Atheism is very hip these days. All kinds of people are claiming to have turned away from traditional religion, and non-belief has become a basic requirement for entry into certain intellectual circles.
But what exactly does it mean to not be a believer?
THE COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY
IS AWASH IN PROPAGANDA
I was a big comic book reader as a kid. Superman was a favorite. Batman, too, though not as much. The outlandish villains of Gotham always struck me as a little silly.
Then too, there was George Reeves’ weekly portrayals of the Man of Steel on TV — which I never missed — and the Saturday morning cartoon rendition, poorly drawn and cheaply produced, but adequate to stoke fantasies about having “powers beyond those of mortal men.”
Yeah, Soop was my guy. Besides, I could identify with nerdish Clark Kent.
From about college on, I lost touch with the comings and goings of those various pulp crusaders. Except for the 1980s movie incarnation, starring the unfortunate Christopher Reeve, Superman had become an artifact of my childhood.
Nowadays, comic books are a huge business. You could make a plausible case that their customers are the most loyal in the publishing industry. Comics (and their spawn, the so-called “graphic novels”) are pretty much the only form of print literature some people read.
We’re up to our caped shoulders in super heroes, though not just. There are other popular comic genres as well.
THE WORLD’S FUTURE MAY DEPEND ON
ANSWERING A VERY BASIC QUESTION
That’s a reasonable question which has been asked many times in the years since 9/11, though I don’t think it’s been decisively answered.
The responses most often given have a defensive edge — something like…
Most Muslims want to live in peace.
Don’t assume all Muslims are terrorists.
And that’s true enough. I accept that most Muslims want to live in peace. And I know all Muslims aren’t terrorists. Indeed, I assume that only a very small number of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world engage in or provide material assistance to acts of terror. And I’m aware that there’s a debate throughout the Muslim world on the proper understanding of jihad.
Still, the question remains…
What is the true nature of Islam?
Rather than how many Muslims are terrorists, perhaps it would be more relevant to ask…
How many Muslims would agree with the characterization of America as the Great Satan?
IT’S BEEN A PRETTY GOOD TRIP SO FAR
BUT WE NEED A COURSE CORRECTION
One summer during college I worked for the Bucks County Historical Tourist Commission. My job was to drive around eastern Pennsylvania and nearby portions of New Jersey, stocking the brochure racks of gas stations, restaurants, motels, and other tourist haunts with copies of “Highways of History,” a large, folded map highlighting places of historical and cultural interest in Bucks County.
My favorite place to drop them off happened also to be the best-known site on the map: Washington Crossing. This was the riverfront location from which George Washington launched his fabled Christmas-night foray across the ice-bound Delaware to attack Trenton and Princeton, turning the tide of the Revolutionary War.
The focus of Washington Crossing Historic Park (located about 30 miles northeast of Philadelphia) was the Visitors Center. This modest structure contained a museum, the requisite gift shop, and a small auditorium where tourists could view the famous painting, “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Display of that work, by German-American artist Emanuel Leutze, was accompanied by a recorded narration voiced, as I recall, by the late actor E.G. Marshall (though I may be wrong about the narrator; it’s been a long time). In those days the original painting was on loan to the park from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; it was later replaced by a reproduction when the original was returned.
Growing up in that part of the country, it was natural to feel a certain sense of immediacy about the nation’s founding. So many of the locations and buildings in which great events took place were so near at hand. And given the patriotic hues in which 1950s public school education presented America’s Story, it was as natural to accept that our nation really was a blest land with a special place in the annals of mankind.
Hadn’t we so recently saved the world from its great totalitarian nightmare? Weren’t we even now fending off the Communist horde, leading humanity into a future of bounteous liberty?
That unique national role was summed up in the phrase, “American Exceptionalism.”
CAN THIS WEEK’S COURT RULING
BEGIN A CULTURAL REVERSAL?
Odd, the obscure connections we make.
When I first became acquainted with the Hobby Lobby stores, I was put in mind of Charlie Weaver, a saucy rustic character played for decades on radio and TV by the late comic actor Cliff Arquette.
During the 1959-60 television season, Arquette starred in a weekly show titled “Charlie Weaver’s Hobby Lobby.” It was an adaptation of an earlier radio feature, starting out as a hybrid interview-variety TV series in which Hollywood celebrities revealed their secret, non-showbiz avocations.
Zsa Zsa Gabor once discussed her love of fencing, if you can imagine that. Even less plausibly, the legendary burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee confessed that sport fishing was her passion. Go figure. Perhaps such cognitive disconnects were what accounted for the program’s evolving into a straight variety format renamed “The Charlie Weaver Show.”
All of which makes for an obscure reference to an old TV series hardly anyone remembers, and is apropos of nothing at all. Except that it underscores the absurdly unpredictable nature of life and history.
Who would have expected a chain of craft stores to be the pivot on which turns the future of liberty?
OBAMA’S APPROVAL NUMBERS ARE FALLING
BUT THE ELECTION IS STILL A HARD CALL
I don’t know how many people read Shakespeare these days or attend productions of his plays. But certainly — great spinner of memorable quotations as he was — old Bill’s words remain prominent in our common lexicon. The famous line from Richard III…
…shows up all over the place. It’s eminently adaptable to our present circumstances. Now is indeed the summer of our discontent, as mid-term elections loom and opinion polls show deep public dissatisfaction with some of the most crucial institutions in our national life. For instance…
IRAQ IS DISINTEGRATING,
SO WHAT COMES NEXT?
Let’s get it out of the way right up front.
Everybody — all together now — one, two, three:
“It’s Bush’s fault!”
All the human life and national treasure sacrificed for…nothing?
Certainly, it’s fair to ask whether we should have gone into Iraq in the first place. As I wrote in my last post…
“It’s true that Bush got carried away with the idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East. But that was a misjudgment — granted, one based on certain ideological assumptions, but primarily reflecting a misperception about how ready the Middle East was to have democracy.”
Bush “tried to plant democracy in two nations [Iraq and Afghanistan] totally lacking in any preparation for it.”
And, one might add, riven by tribal hatred and religious fanaticism which — at least in the case of Iraq — could only be permanently contained by the most repressive, tyrannical control.
Hate to say it, but good old Saddam may have been onto something.
Which, I guess, is what the late great Pope Saint John Paul II was trying to tell us, if in a diplomatically understated way.
THE MOST IDEOLOGICAL ADMINISTRATION EVER
IS BLINDED BY ITS NARROW IDEOLOGICAL VISION
Thanks to everybody who sent good wishes during my recent illness. Some deficiencies still persist, so as I noted recently, my posts may be a bit less frequent than usual, at least for awhile.
But anyone who’s as “opinionated and long-winded” as I am (a condition to which I’ve confessed before) would certainly not find reticence a satisfying long-term option in the face of our ongoing national madness. Then too, so much has happened over the past few weeks.
Among the news stories most thoroughly covered and commented on are, of course, the huge and growing scandal within the Veterans Administration and the swapping of five Gitmo detainees for a U.S. Army sergeant held by the Taliban.
Perhaps it’s just a symptom of the gastrointestinal distress that landed me in the hospital, but I can’t help seeing some highly suggestive connections between these two disturbing stories.
HEALTH ISSUES CALL
FOR A BLOGGING BREAK
A break in my normal ranting seems called for — and maybe that’s for the best. Gives me a chance to sort of catch up.
Who knows? There may be some fresh insights to glean while I’m pulling myself together.
Meanwhile, if you have new thoughts about anything I’ve written in the past, send them in.
I’ll try to post something new when I can — though the gaps between my scribblings may be a bit wide for awhile.
Thanks for your readership.
VIEWS ON CELEBRATING MASS
ARE VARIED AND PASSIONATE
Catholics take their worship seriously. However, they tend to disagree about what constitutes serious worship.
The main divide is between those whose emphasis is on ritual correctness — that is, adhering to a strict interpretation of traditional liturgical norms — and those who are willing to accept, or even encourage, a more casual ceremonial atmosphere for the sake of a more emotionally engaging worship experience.
Now, to forestall the predictable objections from traditionalists, let me acknowledge that a formally structured liturgy can indeed be engaging, especially when it includes such time-honored Catholic elements as Gregorian chant (that is, Gregorian chant well executed by an adequately staffed and properly trained choir).
Anticipating casualist objections, let me point out that there need not be a conflict between emotional engagement and maintaining proper focus on the Eucharist as the object and purpose of Mass (that is, as long as basic decorum and reverence prevail).
To Protestant readers, who likely see all this as just so much Catholic preoccupation with ritualistic works, let me note that faith is the foundation of worship in either style — indeed, faith comes first — or the whole exercise becomes pointless.