The Twitter Pope Asail Upon the Garbagy Sea

Pope Francis appears to have grown deeply concerned about the volume of plastic trash floating in our seas.  Interestingly, his inner garbage-lookout has begun crying, “Trash ho!” at just the moment when credible rumors have surfaced that a homosexual clique within the Vatican has been secretly saluting the pedophile Jolly Roger  Seems like a very convenient time to be looking starboard instead of larboard—and the mainstream news media are, of course, sailors first-class at changing screens.  Ever eager to see Francis carry on carrying on about manmade climate change and the diabolical evil of privately owning a means of self-defense, talking heads everywhere have buried Archbishop Vigano’s charges of child-molesting complicity in empty liter-bottles of Coke and shredded Little Debbie packaging.  Utopia’s pope preaches their gospel almost as if they were sharing teleprompters. “Who am I to judge?” opines the Chief Pontiff on the lump-of-flesh removal question… but his view of Parkland High School’s atrocity leaves the holster as quick as a sixgun in a spaghetti western.

And so it goes on, even in the practice of faith: the endless tennis match between the World Propaganda Machine and unsavory fact.

I for one am willing to take my eye off the ball completely this morning.  Let us accept that trash on the tides is a more urgent problem than homosexual seduction (a.k.a. statutory rape) of minors in the sanctuary.  After all, the Green Party has already gained the ascendancy over public school curricula in Germany and is busily teaching little girls and boys whose voices are years from lowering how to conduct sexual experiments.  Maybe Francis’s priests were just helping a few adolescents with their homework.

So back to the trash issue (I mean, plastic trash): may we ponder this one for a moment?  What’s the suggested solution?  Massive plastic roundups conducted by a kind of Green Coast Guard synchronized with a war on plastic products such as Governor Jerry Brown’s criminalization of straws?  And what, may I ask, is to be done with all the rounded-up plastic?  Do we burn it, thus infusing a major new catalyst into the engine driving Global Warming (according to His Eminence et al.)?  Or do we bury it—and there’s a lot of it, remember—thus further destabilizing the Earth’s crust and exacerbating the global epidemic of sinkholes?  (Would you believe, by the way, that southeastern New Mexico, perhaps the nation’s most favored site for dumping nuclear waste, also ranks near the top of the list for sinkhole activity?  Still think your government is good at planning these things out?)

I’ve been wondering for several months now (when I wasn’t wrestling with how to extract gender allusion from pronouns or how to eliminate “race whistles” from animal names)… why should we do anything more with the ocean’s drifting islands of plastic than encourage their formation and “sculpt” them?  Islands are useful.  Among other things, an island would be invincible as land-bound coastal cities succumb to Al Gore Armageddon.  It could also evade hurricanes like Katrina, if it is mobile: this is a point made in earnest by engineers who have had island-communities on the drawing board for years.  The basis of those designs, to be sure, was not old bottles of Jiff and forlorn ring-nets once holding six-packs of Coors together… but who’s going to notice that Plastopolis is floating on garbage bags rather than sleek pontoons?  And the pontoons might always rupture—but garbage bags, we have good assurance, are forever.

Or if the feeling is that encouraging wayfarer island-towns would only disseminate civilization’s toxicity more thoroughly around the globe… then why not populate the islands with verdant forests? If one component of Climate Change is the depletion of the rainforest, then why not multiply these artificial islands so as to restore the planet’s green cloak in some measure?

We’re stuck in and with a high-tech world.  I don’t like it, personally, and I’ve done more to resist capture than most people I know… but the reality of pollution will not be dispelled with the wave of a magic wand (or by papal edict, or even by a Jerry Brown initiative).  Indeed, those who would most aggressively repress the commercial and industrial activity responsible for forming our postmodern cesspool are situated (as I notice again and again) at points well beyond the real stench and fully insulated against the lean times sure to follow repression.  Francis and Governor Brown will have a running shower with plenty of hot water, though the rest of the world be sponging off from muddy goat tracks.

We will not solve any environmental problem by banning entire industries and cultural habits.  As I wrote a while back of my own struggles on a would-be farm, you can’t defeat water by bullying it into reversing its course: you can only channel it into less destructive directions.  The trash in our oceans is a problem… so let us imagine ways to transform trash into life-nourishing productivity.  We who created it surely have the ingenuity to steer its life cycle’s last stages down a more benign path.

In contrast, this crusading (or, if you prefer, jihadist) zeal to annihilate the enemy—to leave his foundations smoking (in stratosphere-friendly gasses) and his chattel eviscerated—is an insane pantomime intended to convince us, and everyone within earshot, of our own high virtue.  The cost of such virtue is usually the magnification of the original problem to catastrophic proportions; and, of course, it isn’t really virtue at all, but the mortal sin of vain pride.  We kill our souls as we kill our planet.

One would think that the Catholic pope, even an example of as dubious a pedigree as Francis, would recognize this.  But he is the world’s first Twitter Pope.  Grit doesn’t find its way into his shoes because they never touch real earth.  His visions, and ours, float and drift like the leavings of a child’s Christmas presents… or like Swift’s floating island of air-headed speculators, the Laputans.  With guiding ideas like this, who needs a Styrofoam garbage invasion?

Easter Thoughts: Does Hell Exist?

I’m not a “high church” guy these days, if I ever was.  I’m certainly less inclined to Catholicism than I was in my youth; and if I were Catholic today, I would likely be very tempted to walk away from the Church.  The Supreme Pontiff has not a little to do with that aversion.  Pat Buchanan has lately written that Pope Francis seems destined to create an enduring schism among the Roman faithful, and some lifelong Catholics are charging that this Pope is the Antichrist.  He doesn’t hesitate to weigh in on issues that have nothing whatever to do with his scholarly expertise or moral understanding, as in his promoting the exploitative crusade to ban guns spearheaded by our sheltered “safe zone” teens.  (Modest estimates put the annual cost in lives, should the Second Amendment be repealed, in the vicinity of the entire Vietnam War’s—though it’s hard to calculate how many people escape death thanks to a Smith & Wesson’s appearing at just the right moment.)  Yet on matters like the propriety of transgenderism, about which Christian doctrine is both long established and wholly coherent, the papal response is, “Who am I to judge?”

All of that said, I am going to make a case this Easter morning for why Hell is an ultimate irreality, as Francis is reported to have opined in private recently (and has coyly backed away from publicly without issuing an actual denial).  I must say first off that I’m appalled by the number of purportedly conservative mouthpieces who have retorted, “Well, if there’s no Hell, then there’s no reason to seek salvation”—as if the motive for desiring a closer approach to God were really a terror of the shadows at one’s shoulders.  If you read Shakespeare’s collected works because I’m holding you hostage and feeding you only when I see you turning pages, then you’re hardly a bibliophile.

God is all good, and we must believe that He does no evil and could create nothing evil.  (As for His ordering the slaughter of women and children—and livestock, too, just to make it a clean sweep—at times in the Old Testament, you may make of this what you will; I know what I must call it.)  Now, evil exists in this world… so has God therefore not created all that is?  He has.  But evil does not ultimately exist, any more than the other illusions of this world.  Shadows do not exist as material objects—you cannot trap one, bottle one, or stroke one.  Yet during certain long hours of our terrestrial day, there is nothing around us but shadow.

Or consider it from this angle: the practical angle, if you will—the point of view of a sixty-four-year-old man who has seen people at most of their not-so-good moments.  What happens to desperate characters?  They rarely get punished by human laws—not if they’re really good at being bad.  (“The big thieves are arresting the little one,” once quipped Diogenes.)  I know what happens to them: I’ve seen it.  They have themselves.  Having spent their adult life usurping God’s role and creating a universe just to the dimensions of their whimsy—X millions of population making X income per capita with X children per household, Y mandatory visits to state doctors and Y years in state education camps, Z police watching over them to “protect them”—these fantastical egomaniacs arranging their human ant farms end up in a tight, impenetrable cocoon of Self.  They are clinical sociopaths to start with; their dead souls eventually ossify and permanently relegate them to a “safe zone” of utter non-being—a place where any contact with reality and with outward-reaching souls is impossible.

This is what I find so grimly sobering about no-longer-children shaking their raised fists in fascistic salutes to the cause of forcing behavior patterns down people’s throats: I see little “ant-farmers” in the making, eager to assign prison or execution to those who stand in the way of their utopia.  And, no, Pope Francis has not taken the side of reason and free exchange against the goose-stepping utopians, so I am not, alas, in effective agreement with him about anything here.

Yet the evil ones do disappear.  They do not burn in a real Hell.  They define nothingness by dwelling where no vibrant soul can dwell; and in being forever separated from God, they suffer an indescribable anguish beyond any torture of physical flames.  Each is them is a madman trapped for eternity in a labyrinthine hall of mirrors, his own lunacy facing him at every turn, visions of lunacy awaiting him whenever he attempts escape by shutting his eyes.

These days, whenever I hear words like “change”, “meaningful change”, “progress”, “a better future”, and “not good enough”, I catch a hubristic scent of fire and brimstone in my nostrils.  I sense the presence of the void—of that which is not.  But, you protest, the Christian faith is all about change… well, yes and no.  It is about the opportunity of individual souls to return to the self-effacing wonder and joy in elevating mystery that characterize a little child.  One might say that it is about changing back to our Edenic state, about coming home, after a fruitless trek through the surrounding desert. God All Good no doubt made us this way because we cannot appreciate—with mind and spirit, with intellect and imagination—the infinite possibilities of what is until we fill our mouths with a bitter ash of our own arrogant concoction: what is not.  And in this, let us recognize that He did well.  Reality is vivified and deepened when infused with sentient participants who embrace it.  That some, perhaps many or most, prefer a squalid pit of ash wherein they alone rule is not an excessive cost to pay for such an awakening; for life within the ashes does not really exist.

If what I have written today takes the side of Pope Francis against his detractors, then I am happy to lend a hand.  The truth, however, knows no sides, in truth.  The road goes straight, and we fools tumble off it where we may.