrs to the world of non-professional theatre. This person seems to avoid the obstacles and yet hangs around to complain about how much work they’ve done. They carry around a portable Port-a-Cross to hang upon so that everyone can see the suffering they have done for art. Theatre folk at the professional level don’t like that kind of person, while amateur theatre relies upon them, it just takes more of them the get anything done.

Pity the poor bar where theatre martyrs hang out. It’s hard to serve a table full of flamboyant, loud egos anyway, what is worse is never knowing when they are going to reach into their pockets and hoist themselves up onto those personalized port-a-crosses. Imagine the waitress with a tray full of drinks avoiding an ‘auto-inflate’ cross suddenly popping up without notice. There is a brand of Port-a-Cross with spring-loaded cross pieces for the arms that can knock a tray of drinks a good twenty-feet; it’s dangerous to sit next to those things.

On occasion the whole table feels the need to fly into Martyr Mode. Imagine a long table where everyone has their arms strapped at right angles to a portable stick up their backside. Not the iron-age rough-hewn torture device kind of cross, these are soft, down-filled, comfy crosses. They join hands and sing ‘Woe Is We’ until the impetus to publicly share suffering is satiated. They drive home afterwards feeling a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves; other artists have listened to them expound on the trials and tribulations of lives of dedication to the cause of “The  Theatre.”

The most skillful of theatrical storytellers will weave a tale of humor, surprise and anticipation. You never see the Port-a-Cross until the punch line is dramatically given. By then, the laughter, or tears, are so profound that the speaker’s cross soars above all the others. The least-skillful storytellers over-use…the…dramatic…pause…. But they do it with a personal flair so we wait; we all wait, patiently or not, we wait. There is little choice – to interrupt the poor creature’s only technique for creating drama would be rude.

Speaking of poor creatures, (You knew this was coming didn’t you?) Donald Trump is a master martyr who surpasses anything any community can offer. (I know, I said I wouldn’t.) He has gone beyond the dramatic pause to a form of discourse that has its own set of rules and its own vocabulary. Even the spelling is a little funky.

Mr. Trump has mastered the misuse of grammar so well that a mere sentence leaves one baffled and bemused. It is only through the use of alternative facts that he can be understood. This opens up a panoply of possible interpretations. He gets mad at the press for guessing the wrong one. This makes him the best martyr of all.

Woe is he who can’t be understood, This is like one of those illnesses where you see and hear what’s going on around you, but you can’t interact in any meaningful way. Your sentences make sense to you but no-one else can understand. It is hard to be a martyr in that situation. If you can’t coherently get up on your Port-a-Tweet-Cross, how will people know you are suffering?

Covfefe?

P.S. I made this a Post Script so as to avoid invalidating my whole first paragraph: Severus Snape is a genuine albeit fictional martyr. Sorry ’bout’ that, it’s a Potter-compulsion.

Children’s Literature and Moral Lessons

I don’t know how often or even whether people consider the metaphorical worlds created in comic books and fantasy games as being a parallel to religion or religious parables. Comics are a sub-category of art and they often carry a message about life. If a kid, a young girl lets say, accepts the myth that Peter Parker became a ‘spider-man,’ then she might subscribe to his doctrine: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Maybe she doesn’t live all parts of her life through that philosophy, but it will have an influence on her. Say she gets a job babysitting; that is great power. The Spider-man ideal will come in handy. Actually, it is the very basis for successfully doing her job. Her story illustrates how a moral instinct took root in her conscience through art: the comic book. This simple act of incorporating a moral behavior based upon an artist’s influence is ever-present in our high-tech culture. A god-based moral code is no longer necessary. In fact, it is antiquated in the eyes of the Harry Potter generation.

Harry Potter novels are a recent manifestation of the trend for moral growth through art on a global scale. Many people give credit to the moral behaviors exemplified by the main character, Harry, as being responsible for the younger generation’s easy acceptance of gay marriage. The central themes in the novels are about the importance of love. The love of friends who become an orphan’s family is the essential ingredient of the hero’s success. Magic in these books is merely an attractive device to relay the story of love. And: “Love is Love.” This is not new to popular stories: Dorothy succeeds in surpassing the two greatest powers in Oz: the wizard and the witch because of the love of her new family in Oz.

Religion diminishes its own influence over the minds of young people by equating itself with art. When Christianists first took aim at the Harry Potter novels they called the books evil, thereby making them equal to, and the opposite of, religion. Kids who read the books think the accusation is silly. By making this equivalency, though, the novel’s stature becomes enhanced and comparable to the church. Kids organically respect the themes found in Harry Potter; they want to read the books so they seek them out. Conversely, young folks are usually indoctrinated into the faith of their parents as a matter of tradition, not desire. So, when asked to compare the two (now equal) entities — church vs. Harry Potter stories – Harry wins.  Harry Potter speaks to them with a moral voice of empathy and compassion; all moral authority comes from love in his world. Harry Potter has no doctrine or creed, so in comparison, a theology based upon the threat of punishment in Hell seems far less desirable. Harry Potter captures imaginations with an emotional zeal that surpasses any religious ritual.

By drawing an equivalency between the religion and the art, Christianists magnify the significance of art and diminished the value of the religion. Historically, this controversy came right on the heels of major revelations about child rape coverups in the Catholic Church. While young folks were learning (from the church itself) about Harry Potter having equal status with religion, they also learned the church is really a bureaucracy! The real church is as evil as the fictional bureaucracies described in the book. This lesson is much more damaging.

The second theme in the novels involves distrust of bureaucracy. No authoritarian hierarchy within the novels is competent at fulfilling its duties. Progress is made in spite of the bureaucracy not because of the bureaucracy. The Ministry of Magic is the constantly inept metaphor for the real-life government and is usually associated with being wrong; even Hogwarts the (good) school is flawed with bureaucratic issues. The Ministry of Magic is eventually overtaken by the evil Lord Voldemort.

Then, in a confluence of coincidence, real life suddenly provides a real world example of the same thing: the child rape cover-up scandal of the church is all about the systemic evils of a religious bureaucracy. Young readers observe the corrupt behaviors of both the real and fictional entities and reach the same conclusions: Don’t trust them, they are evil, they are anti-love (the most redeeming feature of the world) and they must be ignored. The novels amplify the vile behavior of the church bureaucracy and place it squarely on the bad side of the equation. So, when the church says gays are bad, kids dismiss it out of hand; they instinctually say love is love. The church looks evil once again in spite of the music and grand architecture. The kids say: “ I don’t need a bureaucracy to tell me any of this, I can, and must, do it myself.” Just like Harry did.

So, how does this self-shamanism work?

  • People ignore the parts of religion they don’t like.
  • They reject the structural conspiracy to hide pedophile priests.
  • They ignore the church’s forays into political issues such as gay marriage, and a stamp of approval for presidential candidates, etc.
  • They behave according to their own conscience, (like Harry does) not according to a mandate from a time-frozen, less-relevant, Ministry-of-Magic-like religion.
  • They equate God with spectacle, not substance and a boring one at that.
  • They search for moral understanding outside the realm of immoral “religious” hierarchies; often they find it in art; like Harry Potter stories.
  • They do not believe in witchcraft. Duh! It’s just a story like virgin births and rising from death.
  • But, some still ‘go to church,’ the ritual is all that remains relevant.

Walt Whitman, a gay artist wrote in his preface to the original first edition of Leaves of Grass about his expectations for the future. He says, in summary, that there will soon be no more priests because their work is done. Eventually there will be a new theology where every person will be his or her own priest. They will create the church of men and women which does not rely upon faith in immortality or God. This new religion will celebrate the divinity of the individual. Whitman made this comment in 1855 and its prescience is only just becoming clear. No one expected the church to do the footwork necessary to make his prediction a reality, but they did.

It does make sense that a gay man would have this idea. The process of coming out is the process of learning to accept one’s own divinity. Once you understand your own divinity you have the ability, if you choose, to instruct others in the ways of the divine.

Trump And The Three-Point-Stance

A three-point-stance is vital to successful urination for the canine male.  I don’t know why ‘cause my yellow lab, Yogi, always sets his foot down in the puddle he’s just made. It gives me a chuckle. I’ve been trying to figure out why he does it, but only a few thoughts have come to mind. I’ve started paying attention to other dogs who do the same thing. The oddity of this behavior had me ask Siri, who says a vertical surface keeps the scent around longer. (I doubt the dog has though this through, it’s instinct.) It could be a message declaring ownership of the vertical object, or a territorial boundary. I think it is more of a pride thing, or a pride of his thing, thing. They proudly lift their leg to call attention while waving their hooter-parts around for all to see. Then, they step in it and leave little stamp marks of their paw prints down the road. This makes it easier for the next dog to follow the prints and obliterate that message with their own.

Trump does that. He calls attention to himself, makes a mess, steps in his mess, then walks away. Those staffers who follow behind will say, “Smells like Trump has been here.” We’d better obliterate his mess with alternate facts and other such hoo-ha.

My female Basset Hound, Molly, doesn’t seem to have the same braggadocious needs in her peeing habits. Although sometimes a certain smell will make her squat in her version of a dainty feminine manner; she stops, splays her hind legs, and lets loose. If she happens to do this behind me on a walk it can be a wrenching experience for my back. Suddenly, without notice, my travel companion will turn into a fifty-five pound dead weight with claws in the ground. If she is in front, I trip; if she is behind me my shoulder gets jerked out of place. Either way, it doesn’t help the sciatica, and once I tore my calf muscle and was laid up on the couch for two weeks.

I suspect this is why Melania Trump slaps away Donald’s hand on vacations. She is a slight girl, in contrast to him, who doesn’t want her shoulder jared when her hefty husband suddenly stops. This has probably happened in the past and unlike Molly who is close to the ground with wide paws and stubby legs, she is perched up on those dagger-like pointy heels. A sudden stop by the big orange gorilla would instantly knock her off those precarious things.

Molly loves going on walks with her brother. On the left is a picture of my two dogs on a walk. We are just passing the spot where that ten-foot boa-constrictor surprised us from the tall grass. Now, if you look closely you will notice there is only one leash with a y-connector for the dogs. With Yogi’s sudden bursts of dog-brained, scattered energy and Molly’s propensity for sudden stops, the use of two leashes was literally tearing me apart; I had to put them together so they would jerk each other’s sciatica instead of mine.

This becomes particularly dangerous, however, when both dogs decide to go in the same direction at the same time. Suddenly there is 110 pounds and eight legs pulling me forward with determination. I’m more than twice their combined weight but that becomes a meaningless factor given the physics involved. All their force is applied to my shoulders which makes me top-heavy, leaving my legs to do most of the resistance or start running.

I imagine the White House staff feels like I do in that situation, too. There they are, running the country, when out of nowhere an invented word on an unfinished, published text pulls them off course and out of balance. Y’know, one has to wonder how he got all those cell phones through his own security to give away to other leaders in order to bypass our own security?

I don’t think anyone is holding his leash because he’s got to have collaborators programing those security-violating phones for him. Can you imagine him up all night with a tiny screwdriver and a box of new cell phones?

I’d become quite worried if my dogs got off their leash.

Comparing Art, Service, Church

A comparison of voluntary agencies:

The Theatre , An Association for the Intellectually Disabled, The Church

This is a list of a variety of topics showing how three formative places at which I volunteered as a teenager helped influence my personal development: 1. theatre, 2. a group of volunteers assisting the intellectually disabled, and 3. the church.

Family:

High school/Community Theatre is a temporary family of strangers who become friends united in telling a story full of emotions and moral lessons.

Within the intellectually disabled group, one becomes a parental figure to help guide ‘clients’ as they were called in my youth, participate in activities, a formal but rewarding relationship and experience.

The church is an extension of the family except that one has to apply the ‘Sunday Best’ outfit to go there.

Fantasy:

The world of theatre is a place where fantasies are magically brought to life through illusion.

Working with so called ‘retarded children’ in the early 1970s meant relating to innocent and naive people who often exist within their own fantasies.

The Presbyterian Church requires members to believe in an abstract non-sequitur: a monotheistic trinity.

Requirements:

Theatre insists on collaboration.

Children require love.

Church demands faith and money.

Facade:

Theatre makes artificial facades that are built as needed with theatrical makeup, lumber, canvas, acting, gingham and tweed. All of that: acting, scenery, lighting and costuming is applied to tell a unified story. Facade has a purpose here that is independent of the individual ego, it is a device used in storytelling.

The intellectually disabled have no facade, no mask to confront the world through artifice, so a volunteer’s task is to guide the clients toward behaviors that protect them in the world.

Maintaining one’s own facade is something to do at the church. Facade has an ego based foundation here: the presentation of self in conformation with the Presbyterian breed.

Humanity

Theatre is about sharing excellence. There are conventional means of telling stories in theatre, but those conventions are meant to be stretched and reformed as needed.

Unconditional love is what the intellectually disabled are all about. Each person you encounter provides a window into unsullied humanity.

Church is about a person’s relationship with a triune deity: a man, a ghost and a god (in math that would be expressed as 3 = 1). Their relationship is narrowly defined by doctrine and spelled out in rules. Your ‘personal’ relationship with the trinity has already been codified.

Vulnerability

An artist’s job is to bare their soul. Each production and performance is a new opportunity to fail as well as succeed. Theatre people are always vulnerable to published critics or anyone who buys a ticket.

We observe almost pure vulnerability with the mentally challenged, therefore, we can allow ourselves to become vulnerable too. The level of intellectual discourse is low but the level of emotional discourse can be profound. A volunteer’s  defenses can be comfortably lowered to connect at that primal level.

A teenage Presbyterian was once asked to read a passage from the Bible during a regular Sunday service.  He looked at the congregation, began to read, then he instantly froze solid, his rigid body tipped over the railing of the lectern with a thud, like a statue knocked from its plinth, then his body relaxed and he rolled down the steps to the altar. He had found himself, at that initial moment, face to face with a congregation of well managed facades. “I can’t bare to be judged by that!” he thought, so he left the room and his body for a few minutes. He was fine, physically, but he never should have been put in that emotional position; his young father had died of a heart attack in that very church several months before.

This guy was completely guileless; he had no clue about facade management. He was willing to speak (be vulnerable) in memory of his father, but he wasn’t interested in artifice at all. He simply couldn’t manage his own protective shield, so, when faced with the wall of judgement inherent in public speaking he collapsed. The meek may inherit the earth, but perhaps, the meek shouldn’t present their vulnerable, honest selves to the Presbyterians.

Inclusion:

Theatre is always broke, couldn’t care less about what you do and who you screw as long as you make the opening curtain. Don’t mess up their story-telling and you are just fine by them.

The agency for the intellectually disabled has basic legal strictures. Nothing beyond human kindness is necessary and it does not cost you anything. A scandal or misbehavior would be the only reasons to exclude someone.

Of the three, church is the most divisive. You either accept the dogma or you don’t. Promises and money are required. You will be excluded if you do not comply. If you are gay you are not welcome. If you are gay you are hated.

Love:

The Theatre is accepting of all permutations of love. Love is Love

The intellectually disabled offer their love unconditionally. Love is Love

Religion places conditions and restrictions on love and the expression of love, this is called:“Christian Love.” The hymn: ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our love’ sounds altruistic but it refers to the exclusive version of love, not the normal connotations of Love. Christian love is the exclusive restricted Country Club version.

Trumpification

Religions have become Trumpified. Actually, Trumpification has been happening throughout society for my whole life. I first noticed it in Red Cross Lifesaving classes at the Boy’s Club in the late 1960s. A large part of the class was spent learning about the legal repercussions from any attempt to save a life. Along with actually learning the techniques for saving a life we were learning how to make deep philosophical choices about whether to bother trying at all given the legal consequences! Through this, the moral choice that had always seemed blatantly obvious – wasn’t.

Knowing how to save a drowning person does not obligate you to attempt the rescue. Morality obligates you and common decency obligates you, training guides you, but if the person you save breaks a rib as you salvage their ability to breath air again, you can be sued. (Good Samaritan laws since that time have made it better, but not removed the threat.) The most basic moral choice – to save a life – is so full of legal ramifications that morality is squeezed out of the choice. This very same thing is happening in religion.

I’ve written in the past about the inverted pyramid of structure that ignores the wholesome reasons for its genesis. The church begins with good intention, but as it decides new moral concerns, its laws expand. The more rigid the rules, the more a specialist is needed to manage it. Theologians have to become lawyers just to do their job. The structure is so vast and complicated that the specialists transform themselves from deep thinking scholars contemplating lofty thoughts, into code translators – lawyers of the codified dogma. A massive set of rules with subsections and related scholarship, clauses, codicils and analysis must fit into cells in the spread sheet to be managed. Or, at least computerized data starts out as the tool that is used by the manager of the vast religion’s leadership. Eventually, the computerized data-set earns enough trust to proclaim the “truth” of the organization on its own, not the humans. The humanity of compassion and morality and intuition can’t be factored into the equation as before, so even religion, a supposedly human-based entity, becomes machine-like. I have used the Pope’s recent Exhortation on Love as a prime example of heartless databased legality dressed up in pretty words; the rules for ‘exclusion,’ if you will.

Success in this world comes to those most willing to pay the lawyers to fight and prolong the battles. Trump does what he wants then says: “see you in court.” The church says: “see you in court, meanwhile, we’ll pray for your child’s torn rectum and mental well-being.” The drowning girl’s father sues you for cracking her rib after you risk your own life to save her’s. The precision of definition that either allows or prevents human variance is immensely detailed.

The lawyer’s job is to clarify the rules by removing emotion and precisely defining the edges of the rules. This makes sense when creating a will, but lawyering emotion out of religion is contraindicated. Religions rely on emotion for rituals and hymns, its architecture and art. Ceremonies, holidays, societal events all use the emotional appeals to deities. Rationality is not the prayer’s function.

This universal reliance on codes, not humanity is altering the nature of morality itself. The interface between humans is lined with implied contracts and legal obligations, with varieties of social, racial and religious rules. Back in the days of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin (old TV shows from the 50s) even the dogs could tell right from wrong. Now, some rich guy with enough lawyers and no moral conscience can run the world. There’s no legal way to stop him except for the slow laborious process of bureaucracy. One of the wealthiest religions in the world, the Catholic Church, hides behind a wall of lawyers. Just like Trump, their “monied morality” – the judgment of the secular database, will be decided in court; one long-delayed case after another. The trained lifesaver who takes no action as the little girl drowns faces no legal challenge, but the pain of moral responsibility should be unbearable.

Or should it? Our churches hide behind lawyers because of their own behaviors and in spite of their own rhetoric. They know their sin. They did it again and again. Yet they slowly clutter up the courts with legal gamesmanship. The president doesn’t represent moral standards of any sort, yet he is not punished. Why shouldn’t the trained saver-of-lives believe it’s morally correct simply to walk away? His moral choice has become: whether he can afford enough lawyers to face the legal ramifications of saving her. The sanctity of her life has little bearing. The moral question of saving the little girl, is no different from the church’s choice to hide abusive pedophiles rather than turning them in to the police, or deceitful business practices protected by a wall of lawyers.

My Humanism expects that the honorable trained life-saver will do his human duty in spite of the consequence of our Trumpified lives.  Let’s follow that example not Trump or the Church.

Bigotry will be their salvation

One of the best experiences of living on the Island of St. Croix is the Writer’s Circle I belong to. It is made up of a variety of people from all walks of life. The other day I showed them my most recent blog, the one about Harry Potter. HO HOs Role in Polytheistic Monotheism We always critique one another’s work with an eye toward positive reinforcement. One person pointed out that much of what I said would be offensive to the religious community. I agreed with that assessment. She wondered why I would do that since she liked the beginning and the ending bits a lot. I explained the nature of Freethoughtblogs.com and said the comments would fit in with the tenor of the other bloggers and readers. I suspect she really wanted to know why I was being intentionally offensive because I don’t come across as being an offensive person and would be likely to point out a similar offense in others. She has a valid point.

I often wonder why those of us who have been stung by organized religion have the emotional reactions we do. Conversely, why does our secular society cow-tow to these harmful, secretive, exclusive, tax-exempt clubs? There is sense of privilege religions take. Religious privilege is a demand of the pious. They demand special treatment because, well, not for any contemporary reason, they have always had it. Many do good and charitable works alongside their political actions and deceptive sales pitch. It’s honored because its always been that way. I would love to know why we continue to do so? They are tax-exempt, exclusionary, bigoted, private clubs. They have the least-rational premise of any organizations, for example: heaven, hell, angels, getting your own personal planet when you die. Then there is praying dead people from some other religion into their version of heaven and having the relatives get really mad about it. The covered heads and gender specific clothing, food, saying prayers instead of taking action, and a whole slew of myths about birth, rebirth, and death. Folks, these are the ancient equivalents of wands and quidditch matches (it’s a Harry Potter thing), robes and flying brooms – the exemplars of an attempt to commune with the Dreamworld. The difference being that art knows it’s an artifice, religion pretends it isn’t. J.K. Rowling intends to entertain, edify and exalt humanity with her novels; take them or leave them, just don’t demand that government codify the rules of quidditch.

Now, I remember the friends of my grandparents being quite upset at the possibility of Jews being allowed to join their Country Club back in the 1960s. I remember the efficient, immaculate, and at times invisible all-black serving staff at the Club with their white gloves, and polite subservience. And I remember feeling so unwelcome by the other kids at the swimming pool when my Grandmother would take us there. She thought she was honoring us with this privilege, when all we were, was embarrassed. The elitism of that Club carried throughout the community – the most privileged of the white upper class.The way it had been for a very long time. Society and that Club have changed along with the times. Anyone willing to pay can join today and a person of any skin-color or religion may serve or be served dinner.

Religions enjoy privilege in this culture, however, they are more resistant than the Country Club to the progress of time. We see it most blatantly in the “religious liberty” legislation they are attempting to pass. They want to make secular laws allowing for the religious version of an all black wait staff. They wish to keep today’s version of “Jews” (or the Irish, or the Catholics, etc.) – the LGBTQ community, from being in their club. They feel put-upon and abused because their own antiquated bias humiliates them. Toto has pulled back the curtain on their fraudulent misbehavior a long time ago – cover-ups and perpetuation of child rape for example, but they have hired lawyers; so, in the style of Donald Trump, their deceit is obvious and met with a “so what” attitude. Regardless of whether their behaviors are right or wrong the holy wizards want to win, morality be damned. When lawyers take church doctrine and transform it into legalese, then the jump across the wall separating church from state is easier to make. The most effective organization opposing LGBTQ rights in this country is the hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a collection of faith-based lawyers sponsored by the most militant evangelicals. They are legally sophisticated and determined to win in the courts and work at it with little public scrutiny.

The privilege of religion is sinking toward a negative number, just like Trump. The shear inertia of that ancient privilege has kept them going this far. Irrelevance, scandal and other atrocities provide the friction that slows the momentum. They are grasping at roots from long dead trees as they fall over the cliff attempting, in desperation, to invent legal codes that merge their falling religions with the secular laws of the land. They must legalize their “ability to exclude” to survive. Bigotry will be their salvation.

So, getting back to the original question, why offend the religious? Quite frankly, I felt deceived and betrayed when they did not live up to their promises in my youth. I have outgrown the hatred and vitriol that I carried for the church for so many years. The absurdity of organized religion and its misbehavior is now a recognized matter of fact. Using humor to point out the oddities of an absurdity seems nicer than forcing it into an academic debate. I mean, Jesus, HO HOs are funny! The first third of my last post mostly pokes fun at myself. The middle third shows how absurdly out-of-date Christianity is. The last third finds moral value in an easily accessible format, suitable for the age in which we live – the morality parables of the Harry Potter Series. ART!