Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Liberty, Freedom, Justice for All? (Viva la libertá!?)

Last night I watched an amazing production of Rossini's final opera - William Tell - from the Rossini Festival in Pesaro with Juan Diego Flores as Arnold and Nicola Alaimo as Tell. It was amazing. A beautiful production and beautifully sung.
But what struck me is that this work from the early part of the 19th century and like many works from a variety of writers, composers and artists it deals with issues of liberty and freedom. The Swiss, in this case, are oppressed by the Austrians and (spoiler alert) after the famous incident where Tell shoots the apple off of his son's head the Austrians are finally routed and the bright rays of freedom begin to shine. It is perhaps like many works of the time overly simplistic, but it is a common theme - think Beethoven (Eroica, Fidelio) or even Mozart (Nozze of Don Giovanni "Viva la libertá!") Works and writings about freedom and liberty emerged in the late 18th century and had a huge impact on Europeans who were tired of the oppressive regimes of absolute monarchs and on fledgling colonies, like the United States, who could clearly see the dangers of absolute monarchs and took steps to preclude that kind of governmental structure. Despite its flaws (and there are many flaws and loopholes created by the group of entitled and privileged white, male land owners we call the "Founding Fathers") it nevertheless was an exciting idea - government by and for the people rather than a government by an established, rich, landed, paternalistic aristocracy, whose abuses were well known.
Americans embraced this concept of liberty and freedom for all, even if it excluded people of color and women, as being an improvement. And over the years the American experiment has attempted to rectify those loop-holes with varying success. But what, in particular, struck me as I watched the struggles on stage between the Swiss Freedom Fighters against the oppressive cruel Austrians is how our current government is much more like the Austrians in this story of William Tell than like the Swiss. And for some reason, there is a sizable part of the population which thinks this is ok. I frankly don't get it! There was a reason the Framers of the Constitution wanted to preclude any hint of a monarch or aristocracy in government. And some of those reason are on full display every day at the campaign rallies, I mean, pandemic briefings to which we are subject daily by this current administration.
This man who occupies this nation's highest office is everything the original framers objected to - he is landed, privileged and completely self-centered. He has no respect for the constitution and presumes powers and privileges which are not his. And not only that but he is sexist, racist, anti-semitic and cruel. And those who support him are either complicit or cowards. In either case they all need to be removed from office. To be clear, this man is not a conservative - don't give me the gaslighting excuse that this is liberal verses conservative. There is nothing conservative about him. He has ripped up all traditionally conservative values.
But why have we abandoned our commitment to liberty and justice and freedom and why do we seem so quick to submit to a totalitarian ruler who is incompetent and basically cruel and really doesn't care about anyone but himself? This white house has completely bungled the pandemic response and continues to make things worse. Why are the states having to compete with FEMA for supplies? That is ridiculous. Why are all states not on a total stay-at-home order? Why are we even considering using a drug to treat this virus that has proven itself to be not even close to effective and has its own serious side effects just because Mr. Conflict of Interest is pushing it? Why are the medical experts silenced in favor of no nothing political functionaries?
This (so-called) president needs to be removed from office; his supporters need to be removed from office and some of them need to be prosecuted and jailed and we need courageous leadership that will take charge of this situation using the best and most up to date information and utilizing the best scientific and medical experts.
Short of this, you can look forward to seeing the ideals of liberty, justice and freedom drift farther and farther away. There is a reason that the early middle ages are called the "Dark Ages" and it isn't because we don't know what happened during that time. It is because it was a time of disease and violence and oppression when a powerful aristocracy emerged with the blessing of the church. Well, if we continue the road we are on - welcome to the New Dark Ages!

For some inspiration - check out William Tell.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Some Thoughts on the Apocalypse

I want to make a comment about the apocalyptic references that have been appearing in the news lately. But politicians (mostly on the hard right) and certain (so-called) Christian "Leaders" like to trot out their version of the apocalyptic story which they claim is from the Bible, but really isn't. Apparently some of these folks are simply thrilled whenever we are appear to be hurtling towards war in the middle east, since, in their mind, this means we can prompt or push God to initiate "Armegedon," the "Rapture" and "Jesus 2nd coming." So where to begin. I'll try to make it concise:
1. You cannot push God into action. All you need to do is look at a little history to see that this has been tried before and unlike the sheeplike mindless and fear-filled followers of your cult God will not be manipulated into action. Whatever is to come will come in its own time.
2. There is NO RAPTURE! I'll say it again - there is NO RAPTURE in the bible. It is a complete misreading and mis-interpretation of a few texts which have been pulled out of their textual and cultural contexts. Look it up - the so-called "rapture" was invented in the early 19th century. But this religious fabrication has proven to be a useful tool to manipulate and create fear.
3. Luther says (and I paraphrase) that Christians should always read scripture through the eyes of the Gospel. So instead of going right to the Revelation of John or the other brief apocalyptic passages found here when concerned and wondering about the "end times" I would suggest starting with the Gospels of Jesus. Specifically God's unconditional love for ALL God's children, including and especially those who are in need, those who are attacked, those who are refugees those who are rejected and discriminated against, those who are the victims of violence. God's love and mercy are UNCONDITIONAL. The entire theology of the "rapture" rejects and undermines this. Also, folks, go back and read the Hebrew Bible and you find the same thing - "God's steadfast love endures forever."
4. The promise of New Testament apocalyptic is NOT that we will be fished out of this world and brought to another world, but that God / Jesus will enter into this world and transform it. This is why in Genesis at the creation humanity is given the job of stewarding the creation. Well, we have done a crummy job of it. And we need to do everything we can to turn this around and treasure this creation as a gift, not as a vehicle for profit.
5. We have a responsibility to each other and to this world. It is up to us to start working on treasuring the creation, working to reduce pollution, cutting back and eliminating completely our dependence on oil and gas which are simply destroying our planet. We have a responsibility to work for peace - to find diplomatic solutions - to respect other cultures and other peoples. To work against racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia and begin to see all our neighbors as brothers and sisters, with whom we may not always agree, and who perhaps have a different way of being in the world than we do. But that doesn't mean our way is "right." We have a responsibility to start working on listening, learning from and respecting others.
6. Lastly, one of the most important cornerstones of Stoicism (and you can read about this in the writings of Marcus Aurelius) is that fear is created by an overly strong focus on the future. Stoicism teaches that one of the great tasks of life is to learn to live today and eliminate obsessing about the future, because you can't do anything about it and it only leads to fear. I am not talking about exercising personal responsibility by the way. I am talking about working to curb the future orientation of our society and our religion. Future focus has become way too much a central part of Christianity. Jesus says, "Perfect Love casts out all fear." And if we believe that our relationship with God or Jesus is based on unconditional love, then what are we fretting about the future for? This should free us to do the work of loving others, including (according to Matthew) our enemies.