Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Response to a Comment on Abortion

Recently one of my readers posted a lengthy and passionate rebuttal to my conclusion that abortion is a great moral wrong. I will try to respond to that posting in a systematic way.

First, the idea that a man is not entitled to have an opinion about abortion because he cannot experience pregnancy and menstruation is absurd on its face. All of us have opinions, even strong ones, about things we cannot personally experience. You have never owned slaves or been a slave, but I am quite sure you have opinions about slavery. It is not necessary to have been in combat to have strong opinions about war. One does not need to commit rape or murder to have opinions about them. I could suggest dozens of other examples. And so your first point, which in some ways is the premise of your entire argument, is demonstrably false.

I find your remarks about bloodletting puzzling. I doubt that any man gets through his life without seeing blood, and given that combat has traditionally been a man's role, most men have, I daresay, seen a good deal more blood than most women have throughout history. As for the arduous nature of pregnancy... well, no one doubts it, but no one also doubts that billions of women have chosen it, endured it and even found joy and love in it. In general terms, the fact that something is difficult, even impossible, has never been and ought never to be a rationale for destroying the possibilities inherent it in.

Now we move on to your point about the fetus being unwelcome in a woman's womb. We must ask: How did it get there? Apart from immaculate conception, its presence is the result of sex, and sex, most often, is a choice. You cite rape and violence as counter arguments, but statistics show that pregnancy as a result of such violation is quite rare compared to the number of pregnancies which result from consensual sex. (In cases of violence, there is, I think, the strongest argument in favor of abortion.) Since pregnancy is usually the result of consensual sex, then we must ask ourselves why the sex is welcome but the result is not. If you are claiming that the irresponsibility of the couple is the explanation, then I must ask whether such irresponsibility is resolved or compounded by terminating the pregnancy. In other words, does one make up for an irresponsible act by inflicting death on an innocent child?

I find it curious that you do not question whether the fetus is a child, is human, as is usually done in such arguments, even in the case of your own abortions. I applaud you for this. Given that, we must ask ourselves under what conditions is it acceptable to end the life of a child? You cite poverty, the inability of the parents to pay for the child's upbringing, the unfit nature of the father. I submit that none of these is a rationale for killing an unborn child. Many children, indeed, historically, most children, have been born into poverty and deprivation. If the possibility of poverty and neglect were sufficient cause for abortion, the world would be a much poorer place, lacking many of the greatest minds, talents and spirits which have graced it. I will not bother you with a list of the names of such people; I am sure you can compile one as easily as I. I am equally sure that many of those who read these words were themselves born into poverty, or into dysfunctional families, but that did not mean that their lives had to be ended before they began. And I am sure, too, that they are grateful for the fact.

You then move on to paraphrase the hackneyed argument of couples who are too immature, self-absorbed or fearful to have children; namely, that the world is a hard and evil place. It is hard and evil, as everyone knows, but if that were a cause for children not to be born, then none would be born at all. If we actually believe that the world is such an evil place that innocent children should not be consigned to it, then we must ask ourselves: Do we make the world a better or more evil place by killing those innocent children?

Instead, I would argue that if there is any hope for the world becoming a better place, it lies with children who have been well and lovingly raised, and even with those who have not, but who manage nonetheless to make for themselves lives of dignity and purpose. But no matter how impoverished or loveless a child's life may be, he or she will never have the opportunity to create such a life if the mother cuts it off before birth on the grounds that to do so would be impossible. Life is stronger than death, and even a life which lacks caring and resources in its early years may still create love and richness in adulthood. That is why life is the basic sacred possession of all people, and why life, liberty and happiness are the cornerstones of our society.

I do think that carrying to term and adopting out, no matter how trying for the mother, is preferable to taking the life of the fetus. In this way, the mother avoids the possibility of committing a moral wrong, and, if she genuinely does not want the child or cannot care for it, she still offers it a chance at an authentic and fulfilling life. She, or those responsible for placing the child, have a duty to ensure that the adoptive parents are people who can, in fact, provide for such a life. The fact that they are strangers does not mean that they cannot be capable and caring parents. Further, if you would argue that the conception of the child was irresponsible, then adoption offers the mother the opportunity to rectify that irresponsibility by acting responsibly in the child's interest. Again, life is the primary value, and in choosing adoption, she is choosing life over death and humanity over the prospect of inhumanity. And so, none of these arguments of yours carries any weight, I am afraid.

You then go on to tell us that you have had two abortions. You chose that course because the father would have been a drug addict and deadbeat, which raises the question: Why did you become pregnant by him in the first place? A woman’s inability to choose a suitable father for her child is her fault, not the child’s, and the child should not be made to pay for it. We do not, as a matter of morality, compel others, particularly innocents, to pay the price of our mistakes. You had options, which I need not enumerate here, and you did not take them. All of them would have been morally acceptable, but you chose instead an option which many regard as immoral.

You say, courageously, I think, that you carry the souls of your unborn children with you; you feel their absence and even mark their birthdays. You suggest that they may be in heaven, but if that is true, who put them there, and did she have that right? The world can be a cruel place, but it is the place where our souls find their salvation, where they are tested, matured, where they experience joy, wonder, sorrow, ideas, poetry, music, heartache and love. All this, while it may be challenging, is wonderful, and none of it can be experienced by children who were denied the opportunity to live even before they were born.

You take it upon yourself to suggest that unwanted children or children born to difficult circumstances will live lives of misery and failure, but what gives you the right to make such a judgment? We do not know what may come of any young life, no matter the circumstances of its conception; but if we are to be people of dignity and worth, we must assume the best, not the worst, let alone use our assumption of the worst as a rationale for the killing of children. No evil can come from joy, but great joy can come even out of evil. Life must come first, and then everything may follow, for life is endless possibility. But in choosing abortion we choose death, and nothing can come from death inflicted on the innocent but regret, remorse and haunting, even as, I suspect, you feel it, based on what you have said.

You are correct that children do not ask to be brought into the world, but neither do they ask to be killed before they reach it. You argue that some aborted children would be grateful for their deaths – but, really, who, given the choice between life and death would be thankful to be killed? What child would prefer to be dead rather than alive? What species of rationalization is this? Your assertion is obscene. Just as children have no choice in their conception, so parents have no natural right to choose to prevent them from living. The general principle is that if we are in doubt in matters of life and death, we must always choose life over death, especially in the case of innocents. Otherwise we place death above life, and when we do that, even our own lives are put at risk. For if the innocent can be killed in their mothers' wombs, which of us will be safe outside of them?

You then go on to talk a good deal about hormones and premenstrual syndrome and the inability of men to experience them. All of this, while it is important to women, is irrelevant to the discussion of abortion. However, you neglect to acknowledge one fact which is both relevant and important to men: We are fathers. Our children are just that: our children. They are us; they are ours – our flesh, blood, spirit, future and responsibility. Now, in my essay on abortion among these postings, I concede that since the woman must carry the pregnancy, she must have the prevailing view in this matter; however, hers is not the only view. I for one take my role as a father extremely seriously – it is my first, most important and most sacred responsibility, the source of my claim to humanity and my greatest joy. A father helps create the child, and he is not a man if he does not care for, love, nourish and protect it. Given that, he certainly cannot stand silently by while the mother chooses on her own to kill it. He is entitled to a voice, to an opinion if you will, and to some power in the making of the decision whether or not to terminate the pregnancy in his role as co-creator and co-parent. I would support the right of any man who insists on allowing the child he helped create to have a chance at life even over the objections of the woman. That, it seems to me, should be a matter for the courts to decide, if, indeed, there is a dispute. As for myself: no one is going to take the life of a child of mine if I can possibly prevent it – not even its mother. Such is my duty as a father and as a man.

This brings us to your final point; namely, the “ownership” of the fetus. I submit that, as the fetus is a human being (a point you do not dispute) then no one “owns” it. As a race, we stopped claiming ownership of humans a long time ago – men even shed their blood to ensure that that concept was wiped out of our society. You do not own the child because it grows inside you, nor I because without me, that could not have been the case. It is not a question of ownership, as if the child were a car or a piece of furniture: it is a question of life, of humanity, of what it means for us to be human. And just as we, no matter how welcome or unwelcome we were as children, how impoverished or how privileged, how loved or neglected – just as we have had a chance at life, a chance to live and grow and learn and suffer the exquisite pain of love and heartache, of joy and loss, so should the infants we create, whether intentionally or not, be allowed to have that chance.

For life is what is sacred – not our comfort or convenience or our need to erase an irresponsible mistake. Life, once created by us, must be nurtured not destroyed, if we are to call ourselves human. And that is an aspect of the debate that the pro-abortionists always ignore: not the question of whether or not the fetus is human, but whether or not the parents are. For to create a life from your own lives and then willingly to destroy it runs the risk of negating your humanity. What is in question then is not only the humanity of the fetus, but that of the parents as well. Kill you own child, and how can you regard yourself again as fully human?

I do concede in my essay on abortion that there may be circumstances under which abortion must be considered. In such extreme cases, the decision to terminate the pregnancy must be made only after the greatest thought and soul-searching, for the most compelling, even overwhelming reasons, and as early in the pregnancy as possible.

Some argue that the fetus is not human during the first trimester, and so abortion during that time raises no moral question. To that sophistry I reply: Why is it not morally wrong to terminate a pregnancy on the 89th day, yet it is a moral wrong to do so on the 91st? And why it is morally acceptable at 11:59 pm on the 89th day, but morally objectionable at 12:01 am on the 90th day? Besides, are not all pregnancies different? And so how can one find a dividing line in any particular case, or in general? As an alternative, I offer the presence of the heartbeat as a guideline, though even there I have great reservations. I do so, however, in acknowledgment of the fact that women bear the primary burden of pregnancy, and, in rare cases, abortion may be necessary. What I object to, however, is the fact that abortion is the most common elective surgery performed on women in this country. That, to my mind, is a shameful tragedy which cannot help but have implications for the moral condition of our culture.

You conclude by wondering rhetorically how I can “have this specific opinion about something so personal and detached from you as a man, when all your other points seem to direct your philosophies in a completely opposite direction.” While I am not sure what you mean by this, since something that is personal to me cannot be detached from me, I gather that you wonder how I can have so strong an opinion about an experience (pregnancy) which I will never have and a procedure (abortion) to which I will never be subjected. I state again: We not only may, we must, take firm moral positions on matters of common interest, whether they are first-person experiences or not; and as fathers, men must have a say in the fate of the children they create.

It has been said that for evil to flourish it is necessary only that good people remain silent. In such critical questions as abortion, none of us - man or woman - can remain silent. But the ground of any decision regarding the treatment of children must always be a moral one, taking into account the fact that it is life that is the fundamental sacred value in our society, and that in matters of life and death, when there is doubt, we, if we are to retain our humanity, must choose life.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wuerl of Lies

I just witnessed a sorry Christmas spectacle: the Archbishop of Washington being interviewed by Chris Wallace. Cardinal Wuerl's demeanor can only be described as milquetoast, and his performance as mealy-mouthed.

As one of the authors of the Catholic Church's new guidelines on priest sexual abuse of children, he was asked if this has solved the problem. He replied that it was "one of the Church's great accomplishments." To behave as decent human beings? To prevent the rape of children? To act with basic humanity as an institution? To desist from facilitating the most heinous crimes against innocents? This is "one of the Church's great accomplishments"?! It is as if he were saying: "We no longer officially countenance, encourage, facilitate and cover up pedophilia and that is one of our chief moral accomplishments"!

Not content with this shameful assertion, Cardinal Wuerl went on to characterize the sexual abuse scandal as being a phenomenon of "the past ten, twenty, even thirty years." This is a despicable lie, but one to be expected from a mouthpiece for an amoral institution. Priest sexual abuse of children goes back centuries, has occurred in generation of priests, and continues, doubtless, to this day despite the new guidelines. It has occurred at every level of the Catholic clergy, as was demonstrated by the admissions of hundreds of priests, the collusion of dozens of bishops and cardinals, and the alleged culpability of the present pope. To suggest, as Wuerl has done, that the new guidelines have extinguished the problem is pernicious nonsense. Written guidelines do not change pathological criminal nature. They may force it deeper into the shadows, but if Wuerl actually thinks that the problem has vanished he must be a fool.

The fact, of course, is that he is not a fool. He is a witting apologist for a Church the official behavior of which and the unstated policy of which for centuries has been to enable and to protect child molesters among its own ranks. Wuerl is no better than the official spokesmen for the old Soviet Union, for Cuba and North Korea and Hussein's regime in Iraq: paid liars whose principal job is to protect the criminals they serve so sanctimoniously.

During the course of the interview, we were treated to images of Wuerl's investiture as cardinal at the Vatican. These images reminded me of nothing so much as those of the Nazi rally at Nuremberg, with the clergy ranged in neat rows, each section wearing the colors of its own brigade. And presiding at a defiled altar was the leader of this vast conspiracy to protect child rapists, a man whose own priest- brother stands accused of the abuse of the children under his care, and the pope who, apparently, helped to cover up his and others' bestial crimes.

At the end of Arthur Miller's powerful play, "All My Sons," the main character realizes that every boy who flew in the flawed aircraft he helped produce were his own children, and that he, personally, was responsible for their fate. "They were all my sons," he admits, accepting with that statement his personal guilt in their deaths, and he then goes on to do the only thing a man in his amoral condition can do - he kills himself. In exactly the same way, those thousands of innocents who were molested with the collusion of the members of the Catholic hierarchy were all their children, and each and every one of them should at last take personal responsibility for his guilt.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Swan Song

The other night I saw the movie 'Black Swan.' I thought it was brilliant; intense, almost unbearable at times, but eloquent and lyrical in its more ethereal moments. Now, I must mention that I love the ballet and have a subscription to the dance series at the Music Center in Los Angeles. But I did not admire the film for that: indeed, while set against the ballet, it was, essentially, a study of a frail and gifted young woman under enormous, even lethal, pressure. And as such, it succeeded wonderfully.

Natalie Portman's performance was, to my mind, perfect. She did something I have rarely seen an actor do: She hewed her acting style so close to her character that at times her acting seemed flawed. But that was in the nature of the character - a woman so fragile and so delicately balanced on the edge between ambition and insanity that her perception of reality became that of the audience. We identify so closely with her that even her most macabre imaginings become plausible, indeed, inevitable to us. We are with her wholly as she navigates the knife-edge of art and madness. If she does not win the Oscar for leading actress, there is no justice in the world.

Rarely does an actor take such chances. Recently, I saw Forest Whittaker do something similar in his guest appearances on the TV series, 'The Shield.' Playing an internal affairs officer brought in to investigate Vick Mackie's corrupt strike force, Whittaker's acting style was so at odds with that of the strike force members that at first I thought he had made a serious error in judgment. But as his role went on, I realized that he had, in fact, deliberately chosen a style intended to throw off the performances of the closely-knit group, because that was the nature of his character. He had been brought in precisely to disrupt the strike force, and his acting reflected the fact. It was a brave and brilliant choice, and it worked beautifully. (To my amazement, he was not even nominated for an Emmy for his performance.)

In much the same way, Natalie Portman's performance was meant to convey the very delicate inner condition of the ballerina, and with great skill and courage she played her part so near to the edge that the effect is mesmerizing. We rarely have an opportunity to identify so closely with an actor, and feel so intimately the depth and power of the performance. It is for this reason that I say that her performance was perfect - the perfect instrument to realize and incarnate her character.

Additionally, the film is brilliantly directed, well-written, and impeccably edited. Darren Aronofsky made choices just as daring as Natalie Portman's; for example, the persistent use of black, white and grey, the use of sound effects to heighten certain moments and gestures; and the tattoo on the back of the rival dancer, Lily, a pair of skeletal black wings, is so close to the edge as to be outre, if not for the strength of Mila Kunis's portrayal and Aronofsky's vision. There are moments in the film of such horrifying intensity as to rival the most frightening shocks of the best of horror films. At such moments, the audience gasped, and some people had to turn away; a young woman next to me even cried at one point. And yet all of this is in service to a tale of the artistry, rivalry and terrible beauty of the ballet, and the crushing pressure of pressure compounded with insecurity, desire and ambition. 'Black Swan' is an act of sustained vision and courage, containing performances of the greatest boldness, skill, and intense delicacy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Summing Up

I am borrowing the title of Somerset Maugham’s memoirs for a catalog of some conclusions I have reached on matters of general public interest. The thought processes behind these conclusions are long and complex and I will endeavor to explain them in any instance for which a reader desires an explanation. Stated here are the simplest forms of the results of those processes. They will, I know, be controversial, but please bear in mind that these ideas are works in process, and I will expand and modify them from time to time. I offer them in no particular order of subject matter or importance, for your interest, your bemusement, and your comments.


1.The concept of god is meaningless, and the conceptual god is the single greatest obstacle to the achievement of spiritual truth. That said, I believe that everyone possesses a soul, a spark of the animating force in the universe that gives rise to life. Given that, every individual, and the race as a whole, has a spiritual destiny. I believe the closest that any religious thinker has come to describing this destiny and the means to attain it is the Buddha.

2.Human personality does survive bodily death, but only for a short time in proportion to the degree of spiritual advancement achieved during life.

3.Abortion is a great moral wrong.

4.Government is the greatest enemy of personal liberty and as such must be limited in size and restrained in power as far as possible. The U.S. Government, as it currently exists, increasingly threatens our freedom, and must be reduced in size and influence in our lives radically. If this cannot be done – if it has grown too large to be reined in – then a second American Revolution is necessary to preserve individual liberty.

5.U.S. Senators should be limited to two six-year terms, and members of the House of Representative, to five two-year terms.

6.Anyone who commits a murder with special circumstances should be put to death. Such convictions should be subject to no more than two appeals, and the time taken by those appeals should be no more than five years. Evil exists, and it is possible for a human being to behave with such evil that he or she forfeits the right to live among us.

7.The United States tax code should be eliminated and replaced with a flat tax (both individual and corporate) of no more than fifteen percent per annum.

8.The United States is gradually becoming a Western-European style socialist democracy in which personal liberty and individual initiative are being replaced with collective welfare and dependency on government. If this process continues to its conclusion, this nation will have ceased to be as it was founded and as precedent generations of Americans have known it. And the last, best hope for the survival of individual liberty in the world will have been traded for comfort, “fairness” and low-risk mediocrity.

9.Public education, and the left-wing agenda which has infused it, are destroying the intellectual, political and cultural life of the nation.

10.Marketing is devouring the arts.

11.In the near future of this country there will be, essentially, two classes of citizens: those who have fostered their own individual intellects, characters and souls through hard work, education, initiative, creativity and ambition, and those who have not. The first class will be quite small and will be increasingly isolated from the much larger remainder who, since their numbers will so outstrip the others, will be at war with them (through jealousy and resentment of their achievements and prosperity), and will eventually drag them down through the corruption and manipulation of the political process. We are seeing this taking place right now.

12.Children must be raised to be rugged individualists if this nation is to survive.

13.There are no excuses for failure or bad behavior, either in one’s own life or in the life of society. For too long in this country we have sought to rationalize and excuse the failure and bad behavior of classes of people, and the result has been a general degradation of our society.

14.Every individual is responsible for his or her own success or failure regardless of circumstances. It is simply not possible to shift responsibility for one’s failings onto others.

15.Love is the measure of all things. How we love and are loved tells everything about who we are.

16.Animals cannot be said to have rights, except the right not to be abused. Rather, humans have responsibilities with regard to all living creatures. How one treats animals is an index of the condition of one’s soul.

17.It is wrong to kill animals for food, except in times of desperation.

18.Every human being should have the right to live the life he or she chooses with dignity and without interference from outside. Identity is the private property of everyone.

19.Humans are bi-sexual by nature; sexual orientation is largely a matter of cultural prejudice.

20.Death is not the end of life, but rather, a return to the essence of life.

21.We should protect our personal liberty as though our lives depend on it, because they do. We must resist the allure of dependence on government and submission to it.

22.Music is the highest form of art, and poetry, being the closest to music, is the highest form of literature.

23.Liberalism is a charming romantic prejudice of youth, and all youths should embrace it. However, with age comes wisdom, and wisdom, by its nature, is conservative.

24.The Roman Catholic Church is a conspiracy against the innocence of children.

25. Love survives death. It has to.

Into the Lists III

And so I go farther into the lists. My last two posts have prompted a friend to ask whom I regard as the greatest writers who ever lived. I've already dug myself into two holes, so why not a third? In no particular order, but in two ranks, they are:

Shakespeare
Tolstoy
Dostoevsky
Sophocles
Homer

They clearly fall into the front rank. To that I would add:

Kazantzakis
Anton Chekhov
James Joyce
Hemingway
Joseph Conrad
Mihail Bulgakov
T.S. Eliot
Samuel Beckett
G.M. Hopkins
John Donne


So, as Tupac Shakur said, "Holler if ya hear me."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Into the Lists II

A comment on my post about the greatest artists in the Western tradition, which points out that none of those named lived in the twentieth century (Tolstoy died in 1910 at age 82 and was, essentially, an artist of the late nineteenth century) has prompted me to examine whom I regard as the greatest artists of the past century.

I offer these thoughts, again referring only to the Western artistic tradition, in no particular order. It is, of course, subject to revision.

Sergei Prokofiev
Samuel Beckett
James Joyce
Nikos Kazantzakis
Pablo Picasso
Andrei Tarkovsky
John Coltrane
Rudolf Nureyev
T.S. Eliot
Frank Lloyd Wright

I should add that while I have the greatest regard for these men, I do not consider them geniuses on the level of those in my earlier list. This list will, I am sure, provoke some comment, so please feel free.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Into the Lists

Someone recently asked me who I thought were the greatest artists who ever lived. It is a fatuous question of course, and nothing but mischief can come from an attempt to answer it. Nonetheless, it set me thinking. If I had to assemble a list of the greatest artists, whom would I put on it? And so, unable to restrain my imagination, I began in idle moments to do so.

I offer my initial response here, in a vaguely descending order, with the absolute certainty that my readers, who are above average in intelligence, culture and erudition generally, will have strong opinions in reply. But here we go, bearing in mind that I speak only of the Western artistic tradition, since I know so little (alas) about the arts of the East. All this, of course, is done with great reservation and the full intention of revision as my mind clears and my embarrassment deepens.

To my mind, the ten greatest artists of the Western tradition are:

Johann Sebastian Bach
Michelangelo
Leonardo
Beethoven
Shakespeare
Tolstoy
Sophocles
Rafaello
Mozart
The Master Builder of the Cathedral of Chartres

So there it is. I invite comments, suggestions, derision. Please let me know who you think should and should not be on my list.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The New Book

My son has just called to my attention the fact that my new book, "Vice: One Cop's Story of Patrolling America's Most Dangerous City" can now be pre-ordered at a discounted price on Amazon.com.

The link is:

http://www.amazon.com/Vice-Story-Patrolling-Americas-Dangerous/dp/0312596871

I mention this since some of you have been kind enough to ask how they may obtain a copy. Of course, I will be happy to sign anyone's copy (and have Rick Baker sign as well) if it is sent to me with a return envelope.

It will be available January 18. Thanks again for asking.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Rope Business

I have just learned that the Washington Post columnist Juan Williams has been fired by National Public Radio. This was done, apparently, because he regularly appears on Fox News, and because he dares to present less-than-far-left views in public. The official of NPR who fired him has said, according to reports, that Williams needs psychiatric care. This sent a chill down my spine.

I did Russian Studies in college and I was for some time a student of the old Soviet Union. Towards its final days, officials in the USSR were in the habit of condemning dissidents to psychiatric institutions on the grounds that anyone who openly disagreed with soviet communism must be insane. Indeed, they maintained that dissension in the USSR was de facto evidence of mental illness. And so we saw leading dissents such as Vladimir Bukovsky and Leonid Plyushch condemned to the silent nightmare torture of the mental institution simply because they dared to disagree with the prevailing ideology. At the time this reminded me, and I wrote of the fact, that such behavior was characteristic of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition, which declared that heresy was proof of demonic possession. Though the theories behind the two systems differed, their methods did not.

When I was a student at the Paris Film Conservatory in the late 70s, I had the privilege of meeting Bukovsky and Plyushch, and I can assert with confidence that they were not insane, despite what the soviet authorities and their servile psychiatrists declared. They were, in fact, erudite, passionate, and open-minded political, artistic and social thinkers who had the courage not only to form independent views, but to express them in a public way. Now, it seems, their example has been followed lamentably in our own country by Juan Williams and NPR.

NPR, which is supported by taxpayer money, has declared Williams to be mentally ill because of his political views. The irony, of course, is that his views, though voiced on Fox News, remain unabashedly leftist, though clearly not so far left as NPR requires. That our taxpayer dollars can be used to censor and malign an honest, sincere, and well-respected journalist is an index of how far out of touch the mainstream media is with the basic decency of the American public. I do not often agree with what Juan Williams says, but in the spirit of Voltaire I will defend to the death his right to say it. That, in my understanding, is the American way.

It is not, evidently, the way of National Public Radio. A recent survey has shown that there is not a single conservative commentator on NPR, and even such a liberal spokesman as Williams has been cast into exile for having the audacity to voice opinions not sufficiently far to the left, and to appear on Fox News. But not content to fire him, the officials at NPR have felt it necessary to declare him mentally incompetent for having insufficiently espoused their prevailing ideology. This is Stalinist behavior - this is the antithesis of what America stands for, and it is what we fought a sixty-year-long Cold War against sovietism to defeat.

But it seems that the Bolshevist spirit is alive at NPR, and that our taxpayer dollars are paying for it. Lenin said that when the communists are ready to hang the capitalists, the capitalists will sell them the rope. NPR is now firmly in the rope business.

Unreal Time

I recently heard Bill Maher on Larry King's show ranting about the Tea Party. He was spewing the usual hate: that Tea Party members are buffoons who have crawled out of the backwaters onto the national stage, that they are reactionaries, retrogrades; racists with little education and less political acumen. As I was listening, I began to wonder what he might have said about earlier backwoods upstarts.

Imagine now that it is 1860; America is at a crossroads, disaster looms, and so do elections. And imagine that Maher is being interviewed on a proto-television show by a mid-19th century Larry King...

King: There's a lot of talk about a fellow named Abe Lincoln running for president on the Republican ticket--

Maher: Oh, come on! Who can take that stovepipe shyster seriously?!

King: Evidently the Republicans can--

Maher: Well, that should tell you something. I mean, he's a perfect fit for them, isn't he? This guy spent so little time in school, he mistook the back of a shovel for a copybook. The only book he ever read was the Bible and he thought it was a history book. I mean, do you really want a president who thinks that a slide rule is something you post on a playground?

King: Are you saying he's ignorant?

Maher: Ignorant? Hellloooo?! He didn't even graduate from grade school! He tried to get a GED because he thought it meant Get Even Dumber. Just look at the guy -- those gangly arms, that droop-eyed expression, that rag of black hair -- he looks like an anorexic gorilla on a banana binge. And he must be, what?, eight feet tall. I'd say he couldn't play basketball 'cause he's white, but have you seen him? His skin is green! He's got some kind of disease; probably whatever was killing off the elm trees in Sangamon County when he was born.

King: Folks say he's a good orator--

Maher: Come on, Larry! Have you ever heard him speak? His accent is so thick you could put it on your hoecakes - if you ate hoecakes, which I don't but I'm sure he does. He doesn't seem to know any words of more than two syllables, and his voice -- well, all I can say is I've heard asthma attacks that sound better than he does. I mean, Larry... the guy should be running the Hicksville horse and buzzard show, not running for president.

King: What about his views on slavery--?

Maher: Oh, come on! He says right out in public that the Southerners have the Constitutional right to keep their slaves! And that the Congress has no right to take them away!

King: Isn't he legally correct on that, Bill? I mean, the Constitution--

Maher: Who cares if he's legally correct?! Slavery is morally wrong, so what difference does it make what the Constitution says? If a president feels like something's unfair and the Constitution stands in the way, then he should have the power to say damn the Constitution. If Horace Greeley were president - which he should be - he'd go right in and take those slaves away and to hell with the Constitution! Lincoln clings to the Constitution like it was one of his split rails in a Mississippi flood.

King: But Lincoln agrees with you that slavery is a moral issue, doesn't he? Hasn't he said so all along?

Maher: Yeah, but have you heard why he says it? I mean, have you heard what he says about religion? Come on! This guy actually believes that God is involved in running the country's affairs. That God manages things like some Georgia plantation owner. And by the way, those Georgia peanut guys are doing a heckuva lot better job with their slaves than God is doing with his.

King: So you don't accept Lincoln's views on religion in public life--?

Maher: Come on, Larry, what are we talking about here?! It's the middle of the 19th century. I mean, sure, if you think that medieval superstition is a valid political point of view, then I guess I'd have to agree. Look, this Lincompoop character comes straight from the backwoods, right outta some hick town in Kentucky. I mean, he was born in a log cabin that had hot-and-cold running inbreeds. He gives bumpkins a bad name. What else would you expect?

King: He has a lot of political experience--

Maher: If you call two terms in the House a lot, yeah! And remember, he wasn't even re-elected in his own district. I mean, even the boonies turned against him. He lost to Steve Douglas for Senate after people heard him try to debate. Debate? It was more like sedate; I mean, I couldn't keep my eyes open. The only government job he was qualified for was postmaster in his hometown, where half the people couldn't read and the other half thought a stamp was something you did to a roach. And that wife of his... have you seen that broad?

King: Mary Todd--

Maher: Mary Odd, if you ask me. Built like a whale and spends like the sailor that harpooned her. And she's a Southerner! Are we really gonna elect as president a man who's married to some shiksie from Dixie? Her family probably sold ice skates to Simon Legree.

King: Do I get that you're suggesting Lincoln is Jewish?

Maher: C'mon, Larry...anybody named Abraham... I mean, draw your own conclusions.

King: So you don't think Lincoln should be elected?

Maher: Look, Larry, I think the minimum qualification for president should be that you've managed to evolve successfully from a lower species. Which leaves old Abe somewhere in the Jurassic. Come on... with that green skin and those long, bony fingers, he looks like he just crawled out of some mesozoic swamp in search of oxygen. I mean, look at those ears -- they look like gills.

King: So you're saying you'd vote for Douglas?

Maher: I'd vote for my granny's cat before Abe-baboon Lincoln. And frankly, Snuggles has more of a chance of being elected. I mean, Steve Douglas may be bland, boring and bald, but he's a like a fifty-year-old hooker: at least you know what you're in for. Look, Larry, this Republican Party is nothing but a bunch of backwoods baboons. They think we ought to return to the 18th century when men were white and slaves were three-fifths and women were knickknacks and a bunch of old guys in powdered wigs thought that amounted to equality.

King: But if Lincoln is elected, he'd be the first Republican president--

Maher: I may not have an overinflated view of the intelligence of the American people, Larry, but really, they're not that stupid. This whole Rebooblican Party gas attack will blow itself out, and Lincompoop will be gone with the wind.

King: Is that a prediction, Bill?

Maher: Larry, you want a prediction? I'll make a prediction: If Clueless Abe gets as far as the front lawn of the White House, somebody's gonna shoot him. Hell, I might do it myself.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Revolution and Devolution

As I sit here I listen to one political ad after another. All are cynical, all are lies, all are crude, petty and accusatory, and none addresses the core problems that face our state and our nation. These are not the clear-eyed and noble declamations of statesmen; they are the ramblings and rantings of pedants and poseurs who crave power and the spotlight; these are the insane bumblings of crass buffoons. I recall advice from some comic pundit: Never vote for anyone who actually wants to be elected.

Both parties have failed us. Indeed, there are no longer two parties in America, but only one -- two wings of the same spendthrift, hypocritical cabal of bloody-minded power-grabbers who have little or no regard for the founding principles of this nation or the sacred liberty of its people. They pander to interests and purchase votes at the public's expense and make a mockery of our democracy and the sacrifices our forbears made to preserve it. They are, by and large shallow, venal, puerile, small-minded, cowardly and driven by narrow self-interest and I, for one, am fed up with the lot of them.

Elections, which used to be exciting bouts of ideas and personalities, have now devolved into shoddy spectacles of recrimination, venom and greed. There is only one value now in American politics: to get power, buy it if you can, and hang onto it for as long as possible at any cost and any sacrifice of honesty and virtue. The debates of Lincoln and Douglas would not be tolerated today; indeed, Lincoln himself would be laughed off the national stage by those arbiters of political taste, Leno, Letterman, Stewart and Saturday Night Live. One can only imagine what such hucksters of political bias as Olberman and Matthews would have to say about Abe's gangling back-woodsmanship, his quaint accent and his adherence to a set of principles based on the Constitution, God and human liberty. They would malign and demonize him, bowdlerize his ideas and mimic his traits, and public opinion would be poisoned against him before he had a chance to speak.

Our republic is in very dire straits. Ideas have been trampled by self-interests, the public good is being consumed by petty ambitions, and individual liberty is being sold daily on the auction block of collective submission to the authority of the central state. I was struck to read that a recent poll found that, for the first time in our history, a majority of the American people believe that their government does not represent them. This is shocking, it is troubling, it is a signpost for anyone to read who knows the history of this nation and of its founding. If such is true, then it is time for a revolution - a second American revolution. And it is not just I who say it; the Founders said so, and they had the intellect and vision and courage to bring it about.

What disturbs me most is the possibility that our society has been so numbed by decades of crass political propaganda and so dumbed by a system of public education that fails to teach our children how to think for themselves but, rather, indoctrinates them in the politically correct culture of the time, that our people are no longer capable of mounting such a revolution. Indeed, they know so little now about the first American Revolution that they may not even be able to conceive of it. I hope it is not so.

For if it is, I fear that the future holds for us what it has for so many societies whose citizens sacrificed their freedom on the pagan altar of collective comfort: mediocrity, submission, capitulation to the dictates of the state, economic and cultural bankruptcy, the withering of the human spirit and the death of initiative and creativity - the very initiative and creativity that propelled our civilization to the highest levels of achievement, prosperity and liberty the world has ever known.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What to do about Petya?

The other day as I was driving to work, the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony was on the satellite radio. I subscribed to satellite radio, quite simply, because having access to classical music twenty-four hours a day helps keep me sane. Also, the channel provides a text prompt that tells who the composer is, which I find very useful in the case of pieces with which I am not familiar.

As I listened to the symphony I was reminded of several things. First, of how much I enjoy Tchaikovsky's work, of how wonderful the melodies are and what a master of orchestration he was. I cannot think of another composer who uses instrumental colors to create sonic and emotional effects who can surpass him. Second, of what an extraordinary personality Tchaikovsky must have been. It is difficult to imagine living life with such wonderful melodies streaming continually in one's head. But beyond that, I was struck again by the puzzle which Tchaikovsky has always presented to my mind.

That he was an important composer is beyond dispute; indeed, I suppose he must be considered a great composer. And yet, to me, his music is almost entirely devoid of that spiritual dimension which I believe characterizes truly great art. With the possible exception of the Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovsky's music is, to my ear, purely secular; driven by emotion rather than by enlightenment. Only in his last symphony does he attain toward something like spiritual insight, and this, I think, only because the symphony is in large part a meditation on death. That he knew he was near the end of his life, that in some sense he could feel it coming, moved him, apparently, to reach for a deeper truth in his work. And though the Pathetique, as it is called, does aspire to such heights, it nonetheless remains as moving, as emotionally driven, even as excessive, as all of his other work. I consider it to be his most significant accomplishment. The Fifth Symphony, for all that it is thrilling, even bombastic, is a far less erudite work. It is vintage Tchaikovsky, filled with energy, exuberance and pathos, and in listening to it I understand (though I do not agree with) those dilettantes who maintain that Tchaikovsky's music is tasteless and even vulgar.

That Tchaikovsky was an extraordinarily gifted artist is undeniable. He wrote some of the most moving and beloved melodies in Western culture. He produced a large body of work, much of which is of a very high quality, and some of which has become a part of our cultural consciousness. And yet, he is far from the formal perfection of Bach, the intense spiritual insight of Beethoven, the intellectual and aesthetic virtuosity of Mozart, even the powerful and lyrical humanity of Brahms. Where Bach's music, to my way of thinking, reflects something like divine logic, Beethoven's, divine presence, Mozart's, divine intellect, and Brahms', divine humanity, Tchaikovsky's music reflects for the most part his own personality. That he was brilliant, intense, passionate, and sensitive to the point of delicacy is clear. That he was emotionally and sexually tormented is apparent. He was almost certainly homosexual and suffered greatly for the fact. Indeed, it may have led to his death which, some sources suggest, was a suicide ordered by the emperor of Russia to avoid scandal.

But his work, for all that, is universal, accessible, and vastly entertaining. There is nothing in his work that challenges us like, for example, the solo violin Chaconne of Bach or the Grosse Fugue of Beethoven. In another post I tried to make a distinction between art that is entertaining and that which goes beyond entertainment toward genius. Was Tchaikovsky a genius? By my definition, since his work lacks a spiritual dimension, I must say no. I cannot place him in the same category as Beethoven and Bach. Yet... does Brahms belong in that category? Does Mozart?

To my mind, Mozart was undeniably a genius, though I have never thought of him as a spiritual artist. I feel much the same way about Brahms. Yet the scope, depth and quality of their respective canons must be called genius, for its invention, creativity, brilliance, and beauty. And so, I think now that I must speak in terms of levels of genius or kinds of genius, and not of genius as an absolute. Mozart and Brahms, though to me more secular than spiritual artists, are most certainly geniuses. Yes, their work is entertaining on a very lofty level, but so is that of Beethoven and Bach. However, in that it lacks the profound spiritual insights and implications of the latter, I must make a distinction between them. I must say that Brahms and Mozart possessed a kind of genius which sprang from the deepest and highest levels of the human spirit, intellect and experience, and which translated into work that, in Mozart's case, was something like the height of intellect in art, and in Brahms, something like the breadth of humanity.

Having said this, the questions remains: What to do about Petya? I think there is a form of art which, and a kind of artist who, documents the human character more vividly and movingly than others, and to this category belongs Tchaikovsky. Where Beethoven is a spiritual artist, Tchaikovsky is a personal one, drawing on the depths and nuances of his character and translating them into art which is wonderfully entertaining because it touches us so. And it touches us precisely because it reflects so much about us as human beings. Tchaikovsky was a uniquely intense and passionate person, filled with conflict and contradictions, aspirations and disappointments, and in laying bare his uniquely sensual soul, he speaks to that in all of us which is vital and lyrical, but which would otherwise not have a voice. His work is the song of our longings, sufferings, hopes and heartbreaks.

Beethoven reaches for the soul; Mozart reaches for the mind; Tchaikovsky reaches for the heart. Each in his own way expresses and embodies the spirit of genius which, I think now, is not homogeneous, but diverse.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Darkness and Light

A number of experiences and reflections lately have tended to confirm in me my suspicion that the understanding of life and of the meaning of life lies in the concept of rebirth. It seems to me now that the purpose of living is a movement toward the extinguishing of the self, not through death, which does not have that power, but, rather, through a chain of living during which the soul is presented with the challenge to free itself from life and achieve union with its true nature, which is what we call the divine.

There are two tendencies in the process of living, I think now, which may be characterized as an attraction toward darkness and an attraction toward light. The more we move in the direction of darkness, the thicker and more lugubrious the self becomes, resisting the inflow of and outflow toward the divine. By contrast, as we embrace the light, the self becomes less substantial and the soul becomes airier, more ethereal, more reflective of its essential nature, which we may call love.

Loving may thus be seen as a movement toward the liberation of the soul, a sort of practice, if you will, for its detachment from the self. But loving in a worldly sense can only occur within the context of the self, and, this being the case, loving on the plane of corporeal existence becomes, at best, a metaphor. It is a metaphor for the deepest longing of the soul, which is to liberate itself from life in order that it may achieve its destiny.

I have said heretofore that I believe the soul has a destiny. Now I accept the idea that the destiny of the soul is to grow and mature and rarefy itself through the process of living – reiterated living – until it has achieved the strength and purity to leave the living self – the self of lives – behind. The living self is thus a vessel which may carry the soul towards its fate, which is its re-absorption into that divine essence from which it emerged.

In this sense, death is merely a doorway through which the soul passes, one of many in a corridor that must inevitably lead to its liberation. But how may the soul pass beyond death and make progress toward the fulfillment of its destiny? That much, at least, is clear to me. The process by which the soul progresses in its journey toward enlightenment is one of self-extinguishing through non-wanting.

Wanting is the great impediment to enlightenment. The more we want in life the farther the soul retreats from its destiny. The progression of the soul, then, must be a process of stripping each subsequent iteration of life of its desires. Liberation from desire is the key to the soul’s liberation from the self. In wanting all, we achieve nothing; in wanting nothing we may achieve everything.

In this sense, love becomes a two-edged sword. Loving another human being, as I have said, is at best a metaphor for the soul’s striving for its destiny. But that love may be so intense and blinding that it actually becomes an impediment – perhaps the strongest impediment – to the attainment of that from which its draws its meaning. The meaning of love in life lies in its power to illuminate the meaning of love beyond life; yet if we do not see this clearly, we see nothing but the face of the beloved. And that face is nothing but a self which, itself, is seeking the liberation of the soul.

When we love another, then, we love that for which we and the other are striving: freedom from life and death; the realization of the soul’s true nature. Only in that sense does corporeal love achieve its meaning, as a signpost toward another sort of love which it mirrors and reflects. To love in life is necessary – it is perhaps the surest and clearest way to the attainment of Truth, which is the nature of the soul. In corporeal love, the soul expresses its longing to be free from time and space, and to wed itself to that from which it sprang and in which it finds its meaning – the meaning of life. That meaning is the result of the progress of the soul towards non-life, which is the soul’s authentic life, freed from the continuum of corporeal life and death. It is this that Kazantzakis meant when he said that the purpose of life is the transformation of flesh into spirit.

Death is not in the nature of the soul, nor is it in the nature of love. That is why we speak of undying love and love that outlasts time. These, too, are metaphors, but they indicate an instinctual understanding on the level of the soul of the meaning of love, and its importance as a guide toward non-life. This is why the experience of true love runs so deep: It reaches into the very essence of our beings, not as a reality but as a desire. However, in that love – even the deepest love in life – is a desire, it is an obstacle to the soul’s progress unless it is seen in its true light. Love can become darkness when we fail to understand, finally, that it has no meaning in itself, but, rather, that its meaning lies beyond itself in the striving of the soul to be free of desire. Love thus becomes ironic: it is the deep desire that, having shown us its depth, must extinguish itself.

The extinguishing of love in life is a vital part of the process of achieving enlightenment since love is the deepest of all human desires. It represents a need to move beyond the self, to meld with another, to be free from isolation, loneliness, and the sense of individuated selfhood, and in this it is a perfect metaphor for the soul’s desire to liberate itself from life. Yet in that very statement lies the contradiction: If the soul has a desire to free itself, then it becomes an impediment to its own liberation. The soul may thus have no desires – it must be stripped of desires, even the desire for its own destiny. For so long as the soul lusts after its destiny, it remains a victim of life.

Life is wanting, desire, hunger insatiable; freedom from life, which is the soul’s intent and the meaning of life, is liberation from every form of wanting – even the desire for liberation from life. The soul might, then, become its own obstacle, and as such, the soul must also be extinguished. I think this is what the great mystic Marguerite Porette meant when she spoke of the need to annihilate the simple soul in order to achieve union with the divine. For the soul, conceived of as a kind of entity inhabiting the body is itself a form of self, and that self, though more subtle and elusive than the corporeal self, must also be removed if liberation from life is to be achieved.

To put it another way: So long as we conceive of the soul as a kind of self, with its own character, identity, and desires, then the soul becomes a thing which, like any other thing that we desire or which has desires, can never be freed from life and death. No, I think it is necessary to free oneself even of the concept of the soul – just as I have argued elsewhere that we must free ourselves from the concept of god in order to make spiritual progress. For if we conceive of the soul as a particle or reflection of god, and if god is (as in my view) the single greatest obstacle to enlightenment, then it follows that the concept of the soul must likewise be destroyed.

We are not, as I had previously thought, a concatenation of body and soul, a synthesis of the corporeal and the divine; rather, I think now, we are made of light and dark, which are two forces that, held in dynamic tension, sustain us in the ongoing experience of life and death. If we are to escape that experience, if we are ever to achieve our destiny as living, loving beings, we must move away from darkness toward the light, which glows in our souls as conscience, the ground of our sense of right and wrong – the voice of god within us, as Tolstoy would say – the frail, unfailing flame that illuminates not only what we are, but what we were born and destined to become. It is the light that leads us home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Word About Love

I would like to say a word about love.

To this point in this blog I have not written a great deal about love. Indeed, in my post on religion and spirituality, I carefully avoided the mention of it, since it seemed to me a convenient way of avoiding a discussion of that meaning which gives to life its purpose. I did not understand love – it was a distant, alien concept to me, rather like the syntax of Swahili or the tenets of the Tantra.

Yet now I think that love was simply too close to my eyes for me to see it, as if a fish were asked to describe the sea. It was not a phenomenon apart from me, but rather the element in which I exist, and for that very reason, I failed to recognize it. I had always considered that Truth (with a capital T) was the breadth and depth and meaning of life, and so the purpose of life was to arrive at an understanding of the Truth. Bur recently, that assumption has been shaken, like dice are shaken before being cast upon a felt.

I think that now I see that love is Truth; that love is at the core of that which I had always prized and sought as Truth. But since I did not feel that I was capable of love, it followed that I could not grasp the Truth. And so both Truth and love eluded me, no matter how diligently I searched for them, because I conceived of them as separate entities, distinct and unrelated. I thought that it was possible to reach an understanding or experience of Truth without the presence of love; but that was, I now see, rather like thinking that you can learn to swim on land. You can achieve a theoretical knowledge of it, can master and mime the movements of it, but until you immerse yourself in it, feel the force and freedom of it and risk the drowning in it, it remains a distant puzzle, like a map of stars in Braille.

There is a further realization I have grasped in these past days. I had thought that the attainment of Truth was the key to happiness. But now I understand that, since love is Truth, then love is happiness. Love is happiness. It is a simple enough equation, which, for all my introspection and my erudition, accumulated as carefully as some people accumulate full runs of magazines, I had somehow missed. Love is the key to happiness, and happiness is Truth and Truth is love. It is a circular argument, perfect in its symmetry, and beautiful in its form and implications.

It is not esoteric; indeed, it is within the grasp of every human being who will open his or her heart and make it vulnerable to rebirth or to breaking, daring to run the risk of trusting one’s soul and destiny to another. Whether that being has arms and hands and eyes, or is an idea of God does not matter. I think now it is the gesture of surrender – the willingness to believe and to have confidence that that belief will be productive of Truth – that makes the difference; indeed, all the difference in the world.

I had reached the conclusion that Truth could only be attained in solitude, within the context of a solitary search of mind and heart and soul. I had resigned myself to such a search in preparation for my death. But now I think that that was wrong. Now I believe that, as we are selves, as we are beings in the world, Truth can only be attained in concert with another; that it was for this we were imbued with mind and will and emotion. Emotion is the pathway to love, the first frail steps on the way to love, which is the key to Truth. Emotion is the bait that lures us to love, and mind is the choice to embrace love. In loving we transform ourselves into that eternal substance which is the essence of Truth. We know Truth even as we love and are loved. And in that way, we receive Truth through the opening of ourselves to the bright, deep, terrifying and vivifying possibility of love.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Salt and Sleepers

I did something recently I have done less and less in the past few years - I went to the movies. Twice. First to see 'Inception,' and then 'Salt.' I had nearly forgotten how pleasant it is to see a film in a theater with popcorn and plush seats and the company of others, and I think I will go more often. Since the movies are something I know a bit about, I suppose I should begin writing my impressions of the films I see. I will start with those two.

I very much admired the work of Christopher Nolan - 'Memento' was a wonderful film - and so I was looking forward to 'Inception,' especially given the lavish reviews it had achieved. And indeed, as with his other work, I found that 'Inception' contained some very promising ideas concerning the relation between the dream and reality, between the subconscious and conscious behavior. I was disappointed, however. The film was, in my view, twenty minutes too long, and the third act was repetitive and muddled. Though I was impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio's performance (he continues to grow and deepen as an actor), I had the impression that Ellen Page was in a different film, and I could not quite understand what Marion Cotillard was trying to accomplish by her characterization, which I found flat and uninteresting.

But my greatest reservation was the amount of violence and number of cliched action sequences in which, in true Hollywood fashion, the bad guys can't hit anything and the good guys never miss. In short, what might have been an absorbing and thought-provoking examination of some very good ideas was lost in the industry's current obsession with mayhem and noise.

'Salt' on the other hand, had no pretensions to anything approaching an interesting idea. It was a silly, wholly improbable mishmash of action-adventure, thriller, and superhero film in which so little of any substance or credibility occurred that it lost, for me at least, nearly all of its entertainment potential. There were so many questions left unanswered, so many holes in the plot, so many improbabilities and impossibilities that I felt embarrassed even discussing them with my companion afterward. Because the bottom line was that none of it mattered. That said, Angelina Jolie acquitted herself well and Liev Schreiber was suitably grave and menacing. The production values were excellent, the computer effects impressive, and the action sequences, while absurd, skillfully shot. But there was far less here than met the eye, and my ringing ears.

What is troubling about it all, however, is the absence of good, intelligent, provocative drama in the theaters. It is no secret in Hollywood these days that the studios are shying away from serious films, preferring action, romance, fantasy, and thrillers instead. In my own fifteen year career I have seen my corner of the business, that is, historically based drama, shrink nearly to extinction. But I believe that there remains a strong audience for drama and ideas on the screen, and I wish it would make itself heard by those in power in the biz.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Figurehead

I am increasingly dismayed by the direction this country is taking. The move toward centralization, which began after the Civil War, was enabled by the federal income tax, and institutionalized by the New Deal, is now accelerating toward meltdown at a rate that would make the global warming crowd gasp in awe. The collectivist impulse, which is the pulse beat of leftist ideologues, the socially guilt-ridden, and the chronically underachieving has now acquired a momentum that may be unstoppable. We are, in short, being shoved down the primrose path toward socialism, and soon we may not be able to return.

As I watch this dreary course of events, a thought strikes me about our president. Mr. Obama has quickly proved himself to be both incompetent and corrupt, a true fabrication of the old Chicago-style political machine, but that is only what is evident. What is less clear is the possibility that he may not be a legitimate president at all, but, rather, that he is merely the congenial face and charming mouthpiece of the people who put him in power. We all know now that when Obama reads a speech, he does well, even admirably, but that once off the prompter, he is uncertain, inarticulate, and sometimes just plain wrong. It is this fact, together with his embarrassing lack of experience, that has inclined me to think that he is nothing but an amiable figurehead.

The real owners of power are the far-left oligarchs and ideologues who discovered Obama, molded him, and boosted him into the presidency. They were fortunate that he is young, personable, can be articulate when prepared, is attractive, and ran against one of the oldest presidential candidates since Reconstruction. I continue to think that the socialist power brokers would have preferred Hillary Clinton, but her baggage was such that she had to be left at the station, and the Obama express fitted onto tracks to the White House that she was convinced ought to have been hers. However, Hillary is the most prolific liar in American politics since Richard Nixon, and her strident self-aggrandizement and monomaniacal lust for power made her unreliable in their eyes. In short, the architects of the 2008 victory concluded that, much as they would have liked to seem enlightened by forwarding a female candidate, they could not trust her.

Of course, the fact that Obama is half-black more than compensated for the loss of Hillary's gender in their eyes, and so that, together with his near total lack of executive experience and his pointless rock star appeal, made him the clear choice to run against John McCain in the chum-filled wake of George Bush. Thus far, the far-left cabal has managed to use Obama's popularity (and the fear of being branded a racist if you oppose him) to push through the most sweeping socialist legislation in the nation's history, while at the same time imposing the most onerous debt in its history. But what do the billionaire leftists care? They are fixed for life, and now they can bask not only in their wealth and privilege, but also in the vicarious sense that they are moral to boot. (This is their chief psychic drive: their wealth makes them feel guilty, and so they seek exculpation by using the government to do what they define as good.) After all, did they not provide health insurance to millions (at the taxpayers' expense - not their own), did they not take over several major profit-hungry industries (at the taxpayers' expense - not their own), did they not, in effect, nationalize the evil banking and finance industry (at the taxpayers' expense - not their own), and have they not begun a full frontal assault on the bogey of free market capitalism - the very same capitalism that enabled them to acquire their wealth in the first place?

This, I fear, was their true agenda from the start: the utter transformation of American society through the destruction of free market capitalism - a system that has provided more prosperity and more freedom to more people than any other in history. Ironically (one might say grotesquely), the far left oligarchs who created Obama hate the source of their own success - the free market and the capitalist system. They want to dismantle it and replace it with European-style socialism, and using Obama as their figurehead, they are well on the way to doing so. The massive debt with which their vast and fruitless spending programs has burdened the economy is not meant to achieve economic stimulus or social justice, but, rather, to bankrupt the capitalist system, leaving America with no apparent alternative but central, collectivist control and a command economy. That command economy, of course, will be dictated by them, through the smiling offices of people like President Obama, who spends much of his time these days insisting that he is not, and his programs are not, socialist. I think he doth protest too much. Or even worse, I suspect he may believe what he is saying, which means that he does not understand what he is doing.

That Mr. Obama is being manipulated by a neo-socialist agenda and may not even suspect it is, of course, the most disturbing prospect of all. But with a pessimism bred by decades of observing the American political experience, I cannot shake the fear that it is true. How else to explain the administration's obsessive need to spend us to the looming brink of bankruptcy, and the president's bland assurances that it is not doing so, or, even if it is, that it does not matter? I am afraid it does not matter to Mr. Obama, but to those who created and control him, it is a socialist wet dream coming true. While to our children and their children, who will inherit this debt and a nation so unlike the one entrusted to us - effectively stripped of the blessing of liberty, the challenge of free enterprise and the fruits of personal initiative - there will be left nothing but nightmare.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Leprosy and Castles


I have noticed that since I posted about being a survivor of priest sexual abuse, the number of people who comment on my blog has fallen off. This is due, I suppose, to the stigma which attaches to those of us who have been molested as children, the ranks of which I now gladly join. Those who have not been so abused shy away from those of us who have, as if we suffer from some unspeakable disease which they dread to contract. It is a perfectly understandable reaction, and since my postings I have witnessed it first-hand. People with whom I have daily contact now tend to shy away from me, and others, whom I have known for many years, are also falling off. It is as if they are frightened of being contaminated by me, and so they distance themselves for the sake of their own comfort.

This is nothing but guilt and insecurity, of course. Guilt in that many of them, being Catholic, they feel a kind of corporate shame, since they continue to adhere to an institution which has dedicated itself (and continues to dedicate itself) to the violation of the innocence of children. And insecurity, since they cannot help but wonder whether they share in some part the collective blame for the sins of their spiritual mentors.

As I have mentioned heretofore, I worked in a leper colony in the Congo when I was in my early twenties. Among those poor people I felt, at first, an instinctual revulsion, a dread of contact, a loathing of contamination. But this I eventually I managed to overcome. Each morning I went out to the gates of the Trappist monastery in the desert where I lived and met the people - blacks who were almost gray with their disease - and I tended to them as best I could, bringing them food and medicines, and treats from the monastery's kitchen. As I spent more time among them I felt a kind of kinship with them, realizing that they bore on their bodies the same sorts of scars that I bore on my soul. Alienated and stigmatized as they, eventually I came to embrace them, hugged them, laughed with them, taught them, and gave them challenges to perform, set by my own example. For I knew instinctively that I was a leper every bit as much as they.

I still have a photograph of a sand castle which I built with the children of that leper colony. I rarely look at it any more, but I suppose it is one of my most cherished possessions. One morning I went out beyond the monastery gates, where the Trappist monks were not permitted to go, and found a score or more lepers waiting for me. I was in the middle of the desert of southern Congo, surrounded by desperately sick people, many of whom were children, and I felt utterly helpless. Then I asked myself: What do you do in the desert? And so I knelt down and began to do what I had done as a child in New Jersey - at the very same Jersey shore where I was molested: I began building a sand castle.

I worked alone at first, palming up the ramparts and the battlements as I had done as a child. But it was not long before the Congolese children joined in, scooping up sand with their twisted fingers, chattering and working busily around me. Within minutes I found myself surrounded by a dozen of them, all of whom were intent on constructing the biggest, grandest sand castle ever.

Soon the adults, too, were joining in, shouting suggestions in Kikongo (which I had learned), and offering directions, and arguing with one another about how this or that should look, even though none of them had ever seen such a thing in their lives. The energy which the project had generated was as infectious as the disease, and within a matter of an hour or two we had made a sand castle to rival anything on Sea Isle City beach, where the monster, Father Rogers, took the altar boys to molest them.

But the real coup was yet to follow. When the Trappist monks (most of whom were Congolese) saw what I was doing, they came crowding to the gate. Caught up in the sheer childlike creativity of the thing, they began calling ideas from inside the wall, which they were not allowed to cross. Then finally the abbot arrived, a formidable shave-headed monk from Belgium. He watched us for a moment, listened to his monks calling their encouragement, and for the first time, ordered the gates of the monastery to be opened, and allowed the monks to file out to help with the construction. Indeed, he led the way himself, as I shall never forget, plucking a desert grass and "planting" it near the castle keep, declaring, "There is the forest of the seigneur."

At that all the monks joined in at once, and together with the adults and the scab-skinned children, we all set to work at the castle. It was an act of spontaneous creation - a flight of imagination such as I, in my decades since in the arts, have never seen duplicated.

Until tonight and this writing I had never understood the importance of that moment - of that photograph. Though then, at the age of twenty-three, I was deeply set in denial of my molestation, nonetheless I understood on some primal level that I needed to share my grief, to bask, if only for a while, in the innocence of creation with other children who were as poxed as I. And I did. And in their poor, transcendent spontaneity, those leper children in the Congo gave me the strength to carry on for years. Though whether to life or death I still do not know.

But let me tell you this: I learned that day in the Congo that it is no danger to embrace those who are stigmatized - in fact, such an embrace can be liberating. To take in your arms people whom the world rejects, to offer them the simple kindness of human contact, to clasp them to your body just because they are human, may be the greatest saving grace you can offer in your life.

The Catholic Church talks a great deal in its hypocrisy about salvation, but salvation is not a matter of rituals or sacraments - it is a simple gesture of compassion: a saying to those who have been made to feel ugly or exiled that you are like me, that you are wanted, that you are welcomed: that the disease you suffer from has nothing to do with the humanity which we all share. That you are treasured. That you are loved. This is all that we survivors of childhood sexual abuse are asking: Accept us in our common humanity, for we, like you, were innocent once, and we did nothing wrong.

Then perhaps you, too, may be released from the sanctimonious walls which enclose you, to go out and build a castle among lepers.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food Fun

I was thinking today about food. In our popular culture, increasingly food is being regarded as a form of entertainment, and this strikes me as odd. Food is sustenance, it is fuel; why it is now being seen as a source of fun is a bit puzzling to me. I do not cook, but I understand the enjoyment of mastering a certain cuisine or just in making a good meal, and I certainly admire truly talented chefs, even if it is only because I admire just about anyone who does well something I cannot do at all. I also understand the social value of food, both in its preparation and in its consumption. But the current fascination with food and its preparation as a form of entertainment is undoubtedly having a deleterious effect on our culture.

Obesity, of course, is a very grave problem in America today. That this should be so is a serious indictment of the state of our education and self-respect. That people should eat to such excess in such numbers speaks of a character deficiency in our population, and a woeful lack of education on the subject of health, nutrition, and exercise. Also, the nature of our diet as a people is nothing short of disgraceful. From an early age we become addicted to fats and sugars, and to the easy practice of consuming junk food. Our children are taught virtually nothing about nutrition, with the result that their health and the quality of their lives are put in jeopardy. Ignorance about what we put into our bodies is nearly as debilitating as ignorance about what we put into our minds and souls.

But I suppose what bothers me the most about this cultural fascination with food is what it says about our attitude toward that which we eat. The other night I had steak for the first time in years, and, frankly, though it was filet mignon, I found it disgusting. The very idea of eating the seared muscle and flesh of a dead animal is off-putting, and, not having tasted it in so long, I found the flavor horrible. Yet in our current fascination with food as fun, the rendering, cooking, and consuming of animals is being raised almost to the level of a cult.

This cult of animal eating cannot help but have a dehumanizing effect on our culture. I have never been a vegetarian, though I have tried to avoid any form of red or pink meat for both dietary and ethical reasons, but it cannot be denied that a meat-free diet, at least for adults, is a healthful thing. Nature provides us with more than enough vegetable and fruit products to maintain a nutritious diet, yet we continue not only to raise animals for slaughter, but now, increasingly, to treat their flesh and organs as sources of entertainment. Someone said that you can judge a society by how it treats its animals. If that is so then we stand convicted, since our attitude toward animals increasingly is that their deaths are a source of fun.

I have read that other countries will not import chickens from us because of the inhumane way in which we slaughter them (as if slaughter could assume a humane form). And I am as familiar as everyone else who cares to learn with the harmful effects of hormones and diseases associated with animal food products. Thus, I think that the combination of ethical and dietary arguments against at least an excessive use of animals as food are compelling. I am not suggesting that we all become vegans (in fact, I find such extremists tedious), but I do side with the argument that we ought to rely less on animal products and more on vegetables and fruit.

I have sometimes been asked whether I think that animals have rights. I can think of no right that an animal might possess except the right not to be abused. If it were possible to use animals as sources of food without abusing them, then I suppose the ethical argument against animal eating would be weakened or disappear altogether. I do not object to the use of animal products such as milk and eggs, for example, but I draw the line at slaughter, and the consumption of muscles, flesh, and organs. This, I think, is taking us in the direction of inhumanity. And humanity, even in the best of societies, is in chronically short supply.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Courage and Capitulation

I suppose on some level I started this blog in order to make it possible, perhaps inevitable, for me to write the last two posts. My experience of priest sexual abuse is a demon that has haunted me my entire adult life. Until my heart surgery a year and a half ago, I was able, more or less, to keep it at bay, though it was always moving as motivation just beneath my conscious behavior like a river rumbling in a cavern.

Some people have commented that my surfacing the truth has been an act of courage on my part. I do not see it that way. It has been an act of capitulation. My heart surgery weakened me, physically, mentally, and spiritually, to the point where I could no longer restrain the truth of the molestation. That, I think now, is why I dreaded the surgery so much -- not for what it would do to me, but for what it might reveal about me. I felt instinctively that it would be impossible to undergo such a procedure and emerge from it the same person as I had been before. I was right. I viewed the coming surgery as a form of rape, as I wrote at the time. And to me it was a second rape, because it stripped me of the defenses, no matter how rigid or tenuous, which I had built up against the truth.

And so I have capitulated, finally, before the power of the past. I had always counted myself a strong person; now I know where that strength came from and why it was necessary. It was not a noble strength but a desperate one. I have always regarded courage as one of the highest virtues and demanded it of myself and others. But it was not courage I was evincing; it was a reflexive effort of denial and self-preservation.

You cannot call a person courageous when he fails to recognize danger - only when he confronts and overcomes it. The soldier who is too drunk or stupid to understand the peril he faces is not a hero; he is a self-deluding tool of circumstance. Courage is grounded in reality - a sober assessment of circumstance - and expresses itself as a conscious choice not to be intimidated by it. I never made such a conscious choice, indeed, all my choices in so far as the memory of the molestation was concerned, were unconscious, or semi-conscious at best. They were not acts of courage any more than finally surfacing the memory now is one. They were acts of capitulation.

In the months following the surgery I insisted to people that I wished I had not had it done; that I wished I could go back and undo it. I was quite sure in my mind that I meant this. For even then I could feel the beams and braces of my dam of denial coming apart. I remember telling a doctor acquaintance of mine that, if I had it to do over again, I would not do it. He then explained to me clinically and in some detail what it is like to die from congestive heart failure, concluding that it is not "a pleasant way to go." Even as I listened, I felt deeply that I would still have preferred to die. "At least the death would be mine," I told him. Because the alternative, which was muscling itself upon me even as I said it, was worse: an admission that the molestation also was mine, a part of me, a truth of my life. So, as I have said earlier, the survivor prefers death to life.

I suppose that if I had never had the surgery I might have continued to find the psychic resources to resist the truth. I might have lived out the rest of my life on the same terms on which I have lived it heretofore. I see now that that might have represented some form of peace. For not knowing the truth, or not allowing yourself to admit the truth, is a form of peace - the peace of the anesthetist. I might have continued to endure with the numbing mask of denial on my face, just as I endured the surgery with the anesthetist's mask. Yet... I suppose it is always necessary to reawaken at some point. But to what reality? To what self-knowledge? To what truth?

Perhaps that is a valid way of looking at the relationship between daily life and truth: Life is a kind of sleep, and truth is an awakening. Truth tears us from the solace of conscious sleep and thrusts us into a reality beyond quotidian reality. Truth puts an end to the daily dreaming of life, and demands that we face, consciously and with courage, that which ultimately is real.

I suppose the choice for me now, as for all survivors, is to decide that while the molestation belongs to us, we do not belong to it. While it is a part of my life, it is not my life, nor even the prime motive in my life. While it is a fact and a force, it is not my fate. I did not fight then; I must fight now. I cannot let the demon devour me; truth does not destroy... in the end, I still believe, it liberates.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Writing the Legacy

It took me several years to reach the point where I could write the post of last night. When I had finished it, I went to bed, but I could not sleep. I got up, came back to the computer, and read it through again. When I had done so, I found myself shouting at the top of my voice, "I want my life back! I want my life back!"

That is the legacy of priest sexual abuse; indeed, I suppose of any sexual abuse of a child. When a child is molested, he or she is stripped of the life he or she might have had, or, as I suppose romantics would say, ought to have had. For when your innocence is torn from you as a child, you are deprived of the foundation upon which a normal, healthy adult life must rest. Without that foundation of innocence, trust becomes impossible, the exquisite risk which is intimacy becomes impossible, the attainment of balance, insight, self-awareness becomes impossible, happiness becomes impossible. When innocence is ripped from a child's life, life itself, in any natural or authentic sense, becomes impossible.

What you are then compelled to do, assuming that you have the will to make any sort of life for yourself, is to engage in a continual struggle to build something approaching a life from out of the ruins of your psyche. T.S. Eliot said, "Consequently we rejoice, having to construct something upon which to rejoice." This is what the victim does: He builds an artifice resembling an authentic life out of his fear, shame, and imminent despair, and if he is clever and if he is strong, that life may fool himself and others. And so as a victim, your life becomes a fabrication, an artificial synthesis of hope and suspicion, of fear and desire, of anger and need, of truth and denial. Your life becomes a tortured contradiction. It becomes a lie.

That was what I realized, beginning five years ago when I first suspected the truth - that my life, all of the life I had been forced to live, had been a lie. For the entire foundation of my existence from the molestation to that point, had been a sustained, debilitating effort of denial. Denial of the pivotal truth of my life. Denial bred by shame and fear. Denial wattled together from disgust, mistrust, self-loathing, and a desperate need to escape the realization of what had been done to me. During decades when I should have been discovering myself, I was, in effect, hiding from myself. When I should have been gathering the rays of illumination and focusing them on my identity, I was, instead, slipping among shadows, trying to avoid any sudden, chance confrontation with a mirror image of my past. All of my energies, or nearly all of them, were devoted to avoiding the truth even as I carefully cultivated the writer's ethic that truth was the highest, the purest, the most beautiful of realities. But my reality was that I was terrified of the truth - the truth about what had happened in that summer of 1962.

And so my life became an elaborate, seething, festering contradiction, in the throes of which I struggled to do good and be good, while at the same time believing I was evil and corrupt and deformed, and, because of this, inflicting great harm on others. I have had dozens of relationships with women, and not one has endured. Rather, in those relationships I caused much needless pain and heartache to those women to whom I tried to become close. But because of the molestation, proximity was threatening to me. Would she find out? Would I have to admit to her? Would I have to admit to myself? And what if she, taking advantage of the nearness and the confidence between us, turned on me and abused and defiled me as the molester had done? And so, every woman I hoped to love and tried to love inevitably took on the dark, threatening form of the priest in his black cassock, and out of fear of a repetition of the molestation, I shoved them all away.

Only in that way, I instinctively felt, could I protect myself from a second molestation. This, too, is a legacy of sexual abuse of children: The child develops, in later life, a manic need for control, which translates inevitably into a need to inflict pain on anyone who threatens to come close. And so the abused child lives a life of isolation bred by fear, and of loneliness inspired by betrayal.

With the perverse logic of suppressed violation, the victim wants to be betrayed, wants to be abused, since they are the formative facts of his consciousness. Consequently, he seeks out, and even demands, that he be betrayed, abandoned, reduced to bitter isolation, forced over and over into regret, remorse and shame, for such are the emotional and spiritual conditions under which he has built his life, in the absence of innocence and trust. To put it simply: Since his life is based on the abuse, he seeks out abuse in every relationship, finding it if he can, manufacturing it if he cannot. And this is one of the cruelest residues of abuse: Survivors struggle most violently against those who most wish to love them. We recoil at the risk of intimacy; we feel threatened by the revelatory power of love.

Much of my behavior as an adult was driven by a profound sense of betrayal, though until five years ago I could not have said why. But somewhere deep inside me, I felt that the world had failed me, and, worse, had tried to destroy me. That all that I most valued and believed in and trusted had recoiled on me like some hideous snake and sunk its poisonous fangs into my flesh. That for some reason which I could not begin to fathom, good had suddenly become evil, and singled me out for punishment. The world was turned upside down and inside-out, and I was utterly helpless either to understand it or to protest it. I don't deserve this, I kept telling myself; I'm a good boy. Why is this being done to me? I haven't done anything wrong. I don't deserve it.

The result of this was anger, a deep, unquenchable fury at the world that grew over time, and which I channeled into political radicalism, anti-social attitudes and demeanor, habitual egoism, haughty intellectualism, philosophical abstraction and detachment, and into my writing. I think that my writing talent has always been driven by a sense of betrayal, of disequilibrium, of a profound need to put things right, or, failing that, to denounce them as incurably wrong.

Someone once said to me, "You have always been drawn to misery." That is true. I sought out misery in the world in a vain effort to sooth the pain with which I was living twenty-four hours a day. I became fascinated by war, by prisoners of war, by the sufferings and sacrifices of World War I pilots; I went to the Congo to work among the desperately poor, and did, in fact, work with lepers and the dying. And I became obsessed with death. I remember one of my college professors remarking to me that it was odd for someone so young to be so focused on death. But it is not odd for a survivor of sexual abuse - it makes perfect sense. Once stripped of innocence - and stripped by a man whom one has been taught to trust and revere, almost to worship - death begins to seem an attractive alternative to living with guilt and shame and the fear of exposure.

The survivor longs for death, both because he feels in his shame that he has deserved it, and because it is the ultimate antidote to the achievement of insight. Shakespeare said, "And death once dead, there's no more dying then." The threat of the revelation of the truth of molestation looms within the victim's subconscious as a kind of death - to encounter the truth is, in some way, to die. To die to the life which one has been forced to construct, to die to the lie which one's life has become. And so I longed for death, courted it, occasionally sought it, as an escape from the truth about myself.

All my life since the molestation, I have wanted to die. I still do. But all my life, I have found reasons, sometimes enduring, sometimes ephemeral, to remain alive. With the example of my own mother's suicide before me, I kept telling myself that by dying I accomplished nothing, whereas, in living I might yet find some form of peace. And so, staggering from rationale to rationale, I remained alive. Only my children provided me, finally, a solid footing for continuing to live. Only they brought happiness into my life. Yet even they, at times, were nearly not enough. Death became my only hope for salvation, and I studied it and worshiped it and made love to it over and over. In fact, every intimacy I experienced with an adult wore a mask of death, and the prospect of losing myself in another person, which is what love is, was fraught with the possibility that I might have to loosen my grip upon the lie I was living. And so, out of fear of discovery, I chose the lie over love.

The victim of childhood abuse, above all, is angry. Angry at what happened, angry at the failure of those close to him to protect him (his parents and guardians), angry at the failure of the world to exact justice - and this is the subtlest and most difficult form of anger to grasp - angry at himself for having absorbed the molestation and yet continuing to live. The very fact of his existence becomes a source of rage for the survivor: I ought not be alive and yet I still am. I do not have the courage to die, yet I ought to be dead. I am betraying myself just as I was betrayed. Life itself becomes a kind of continuation of the molestation. And so you begin to think of yourself as a coward, simply for continuing to live. Life becomes an indictment - every day that you go on living is more and more proof that you have failed in your principal duty in life - to die. And so you long for the death you cannot have, just as you mourn the innocence you have lost and will never recover.

You mourn that loss every day, every hour, with every breath, with every lost love and pointless hope. And so you come to hate yourself, not for anything you have done, but for what you have become - a liar and a coward, betraying himself simply by being alive. And the whole time, of course, you are tortured by the fear that what you suspect may be true, but have not the strength to face. The survivor shrouds himself in a self-imposed exile and a self-sustaining ignorance. And why? Just to be able to go on living. But the irony, of course, is that that living is a form of self-molestation. In this way, your whole adult life becomes a continual re-enactment of the crime committed against you as a child. You never stop living the rape.

Fear, death, shame, loneliness, betrayal, self-hatred, isolation... these are some of the legacies of childhood sexual abuse. And guilt. My God, your whole life, or whatever you manage to construct as your life, is shot through with guilt like a corpse before a firing squad. As a child, when some tragedy occurs, your natural instinct is to blame yourself. I must have done something wrong to be punished in this way, you tell yourself. It must have been my fault. I must have deserved it. And in the case of priest sexual abuse, this guilt is compounded a thousand times by the indoctrination of Catholic education which drums into your head the belief that you are a sinner, filthy and corrupt with sin, who deserves no happiness in this life, and, most likely, will face damnation in the next.

This represents yet another form of the Church's abuse directed at children. It is what I call spiritual terrorism. From my earliest childhood, I was taught, day in and day out in Catholic school, that I was evil, corrupt, a sinner unworthy of salvation and the sacrifice that Christ made for my sake, a hapless soul destined for an eternity of torment in hell... unless I submitted to the authority of the Church. Only through the Church, and its dogmas and its rites and its clergy, could I ever hope to avoid the endless suffering which awaited me as surely as my death awaited me. But I was a child - a tender, sensitive, imaginative child - and in my imagination, these threats became realities. Realities that shaped my thinking, my character, my whole attitude toward life. I absorbed the teachings utterly; I became their product. I was, in some sense, the ideal Catholic school child - a perfectly achieved artifact of the Church's monstrous, uncaring arrogance.

I was taught to hate and distrust life, to scorn happiness, to long for the afterlife, for which only the Church could prepare me. And so I surrendered my soul to the Church, and, in that surrender, my body also became vulnerable. Vulnerable at a time when all children are deeply vulnerable - at puberty. And at that moment, there came the priest to take advantage of the fact (having been transferred yet again in the wake of his pedophilia), and the bishop to cover up for him, and the Vatican to protect them both. The entire, massive structure of the Church, with all its dogmas and its wealth and its solemn rites and its red-robed hierarchy, was in that summer of 1962, ranged against me in a conspiracy to strip me of my innocence.

Was it done consciously? Of course not. But was that the effect on me and on tens of thousands of victim-children like me? Yes. As Solzhenitsyn says, in comparing communism to fascism: It doesn't matter who's holding the gun or why, the effect is the same: a nine millimeter bullet in the back of your head. I will not say that the Catholic Church was intended as a conspiracy against childhood; of course it was not. But it became that through the culpability of its clergy and hierarchy, who used its dogmatic demand that Catholics submit absolutely to its authority or face eternal damnation, in order to place children in a position in which there was no risk of exposure to the criminals. As a child, I never felt for an instant that I had the right to resist or to protest my molestation, and neither would my parents had they known of it.

Denouncing the Church, accusing it of evil, was simply out of the question, at least among that generation of Catholics. Was not the Church founded by Christ himself? Was not the pope infallible? The Church was incapable of error, and the clergy were Godlike creatures who were seen as being above all moral culpability. And so children were made to submit and suffer in silence, and their parents, if they knew or suspected, would rather have sacrificed the innocence of their own children than challenge the sanctity of the Church. In this way, the criminals got away with it - priests and bishops and popes - for decades, for generations, for centuries. Now, at last, that brickface of silent submission is being broached.

Such is the truly pernicious nature of the sexual abuse scandal: In their bestial acts, the priests were, in effect, confirming the worst fears of Church dogma imposed brutally on the minds and hearts of Catholic children. That is why the priest molester tells the victim (as I was told) that you must submit to this, that it is God's will, that it is for your own good. All my life I have detested and fought against that concept - of someone doing something for my own good. All my life I have rejected that suggestion - rejected it with revulsion and contempt. Not until five years ago did I understand the reason why. It is the phony rationale of those who would usurp and strip you of your life, your integrity, your free will; whether mouthed by politicians or priests, it is the mantra of the molester. That was the rationale the priest used in molesting me, and, being a good Catholic child and an exemplary altar boy, I believed him and submitted, and then buried the experience in my psyche, when any normal, right-raised and right-thinking child would have resisted, rebelled, fought back. Or, having been forced to submit, would have at once informed his family and started the process of reprisal. I did none of these things, so conditioned was I by Church teaching to submit unquestioningly to the dictates of the clergy, even to the violation of my body and my soul.

This is what I mean when I say I have concluded that the Catholic Church is a vast conspiracy directed against the innocence of children. Catholic education indoctrinates children to submit absolutely to the authority of the Church and its clergy using the most vile threats. And then that same Church exposes those children to the hideous appetites of pedophile priests - many, many priests, and not just a tiny minority as the Church is now trying to claim. I say again that it is my belief that fully a third of the Roman Catholic clergy have either molested children or have actively covered up the molestation. The abuse of children, not only sexual, but psychological, emotional, and spiritual, is an integral part of the institutional fabric of the Catholic Church. It is an evil institution, which should never have had, and should not now be allowed to have, the care of little children. The scandal is much wider than we know (perhaps than we will ever know), and now, finally, we are seeing proof that it goes much higher than we ever suspected. The current pope was, I am quite certain, himself involved in protecting pedophile priests, and for that he and his minions ought by any civilized norms to be made to suffer the consequences.

Yet he is not, the bishops are not, even many of the priests (like the one in my case) are not. They were, and continue to be, allowed to evade the law and justice. Only the victims are made to live with the consequences of the molestation. And we live with them every day, and often dream about them at night. And when at last we permit ourselves (or simply lose the strength to forbid ourselves) to recollect them, our lives are suddenly stripped naked in the light of truth, much as we were stripped naked by our molesters. And that is another aspect of the horror of molestation: After years of destructive, debilitating efforts to deny the truth, the inevitable recollection of it becomes, in effect, a second molestation. We are raped anew. The truth is every bit as crushing as we suspected it would be - every ounce as devastating.

When I first realized consciously what had happened to me, my immediate uncontrollable reaction was to vomit. Then, like a tsunami of realization, all the meaning of the molestation began crashing over me in wave after wave of revelation - why I had felt so isolated all my life, why I could not form bonds of intimacy, why I felt so alone and lonely and alienated, why I had never found happiness, why I had lived with thoughts of suicide. Even little things about me began to make sense. Why, for example, I obsessively buy flashlights: I am afraid of finding myself suddenly in the dark, without the ability to enlighten my surroundings. Yet I had lived in the dark for forty years, fearing precisely the prospect of enlightenment, all the while cluttering my surroundings with symbols of the means to attain it.

So much, so very much about the way I had lived and felt and thought suddenly began to make sense. It was as if I had been groping in some vast unlighted natural history museum for most of my life, when suddenly the lights snapped on. All at once I could see dioramas framed upon the walls, each lighted in its own lurid glow, depictions in miniature of scenes from my life; in the center, the carefully assembled skeletons of my relationships, grotesque, gaping fossils of failure; and not only that, but other people in that light, and even the floorboards and ceiling tiles and exits and extinguishers hanging on the walls. The revelation was blinding in its scope and intensity and detail. I am still reeling from it, still trying to take it all in.

That is why I am writing these posts - perhaps they will help me to make sense of all this new insight; perhaps they will help others as well. I have only just begun. As a survivor and as a writer I feel that I have a moral duty to do this - to give a voice and a face and viscera to this terrible truth for the sake of everyone who has suffered it. I have been blessed with the ability to put truths into words - that is what a writer does, it is what he is. And that is what I will try to do, for my sake, and for the sake of all those others - my brothers and sisters in spirit - who understand in their flesh and in their souls what I am now striving to put into words.