SCIENCE?

Apparently fewer and fewer people trust science these days, or those dissertations on everything from gender studies to global warming.

Stories like this give us an idea why:

Comedian Steven Crowder was able to get a satirical article accepted in Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society titled “Embracing Fatness as Self-Care in the Era of Trump,” which argued that obesity was an effective method both of coping with the stress progressives felt after the 2016 election and of avoiding sexual assault. He was also invited to give a presentation on the fake study at an academic conference (which he did, to rave reviews, using a pseudonym and dressed as a woman).

ON 4 JULY, 2022 CAME ANOTHER DARK MYSTIC ON HIS MISSION

Everything was sunny and wonderful for a moment. Was red, white and blue wonderful. The children’s band had just marched by. Cute.

Innocence all around. Then, innocence was on the run.

The shaggy, tattooed young man, once (somewhere back there) also innocent, dressed now like a girl as part of his perverse mission, climbs up the alley fire escape, gets the high ground, start his killing.

He’d given the world fair warning. He’d written of his urges.

He wore the self-mutulating marks, inward and outward, of the army of the lost, soul-sick, violent egocentrics. The young nihilists. We’ve been spawning them, as in a fetid pool.

It’s one of the American stories — or American tragedies. But it’s universal. The symptoms and the actions can be found the world over. But, then, too, it seems we Americans have succumbed to this particular soul-corrupting pandemic, nurtured by the likes of our pibald, senescent ideologically bewildered prisoner -of-circumstances U.S. President who will, like millions, miss the point and blame it all on guns. Also, there are the false religions intersecting with the false chemical mood-alterers, racing around the cerebrum and the blood — they ought to be counted among the factors as well.

But the worst perpetrators are utterly clear in their thinking. That’s the scary part of it.

Mind-chilled and encrusted with a sickening sediment, they crawl forth in bright sunlight– at The Boston Marathon. They pop up in the high perch of a Las Vegas hotel. They enter a supermarket in Buffalo. They march freely into an elementary school in Evoldi, Texas. Your town is next — your street, your parade, your supermarket…..the demons are coming….

Their actions are theological in nature. The Evil One commands them. You might be scorned, mocked or ignored if you suggested such a thing and seem to be the Saturday Night Life comedian satirically uttering the word — Satan.

But, of course, it is a false, non-credible notion that any force, visible or invisible, forces us to do anything. We simply cooperate with evil. We make that choice daily, on a small or a grand scale. All of us.

There are the menally ill among us. They are to be cared for. We must search them out in all compassion. But I submit that the majority of the mass shooters have simply concluded that, in lieu of any ultimate, transcendant meaning, death and killling invest life with its only purpose or meaning.

Millions will, understandably, blame it all on guns. I find myself doing the same. Get rid of the guns or, at least, make it harder for them to get into the hands of twisted souls, and the problem will be abated, if not eliminated. And this is a reasonable civic goal to which we can aspire as a society. And, after all, what law or regulation or level of vigilance can discern and root out the galloping nihilism in the very air we breath? Is that possible? What is the antidote to the dark theology involved, especially if one doesn’t believe in theology, only sociology? We all believe different things about life’s purpose. We Americans are, in some respects, 300,000,000 theologians. And, frankly, even the most seemingly “normal” among us seems to have an appetite for the diversion that is violence, given our tastes in movies. We might not commit it, but we love to watch it. We just hate it when its real.

Meanwhile, for the killers among us…they think:

Kill them while they’re having fun or going about their business. Or at the movies, watching all that violence. Remind them with the rifle you bought of the real meaning of life. They are sleepwalking, those shoppers, those people watching the colorful, meaningless spectacle of a parade. “Enjoying” themselves.

This massacre left, among others, two young parents bloodied and dead, their child an orphan.

Motive, please….we can’t help but ask it.

Why? Why did you do it?

Why not? they’d answer.

Were they just — killing joy?

(Joy –allegedly, is said to be the surest sign of the presence of God. The French mystic Leon Bloy said so. He said many things, such as that the only failure in life is not to be a saint. He has never been canonized, or even beatified. He was, from all accounts, a rather intense individual who is also alleged to have stood on the hill of Monmartre overlooking Paris and proclaimed, “man left to man. That’s what I call The Wrath of God!”)

But here comes the mystic of darkness, climbing the alley fire escape to his perch, his little mountain, ready to unleash the wrath of his nihilistic god.

A relevant quote of dialogue from a story by a late writer of frankly theological fiction reads as follows:

If He done what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but thow (sic) away everything and follow him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing you to do (sic)but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best you can –by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” and his voice had become almost a snarl.

The words of the character, the homicidal escaped confict called, The Misfit.

-Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.”

We are, none of us, as “good” as we think we are.

And we will ask — again and again — how did The Devil get a high powered rifle?

Not a bad question. But not the best question. And not the most important question.

Not as important as the question, why is there something, instead of nothing?

Or, why for some of us, is everything — nothing.

And, finally, yes, finally — who are we, and what are we doing here?

A PARIS FRAGMENT

June 17, 1966 I arrived in Paris. That was fifty-six years ago today. I was 19. I had traveled by train from Brussels to Paris’s Gare du Nord with a couple I’d met on the Norwegian freighter Black Hawk which had carried us and six other passengers across the Atlantic and docked that same day in Antwerp. It was approaching dusk when we arrived in Paris. It was my first and, so far, my only visit to the City of Light. My first recognizeable Parisian sighting was the famous Church of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur) atop Monmartre as the train passed below it. Minutes later, we were under the cover of station’s rail siding. I bid my traveling companions farewell amid the bright, echoing turmoil of the terminal. I don’t recall where they were headed from there, but I knew it was time to part. The man’s name was Les Rabkin, 31-years-old. He and his wife Karen were headed on to immediate points elsewhere, unremembered by me. If they planned to stay in Paris, which, I suppose at that hour, was more than likely, I think I understood that I was excess baggage on their personal journey at that point and I think Les, when he vigorously grasped my hand for goodbye, welcomed my discrete acknowledgement of that reality, though it was probably obvious to them that I was overwhelmed, disoriented and, for the moment, afraid of my surroundings. But it was time for me to set out on my own.

It seems not that long ago — though, in fact, it might already be ten years ago — that I managed to locate and reconnect with Les. He was Jewish, living, I believe, in Seattle, his long-time home, though his prematurely gray-flecked beard and slightly brash manner made him seem less a creature of the Northwest than of the New York burroughs. I say that with affection. I do believe he was a New Yorker, though I may be misremembering.

Les had a long-standing relationship with an international agency that resettled Jews in Israel. That’s how I found him after plugging his name into the Internet. He and his gentile wife Karen, on that day in Paris, had a visa for travel through the Soviet Union. Their adventerous itinerary called for them ultimately to keep on traveling and wind up in Israel and spend several months in a Kibbutz until June 1967. It is for this reason that they were very much on my mind, once back in the States, when the Six Day War broke out in that very month and year. I long wondered about their fate. But I’d taken no contact information from Les and Karen at our parting, as became my subsequent habit with other people I met during that summer of Contental travel. I guess I assumed our train station goodbye was final.

All I really knew about Les and Karen’s marriage is that it was joined at a Manhattan party on the same night they met. They were, in that sense and others, two pure creatures of the epicurian spirit of the 1960s. And Les, jokingly but not without a degree of serious conviction, thought of himself as a “citizen of the world.”

Karen was not a great deal older than me. (I’ve written about Les and Karen in my “essential” post elswhere in this blog called, Continental Summer.) To both her and Les, I seemed a likeable but very conventional late teenager bound for a conventional life — wife, job, children, home in the suburbs. Perhaps it might have been better for me had that been my actual destiny. I suspect I became more of a wanderer than either Les or Karen. But I know both of them very soon wandered away from that impulsive marriage. Les told me that much when we reconnected.

When I found Les, I introduced myself to him and seemed to stir up vague memories of that voyage and subsquent land journey . He seemed delighted to hear from me. First and foremost, upon my inquiry, he told me they were, indeed, in Israel for the Six Day War but had weathered it without incident, though on one occasion, with planes overhead, Less worried whether they were Egyptian or Israeli, and he reported seeing many abandoned tanks in the desert. If I wondered about both their political pedigree of the time, Les shared the fact that their kibbutz was of a very unorthodox, liberal variety and had even assigned a place of honor to a portrait of “Uncle Joe” — meaning Josef Stalin. Small wonder they were eager for their visit to the Soviet Union, though I can’t imagine Karen was all that comforatable in Israel. I could not, during our too-brief exchange, really get a sense whether Les’s liberal politics had modified at all. But he was certainly, given his vocation, remained devoted to Israel and assuring its future.

We had only about three email exchanges, none of which I can locate. But I told him of my memory of sailing away from New York and seeing in the misty distance the famous Ambrose Light Ship that now sits dockside at South Seaport in Manhattan — and that, with my only son, born to me out of wedlock, I had, a few years before, eaten lunch together with the Light Ship just yards away from us. (I recall, with my son, feeling most unconventional and, looking out to sea, thinking of Karen’s assessment of my 19-year-old self.)

Les wrote back that he thought this was a very nice memory. He had re-married, at least once, was currently married to a woman young enough to have a mother still living whom he was going to visit. She might have been living in Florida.

I promised Les I’d go to a friends house and have her scan the pictures I’d taken of us aboard the Black Hawk– for old time’s sake. I think he was anxious to see them. But it happened that on the only day I arranged for the trip to that friends house, she informed me, with the pictures in hand, that the scanner wasn’t working that day. That was galling. I never got around to trying again.

Then, much time passed and there was no further contact with Les — my fault. He’d even mentioned he might get to Boston on other business some day (I was still living near my native Boston at that point) and that we might get together.

At some point a few years ago, I went looking for Less again — may have written, without getting a response. Then I learned that he had died. His picture, quite recognizable to me, was posted with an obituary and tributes from lifelong friends, of which I was not one. If his ex-wife Karen is still alive, I have no way to find her, her last name doubtless having changed, possibly many times. She’s probably long forgotten me.

So — remembering that first day in Paris, June 17, 1966 on this June 17, 2022. May you rest in peace, Les. I so much wish we’d had a chance to share more shipboard memories, share those pictures.

It’s 4:41 p.m. in Paris. Trains are pulling in and out of the Gare du Nord. Many greetings and departures. New memories for summer travelers in a complex and dangerous world far different from the post-WWII hour in which I said goodbye to two practical strangers with whom I’d spent nine tender days at sea.

The light, the days change. Sea changes, all changes….

It is 10:45 a.m….10:46 am….11 a.m…..

LITERARY TURNS

The literary movement of the (eighteen) nineties had, at the turn of the century, brought the American face to face with the age of science. As industry herded him from the farms where he was responsible to the weather and the earth into the cities where he took his orders from steam and electric power, wheels and cogs, even the average unthinking man was forced to some sort of revaluation of his basic concepts and values.

Robert Spiller, The Cycle of American Literature

To which I’d add…

The literary movement of the (nineteen) nineties, at the turn of the century, brough Americans face to face with, among many other things, terror — including terror over the placement of — pronouns.

BELIEF

And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life.

American philosoper Charles Sanders Peirce, from How to Make Our Ideas Clear

The word “God,” so “capitalised” (as we Americans say), is the definable proper name, signifying Ens necessarium*; in my belief, really creator of all three Universes of Experience.

*Necessary Being

Charles Sanders Peirce, A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God, 1908

MAY’S BEGINNING, POEM’S BEGINNING, NO SPECIAL RELEVANCE

Between me and the sunset, like a dome

Against the glory of a world on fire,

Now burned a sudden hill,

Bleak, round, and high, by flame-lit height made higher,

With nothing on it for the flame to kill

Save one who moved and was alone up there

To loom before the chaos and the glare

As if he were the last god going home

Unto his last desire.

-“Man Against The Sky”

-Edward Arlington Robinson

APRIL

The end of April, actually. 2022. Every kind of feeling, every memory, fear, regret, maybe hope.

There was a lilac behind our house on Neponset Avenue. It bloomed about now. Someone pulled it up, gone. Also the swamp maple my brother Doug decided to plant, supported by a broom stick when it was new and fragile. It grew and grew. It’s gone.

April, the cruellest month. So said the poet. Months, every month can be cruel.

Those gone, not forgotten. Missed. The wind chime jangles gently. It is cold up north. I took Diane to the airport before dawn. She texted, “cold, Wry very cold.” She probably meant, “Very, very….” But wry. That says it, too.

Someone posted an old Ch 12 WPRI, Providence newscast on FB — Monday, March 30, 1987. That was four months before I arrived there after my time at Channel 7/ Boston. I was noon anchor. It was a good two years, though I’d expected to be at Channel 7 for the rest of my career. It did not work out that way.

I am missing a reunion of broadcast people in my old neighborhood this Saturday night. I am sad at that. But my solitude here — maybe at last I can sort out some things. Aren’t we always trying to sort out things?

Monday, March 30, 1987. The edge of a lost April. “Boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The past in which that was written is far, far past.

I walked alone in the nature preserve, exotic birds near me, hot, breezy.

I try to call my brother Bill in his confinement, aging, infirm yet, my sister-in-law tells me, in good spirits, having come back from the hospital , recovering –thank God — from a bout with a mild strain of the Covid virus.

Thank you, God, for everything.

I must make spring feel better than this, even if no roses are blooming in Ukraine.

April this year is on the edge of sorrow. Sadness.

MARRIAGE

There are words signifying human arrangements or states of life which should never be emptied of their true meaning. Marriage and all that it signifies is such a word.

This remains true even if every soul in our culture succumbs to the temptation to treat marriage merely as a fungible civic “institution” or solely as means to a beneficial personal financial end. It becomes a mere human contract, and, compared to a contract to buy or sell land, is perhaps not nearly as serious or consequential.

The word marriage in our culture still implies love, intimacy, total, “ideally” unbreakable commitment between human beings. I think many would agree that it should be “sacred,” however one wishes to interpret that word. In the religious culture I embrace, it is one of seven Sacraments. It is prohibited to regard it merely as a civic, possibly temporary and reversible arrangement. It is eternal. It must be borne through all human trials of sickness or poverty. The universal evidence reveals it to be a source of enormous joy and fulfillment for multitudes and a natural and desireable state of being for all humanity in all times.

The Catholic Church and much of the secular culture still regards marriage, of necessity, to be between a man and a woman. And religious and non-religious peoples alike probably never expected that fundamental fact to be upended.

But that’s where we are in our culture. There is no telling where it will lead us.

Marriage is also fundamentally supposed to be about new life — children, family. This comes about through an intimacy that God-oriented people regard to be special and sacred and, in Catholic teaching, reserved only for the sacramentally married. The culture at large flaunts this shibolith in a spirit of indifference, even mockery, and in the name of “progress”. Like all the most special and sacred things that exist, the powerful human drive for intercourse can be grandly abused, but remains an infinitely serious form of human expression. No one, even the most unreligious and secular-minded, denies that, though many deny that abstinence is possible or desirable, sometimes regarding it to be “unnatural” in the wake of the so-called “sexual revolution”. (Whenever I hear that line urging us to “crown our soul with self-control” from “America the Beautiful”, I believe I’m hearing lyricist Katharine Lee Bates propounding the pre-modern understanding of how we should deal with everything from anger and hunger to sex. I guess that was the “old” America, “from sea to shining sea.”)

But in the new, still beautiful America, we have gradually embraced polymorphous means of being intimate, and unnatural means of conceiving children. No telling where this will lead us, either.

Sex, seen as merely a primal impulse or appetite, has largely been “divorced” — another troubling word — by much of the whole world’s culture from marriage. So has the necessity of procreation as a unific, inseperable aspect of sex.

So many, like me, are either guilty bystanders or active, sinful collaborators in this cultural unraveling –which millions define as “progress”.

Random sexual, temporary parings between the male and the female of the species are, based on scientific evidence, premordial. They are common in the animal kingdom. But the arrangment called marriage is for humans and involves a number of human norms and understandings. Sometimes people, regardless of their age, come together in this bond out of shortsighted immaturity and emotional infirmity. ( I ain’t preaching. I’m as frail and shortsighted as the next person.) We all know about those early, ill-considered, half-forgotten marriages. Those who engaged in them failed to grasp the seriousness or nature of the journey upon which they were about to embark – or didn’t know their future spouse as well as they thought they did. The list of problems goes on.

But, as it happens, the most thoroughly secular marriage I ever attended took place in a grand stone castle above a beautiful, mist-shrouded Massachusetts beach between two atheists, at least one of whom (the male) I know to have –to this day — an utter, insistently reasoned disdain for religion. He is a professor of philosphy.

Nonetheless, the Introductory Address at that wedding by the “celebrant” in the presence of a Justice of the Peace read as follows:

“In all cultures and at all times, people have entered into matrimonial union in recognition of the mystery of love, the power of moral commitment and the enlightening force of communication which connect them and give meaning to their lives. “

Further, that address went on to speak of “(L)ove, the fundamental bond which ties the human family together and which gives us hope for a world in which peace and community reign….”

Beautiful! And very serious, and true. This was well over thirty years ago. That couple is still married.

But I would submit that this atheistically-oriented address ( which, in my book, qualifies as a “prayer”), recited in the presence of the bride and groom, though they were never referred to as “bride” or “groom”, nonetheless invoked a number of theological concepts, e.g., “the mystery of love” and “hope” which Catholic Christians regard to be a theological virtue along with charity, often rendered as “love”. And “family”, too, is a bond that Christians or other religions see as of divine origin.

If there is no God, why should love be a “mystery”?

I have attended Christian marriages that did not seem so steeped in the beauty of things I, for once, see as of divine origin. In everything good thing we mortals do, if it is worth doing, there is an echo of eternal truth.

But then there is cohabitation — or marriages that are mere cohabitations. Here is where two humans can experience endless, deep, psychological and spiritual lacerations, live in a state of mendacity and illusion, anger, recrimination, sexual and emotional objectification, financial ruination, trapped like addicts in one another’s emotional grip, aware, however subconsciously, that they are merely hostages to one another. It is a nightmare, a horror. True love is obscenely mocked and strangled.

Then someone comes along and says to the unmarried, “you two should be married.” They cite Social Security benefits, scold a person who would deny the other party both the SS benefits and tax benefit. If the “mystery of love” is baffling, so, too, is the mystery of modern cohabitation among those we might diagnose as “codependant.”

It is understandable that those well-meaning kibitzers should be baffled– not realizing that they are urging those two souls to make a horror permanent; seal the bonds made of fear and emotional infirmity, born of what we have come to call, again, co-dependancy.

God help us. God help them. God help me, as a matter of fact.

To be single, alone, living and responsibly maintaining our own orderly, charitable lives, possibly experiencing lonliness, but bonded to all those we love and even find it necessary, through circumstances of our own making, to support financially — even to our own detriment and for as long as we live — this is truth, integrity and reality.

A decision to do so is every bit as essential as the decision to marry. Like true marriage, it is a state of life that can bestow true peace, engender true love. I, for one, believe this.

I pray for it.

God hear my prayer. God care for those I love and with whom I hope to escape all illusions, all disorder. Let me be an instrument of your peace, your love and your truth. And of divine and human — reality!

Amen.