Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Against Nature

The late Lord Buckley (Richard, not William) did a comedy routine about the Marquis de Sade and his "buddy cat, Prince Minsky" (the Cold War was raging, so a person with a Russian name had to be evil). At one point in the hilarious narrative, Buckley had Minsky riding through the "forest primeval" in a horse-drawn coach with outriders. Minsky's destination: a glade, where he planned an assignation with a virgin. When he encountered the lass, Minsky said, "It's you and me/Behind the tree." (Buckley anticipated rap by several decades.) Addressing Minsky's plans, someone (society?, the virgin?) protests: "No! That's going against nature!"

I have long wondered how one "goes against nature." To the antinomian, nothing can be "unnatural." If something exists or if something can be done, it is per se "natural." Nature creates the Charles Mansons and Hannibal Lecters of this world, so nothing they do can be properly called "unnatural." Too often, the epithetical adjective, "unnatural" is hurled by casuists who take it upon themselves to define what is natural and what is not. These people love to toss about the slogan, "natural law." In most such instances, what is ignored is "human nature."

It's said that laws more honored in the breach than in the observance can only breed disrespect for the law. When I was in law school, my favorite course was one called Jurisprudence. The word itself is a bit of an oxymoron. Prudence cannot be legislated, much less made the subject of legal matters, save possibly in the theory of negligence, which is defined as doing that which a "reasonble, prudent person" would do and refraining from doing what a "reasonable, prudent person" would refrain from doing. Nice definition, but, again, it ignores the factor of human nature.

We learned that there are two classifications of wrongs. The malum in se is the crime that is universally wrong: wrong among all peoples everywhere, and mostly unforgivably wrong, such things as forcing oneself sexually on a minor, rape of an unwilling woman, and, of course, murder. But there is another category of wrong: the malum prohibitum, or that which is "wrong" de jure. This latter is perhaps subject to the most abusive and arbitrary rulings of a governing counsel, for they have declared such sillinesses as making booze legal and pot illegal.

Right wing fundamental Christers, in particular, want us to believe that all the things they say should be "wrong" are wrong because they are mala in se, and can point, for example, to this or that holy book whose passage indicates that "God" wants us to do such and such or refrain from this or that. Such tomes are so arcane and so elastic (after centuries of mistranslation, &c.) -- and this includes the Old and New Testaments and the Koran -- as to make them say just about anything you want. As I speak, one mullah or another is telling his tribe that "God" has told them to make jihad against the West, just as "God" spoke to George W. Bush and told him to invade Iraq. We are, at this level, quite 11th century in our behavior, and all because of "God."

The narrowest of minds of the most doctrinaire among the evangelicals sees "relativism" as a cardinal sin or worse. That is because, when one reads the Bible as literal and eternal Truth, one becomes hard put to reconcile its contradictions and outright fabrications and fantasies (what were those dudes smoking?!). These people, although that label is perhaps overly generous, are forced into distorting the history of our species and especially our origins. And yet the same casuists cherry pick their scripture, as anyone who has actually read Leviticus can tell them.

This relativism does not stop with their scriptural exegeses but continues into their private and public lives. Tony Perkins and his Family Research Council are so anti-gay, their sex life must be lacking or they would have better things to do. Maybe Perkins is doing it to make sure no one confuses him with the Hollywood actor who starred in Psycho.

Relativism rears its "ugly" head most ostentatiously in our daily application of the Decalogue ("Ten Commandments"), and in dealing with this ancient Mosaic law men show their grossest hypocricies. Before launching into an examination of the myriad ways these imperative statements are rendered irrelevant through their non-observance or outright violation, it is important to note that although both Muslims, Jews, and Christers claim some or all of them as their own, the translations and retranslations, concordances upon concordances, and such sectarian upheavals as that began with Luther, have rendered the Commandments meaningless.

Biblical scholars differ even on the number of Commandments: was it 10 or 15. This debate was subject of a joke by the filmmaker Mel Brooks, who explained it along the lines of: "Moses had three tablets but on thee way to the Idolators' Party, he dropped one." The confusion is amplified by the fact that they all turn up in different form in at least two books of the O.T., Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Even the "Divisions of the Ten Commandments by religion/denomination" chart at www.wikipedia.com finds it necessary to categorize the textual differences between "Jewish (Talmudic)," "Anglican, Reformed, and other Christian," "Orthodox," and "Roman Catholic, Lutheran" groups who "parse the commandments differently." And even those categorizations carry asterisks denoting further stratification and devolution. Things start getting fuzzy. The oddest disagreement is whether the 5th (or is it 6th?) Commandment refers to "killing" or to "murdering," as if taking a life could be one or another, a point so well made by Charles Chaplin in his brilliant Monsieur Verdoux, the filmmaker was virtually chased out of the U.S. and made to live abroad for years.

Curiously, we're told that evangelicals preach that the Commandments are not bindingly valid: dispensation has replaced them. I say curious, because evangelicals are the first to force upon public property reminders of Judeo-Christian morality in the form of stone monuments outside courthouses and other public places and the first to make a constitutional challenge to anyone's attempt to have them removed. It was amusing recently to witness on TV a Washington State yuletide crisis when the secular humanist movement requested equal space and won in the courts, to the end result that a quasi-atheistic sentiment stood next to an X-Mess creche.

People seem fanatical about the issue of public displays of the Commandments, yet it never occurred to them perhaps this type of idolatry was prohibited by "God" in his 2nd proscription. Or perhaps "God" disapproves of his words -- the "wrongful use of the name of your God." Anyone who claims he knows what "God" meant should be shunned as a dangerous lunatic. With reference to why women must cover their heads in the cathedral but keep them uncovered in the synagogue, the late George Carlin said, "Seems to me this 'God' is awfully arbitary. He can't make up his mind."

I am hardly loathe to condemn the laws wholesale. I, too, regard a few things as mala in se, but I also think we have too many mala prohibita on the books, especially as pertain to victimless crimes and anything prohibiting what an individual smokes, ingests, or otherwise introduces into his or her body for the purposes of attaining altered states of consciousness. I only wish to point out that only the baby has been saved by a civilization that long ago threw out the bathwater. Like most humans, I treat the Commandments with some respect. But, also like most humans, I treat the Big Ten as kind of moral cafeteria with a lot of if's, and's, and but's in the fine print on the menu board.

Here they are in all their glory...

1. I am the Lord your God...You shall have no gods before me.

Even considering Yahweh-Jehovah's recognition (odd for a monotheistic religion) that there are other gods, this injunction sounds unnecesarily defensive, even paranoid. These desert nomads were exposed to a multiplicity of deities in their wanderings, from Isis to Aphrodite. Whenever you find in history an attempted melding of faiths to produce what is essentially a syncretism, you find borrowings from shunned or abandoned sects blended in just to make the sleight of hand more subtle, as witness Constantine's use of Mithras' Mass as a convenient -- sneaky but entirely arbitrary -- date for the death of Attis -- er, Jebus.

Note the pointed use of "God" with a capital in the first reference and lower case "gods" in the second. The many gods contemplated by Yahweh-Jehovah are vastly superior to the Father figure of Judeo-Christian mythology. Isis, for example, was matriarchal, as opposed the old unmentionable, who was (and is) misogynistic, homophobic, and serially murderous. In their worship, the adherents of Pan and Priapus, Dionysus and Bacchus were much more self-sacrificing in practice; for example, the priests of Kybele had to move through the streets whacking off their manhood and flailing the goddess' statue with bloody membra verilis.

Evangelicals regard Allah as an evil deity at best and shaitan at worst. Their PACS fund pro-Israeli lobbying and aid, but only because of their nitwit interpretation of John of Patmos' Revelation (a coded message to the early Christian's colleagues across Roman lines) -- current events, not prophecy of End Times. One of these Dangerous Lunatics (erstwhile "spiritual advisor" to John McCain), Rev. John Hagee has actually called the Nazi Holocaust a gift from "God" since it exiled Jews to the Holy Land in fulfillment of evangelicals' "Dominionist" agenda.

Using Biblical injunctions, these people torment pagans, witches, wiccans, and a huge variety of other, perfectly "sane" religious movements because the evangelicals themselves are so unsure there's any "God." That witches worship a Goddess and her consort male equivalent, we're told that the Holy Trinity is better, no matter how unnatural it is to have "Gods" without goddesses. Again, against human nature.

2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.

I suspect we have come a long way since the pogrom against the Knights Templar, which saw how one of the countless unholy alliances between church and state can lead to unspeakable blood-letting, torture, and evils beyond contemplation. The last grand master, Jacques de Molay, was killed on Black Friday (no, the unlucky 13th, not the yuletime shopping start). His order had been accused of cardinal sins -- mala in se -- and the Inquisitors twisted confessions concerning the worship of a head or idol called Baphomet, or Bafimitr, or Mahommet.

Catholics violate this Law ritually every day every way, year 'round. Their priestly compendiums vainly attempt to explain the use of Jebus, Mary, Joseph, et al. statutes in their cathedrals. I have seen cathedrals in Mexico with so much Chigurresque gingerbread decor you'd think it had a fetish for every believer. In Muslim practice, it is absolutely forbidden to portray the prophet, which in part explains the Mideasterner's displeasure over a Danish newspaper cartoon portraying Mohamed as a terrorist with a bomb in his beard. At least the Muslims have a sophisticated praxis that does not stoop to such obvious tricks as putting a likeness of the Virgin next to a coin box.

3. Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

Right off, the question arises, exactly when is "the Sabbath day"? We end up with lawsuits by Jews whose work requires them to labor on Saturdays, and Christians who, in some states, imposed their Sabbath on all through what were known as "blue laws," legislation that should have gone out with the stocks (no, not equities; pillory-like devices with holes for the head, arms, and legs, allowing prudes to punish those who play hookie from religious services).

As soon as blue laws are repealed, Christians work Sundays, Jews Saturdays. It would seem that it takes a malum prohibitum to legislate religiosity. In a capitalist society, sabbath-keeping is immoral. People who refuse to work Saturdays or Sundays should be put in stocks.

4. Honor thy father and thy mother.

We might as well force all children to hibernate from the age of about 12 to the age of 20, thus missing their teen years. What if the father is a drunken, abusive ogre? What if the mother is a trick-turning junkie? How do we honor them?

And while we're at it, what about that commandment of Jebus to love him by hating both one's father and mother (Matthew). Yes, I've seen the concordance explanations that spin the passage to mean dishonoring a parent's wishes to pursue religious matters. This doesn't jibe with literal interpretations of the Bible; once again, cherry picking for whatever reason one wants. What if Galileo had honored his parents?

5. You shall not kill.

Pro-capital punishment people translate this to "you shall not murder," as if an executioner -- and, by extension, society itself -- were not murdering the murderer. I love to debate this one with Christians, who have forgotten (if they ever knew) that Christ (whoever he was, if anyone) abolished the old laws of the desert nomads, including "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." As John Prine put it in one of his songs, "Jesus don't like killin'/No matter what the reason is." Mistranslations are a dead giveaway to ratiocination.

While Catholic parishes sometimes stage "Execution Day" picketing on days when a new victim of capital punishment is to be injected with killing drugs, they never get quite so passionate about it as they do when they demonstrate in front of "abortion clinics." When one calls their hand and takes them to task about this discrepancy, both Catholics and protestants alike quote Jebus as saying "God" approves of capital punishment, else why did Jebus also say, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," completely ignoring the historical plight, first of Jews, later Chrisians: crucifixion, death by lion bite, and the other manifestations of that which was Caesar's. The hypocrisy of it all is appalling.

Jews also fall back on translations of the Torah rendering the commandment as "murder," pointing out that the word in Hebrew for murder (retzach) implies something entirely different from the word for kill (harog). They argue that Exodus 20:13 cannot prohibit all forms of killing, as retsach is never used to indicate the slaying of animals or the taking of life in war. But, remember, Jebus came to destroy the old desert tribal law.

Again, a commandment in complete ignorance of human nature. Even some anti-capital punishment foes switch positions when a wife, mother, or child is slain. It's only natural. It's belief in "God" that is unnatural.

6. You shall not commit adultery.

Jimmy Carter was asked if he had ever had lustful thoughts for a woman other than Rosilyn, his wife, and he answered that he'd "sin in my heart." What utter nonsense! What claptrap! Biologically, we males are hardwired for promiscuity: it guarantees propagation of the species. As any statistician knows, at any given time in human history, females have always outnumbered males. Why? Because we're predisposed to want more than one.

Worse, someof the most vocal champions of so-called "family values" turn out to be the most dedicated womanizers, as the recent televangelist and congressional scandals make abundantly clear. Although we punish renegade Mormons who practice polygamy, we give it at least a vicarious go when we tune into HBO'S Big Love. If human beings are morally bound to be monogramous, why is porno so popular; why is the divorce rate so high? (It's estimated that 40-45% of all marriages end in a lawyer's office.)

7. You shall not steal.

Greed and vengeance are the two most common characteristics of our species. Ted Turner said Chritianity is a religion for losers, and he was right: capitalism and Christianity are contraindicated. Only suckers think Joel Osteen and his brainless blonde consort are interested in anything but money. That he's peddling a feel-good, grow rich brand of Christianity is only a reflection of what Abraham Maslow identified as the failure of religion: adherents mouthing meaningless words, having long since forgotten what the original prophet stood for. If Jebus were alive today, he would as "God" to destroy people like Joel Osteen.

If the Osteens of this world were righteous Christians, they would tell their congregations to eschew giving to their churches and spend their money on charities providing for the poor. They would tell them to put some teeth into Jebus's admonition to "turn the other cheek" and refuse to serve in armed forces involved in combat. They would be more active and more forceful in opposition to capital punishment. And they would welcome practicing homosexuals into their churches, pointing to Jebus's embracing of thieves and whores as clear indications he made places at his table for all. They would reject the misogynism and sadomaschistic blatherings of Saul Paul.

The Osteens of this world are the biggest thieves working the sheep for shekels. They make stealing a fine art.

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Again, far more honored in breach than in observance. As an attorney, I can attest to the simple fact that nine out of ten witnesses in any given bench or jury trial will lie during their testimony. It's expected of them, which is why appellate courts seldom overturn cases on evidentiary complaints alone, saying, simply: "The judge [jury] was the fact finder. We do not substitute our stand on the evidence for that of the fact finder." I have had police officers who told lies with smiles on their faces, as if knowing their interlocutor is aware of their confabulations. I've had all manner of professional people lie on the stand, and I am not saying they all did it intentionally. Again, it is human nature.

Politicians raise lying to a high art. We haven't had a president who was not a selective liar, and mendacity is not limited to any political party: although the lies of Nixon and Bush are well known, few realize that the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, with their respective casi belli (the "domino theory" and weapons of mass destruction, respectively) were anticipated as early as 1914 with Democrat Woodrow Wilson's claim invasion of Mexico was necessary because it was "time we taught the Mexicans to elect good men." Wilson used a minor incident in Tampico -- arrest of some marines and the Mexicans' refusal to salute our flag -- as an excuse to come to the aid of the multinationals, including Standard Oil.

We elect these people and we are responsible for their transgressions. We elect liars because we are liars. Bearing false witness is to some of us a way of life, as witness Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme to bilk the gullible (including Steven Spielberg and financier Mort Zuckerman) out of millions. Lying is as American as the 4th of July.

One of the really awful things about religion is that the sects are designed to make us all less human. This is ironic, since the religions claim that we were created by "God," so our lack of perfection must mean that "God" is less than perfect, too. (In fact, at least one philosopher, Mackie, has shown that "God's" inability to prevent bad behavior in man proves his non-existence.) Telling lies is human nature. What about parents who lie to their children when the elders learn that they are dying -- or, for that matter, doctors who refrain from telling their patients the same facts. Again, relativism is a necessary position. There simply are no moral absolutes.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

Most Christian sects see this commandment as a blanket prohibition of cohabiting with anyone not one's spouse -- i.e. adultery. I do not want to insult anyone's intelligence by illustrations of how this proscription is honored more in the breach than the observance. It is the stuff of soap operas, and what are soap operas but the vicarious living of the lives of others? Show me a man who does not cheat on his wife (or partner), and I will show you a miserable lackey, and even he lies: the minute she's out the door to go shopping, he's on the internet downloading porn.

, keeping this commandment violates "natural law": as we are hardwired for straying, labeling it a "sin" is an affront to human nature. Nor is this commandment relative to today. The desert nomad tribes had vested interests in keeping people monogamous. Remember, a good many of the Biblical laws (not just the commandments, but the Code of Leviticus, &c.) were designed to preserve tribal unity and propagation of the tribe's children. Eating worm-infested pork would kill one or more of the tribal numbers; sneaking into a neighbor's tent to schmooze with his wife (playing Sancho to Quixote, as is said in South Texas) could only lead to internecene strife and oasis-to-oasis confusion as to which child belonged to which parent.

The recent arrest of a Mormon splinter group sect adhering to pre-1878 church dogma (an interpretation of the Book of Mormon!) reveals the utter hypocrisy of our laws with regard to not only marriage and childbearing but to such seemingly unrelated matters as drug use. In an 1878 Supreme Court decision, polygamy was all right in theory, but one could not put it into practice. A polygamist named Reynolds had been charged with bigamy and defended himself on First Amendment grounds, using religious praxis as a shield against his conviction. Not buying it, Chief Justice Waite wrote:
"[R]eligious practices that impair the public interest do not fall under the First Amendment..."

Which was another way of saying "God's" law trumped the Constitution. The Court was saying "You can believe that Green Giant Virgin Invaders From Outer Space have descended upon the earth, but you can't have children by them if you're married to an earthling." You can think, but you cannot act. Subsequent cases dealing with the same First Amendment principles reveal how arbitrary are such statutory proscriptions and how case law interpretations can get themselves tied into knots. For example, Native American Church members can hallucinate about Green Giant Virgins all day and night upon ingesting peyote cactus (psychoactive chemical: mescaline) because Church law makes "trips" a sacrament. The court said this was OK.

The therapy couches are full of men who are neurotic because, although "I love my wife, I've got a woody for my neighbor's Green Giant Virgin." But, wait, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Whereas today, you cannot commit adultery, even for divorce purposes, unless you actually consummate the affair, once upon a time, Jimmy Carter's "cheating heart" would, if confessed, be good enough for conviction and some quality time in the stocks. (Now, you have to hire a private eye to obtain, or manufacture, "the goods.")

10. Do not covet your neighbor's house...

"or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor...." Such as his camel, his tent, his flint rock, &c. When something is lifted out of context from Exodus or Deuteronomy, its inherent irrelevance goes unexamined. When was the last time you had an opportunity to covet your neighbor's ox? (If you're a rural Indian, Ghanan, or some other situs of ox use, you have dispensation.) The warning about coveting a slave might have served Lincoln well, but this is the 21st century, folks! We should not be bound by some Third Century b.c.e. writings claiming to be the literal word of Yahweh-Jehovah. My neighbors don't own donkeys. (In fact, none of my neighbors owns a damn thing I'd want, but that's besides the point.)

So, to Judeo-Christian and Muslim moralists (the Decalogue appears in the Koran in somewhat different language), I can only say: Stop!

You're going against nature: human nature.

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