So His Holiness says he's sorry.
Sort of. Or not really so sorry for anything except the bad press his opinions
and, well, pontifications have recently generated, one guesses. Suppose
I made some intemperate statement right
here, and my editor extracted the most shocking and incendiary phrases and
bold-typed them in a prominent sidebar. After the outraged telephone calls
and E-mails and letters from the decent and drab and dull descended from the
higher moral plateaus onto my corrupt and boggy ground I'd be forced to make
some thin and grudging apology. I doubt I could craft a less generous or more
revealing mea culpa
than God's right hand man on Earth has brought forth.
The Pope is “extremely upset that some portions of
his speech were able to sound offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers
and have been interpreted in a way that does not at all correspond with his
intentions". A masterpiece. Some portions of his speech were able to sound
offensive. Get that? The
speech is at fault for being able to
sound offensive. And if that
doesn't redirect the heat away from the Pontiff, let's not overlook the
culpability of those interpreters, that is, the Muslims against whose beliefs he
directed his original remarks.
And what precisely did the man in the big funny hat
say and about whom, for those of us who maybe don't get much news beyond the
ball scores or Tom Cruise or Paris Hilton updates from People magazine? He quoted "the erudite Byzantine emperor
Manuel II Palaeologus", a man whose works I admit I have not read. Manny,
according to the former Mr. Ratzinger, said, "Show me
just what Mohamed brought that was new and there you will find things only evil
and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he
preached." Evil and inhuman.
Well, how bad is that? Ronnie Reagan called the
Soviet Union “The Evil Empire” and we loved the dimwitted old actor for
it. G. W. Bush, putative leader
of the free world, discovered that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted a
modern “Axis Of Evil”, and he got re-elected and has apparently been issued a
free pass for all crimes past, present or pending, including but not limited to
draft dodging, election rigging, lying, torturing, violating international
standards of decency, cronyism, ignoring the Geneva
Conventions, sounding like an idiot, letting Rumsfeld smoke indoors, and giving
the keys to the Constitution to Dick Cheney.
Recent history is replete with public men who jack
their jaws too freely. Remember Earl Butz? In 1976 the
then Secretary of Agriculture volunteered, on Air Force One, in the company of
reporters, "I'll tell you what the coloreds want.” And he did. Only the Madison
Capitol Times and Toledo Blade printed the full text of his opinions, and I
don't suppose The Editor Mrs. Gibbs is going to let me join their brave ranks,
so I leave it to my readers to make the appropriate substitutions: “ Loose
shoes, tight xxxxx and a warm place to xxxx.” Mr. Butz resigned. Curiously,
throughout his long career he never bothered to change his offensive last
And who doesn't remember loose cannon extraordinaire, Interior Secretary James Watt? In 1983,
describing his staff to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, he said, “We have every
mixture you can have. I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple.” Now, I'm
not certain just which point of this direct and probably true statement was so
offensive; I'd guess the term “cripple” had already passed out of favor by then,
having gone the way of “gimp”. At any rate, he resigned. This was a good thing,
regardless, because he was crazy. Religious crazy. End-of-the-world crazy. Which
brings us back to Pope Benedict XVI.
He shouldn't have said it. We can all agree that had
he read his speech before he delivered it, perhaps while enjoying a couple Heinekens, sitting naked in his office with his feet on his
desk and some dogs on the floor and a Bo Diddley record playing, as I am often
disposed when proofreading my hastily wrought essays, he'd have deleted the
reference. But maybe the Pope don't know Didley.
He's right, of
course. Foolish to say it, but, I mean, Christ, read the texts. Where do Muslim
fanatics get the juice that infuses them with such a taste for dynamite suits
and martyrdom? They read the Koran. And, yes, they do interpret it variously
according to what they're interested in finding there. This is not unlike the
White House mining the vast volumes of intelligence data for tiny factoids that
could be built into a shaky (but convincing, with such horrible consequences, to
pretty much all of Congress and most citizens) tower of evidence that Iraq was
awash in poison gas and nuclear (that's noo-klee-ar) warheads. Except of course
the intelligence contained no such evidence. But the Koran does. The only
problem, Pope-wise, is that the Bible does too.
And the Bible, some say, is the direct word of God. I
have a Bible. I first read it when I was thirteen. Most of it made no sense.
Much of it was excruciatingly boring. Quite a bit was repetitive.
Revelation was fun, but
laughable. Here and there (in the King James version, but not in watered-down,
more “accessible” later iterations) one does find a nice turn of phrase. Bob
Dylan has incorporated most of the better ones in various of his songs, and if
you don't like “Every Grain Of Sand”, listen to his brand new record,
inscrutable though it occasionally is, for such delights as the line, “Spirit on
the water/ Darkness on the face of the deep....”
I took a comparative religions course in college. The
professor was unabashedly in favor of the then-popular (among white college kids
and hippies at least) “Eastern religions”, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism.
He was quite full of himself, and a fervent fan of the Upanishads. I passed the
course, but took the largest lesson from some of the discussion generated during
lectures. Everyone liked comparing all the other religions, but many balked at the notion of throwing
his or her own faith into the pot for equal consideration with Cargo Cults and
Zoroastrianism. In a classroom in a public university where one might be
expected to bring an open mind and a spirit of rational inquiry, the discourse
frequently degenerated into defense of the beliefs and practices of the
religions in which most of my classmates had been raised, Judaism and
Christianity. Which brings us back to the bloody Bible.
Much slaying. Every other goat and bullock gets sacrificed to God's blood needs,
not to mention, almost, Isaac by the hand of his father Abraham until God steps
in and says, just fooling. Job got boils, Lot's old lady was turned to salt.
It's slaying and slavery everywhere you look. Some of this stuff is funny;
little of it comes to any point except this: God plays favorites. There are
“Chosen People.” If you and yours are favored by God, you worship him in
whatever arbitrary and demeaning way he directs, and if he doesn't change his
mind for reasons known only unto him, he might protect you from your enemies.
The problem, of course, is that your enemies have
their own god, who, given the origins of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the
same part of the world at pretty much the same time by
persons mostly indistinguishable from each other, is the same god you think is
pulling the strings in your behalf. Which brings us to John Lennon, I guess.
“Imagine there's no Heaven....” We won't be Raptured, we won't be raised, we
won't meet God or Jesus or Muhammed. Maybe none of what you believe is true.
Then all any of us has is this three score and ten, this vale of tears. Why make
it worse by finding fictitious differences between us common sufferers? Don't
ask me; I'm not a believer.
But Pope Benedict is. And he's
Infallible! Well, infallible according to an evolving, slippery
definition, the history of which, like all history of all religions, informs us
much of culture and politics and power and greed and not much of the illusive
gods upon which the constructs of faith and practice and policy are
And I'm prepared
to say what few dare say. The Pope is right. Islam is soaked in blood. And the
most vicious of the Muslim clerics are right, too. Christianity is a violent
religion. Judaism? Read your Old Testament. Watch those Hollywood movies. Not
one man righteous; no, not one. Not a religion untainted in proclamation or
practice. So how to choose among them? Why try?
Every State of
the Union address, every out-of-power-party rebuttal, closes with the earnest
injunction, “Good night, and may God Bless America.” It's
boilerplate—unquestioned, unchallenged. Whose God? How blessed, for what
purpose, and at whose expense or to whose detriment or death? Let's gather at
the water for the blessing of the cluster bombs.
Give the Pope a break, people. He says what he
believes. He says what he sees. He only doesn't go far enough. He doesn't speak
of the Inquisition, tells no tales of the Crusades. Archimedes asked for a long
lever, a fulcrum, and a place to stand, and promised to move the Earth. All I'd
require for that purpose would be the place to stand, one distant from the
culture and indoctrination and fear of free thinking that inhibits nearly every
human being. Get far enough away from the things your parents believed
because their parents believed
them, far from the half-truths, outright lies, misdirections and fear-mongering
that have put priest and politician in alliance against the interests of the
mass of men and women since early history, and one set of unlikely beliefs does
not seem a bit more believable than another.
And who wants to end up in Heaven anyway, spending
Eternity listening to James Watt?
Yes, Mr. Cooper will be going to Hell. He knows it. He takes
comfort in the fact that, as his mother assured him when he was yet a little boy
helping her change the altar hangings in the (now-defunct) little stone
Episcopal church in Guilford, New York, "At least in Hell I'll get to see all my
old friends and family." Lou Reed said, "You can't always trust your mother."
"Bob Dylan said, "Trust yourself." Until he is cut down by one or another brand
of vengeful, angry god, Cooper lives in Alna, Maine, and those wishing to
condemn or to try to save him may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.