January 2009


I adjure you, my Love, sing with me the love of us.
Celebrate what you write in your heart, the dangerous passions you had once hidden.

We are large, contain multitudes. I sleep and awake beside you.
We are legion, and are one. I work and eat beside you.
We are porous and overlapping. I weep and laugh beside you.

And I know that the hands of the divine are our own. Hands under heads with care, and hands in warm embracing.
The hands I touch, all are perfect, and there is no one lesser among them.

And I know that the spirit of the divine resides in those whose lives are opposed to my own. The hands red with blood and warring belong to those who also are holy.
The hands I touch, all are perfect, and there is no one lesser among them.

Hieroglyphs of Kronos, are faded with time.
Zeus his son, is ashamed by war-makers’ wrath.  
The old gods are faint, weary before love.
Its song and its celebrants have tamed them.
 
The gods breathe the fragrance of us in our love and know it and like it.
Intoxicated, they succumb, drinking from us like mead.

Who is this coming up from the desert, with columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, in power and pride? All of these I feel and am, so too these I feel and am.

My respiration and inspiration I watch, the beating of my heart I listen, the passing of blood and air through my lungs, I feel.
These to me are my scriptures, they bring me to you.

Behold, you are comely, my beloved; behold, you are comely; behold, you are comely, my beloved; behold.
Be not ashamed; and force not the course of the river.
your eyes are like doves.
your hands are like doves.

The beams of our ribs are cedars; our thighs cypresses. All tinder without you.
The doors of the village houses stand open and ready for you are above gold: you are the mother in war, the faithful and pious amidst violence and you carry me in you.

I am a rose of Sharon, the paddy of rice, the drought dried clay of Losotho all at once and I carry you in me. We roses of valleys, my beloved is mine, and I am his, he who grazes among the roses.

Bring the orphans of war, exalted like palm trees in Gaza, and as a rose plant in Jericho, as a fair olive tree in pleasant fields, and may they each grow up as trees by the water.

Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I hear them hum in your presence. Each one its own universe, expands, builds worlds. And gives rise to lovers who sing of you.

(No doubt I have now died myself ten thousand times before.)
I have watched my own death via satellite, in grainy images, over the cries of the young, and in the silence of infrared.

All that are of the earth shall turn to earth again-appearing and departing, this is the lesson the monk offered his life to learn and as he gave himself to the hungry demon met Buddha. Urge and urge and urge and life to life all goes onward and outward, all is change and nothing collapses without stopping life is change.

I bequeath myself to the dirt. May I grow from the grass I love, the grass we once read on,
may I grow maize and dates, in the shadow of Nineveh giving home to worms.
Should you want me again, look for me in the plowshares, in the boots of those who march not to war.

My Love,
no heart can think upon these things worthily-even cupids wonder at their craft. Divinations, wisdoms, dreams, moons, poems: these all are in vain.
as far as the heart may fancy, so love’s horizon outstrips.
even were my soul to cover the whole earth and fill it, still love’s parables would humble.
And yet still,  

I opened my mouth, and said: I celebrate us, I sing us

 

 

 

 

Ryan McGivern


With text from “Song of Songs”, and “Sirach”
and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

17 crucifixions in just one month
not bad for the quarter
meeting the quota
don’t care an iota
of who’s on the tree
just so they don’t look like me
I’ll
keep my body busy with
who Paris done kissed
on the worst dressed list
I invite the cards fall
let sleepin’ dogs lay
I’m a pro armchair QB
for every Good Friday
watch me as I even act concerned
as our cities are burned
tsk-tsking others’ pains
as I fan the flames

I’ve been resting in crosses’ shadows for eighteen years
as long as its others’ bodies
I’ll be with you in spirit

Ryan McGivern

to know is to taste
a fruit and eat we must
each one eat

are we living coda, post script
can we build again with Gaia
shaking shoulders in mourning

a song a capella
through fever dreams, books,
archives of faces, we meet with each

are these scattered Tarot able to speak
can we find Ariadne’s string
or has it been severed by forget

our hands roughed lifting stones
of re-membering place plates
at a table that though lonely remains

from whence these bones
these empty spaces these scars
and to what or whom do they point

we hold one another in amazement
putting words to the ineffable
and action to impossible hope

 

Ryan McGivern

I’ve posted a lot about politics lately.  If this doesn’t interest you, let me know and I’ll cry myself to sleep.

Obama originally tapped New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to be Commerce Secretary, but he is under investigation and withdrew.  In related news, once Norm Coleman’s thinly veiled delay tactic-court cases subside and Al Franken gets in, there should be 59 Senators in the Democratic Caucus — 60 makes voting filibuster-proof (filibustering is an attempt to extend debate on an issue to infinity, thereby blocking a vote).

So get this, as reported by Roll Call:

The Obama administration has been floating the idea of naming Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) to be Commerce Secretary, several Senate sources said Thursday.

Bad-frickin-ass, huh?  New Hampshire has a Democrat for Gov., so the Senate appointment might tip the cup.

This is a reflection on Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian: and Other Essays on Religion and Related Topics, published by Simon and Schuster 1957.

                Russell had chose to view religion in only one light: a deprecating one. Having decided that religion was ‘bad’, and Christianity as a source only of misguided oppressive power, stagnation, and fear it was easy for him to give perfectly good examples to support this thesis. Not only is this a surprising reductive and simplistic view below a mind as great as Russell’s, it sells short the good that has come and is still being done in and through religion. Even (gasp) Christianity.

                In his section of “The Character of Christ” and “Defects in Christ’s Teaching” we get little more than what we get from the “WWJD” folk: a simplified version of the scriptural Jesus that paints the poor Nazarene in a single portrait that is obviously deceptive to support their agenda. Jesus, as he appears in the New Testament and later non-canonical but dogmatic writings is like any other literary creation: open source. There to be picked over, re-mixed, air-brushed, hacked, subverted, inverted, free to everyone in the same way. Its what you want to do with him that decides who and what he is. In this way Jesus judges us. As with any other religious tradition or scripture, they are like anvils that decide us as we decide them. Does one look at Scientology with derision? Does one scoff at Wicca? Why? Are they operating under easy pretenses that exclude the voices of the people that earnestly believe them? Does one read Bible and walk away sure in their understanding and use it like a weapon? Shouldn’t we, in the spirit of personal responsibility hold the person espousing bigotry and ignorance accountable for their beliefs and actions and not the historical figures they appropriate to validate their prejudices?           
                  Russell uses the ol’ “Look at what Christianity has done: Inquisition, witch burnings…Its screwed!” Argument. This is not too convincing to me. Power and stupidity and greed will always lead to crimes against humanity. Because in the past there was a one to one sharing of church and state doesn’t mean anything about religion per se. For any moment of dark history where religion and power sought more power at the sword’s edge, there have been people of faith whose faith made them stand up to power in the spirit of humanity, freedom, compassion. I think that when Russell and folks like him use the “Religion is just keeping people down” line (“How the Churches Have Retarded Progress”) they have not been exposed to the social activists who are working within churches. Could someone today spend time with Bishop Gene Robinson, the Dalai Lama or Desmond Tutu and still read this section of Russell seriously?

             The “What We Must Do” conclusion of Russell to me in no way excludes the life of Christians or people of faith. He writes, “We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face…A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage….It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence.” There are people of faith the world over who can stand by this without contradiction. Extremism, radicalism, hubristic power hoarding, ignorant cultural imperialism will always likely be a part of our social ills. Pinning them onto religion does no service to their rectification and only abuses the struggle against them undertaken by people of good faith and conscience.

             Ryan McGivern

This is  a reflection on Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian: and Other Essays on Religion and Related Topics, published by Simon and Schuster 1957.

            In all fairness, Russell could have titled the essay “Why I’m not a Certain Type of Christian”. He does speak to a very particular type of Christian that for his purposes just calls ‘Christian’. His ‘Christian’ would have the belief characteristics of 1) believing in God and an immortal soul, and 2) that Jesus was at least the ‘best and wisest of men’. 
            Thank goodness that we’ve come so far since 1957! Now there are plenty of examples of Christians and Christian movements with widespread acceptance who believe neither Russell’s first or second requirement. These Christians are non-theistic or non-supernatural and are pluralistic in the sense that Jesus is but one of the wise teachers among many. But when reading Russell, we should keep in mind that he’s speaking of a certain type of Christian believer-a type that certainly does not speak for all Christians today.
             This can lead to an interesting question, however: what is a Christian? How a person answers this, says a lot about them whether they are Christian or not. If a non-Christian and they answer something like: “A Christian is a prudish hypocrite who is backwards, ignorant, hateful, and bigoted.” They are operating under really misguided pretenses. It is also most interesting to ask Christians, I find. Getting beyond the easy answers of “Whoever has welcomed Christ into their heart.” and the sort will usually open doors to mutual understanding.

            Russell begins to examine the ‘arguments for God’s existence’ and the way that he undertakes this project (although he repeatedly states that he wishes to be short and focused and not give too much time discussing them) of course leaves something to be desired. A good mind will always reflect on the best of the counter arguments, not set up easy targets to knock down. But something must be noted, I think, that Russell does not mention about these types of arguments. They reflect a particular type of Christianity that is dying out. ‘Rational’ arguments for God’s existence or the ‘way God is or the type of God that is’ are only used by those who believe that they have the answers to religious questions and are trying to change other people’s minds. Obviously, there is no strictly “rational” argument for God or sensible and thinking people would be knocking down Church doors-they will always require and come back to “but you must have faith…open your heart and pray on it, God will show Himself to you…these arguments only show that God can be loved with your mind as well as your heart, but you must get rid of your sinful dispositions and then the arguments will fall into place.” So for a person to grab onto these in their ‘evangelistic’ efforts really are pseudo-intellectuals who are claiming to have mystic or magical knowledge that is privileged and can see the truth in a way that others cannot. These types of arguments also reflect a type of Christian who has given up on the thought of their God doing wonders and miracles. There are no miracles, and they have at least resolved to understand that and have retreated to modernist ‘thought’ to prove their God exists. Alas, there are no more Elijahs or Elishas.

A) The first cause argument. Russell decides to come back with the “But then what caused God? If you say nothing, couldn’t you have stopped with the universe being caused by nothing?” line. This works, I guess, but it still I suppose someone could say “But God is immaterial. And He is ultimately love-this is quite different than material causations being backtracked.” I must wonder how much this argument relies on a “Creation From Nothing” or creatio ex nihilo perspective. People will say “What? Do you think that everything just ‘poof’ appeared? Something came from nothing? The big bang theory is-God spoke and ‘bang’ it happened!” I think that maybe Russell and Christians alike are playing to a creatio ex nihilo thought. Why couldn’t there have always been energy in different forms, many universes in flux and change, etc. Even a reading of Genesis shows that God didn’t create the world from nothing, but from waters which he then really just gathered up to reveal the land. The earth was just ‘formless and void’-God was more of an organizer than magic maker. So that is all to say, there doesn’t need to be a ‘first cause’ from what I’ve seen. There’s no reason why there couldn’t have always been ‘change’.

B)The natural law argument. Russell does point out that this argument has fallen away with the shared space of Newtonian with Einsteinian physics. What is important in my estimation here is Russell’s distinction of ‘Human Laws’ and ‘Natural Laws’. He writes, “Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do….As we come to modern times they [arguments from natural law] become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.” This statement has come so terrifyingly true in a number of oppressive ways. What seems to naturally happen is that social powers try to shift their cultural understandings into the ‘natural laws’ category to create a stronghold of their own cultural power. This can be true of pseudo-sciences/bad science as well as totalitarian governments, or oppressive anti-humanistic sects. 

C) The argument from design. Russell quotes Voltaire’s parody of this argument by his pointing to the nose as being designed to hold up one’s eyeglasses. This is not the worst of it. I have personally seen an evangelical tract that listed the banana’s “design” as being made by God to be easily opened by the human hand. When I read this, I wondered how orange’s whose peels are nearly impossible to remove and have almost ripped by fingernails off in the process of peeling figured into this God’s design. The problem with this thought is that in our time when humanity must realize a less hubristic stance in the world, some design thought is so anthropocentric. Things and indeed the entire world is designed for us-look at it! Ray Comfort is the master of this third grade reasoning. “Look at that building!” he’ll say. “Did someone make it?…….Well look at the beautiful rainbow, waterfall, kitten, and puppy. Do you think they happened by accident?” You’ll hear people say, “If you found a watch on the beach-do you think that it was an accident, or was there a ‘watchmaker’?…..What about a tornado blowing metal together to make a 747 jet? Hmmmm?” What I would wonder is why doesn’t Ray Comfort just point at dust on the ground and ask “Did someone make that?” because that’s really his argument. He begins with a building because building have use, meaning, they are cultural artifacts that make sense to us. He then makes the jump to other ‘naturally’ occurring things that we know and understand (kittens, etc.) and conflates the two types of things. What Comfort is really saying is ‘anything that exists has design-it has been designed by an intelligence that is in the market of creating things for us.” So he should just say it, instead of trying to trap people in a shell-game like parlor room trick only interesting enough to capture the imaginations of those who’ve already come to the same conclusions smugly. 
             So we’ve seen a rise in the ruse of ‘intelligent design’. Isn’t this a tautology? What is ‘design’ but that which has a purpose and is constructed? So if they were honest, they’d just say “Designed universe for humans”. What there really is, which we can be pretty sure about is ‘Stuff’. Matter and energy which we have given meaning to: ‘lifeforms-good’. ‘Rainbows-pretty’.
And they’ll say: “Do you know the chances of life occurring? Infinitesimal! Earth was made for life!” Well, out of a vast universe (which could be one of many) that life occurs on at least one planet (verdict still out on Mars) is not too surprising. And as Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, Earth was built well for death. Any nominal understanding of the fossil record shows that Earth’s history is a slaughterhouse of failures at life.

D) Moral argument for God. Russell comes from the line of “do the moral laws precede God? Or did God arbitrarily choose that murder in cold blood is bad?” This is a fine way of coming at it, but I think that it is instructive also to see how humanity’s ideas of what is acceptable, “moral”, ethical, or the best for our species and the world have changed so drastically. Just a look at Christian expectations of ‘correct behavior’ and “morals” in America over the past 50 years will show a great variance and transformation. This reveals that “morals” are really just social creations that are trying to articulate values that they understand as being the best for their specific cultural context. Its no mistake that these also often are power moves of cultural hegemonies-heteronormative, patriarchal, classist. What I feel this can be an inroad to is to look to how our religious traditions have changed and be proud of the progress we have made.  

E) Argument from ‘justice’. Russell writes that a popular reason for believing in God is “the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you.” Its interesting that this ‘justice’ argument has in the past played out to picture a God who will rectify injustices with ‘heaven or hell’. This argument, the ‘need for justice’ in the universe is more a statement about the interest and character of God than the existence of God.

 

These arguments as portrayed by Russell were possibly appropriate for their time (1957) and his response was culturally contextual also. That was 1957. We can put these petty arguments and ‘counter arguments’ aside. I’m sorry that I had to comment on them, and I’ll be the first to admit that I had to resort to caricaturing the voices of not very compelling argumentations. That’s the nature of that kind of discourse and why we need to put them behind us.

              We can look to the Argument For the Remedying of Injustice to reflect on Liberation Theology and how Christians, faith people, and atheists are becoming integrated in communities of social action to create justice on Earth today. We can see the heart of what created this argument in the first place: the desire to see the oppressed and marginalized brought to full wholeness in their human dignity and availed the same privileges and rights. It is now not an Argument for Remedying Injustice to Prove That God Exists that Christians and non-Christians are talking about. Its “Here’s How We Can Work For Justice Together-For All Creation.”
              Instead of moral arguments, can find shared values. The empty moralizing discourses that occur around us everyday are often “Rah Rah” cheers for our own cultural understandings. When we stop to look at the values underlying those, we can see that we share a lot in common with many we’d previously seen as “other”.
               Christians of all stripes and non-Christians and especially atheists can now save their breath arguing and debating with each other. Its really uninteresting. We know that in our world today, we see that actions matter. The values that guide those actions can be widely understood and don’t need to be reduced to divisive and condescending language. We can move forward much better as a nation and world the more that we stop trying to be right and begin understanding and putting humble inclusive solutions to work.

                 What kind of God do you want? One who requires you to dominate others with your keen arguments and prideful (and 96% wrong) understandings of the mysteries of life?
                 What kind of Christian do you want to be? What kind of person of faith-Muslim, Sikh, Wiccan, do you want to be? What kind of atheist do you want to be? If your answer is ‘one who is right and can convince others of their wrongness’, I’m sorry to hear that. If its: ‘One who makes justice, expands love and service, and with vulnerability and compassion nurtures universal community’, count me among you.

      In part two of my response to Russell, I’ll speak to his critique of Jesus.

 

 

Ryan McGivern

The complex social structures and apparatuses of domination that are availed to the technological mode are revealed by Luce Irigaray to have been inadequately demonstrated by Heidegger. Irigaray reveals a narrow masculine awareness in Heidegger and a forgetting of the obscure powers of language. Irigaray states that language is necessary and determinative in the continued project of humanity, in measuring the task of thinking. Language also carries the ambiguous dangers of becoming technocratic; leading to a destiny paved by reason to technological enframing. The tool to this end is not the Heideggerian ‘hand’ of building structural projects, but the tongue; the tool of language which has in its power to evade the ‘still silent mystery’ of humanity’s being. The tongue is one instance of bodies being “Gestell” in Irigaray’s estimation and so too is language. Again, while enframing, language is necessary: “Being is not, except as an effect of that Gestell, language, and of what falls from it in separated form.”[1] Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism is clearly in the background of Irigaray’s treatment of technology and language; Heidegger’s “Language is the house of Being…Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home…Man is the shepherd of Being”[2] remains otiose to Irigaray without examining the social dominations resident in the apparatus of language. She writes of the ‘syllogistic resources’ and the tendency towards homogeneity and “a single language, the one he has already appropriated, and that he reappropriates for himself endlessly”[3] to the forfeit of complexity. While the “heart of the difference and deferral [differend] that is buried in the depths of language [la langue]”[4] remains ever present, the real dangers of language’s future subjugation of others need only keep the past in perview; as Irigaray writes: “What is the power of speech over another life? Over another living being? Hasn’t this power been exercised to this day on the model of an inveigling appropriation rather than on that of an exchange—and (of an exchange) of life?”[5] Heidegger’s Idle Talk, seen through Irigaray can testify to the apparatuses that build the socio-ethical milieu; largely though the effort to control language and tame Being into a ‘tautological circle’ of sameness.


[1] Irigaray, Luce. The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1999),          156.

[2] Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings David Farrell Krell. ed. (New York: Harper Collins. 1993), 217, 234.

 

[3] Irigaray, Luce. The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1999), 37.

[4] Irigaray, Luce. The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1999),          146.

[5] Irigaray, Luce. The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1999),          159.

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