Blasfemia America II: The Völva

All free Norse and Germanic women were expected to be versed in magic, but some women more so than others. Most of the Germanic tribes, as well as the Vikings, nurtured groups of wise women, witches or priestesses who usually lived unmarried (though not necessarily in celibacy), and who could, it appears, travel alone wherever they liked without fear. A woman who carried the wand of the witch would never be harmed. They were allied with the fate goddesses and thus wielded the greatest of powers. In the Viking Age Norse context, these women were called the völur, singular völva. The literal translation of this title is “Wand-Wed” or “Staff-Carrier”. – Freyia Völundarhúsins,”The Völva – The Norse Witch”, Lady Of The Labyrith’s Old Norse Mythology Website

Two bands last night. I could have bought merch from both. I chose just to buy a shirt from Myrkur.

Two bands last night. I could have bought merch from both. I chose just to buy a shirt from Myrkur.

Two white spots highlight an electric piano downstage right. A tall, lithe woman steps in to the rotating spots.  She strikes the opening piano chords of “Den Lille Piges Død”. They don’t so much break the silence as open it. Over the piano comes this floating, ethereal soprano voice. The words are Danish. That doesn’t matter. There is nothing in that moment other than the woman – Amalie Bruun, who is Myrkur on record – and her voice, the piano, mixing together as sound to invite us, the audience, to something . . . something special? There’s seduction in that moment. There’s a promise of something.

Then the band enters, and you haven’t even noticed they walked out in the dark, backs turned to the audience until they lights come up, after they’ve started playing. On record, Bruun’s voice breaks in to a yowl; in concert, however, she and the band play until her voice enters, so powerful yet still lilting, flying above the intensity of the guitars and drum.

On the front of the stage is a microphone stand in the shape of an old tree branch or root, weaving and splitting in two. On the next song, “Hævnen”, she places the microphone in to which she’d been singing on the stage right side. She picks up the stage left microphone. The light is better. Her long, beautiful face framed by long blonde Nordic hair, her severe cheekbones adding something dignified remind you just how fragile she looks. Powerful, yes, yet fragile, her skin so pale it’s translucent. All those thoughts pass through your head in a moment as you remember that gorgeous soprano, looking upon this woman draped in a dress with drooping sleeves.

A shriek unlike anything you’ve ever heard in any musical context echoes through the hall. This isn’t the growl of death metal or the piercing screams of Black Metal. This is sui generis. Reverb is on high, and the shriek bounces around the hall and in that moment you see the woman who emitted the shriek transformed. She is no longer the ethereal Norse spirit who lovely soprano seems not to care about the thundering music. Her eyes are wide, her mouth gaping, and you realize you aren’t in the presence just of a talented musician. This is someone from the Old World, a world of dark forests and dangers, a world where such women were both feared and revered, feared because they were revered and revered because they were feared. This moment is unlike anything you’ve experienced.

I know that some of you have noticed you can no longer send me private messages. The reason for this is I am getting tired of the death threats and hate emails. Believe it or not but that s*** looses it’s charm after a while. I am of course sad that I then no longer can receive personal letters from supporters + fan-art in private messages, but please continue to post your beautiful pieces on this page or to my instagram @myrkurmyrkur

Through the powerful “Onde børn” you might have forgotten that moment, just a few moments before when the performer in front of you was revealed as something more than just another extremely talented musician. Then comes “Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne”, and having retrieved her guitar for the previous number, she stands in front of the stage right microphone and sings, strumming the chords until a break in the song. In a blink she’s shifted left and the shriek fills the auditorium again, a shriek she answers with a cry, then another shift left and yet another shriek. The spell she’s weaving, a mix of music and sound (they are not the same thing) and stage presence and physical appearance makes you forget the fear the shrieks bring. They’re part of the performance, you think. Mesmerized by the sounds, you force yourself to look past the transformation you’ve witnessed, from ingenue to otherworldly caster of spells, you fall deeper in to the illusion that this is just another rock performance.

It isn’t. Amalie Bruun has you now.

So here’s the deal. If you hate Myrkur, here’s a simple, effective way to isolate yourself from it: don’t fucking listen to it. Don’t stalk the band’s Facebook page, or Twitter, or Instagram. Don’t read the reviews, or go to the shows, or buy the records. Smugly declare to all and sundry that Myrkur is false hipster bullshit, that you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to it. Furiously post about how fake and no-good her music is, and how girls shouldn’t play black metal and how black metal is only for you and your friends AND NO ONE ELSE ARGHHH on your forum of choice until your goddamn fingers fall off… but leave her out of it, because the only crime Amalie Bruun is guilty of is loving the same dark, ugly, twisted music that you do, and of interpreting to it in a way that people—even people who don’t own the entire Master’s Hammer discography or spend all their time listening to LLN bootlegs—respond to. She doesn’t deserve your scorn, or your abuse, and neither does anyone else who finds solace or inspiration in this music. It’s weak, and one thing that black metal has never condoned is weakness.

Myrkur’s set continues and the movement back and forth, from soaring soprano to piercing shrieks no longer matter. In the moment, all there is, is the sound. The sound and the presence, a presence that’s still enticing, still inviting. As she sings her clear vocals, her face is soft, her hair hanging loosely around her face.

Ammalie Bruun

Amalie Bruun

It is that face that you think is real. It is that voice that calls to you, invites you in, a smile and a hint of something more always there.

Then, she moves to the other microphone and that falls away. Even as her vocals reverberate around the hall an unearthly wail that terrifies, he gaping eyes and mouth, the lights turning her Nordic cheekbones to something skeletal, her hair no longer hanging loosely but now wild. You see the Völva, her wand the guitar, and you realize you’ve been under her spell since the moment those twin spots came up and there is no going back.

Ammalie Bruun and her wand

Amalie Bruun and her wand

As her set winds up, the other musicians leave the stage and it’s just Amalie now, Amalie and her piano, playing a cover of Bathory’s ” Song To Hall Up High”, and once again she’s backlit by two rotating white spots, her face largely hidden. You hear the closing verse:

Northern wind take my song up high
To the Hall of glory in the sky
So its gates shall greet me open wide
When my time has come to die

and that last word, “die” seems to linger, and Ammalie says, “Good night”, and you know this has been more than just a concert experience. It is a spell, a magic cast upon 1300 unsuspecting Black Metal fans to join her, join with her, every moment, ever bit of light and sound prepared to seduce then overcome then overwhelm the listeners’s hesitation. “Die” is what has happened. As you watch Amalie walk off stage, you see her smile. Is that because the set was well done? Or is it because the spell was successful?

Since emerging a couple years back, Myrkur has been the center of much controversy within the Black Metal scene. As the highlighted quotes above note, Amalie Bruun has even received death threats because, for some reason, Black Metal fans seem unable to understand what it is Myrkur is about. They’ve called it “Hipster Black Metal”, as if any self-respecting hipster would listen to Myrkur. They’ve forced her to take down the band’s Facebook page. The comment sections on the pages linked above are filled with dismissals of Myrkur’s music as either “false” Black Metal or, worse, stealing riffs and sounds from much-loved Black Folk band Ulver. That Ulver’s leader produced Myrkur’s debut, however, puts the lie to that claim.

I wonder if the people who disparage her music have actually listened to it. They certainly haven’t experienced the band live, a time during which something powerful, something from a time lost and forgotten, happens and what should just be the opening set by an up-an-coming band is revealed for what it really is: a kind of magic only the Wand-Bearer can cast. I admire Behemoth for having Myrkur tour with them. Then again, Behemoth has always taken risks and has been around long enough and is respected enough to be able to do this without it hurting them.

After the show, I went to get tour t-shirts. While standing toward the back of the room, I heard a small, high-pitched voice say, “Well, we sounded like shit tonight.” I looked over. It was Amalie Bruun, standing by Myrkur’s merchandise table. I went over and shook her hand. I told her the band’s set was amazing. I think I gaped a bit. Not wanting to be that guy, I bought my t-shirt and left, thanking her again as I walked away. My phone was dead, so I couldn’t get a picture with her.

That’s OK, though. With her wand strung with steel and amplified to increase its power, Amalie Bruun and Myrkur have managed to cast a spell and gain a real fan. That, I think, is the best magic of all.

Blasfemia America, Part I: In A Rapture Of Hell

I am the great rebellion
Neath Milton’s tomb I dwell
An existence even sin would not pardon
No guilt, no reason, saviour, or shame – “The Satanist”, lyrics by Adam Darski


The band called the night magical. It was, indeed. A dark magic, to be sure, but even that has its time and place.

The band called the night magical. It was, indeed. A dark magic, to be sure, but even that has its time and place.

Before the lights come up on stage, twin projection screens show images of water, roiling from some unknown source, on either side of the drum kit, set on a riser that seems impossibly high. Two men emerge from stage left, the lead guitarist and bassist, who take their places on the riser in front of the screens. The drummer has climbed to his stool from the back. The Intro Tape’s volume is rising but not enough to match the screams of the audience. Then the opening riff of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” begins. A short, slender man, dressed in a a cowl, his face painted (as is the rest of the band) to declare his war against Christianity, walks out and stands in front of a microphone stand done up with the band’s logo, the Unholy Triangle of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema guarded by two cobras, hoods unfurled.

As the crowd surges, Nergal growls the opening lines, “I saw the virgin’s cunt spawning forth the snake,” and the 1300 people in the audience are focused on the display in front of us. This isn’t just a rock concert. It isn’t even a heavy metal concert. This is a ritual, a kind of unholy liturgy led by four priests of the apocalypse. The high priest calls forth more and more screams from the audience even as the songs from The Satanist roll on, one into the next. He carries an inverted crucifix to the front of the audience and spits upon it. The three guitarists spew (fake) blood over the audience, an unholy baptism that brings the audience into the circle of the fallen (despite being quite close to the stage, I managed to emerge untouched by the fake blood; others around me looked like they’d visited a slaughterhouse).

Some branches of Christianity believe that Hell is unending physical torment, that the damned experience their punishment not just in the spirit but the flesh as well. As Behemoth played, I thought about that (even as I nodded my head, my sweat-soaked hair flying) as the crowd around me surged and rolled, crowd-surfers coming overhead to be passed to security in front of the stage. The music isn’t just loud; in its relentlessness it is intricate and beautiful, without ever once surrendering the darkness at its core. Being in the audience is total physical assault, an attack on the senses that, allowing oneself the freedom to be in the moment, transports the audience beyond the Hell of the moment.

Behemoth’s presence is intimidating, their message of enmity toward the Church and all it stands for very real and serious, the whole packaged  as an artistic blasphemous liturgy in which we are all participants. Nergal even passes out communion wafers with the Unholy Trinity stamped on them, right in to the mouths of audience members just as the priest places the host on the tongues of those coming forward. In the midst of it all, the performance becomes more than performance, the music a Black Mass calling forth all that is antithetical to a kind of petit-bourgeois complacency about life and the universe. To dare not only to question the goodness of the Christian, but to defile its most sacred symbols and offer a perverted anti-Mass of hatred is risky. Yet, that is Behemoth’s goal. The tour is called “Blasfemia America”, after all.

A Behemoth concert isn’t just a rock concert. It isn’t even just a heavy metal concert. It isn’t even just a Black Metal concert. It is a performance, a piece of dark art that cannot be broken down in to its constituent parts without destroying what the totality is trying to achieve. Toward the end of the show, Nergal shouted between songs, as he praised this sold-out Chicago crowd, never to compromise one’s art. It’s clear the hour-and-a-half-set (including The Satanist in its entirety) achieved that end. Whoever any of us, band or audience were and are, for that time we were all immersed in Behemoth’s artistic vision of Hell, where Milton’s Lucifer, declaring “Non Serviam”, destroys one’s sense of beauty, of decorum, of what is and what should never be.

And then the lights on stage come down. The house lights come up. The band has taken bows, shaken hands with audience members, even taken the selfie included above. With the performance over, that darkness that prevailed has passed and whatever may have happened, while perhaps leaving the indelible mark of something more than a Black Metal show, flees with the return of the light. As people file out, friends and those who just met that day slap each other on the back, declare the show fantastic, high five the 50-year-old married father of two whose shirt is soaked in sweat, dripping hair hanging down (about halfway through the show, the stage started to look all fuzzy, and I honestly wondered for a second if the heat and press of all those bodies was making me pass out. Then I took off my glasses and tucked them in the pocket of my cargo pants, and kept going), one young man telling me, “You rocked it like a boss!”

Behemoth’s shows are performance art at their best. Immersive experiences that terrify and transport, break taboos yet take traditional rock tropes and use them toward their own ends. I certainly don’t endorse any of the views Nergal holds, but that isn’t the point, anyway. This show may well go down as the single best night of musical performance art in which I’ve ever participated.

A Question And Answer

I asked this a few years ago for sermon – and I ask again for those who would like to chime in. Do you think that God cares about you? About other people? About the world (people and/or nature)? – A question posed on Facebook by a pastor friend

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I don’t get the chance to teach very much in churches. I do enjoy the occasional class where I get to sit and learn from others. The matter of Divine Love comes up again and again, and I usually find myself in the company of one or two people for whom the matter of Divine Love is either an unanswered question, or one they answer far too quickly and, honestly, far too glibly. Divine Love, to these latter, is not different than bourgeois parental love, filial love, and romantic love in some kind of odd combination. There are certainly Biblical precedents for each and all these positions; whether in the Fourth Gospel’s Jesus talking about his relationship with his Divine Father, St. Paul’s discussion of Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13 (the most overused and misunderstood chapter in the entire Bible), or the love poem Song of Songs, that equates human romantic and sexual love with the Diving passion for creation, there are all sorts of things in the Bible that point the reader to the conclusion that Divine Love is only human love magnified and expanded.

If we read the Bible beginning with both the teachings and sacrifice of Jesus, however, an entirely different picture of Divine Love becomes abundantly clear: This is a love that certainly is unending; it is a love that brings even death in to the eternal life of the interpenetrating love of the Persons of the Trinity; it is a love that wants only for creation to be what it was intended to be; in order to achieve all this, however, the faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to follow a path of self-sacrifice that few would choose for themselves. At both the beginning and end of this path stands a bloody cross; it is both goad and goal. The path set before those who accept the call is lined with terror. Along the way, these terrors emerge in the form of rejection by family and friends; threats and acts of violence if one does not stop being a Disciple; the abandonment of the fulfillment, happiness, and actualization of the self; no instruction manual on how to get from here to there, only the call to do so and a promise of presence that doesn’t include some secret hidden promise of a miracle to help us overcome the dangers and terror along the way.

I think about this a lot when I think about the United Methodist Church’s mission statement: “The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” In our place and time, discipleship is reduced to a slogan, another journey toward self-actualization, with the promise of friendship and personal growth along the way. We are told if we preach the real Gospel, people will flock to the Word; yet all the evidence around us is that if we preach the false promise of safety, security, and the equalization of middle-class morality and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then and only then will people flock to hear us. Real discipleship isn’t just hard; it’s pretty much a horror show, a life filled with no peace like the world gives peace; it is a life filled with promises, glimpses of light in the darkness, and no maps save those who have traveled before us who all say the same thing: On either side of the road is written only Here there be monsters.

Such cheery thoughts should lead one to question why anyone in their right mind would willingly choose to follow Jesus on this path laid before us. The first answer is obvious: We Christians aren’t in our right minds, and are not called to be so. St. Paul noted in his Epistle to the Galatians that the Way of Christ is foolishness to the wise. Somewhere along the way in our history we forgot to remain foolish; we decided that madness was an illness in need of curing, rather than a way of life in need of emulating. The Truth is (please note what I did there with that word) to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ is to be more than a bit mad. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to know before we take one step forward that the only thing we’re asked to surrender is our lives. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ comes with no guarantees of anything other than the promise of Divine Love and Presence; we aren’t promised success or happiness or peace of mind or a happy family life or a lot of friends or power and influence or anything else.

All we’re promised is that same bloody cross at the end of our road.

But that cross? It’s empty. And that, friends, make all the difference in the universe.

Here’s the answer I gave to my friend’s question:

I tell people that I believe that God loves us (that’s what Easter’s all about, after all) but God doesn’t care about us very much. God’s love is a hard love. It is a love that calls us to sacrifice comfort, self-care, the good opinion of others, even family and friends, in order to be true disciples. It is a love that sends out with no understanding of the “how” we are to do what we are called to do. Abraham was told he would be the Father of a great nation, then told to sacrifice his only legitimate son; one wonders what he was thinking as he stood above the bound body of Isaac, knife raised. God doesn’t offer us happiness, inner peace, self-fulfillment, or anything else. All we are offered is a bloody cross and the call to follow the path that leads us to its foot where we bow down. Is it a wonder St. Paul noted that our faith is foolishness to the wise?

Whiny Boy-Men

why so many woman cast? its called star wars not star whores.- NedAlien17, comment on Star Wars: Rogue One trailer, YouTube, April 8, 2016

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Alright, here’s the problem a lot of people are having with it. The problem isn’t that the protagonist is a woman, in and of itself. The problem is that it feels like we’re getting “strong, independent” female protagonists shoved down our throat to meet some sort of diversity quota, and any hope of an interesting plot is being sacrificed for that. It’s telling us that the SJW agenda is more important than actually crafting a good story. Now stop calling people sexist because they don’t worship women. Now stop calling people sexist because they don’t worship women. – PhilH, comment on StarWars: Rogue One, trailer, YouTube, April 8, 2016

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SJWHate: The Chronicles of Oppressive White Males

You’re not subscribed to r/SJWHATE yest! Click that button or fuck off! – Top of the subreddit titled “SJWHate”, which include posts such as “College Trump supporters have a meeting with only 10 in attendance, 60+ SJWs take over the meeting and attempt to humiliate them”Who here would hate fuck Anita Sarkeesian?, and Yet more “Teach men not to rape” nonsense

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I have just learned that SJW drink only the tears of oppressed men

I have just learned that SJW drink only the tears of oppressed men

Like 16 million other people, I went to YouTube and checked out the trailer for the new Star Wars: Rogue One film. Like I usually do, I also scrolled down to the comment section, where I discovered the three comments above. These weren’t the only ones, or even the most egregious examples, but they were representative of what I am coming to discover is an increasingly popular internet idea: That men are increasingly oppressed by a group they call “Social Justice Warriors”. I’d read the abbreviation, SJW, before; I’d even read it discussed in a few places. I discovered the anti-SJW subreddit above while looking for places that promote this idea.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, “SJW” refers to

[A]n individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation. A social justice warrior, or SJW, does not necessarily strongly believe all that they say, or even care about the groups they are fighting on behalf of. They typically repeat points from whoever is the most popular blogger or commenter of the moment, hoping that they will “get SJ points” and become popular in return. They are very sure to adopt stances that are “correct” in their social circle.

According to Wikipedia,

During the Gamergate controversy the negative connotation gained increased use, and was particularly aimed at those espousing views adhering to social liberalism, political correctness or feminism.[1][3]Vice reported that the accusation of being an SJW implied a person was engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise their personal reputation.[4]Vice assessed the problematic use of the term: “The problem is, that’s not a real category of people. It’s simply a way to dismiss anyone who brings up social justice—and often those people are feminists.”

I gotta tell ya, I had no idea there were so many men willing to put themselves out there as those who do not advocate justice; so many men who believe the promotion of social justice is disingenuous; so many men who are terrified of women . . . I added that last one because, honest to God, when I read anti-SJW posts, all I see are men for whom nothing is more frightening than a woman in a position of power and authority; a woman portrayed as a man’s equal in some way or other; and men who think giving greater prominence to the voices of women and minorities is a social good.

Like the ridiculous “Men’s Rights Activists” (MRA) who usually end up advocating rape or murder against women (see the above-linked “Gamergate Controversy” for this tidbit: “After a former boyfriend of Quinn wrote a lengthy disparaging blog post about her, others falsely accused her of entering a relationship with a journalist in exchange for positive coverage, and threatened her with assault and murder.”). The only reason, as I see it, that a so-called man would do so is out of fear. And not just the kind of fear that comes from some personal psychopathology. This is truly a wide-spread social psychosis allowing men to vent their most horrible fantasies of rape and murder; that the results are often psychologically damaging to the targets of such bile-retching shows that it is not something harmless, like Tucker Carlson complaining that Hillary Clinton is “castrating, overbearing, and scary”. The concerted efforts of so-called men to silence women and others by threatening them with violence, all the while believing that those who pursue Social Justice are somehow disingenuous in both their actions and motives, is appalling.

I keep calling them “so-called men” because anyone advocating violence is not a man. Anyone who believes that being called “Social Justice Warrior” is an insult from which people should run is not a man. Anyone white dude who thinks they are oppressed is not a man. Anyone who does all this anonymously on the Internet (I’ve yet to see someone carry on about “SJW’s” who does so giving their full name) is not a man. Honestly, calling them boy-men isn’t really fair to boys. These insecure, fear-drenched Ken dolls (not because of their looks; because of the anatomical correctness) are a danger, to be sure. Yet, they should be pitied while simultaneously being mocked for their lack of any relationship to real manhood.

The next time you’re out on the Internet and you discover someone carrying on about “SJW’s” and how they’re ruining everything from film to Tumblr, just remind yourself that, in their heads, these commenters are curled in a ball, fearful of anyone who has more power than they do, which is probably pretty much everyone. Mock them gently, then move on.

When Privilege And Bad Thinking Meet

Because nothing else that exists across cultures - family structure, form of government, the social and legal status of minorities, women, and slaves - has ever been contradictory.

Because nothing else that exists across cultures – family structure, form of government, the social and legal status of minorities, women, and slaves – has ever been contradictory.

In his essay collection Broca’s Brain, astronomer Carl Sagan recounts the following exchange between a western anthropologist and an allegedly “primitive” people.

Bronislaw Malinowski thought he had discovered a people in the Trobriand Islands who had not worked out the connection between sexual intercourse and childbirth. When asked how children were conceived, they supplied him with an elaborate mythic structure prominently featuring celestial intervention. Amazed, Malinowski objected that was not how it was done at all, and supplied them instead with the version so popular in the West today – including a nine month gestation period. “Impossible,” replied the Melanesians. “Do you not see that woman over there with her sic-month-old child? Her husband has been on an extended voyage to another island for two years.” Is it more likely that the Melanesians were ignorant of the begetting of children or that they were gently chiding Malinowski? If some peculiar looking stranger came into my town and asked me where babies come from, I’d certainly be tempted to tell him about storks and cabbages. Pre-scientific people are people. Individually they are as clever a we are. Field interrogation from a different culture is not always easy. (pp. 93-94)

We inheritors of our millenial-old Western culture are burdened with one particular, ugly notion: That ours is the pinnacle of human achievement, whether that’s scientific achievement, political organization, philosophy, the arts, and of course religion. For most of us, religion equals Christianity. You can see that playing out among some extreme forms of right-wing political Christianity that deny the First Amendment protections for religious expression do not apply to Islam. It has a secular version that denies the history, teaching, and practice of Islam as a major contributor to the human store of scientific, religious, social, political, and cultural knowledge and practice.

We inheritors of our post-Enlightenment privatization of religious life, resulting in the absence of religious practice as a category of our social, political, and cultural vocabulary, have the peculiar idea that “religion” is a matter of intellectual assent only. Thus people can pick and choose their “religious” “ideas”, much as they pick out cars or clothes. It has also created a class of smug, self-satisfied people who insist that, human religious ideas varying so much across geography and time, they actually have the ability to dispense with “religion” in their lives, urging others to do the same. This notion of the privatized, bourgeois individual in the religious marketplace has a Christian version. It takes seriously the reality of the variety of expressions of religious belief; it then proof-texts from the Gospel of John to argue that all other religions are false – the corollary being they are not only actively dangerous to our ultimate status before God but perhaps even “demonic”, an epithet used against both Judaism and Islam specifically – and therefore Christianity is the only “true” “religion”.

Whether it’s the self-absorbed hipster or the triumphant evangelical Christian, these arguments are wrong on so many levels, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Like Malinowski encountering those Melanesians, these folks are convinced they have the “correct” understanding of how the world works and it’s up to them to drag the ignorant masses to the “truth”. That the variety of expressions of the human religious impulse contradict one another should surprise no one who thinks for thirty seconds. Human beings have expressed their social and cultural life in a tapestry of stories, rituals, art, political organization, family life, and even cosmologies, all of which usually intersect to form a cohesive understanding of how that society fits within the cosmic whole. Because each society is birthed and grows under different circumstances, including influences from neighboring societies, there will be both overlap and distinctiveness in how each society comes to terms with its place in the universe.

So, obviously, they are going to contradict one another.

While it isn’t only in the geographical west such contradictions become fodder for violence – just consider Muslim Pakistan and majority-Hindu India – it seems to be in the West where the idea that “religion” is a disposable social reality is becoming more and more dominant. While many anthropologists and sociologists are both fascinated and troubled by this emerging reality, I believe they are the result both of socioeconomic privilege and a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes “religion” and how it functions as a part of our social and cultural “glue”, that which makes us particular members of the larger social and political group to which we belong. Now it may very well be that “religion” as it is currently understood in the West will shrink to the point of social and cultural and political irrelevance – it is well on its way there now – yet the human drive to ask and seek understanding both of ultimate matters as well as how a particular society fits within the larger world will always need to be asked and answered.

We already have the alteration of science as a method for understanding particular natural phenomena, as it seeks to displace Christianity (in particular) in the west. Just consider how many people declare they “believe” in evolution. Or Stephen Hawking insisting that contemporary cosmology “proves” the non-existence of God. Science is not now and never has been a matter of belief. It posits certain theories, usually based upon prior theories, all of which are only accepted after rigorous testing. Epistemologically speaking, science has nothing to do with “truth” at all; at its best it’s “the best guess so far”. That fewer and fewer people understand this basic reality of how science works, rather speaking of it as “discovering” “truth” or being superior to religion, say, in describing the creation of the Universe, just show how science is altering as a social practice. When science first evolved, known as “natural philosophy”, its practitioners wouldn’t have dreamed of it interfering with religious belief or practice; they understood it asked different questions and sought answers in a different way than the reigning Christian theology. That they have reached the point of competing with one another shows how much our larger sense of ourselves has changed; its expression in social and cultural practices reveals that “science” and “religion” are not what they used to be.

The notion that “religion” is “disproved”, either by science or the contradictory nature of religious expression, could only come about in a capitalist society in which the myth of individualism was bought as something substantive. I say capitalist because, as noted above, many in the west believe it possible to pick and choose how to live out their religious lives, including rejecting “religion” altogether. It has become a consumer product no different from sugar, bread, and houses. How we talk about how we choose a particular congregation, for example – that it “fits our lifestyle”, say, or echoes particular social and political ideologies – should make that clear enough. The insidiousness of the lie of individualism, a product of capitalist exploitation that seeks to separate human communities in order to gain the most profit from a people who accept as “natural” their separation from other people, has led to the degradation of religious life in the west to the point that people actually believe they can live without it. That serves the producing class, as our spiritual and moral life are no longer tethered to a sense of the general welfare. Atomized and on our own, we become easy pickings because we honestly believe we either cannot or do not have to rely on others to assist us. We no longer understand our world, have a communal sense of our place within that world, or even an understanding of “community” that serves as a buffer both against other human communities as well as those who would seek to control our life for their benefit.

We face the Bronislaw Malinowskis of our day, those who actually believe they know better than we do exercising their Imperial option to insist that, truth being singular (itself an untestable assumption that has been a part of our thought since Aristotle), “religion” is either singular in its expression (certain Christian evangelicals) or disposable. When Jesus was challenged on his authority to teach and heal, he basically turned the question back on his questioners. His goal was to demonstrate how little power and authority these so-called leaders actually had. We need to stop apologizing for being faithful Christians or Muslims or Jews or Hindus or Buddhists and ask these folks where they get off telling us how to live our lives. If we can do so while “taking the Mickey” as our British cousins say, well, that’s even better.

Leave The Wives Alone

So ahead of this past Tuesday’s Utah primary, allies of the Cruz campaign sent to potential voters the following meme:

Meme-causa-revuelo-entre-Donald-Trump-y-Ted-Cruz

So subtle, am I right?

Trump, of course, decided to threaten to “spill the beans” on Heidi Cruz – whatever that means – and soon posted the following to his Twitter feed:

cruztrumpwives

There’s a temptation here to point out that Ted Cruz started this whole thing with his despicable slut-shaming of Melania Trump. And Donald Trump isn’t a bear you want to poke, because you know he’s going to go after you with neither scruples nor remorse. While there may not be “beans” to spill about Heidi Cruz – certainly nothing personally unflattering – but posting an unflattering photo or screen-capture is pretty harsh. Reports I’ve read indicate that Mrs. Cruz suffers from depression; having a husband running for President, and all the emotional energy that takes due to constant insults and intense public scrutiny, can take a toll. Just ask Kitty Dukakis. Being attacked on social media for nothing more than having had an unflattering photograph certainly can’t help matters.

This kind of thing extends beyond our adolescent candidates, however. Social media is jam-packed with people either slut-shaming Mrs. Trump for the crime of being a model, or insulting Mrs. Cruz’s looks in one particular photograph. The Republican primary, already lowered to the grade-school playground level in many respects, has at least graduated to high school, where women are judged and found wanting due to stupid pseudo-moral scolding or their appearance.

Leave the spouses alone. They aren’t running for public office. Who they are, what they do with their lives, their appearance; these things are irrelevant. While I’m sure both Trump and Cruz will enjoy having a go at one another over this, that doesn’t mean we have to do so as well.

God Is Not Silent, We Are

Two victims of the Brussels airport bombing

Two victims of the Brussels airport bombing

We all woke up to the news: Another terrorist bombing, this time in Brussels. At least 13 dead, almost 200 wounded. All of Belgium is on lockdown, with the military patrolling the streets. We sit and watch and listen and wonder when any of this might end.

Of course, this is not the only news today. In Chicago over the weekend, 1 young man was killed and 14 were wounded in gunfire on the streets. Turkey has seen a string of bombings leaving scores dead in recent weeks as it fights not only ISIS forces on its southern border but the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) in the southeast of the country.

Moving back in time a bit, on March 12, a Muslim and Hispanic student attending Wichita State University in Kansas were attacked by a biker who allegedly shouted, “Trump! Trump!” as he hit and kicked both of them in turn. A woman in Texas was recently arrested for allegedly putting her two-year-old daughter in an oven on March 17. Earlier today in Bangladesh, a convert to Christianity was hacked to death in the town of Kurigram. Bangladesh has seen a rash of attacks on religious minorities including Sufi, Shiite, and Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. And back here in the US, on February 12 in Atlanta, a gay couple had boiling water poured on them while they slept by a man dating the mother of one of the couple. Martin Blackwell, the man arrested in the case, was allegedly “disgusted by [the men’s] relationship.”

Hatred, violence, madness, murder . . . it’s everywhere, with all sorts of reasons offered. Religion, mental illness, international terrorism, and just personal pique are all claimed as the proximate causes. What unites all these events, though, is just how commonplace they are. Why is anyone shocked at terrorist bombings? They’ve been going on for decades, long before the rise of al Qaeda and ISIS. Why is anyone upset that a man thinks it’s acceptable to physically assault someone because they’re different – whether that difference is being Muslim or Hispanic in America or being Christian in Bangladesh or gay? No one should think these odd events. Ours is a world filled with violence and death.

And the Church calls for prayer. It’s everywhere, you know. Having a whole lot of clergy types and church types in my social media feeds, I read the laments over the violence, the tears for the dead and those they’ve left behind, and the ubiquitous call for prayers for peace. Prayers everywhere. If prayer alone could fix our world, it would have been fixed long ago.

Nowhere in the mass of words do I hear calls to action. Nowhere do I read about the Easter hope that delivers us from our constant Good Friday world. Nowhere do I read of a church group, or clergy group, or denomination, or interdenominational group, offering a missional response in the midst of all this violence. Like the rest of the world, our churches sit and watch CNN or the BBC Worldservice or Al Jazeera and we shake our heads at the scenes of horror, then we nod at those who call for prayer, and then we go about our lives as if there were nothing at all any of us could or should or can or ought to do that might make a difference, that might actually change the world.

I glance a whole lot at people who question God’s silence in the face of the horrors of our Good Friday world. They wonder at the claims of those who insist ours is a God of peace and love and grace and justice and all around us violence and terrorism and fear and death continue as if God is not there at all. Why believe, after all, if this alleged God of love can’t do enough to stop a mother from putting her daughter in an over? Why believe in a God of justice if a man can pour boiling water on other human beings and shrug it off as no big deal?

We call the Church “the Body of Christ”, and I sometimes think we’re so enamored of the metaphor we forget it isn’t just a metaphor. We are the Body of Christ. We are the hands of the same Christ who healed the sick and fed the hungry. We are the feet of Christ who went to the sinners and blessed them with the Divine presence. We are the mouths of Christ who preached a word of healing and love and peace. We are the eyes of Christ who wept when Lazarus died. We are the ears of this same Christ who heard the pleas of Lazarus’s sisters and raised Lazarus back to life. We are the Body of Christ who didn’t just pray in the Garden, but who taught and healed and challenged and loved and most of all was the very presence of God in the midst of a world of suffering.

In the midst of all this violence, I have yet to hear the Body of Christ offer a word that says it will be there in the midst of this violence and be peace. I have yet to hear, this Holy Week as we prepare ourselves for both the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, that this event might well be the source of our strength to face all this terrorism and hatred and madness and violence. All I hear is, “Pray”. Which is not to discount prayer. Yet didn’t the author of the Epistle to James insist that offering prayer to a person who is cold and has no cloak an indication of a dead faith?

We face a world that is cold and without a coat, and all we can say is, “I will pray for you”?

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