Ain’t Necessarily So

Religion addresses a human yearning to fathom our place in an unfathomable universe and to immortalize our earthly mortality.

Words from de Bible
Dey turns into libel
Ain’t necessarily so!

-with apologies to Ira Gershwin

Oft time the Good Book is used to evil ends.  The Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witchcraft Trials are iconic examples.  Then there is the more insidious evil spread by False Prophets Jesus warned us about: those  who “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” -Mattthew 7:15

False Prophets have been spreading like locusts in grandiose displays of holier than thou.  They preach with absolute moral certainty that brooks no differences with their agenda.  Some, willfully and for pecuniary reasons, do their bible-beating so that folks “will betray and hate each other.” –Matthew 24:10.  Others may not be so much in touch with their inner wolf as they raven self-serving passages from the Good Book while ignoring others.  Still others may simply be regurgitating what they themselves have been spoon-fed.

However one feels about the Tim Tebow phenomenon, his psyche is infectious.  Tebowing and eye-black billboarding of biblical passages like John 3:16 have evangelized  millions that belief in Him means “ever lasting life.”  Note, however, what scripture has not made it on to Tebow’s eye-black: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen by men.” -Matthew 6:5

Pro ball players and coaches regularly thank God for victory.  Seldom, if ever, do we hear them ask for Divine guidance in the wake of defeat.  Jeremy Lin kind of went there as he announced his knee was going under the knife.  While his coach grudgingly felt Jeremy could tough it out, Lin mused that, “He has a plan.”  Coach couldn’t argue with that Big Commissioner in the sky.

A number of Founding Fathers who were, reputedly, Deists did not subscribe to the premise that everything happens for a reason, according to Divine plan.  Ours is a set-and-forget world, one spec of many in a universe produced by Creation or the Big Bang, as secular science would have it.  God does not micromanage.  He does not intercede to safely land a prop plane with a 60yrs-old in cardiac arrest then retreat when Timothy McVey blows up toddlers.  A cauldron of randomness, chaos and chance mix in a chain reaction that sometimes produces a semblance of order even when that order is terrifying. 

Religion addresses a human yearning to fathom our place in an unfathomable universe and to immortalize our earthly mortality.  Not a few feel that it is all so much whistling as we go by the graveyard.  But even non-believers may be inclined to hedge their bets.  On being caught, late in life, reading the bible, WC Fields, a renowned atheist, explained in his inimitable twang that he was, “just looking for loopholes, looking for loopholes!”

A couple of years back I was invited by a Mormon neighbor for whom I have considerable respect to listen to a missionary appeal ministered by Elder Elliot and Elder Joseph, both 21.  My knowledge of Mormonism was pretty sketchy so I was intrigued to hear that the Book of Mormon, as received by Joseph Smith, had, ostensibly, been inscribed on thin tablet-shaped gold plates and delivered by an angel.  Like the tablets etched with Ten Commandments by the Lord then shattered in a fury by Moses, no tangible evidence remains for posterity of the gold plates, though Eight Witnesses attested to their existence.

In addition to my wife and I, high holy day Episcopals, the group being missioned to included a Fundamentalist Christian and a medium of some Protestant persuasion.  The Fundamentalist, being of ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ faith, declared that those not embracing Jesus, according to select criteria, would not gain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Figuring that the All-Knowing would know who had been naughty or nice, regardless of religious affiliation on earth, I asked, “What then might be the eternal fate of Gandhi, a Hindu who led his people from privation into freedom.

“We don’t know if Gandhi had a death-bed conversion,” the Fundamentalist responded evasively.  As it so happens, the Mormons have been magnanimously providing visas to Heaven by posthumous proxy baptism for non-Mormons like Anne Frank.  Relatives of  Holocaust victims who are, after all the Chosen People, have not been placated by the proposition that this may be a sort of insurance policy, just in case Divine Rights have been exclusively bestowed on some other religious order. 

Focus on the Family’s highly charged socio-politicizing has included the Tim Tebow “miracle baby” commercial in Super Bowl XLIV.  After the Janet Jackson ‘wardrobe malfunction’ during Super Bowl XXXVIII, I wrote Focus complaining that every other commercial was for a sex drug like Viagra.  How was I supposed to explain the chronically repeated (wink, wink) ’48hrs erection’ to my 8yrs-old daughter or expect her to ‘just say no’ to sex as a teen with non-stop TV images of lusting adults?   Focus has declined to focus on Big Pharma, perhaps because Pharma must have gotten Big thanks to Him.  Focus has not felt comparably constrained in going after environmentalists who they deem vanguards of the Godless World Order (see www.ResistingtheGreenDragon.com). 

Patrick, “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death,” Henry introduced a bill in 1784 calling for state support for “teachers of the Christian religion.”  It was resoundingly rejected and instead the Founding Fathers bequeathed us the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  As they seek to conflate their church and state while shilling for ideological agendas and vested economic interests, maybe it’s time to categorize False Prophets as For-Profits and tax them accordingly.  The country could use the revenues. 

 

Main Photo: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Albrecht Dürer

They Are Not Like Us

For average folks, money is not some abstraction, it is literally a matter of survival. For the well-to-do, money is figurative, a measure of who they are and what they can do.

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Rich Boy.  “They are different from you and me. “

Yes and no.

Back in the ‘Greed Is Good’ ‘80s, I observed Don Fisher and his wife Doris belly up to the famous bar in the ‘21’ Club.   Fisher was founder and CEO of The Gap and its subsidiary Banana Republic and Old Navy chains of clothing stores.  Fisher ordered a Perrier and Doris a margarita straight-up.  For any cocktail with juice at the ‘21’ Club, the fruit gets freshly squeezed right in front of you.  The glass rimmed with a wedge of lime then perfectly salted, Doris took a sip and, enraptured, pronounced it the best margarita she had ever had! 

When Walter, the crusty maître d’, arrived to escort them to their table, Doris insisted the bartender make her another of the world’s best margaritas.  Don paid the bar bill with his credit card as Doris marveled over the masterful preparation of her second drink.  The question arose, as they went to their table: what kind of tip had Don left for the best margarita his wife had ever had?  Don, it transpires, had left $3 on a $20 tab.  Three bucks – not even double the tax.  You’d have thought that he could have at least stretched it to $4, a 20% tip for the best margarita of his wife’s life. 

But then you need to break down what that extra dollar actually meant to billionaire Don Fisher.  To the bartender who made the world’s best margarita, the extra dollar would have been split five ways with his co-workers at the end of the night.  So, for the bartender, that extra dollar was actually worth twenty cents.  For Don Fisher, who maybe just returned from China where scaling down from 100% cotton to a blend in those million khaki shorts he ordered, every dollar actually represented a million dollars. 

“Take care of the pennies,” John D. Rockefeller liked to say, “and dollars will take care of themselves.”  In other words, every 1% slashed in costs means millions of dollars in pocket.  A dollar in the hand of the average person means they still have to scrape together another 999 dollars to make the monthly mortgage payment.  For average folks, money is not some abstraction, it is literally a matter of survival.  For the well-to-do, money is figurative, a measure of who they are and what they can do. 

I attended a boarding school along with the Johnson&Johnson heir who owns the Jets as well as the son of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign manager, both fairly representative of the student body.  So it was unsurprising, when it came to pass, that a classmate wound up as finance director for Steve “Flat Tax” Forbes’ 2000 presidential bid.  I had been an avid reader of Forbes magazine when Steve’s flamboyant father, Malcolm, was in charge.  So I was disgruntled when the son dulled both look and content of the magazine in his own image.

In the run-up to his ’96 presidential bid, Steve had confessed, in the Wall Street Journal, that the most traumatizing experience of his life was being packed off to boarding school.  I shared my doubts via e-mail about Steve’s fortitude and presidential qualifications with my classmate who, it turns out, had also been miserable in boarding school with its intolerance of dorks.   “What is it you say you’ve done with your life,” he blasted back, “other than procreate?”

Yes, the rich get richer, they say, and the poor have babies.  Having been born on third base, my old classmate and his patron Steve, think they hit a home run.

A psych prof at U Cal Berkeley who focuses on “Social Class as Culture” has suggested that the wealthy are less empathetic than others. After strapping subjects to physiological measuring devices, those from lower-class backgrounds, as opposed to more privileged, showed more intense vagus activation when exposed to pictures of starving children.  Rich folks, the prof deduces, are more likely to think mostly about themselves.  Doubtless, a tribal imperative is at play here, and “there, but for the grace of God” does not kick in when viewing starving kids. 

What moral failings have contributed to these conditions?  Probing minds of privilege have answers.  To a ’96 query on crime and drug addiction presidential hopeful, Steve Forbes, proposed that a “flat-tax will spur growth and encourage savings, discouraging anti-social behavior.”  “Values and economics,” Forbes believes, “are one and the same, indivisible.” 

…with liberty, and justice for all…but only if you swear allegiance to the Flat Tax 2.0, lately making the e-blast rounds as ‘Fair Tax’, or the latest napkin version, 9-9/0-9, compliments of Forbes’ former campaign chair – Herman Cain.  ‘The Hermanator’ is a perfect example of a Fat Cat courtier.   These courtiers are embodied by the Religious Right.  They intuit which side their tongues are buttered on and proceed to bash EPA standards for mercury emissions at web-sites like www.ResistingtheGreenDragon.com. Or, like Focus on Family, they utter nary a pious peep about Pharma running endless, lurid TV commercials for Viagra, et al, prompting young folks to just say ‘yes’ to sex.

In a world where money rules and crybabies drool, Karmic payback is probably the only consolation.  Three months after chintzing the ‘21’ bartender, Don Fisher’s Gap holdings collapsed by 33%.

 

Main Image: The Empire Builders by Bernarda Bryson Shahn. From left, James J. Hill, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, J. Pierpont Morgan, Jay Cooke or Edward H. Harriman, and Jay Gould, wearing top coats, wearing or holding hats, in a room with a view of Trinity Church in New York City, N.Y.