Shakespeare

The New Final Solution

No one individual has contributed more to the English language than William Shakespeare. Words, expressions and turns of phrase abound in the lexicon, all owing to him. So all-encompassing was his facility with vocabulary that he has enriched the speech of even the modestly educated. And yet for all his brilliant writing skills, his sense of drama and passion, his grasp of good and evil, and his insights into the human heart, there is one area in which he glaringly failed. William Shakespeare had no idea how to end the human violence he so easily penned in his writings. He came close once.

In “Henry VI” we read, “The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.’’ In context it is a declaration of the need for law and order, for the words are spoken not by a protagonist, but by Dick the Butcher, a follower of the rebel Jack Cade. Dick the Butcher knew that if things were to change someone, some “lot” of someones, had to die. In that regard not much has changed over the last 500 years. If we want things to change, some “lot” of someones has to die. We just have to make sure we target the right collective.

With the new surge in terrorism, many groups want to kill each other. But there is no order in mere desire. I say, “Kill them all.” But we need a carefully crafted process. And we can gleam one from the last 100 years.

In 1948 India was emerging as a country freed from the oppression of the British empire. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of this new nation, was killed by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist. He was only one man and clearly a fanatic. That, however, does not alter the fact that we cannot trust any Hindus. Many of them have been complicit in killing Muslims and Christians for decades. So, first, let’s kill all the Hindus. One terrorist group gone.

In 1995 Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 600 hundred others. Again, just one discontented man—a Christian intrigued by white supremacy and anti-government fervor. But where to begin with that? Christians have been killing for centuries, sometimes each other, and sometimes in the name of God. No trust there. So next, let’s kill all the Christians. Another terrorist group gone.

Later that same year, as Israel and Palestine were beginning to see light at the end of a long tunnel of violence, peace seemed within reach. That is, until Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a Jewish religious extremist. Again he was only one person. But as far back as the Old Testament, Jews have been killing often with the illusion that they were acting under their God’s orders. No wonder then, that Rabin’s death paved the way for Benjamin Netanyahu to completely collapse the tunnel of hope and fully extinguish the light of peace, making it easy for Israel to embrace its own style of terrorism. Next move? Let’s kill all the Jews. A third terrorist group gone.

Choices abound for the next group. Let’s pick 2015. A husband and wife team, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, opened fire on a community center in San Bernardino. Two Muslims entranced by the absurdities of Islamic State extremists. This direct attack on the life and values of Western society proved that Muslims cannot be trusted either. That’s no surprise. History shows that beginning with Muhammed (peace be upon him), Islam has waged religious war for more than thirteen hundred years. The next move is clear. Let’s kill all the Muslims.

Some might object, declaring that each of the examples cited above is just one or two people. That’s not the point. Each perpetrator reflects the reality of a larger group. Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz know this. That’s why so many are following their lead in condemning all Muslims, insisting that we keep all Syrian refugees out and register all Muslims already here. But if we’re honest, Muslims are not the only problem. Hindu on Hindu violence, Christian on Christian violence, Jew on Jew violence, Muslim on everybody violence.

Yes, I say, “Let’s kill them all—Hindus, Christians, Jews and Muslims.” Then when all the killing is done, when the religious thirst for death and revenge is quenched, when people need no longer fear religious fanatics, and we are left only with Atheists, I say

AMEN. Peace be upon all.
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Desperately Seeking Satan

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois is on a quest. That’s OK. Most Christians are. The difference is that, while most are seeking the kingdom of God, Paprocki is seeking the devil. Same-sex marriage has come to Illinois and on November 20, 2013 he held a Mass of exorcism in reparation for the state’s new marriage equality law.

He appears to draw his inspiration not from Jesus, but from the French poet Charles Baudelaire who once wrote: “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.” That’s clever and lends itself to the drama of Hollywood screenplays. But does it convince?

There is no question that evil exists and that it is the opposite of good. The problem seems to originate with the personification of evil as “Satan” or the devil. That is simply simplistic. The result of creation myths attempting to explain the existence of evil. However, casting evil as a person, while not fully exonerating us, lessens our culpability for making poor decisions. It also tends to remove the nuance of many of those decisions. Not everything is right or wrong.

Nor is opposing evil the same as pursuing good. It is a question of focus. If one over-emphasizes evil, good is diminished. Paprocki’s crusade against same-sex marriage is on point. In Christianity, as in most religious traditions, love is a good to be sought. As I have commented in the past, the most profound statement about God occurs in the First Letter of John when he writes: “God is love.”

In fact, the second time he writes those words, in chapter 4:16, he states: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Because Paprocki is opposed to homosexuality, his screed against same sex-marriage actually diminishes love and in the process diminishes God.

Reducing love to sexuality and/or sexual orientation makes it elusive, as even many heterosexual couples have discovered. Love is greater than sex. But when sex is an expression of love the presence of God is unveiled. And revealing the presence of God should not be shunned. After all, it cannot help but make the world better.

The Good News of Jesus Christ, the coming of the kingdom of God, cannot be about condemnation. Jesus, himself, cautions Paprocki—and the rest of us—“do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” Jesus could not be any clearer than his statement: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

There is value in looking to poets for inspiration. Paprocki turns to Baudelaire. I am tempted to invoke Shakespeare. Perhaps Paprocki protests too much? History is also a good teacher. From that perspective the bishop from Illinois reminds me of the 1950’s senator from Wisconsin. Joseph McCarthy was looking for Communists under the mattresses of every American. How poetically comical that Paprocki is also looking in people’s bedrooms. This time, however, it is to find the devil under the sheets.
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The Jester and the Fool. The Buffoon and the Idiot. Entertainers all?

It was quite common in medieval times for kings to employ a court jester to entertain at royal events. Although occasionally dressing as any servant, it was more usual for a jester to don an outlandish costume, one that suited the various actions of juggling, song and dance. Beyond the world of the court, jesters—sometimes referred to as fools—found their way into theatre, most notably the works of Shakespeare.

In both court and theatre, the jester or fool had a secondary role beyond mere entertainment. They were often artful and witty satirists, deftly ridiculing both king and guest. As noted in the writings of Shakespeare, the jester was a skillful actor whose cleverness was an inherent quality and a pre-requisite to success. In his play
Twelfth Night, he describes the jester Feste as “wise enough to play the fool.” In real life, a story is told of George Buchanan, jester to James the VI of Scotland, who tricked the king (briefly) into abdicating the throne to the jester, himself!

Danny Kaye, arguably one of the most gifted entertainers of all time, gave a convincing performance in the 1956 film
“The Court Jester”. In this movie, he joins with freedom fighters to expose the illegitimate king and cast off the shackles of tyranny. In the process he rescues and restore the rightful heir to the throne. Indeed, there was a social, entertaining, political, and literary role for court jesters and fools.

By contrast, buffoons and idiots are bereft of any social grace or value. In general, they do not possess any inherent qualities or wisdom. Not that they cannot also be entertaining. The difference is an oft-quoted distinction not to be forgotten: The jester or fool is someone we laugh
with, the buffoon or idiot is someone we laugh at. The jester knows he is a fool and does not take his antics seriously. The buffoon, usually unaware that he is an idiot, takes himself very seriously, assuming delusional importance.

A casual observer of modern America would suggest that the jester has returned. In entertainment, one need only look to television and the news media. They continually foist the absurdities of Donald Trump on an unsuspecting public. But is Trump a jester?

A careful observer would recognize not the resurgence of a jester, but the ubiquitous presence of a buffoon. Perhaps Trump intended to perform the role of jester or fool. Personally, I think that is too kind. A more accurate assessment is that Donald Trump is a buffoon who has clearly crossed the line. He has become merely an idiot.

Trump’s “birther” nonsense reached new heights when he made his offer to donate $5 million dollars to charity if President Obama would turn over his academic records and passport applications. Of course, it was not the campaign “game changer” that Trump promised. It was merely another example of his insatiable desire for attention. He proved this in his reaction to last night’s election tweeting that the election was “a total sham and a travesty”, that “the electoral college is a disaster for democracy” (even though Barak Obama won the majority of the popular vote, also!), and finally claiming, “We are not a democracy”.

Jester, fool, buffoon or idiot, there is something quite serious at play here. Trump will never achieve the self-importance that drives him to absurdity, both in thought and action. As the clever quip states, Trump “is a legend in his own mind.” Outside that mind, he gets a lot of attention. Therefore, it seems appropriate to question the media.

Is there any merit or justification to the attention Trump receives from television radio and print? If he contributed anything of value to American society, even if it were only being a jester, the answer would be yes. But he does not. The American media are simply playing into the hands of a self-indulgent buffoon. The fact that he is also a megalomaniac, makes all this attention dangerous. But there may be hope.

Trump’s real estate investments are ubiquitous, his buildings eponymously named. When Hurricane Sandy hit shore in Atlantic City, she seemed to take dead aim at Trump Plaza. It was quite a sight. The lights that usually spell out Trump’s name were like the lights in his head. They were out. Darkened. Nobody home. Perhaps the various media outlets could take a cue from Hurricane Sandy.

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, stripping the fun from life and politics. Maybe America would be well served by some incarnation of the court jester, a person wise enough to play the fool and entertain. One thing is certain, however. We do not need a buffoon. We do not need “Donald Trump, American Idiot”!
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