Category Archives: Religion

Moby Schtick

 

They think me mad–Starbuck does; but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and–Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer.

Captain Ahab/Moby Dick

My God, they were frightened of Muskie and look who got destroyed–they wanted to run against McGovern, and look who they’re running against.

Deep Throat/All the President’s Men

Two books, one published in 1851; the other in 1974, written nearly a century and a quarter apart.  Two books, one a metaphor for obsession; the other a documentation of obsession.  Two books, about men, both engaged in pursuing their respective white whales.  And in the end, two books which chronicled these men’s preoccupation with destroying a perceived enemy, only to become the victim of their own vindictiveness.  Two books, in which the protagonists, Captain Ahab and Richard Nixon, are both Quakers.

undefinedWhy is this last factoid relevant?  As suggested in Jimmy Breslin’s chronicle of Nixon’s rise and fall How the Good Guys Finally Won, the author wonders if the 37th president of the United States might have survived Watergate if only he had been raised a Catholic.  Breslin’s thesis is grounded in his subject’s inability to confess his sins.  Breslin’s evidence begins with the disclosure the Watergate burglars are connected to the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP).  Imagine if Nixon had transformed the Oval Office into a pubic confessional following the arrest of G. Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt, et. al.  “Forgive me fellow citizens for I have sinned.  In my exuberance to continue in office, I may have said things or sent signals to my campaign that led to extra-legal actions.  I take full responsibility for my behavior and assure the American people I have instructed those involved this is unacceptable.”

I would argue Nixon’s own Quaker background, in it’s own way, should have been equally enlightening.  Quakers believe every human represents a somewhat different kind of trinity consisting of body, soul and spirit.  It is the conjoining of these three elements which makes each person whole.  And Moby Dick, perhaps more than any Quaker text, explains how separation of soul and spirit led to Ahab’s madness as he obsessively pursued his white whale.  He recognized the source of his obsession, the loss of part of his body during his initial confrontation with the behemoth.  But was never able to accept it and move on.

Nixon’s losses, the presidency in 1960 and the California governorship in 1962, though not physical left an equally lasting scar.  He would not allow anyone, especially Edmund Muskie, another New England Catholic reminiscent of John Kennedy, reopen the wound.  Like Ahab, the separation of body and mind from spirit prevented him from understanding a tarnished victory was no victory at all, and in the end, would lead to his political self-destruction.

Which brings us to 2019 and Donald Trump.  One might forgive Nixon for not seeing Ahab’s fate was a metaphor for his own.  One was fiction.  The other was real.  What’s more, Moby Dick is a primer on whaling as much as it is about Ahab, much in the same way Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full provides more information about horse breeding than any non-equinophile needs to know.  In contrast, All the President’s Men could easily have been titled What Not to Do When Running for President: A Step-by-Step Manual.

What makes the Trump/Biden narrative more intriguing is the fact the former vice-president was merely a surrogate for Trump’s true white whale (or dare I say orca since the original marine mammal in this saga was only half white).  When he finally presented his long-form birth certificate, Barack Obama humiliated Trump, exposing him for the liar and conspiracy theorist he still is.  From that moment in July 2015 when Trump announced his candidacy he was always running against Obama.  He never talked about Hillary Clinton’s time as first lady or senator from New York.  In fact, those were the days when the Trumps and Clintons socialized and Trump financed her campaigns. All of his attacks related solely to her tenure as Obama’s secretary of state.  The emails.  The conflicts of interest between her cabinet responsibilities and the Clinton Foundation.  And although he prevailed in the electoral college, he railed at the thought another member of Barack Obama’s inner-circle had again humiliated him by winning the popular vote.

Having defeated Obama’s secretary of state, Trump fully expected a victory in 2020, presenting himself as the alternative to the progressive wing of the Democratic party personified by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and AOC.  But Trump was never one to let sleeping dogs lie.  When a dormant Joe Biden emerged from the depths following Charlottesville, Trump no longer thought of 2020 as a chance for more tax cuts, judicial appointments or railing against immigrants.  Although Biden’s name was at the top of the ticket, Trump viewed it as one more chance to chip away at the Obama legacy.  As had been the case with Ahab and Nixon, this obsession separated his body and mind from his spirit resulting in the madness that led to both impeachment and defeat at the ballot box.

At an October 15th rally in Pennsylvania, Trump told the crowd, “Can you imagine if you lose to a guy like this?”  MAGA nation probably thought he meant Joe Biden.  But in Trump’s mind, it was the same white whale it had always been, Barack Obama.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The Road to Damascus

 

For those unfamiliar with the business case teaching method, it is grounded in similar training in medical and law schools.  Students are presented with the facts surrounding a management decision, analogous to intern rounds or moot court.  They analyze the situation and recommend a course of action.  From a grading perspective, there is no single right answer.  Assessment is based on the extent to which a student’s preferred option is supported by the facts.

Teaching case method is particularly rewarding if you have the principal, e.g. owner or executive, in the classroom for questions and answers following the Socratic debate over the possible options and analysis.  In one case during my years as a professor of entrepreneurship at Miami University, a student proposed a solution which had never crossed the business owner’s mind.  In response, the head of a product marketing company told the student, “I sure wish you had been there at the time.”

About Us - Johnsonville Foodservice

One of the most popular and illuminating cases about business management is “Johnsonville Sausage Co.” written by Harvard professor Michael J. Roberts.  Owner and CEO Ralph Stayer (photo) is faced with a decision whether to take on a new customer despite the current lack of production capacity.  While addressing the opportunity, Stayer has an epiphany about his management style.  Previously he considered such judgments to be executive prerogative.  However, in this case the decision process was more inclusive, from which he realized his history of micromanagement was holding the company back.

I never had the privilege of Stayer’s presence in my own classroom, but Harvard produced a video of questions and answers in one of Roberts’ classes.  During the give and take, the following exchange occurred.

STUDENT:  At what point did you become so enlightened?  Pre-1980, it seems like you had a pretty authoritarian shop there.  And now it appears you are diametrically opposed to your previous management style.  What caused your shift?

STAYER:  It’s a great question.  It really is.  I was on the road to Damascus and lightning hit me.  Knocked me off my donkey.  And when I came to, I was enlightened.

[Class laughs]

For those unfamiliar with Stayer’s reference to Damascus and the donkey, it is attributed to the conversion of Paul the Apostle described in The New Testament.  Prior to the crucifixion, Paul had been among those who persecuted early Christians.  On his way to Damascus, Paul (then known as Saul the Pharisee) was blinded by a light from heaven and heard a voice which asked why he would persecute the Lord.  Once in Damascus, his sight was restored after which he was baptized and became a follower of Jesus.

Why, this morning, did I choose to school readers on the likes of Ralph Stayer and Paul the Apostle?  Because modern day epiphanies do not require being thrown from a donkey by a bolt of lightning or hearing unseen voices.  More pedestrian omens serve the same purpose.  For example, following a heart attack, the patient makes significant lifestyle changes in diet and exercise.  Or the announcement by one’s own child to being gay precipitates a change of heart about marriage equality and LGBTQ rights.

Which brings me to 1:45 a.m. this morning when the news broke Donald and Melania Trump both tested positive for COVID-19.  As an agnostic, I cannot believe this was an act of God.  With adequate contact tracing, epidemiologists can pinpoint the source of transmission. Like any compassionate individual, I wish the first couple a quick and complete recovery.  But that does not stop me from questioning whether the White House responds to this medical event as a conversion opportunity.  Will Trump’s own experience deter him from further ignoring the experts and putting his own personal political fortunes ahead of the nation’s well being?

The choice is simple.  Trump can either be Paul the Apostle.  Or the jackass from which Paul was thrown.  As with any crisis, one can hope for the best, but must remain prepared for the worse.

POSTSCRIPT

Trump “psychophants” have flooded social media with calls for Joe Biden to immediately suspend his campaign while Trump is in quarantine.  How ironic this comes from the folks who have spent the last six months suggesting, just because blue states have had to lock down, there is no reason for red states to follow suit.

Or imagine the situation where one restaurant ignores CDC guidance and is closed down by local officials.  Under the above “Trump campaign principle,” all complying restaurants and bars should also suspend operations.

In which case, I have no doubt the Proud Boys would all come to D.C. armed to the hilt to “Liberate The Dubliner.”  For those unfamiliar with this Capitol Hill landmark, should you ever have the occasion to be on the corner of North Capitol and F Streets, stop in and order the fish and chips with a stein of Guinness.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Divine Assassin?

Chadwick Boseman, ‘Black Panther’ star, has died

(CNN) —Actor Chadwick Boseman, who brought the movie “Black Panther” to life with his charismatic intensity and regal performance, has died.

Boseman has battled colon cancer since 2016 and died at home with his family and wife by his side, according to a statement posted on his Twitter account. He was 43.

Folks, this is going to be short and bitter sweet.  I may say things which some will find highly offensive.  And, as always, I do not expect anyone to take my view as gospel.  My purpose is only to share a raw and honest emotion in a difficult time.

In several recent posts, I have joked about current events that made we wish I believed in a divine presence.  For example, one can hope that Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s fall from grace was a sign from God.  I hoped He was telling us, “Being a hypocritical conman in my holy name will only be tolerated for so long.”  Maybe karma really is a bitch.

But when I woke up this morning to the above item at the top of my Google News feed, I realized these brief moments of appreciation for the possibility of a sacred father, even in the name of irony or humor, only last so long.  While others turn to their faith to get them through the hard times, my lack of reliance on religion is what keeps me sane.

If I believed in a divine spirit, this morning I would asking him, “WTF?”  It is hard enough to imagine a compassionate God who watches from the sidelines as men of ill-will take down African American advocates of racial equality and social justice.  I will never understand how James Earl Ray and Byron de la Beckwith fit into some grand spiritual design.  By eschewing belief in God, I have the freedom to accept there are more earthly forces that generate such hate.  Forces, as a less than divine being, I can push back against.

Which brings me back to Chadwick Boseman.  If this were part of a divine plan, it was executed with a maximum of cruelty.  Consider the timing of Boseman’s death.  On August 28:

  • Emmett Till is murdered in Mississippi (1955)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (1963)
  • Thousands gather at that same spot to remember King and black victims of police brutality (2020)
  • The NBA refuses to conduct business as usual in support of the Black Lives Matter movement (2020)
  • Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day (2020)

Add to that list the anniversary of the death of an actor who introduced generations of young black men and women to James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson.  And helped spread the spirit of “Wakanda Forever” to a global audience.

Rest in peace Chadwick.  I do not understand why you were taken at such a young age.  And while I hope some day there is a cure for the disease which randomly attacked you, this morning, I am comforted in my belief there is no supreme being who thought depriving the world of your talent, at a time when it was needed more than ever, was a good idea.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

God’s Plan

 

Truth in Advertising ALERT:  As long time readers know, I remain a devout agnostic.  The following is therefore offered as satire, not a representation of my personal beliefs.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

~Jeremiah 29:11

From the beginnings of biblical history to modern day, religious leaders of all faiths have used the words in Jeremiah 29:11 to push back against those who dare question why a just and compassionate God would create a world in which there is so much death and destruction from war, disease and hate.  We are told to look at the big picture.  Or without knowing pain, how can we fully appreciate the blessings that same God lays before us everyday.

Stories of moral cleansing from a great flood or plagues were understandable when civilization was more superstitious than knowledgeable.  Sadly, in some circles, not much has changed in the five or six intervening millennia. Remember the flap over Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s declaration that 9/11 was “America’s chickens coming home to roost,” a result of years of human rights violations.  Unfortunately, Pastor Wright did not have a monopoly on such rubbish.  The late Jerry Falwell claimed the 9/11 attacks were divine retribution for abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyles and organizations like the ACLU and People for the American Way which were out to destroy our nation.

As suggested above, sometimes God’s wrath comes in the form of foreign invaders.  Sometimes he simply partners with Mother Nature.  Just ask televangelists John Hagee or Pat Robertson.   During an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Hagee provided the following cause of Hurricane Katrina.

The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe…that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans

Robertson attributed the devastating earthquake in Haiti to the Haitians’ “pact with the devil.”  And what was the genesis of this unholy alliance?  According to Robertson, it was their desire for independence from France.  In his words, “You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”  As comedian David Steinberg once said of his own father’s revulsion when it seemed to snow every December 25th, fulfilling Christians’ longing for a cliched White Christmas, “You have to admire prejudice like that.”  [NOTE:  Steinberg was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada which would make a late December snowstorm the rule rather than the exception.]

The one thing missing from these modern day tales of divine intervention is any recognition of God’s grace.  After the great flood, there was a promise of a new, better world symbolized by the rainbow over Mt. Ararat.  The plagues in Egypt resulted in an end to the Israelites enslavement and return to their ancestral home, “a land of milk and honey.”

Which brings me to 2020 and the failure of faux Christians to notice that we are in the midst of an obvious example of how they profess God works in mysterious ways.  And who better to tell this story than the late Flip Wilson’s alter ego  Reverend Leroy of the Church of What’s Happening Now.

Can I hear an amen?

Brothers and sisters, in the words of Brother Bob Dylan, these are hard times.  Many of you have lost friends and families to the coronavirus.  Many of you are unemployed.  And in these moments of sorry and need, you ask, “Why is God punishing me?  What did I do to deserve this?  Is this part of His divine plan?”

Brothers and Sisters, ask no more. For those who think the Lord has forsaken us, fear not.  He continues to reveal himself as he always has.  From the beginning of time, God has always given us the chance, as Brother Spike Lee said, to do the right thing.  Only when we forsake his principles and the teachings of his son Jesus Christ does he step forward.

Remember Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac.  Abraham thought it was a test of loyalty.  If so, God would have let the sacrifice go forward.  Instead, it was a test of free will, that Abraham need not obey an order, even one from the Almighty himself, when it was unjust.  Only when Abraham failed that test did God appear in the form of two angels and told Abraham to back off, Jack.*  Can you give me another amen?

If Pharaoh heeded Moses’ plea to “let my people go” after any of the first nine plagues, the first born Egyptian males would not have died.  God always gives us the opportunity to do the right thing.  He intervenes when we ignore that moment in time.

So if you ask, “Reverend Leroy, when did God give us a chance to avoid the coronavirus,” you need to first understand why it was necessary?  What possible good has it accomplished?  The answer, as they say in Motown, is in the timing.

God patiently watched as Americans elected a reality show con artist president of the United States.  He did not intervene when Donald Trump openly denigrated large segments of God’s children–Latinos, Muslims and gays.  He cried but did not act when Trump ordered babies separated from their mothers and put in cages.  He waited for the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment.  He looked on as Senate Republicans ignored all the evidence and failed to remove him from office.

Only when it appeared Americans might give Trump four more years to  further abuse his authority and power, did God decree, “Enough is enough!  I must expose this dude for who he is.”  And once again, God unleashed His wingman, the Angel of Death, not to punish the innocent, but to remind us we still have a choice.  We can be self-centered and protect our own interests or we can follow the Lord and take the weak and needy into our hearts.

Can I get an amen?  Amen.

The proof of the pudding will come in November.  Though I doubt the possibility, imagine Trump loses in a landslide on election day and the coronavirus magically disappears without a vaccine or further mediation.  Now that would be a miracle of biblical proportions that would convert the most skeptical into believers.  A story that would no doubt be chronicled in “The Gospel According to Leroy,” a chapter of The Latest Testament.

And just for the record, as Reverend Leroy would say, “The devil made me write this post.”

*I first heard this interpretation of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac from Rabbi Amy Perlin, the first female rabbi to found her own congregation.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Exodus 7:14-11:10

 

Every spring, Jews around the world celebrate Pesach (Passover) with a Seder, a home-based ritual during which adults are required to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt.  One element of the Seder is remembrance of the ten plagues enumerated in the Book of Exodus, which culminated in the slaying of  Egyptian first born males including Pharaoh’s eldest son.

According to the website LIVESCIENCE.COM, there is objective evidence for each of the plagues beginning with the rise of red algae, often referred to as “red tide,”  which explains Exodus 7:21 which states, “The fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water.”  Though more commonly occurring in oceans, there are numerous documented instances of red algae reproducing in freshwater.  This strain also produces mycotoxins, which are known to cause disease and death in humans.  LIVESCIENCE.COM suggests the presence of mycotoxins in grain could explain the tenth plague, death of first-born males, as the eldest sons in Egyptian families were most likely to work in the fields, harvesting crops, thus having the most exposure to the contaminated grain.

Passover Haggadah by Nathan GoldbergSo, when Donald Trump says, “No one could anticipated the current pandemic,” not only did he have the benefit of Peter Navarro’s memos, HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s efforts to warn him or daily briefings from the director of national intelligence.  If he had been paying attention to the reading of the Hagaddah at Jared and Ivanka’s Seder, instead of constantly checking the number of pages before he could partake of the festive meal, he would have had 3,200 years’ warning.  (Oh, I forgot, Donald was not at his daughter’s Seder.  Ivanka and Jared went to New Jersey to be with family while the rest of us were sheltered-in-place, holding Zoom virtual Seders.)

Years from now, I wonder if families will gather at this season to tell the story of the deliverance from coronavirus and the 10 plagues needed to soften Trump’s heart to the point where he let the doctors and scientists take command of this modern day exodus from isolation.  In accordance with tradition, participants must spill a drop of Diet Coke as they recite each of the following:

  1. Cancelling of MAGA rallies.
  2. Closing Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties.
  3. Isolation with Melania and Barron.
  4. Bernie Sanders not becoming the Democratic nominee.
  5. Precipitous drop in approval rating.
  6. Questioning by persistent female journalists at press briefings.
  7. Having to fake empathy for the sick and dying.
  8. Depression-era rates of unemployment.
  9. Infection of White House staff.
  10. Having to wear a mask.

Unlike pharaoh, it looks as though it will take more than 10 plagues before Trump understands what he is up against.  And to honor those who survived the pandemic and emulate their experience, the ritual meal will consist of whatever is left in the refrigerator that might make a good casserole.

For what it’s worth.  Stay safe.
Dr. ESP