Back in November, a chap—I’ll call him a chap—named Jeremiah J. Johnston wrote strange albeit typical piece that came across my media feed.
Fox News. The heart that beats the veins of ‘boomer fear.
He’s titled it “What mainstream media, cultural elites just don’t get: If there’s no God, then there really is no humanity.”
There is a lot wrong with this piece. Obviously. The part I will address in a different context is the irony of legislating old fashioned values. Until then let’s nibble on this morsel.
“Indeed, one wonders when people will learn. In today’s subjective, post-modern world truth is fast disappearing. Some elites and social engineers deride concepts like right and wrong.” Jeremiah J. Johnston
Aside the comedy of suggesting that evangelism is bolted into the bedrock of truth, he whips out right and wrong as if he’s discovered it in some 2,000 year old, over edited, over analyzed text. How many times must one point out the failures of right and wrong in the Abrahamic texts to provide logical versions of either right or wrong?
One of my favorite messy moments for Gospel ethics occurs when the Pharisees and Jesus have a dispute over washing hands before meals, part of Jewish law. Jesus Christ—the literal big G God—instead of handing the human race a radical tool for fighting disease, he uses this moment to peddle his parables and theology at the expense of billions of lives. Think about it. By random chance, a method for minimizing the transference of germs from our hands to our mouths actually exists in Jewish law. Jesus—all knowing, all seeing, big G God—could have endorsed the practice in a monumental act of compassion but instead he tells his followers that washing their hands is a false practice that denies his very purpose. Instead of compassion, Jesus doles selfishness.
Is this the right and wrong Mr. Johnston is convinced lives in a battered, mistreated collection of stories from a culture grown on spooky traditions and blind authority? It’s the sort of right and wrong I find troubling throughout the Bible. If Jesus can’t get this right, it’s no shock his followers can’t get things like support for Roy Moore or Donald Trump right.
Ugaritic texts predating the Israelites as we know them (1300 bce) contain some of the seeds of Yahwism as well as early evidence of cross pollination between other pantheons of gods in geographic proximity. All the El stuff—Elohim, El -Shaddai, ect—exists in the Ugaritic texts. A dragon cycle appears in the texts and remnants specific to the Ugaritic texts appear in the Hebrew Bible. This cycle called the Baal Cycle is mapped out on the agricultural seasons. The god Baal, a son of El, destroys the Leviathan, a sea dragon or possibly simply the sea itself, and, from the carcass of the beast, constructs the physical world as the ancients understood it. A god called Marduk from Babylon also performs this exact task and he probably did it before Baal.
The early forms of Israelite religion are rotten with cross pollination (known as syncretism) from Egyptian and other Canaanite ideas. The concepts of trees of life and knowledge spin through most of the ancient Middle East. The Israelites are not alone in worshiping snakes or divine councils. Reverse engineering references to the Sun in the Book of Psalms reveals the deep vein of Egyptian influence. The Egyptian Empire influenced everything. I find this syncretism, this absorption of culture, a familiar turn in the way ideas and fascinations still ebb and flow through human cultures. I just watched Michael Rappaport make a statement on how white Americans hold African American culture in far higher regard than actual African Americans and I see variations of this effect as I peer back through history. We infect one another with the random trends and strange exports and it rarely takes a generation for these things to normalize and assimilate.
By far the most fascinating syncretism in the ancient Middle Eastern religions is that of Zoroastrianism into the gristle of Judaism, and in turn, Christianity. There was no hint of punishment after death or life after death (unless of course you were a prophet) in Judaism until the Babylonian exile. The deceptively simple dark and light structure of Zoroastrianism solved one of the biggest theological problems for the Israelite religion. Evil. If Yahweh is all powerful and all things come from him, this complicates any explanation of evil. Capital E Evil. Since the rise of the Yahwist cult, the Israelite answer had always been a mishmash of self-loathing and authoritarian pushback. Zoroastrianism had bad guy and that bad guy solved the puzzle of Evil. Where the apocalyptics of exilic Jews made tacit remodeling of the role of the (S)atan in their sacred texts, Christians and Muslims later mapped the Evil of Zoroastrianism’s Angra Mainyu to Lucifer, Satan and a whole passel of characters from the Old Testament, molding them into one Evil Prince. The Gnostics and the Catholics would write adventurous origin stories for the dark lord. Needless to say, the co-opting of a Angra Mainyu only led to far more confusing philosophical problems for both Christianity and Islam. They had simply lifted the product and left in Babylon the nuance and context of the Zoroastrianism battle between light and dark, good and evil.
Religion is Hip-Hop. Religion is anime. Religion is pho. Religion is baseball and basketball. Religion is k-pop. Religion is cultural overlap.
This variation of a Coffer Illusion is more than just a gimmick made entertaining by the quirks in our visual processes. It’s a metaphor. First, notice how it matters from what distance you initially view the image on whether or not you see the circles out right. Second, notice how once you’ve seen them, you can only for a moment force your brain to unsee them before they appear again in defiance.
The modern version of Eve and the Serpent tells the story of how—much like an optical illusion--a truth is unleashed upon the otherwise naïve. A better tale in this respect is the myth of Pandora’s Box. Each of these stories—both either still or once religious stories—feature the inability to return to the people, the minds, the world as they were prior to this new element. The universe is a different place. Even if one finds oneself attempting a return, the reality of failure always looms. Once delivered, the slightest confirmed doubt casts out stalwart beliefs forever.
We may not enjoy discoveries and the subsequent changes to our world but truth is indifferent. Hence the platitudinous mantra of the hurt caused by truth. Truth doesn’t hurt. Change hurts. Yet only for a brief time, until the smoke has cleared and the new path laid bare. When we embrace new knowledge and relent to the consequences of the new reality, a world closer to the truth emerges and since the removal of superfluous obstacles, living is easier in this new world.
No one describes the world better than Cormac McCarthy. This topic is no exception.
River of Blood, my serial novel, is bursting with death. Go figure. Many passages of people facing that one thing with which we will all experience exquisite intimacy and yet none of us alive--doing stuff, writing, reading, listening, fearing, loving--have any first hand knowledge of this thing. It's fun to write about. And I am not want for teachers in how to do it...
Robert Stone from Damascus Gate:
'Such a dirty, fearsome place. Then she was swinging free and breath was all she cared about, all, it seemed she had ever cared about, the air of that filthy-smelling place, but there was none to be had. So with her breath all the thoughts of her devotion were expunged while the angry men stood watching her in the beam of their light and she wondered if she would ever ever die and then a deeper darkness, in its mercy, came.'
Yeah..., that passage got to me. I read it three times.
This next passage by Cormac McCarthy describes not the death of a character but the looming, heavy nature of things that have been and will be, all weighted with the inevitability of death. From The Road:
'He got up and walked out to the road. The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then a distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so without description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salt drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay smoldering. No sound but the wind. What will you say? A living man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small pen knife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack. At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt.'
Thanks for reading.
In light of the influx of people now reading my serial novel River of Blood, I think it's appropriate to show some gratitude and maybe nip something in the bud.
First, I cannot thank you enough for reading this work as it happens. I post the episodes and watch the stats balloon at midnight every Friday and all day each Saturday and it makes all the time spent on this projects worth every late night and unexpected hour. Thank you all for the interest and support. The end of this portion of the story is looming and I hope the increased attention says something about the quality of the writing and the story. I appreciate every page turned.
Thank you complete. Now to the apology.
There are timeline issues with a certain character and they have plagued me from the start. I admit to minimal initial research on the time period and the politics of 1920s mine labor. Fox Tower's tale has followed a crooked path through the novel and I have ventured a few patch work fixes throughout. I know problems still persist. I will have time soon to mend the frays and the story will stand on solid legs. My apologies.
It is mid-afternoon, you are driving on a residential street, going a little faster than you should—upper 20s mph. You’re meeting a gorgeous new love interest at a restaurant at the other end of this quick shortcut. As happens in this neighborhood, squirrels dart hither and thither across the road and often one of these bastards stops to admire the view… such as right now. You know the rule. Don’t swerve. But for some unknown, reflexive reason you do. You blow a tire and lose control and you kill a ten year old kid walking home from school.
We’ll revisit this disaster later…
In 2015, the New York Times included in a retrospective section newsprint from a November 1922 edition in which they describe Adolf Hitler to their readers for the first time. Whatever the Times motives for including the copy, at that moment, one could not help but recognize the similitude to one Donald J. Trump. In hindsight, the 1922 article highlights the Times’ lackadaisical response to Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, painting it as some Machiavellian maneuver to build disaffected support. American intellectuals did not—or did not want to—believe Hitler was who he said he was. And millions upon millions of lives evaporated in the heat of that short circuit.
Keeping with tradition, Jessica Cooper's birth is brief, a girl they name Diana who somehow favors Doug in her soft features and slow blinking eyes. Scarlet’s pride vibrates like radiation. Her hovering applies visible strain on Doug as they move from the hospital to the house where she has commandeered the guest room and organized the baby paraphernalia into a series of stations. Some of Doug’s anxiety stems from Scarlet’s constant ability to discover the dozens of handguns he has hidden throughout the home. Partly due to Doug’s indifferent attitude and partly due to her mother’s joy, Shorty surrenders any notions she had of keeping Scarlet a reasonable distance from the baby. With the first week and the anxiety and the mood swings and the steady march of singular experiences, she realizes that raising babies is one of the few areas Scarlet knows better than her daughter. Shorty encounters the first heartbreaking love of her life in the child she nurses in the amber lamplight near the window where she prays and time travels. The beautiful burden of it has shaken her foundations and for several weeks after, she feels imbalanced and she confesses this to Sean when he sees the child for the first time. As she expected, he thinks she should consult an expert but he also points out the self awareness it takes to recognize this sort of problem from her side of the mirror. Many people don’t see this sort of thing coming so he accuses her in jest of practicing Buddhism in secret.
Sean introduces Nessa to Shorty at her mother’s front door. Through Sean, Scarlet invited her to dinner, realizing at the sound of the doorbell her neglect to inform her daughter. Nessa gifts Shorty a fawning compliment on her beauty. Shorty's response is a joking complaint that Sean has failed to describe Nessa’s looks with precision. For the rest of the evening, Sean will brace for Shorty’s exhaust over the situation yet she never wavers. The corners of her smile sag by the end of the evening but she keeps her cool. During dinner, while Scarlet recites for them her chronological plan from the instant Shorty begins labor, Sean sees Shorty sizing Nessa, every word, every expression, every article of clothing, her bag, her make-up, the nose ring, the prominent red streak in her hair that she twists in her finger when she pretends to listen. Sean makes the case to Scarlet that the androgynous nature of his name makes it perfect for a boy or a girl. Read more...
Chief Rundgren is squirming. Ned ponders how smooth these meetings might go if he kept liquor in his office. Of course, that could never happen. On the other hand, Ned has rationalized a six pack of beer into the short fridge behind his desk with unwavering certainty. Rundgren sips at the silver can in subtle synchronicity with his dark uniform and its gleaming hardware. Ned encourages him to start at the beginning. In the beginning, a former officer—a rookie when he resigned—approximately one year ago, for no satisfactory reason that he has ever given, wandered onto a property in the southern stretch of older housing just outside the projects. He was ambushed, stripped naked, taken to a different location then after epigrammatic discussion betwixt a gathering of eight or nine veterans of state penal institutions, the officer was gang raped for over two hours. Read more...
Episode 71 posted today.
This monster has proven tenacious and strayed from original concept but the story lurks with all the hyperbole and commentary I planned.
Also as planned, when I reach the end of Part II, I will end the serial portion of the book. Don't worry. Each of the parts is written in a largely stand alone format. There are conclusions of a sort for both Part I and Part II. Satisfactory conclusions, I hope. I will write the third part in a tighter vacuum, using experimental tense. It might kill me. Following Part III—if I live—I hope to expand the entire novel with graphics and dialogue not present in either of the previous parts. All of this lives in a distance future.
So there's that.
Please give it a read, tell me what you think.
Buy Skitz O'Fuel's novel That Night Filled Mountain
available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle.
River of Blood, a novel about anarchism, atheism, racism, violence, family, and corruption.
Short stories like Finding Romulus' Rome, The Blood, & The Weapon are FREE in the Books section.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.