Many apologies for the image that attends this text. The text deserves better. It's a photo of the dimensions of a vent. This is the question I want to provoke: Is this image art? And the answer is no. But, out of politeness, all the professional art critics answer yes.
Before beginning to preserve for the ages my initial reaction to Billy Sunday's sermon, which would have served as the ending of my previous post if I had not gotten saved by the Liberty Bell (for "Liberty Bell" read: manifestation of my soul-mate), I must take care of some preliminaries.
First, Twin Peaks: The Return. As you know, the newest episode aired last night. Number ten. What is my verdict? It was almost as awful as episodes one and two. Just uninspired, plain cardboard. My sweetheart and I had to watch Persona (1966) afterwards, just to remind ourselves that cinepoems exist. Cinematic poetry. The 2nd season of the original Twin Peaks sank pretty low on occasion, but the Lynch-directed shows were always topnotch. This time around, there's no excuse: Lynch directed the entirety. What happened? Who knows. But let's keep our mind on the sublime – though much is taken, much abides – I keep repeating that hours three, four, and eight are as magic as anything Lynch has ever made. So a 30% exuberance rate is thankfully better than twenty or ten or zilch.
And the reason that I haven't added to these e-pages in the last couple days is that I spent the weekend slaving over our floorboards. That's slaving, not salivating or slavering. But we finished the living room. Now all we have to do is cover the hallway, two closets, the foyer, the kitchen, and the dining square. And the piazza. Actually we don't have a piazza; I just wanted to write that word.
OK, no more lollygagging; we're finished with the preliminaries: now on with the feature presentation...
We rode our bikes to the park today, and I wore jeans and a short-sleeve tunic and was actually cold. So let this be a lesson to us: the weather is not always exactly the same all the time.
I don't have any thoughts today, but I have stress to kill, so I need to write; therefore maybe I'll take up my idea from yesterday's post. In yesterday's post, I said: For the first time, right here, I'll try the experiment of reading as much as I can of Billy Sunday's sermon titled "Food for a Hungry World"; and I'll try to react to it as I go. And my goal will be to listen, accept, and be positive. No complaining; no arguing.
I explain more in that same post about why this particular sermon came to my attention. Anyone among my readership who has not yet read it, I suggest that you read my entry from Friday morning; for, as Officer De Luca says about the "old fag rag" that he finds in Gary's bathroom: It's pretty good. (I'm referencing the 2013 masterpiece Wrong Cops, which deserves the Palme d'Or at The Cannes Film Festival.)
Mr. Sunday starts out his sermon like so:
Some folks do not believe in miracles. I do.
Your opinion is noted, Mr. Sunday. For the record, I stand with Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself": a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels. Now here's the next sentence of the sermon:
A denial of miracles is a denial of the virgin birth of Jesus.
It is? OK, but before I can stomach any more of this predatory salesmanship, I have to quote a passage that I read last evening in Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh. Butler's novel astonishes me more every day by how clearly (and pleasurably) it articulates the individual's journey through society's web of religion.
. . . he made the New Testament his chief study, going through it as one who wished neither to believe nor disbelieve, but cared only about finding out whether he ought to believe or no. The more he read in this spirit the more the balance seemed to lie in favour of unbelief, till, in the end, all further doubt became impossible, and he saw plainly enough that, whatever else might be true, the story that Christ had died, come to life again, and been carried from earth through clouds into the heavens could not now be accepted by unbiassed people.
This passage holds up a mirror to a certain phase of my life. (It's important to establish where I'm coming from, and how I arrived at my present stance, when reacting to the sermon of a Pauline hot-head.) I developed a belief in Christianity strictly from reading the Christian Bible (instead of the phrase "developed a belief" I should say "reinforced the prejudices with which my parents coaxed my child-mind to shackle itself"), and then by continuing to read more deeply in the very same text, I grew out of that rut. Yet I hover around the arguments and pamphlets and sermons of Christianity, because I never stopped loving people and culture, the idea of a congregation – I yearn for a coherent society – so in a sense I desire to regain religion; or, rather, I want to find common ground with everyone, which includes infidels and believers, so that we can all continue to flourish according to our individual gifts unrestrainedly and harmoniously.
What I'm saying is that I want to expand Satan's kingdom. (That's just a joke I toss to the paranoid angels out there. And when I say "Satan" I mean the one created by John Milton; and only the earlier suras of Paradise Lost.)
But right now I'm still inching along, rather millimetering along in Sunday's sermon. I don't want him to complain that I'm interrupting too often and thus blunting his thrust; so, here, I'll repeat his first paragraph entire:
Some folks do not believe in miracles. I do. A denial of miracles is a denial of the virgin birth of Jesus. The Christian religion stands or falls on the virgin birth of Christ. God created Adam and Eve without human agencies. He could and did create Jesus supernaturally. I place no limit on what God can do. If you begin to limit God, then there is no God.
Again, I stand with "Song of Myself" (sec. 43):
My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths,
Enclosing worship ancient and modern and all between ancient and modern...
Believing I shall come again upon the earth after five thousand years,
Waiting responses from oracles, honoring the gods, saluting the sun...
Drinking mead from the skull-cap, to Shastas and Vedas admirant, minding the Koran...
Accepting the Gospels, accepting him that was crucified, knowing assuredly that he is divine...
So I don't see any problem yet between me and Walt and Billy. But I sense a potential fault line in that last statement of Sunday's: "If you begin to limit God, then there is no God." Because it's not Walt, not I who is limiting God; but I assume that Mr. Sunday would assert that God wrote ONLY the Bible and that God has nothing to do with sun salutations, skull-caps, Shastas, Vedas, or the Koran. Isn't THAT limiting God?
I assume Mr. Sunday would answer me like so: I don't say that God is UNABLE to do those things, that it's IMPOSSIBLE for him to require those acts or to act in those ways himself—I only proclaim that, despite his unlimited character he chose to have nothing to do with those things.
Now, removing the Lord's-advocate mask and speaking for my own damned self, I only want to note that I could volley Sunday's words right back to him and say: Although God is not limited in any way, and thus he could have created Jesus miraculously via virgin birth, God instead chose to have Jesus be born the usual, regular, "natural" way, so that all humans might know that they themselves are potentially just as divine as Christ.
Yes, although I could reply as above, I choose not to do so. I choose instead to "accept the Gospels, accept him that was crucified," for I know assuredly that he is one of us: a mortal deity.
But it'll grow tiresome if I keep commenting on Mr. Sunday's every jot and tittle; so I'll keep my reaction to the juicy parts alone. The comely parts. For reactions are different than gods: if you limit God, then there is no God; but if you limit your reaction in a weblog, not only is there still a weblog floating about the aether but it's superior to its former manifestation. It's streamlined for the modern era, where technological innovations have allowed the populace to work twice the hours at half the pay.
Here's a sentence that stood out to me, from a couple paragraphs later in Sunday's sermon (at which point Sunday has just laid forth a rival preacher's explanation of Jesus' fish-and-loaves miracle, so as to smack it down):
Every attempt to explain the miracles by natural laws gets the explainer into great difficulty and shows him up as ridiculous.
I only want to add that, when the subject of our focus is miracles, no matter who you are and what stance you take, you are guaranteed to be shown up as ridiculous: that's the whole point of miracles; they're DADA. And, as it is written, the real dadas are against DADA.
Continuing to harp on the feeding of the multitude, Sunday says:
Jesus stood face to face with the problem of physical hunger just as we in our day face the problem of hunger...
Jesus used his supernatural ability to feed a few thousand people, one day. Were there no other people starving on the globe then? Why not feed them all? And where is Jesus today? Generations upon generations of people, Christian and otherwise, have come to and gone from the earth, and yet mass starvation remains. Is it an engineering problem, this problem of world hunger? If so, then why don't we unleash a sector of experts on it, like when our pantheon of scientists said "Let there be nukes," and there were nukes. But if the problem cannot be solved by engineering alone, then what? Will Jesus or his Father ever deign to honor a prayer for sustenance? As it is written (in Milton's "Lycidas"):
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
I always remember when reading this that the word "spirit" simply means "wind" or "air"; the invisible medium that moves things nonetheless. Yahweh blows breath into Adam's nostrils and Adam is filled with the "spirit" of God.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)
In his commentary on The Book of J, Harold Bloom has an essay titled "Eden and After," where he writes the following about "the LORD God" Yahweh:
...for no stated reason or cause, he scoops up a handful of wet earth and shapes it into what we would call an earthling. But this earthling is still a mud pie or clay figurine until (presumably only a moment later) Yahweh blows his own breath, "the wind of life," into the nostrils he has formed. Does Yahweh set his mouth to the earthling's nostrils, or is this a nostril-to-nostril inspiriting? The question is grotesque, and perhaps unnecessary, since Yahweh works up close and either way kisses us, even if Eskimo-fashion.
Now I return to Mr. Sunday's troublesome sermon. I see that next, he quotes from Isaiah. I'm trying to remain positive, but I have to say that I've always disliked when preachers use the notion of spirituality to bend our thoughts away from offering actual, physical help to anyone in need. Like the last sentence I quoted above from Sunday, about Jesus facing physical hunger – I chopped it off with an ellipsis, but Sunday continues like so:
. . . we in our day face the problem of hunger, not only physical but spiritual.
And when Sunday cites Isaiah, I notice that he truncates his passage right in the middle of verse 17 so that it omits the detailed call for social justice. Thus saith Sunday:
There are some kinds of religion the world is not hungry for:
A religion of formal observances. In Isaiah, first chapter, the Lord says: "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices? I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts. Incense is an abomination unto me; your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. When you make prayers I will not hear them. Your hands are full of blood. Put away the evil of your doings; cease to do evil, learn to do well."
Maybe it's only a small point, but here's the last verse in full, from the King James Bible:
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
To stand up in the courts of law on behalf of orphans, widows, the downtrodden and the oppressed, so that they receive real justice – this is a little more solid than the "faith" and "spiritual food" of preachers like Sunday. That's my bad attitude, sorry. But Isaiah's urging believers to uphold social justice fits perfectly with what we know of the teachings of Jesus, and it also harmonizes with the New Testament's epistle of James, who warns us that we cannot harbor divine love solely in our mind but we must ACT in accordance with its compassionate impulses:
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (17-18)
I find this far more meaningful than... Well, OK, I'll stop myself from criticizing; I said I'd try to curb my negativity. I'll say nothing bad about Saul/Paul or the modern church. I'm trying to be friends. Here's Billy Sunday again:
Religion does not consist in doing a lot of special things, even if branded as religious, but in doing everything in a special way as the Lord directs.
All right. I'm straining to look on the bright side of this. If "doing everything in a special way as the Lord directs" means acting out of love for one's fellow creatures, forgiving all wrongs, and expending one's power to perfect society's systems so that they exceed the physical needs of all beings everywhere, then I am in agreement.
Here's an interesting paragraph that appears a little later in the sermon:
The world is not hungry for a religion of theory. There was a time when people were interested intensely in fine-spun theological theories. You could announce a debate on the forms of baptism and pack the house with the S.R.O. sign hanging out. That day has passed; a debate on baptism or predestination would not draw a corporal's guard. The average man has not lost interest in the vital truths connected with these topics, but he has lost interest in the type of religion that spends its energy in argument, word battles, and wind jamming. Religion should relate to life and conduct as well as theory.
You have heard what Billy Sunday said of old. Now I say that, as time has continued to ooze futureward since Billy's age, the "average man" nowadays is not even interested in the religion of "life and conduct" but simply in PHYSICAL NECESSITIES. I mean basic needs: food, shelter, clean water, health, education... (As a country grows stronger it will continue to expand its definition of "basic needs.") You don't even need religion unless as an individual privately you require religion to fuel your actions. Send aid, not war.
But also the idea of religion having a "theoretical" side that Mr. Sunday is not exactly against but seems to be impatient with (that is, he seems to want presently to remove it from the spotlight) makes me wonder about my own preferred realm POETRY, of which I consider religion to be a subclass – like the way that an artery can harden, or the brain can calcify and lead to dementia: this is what happens to poetry, which decays into religion. As it is written, in William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
...a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
My point is that, although I stress the importance foremost of meeting the whole world-population's basic needs and then expanding those needs onward and outward until we race past utopia into a state for which we have not yet invented a label—I second Blake's "Golgonooza," for the record—I still am most attracted to surrealistic art. And I can't justify this passion on the level of social justice, except to say that when we, the entirety of living beings, finally achieve this condition of eternal bliss that we've agreed to call Golgonooza, we'll all be thankful that people like Yours Truly spent our pre-lives dragoning out self-amusements (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), thus providing the future's future with a foundation for the next perspective of endlessness.
To be clear, by using the verb "dragoning" in that last sentence, I refer again to Blake's Marriage; this time to the "Memorable Fancy" on plate 15:
I was in a Printing house in Hell & saw the method in which knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.
In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clearing away the rubbish from a caves mouth; within, a number of Dragons were hollowing the cave.
So I think of my own artistic contributions as a perplexing first-step on a staircase ascending to Upper Hell, which itself is in turn a first-step, etc., etc.
. . . On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly travel'd, and still I mount and mount.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there...
That's from "Song of Myself" (44). Yet again I've strayed afar, but I'm not against returning to Sunday's sermon:
Jesus was so far removed from the formalism and traditions taught by the priests instead of teaching the commands of God that he was constantly at cross-purposes with them. A church of make-believers will soon beget a generation of non-believers.
Being "constantly at cross-purposes": Jesus was incommensurate with the priests of his time, I agree. The same can be said about the priests of today, and the priests of Mr. Sunday's day. In fact, Jesus is at cross-purposes with Mr. Sunday himself; for to denigrate, as Sunday does, any "church of make-believers" is NOT in harmony but in discord with the teachings of the gospels' Jesus. (Is FAITH itself not akin to make-believe?) Take the pertinent passages from just one account, for instance: my favorite, St. Mark – these verses show that Jesus, contrary to being against make-believe, proclaims the supreme power of make-believe everywhere:
- Jesus said unto the woman, Daughter, thy faith [which is to say: thine ability to make-believe earnestly] hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. (5:34)
- As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. (5:36)
- Jesus said, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. (9:23)
- Verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (11:23-24)
Mr. Sunday says that this type of belief will lead to a generation of non-believers. But is there any other type of belief than make-believe? If you possess evidence in proof of something, it's just another boring fact. So all God's people said: Long live make-believe.
Here's a funny sentence that you'll probably think I fabricated, but I swear it really appears in Sunday's text:
Some sermons instead of being a bugle call to service are showers of spiritual cocaine.
After which, Mr. Sunday exclaims:
I am satisfied that there has never been a time when it is harder to live a consistent Christian life than now. I believe the conflict between God and the Devil, right and wrong, was never hotter. The allurements of sin have never been more fascinating.
Yes, fascinating. But then he says:
The world is not hungry for a religion of social service without Christ.
Yes it is. It really is. —Sorry, I'm sincerely trying to find places to agree with Mr. Sunday; he's just so dead-wrong so often. But let me keep looking...
I will go with you in any and all movements for the good of humanity providing you give Jesus Christ his rightful place.
Give Jesus his rightful place: What does that mean? My understanding is that when you do any kindness, any good act for anyone (without self-aggrandizement), you've served Jesus of Nazareth; in the sense that Jesus considered anyone who simply followed his teachings as having served him adequately; also since his teachings assert that we have served Jesus himself whenever we serve any poor soul who is in want of anything (Matthew 25:34-40):
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
So Sunday was dead-wrong about that, too. But I'm keeping hope alive; maybe Sunday will stumble upon a good point soon:
It is an entirely good and Christian act to give a down-and-outer a bath, bed and a job. It is a Christian act to maintain schools and universities, but the road into the kingdom of God is not by the bath tub, the university, social service, or gymnasium, but by the blood-red road of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Again my positivity reaches its breaking point: I can't stand for this. I'm totally against this type of talk. The blood-red road of the cross? That's disgusting; that's sick – or the best that one can say for it is that it's nonsensical. I say the university and social services ARE the way to realize the kingdom of heaven. Not the blood-red road: no more torture, no more pointless death. Stop warring. Stop martyring and worshiping martyrs. It is true that some of the finest humans have suffered martyrdom, but their death is simply unfortunate; what is important about them is their life, their teachings, their art.
The Bible declares that human nature is radically bad and the power to uplift and change is external...
No, Mr. Sunday, it is NOT external; it is internal:
- The kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)
- Jesus said, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools! did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. (Luke 11:39-41)
I'm skipping ahead to the next place that gets my goat, because I can now see plainly that Mr. Sunday is full of malarkey...
Christianity is the only sympathetic religion that ever came into the world, for it is the only religion that ever came from God.
If, by "God," you mean "Saul of Tarsus, alias Paul the Apostle"; and by "the only sympathetic" you mean "by far the most slippery," then we're in agreement here. Now I'll copy a passage from Friedrich Nietzsche's helpful critique The Antichrist (§39; Walter Kaufmann's translation):
I go back, I tell the genuine history of Christianity. The very word "Christianity" is a misunderstanding: in truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross. The "evangel" died on the cross. What has been called "evangel" from that moment was actually the opposite of that which he had lived: "ill tidings," a dysangel. It is false to the point of nonsense to find the mark of the Christian in a "faith," for instance, in the faith in redemption through Christ: only Christian practice, a life such as he lived who died on the cross, is Christian.
And almost immediately after this, in the same section of the same book, Nietzsche asserts the following, which Mr. Sunday might benefit from considering:
Not a faith, but a doing; above all, a not doing of many things, another state of being. States of consciousness, any faith, considering something true, for example — every psychologist knows this — are fifth-rank matters of complete indifference compared to the value of the instincts: speaking more strictly, the whole concept of spiritual causality is false. To reduce being a Christian, Christianism, to a matter of considering something true, to a mere phenomenon of consciousness, is to negate Christianism.
Now returning to Mr. Sunday's sermon, just when I thought there was no possibility of us agreeing, I encounter a few words that actually lull my fire-breathing down to a sparkle:
A set of principles which if put into practice in the life of the individual and society and business and politics will solve every difficulty and problem of city, state, nation, and the world. There is no safer or saner method to settle all the world's problems than by the sermon on the mount. These principles are truth, justice, and purity.
I don't see why this might not be true. I'm happy with this. I say: let's try it. But I should add that when I say I agree with it, I mean I find it worth a shot; the same as when I agree with David Lynch's assertion that Transcendental Meditation, if practiced by every individual sincerely, might bring about world peace. That seems worth a shot, too.
But now back to Billy:
Truth is never powerful unless wrapped up in a person. I take truth and wrap it up in Christ and say, "Take it!" You say, "Give me truth but no Christ." Then you will be lost. You are not saved by truth but by the person Jesus Christ.
But, Mr. Sunday, your Christ himself declares that truth is sufficient:
And Jesus said: Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)
Then Billy goes on to make the same point about justice and purity as he made about truth:
Why take truth and reject Christ when it's Christ that inspires truth? [...] Why take justice and cast Christ away when it is Christ that inspires justice. [...] it is Christ that saves, not the principle of purity. "One thing thou lackest," the person Jesus.
This is plain deceptive of Mr. Sunday. That last phrase that he quotes is from Mark's gospel (10:17-22), where the point is wholly different, even OPPOSITE from Sunday's "person"-worship:
There came one running, and kneeled to Jesus, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. But thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
And the man answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. Now come, take up the cross, and follow me.
And the man was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
I've now made it to the last two paragraphs of Mr. Sunday's sermon. They begin with this proclamation:
Other religions have preached good things, but they have no Savior who can take these things and implant them in the human heart and make them grow.
This is hogwash, totally false; and I can't believe that Mr. Sunday isn't aware that he's being a conman at this point. The rest of the sermon is trash. Now that I've finished reading it, that's my reaction to just about all of the sermon: it's careless rubbish. I tried my best to like it, but even God deserves better than this. Definitely Jesus deserves better than this. I'm sorry that I followed this exercise through to its end. It was tedious, exhausting, and bootless. I repent of my folly.