Sunday, September 21, 2003

Second Coming

Initially this BBC drama looked unpromising--Steve, a working class guy in Manchester, turns out to the the second Incarnation, predicts the Day of Judgement and chaos ensues. A mate becomes possessed, a mother tries to poison herself and children to get to heaven before the Judgement and--inevitably--Steve hops into the sack with Mary Magdalene. Everyone gets religion in earnest, and are worse off for it.

The denoument is interesting. Mary Madgalene "works out" what the scenario is supposed to be: Steve to die dead, not (she says) as Jesus did, to go to paradise, but cease to exist because with his authentic death, God will cease to exist and everyone will be better off. Steve is convinced, and chooses his own death, eating a dish of spaghetti laced with rat poison and dying in agony.

In retrospect, 6 years later, people remember that everyone felt that moment when the world changed, when the demons disappeared, and all the guilt, fear, chaos and melodrama instantly lift. The BBC to its credit did not play "Imagine there's no Heaven" in the background but that was the idea, along the the message that the real sacrifice, the perfect and sufficient one, is the authentic death of God, who brings about his own extinction for the benefit of all people.

It's an interesting juxtaposition of the old message that people are better off without God, in a disenchanted world without either gods or devils, shopping, having children, gardening, living ordinary lives and dying dead--with a novel interpretation of what God's self-sacrifice consists in.

Emotionally I find it more congenial than I would have 30 years ago when I was questing for the Holy Grail, the ultimate, intense, ecstatitic experience and thought that no matter how good the ordinary things of life were they weren't good enough. Now I'm happy to walk to my office, admire the elaborate flowerbeds, enjoy sitting at my desk amongst my books and being in a pleasant familiar place amongst people I've known for most of my adult life. I was happy today to drive to Target with my daughter, discussing Catcher in the Rye with her in the car. It reminds me of "Our Town," that other high school English staple: recognizing how ephemeral these ordinary good things are, I want to get every thing out of it that I can.

But would I get less if I were still on that Grail Quest? It was never attached to guilt or fear for me and there were no demons. It was all this and more, not less, not a poisoned garden.

How did Christianity become so twisted that anyone could imagine that a world without God would be an improvement? Where did that ascetic strain and the idea of sacrifice originate? Where did the spooks and ghouls, the creatures of darkness, come from--and the taste for horror that sells films? It's older than Christianity and more universal, both the idea of the dark side and the taste for it. Not my cup of tea in any case.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Cowboys and Wimps

I'm going for Wesley Clark. Check his website at

For the past 30 Americans have imagined that the only alternative to being a cowboy was being a wimp. It didn't even matter whether you were a real cowboy--what exactly does Dubya raise on his ranch?--so long as you looked like one and weren't one of those self-hating, granola-guzzling sensitive new age guys in birkenstocks. Get-toughism would solve our problems. Even if there was no account of the mechanism, it would work, and if getting tough didn't work it only showed that we weren't tough enough. Conservative was tough--Liberal was limp.

At some point the economic and political committments of liberalism, apart from indiscriminate dovishness, dropped out: liberalism, and conservativism, came to be seen as a styles. There were liberal foods--whole grains, fruits and nuts--and conservative foods--steak and jellybeans. There were liberal hobbies and conservative hobbies: liberals hiked, conservatives hunted. It was all code for the dichotomy we didn't dare mention in public: masculinity and femininity. And voters wanted the guys in office.

Schwartzenegger is the reducio--an actor with no experience in any responsible position and no policy other than cutting taxes who, incredibly, is Republican frontrunner because he was a professional bodybuilder and played toughguy roles in the movies.

Whatever happens, having Wesley Clark visible should be an edifying reminder that real men can be Democrats and, maybe even more importantly, that real guys can be smart.