Sex, Slaves, & Inconvenient Truths


What we see in the great cultural divide of 2018 is a society shaken by a dual worldview. The church represents tradition and reliance upon ancient codes for defining right or wrong. That attitude is frozen in place by traditions and authoritarian dominance. The reasoning that created those rules is defunct, making them irrelevant in the current culture while they continue to be enforced by an enduring moral designation of ‘bad’. All of Christian authority comes from the long tradition of having placed, at some point in time, the designation of ‘good,’ or ‘bad’ on every aspect of life. The current mode of Political Correctness uses a different set of criteria. PC has no need of judgment regarding an ultimate right or an ultimate wrong in the sense of good vs. evil; PC criteria is focused on whether individuals and thereby society are being harmed or not. If you actively harm others your PC ranking sinks. 

Bigotry harms other people. Bigotry is immoral. Why then do evangelicals support Trump given his support of bigotry? Neither Jesus nor Paul condemn slavery despite its omnipresence in their time. Paul even returned a slave to his master; I’d call that support. So, are we still fighting the Civil War? Yes, it seems we are. But, before we get to far afield here let’s look at sex, too. Sexuality has changed a lot since the Bible was compiled. We now know an incredible amount of detail that seems to change some ancient declarations of sexuality from ‘bad’ into ‘good,’ or at least a harmless, ‘Okay.’ Biblical sexual morality has little relevance to modern social existence though rape and the like remains evil. Many sexual condemnations seem bellicose, hyperbolic and impotently unreasonable.

So, once again it seems kind of pointless to make these remarks when Evangelicals are creating the greatest fuss. They condemn, using antiquated moralities, while endorsing the most infamous counter-example, Donald Trump. The people supporting these old biblical canards, such as The Alliance Defending Freedom, are over-the-top. They acquire the designation, ‘hate group’ for their manic behavior. Yet they seem to thrill to the amoral behavior of the current president. Is hypocrisy the best description for this? I mean If Jesus throughout his life barely discussed the obvious immorality of slavery, at a time when it was omnipresent in society, why do evangelicals ignore the immoralities of Trump? It is obvious, their master, Jesus, taught them how to do it and by example condones the behavior. Trump is the new Christ.

Did Jesus teach child abuse too? You would think so if you live in Pennsylvania this week. Who teaches child abuse to the priests and how does someone like Archbishop Wuerl learn the techniques of shuffling abusive priests to other parishes like pawns on a chess board? Is this like ignoring slavery because it is convenient? Perhaps Political Correctness is the wrong course of action; “God” in truth, actually prefers slavery and child rape–it is as plain as the nose on their theological face.

What a piece of work

What a piece of work is man

How noble in reason

how infinite in faculties

in apprehension how like a swan

the beauty of the world

the paragon of animals

I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth

This goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory

this majestical roof the air look you

this brave o’re hanging firmament

threaded with golden fire

why it appears to me no other thing to me than a foul

and pestilent congregation of vapors

Now, before anyone complains, remember that I’ve just experienced 2 hurricanes and a tropical depression with 10” of rain in four hours, power has been out for almost six weeks and there is seldom an internet connection to be found. I’ve had to rely on memory to recreate this section of Hamlet [that may actually be the adaptation used in the rock musical, Hair or just plain wrong]. I can’t look it up, so I have to go from memory.

Anyway, the tropical rain forest I live in is turning green again. The fruit trees are lying horizontally across the property, trying to reach for the heavens again with remaining branches and the grass is tall as ever. The problem is that I, as a paragon of animals, seek order. My yard is supposed to be grass that can be cut with a lawnmower, and my trees should remain vertical. The fact they are content to lay there across the yard with their branches either happily sprouting leaves or dead and broken in the path of the mower disrupts my desired order. If I don’t do something about this soon, the forest will take back the yard. So, I can’t really say I know not wherefore I have lost my mirth, it greets me at the front door every morning.

I may have had infinite faculties when I was younger, but I’m older and health issues forced my early retirement. I can only work in tropical heat for twenty minute stretches with forty minutes of rest before trying again. I have no chain saw. If I rise at first light, I get more done until that oppressive golden fire bravely hangs itself in the firmament.

Things across the island seem like a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors, yet I am very lucky, I still have a roof and a house and cars and, my husband and I have our health. The U.S. Virgin Islands are trying to be noble in reason while we see our neighbor, Puerto Rico, get all of the attention. We are citizens of the United States and even though we are tiny, in contrast, we are a separate US territory and require the same aid. This isn’t a competition, but when our own President mistakes our Governor for president of some foreign country we have to stand up and say his apprehension is like a swan – a bit bird-brained. We deserve appropriate treatment.

Finding Morality Through Art

Two artistic expressions of melancholy, both alike in sincerity, if not stature or quality, will be the subject of this blog. One you will recognize from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the other one you will not recognize at all because I created it and it has been shown to very few people. The two are paired together because they are expressions of young men and their efforts to address the pains of existence within their personal circumstance. This is a continuation of the discussion of the last two posts regarding art.

Hamlet is probably twenty years old although some say he is thirty, but that makes no sense, he is written with behaviors of a student questioning life, not a full grown adult. Let’s not delve too deeply into the details of his anxiety; he is a Prince who’s father, the King was murdered while some hanky-panky was going on in the castle between his Mom and the king’s brother, his Uncle who conveniently became the new King. A ghost, his dead father, comes back and suggests avenging his death. This stress adds to Hamlet’s basic not-yet-an-adult angst. He is already a pensive lad and depressed when he gives the following monologue to his two friends:

I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

The second piece is a watercolor painting that’s been modified in Photoshop. I painted this the night in 1978 when I struck up enough courage to walk into my first gay bar. I got my self all dressed up and ready for action and walked straight through the door and sat down at the bar. The place was empty. It was only eight PM. Nobody was likely to show up until at least eleven. The bartender took pity on me and explained how things work in the gay bar scene. I went home, cried, got stoned and painted this self-portrait.BMA cover art

The original painting was less colorful. I jazzed it up on the computer so it can be used on the cover of my book. Years of stress, anxiety, frustration and soul-searching culminated in that brazen trip to the bar only to end in embarrassment and disappointment. This moment was the apex of my struggle. At least I got a painting out of it, such as it is. The title is “I Was Angry” in case you wouldn’t get that from the red eyes. The brows aren’t furrowed the way they would be if looking at some other person angrily. This is an internal, reflective anger focused on no one else. All the energy, conflict and determination through years of effort is churning inside. There is still a peaceful resoluteness in the face that shows a firm determination to succeed. The staunch pursed lips say, “I’ll win this battle”. Coming out of the closet will happen despite this set-back. Period.

So, in my last two posts “art” is assigned a moral and edifying quality. Can we see it in these two examples? Well, the most obvious lesson is that they both exult humanity. Perseverance, the human quality of getting up and doing it again after facing adversity is a major element in storytelling. When do people need that lesson? When they are depressed from having faced adversity themselves. The picture illuminates both anger and peace. The monologue illuminates both the strengths of mankind (is it sarcastic?) along with the harshness of foul and pestilent vapors, summing it as “a quintessence of dust.”  The terms of the discussion have been defined. The monologue could be taken out of context of the play and used to describe any person’s circumstance and so could the painting, making them universal expressions of mankind’s existential struggles.

The moral insight comes from observing humanity exalted through art. There may be no specific moral point of view stated in the piece, so we, the observers, are going to assign a moral value to make our encounter meaningful. Will it be the intended opinion of the artist? Who knows and who cares? The ways in which we interact with art are personal. It is designed to provoke questions and thereby provide an observer the opportunity to draw conclusions. The artist has certain questions in mind while creating the work but the audience always forms new questions and seeks to answer them all. That is a good thing.

Moral solutions are derived through the process of deliberation, which is a crucial element of having integrity. If one can say they honestly examined a choice from all sides, that it results in an opinion/conclusion, and are willing to back up that choice publicly with reasons, then they have integrity. Moral decisions require contemplation and time. Hamlet is deliberating his own moral dilemma when he speaks this monologue. He puts forward universal thoughts in an effort to solve his specific problem. By watching him experience this process we can discover something useful to help us with our problem.

A young adult or anyone for that matter may see something of value in the portrait or not. It may be found in the monologue, or not. A song on the radio, a book, a movie, a TV show, an opera, any and all modes of art have the potential to provide the insight required.

Suppose you choose to seek guidance from a priest or another dogma-based source, you are still culpable for your own actions. Following advice from a bible or religion doesn’t absolve you from your own actions. If you choose to do so, you should truly understand the reasoning behind the instruction from that authority. When you reason out a decision for yourself, you know why you have made the choice you have made. Following predetermined dogma because you ‘believe in it’ doesn’t give you the same insight or understanding. Following another person’s rule does not convey moral integrity.

Art is not a straight line toward understanding. It is a strange and wavering path that exposes vulnerability and encourages confusion. It asks you to think, deliberate and debate so you can form your own considered conclusions. Art is a catalyst which assists its audience with the option of making personal choices. If all art directed people toward forming the same conclusion, then it would be propaganda. Art does not do that, it has no dogma. Art removes the crudeness of reality and the inanity of dogma and frees your mind to explore all options.