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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

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Location: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

More sex please. In fact, tear me apart.

I've been thinking I should write more about sex.

Looked at longitudinally, there are only a few things I've spent really, truly a lot of time on in my life, and one of them is sex. Yet I've never really written about it.

I was talking to a blogging friend the other day – not a blog friend, but a friend who blogs – and we nattered for a while about the tear (like a sheet) I sometimes feel between writing about things personal and writing about things general. On one level, everything I write is personal: there's no commissioning editor, here, to I pick the topics. So, I don't write about anything I don't care about. On the other hand, it doesn't take much reading here at Postcard Central to get clear that I'm usually blathering about either abstracted daily experience or specific current affairs. Very little of it is about me.

I suppose that's a nice contrast with the incessant navel gazing of some personal vanity blogs. This here micrum opus, however, was always intended to be my writing jungle gym and, unless I plan on a career as a less-informed Thomas Friedman wannabe, I reckon some of my naked writing playtime orta be spent looking in the mirror.

Besides, the corollary to the old advice to “write what you know” might should be “write what you fear”. I've spent most of my life running towards some of the things I fear most in order to see what they would teach me. ...while they kicked my ass. Or to try and conquer them. Usually, it's worked. It's how I ended up living in Australia, China and France. Each a long story, but with the recurring theme of running toward fear.

Writing what I fear does not, at first blush, lead me to writing about me. But my comfort zone, judging by past outings, is clearly in the world of commentary, not in the land of self-disclosure. So, there's fear operating in there somewhere. Whether it's fear I'll reveal myself to be a total prat (or more of one than has been heretofore documented), or fear of rejection (same thing, I s'pose), or fear of something else, I don't know.

Rather than considering that question in the abstract, however, I'm reckoning it'll be better thunk through in the breach: ie, if I start writing more personal stuff, and see what belly-flops my gut does when I hit the “publish” button.

Which leads me back to sex, though not directly. When recently reading back over a bunch of old stuff, I was struck by the absence of sex. It was one of several topics of importance to me that came up virtually ignored. Whence the conclusion that I've not been doing too much self-disclosure. Or, at least, what of it I've been doing hain't been close enough to the bone. Sex sticks out simply because I've probably spent more time thinking about sex than about any other single topic, other than work, since I was thirteen years old. So, it just seems a bit odd that I would write about, say, Chinese sign translations, and not about sex. Either I'm afraid of what I'll say, or I'm afraid of what you'll think.

As little as I like admitting it, it's probably the latter. Time to get over that, I reckon. So, consider yourself warned. Not that you're going to get reportage from the bedroom doings of White Boy and Flame-Haired Angel. No, no. I do that under a pseudonym over at ducksinlatex.com.

* * * * * * * * * *

An amusing post-script to all that. When re-reading, I came across my use of the word "tear" and, worrying only slightly about its nefarious homonymical tendencies, I flipped over to Google and typed in the first phrase that came to mind using the word tear: “tear me apart”. (I just know you're already reading into that what you will.)

The very first search result was an erotic story: Tear Me Apart

(Hint: Don't click the link if you're already worried about *me* writing about sex. Glad to see someone else is.)

Mango and Wonder Drops

Been quiet for a few days. Sicknesses of two sorts have laid Postcards low. First was a hard-drive meltdown last Friday night, just after the Shucking Summer post. You know things are serious when your drive starts singing ka-plink ka-plink ka-plink in soprano. And, no kidding, it did just a couple of more ka-plunks, in alto, for good measure before finally wiggling its toes in the air and leaving me a note saying it'd meet me in the dumpster.

Good backups are a thing of beauty, however. And don't you know I'm just anal retentive enough to have 'em and ill-mannered enough to gloat about 'em. Fact, given zero data loss, I wasn't all that sad to see the old girl keel over. She was limping badly and scheduled for functional reassignment surgery in November, anyway. She's now propping up one end of an ailing book-case.

So, the weekend was spent buying and configuring a brand new hummin' beauty, sittin' righ cheer in a virginal white case. For a reason too dull to go into, she's called Mango.

After that, it was Flame-Haired Angel's turn to chuck a wobbly. Her soft-drive did a bit of ka-plunking of its own – fortunately not nearly so fatal – on Monday and she's only getting her pink back now. (Now, now...)

In the meantime, while I was breathing life into a Mango, Flame-Haired Angel spent some peaceful pre-flu hours joining the blogiverse. Doesn't like parties so much, that girl, but hates being left out of 'em, so a'blogging she has come. Already, I'm envious of her blog name: Drops of Wonder.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The end of shucking summer

With the close of August comes the end of summer. This we know. In France, the seasonal sunset is marked by the Parisian flock returning to its nest from its August-long holiday migration. The weather, cool all summer, is unchanging, so marks little, but the other signs are unmistakable: the streets filling with traffic, again, and the bistros reopening.

These signs bring with them the pain of knowing that autumn is pressing upon us, with winter cresting a hill just within sight, but it is not without its small consolations. One friend, just returned from Brittany, yesterday, shoved a couple dozen oysters into my hands. Otherwise, far more than he could eat.

So, Flame-Haired Angel and I sat down to oysters and Champagne, and laughed at what a grubby dinner we made of it, shucking the shells into plastic bags and dripping Finistere seawater across our laps.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Mis-read from an article, tonight:

"You're either with us, or you're with the jingoists."

I thought, "How brilliant!" Then I realized I mis-read it. And then I thought, "How brilliant!"

Now, if only more of the population were to know what jingoism is, I might have a hot meme on my hands.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Le Darth Pansy-boy

A few weeks back, when the last Star Wars juggernaut hit France, many were bemused that its release date was influenced by the French State, with the result that France saw flying Yoda (not to mention flying R2D2) a day before all those silly English k'niggits (not to mention the rest of the world) got to.

The whys and wherefores are a bit of a long story, and a pretty sodding boring one, at that, so let's just say it was an evil French plot to piss off American neocons who, no doubt, wanted to be first in line to give big props to their buddy Darth.

The far more important, much less reported, aspect of the French release of Star Wars III: Sith Happens, was the change of Darth Vader's name. Or, at least, its spelling. Your Correspondent saw the first Star Wars in its theatrical release way back, what seems like a millennium falcon ago, and he has braved the epithets of thirty years of hipsters by continuing the tradition with each successive se/prequel. So it would have taken a bit more subtlety than putting it on bus-stops and billboards to slide past me that the French spell Darth Vader's name differently. There, above the familiar black cape, gas-mask, helmet, and James-Earl-Jones-brand chest protector, the posters trumpeted the rise of the evil dark lord...

Darth Vador.

That's right: Darth VadOR. I can't say I put much effort into thinking about it, but I'll admit it did nag at me. Why'd they change the damn spelling? Are they that language proud they've gotta start changing the names of sci-fi characters to be more acceptable to the Academie Francaise?

I was mid-sentence, wondering this very thought aloud to Flame-Haired Angel, when it struck me. It wasn't language pride. It was machismo. They didn't want Big Darth to sound like a pansy: Darth Vader, in French, would have to come out as the rather limp-wristed Darth VahDAY.

Even with the comfort that comes from understanding, I still walked around ever so slightly put off by these posters trying to make Lord Vador scary. I have no idea why but, to this English-speaker's eye, he just didn't seem as evil spelled that way.

It's too bad Osama Bin Laden and George W Bush aren't spelled any differently in France. They might come out less evil, too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Pastafarianism update: Merchandise!

...or, at least, the next best thing.

For those of you sick and tired of both "Intelligent Design" and those little Christian fish car stickers, here's some fight-back fer ya.

An update on my previous post about our Lord, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

See the beatific graphical worship, HERE.

Butt kicked to and from work

This morning, walking to work, I had my ass kicked sideways by Richard Buckner. Go download "Blue and Wonder" and "Rainsquall" now from your favorite music service. The latter is available for listening as a RealAudio file HERE. (Caution: Dobro alert.)

Last night, it was text, rather than poetic, rockin'mandolin breaks, that gave me an ass-kicking. Check out this article on why Baghdad's constitutional process ain't nothin'like Philadelphia in 1787.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Gibson's Miracle

Visiting Hotel Spencer, Paris, requires certain duties of the guests, especially if they hail from either Australia or the US. If from Down Under, their bill is paid in the form of wine courier services. I have a lot of wine. That's a good thing. It's all in Australia, a 23-hour flight from here. That's a bad thing. So, while bringing wine to France might be a bit of coals-to-Newcastle, that's the price Aussie visitors pay.

If visiting from the US, folks can anticipate stashing a different form of payment in their carry-on. It's less consistent, but it usually arrives, pre-flight, in a box from Amazon. Our current crop of Yank visitors received several such parcels, Amazon-aplenty, and then made of themselves a couple mighty fine packhorses.

One of their deliveries got slipped into the DVD player last night. When the Flame-Haired Angel heard that Anne Bancroft had died, she mourned in the modern way. She zoomed her browser over to Amazon and ordered a film. Having not seen Bancroft's Oscar-winning turn in The Miracle Worker, she made sure that's what ended up in our friends' luggage. I didn't even know she'd ordered it, but was delighted. Not that I have any real history with the film, but it's the only thing by one of my favorite writers that has persisted even a little in the fickle, ephemeral memory of pop culture.

The writer is William Gibson. No, not that William Gibson, but the playwright and screenwriter who enjoyed fame in the 50s and 60s. So much fame, in fact, that he would feature in the trailers/previews for the movies he wrote. His brand was that good. Today, his is almost entirely forgotten. When he is remembered at all, it's usually for The Miracle Worker, the story of Helen Keller's teacher. He wrote the original for the stage, then polished his own diamond for the screenplay.

Sure, I read the play in high school, like everyone else. I think that's when I saw the film, too, but it didn't really stick with me. The play wouldn't have, either, except for my sense of personal ownership where Gibson's concerned. Not that the play has anything to do with it. I cleave to Gibson because he wrote one of the most toweringly beautiful works of prose of the 20th century. Perhaps in history. Sadly, that book, A Mass For The Dead, is now even more forgotten than the rest of his career. It makes its home only in used book stores.

So, while it's stretching it to call my association with The Miracle Worker even tangential, I was still keenly anticipating being reintroduced. I barely remembered having seen the film, so it would all be new. It is Gibson, so I would be able to listen to him speaking through Anne Bancroft and, of all people, Patty Duke, who plays Helen Keller.

I was expecting the film to be a competent but staid, old dialog-driven set-piece: essentially the kind of charming but static vintage film that Flame-Haired Angel loves. (So, I enjoy watching them with her.) Yet, while it had all of the conventions you'd expect from a 1962 film adapted from the stage, it's really quite a butt-kicker. Bancroft is fantastic, but it's Duke who leaves your jaw needing a broom and dustpan. I mean, WTF? Patty Duke???

There are a couple of scenes that are just terrifying to watch because they're so powerfully done. The psychological struggle -- which often turned physical -- between student and teacher is just so violent. Only the Southern patriarch, Helen's father, chafes with a bit of caricature to impede the verisimilitude of the picture, but I even enjoyed him for comic relief.

One fascinating thing is how early in the narrative of Keller's life the film concludes. It's pretty clear that the audience is expected to know the rest of her remarkable story. I couldn't help but think how many contemporary viewers would, by contrast, be left wondering what happened next. Too bad, that.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Playing in Paris

Not a weekend for deep thinking. More like deep drinking. And a bit of fun around town.

Sun coming through a window at St Augustin.

The dome church at Invalides (famous for housing Napoleon's tomb).

Inside the dome church.

The gardens of the Musee Rodin.

One of Rodin's sculptures in the garden.

A goof in the garden.

Art: self-portrait in shop window.

The Paris money shot.

And this is the deep drinking part.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

It's quiet. Too quiet.

Paris is quiet in the summer time. You might expect otherwise. This is, after all, a tourist mecca. And tourists there are plenty. Locals, however: that's a different story.

All over town, save for the tourist destinations, summer is a time when it seems some great French mother has told the city to hush. And why? Because the French leave.

Those that can bug out of the city for the whole summer do. And that's more folks than you'd think. People who live in Paris, proper, are not poor, and lots have country homes in Normandy, Brittany, Burgundy and elsewhere.

Those that can't leave for the whole summer, leave at least for most of August. What North Americans call Labor Day, the French call the month of August. It is a national right and tradition to take a minimum of two weeks off, and most take three or four.

But, of all the quiet times in this quiet month during this quiet season, this is absolutely the quietest weekend of the Paris year. For this is a long weekend in the middle of August. Anyone who wasn't already out of town for the summer, and anyone who wasn't already out of town for August, has well and truly bugged out for the beach this weekend. If it weren't for the paternalistic French state, which tells the bakers when they are allowed to go on vacation, there wouldn't even be anyone in town to sell us bread.

The streets are quiet. By the Seine, the wind is easily heard in the trees, there is so little traffic. The normal neighborhood sounds that drift through our open French doors on the breeze simply aren't there, save for the quarter-hour tolling of the bells from the Church of St Ferdinand down on the corner.

So, this weekend, we are playing tourist -- the only avenue of human contact -- with our dear Friends, Margot and Steve, visiting from North Carolina. From Notre Dame's organ blasting out at the beinning of mass, to Paris Plage, to tea at Marriage Freres in the Marais, to the Eiffel Tower sparkling at the top of the hour after dark. We have even been taking in some of the world-renowned high-brow culture for which France is famous (see photo). It's actually a wonderful time to be in Paris, because it's the one time that this beautiful city is also a tranquil city, two words that don't go together often enough.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

What gets read on the walk home from work

It's been a few days. More work than expected and some very welcome visitors from the States means not a whole lot of bloggin' fun. Other kinds of fun, but not so much the bloggin' kind.

If I were pontificatin' from this here silicon soapbox, here's what all I'd be using as fodder.

Irshad Manji in the New York Times takes on whether or not we should tolerate hate.

Bob McHenry on "Turning 'Unknown' into 'Unknowable'".

And some buzz from the Buzz Machine on what's happening to the shape of media.

Happy reading.

Monday, August 08, 2005

No More Monkey Trials

I've been meaning to blog me a rant on the heavy-weight throw-down between Charlie Darwin and the "Intelligent Design" encroachers. Glad I didn't. What needed to be said has been, and more articulately than I would have mustered, by Charles Krauthammer, on Time.com:

To teach faith as science is to undermine the very idea of science, which is the acquisition of new knowledge through hypothesis, experimentation and evidence. To teach it as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of religious authority. To teach it as science is to discredit the welcome recent advances in permitting the public expression of religion. Faith can and should be proclaimed from every mountaintop and city square. But it has no place in science class. To impose it on the teaching of evolution is not just to invite ridicule but to earn it.

And, proving that an articulate defense of a superior argument needn't always be enough, there's this. Really: click the link.

Of course, I'm against idolatry, an' all, but I gravitate to the depiction of His Holy Being pictured below. But only because the other rendition on the site could easily be mistaken as a divine pubic hairball.

Reading things that remind me what I'm striving for

Every now and then, I nod to myself and think, "Yeah, I'm kinda getting the hang of this writing thing."

Then, I come across something like this, and I reassess.

It's all relative.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A letter to my mommyblogger

It was like turning a corner and stumbling into a fight.

For weeks, I've seen references to a conference of women bloggers, called “Blogher”. Cute name.

My first reaction was condescending. How derivative. Why does everything have to be about subdivisions of communities? Are we already so far into the establishment of the blogosphere that we have to carve it up into walled camps in search of camaraderie? Black bloggers, gay bloggers, hermaphrodite hispanic bloggers.

Second reaction: Hey, if that's their thing, whatever. Hope they have a good time.

Didn't give it much more thought.

Then, some of my favorite blog writers started returning from the conference enraptured. Turns out they had, um, yeah, a good time. Their normally gently moderated voices were ecstatic with connections lovingly made and self-esteem highs. And I thought, gosh, what a good thing that is.

So, whence the street fight?

One sour note came through several of the post-Blogher re-caps. Apparently, as with any community that feels marginalized, some Bloghers felt the need to marginalize some of their own. Hence, a few of my favorite bloggers were cut down for being nothing more than “mommy-bloggers”: women whose blogs have generous lashings of their experience as mothers.

Apparently they're guilty of not writing about, ahem, more important things. At least some of their more self-important Blogher attendees thus spake.

So, Dooce, Finslippy, Mrs Kennedy, Melissa, Sweetney, Jen, Manda, and all you friends of the Mommy-Bs:

This is a love letter to you.

There's an easy, all too easy, come-back to the sheila who decided on your behalf that there are more important things you could be writing about: You're changing the world one child at a time. But fuck that lame sentimental crap, no matter how true it may be. You're changing the world one sentence, one paragraph, one blog post at a time. You're changing the world one reader at a time.

You rock because your voices are strong, honest, assertive, funny, sexy, raw, joyful and loving. And never mind how rare it is to find that potent cocktail among women; it's too fucking rare among us all. And rare means precious.

You make me laugh, you teach me, you make me think, you excite me, you make me care. And that means that what you write makes me return. Again and again.

When I'm not alternating between being attracted and intimidated by your writing, your wit, and your honesty, I'm torn between wanting to have you all come over for banana bread and margaritas, and wanting to keep you all to myself, one at a time, in private moments, watching your lives unfold, at a distance, like an intimate movie.

That you invite us all in to see your world through your eyes is a gift of intimacy. So few writers, never mind bloggers, achieve the intimacy and directness you do. And that is a gift few have the gonads to give. It is in your generosity that you lead by example, whether you ever intended to, or not. You are righteous exhibitionists.

The power of what you do is in who you are and how you write as much as it is in what you write about. The personal is political. I couldn't give a shit about mommy diaries. Yet I care a lot about you and what you have to say. Why? Because you get inside, and you move me. You make me want more of your view in the world around me.

So, on with your talk of labor and poop and depression; your conflicted joy and hopes and dreams; and your husbands and lovers and pasts and penises; and boobs, and mammaries and teats! Not only do these things fail to define you; they fail even to begin. Oh, the humanity! Of thee, mommybloggers, I sing!

Claim the label, and run with it into the birth canals of every great idea, of every beautifully expressed funky self-declarative thought, of every utterance and glimpse your readers devour.

And as for anyone who suggests you are less, somehow, because you're mommybloggers, well, she should just go ahead and sell her tits on e-Bay, 'cause already she don't have near what it takes to stand beside the towering women you are.

Thank God it would be a faux pas to call this post a blowjob. I dare anyone to go there.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Myth of Muslim Fingerprints

The inevitable backlash against Muslims has begun in earnest.

On the one hand, it isn't new. Even before 9/11, a headscarf could be a magnet for epithets. After 9/11, being a minority Muslim became dangerous. But now, since the London bombings, last month, the temperature of rhetoric about Islam has been climbing. The escalation is steep, fast and worrying.

Before the last US Presidential election, my mom sent me a piece of writing that frightened me. In fact, it's intent was to frighten me, but not in the way it did. It was standard fear-mongering stuff: part of the campaign to make Americans afraid of what they couldn't see or hear, and, so, vote to “stay the course in the war on terror”. The reason it frightened me was that it took, as its dark and mysterious protagonists, not terrorists, but Muslims. It was the first time I saw the rhetorical fillip of broadening the threat base from a few terrorists (...dozens? ...hundreds?) to the entire Muslim world.

The piece had one saving grace: It was transparent propaganda.

In fact, it virtually plagiarized an earlier document: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a late 19th century anti-semitic forgery that was successfully passed off as a secret Jewish how-to manual detailing a plot to control the world. It was used, in Russia, just after the turn of the century, to incite anti-semitic sentiment and justify the slaughter of thousands of Jews.

The piece my mom sent suggested a similar message. All Muslims want to take over the world. Sure, there may be some moderates, but they're a distraction to the real Islamic agenda: domination. Be afraid! Boo!

It then went on to talk about how liberals/Democrats were soft on this threat, etc, etc.

My dad, just a few days ago, sent me a different kind of article. Its German author's message was simple: appeasement won't work. Now, German authorship is poignant in any argument about appeasement. And the author references Neville Chamberlain's laughable “peace in our time” with solid effect. That said, I was left wondering what course of action the author was arguing for. I think it was: (1) Don't support the proposed Islamic holiday in Germany, and (2) all us cowardly Europeans should support Bush!

All of that would have made it no more than a Republican op-ed piece – with the novelty of having been written by a German – but for one thing. And that one thing is, to me, terrifying. For the author to stake his claim against appeasing the enemy, he requires a premise that there is a coherent, cohesive enemy. And he names it: “Islamists”. Not Osama. Not the terrorists. Islamists.

The implied battle cry is clear: “Fight the Islamists.”

The sickening irony, here, of course, is that appeasing Germany prior to World War II allowed the persecution of a religious minority: Jews. Appeasement enabled the Holocaust. Is it not striking that this author seems to be saying, this time, we should do it differently – ie, no appeasement – but just ends up demonizing another religion?

Don't make the same mistake that killed all the Jews. Persecute the Muslims!

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

What's got me worried is not the odd anti-Muslim screed here or there; it's that an anti-Muslim meme seems to be taking shape in Western culture.

Have a look at this piece, titled “The myth of moderate Islam”. (Hat tip to Norm at OneGoodMove.) You might say its angle is predictable because it was published in The Spectator (UK), a conservative air horn. But it's a loud horn. Moreover, it's one that has consistently opposed the Iraq war (garnering accusations that it supports – wait for it – appeasement).

What's most worrying is how good the article is. I was impressed enough to Google the author, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo. He is the director of something called the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, which sounds like a good thing. And it may be, but most of the literature I could find on the Institute website was about how badly Muslims treat Christians.

(There's a fascinating rebuttal of Sookhdeo's article, here.)

So, we can still say this is just in the hands of wing-nuts, right?

Okay, then how about this article from the Journal of Foreign Affairs, the deeply respected organ of the Council on Foreign Relations? Titled "Europe's Angry Muslims", it's a well-reasoned, compellingly articulated piece. I highly recommend it. That said, its clear message is that there is a massive potential threat lurking in the broad European Muslim community. Policy makers may read that dispassionately, but to the general public I imagine it would be translated thus: Muslim = scary.

(The general public doesn't read the Journal of Foreign Affairs? Really? Hey, it's available in airport bookshops!)

Regardless of what they read, the public is getting the message. The Independent (UK) reported, yesterday, on the “dramatic rise in [anti-Muslim] racist assaults and abuse in the aftermath of the July 7 suicide attacks."

To be clear: Only an idiot would claim cause and effect between the anti-Muslim propaganda and the spike in folks beating up Muslims for fun. It seems plain enough that the propaganda and the racist violence are both effects of the same cause: the fear and anger triggered by the bombings. It happened to an extent in the US after 9/11. It's happening in the UK after 7/7. They're terrorists, and we're reacting to the terror.

What I am saying is that, under the cover of this understandable reaction to terror, we are being sold a turkey, and we're buying it. The turkey is the ever-expanding definition of who the enemy is. After 9/11, it was Osama and Al Queda. Then it was Iraqis. After that, it was Islamic extremists. Then it was Islamic fundamentalists. Now, it's Islam.

The rise in the frequency and legitimacy of this expanding definition of the enemy is frightening.

As we battle terrorism, don't let us fall into this trap. It is no different than Catholics versus Protestants (Northern Ireland), no different than Christians versus Jews (the Inquisition, the Holocaust), no different from Hindus versus Muslims (India and Pakistan), no different from Jews versus Muslims (the Middle East for, um, forever).

Way back in grad school, I posted on my pinboard a simple line from the Qur'an meant to remind me that lowly academic struggle was noble: “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”

I haven't heard much of that from either the Muslim or Christian/Western communities, recently. I'd be in favor of a little more. That's not about appeasement; it's about not being a fear-mongering bigot.

If we start to hate each other, just picture Osama's glee.

Monday, August 01, 2005

On Christian America

This piece in Harper's caught my attention.

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. ... Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves." That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin's wisdom not biblical; it's counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans -- most American Christians -- are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

I've been thinking about this a lot: the particular brand of Christianity we're seeing in America. Especially the dogmatic and political strains. Why is it that, in an age when the Christian world-view has such prominence, so much of what we hear is sourced from the Old Testament and Revelations? If our time were witnessing an ascendancy of the teaching of the Gospels, I might feel differently about the new influence of Christianity on American life. Yet, even with so many "Christian" voices in the media, today, few resonate with the voice of Christ we hear in the Gospels.

The example Christ sets in the Gospels is compelling for the very reason that it is hard to follow. But I simply don't hear the loud voices on the "Christian" right exhorting even the attempt. You might be forgiven for thinking that those "What Would Jesus Do?" bumper stickers are so popular because no-one actually knows. If the insinuation of the Harper's article is right, most Americans don't --- in fact, can't --- distinguish the Gospels from any other books in the Bible. And, so, the example of Christ's life is lost in the noise.

As it is, I'm glad to be in a place where a mine-strewn no-man's-land separates church and state. France --- and most of Europe, for that matter --- had a plenty blended church/state relationship for centuries. Almost universally, it's seen as a condition to which only fools would return.