Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Hell of Heaven, a Heaven of Hell

The mind is its own place, and in itself,
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
—John Milton, Paradise Lost

Mind on a Tear

Oh, Facebook, how you enchant and revolt me, and also how you educate me:

Poster this morning to greet the Homepage:
“Stop Blaming Guns.” [picture of white newborn hand in white grown-up hand] “Teach the Value of Human Life.”

Pardon Miss O’ while she spits and swears: Oh, Jesus Fucking GOD. Somehow I don’t think this is the the way to frame the problem we must deal with in the U.S. First, guns are not being blamed for ANYTHING. It’s the human use of, misuse of, and all-too-easy access to guns that is the issue (summed up aptly by Homer J. Simpson: “Five-day waiting period? But I’m angry NOW!”). And for two, associating gun worship with abortion is just heinous, isn’t it? Tell the parents of the 20 slaughtered Newtown children (and the families of six of their teachers) that what they need to do is learn the of value human life, why don’t you?

Miss O’ is on a tear, this blizzard-y morning. How’s tricks?

Another FB poster: “Like for Heaven [photo of clouds and blue sky], Ignore for Hell [photo of volcanic lava]." 

REALLY? So if I don’t hit “Like” for this random photo, I go to Hell? That is not religion: That is called superstition.

My balm is a post from Stephen Colbert: “If you don’t talk about something, it goes away. For instance, Sarah Palin.” What Colbert, a flaming liberal in the guise of a misguided conservative (is that redundant?) is getting at, though, is the difference between ignoring stupidity in the persona of a painfully unqualified person, and putting our heads in the (already head-saturated) sand when it comes to fact-based, life-threatening issues such as global warming, genetically-modified seeds, fracking that is destroying the fresh-water supply, the changing climate, the horrors of gun violence, eroding women’s rights, eroding voting rights, and the rest of the agonies on the front burners for those of us who are liberal-minded.

Fantasy and Reality: Ever the Twain

·      CLEAN AIR

So Miss O’ asks again, on yet ANOTHER weekly blog: Is it REALLY “teaching the value of human life” to promote HEAVEN(imaginary), HELL(made up), FETUS FETISHES, EXECUTIONS, DENIAL OF CLIMATE CHANGE, DENIAL OF CORPORATE DESTRUCTION AND TAKEOVER OF THE FOOD AND WATER SUPPLIES, UNLIMITED GUN USE FREEDOM FOR ALL, and NO INCOME TAX FOR THE RICH? Is THAT really what it means to teach “the value of human life”? Because if that is what you believe to be the core of what it means to be a person practicing humanity, you are a fucking idiot.
Is This the Real Thing? Or Just a Fantasy?

Or is it my imagination? Last week Miss O’ wrote about the importance of living imaginatively, and here she would like to clarify that living imaginatively does not mean living in a fantasy. Reality-based, vs. Fantasy-based: It’s not imaginative to live in a fantasy world where those without health insurance never get sick, where everyone who is deserving is rich, where the poor simply disappear and die, where no one ever needs anything from outside sources, where the weather is always perfect, where all preventable tragedies are God’s will—it’s denial, is what that is, of what you, really, live, see, feel, experience; and denial of what others live, see, feel, experience. I am not talking about the life of the spirit—I am talking about this infantile need to anthropomorphize a deep spiritual concept like, say, the afterlife, or heaven. That’s not religion: that is HUBRIS. It’s the ultimate vanity for humans to think that the deepest spiritual transition, from life into death, is going to be a recognizable, earthly, human-designed experience. That is the ULTIMATE example of a lack of imagination, in Miss O’s admittedly not-so-humble opinion.

So is religion, really, offering humans an improvement on society in the 21st Century? There is some evidence to the contrary:

High religious involvement, high importance of religion in one's life, membership in an organized religion, and orthodox religious beliefs are associated with more criminality. Areas with higher religious membership have higher crime rates.[1] from The Handbook of Crime Correlates by Ellis, Beaver, Wright, which can be found on Amazon.

It’s only one study, of course, but it’s something worth knowing more about, I think—not that scientific studies of any kind hold weight with “believers.” Here’s another study of reality-based life in real America, but one example of the kind of stuff that really drives Miss O’ up the fucking wall when it comes to sanctimonious red-state conservatives telling me how to live: “Blue” states, so-called, whose residents tend to be more secular and more highly educated, have the lowest rates of divorce. The lowest. For example the “bluest of blue” states, Massachusetts, has a 1.8% divorce rate, according a study from 2010. (I could post the government source, but you know what? Look it up.) The highest divorce rate is among the “reddest of red states,” Arkansas, at 13.5%. I also read a CDC report about abortion rates, and given population densities, every state in this here union, red to blue, has a fairly strong number of women who avail themselves of abortion services, the largest being New York, and given that NYC alone probably has a real population of around 10-15 million (it’s been “8 million” since 1950, in every report and every movie script, and even on the current NY State website, and you know that, given all the condo construction and immigration, that just CANNOT be true anymore, but who fills out a Census?), this is no surprise. What should not be surprising, if you live in reality, is that every state in the union has a pretty healthy use of abortion freedom, especially in the South, where most everyone is a Christian, taught to respect the sanctity of human life, etc., etc., etc. Southerners also buy the most guns and execute the most humans. Go life!

(Note: As you know, Miss O’ is a native Virginian, though unless your great-great granddaddy fought will Lee, you really aren’t from ’round ‘ch’ere, as we say (however the fuck you spell that). And her parents are Midwesterners, and she currently lives in New York: She’s a U.S. gad-about who takes no regional prisoners.)

Bring Out Your Good

So this morning we here in New York City woke to about a foot of snow in a much hoped for blizzard, in that we really needed the snow, both spiritually (2-year snow drought) and practically (for the water table). I was, as punishment for my joy over the foot of powder, unceremoniously awakened by the motor of a snow blower at 6:00 AM, so up I got and made coffee and cooked up some cheesy grits. Thus fortified, I suited up and booted up, and out I went armed with a shovel to face the drifts of Queens. As I posted on FB this morning: 

He must be a new maintenance guy at P.S. 199 who didn't get the memo that even if he has to move the school's snow blower into the street to go around our building, he's not supposed to clear our section of sidewalk to get back to the school, because while I was out shoveling, he saw me and pushed the blower through. "Oh, you are a DOLL!" I exclaimed to this parka-cocooned short, black man. He grinned and gave me a thumbs-up. When I came inside, Debbie was coming out of her place with a shovel, and was amazed when I told her. Happy SNOW DAY NYC.

After I related that story to my upstairs neighbor, I reminded Debbie that today was the Mardi Gras pub crawl on Skillman Avenue, and she and I started talking Mardi Gras, and Lent, and how we give stuff up even though we aren’t Catholics, and I’m a pagan. And then we started talking, right there in the hallway, mind you, in snow boots and in the presence of my dripping shovel, about how the important thing is to have a full spirit. “My grandmother used to guilt me into going to church,” Debbie said, talking about the big Harlem churches of her youth, and she mimed the big, elaborate hats the women wore (and still wear), “but what I saw was that church was a place for gossip,” and she mimed the pointing at people, the whispering, “and seeing who’s going to funerals so you can talk about who didn’t come, and tell people, ‘well, you know, those kids aren’t really his…’ and I just got sick of that.” She then talked about the need we do have, though, to be quiet, to meditate. “Even at work, when someone is saying something stupid, you know, that’s when I pray, if that’s what you want to call it,” and she mimed stepping back, breathing. “And I say to them, ‘take a breath,’ and what I’m praying is, ‘Lord, let this fool shut the hell up,’ and then we try to, you know, solve it, or whatever.”

What we both know, Debbie and your Miss O’, is that what it’s really about is being a good person. I don’t know if it can be taught. (I also no longer think it's presumptuous to recognize your own essential goodness, provided you are accounting for the unfinished process.) I told Debbie that, growing up, the O’Hara kids were probably the only kids on the block who didn’t go to church. When all our friends were dressing up and getting in the car on Sunday morning, we were watching Wonderama. While they were struggling to stay awake through a sermon they did not remotely understand, our parents were rousing from their hangovers and my dad was cracking eggs to make our weekly cheese omelet brunch. It hardly made us superior, is what I'm saying. 

But here’s the thing that really turned me off of Christianity (the only religion I’d heard of) and its “practice”: The Christian kids I knew were very often the bullies, the emotional abusers of the mentally challenged kids, or else they were sneak thieves, cheaters, or liars; often they gossiped and said hurtful things for sport. They sniggered. And while the O’Hara kids were mouthy and quickly in need of a bath before noon, we were also the defenders. “You got something to say to David? You say it to me,” my brother Pat would command, standing protectively in front of the “retarded” kid (as we call him then) on our street. No one said it to Pat. I was a righteous, annoying child: “Stop throwing that knife,” I’d yell at the Williams boys, who insisted they were aiming at a target, and I would counter, screaming, “You don’t know WHAT you are going to hit,” as their little sister ran nearby. We O’Kids didn’t learn to look out for others by going to church, and while we were no angels—telling fibs to cover up misdeeds was par for the daily course—we had an innate and also home-taught sense of justice. Our parents were not afraid to tell bigoted, unjust people to go to hell. It makes an impression.

The World Is Too Much With Us

I love snowstorms because I can get home, and I can get warm, and I am able-bodied enough to shovel my sidewalk, and I can afford to buy a nice bottle of red wine. This frees me up to love storms. I am also not stupid and not blind, and I am aware that my comfort comes at the expense of the natural places (and on the backs of the workers) where my resources (water to drink, oil for heat, coal for electricity) are mined, and that my comfort is more or less spit in the face of the homeless, the poor, and the ignored. Holding all this in my head at once—and working to change this for the underprivileged—is what makes me not only a Liberal, but what used to be called a “good person.” When did this change?

President Bill Clinton, Rhodes scholar and sufferer of too many fools, God love him, has tried to explain to the boneheads in Congress this week, using history, numbers, and heart, that cutting back on taking care of the least among us (“austerity”) IS NOT THE ANSWER TO AN AILING ECONOMY. Generosity, not austerity; investment, not pulling the plug, is the answer to a (totally fixable, by the way) weak economy. These same politicians who want to kill all the poor of this country (for that is essentially their goal) will, in but one example of their idiocy, go to the mattresses to keep one brain-dead woman on life support against the reports of her doctors and the wishes of her bereaved husband. They will starve all currently living poor children in order to stop one woman from having a legal abortion. They would rather have possibly innocent men die for crimes they did not commit than end capital punishment as a practice. They would pay to put guns in the hands of teachers (teachers can't keep their HALL PASSES safe from kids, so do you REALLY think these kids won't get that gun? or that a teacher on very rough Thursday won't USE it?), but will not fund these teachers for proper supplies and low class sizes. These conservatives are the people who preach on and on about the sanctity of human life. The “human life” they talk about is an abstract life, like a TV character, the way the abstract and fantastical concept of heaven is more real and more important to them than the earthly and known world they and their families currently inhabit. The fantasy of “everything is fine” is more important for conservatives to scream to maintain—by lashing out at the people who are trying to solve real problems—than for them to spend the energy and brain power needed to actually solve the actual, real problems of climate change, energy dependence, disappearing food freedom, and corroded drinking water, to say nothing of rape, voter disenfranchisement, and women’s rights to their own bodies; and since this heaven fantasy is more important to them than these issues that require attention for the living on Earth, you'd think they’d have, at the very least, the good grace to get out of the way of the people willing to work to solve those problems. Go ahead and put your head in the sand. Just KEEP IT THERE. Let me do this. Why don’t they?

Money. Money. Money. Even as they await the rewards of a heaven they have no evidence even exists, they want all the rewards that earthly money—or the promise of that money—can buy.

Most conservatives are NOT rich. But just as they have been indoctrinated to believe that heaven exists and that they can gain entry IF THEY TITHE (how many times, and from how many financially struggling Christian friends, has Miss O' heard this one? "I'm late on rent, but I couldn't break my tithe"), just so, they’ve been indoctrinated to believe that the rich are better, and that if they the poor will only give their money to the rich, they (the poor), too, may be rich one day. Glory hallelujah!

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist…but conservatives don’t believe in those, from whose ranks such a scientist can be shown to actually, demonstrably, produce actual, working rockets.

Conservatives will MARCH to keep women from owning their own bodies, to keep gays from marrying, and to keep their assault rifles.

But march for clean air? Clean water? Background checks for weapons purchases? Food labeling for genetically modified seeds? Energy independence? It’s Un-fucking-American. How in the name of all that is holy does working for these things make me, Miss O’ the Liberal, unpatriotic, an enemy to god, an idiot? HOW? I want one conservative to tell me HOW it is that wanting labeled food, methane-free drinking water, new industry to make us energy independent, the legal and unquestioned rights of women to their own bodies, and the right of all humans to marry any person they happen to love, somehow makes me a TERRIBLE HUMAN? Because I have to tell you: YOU, conservative Christian, are the reason that almost everyone in this country quit going to church. YOU are a goddamned hypocrite. How many Christian women do I know who chose abortion over going to term in an unwanted pregnancy? Many. How many conservatives do I know who hated gays until their friend’s son came out? Loads.

This is just getting old, old, old, and every day we don’t get past your little conservative fears is another day we don’t solve the climate crisis. GET OUT OF THE WAY. GET OUT OF THE WAY. GET OUT OF THE WAY.

I’ve Got the Music in Me

When I meet a person truly imbued with what I would call “the holy spirit”—my friend Anna, my cousin Kerry, my Uncle Denny, my friend Rina, my former student and now friend John S., to name a few—I am humbled, peaceful, grateful. Being in their presence is being in a sacred space. In them there is no hatred, no need to proselytize, no anger toward the poor, no violently screamed cry to put the profits of corporations above the lives of humans. What is there is real and deep connection to living hearts, to the living here on EARTH, whatever their aspirations to a life beyond what we know, even as they worship their gods.

I do not have the holy spirit in me, have no claim to that. What I have is a deep and unshakeable sense of justice. It goes back to my earliest childhood and standing up to bullies, to the kids who bullied other kids over religion or intelligence or race or poverty. I can only frame it as Katharine Hepburn did: “When I look out for only myself, I feel bad. When I look out for the other fellow, I feel good.” And when I say “the other fellow,” I do not mean the privileged gun owners, but the victims of senseless gun violence; I do not mean the fetuses, but the bodies and hearts and minds of the women who have to bear those fetuses; I do not mean people with squeamish genital reactions to homosexual sex, but the homosexuals who deserve the same rights to love whom they love as every heterosexual person has, white and non-white, color to color; I do not mean the privileged corporations, but the citizens who must live with the effects of the work of corporations. I am not wrong to be on this side of the divide. My certainty is, I know, unattractive. And my hair turns grayer every day.

Now it’s time to go play in the snow, head out to find Jodi and join the pub crawl up Skillman Avenue here in Queens in honor of Mardi Gras, a celebration I very much enjoy in preparation for a fasting I think is probably a good idea in honor of the supposed resurrection of someone whose supreme divinity I don’t buy for a second. In my world—the world of the pagan earth mother—every single child born into the world is the son and daughter of God, if there is one (I’m open). And every human creature brought into the world should be brought into this world with a full heart, out of love, and availed of full human rights that trump the money of any corporation (unless it's a pub) and the hatred of any religious organization. I’ll lay any money I have down at a bar to drink your health before I’ll give it to your church so you can be told to pray for my death. (Wouldn't anybody?) Here’s looking at you. Cheers.

And love from
Miss O’

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