23 November 2015

Contra Omnes Apologia

As a child, I grew up in a church deeply divided over the nature of revelation. Attending Missouri Lutheran Church services in the 1960s was sometimes a pure leap of faith as to the love of God, for that love was surely not evident in church meetings. In our tiny country parish, I saw two loving and well respected clergy pushed out of their pulpits because their theology was not sufficiently conservative for a few vocal members of the congregation. I remember hearing a phrase that began like this: “Only a heretic could ever say…”

I know that this experience has had a profound effect upon my thinking. I re-entered the church as a man in his early-20s after reading Thomas J. J. Altizer (whom I am happy to say I have since come to know personally), whose seminal book “The Gospel of Christian Atheism” (Westminster Press,1966) earned him the unfortunate sobriquet “the death of God priest.” Though I have come to find myself in deep disagreement with a number of Altizer’s positions, his principal anti-foundational arguments have been a starting point for me in a long process of study, discernment and writing.

In my 20’s though I was married, and not a Roman Catholic, I spent two years at the Jesuit theological program at Loyola University in Chicago. I found life as an Episcopalian there very difficult. I was always either the prized example of ecumenism or that unfortunate schismatic relegated to silence in the back corner chair. With certain of the older faculty that corner chair was waiting for me from the moment they opened the class list and saw the abbreviation “Prot.” to the right of my name, breaking the otherwise unremarkable column of “RC’s.” For others, it became available when I transgressed some invisible line in an essay, or broke an unspoken regulation of what constituted an acceptable question.

After two years, with the help and advice of a bright, compassionate lay instructor, herself new to Loyola, and a supportive, if besieged departmental chair, I transferred to Haverford College. Historically a Quaker institution, its Religion Department was then dominated by Lutheran and Roman Catholic scholars. My principle work was divided between philosophy and New Testament. My thesis was a structuralist analysis of kinship in St. Mark’s Gospel. While there, I remember participating in a semester long seminar critiquing various literary approaches to the Pauline corpus. Haverford is a fine school, I was very lucky to attend: The seminars were always small, between six and 10 students, and the faculty, world-class. 

This seminar was particularly intense. All the students involved were departmental majors, and the class had several prerequisites. The range of religious affiliations among the students was wide, I was a few years past being received in the Episcopal Church. My principal interlocutor was a woman named Joanna. She belonged to a “non-denominational” evangelical congregation, and was very active in Campus Crusade. At one point in our discussions, which while often challenging, and even intense, were marked by civility, I made comment on a family regulation laid down by Paul. Doubtless, my comment was light and likely deprecating. I’ve been in near continuous argument with Paul since I began to read the Bible. Joanna turned to me, her words to me rang that same bell – she said “Only a heretic could ever say that.”

Several years later, not long after I was ordained, the Diocese of Pennsylvania was convulsing with dissension. A small group of parishes had decided to leave the church. They disagreed with the revisions of our service book, the Book of Common Prayer, and changes to diocesan canons mandating that parishes could no longer refuse to accept clergy solely on the basis of gender. The dissenters were a small minority, but both wealthy and vocal, a very dangerous combination. 

In an attempt to embarrass the “liberal” majority within the diocese, one of the dissenting parishes put forward a resolution to our annual convention, knowing full well that for canonical reasons, it would fail. The resolution read “The Diocese of Pennsylvania does affirm that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation.” Along with a large number of clergy and lay delegates, I rose to speak against that resolution. I spoke for reasons of order within the polity. Within the Episcopal Church system of governance, creedal issues are not subject to the authority of individual dioceses. This is the case in all churches that maintain the historic ordering of the Church (Laos, bishop, presbyter and deacon) in apostolic succession and retain the historic creeds.  As I returned to my seat after speaking, a woman from one of the dissenting congregations took my arm – not gently — and shouted at me “That’s heresy, just heresy, you damned heretic.” She clearly followed the Marine Corps. drill sergeant’s three-fold etiquette for communication: Tell them what your going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them again, as in “Run, I said run! Run, you goldbricks…” I believe the official minutes of the convention referred to “lively debate.”

I could go on telling these anecdotes. l suppose that all of this biography is little more than a partial explanation of why I choose to begin with metaphysics rather than revelation, and indeed find most modern attempts to articulate a theology of revelation as, to be honest, self-indulgent. 

From my readings of such theologies, beginning with Karl Barth and moving through any number of contemporary evangelicals, I find a deep flaw: that contemporary “conservative” theologies of revelation, are not actually theologies but elaborations of doctrines, and not in the form of simple explications or affirmation, but rather in the form of elaborate apologetics.  Barth was forthcoming concerning this. Today, in conversation and reading with scholars and non-scholar alike, I find little recognition that these revelational theologies are apologetical in nature, especially given the present tendency to cloth such statement in rococo fabrics of propositional logic nearly Thomistic in scope. Nor do I find any general awareness of the consequences of conflating the tasks of an apologetic with those of theology or philosophy.  

This distinction is vital, in that theology, properly understood, should not delimit its investigations, but by the very nature of its endeavour must always be open to thought other than its own. I would frame the manner of philosophical discourse in precisely the same manner. Doctrine, on the other hand, begins with propositions, that while to external observers seem purely presumptive, must be acknowledged and may only be explicated, not investigated. An apologetic discourse is, in form and use, a type, and perhaps in Western discourse, the archetype of a polemic. While even here I would suggest that there is a relationship between doctrine and apologetics that is too often overlooked, it is apologetics in particular, and the apologetical nature of revelational theology that I will concentrate.

French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote:

“The [theological] polemicist…proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorising him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is harmful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognising this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.”

While Foucault's language is combative, I do not believe it to be inaccurate. The task of the apologist today is no different than at any time in the church's history. When under persecution, Justin Martyr wrote to the Emperor  Antonius, or Tertullian to a provincial governor in his “Apologeticus pro Christianis,” their method is not a simple claim for mercy, or plea that their Church is innocent of wrongdoing. Rather, they establish what becomes the classical mode of Christian apologetics. They claim more than the justice of their position: Their “truth,” is universal, recognisable, at least in part, by anyone of any era, who is capable of clear thought or understanding: The ancients, ignorant as they might have been, glimpsed their truth;  Anyone who is clear minded, or possesses any true wisdom must agree.

Early Christian apologists, borrowing from a prevailing literary model, established for Christian apologetics in the future a pattern or habit of elision. Certain ideas, concepts, notions were made, in spite of ostensible prominence, to disappear as legitimate subjects of discussion or argument. “This idea” or “that concept” is not subject to reason.  They are in effect externalised to reason, and indeed, from the perspective of the apologist, precede reason.  From this position such ideas or concepts function so as to define as “unreasonable” any critical examination of their content.  Turning again to Foucault, he argues: 

"Polemics sets itself the task of determining the intangible point of dogma, the fundamental and necessary principle that the adversary has neglected, ignored or transgressed; and it denounces this negligence as a moral failing; at the root of the error, it finds passion, desire, interest, a whole series of weaknesses and inadmissible attachments that establish it as culpable.”

Following Foucault, it is evident that a theological polemic is fundamentally what we might otherwise call a rhetorical form of scorn. It establishes a boundary between the proper and the improper, the legitimate and the illegitimate.  In eliding the actual content of an assertion, it denies the legitimate subjectivity of the interlocutor.  This is precisely the nature of scorn. Intersubjectivity is dissolved and one’s interlocutor instead is objectified: heretic, heathen, schismatic, faithless, ungodly, the apologist’s vocabulary is amply supplied with objectifying terms.

In the world of early christianity this form was well known.  In writing and oration the tactic of the polemic, the undermining of an opponent through a rejection of his or her legitimacy, was a common tactic. It remains so today, especially in political oratory, though in ordinary usage it is generally considered both inappropriate and often as evidentially indicative of fallacy.

Popular awareness of Imperial era graffiti may be one of the few elements of value to be found in HBO Television’s series “Rome.” The opening credits were accompanied by animated graffiti, some religious, some political and some simply salacious, emerging from street facing walls throughout the show’s sets of the ancient city. As dazzling as the animation was, it brought to life the idea of a city covered with images, politics, religion, sex, and trade competing for space on the plastered walls of a city, when, as today in much of the Middle East, private homes and not a few businesses faced inward to courtyards. Our image of columned porticos in reality applied to temples and other public buildings, leaving many streets with near continuous walls on either side, broken only by strongly built doors. A paradise of sorts for graffiti, and the source of the oldest extant depiction we have of the crucifixion of Jesus.

The “Alexamenos graffito” dates back to perhaps 200 C.E.  Through its graphic simplicity, it gives witness to the very mechanism of scorn that I'm arguing is at the root of Christian apologetics. Though clearly its barely literate creator was a fierce critic of Christians, it nevertheless indicates precisely the manner in which Christian apologetics have come to function.

The “Alexamenos graffito” does not need HBO’s wizards of animation to bring its crude humour and obscene gesture’s to life. Discovered during excavations at the end of the 19th Century, it consists of a crude drawing inscribed in a plastered wall. The central figure is a crucified man with the head of an ass.  His body is placed facing the cross, away from the viewer, his shirt length tunic exposing his bare buttocks.  Drawn below the cross and to the side is another figure of a man with one hand raised toward the crucified figure.  Immediately below the cross, in coarse Greek is written “Αλεξαμενος ϲεβετε θεον. ϲεβετε” which we might translate as “Alexamenos worships his God.”  Poor Alex is a Christian. Triply inscribed, the message is clear. His crudely drawn hand is raised in salute to the ass of a crucified ass.

The simple doubling makes the graffitist’s intentions clear.  Alexamenos’s god is worthless: He is crucified, he is an animal, he is ludicrous.  Alexamenos’s value is the same. The modality may be laughter, but the scorn that underlies this gesture is nonetheless clear.

When christian apologists define a series of constraints on thought, saying  these propositions must be accepted as foundational, and are beyond the scope of legitimate inquiry,  they may have persuaded themselves that their intent is persuasion, but in actuality, they have drawn the figure upon the wall, a cartoon of reason whose only real function is an expression of scorn.  The elaborate and precarious constructs of supposed logic which surround such projects function not as invitations to discourse, but in the same way as the coarse Greek scribbled on the wall, as a further delineation of the object of the apologist’s scorn. It does not invite discourse.  It does not welcome the investigations of reason.  It does not invite intersubjectivity.  It simply further defines the boundary between the object of scorn and the “orthodox” or “properly believing” Christian.

Following the logic of Martin Marty in the seminal lecture given in 1988 introducing the Fundamentalism Project, there is a second purpose to apologetics as practised by believers in "conservative" revelational of theology, and that of course concerns the other side of the boundary, the wall which an apologetic draws his circular in shape.  Those within the wall that the apologist builds, the "orthodox" believers in "conservative" revelation, need constant assurance that their battle is worthwhile, that their struggle against modernity, against the forces that would dilute their faith is of such importance to make worthwhile the deprivations that their struggles impose.

I have little doubt that since the time of Justin Martyr that few have been less interested in the writings of Christian apologists than those to whom these works are addressed. The primary audience has been, since the earliest days of the Church, the believer.  The elaborate pretensions of logic and history are justifications of more interest to the believer than to anyone outside the wall.  Indeed. these pretensions are brick and plaster, and barbed wire building the line of separation taller and more impenetrable from either side.  

Over the course of a lifetime, a few will manage to move out from inside of the wall,  but only a very few.  Discourse, I suggest, is not the solution to fundamentalism.  Prevention is the answer.  We who believe in the Enlightenment: the values of reason, the innate dignity of all human life, and above all, that hope can exist on this earth, not just apart from it, need to find a new, convincing language for those who waver, those who are uncertain, those who are afraid.  Once they have been brought captive within the walls of unreason, within the rhetoric of the apologist, the fundamentalist, whether Christian or Muslim, have, I think, been lost.  The language, the discourse we must accomplish is one that will overcome naive uncertainty and fear, and show the shining light of a hope that can exist within life, not merely in its ending.

Letters to Fundamentalists No. 1

[These comments were extracted from a review I wrote concerning John M. Frame’s“A History of Western Philosophy and Theology.” My review argued that Frame mishandled philosophical terminology, misunderstood or misrepresented the positions of the philosophers and theologians he chose to comment on, and beyond simple inaccuracies, had deliberately constructed a set of typologies, which while using the language of philosophers, perverted that language in the service of his own apologetical purposes and denied his readers any real understanding of the history he purported to chart.

I may not be a philosophical realist, but I do realise that between what I have written, and the position of a modern “Conservative” Christian, we are likely at a point of incommensurable difference. The shame of this situation is that it is very clear that Frame and I do not value the same concepts of what constitutes scholarship. Since before Plato, the philosophical tradition has accepted that a fundamental aspect of its work is an openness to the other through a process of disciplined enquiry. For Socrates that meant accepting the possibility that knowledge could surprise him and that he might occasionally have to say “Yes” to his apprehension of the previously unknown, or, more concretely, even a student’s argument (though Plato lets us see the latter only rarely). For both the Scholastics and early Humanists, this openness was the discovery that their ancient enemy Islam had preserved knowledge of the Greeks that had long been lost in the West. For later Humanists and their many partners in Reformation theology, it was the rediscovery of the human as subject, bringing a whole new conception of human thought and responsibility out of the grave of Augustine, into the bright, dangerous light of those times. Men and women died in great numbers during that era defending this new notion of intellectual liberty, of the right of a free subject to choose their own course in thought and faith.* 

In the Enlightenment this new subjectivity was again propelled forward, almost reluctantly, in the face of controversy and renewed danger, opening the doors to another kind of polis wherein it might be possible to speak not only of belief, but reason. This Enlightenment, thanks to the philosophers and theologians who gave it life, brought revolutions to America and France, and across all Europe in 1848, where it was most ruthlessly suppressed. I could go on, and probably should, but my point is this; Frame doesn’t simply reject the values of the Enlightenment, of philosophy and a goodly portion of theology as well. On the whole, in his rejection he fails to actually account for its content, and reverts to series of typologies that are not those of any science, but more akin to medieval catalogs of sin or compendiums of plants where shape determines relatedness. His schemes of atomism, physicalism, rationalism, materialism, realism, nominalism become mere typologies whose only content is their “failure” to meet the standards of Frame’s version of biblical soundness, doctrinal purity and his understanding of revelation… If I sound resentful, you misread me. I am not resentful, but profoundly saddened by this rising tide of cant that substitutes elaboration for thoughtfulness, apologetics for history, typology for analysis, elision for comprehensiveness, and that step by step seeks reversal of the hard won gains of reason in philosophy, theology and biblical studies.

Another aspect of this “incommensurable difference” I mentioned above is trust. I am an unknown to you.  You see my writings on this board, often in conflict with positions you may identify with.  You may have gone so far as to check out my Facebook page or my blog.  The kinds of opinions that I tend to hold you may well find to be suspect.  On the other hand, people that you like and often agree with you recommend this book or think highly of Frame.  So, why should you hear my argument?  My call to you, is simply to check the facts.  Read one of the books that I say he misrepresents.  Read with open eyes, and an open mind and the issue will be settled.  Read Plato.  Perhaps, the Cratylus in a good, clean modern translation (assuming you don’t read Attic Greek).  You’ll learn a great deal about Plato’s understanding of what constitutes knowledge, reason and language…  If you are reading from the Hamilton translation (which is still pretty much the standard for scholarship) pay attention to the explicatory notes.  They’re very helpful.  

Savour what you read. The Cratylus, we’re told, is the dialogue that convinced Plato to become the student of Socrates.  Socrates speaks of Gods, creation, language, even his theory of forms.  Argue with the text, fight with it until you understand as best you can, be a Jacob to the angel of philosophy, holding tightly, until you either name or are named by the text. When, as best your worldview allows, you know what the author means, then decide whether you agree with him or not.  His language will be strange to you – even in translation you’re attempting to overcome 2400 years of changing understandings of how we know and what we can know.  If his world is not strange to you, then you’re reading yourself, not Socrates.  (Or at least that’s what I used to tell students)… 

You’ve met a stranger online.  He’s presented you with a challenge.  It has no downside. I’m not tempting you away from your soul, only toward understanding as best you may, the words of a man who lived nearly 2500 years ago and who was finite, mortal, and like all of us, infinitely capable of error. Is this a temptation or an opportunity? It’s for you to decide.

* Scholars estimate that between 20% and 40% of all German speaking peoples dies during the 30 Years War fought between Catholic and Reformed principalities, It was fought across modern day Germany, Czechoslovakia, northern Italy and portions of Poland.  The rampaging armies of local princes were joined by those from Denmark and Sweden, and helped in the spread of typhus, dysentery and bubonic plague.

20 October 2015

The Eyes Have It. A Painting and a Fabulism.

The Eyes Have it: Self Portrait by a 7th Generation Omniocular

The Eyes Have it: Self Portrait by a 7th Generation Omniocularis, digital painting by D. H. Hermanson. Original is 12” x 12” at 600 dpi printed on Moab 300 gsm archival paper.

There are 9732 living members of my generation. Amidst the millions upon millions of varying Homo sapiens that share this world, we are often viewed with a kind of unpleasant scepticism or even disdain. In meeting these prejudices, my self-portrait does not include the lower part of my face, which so many find distasteful.

As a 7th gen. Omniocularis, I am proud of the accomplishments of my forbears. They underwent great suffering to help bring me, and others like me into being. Our first three generations were not viable. They often died in prenatally, or in early childhood. It took our makers a long time to realize that the models they were using in our creation were inadequate. The original visual cortex of Homo sapiens was insufficient to deal with the increased input from eight sources, instead of the customary two. This created an epilepsy like effect.

Upon realising the nature of their error, the makers achieved by viability in generations four and five, but my forebears in those generations suffered terrible pain, and often died before attaining adulthood. On analysis, it was discovered that the operating temperature of the brain was being affected by the dramatic increase in computational functioning required to integrate eight eyes.

The makers discovered they could adapt piscine float sack technology to create a subdural ventilation system. This was thought preferable to the creation of extra-cranial radiators, which proved, in the hapless 5th gen., to be extraordinarily vulnerable to damage. The criminality of the originators is limitless. They called that generation "reindeer" and their cruel adolescents would brag of "taking a rack." To our knowledge, no court, dominated as they are by those same originators, ever dispensed even the lightest punishment for such lethal cruelty.

My parental generation, gen. 6, was the first fully viable omniocularae. To external observation they appear identical to gen. 7. However, it was discovered on testing that this generation retained an unfortunate binocular orientation, that with maturation led to a tendency to ignore output from all but the forward facing eyes. This defect was corrected in my generation.

My cohort resolves this issue with the capacity to both consciously and unconsciously choose our point of focus. Just as an originating Homo sapiens can choose, for instance, to look down at his or her hand, and for the most part ignore background information, giving no attention to his or her feet, we can choose to look at a subject in any direction, focusing our attention as needed. Our visual cortexes are capable of fully integrating a 360° field of vision. When I relax and casually take in the world about me, it is the whole world. In a very real sense I no longer have a front and back or sides. I am as comfortable walking "backwards" as "forward”. Perhaps surprisingly, the genetic material for this capacity was found among cetaceans. We were able to develop a correlate to their auditory processing capabilities, a capacity that allows three-dimensional spatial processing. Originators seem to think that we simply “see more” than they. They imagine that our visual field is something akin to a panoramic photograph. This is a misperception on their part. That is not how we see. Indeed, ordinary language cannot convey what they are missing.

After maturation, I took education at an originator's University. As my field was practical genetics, I am now helping with the preparation of our  new 8th gen. Although my cohort has been in existence now for more than 70 years, we feel that the next step will be the creation of a true omniocularis, capable of seeing a nearly spherical visual field.

In pursuit of the goal, we are adopting a genetic mechanism found in Strepsiptera, a class of insects where the vision mechanisms have elements that synthesise both simple and compound eye principles. This will result in the simplification of 8th gen. cranial structures and the elimination of the native complex eyes found in all previous generations.

Results thus far have been dramatic. These new gen. 8 children have the capacity of looking out and seeing all of the world at once, or focusing on any particular image at almost any distance with incredible acuity. This True-seeing is already granting them insights into the nature of Being-in-the-world that far exceed those of even my own generation.

Our children live into the world in a way so much different than ours. Compared to them, we see as the ancient binoculars says, as through a mirror dimly. They try so hard to tell us what it means. We try so hard to understand, but we never really do. They are beyond us.

So far, we have not been able to make our children viable. With the restructuring of both eyes and visual cortex adapted from Strepsiptera, we have also brought that species' extreme sexual dimorphism. The males of the generation to come are not especially disturbing. Although their eyes rest in bands upon the skin surface in ringlike structures around their heads, they seem, at least when clothed, anatomically otherwise unremarkable. The females are tiny things. We have been unable to keep them alive. Among their partial ancestors, Strepsipteran flies, females live only within a host. Some poor creature’s body provides them with the environment necessary to sustain female life. Even now we are looking for suitable hosts for our future sisters.

This is a difficulty which we shall overcome. True-seeing demands it. The marvels of insight and wisdom that have already come forth from the male children of this next, the eighth generation, are such that we know our path forward is correct. Brothers (and perhaps sisters, as well), toward True-sight, always.

08 October 2015

Gemshorn Sayings

In medieval times there was a flute like instrument called the Gemshorn. Made from the horn of an ox, it was played much like the modern ocarina. It had a sweet flute like tone, and often a pronounced chiff at the start of each note. In modern use the term refers to a pipe organ stop that in principle operates in a similar way. The tone has changed a great deal over the centuries, but it still tends to be on the sweet side, although in many instruments with a subtle string like tone.
Gemshorn Sayings is built around that stop on an organ (though several other flue stops are included to add to the tonal variety of the piece. Like my “Contractual Obligations,” it is dedicated to two of my favourite organists, Vernon Williams of Trinity Church, Moorestown, New Jersey and Susan Carroll of Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Rhode Island. This performance is via the Hauptwerk program, and neither of them should be held responsible for its inadequacies.

02 October 2015

The Late Dr.Heidegger - A Painting

"The Late Dr Heidegger, Nazi II" by D. H. Hermanson

"The Late Dr Heidegger, Nazi H-1 " by D. H. Hermanson, 12' x 12" digital painting, 56 megapixels in 16 bit colour, printed on matte finished Moab 300 gsm archival paper.

This was the second in a series of digital paintings in which I try to convey my ambivalence with the late Dr. Heidegger. As a graduate student in religion and philosophy, Heidegger’s summa, Being and Time, along with a series of essays and seminar papers on the pre-Socratics were at the centre of my work. I was not nearly so eager in my response to his other work, which I found to be soaked to the bone with a ferocious kind of nostalgia, a dangerous romanticism for hearth and race.

01 October 2015

Flight from Newark

This digital painting is ~54 MP and was printed on 16” x16" Moab Entrada 3200 gsm archival paper.

A number of people have asked the source of the painting on the home page of my blog. I must confess. It is of my own making.

I flew from Newark International on the day it reopened following 9/11. In the days after the towers falling I had become accustomed to nervous teenagers with M16 rifles standing guard at Penn Station. They were Army infantry by their uniforms, completely unprepared for the rushing crowds and the masses of pan-handling homeless. These kids with guns could have looked no more shell-shocked had they been dropped naked into Al Qaeda headquarters.

By the time Newark Airport reopened things had changed. The children were still uniformed and armed with automatic weapons, but they were no longer shell-shocked. Instead they had been turned into bullies. At EWR they walked with the swaggering nonchalance of the “authorised,"demanding to see identification and tickets from anyone who looked “out of place.” As Newark is as much or perhaps more a centre of diversity as anywhere in the U.S. of A., these soldiers found many opportunities to exercise their authority, a task they generally took to with loud, mocking voices.

In spite of the “progress” made by women and people of colour in the American military, most recruits do not come from urban areas like Newark. More than any time since the Civil War, our military is dominated by white Southerners. From Texas to Virginia, the American South provides over 44% of recruits in spite of having only 36% of the country’s recruiting age population. In contrast, the Northeast provides only 14% of new enlistments, while having 18% of the recruitment pool. Indeed, in the North, only Maine, the poorest and most poorly educated of the northern states can rival the Old South in terms of recruitment.

I suspect had they known that I had spent time defending a Sikh business just outside of Asbury Park from the misdirected anger of my fellow citizens, these children with guns would have detained me, or perhaps just marched me out the door for a beating in the parking garage.

It took me three hours to clear security that day. I returned a week later via San Francisco International. The scene could not have been more different. There were no armed guards. After checking a bag, I began to walk toward the short security line. An alarm went off, and the PA system began to direct people to exit the building. Everyone, including staff and security simply ignored the announcement. I went outside, but found myself oddly alone, save for the normal rush of passengers into the building. After 15 minutes, I returned and passed through security. I asked two security agents what had happened. The first looked at me quizically, not understanding. The second said, “I’m not sure. I guess it was a false alarm."

I began the painting, one of a small series sharing the title Flight from Newark, not long after, with this trip in mind.

In May of 2009 Harpers published a story titled ““The Crusade for a Christian Military: Jesus Killed Mohammed” in which author Jeff Sharlet described how the subtitle for his piece derived from words written in large red Arabic letters on the side of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle used by American troops in Iraq. Aside from the wisdom of providing such a fine RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) target to hostile forces, Sharlet’s article provides more evidence in a growing concern that America and in particular its military has "left behind” (pun wickedly intended) its once bedrock anti-establishment beliefs.

It is perhaps no accident that this concern regarding the American military reflects the disproportionate religiosity and fundamentalist demographics of the Old South, where 18th Century Anglican dominance has been suplanted by wave after wave of revivalism. The South is still among the poorest, most poorly educated and unhappy regions in the United States: That fervent religion and reactionary politics should dominate this landscape should come as no surprise. This is the land where Mencken once chastised the police for silencing atheists attending to the infamous Scopes Trial:

Dayton, Tenn., July 15. [1925] -- The cops have come up from Chattanooga to help save Dayton from the devil. Darrow, Malone and Hays, of course, are immune to constabulary process, despite their obscene attack upon prayer. But all other atheists and anarchists now have public notice they must shut up forthwith and stay shut so long as they pollute this bright, shining, buckle of the Bible belt with their presence. Only one avowed infidel has ventured to make a public address. The Chattanooga police nabbed him instantly, and he is now under surveillance in a hotel. Let him but drop one of his impious tracts from his window and he will be transferred to the town hoose-gow. 

The Constitution of Tennessee, as everyone knows, puts free speech among the most sacred rights of the citizen. More, I am informed by eminent Chattanooga counsel, that there is no State law denying it -- that is, for persons not pedagogues. But the cops of Chattanooga, like their brethren elsewhere, do not let constitutions stand in the way of their exercise of their lawful duty. The captain in charge of the squad now on watch told me frankly yesterday that he was not going to let any infidels discharge their damnable nonsense upon the town. I asked him what charge he would lay against them if they flouted him. He said he would jail them for disturbing the peace. 

"But suppose," I asked him, "a prisoner is actually not disturbing the peace. Suppose he is simply saying his say in a quiet and orderly manner." 

"I'll arrest him anyhow," said the cop. 

"Even if no one complains of him?" 

"I'll complain myself." 

"Under what law precisely?" 

"We don't need no law for them kind of people." 

The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 15, 1925

I hope the American political and military systems can rid themselves of this enormous danger before it is too late. There are at least a few signs of hope. It is no longer 1925, and Southern youth are abandoning religion, and in particular fundamentalism, at an even higher rate than the rest of the nation.