Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Not So Godless Northwest

On pages 52 and 53 of the September, 2004, issue of The Atlantic magazine, there is an article entitled “The God Vote”. In it there is a color coded map of the United States, broken down by county, which supposedly shows how "religious" or "godless" Americans are. Now, whether or not my part of the country should be called the "The Godless Northwest," I don’t know, but there is one thing about the map that immediately struck me as completely ridiculous. Looking at it, Kootenai county, here in North Idaho, which is where I reside, was placed all the way at the bottom for "percentage of population claimed by religious groups," which is supposedly the statistic used to color the map. But there is something fishy about this, because I can testify that never before in my life I have seen an area like Kootenai county where there are so many churches, located here and there, and everywhere. Everything from mega-churches with multiple thousands of members to little "strip mall churches." Given its comparatively sparse population, Kootenai country must have the largest number of churches per capita of any place in the nation.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Edmund Burke's Prophecy

I am currently reading Edmund Burke. Here is something interesting that he wrote back in 1790:
We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembic of hell, which France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness, by throwing off the Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization amongst us, and amongst many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition might take place of it.
Considering that England has "uncovered its nakedness" and has embraced thoroughly the hellish, post-modernist void of secularism, that its empty churches are now hardly better than historical curiosities and quaint landmarks, is it not little wonder that a resurgent, jihadist Islam should rush in to fill the void, both in England, and even more so in France? Though the churches are empty, the mosques are spreading and are crowded, and the message being preached in them is all too often one of violence. What Edmund Burke wrote in "On the Revolution in France" now seems strangely prophetic of what would happen two hundred years later, when Europe began to turned into Eurabia.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Miracle Detective

I have finished reading “The Miracle Detective” by Randall Sullivan. It was a fascinating book, and I might comment more about it later. But here is an interesting quote from the book:
Hardly anything about the contemporary Catholic Church depressed him more that the fact that the Vatican was now "full of people who worship science," Groeschel said. "The ones who have the brains to say that the emperor has no clothes don’t have the guts to do it. The pope does, but the rest of them toady to the secularists. We’ve got the greatest case of wimpitude I’ve ever seen."
The "Groeschel" mentioned here is Benedict Groeschel who authored the book "A Still, Small Voice" (1993). Whether Sullivan is quoting him accurately, I don't know. Sullivan’s book was largely concerned with the events that happened in Medjugorje.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Ephemeral Beast

Yesterday, while I was in the process of cleaning up my computer, I came across some old notes about a famous episode back in 1999 where the pope kissed the Koran. Some folks were scandalized by the story, and some folks thought the story was a fabrication. But the story, according to my notes, originated with Fides.org and their article of June 4th, 1999 (No. 4151, NE 312), where His Beatitude Raphael I Bidawid, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, in an interview with Fides is reported to say:
It is known that Pope John Paul II has often voiced a desire to make a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Abraham, the common father of Jews, Christians and Muslims. For the Pope, Abraham is a figure which helps the unity of believers to overcome political divisions. On May 14th I was received by the Pope, together with a delegation composed of the Shiite imam of Khadum mosque and the Sunni President of the council of administration of the Iraqi Islamic Bank. There was also a representative of the Iraqi ministry of religion. I renewed our invitation to the Pope because his visit would be for us a grace from heaven. It would confirm the faith of Christians and prove the Pope’s love for the whole of humanity in a country which is mainly Muslim. At the end of the audience the Pope bowed to the Muslim holy book the Koran presented to him by the delegation and he kissed it as a sign of respect. The photo of that gesture has been shown repeatedly on Iraqi television and it demonstrates that the Pope is not only aware of the suffering of the Iraqi people, he has also great respect for Islam. A papal visit would be welcomed by both the people and by the authorities. After the audience I immediately sent a recommendation to the Iraqi government to make the official step of inviting the Pope to Iraq.
Unfortunately, the original URL to the story at fides.org, which I still have, has long since gone 404, the Internet being the ephemeral beast that it’s always been. One thing to remember is that at the time of the story, Saddam Hussein, who will go down in history as one of the most sadistic and bloodthirsty dictators who ever walked the earth, was still busily feeding human beings to his infamous people shredder.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Raging Desert

I have resided now in North Idaho for over ten years, and, more than anything else, the greatest difference I have seen between here and Southern California, where I once lived, is the weather. The images of Southern California which many Americans, especially those back East, might see on television or in the movies don’t convey very well the actual realities of the land and the sky of Southern California. Regardless of what one sees in that fantasy world of people’s imaginations, the truth is that beneath the thin veneer of opulence most of Southern Calfornia is a raging desert, or a semi-desert, which is at best barely different. For truely much of the year Southern California is miserably hot. I grew up there and that was my experience. It has been seared into my mind. Heat was my childhood there, my most vivid recollection. The only exception to this general rule about Southern California is the narrow strip of land along the Pacific Ocean, where the climate approaches what is called “Mediterranean” and which is more bearable—thus explaining why the real estate prices in that strip are affordable only for the very well-to-do, the principle of supply and demand being at work. Nevertheless, no one could survive in Southern California without air conditioning, at least not comfortably.

One can say that Southern California really doesn’t have seasons as most people would think of them, the seasonal cycle of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter that occur in the temperate latitudes. Instead it would be more accurate to say that Southern California has “conditions.” One condition would be the all too brief period of cooler temperatures, with some rain, usually within the months of November through January. During that brief time the Earth would become green again. And one would be amazed at the greenness, precisely because it always seemed so ephemeral, because as the year turned around, things would quickly dry out, the vegetation would wither and die and turn brown, and the air would begin to heat up. And so the other more predominate condition would be hot and smoggy, a time when the land beneath was brown, and the sky above was also brown, being only a different shade of brown in which one could barely discern that there were actually some clouds up there. Furthermore, as the years went by, a blue sky became more and more of a rarity, as more and more people crowded into Southern California, bringing their automobiles, which belched forth ever more smog. And so for me hot and smoggy was the ever present and unceasing reality of my life there. It seemed to be always hot and smoggy. It was hot and smoggy day in and day out for what seemed like days without end. It was hot and smoggy to the point of tedious dreariness. It could be Thanksgiving day in November and the temperatures would still be in the upper nineties, and the air would smell faintly of ozone—an odor somewhat like chlorine bleach for those who don’t know—and one would never know there were mountains and hills on the horizon veiled as they were by the dense and unending smog. The only hope of relief from the oppressive heat was around Xmas time, when cooler weather would finally fight its way inland from the Pacific Ocean. Yes, I remember how during those dreary days of unending Heat, when we were children, I and my siblings would sleep outdoors under the enormous mulberry tree we had in our backyard because the unbearable temperatures indoors made sleeping impossible. To this day I don’t understand why my parents never had air-conditioning in the house we grew up in, not even a swamp cooler which I saw many of my neighbors owning. Were we too poor then but didn’t know it? Truely air Conditioning is the only thing that makes life bearable in Southern California.

But North Idaho, where I live now, is so completely different from Southern California that when in 1993 I moved here from there it was like moving to a completely different universe. The greatest difference lies in the underlying and overarching facts about the land and the sky. When I first visited North Idaho back in July of 1983, the very first thing that struck me was amazement at how green everything was. The whole country seemed lush with vegetation, just briming over with life; there were trees and grass everywhere. To my astonishment the hills and mountains actually had trees on them, tall green trees, and not sparse, dead, oily brush, which is what we had in Southern California, all of which was always ready to ignite into flames at the slightest provocation of humanity. July in Southern Califoria meant that the sparse native vegetation was already withered and brown. In fact, there would be very little vegetation at all anywhere except for the happenchance that, by the ingenuity of men, great aqueducts were built to bring water from distant places elsewhere, from the Colorado River or the Sierra Nevada mountains. If those distant waters were somehow cut off, if those distant places were somehow to experience a climate change that imposed an unceasing drought which ended the water supply, then verily Southern California would descend into chaos and anarchy and barbarism. It would all perish because the land there by itself simply couldn’t support the concentration of population that currently dwells there.

Now if one were to examine a map of Southern California, one would see marked on it things called “rivers.” But to call them “rivers” is laughable because they are not really rivers but trickles. One such trickle was the Santa Ana “river,” which flowed by the city paradoxically named Riverside, where I lived for well over twenty years. But what river was Riverside on the side of? The Santa Ana nearby could hardly be called a river, for it was really nothing but a long gully, paved over with concrete in most places, which served only to flush out to the Pacific Ocean the occasional flash floods that only deserts are famous for. In fact it would be more accurate to call the Santa Ana river the “Santa Ana Wadi,” a “wadi” being a word derived from arabic for a dry stream bed in the desert. And what a wadi the Santa Ana was, being the wadi it really is: mostly quiet, uneventful, dry, dead, desolate, useless, nearly all the time. Yet on rare occasions there might come a heavy rain, or a cloud burst from the “Mexican Monsoon” during the Hot and Smoggy Condition, and Saint Ann's wadi would rage for a brief day or two, as all the water pouring from the city storm drains, water that the land desperately needed, rushed uselessly into Saint Ann's wadi and then out to the ocean which didn't need it. After all of that sound and fury, Saint Ann’s wadi would revert back to its seemingly perpetual deadness, a trickle signifying nothing much.

But in contrast, North Idaho is a land full of rivers, real rivers, rivers which one could swim in and drown in, rivers that flowed deep and alive all year round, rivers everywhere, with ever more smaller rivers and streams that flowed into them. And then there are the lakes. And what lakes! Southern California has some lakes, yes, and one could find them on the map if he sought after them diligently. There’s Lake Arrowhead up in the San Bernardino mountains, a couple of miles wide, around which aging Hollywood celebrities own lakeside property, according to a tour guide I once heard long ago. Then there’s Big Bear Lake, half of which has dried up. And there’s that that artificial Lake, not too distant from Riverside, called Lake Elsinore, which was always hovering on the brink of ecological diaster from the pond scum that grows ferociously there. But the lakes of North Idaho make the lakes of Southern California seem like pathetic parodies—mere lake travesties! North Idaho has many lakes, and they are beautiful; they are the exemplar of lakes, the kind of lakes that God must have intended for the earth to have—deep, very deep, and wide, alive with fish, into which issue rivers and from which issue rivers, real rivers, reminiscent of the Pishon and the Gihon of long ago, flowing through lands rich with gold and onyx and bdellium. (North Idaho has gold, but it is really more famous for silver.) The four greatest lakes of North Idaho are Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, Lake Pend Oreille, and Priest Lake. They are lakes that stretch for many miles, the sort that if a man were to drown in one, his body might never be found. And, indeed, on the Day of Judgement those Lakes would give up not a few dead. A cruise from one end of Lake Coeur d’Alene to another and back would be an all day venture since it is some sixty miles long, from North to South. Lake Pend Oreille is so wide and deep that the United States Navy maintains a sonor testing station in the town of Bayview near the southern tip. But besides these major lakes there are still more lakes, smaller ones that dot the land here and there, such as Liberty Lake, Hauser Lake, Lake Cocolalla, Twin Lakes, Spirit Lake, and Lake Fernan. And beside them there are uncounted smaller ponds and streams and marshes and wetlands that are soggy with water in the Spring from the Winter melt-off. Southern California is a land of desert heat and perpetual drought, but North Idaho is a land of abundant waters, and therefore it is a land that is green.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Quo Vadis

I rarely watch television myself. However, Mrs. Moonbones sometimes does, since she is a fan of Survivor, American Idol, and Star Search, and a few other shows. So last night as we were preparing to retire our collective ossicles for the night, she had the television in the bedroom turned on and was flipping through the channels. To my surprise, the PBS television station out of Spokane, Washington, station KSPS to be exact, was broadcasting an old movie. That by itself is not unusual, since they often broadcast old movies late at night. What was unusual was that the old movie was none other than Quo Vadis. Yes, it was the Technicolor™ Quo Vadis (1951), starring the raven-haired and debonair Robert Taylor, the ravishing young redhead Deborah Kerr, and the young, roly-poly, hyper-histrionic Peter Ustinov. “Quo Vadis on public television? This is out of the ordinary!” I said to myself. So I went out to the living room and watched it on the other television, beginning roughly about in the middle of the film. Mrs. Moonbones on the other hand wasn’t interested and instead went to sleep.

There are several things that strike me as remarkable about Quo Vadis. First of all, I didn’t realize until the closing credits that the heroine, Lygia, was played by Deborah Kerr. Up until then I remembered only that she played a singing role opposite Yul Brenner in the movie rendition of Roger and Hammerstein’s The King and I, back in the Fifties as I recall. But in Quo Vadis she was young enough that I didn’t immediately recognize her. And though his face looked vaguely familiar, all the time I was watching the movie I kept wondering who was playing Marcus, the Roman centurian with major hots for the Xtian Lygia. Marcus turned out to be Robert Taylor.

Secondly, Peter Ustinov’s super-thespian rendition of the worse-than-decadent and laughably degenerate Nero was so over-the-top, so hyperbolic, and so dripping with self-conscious irony, that it verged on eclipsing the rest of the story in the movie. I would go so far as to say that nowdays when most people think of Nero they will picture in their minds something very close to Ustinov’s depiction of him.

Also, there were often scenes in Quo Vadis that were very much charged with erotic undertones. But what is remarkable is that the film incorporated them without so much as having anybody take their clothes off.

The movie ended with most everyone dead, except for Marcus and his new bride Lygia—who were married by the apostle Peter himself while they were waiting in the dungeon to be dispatched. (Peter was crucified shortly thereafter. Upside down, of course.) But later they barely managed to escape martyrdom by a fortuitous Roman military coup d’etat against Nero, who later committed suicide, bemoaning the world's under-appreciation of his artistic talents.

But finally, what was most amazing to me was that Quo Vadis actually cast Xtians in a somewhat favorable light. When was the last time PBS ever did that? When was the last time Hollywood ever did that? In any case, I think I can confidently predict that Hollywood will never do a remake of Quo Vadis. It would be just too “politically incorrect” nowadays.