Note: Following is the third installment of a “Poets’ Talk” series between Charles Orloski and myself. E-friends for the past 3 years, both of us “baby-boomers,” Orloski and I have very different backgrounds, but share a love of literature, abiding interests in history, politics and the Zeitgeist, and a belief that informed activism and the Arts (with much luck and perhaps some Providential assistance!) may yet create a more humane, a more sensible, world than 2015’s war-ravaged planet of obscene disparities of wealth and power. The conversation below is actually a pastiche of “e-talks,” or exchanges, over several weeks, winnowed and woven together to develop themes, a narrative flow, and coherence.—Gary Corseri
Part One. A faith-based answer….
Gary Corseri: Why is this world so sad? Do you have a religious answer? A faith-based answer?
Chuck Orloski: Life is suffering, and the ancient story of John the Baptist and Herod belongs to modern history…. Our "Herod" (POTUS) stands militarily above all other nations, and only Russia seems to stop the U.S. from cutting off (bombing) any head(s) our Controllers desire. They intimidate the Vatican, and instead of "putting on the armor of God," (St. Paul), the Roman Catholic Church often acquiesces, and by the "sin of omission," helps hasten the making of a Rich Man & Lazarus world, an inevitable War of Civilizations.
GC: I agree. And I'm thinking these are threads we can address in a future “Poets Talk.” I don't think we've dealt with religion at all (?!). Tough subject, but very necessary. Given your qualms, I wonder: how do you remain in the Church?
CO: The Roman Catholic right wing is always under fire for their Right to Life position, and hypocritical tolerance of endless war. Back in the 1970s-1980s-1990s, there was a positive Church concept of the "Seamless Garment," but, unfortunately, the Vatican drew back from criticizing President Reagan's wars against the poor in Central America. Now "Usrael's" War of TERROR against TERROR [!] is global, is highly technological… and even unborn and NEAR-born babies are being murdered in the sacred name of RESEARCH which will "save lives," just as the C.I.A., D.H.S. and the Patriot Act promised.
I am not a Pro-Life activist… because of Pro-Life activists’ commitment to the G.O.P. and lots of "policy" that I do NOT favor….
Various social and personal background matters keep me in the Church I was raised in! I disagree with much, but also like much…. For example, I believe it’s worth re-considering Pope Francis's recent criticism and warning about Charlie Hebdo's cartoons. Quickly, the MSM tore the Pope apart, and soon the electronically connected world witnessed world leaders marching arm-in-arm in Paris. Back in late-1950s U.S.A., what Francis said—[about not insulting others’ religions, expecting pay-back—“a punch in the nose” if there were such insults]-- would have been a moral "given," but Zionists such as Netanyahu support assaults upon religion, except, of course, their own special version of Judaism.
GC: I think it's good to start thinking about what issues to include in a future “Poets’ Talk” on religion. Certainly, any discussion of Francis will be relevant, especially with his US September trip just 5 months away now.
How far, how deep, we would want to get into issues of abortions, right to life, Zionism, etc., I just don't know at this time. Those are issues that could subsume all the others we touch on and elaborate.... Something to ponder....
CO: In the highest seats of world wealth & power are BAD (insane) people who are seriously considering how to construct dwellings BEYOND Earth's limitations…. They’re trying to figure out how to escape the chaos they are creating for the rest of us now!
GC: They’re infesting the public’s mind with images of zombies attacking and eating each other! What a metaphor for the world they’ve created: Don’t trust your neighbor, or anyone in your own family—he or she may literally devour you!
A few years ago, I read THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR, a book by inventor-scientist-futurologist, Ray Kurzweil. He posited 3 main areas of profound change by 2030—the year of what he called, “The Singularity”—a year when we shall have achieved such profound, technological changes as to make that “new world” virtually unrecognizable to our world now. Those 3 areas of incalculable changes were: Genetics, Nano-technology and Robotics. (He also wrote a fair bit about virtual technologies, and I think he should have included that, as we will soon have battlefields where virtual simulacra replace real tanks and soldiers, and virtual, projected screens confuse the scope of wars. And, with the Chinese recently producing a 3-D print-out, drivable car for about $1800, and with printable human organs on the near horizon, he might have considered 3-D print-outs, too!) At any rate, how will that “Ole Time Religion” square with this basically unimaginable world towards which we are racing?
CO: Come September, I’ll listen carefully to what Pope Francis says, and watch what he does. As you know, the Vatican is looking at South America and Africa as the most fertile places for Catholic growth on Earth. They likely SEE, better than us, the full decadence of our nation. I think Pope Francis would like to build a sort of moral Maginot line around the U.S.A. and much of Western Europe in order to slow down the march of perversity and materialistic FAITH. There's no wonder (on my part) as to WHY an American Cardinal is not elected Pope!
Christianity in America has been butchered into so many pieces, and administrations use each particular cut-- for example, Prime Rib Baptist, or, maybe, Sirloin Mormon-- to their political advantage. Again, very twisted people like Henry Kissinger run this asylum.
GC: Tentacles already in place…. Under the mountains--directing the missiles, drones, etc.
CO: Rarely, except for those waged by presidents Reagan and the Bushes, have I seen Catholic publications rail against war! It's very possible that my reading span was limited, but I was paying particular attention to Clinton's 78-day bombing campaign against largely Serbian Orthodox Yugoslavia, and can NOT recall a high-level Catholic voice which spoke against that "barbaric" war. (Note: A. Solzhenitsyn wrote an OP-ED, published in (I believe) The New York Times, which flatly used the word BARBARIC.)
GC: It makes one wonder: Where do the Kathy Kelly’s, Fathers Berrigan, Oscar Romero’s come from?
During the American Revolution, Quakers and Moravians—who opposed war in all forms—were driven out of their communities, painfully, humiliatingly stripped, tarred and feathered, possessions appropriated, made to sign loyalty oaths (in which they did not believe—taking the name of God in vain, bearing false witness, etc.). Truth-tellers and peaceniks have always had a hard time and sometimes were killed for their ethics!
CO: It is a rather pathetic aspect of the Vatican that they are deeply embroiled in financial misdeeds, and are slowly making a come-back from the MSM's trouncing of criminal, pedophile priests. That trouncing and that sinful behavior eventuated in institutional timidity, fear, and stupidity which watered-down their moral voice, and their subsequent ability to minister to larger communities. Today, as I understand it, the Roman Catholic Church is counting on a revival in Africa and South America-- places where the U.S. military/CIA boot stomps down. As "Usrael" pivots east for profits, the Vatican pivots below the equator, where capitalism has great success in controlling the poor "flock."
GC: I still wonder how you manage to maintain your membership? Or, is your branch of Christianity so different?
It’s not just the Church, of course…. A spiritual vacuum eats away at progressive ideology and actions. I think one of the great, historic phenomena of the 20th Century was the secularization of life—certainly in the “developed” countries. What did that get us? Existentialism? I think there is a definite need for a transcendent belief system now. I think both Orwell and Huxley addressed this need, this absence, in different ways.
CO: A need for a transcendent belief system? Yes, but I believe that's being imposed by the 1% oligarchs and multi-national corporations! Under their enslavement rules, they promise to keep people safe, secure, entertained, and intoxicated.
GC: Their System has worked for a long time... and we have two world wars, a Cold War, War on Terror, environmental devastation to show for it! How to re-set?
CO: I want to return to your first question… about the sadness of life…. It’s so basic, so central to our humanity—to understand that, how we position ourselves to that reality.
Some quick background first…. As a Byzantine Catholic, I believe what Paul said of Christ: that the fruit of Christ and the Gospel is to MAKE people happy. Of course, this requires suspension of proof, and to quote Paul again, "Faith is belief in things not seen." (I’ll note here that arch-liberals have hated the writings of Paul because he took harsh positions & formed LAWS governing Christian conduct in common with the Jewish law (Torah).
GC: For those very reasons, I haven't been fond of him, either!
CO: The Gospel words of Jesus advise humanity to "become like little children." To me, this advice means retention of innocence, wonderment, fragility -- the knowing of a need for love and care. My job as a school-bus driver brings me into daily contact with little children, and it’s quite evident that their happiness is a mood (condition) which doesn’t need serious, reflective thought. Soon, all these children’s intellects will develop and they'll become just like ME: suffering the loss of life's wonders, getting hurt by love and hatred, and learning that their bodies are NOT made forever.
Soon, of course, a sadness sets in, and to quote C.S. Lewis, life is one of "peaks and troughs," and given a balance of mental health, a person experiences happiness (joy) and sadness at different life intervals. Most Westerners are aware of the Book of Job and how Job’s long suffering resulted from a deal made by the Almighty and the Deceiver-- a test of faith and will.
Personally, one of my lifetime's most tragic examples of apparently senseless suffering is that of Steven Stayner. At 14, in 1972, Steven was kidnapped, held for 7-years. Then, in April, 2010, he died after a motorcycle accident…. To me, a believer, sadness is a basic and, perhaps, necessary trait of the human condition. In times of grief and pain, one's faith gets TESTED; but in most cases, love and memories endure.
There are lots of experiences which should evoke human sadness; for example, the W. Bush barbaric Shock & Awe attack upon Baghdad! The U.S. mindset is so conditioned to materialism, violence, drugs, porno, and pleasures-of-the-moment that it becomes a virtual impossibility for even INTELLIGENT people to "become as little children"-- innocent, love-giving/love-seeking, capable of wondering at sunset and stars, and appreciating a brook running through a field.
“How to re-set?” you ask…. Must start on the individual level, aggressively reject everything our Rulers want us to be. Once again, I am skeptical of "revolution" ever since reading Orwell's Animal Farm. In fact, because of the ramped-up level of brainwashing in the U.S. Empire, I think that our Rulers will give us a revolution... under their control!
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GC: I agree. The problem, again, is discernment/awareness. Most Americans can't discern, can't distinguish between what our Rulers want us to be and other choices. Our “education” is B.S.! We live in a Bernaysian world of conditioning. In Brave New World, it's pre-natal conditioning. In the US today, it’s conditioning from birth! (Of course, if one considers the nutrition of the mother to be an essential element in the formation of a healthy fetus and baby—we have pre-natal conditioning here and elsewhere, too!)
CO: That problem of “discernment” reminds me of this quote from Orwell: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
Orwell showed Big Brother in immaculately full color, hard-handed action, and for me Huxley's Brave New World dystopia was a PROCESS, more sophisticated and reliant upon capabilities of science & SOMA-conditioning in order to effectively mold and control humanity for the worst.
GC: Orwell pretty much did himself in, neglecting a medical condition until he called it quits with this sad planet when he was 50! Huxley lived to age 69, and, fittingly, died on that day that changed the world--November 22, 1963!
In his later years, Huxley experimented with various drugs, and became a strong advocate for controlled, or monitored, use of LSD. In books like Brave New World Revisited and The Doors of Perception, he's very positive about peyote, LSD and other hallucinogens for advancing human consciousness. (I believe he died while under the influence of LSD--as he had requested!)
Given the various kinds of insanity that plague our modern world (most recently, the Germanwings co-pilot's), perhaps some sort of "soma" (which Huxley saw as a brief vacation from the stress and strain of modernity) is not a bad idea!
CO: I did not know much about Huxley’s life and work beyond Brave New World. Remarkable how he and Dr. Timothy Leary could take L.S.D. and maintain control.
GC: Hux probably kept better control than most... but one thing he liked about the drugs he took was NOT being in full control!
CO: Hunter S. Thompson used all kinds of drugs, drank effusively, wrote highly literate & wild books & articles, shot himself to get away from... I'm unsure what….
GC: I didn't know Thompson had killed himself.... (My friend, Joe Bageant, hung out with him for a while....)
CO: Maybe Hunter just wanted to get out of the physical stress & strain "here," but I believe we move on… to a better place where once-brainwashed brains operate at optimal function, with clear understanding of what "I" WAS-- no kidney stones, bad tickers, shot lungs, just YOU and whatever is….
GC: I like to believe that, too; that spirit continues…, and we have learned from this life's experience. I hardly see the point if we're not learning! Kind of like "Pascal's Gamble"-- if it's not so, you lose this little life and that's that; if it's so, you gain Eternity. (Emily Bronte explored that theme in her poem, "No Coward Soul.")
Part Two. “The Armor of God”
CO: I’m glad our conversation has entered what Shusaku Endo called, "Deep Water."
GC: If poets can't get us into deep water, and help us swim around a bit, who can?
CO: Continuing, then: I don't KNOW exactly what Paul meant when writing, "Put on all the armor that God gives you.... For we are not fighting against human beings, but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age." Ephesians 6: 10-12.
Because I see bad things happen in ordinary life, and because I read about worse historical things which happened in the past, and because I do BELIEVE..., I plan to go to the mat with Paul's assessment & advice, above. But what is God's armor?
I suppose Kathy Kelly wears such garment inside her cell. However, there were many Christians assigned to labor camps, firing squads, who likely tried to put on the armor of God, and such armor did NOT stop batons, bullets, torture, etc. In fact, history displays Christians who wore the armor of the Evil One, and massacred people in the name of their unarmed Christ. I shudder to think of all the spiritual Jews and Christians inside concentration camps, the ovens only 100 yards away, and praying for divine help (armor) which never came.
GC: You’re raising fundamental, and disturbing, questions, about “faith.” I've often wondered: how do people continue to believe when, gathered all together in a church in the Philippines during the last tsunami, the church is leveled and all the worshippers killed? Would it not have made better sense to head for higher ground (if possible--and sometimes, it was!) Isn't sensibility also the "armor of God"?
So often “faith” has not proved a very serviceable “armor”! So…, “Science” comes along and says, “Forget ‘faith,’ trust me!” And we have a brief “Age of Enlightenment,” followed by centuries of improved weapons-systems, imperialism, colonialism, slavery, neo-liberalism and the whole shebang of this “modern” world delivering us to the brink of Apocalypse. Is there no way to reconcile our Left and Right brains? Job asked, “Where is wisdom to be found?”
Is this present period worse than historic periods? Obviously, it's better than some…. I can't imagine the world wars, for example, and the concomitant Russian Revolution--when scores of millions were killed and terrorized. We are far from that... but we can imagine even worse imminent cataclysms! How does the knowledge of so much DARKNESS in our past, as well as fear of our unfolding futures affect the human psyche now?
CO: For me, the Gospels are a base, a foundation…. Of course, I’ve also been influenced by the great authors I’ve read over my lifetime. Their world, their ideas, have also been part of my “armor of God”—my faith.
I hope not to lose my mind, grow MAD! As a volunteer (1980s) at Clarks Summit State Hospital, for the insane (Geriatric ward), one of the saddest things I saw was a married couple (in their 80s), drugged-up on lithium and a nurse pushing them (in wheel chairs), window-to-window. Every now and then, the husband would get riled, stand, and rush to a window and begin to scream at kids outside, bouncing a ball, stepping on his grass! But… there were no kids outdoors; all were figments of his imagination. His spouse would rise, cry, and pitifully urge her husband to "calm down, they'll soon leave." Then, my commitment to "keep the faith" was tested, and these days, my having become somewhat intellectual, I've become LESS the child.
Religions teach abnegation, denial of the world’s joys, as well as its sadness. Jesus taught, "My Kingdom is not of this world," and I suppose that includes both Disney World and hellhole shelters for junkies. In the Gospels, one gets a sense of paradox, opposites; for example: "lose life and you shall gain life."
GC: I do believe there is great truth in paradoxes!
CO: I liked how Solzhenitsyn (with a broad brush) described the Russian character, "Russians do not get too 'up' during good times, and do not get too 'down' during bad times.” A balance of moods, emotions seems to be an ideal trait which I cannot regularly achieve!
GC: I’m a great believer in striving for "balance," too. Almost a mantra for me since getting into Lao Tzu in my early 20s (and perhaps having something to do with my hybridic background).
I wonder now if this diverse, multifarious world can find its way to balance? The religions of the world—whether Abrahamic, Asian, African, Latin American, Australian, European variously describe Edenic worlds that were lost because of human transgressions—similar stories everywhere about avarice and greed, lust, stupidity and violence….
Religions have united people, brought various tribal groups together, and almost as quickly and inevitably divided them. Thanks to the new technologies of the past 20 years or so, we’re more united now than ever, but the old demons of greed and avarice, fear and ignorance, divide us into tribes and classes. Shall we find our way through the Labyrinth? This present moment rests precariously upon the infinite fulcrum of time past under the infinite illusion of time to come….
My cousin in Sicily sent me a birthday greeting recently, quoting the French-Lithuanian-Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas. Vincenzo had rendered the quote in his native Italian: “La mia liberta non ha l’ultima parola; io non sono sola.” (“My own liberty is not the last word; I am not alone.”)
Gary Corseri and Charles Orloski
Gary Corseri has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library, and his dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. He has published novels and collections of poetry, has taught in US public schools and prisons and in US and Japanese universities. His work has appeared at LA (and Hollywood--) Progressive, CounterPunch, The Miami Herald, The New York Times and hundreds of publications and websites worldwide. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Orloski is a poet living in Taylor, Pennsylvania. His prose and poems have appeared at CounterPunch, LA Progressive, Countercurrents, Hollywood Progressive, Dissident Voice and elsewhere.