Wednesday, April 20, 2005

return of the scribe

the scribe apologizes for failing to post on Monday and Tuesday. He finds himself with a sore back and without a nanny who has jetted off to El Salvador in pursuit of a family crisis.

That is the luxury of the blog, it is practically commercial-free and driven by the scribe’s own standards of workplace conduct, which have always been informed by Mediterranean habits and therefore lax by almost any measure.

Meantime there has been plenty of nothing going.

The Vatican has maintained its post as the primary source of news. What with every mainstream media outfit in the world suddenly fitted with the unexpected costs of attending last week’s funeral/festival, it made sense to keep everyone there and get a good report on the choosing of a replacement for the indefatigable one – JPII.

Of course, most reporters are pretty ignorant of the church and its functions. Covering it would certainly require a number of long-groomed contacts and other surreptitious entrees into the ancient bureaucracy.

No one, of course, has that in the U.S. media. It was not long ago that Sen. John F. Kennedy was running for President and trying to assure folks in our largely protestant nation that he would not take orders from the Pope if elected.

the scribe, who lived for two years in Arkansaw, remembers locals referring to his crucifix on a chain as a “Yankee Cross.” The point being that Catholic concerns have been largely anathema to the American citinzenry.

To be sure, the current Pope-mania is not fed by any new sympathy for the Holy Romans. Rather it’s fed by a perfect storm of purportedly surging “Christian” values, an American (p)resident who consults God on geopolitics before his own former-President dad, and the voracious pursuit of spectacle that characterizes news coverage today.

And the Catholics, in dire need of some good PR, pulled out all the stops this time. The “value-neutral” news teams with no opinion on the present state of affairs in that religion rushed to oblige and that’s what you’ve been watching.

What have we learned? Well, we’ve learned that there’s a growing similarity between U.S. and Vatican governing strategies. They do it behind closed doors and you have no idea how the decision was made, and with the Bush administration, we’ve discovered the virtues of closed government as well.

At least The Vatican sends out smoke signals. Maybe we can get that in the U.S. so that after Dick Cheney confabs with the country’s major polluters, they can send out a black signal if we’ll be getting dirtier air, and white stuff if we merely have cleaner smoke to look forward to (those being the parameters in a country with a permanent business veto).

We also learned how to get on TV at these things. At a sporting event, it suffices to paint your face or wear and Afro wig. In the socio-political news drama of the early 21st Century the most effective strategy for getting a camera trained on you is tears.

Cry, please, cry and you’ll be part of Pope-mania two for as long as the uncertainty lasts. Or just be hysterical, but at all costs be antithetical to reason, skepticism, curiosity and any other mental tool fundamental to good democracy.

Be anti-enlightenment, be exciting, be a part of the show.

The general sentiment is toward enjoyment of the church’s hoary rituals. Ah, the good old days when a bunch of old men huddled in a room to decide who would administer the world system...

...and didn’t slavery as a source of cheap labor make for so much more comfort, elegance even?

Anyway, here’s a look at what happens in the real Catholic world away from the gabble about liberal and conservative and hard-line popes as if the eternal institution gave a hoo-ha about political pressure, modernity, or being anything else but conservative and hard-line.

When the scribe lived in southern Spain, he participated in a long pilgrimage through the wilds of Andalusia to the Virgin of the Dew.

“Rocio” as this particular statue is called, enjoys the fervent and mystical loyalty of a cult numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Each May, they converge from all of Andalusia, and beyond, in ox-drawn carriages, to her chapel on Spain’s Atlantic coast.

It is a spectacle without parallel, driven by deep and ornate rituals written up by an essentially magic cult. The flavor is flamenco and the music does not ever stop during the week it takes to arrive at the hermitage, and the week it takes to return once the regimen is complete.

Rocio, more than anything, is a massive party that absorbs alcohol, cocaine, hashish, heroic quantities of food, and sex under the pine trees, amid the smells of horse manure and cut wetlands grass.

John Paul II expressed, at one point, his disapproval of the Rocio ritual, bemoaning the creeping paganism of Spanish Catholicism. Eventually, he was forced to back off and even made the pilgrimage once.

One of the poorest kept secrets about Rocio is the large percentage of gays who lend it the special energy that draws so many.

Of course, gays are not allowed into the sacred community or Holy Romans. the scribe, while on the pilgrimage, chatted with a gay servant of the Virgin, even as his face was alighting in the ecstacy of standing before “her”.

His loyalty to the Virgin in unquestioned, his love of God, deeper than anything else he harbors.

“But there’s this problem...” he trails off.

The "problem,” of course, is that he’s allowed at the party (an very easy agreement between deep-believing Andalusian Catholics and their gay comrades), but not getting the blessings and benefits the pilgrimage allegedly confers.

And so there you are. Catholicism in practice. Regimentation and prohibitions as to who gets God and who doesn’t. Lax policing of its moral code so as not to defend the growing number of revelers attracted to ancient ritual, but bankrupt of the required spirituality and sacrifice. People wanting in, others not getting thrown out. The name of God and purported works twisted to the convenience and worldview of the worshiper.

Distance between institution and layman. A beautiful party under the stars.

And in closing we should not forget all those foreign heads of state were at JPII’s funeral for reason’s other than extreme party envy; the Catholic Church is a political entity.

Popes have commandeered armies, condemned millions to death, and ruled over vast swathes of Europe in centuries past. Not unlike their Muslim counterparts, the eye is on an eternal prize and the idea has been to stay open for business until this secular nation-state-based-on-reason fad passed on.

And speaking of Mediterranean influences, the scribe’s anti-clericism can be traced directly to the writings of surrealist film maker Luis Buñuel. Here we close with two paragraphs from his autobiography “My Last Sigh,” put out by Vintage Books in 1983 (ISBN 0-394-72501-8):

“In 1936, the voices of the Spanish people were heard for the first time in their history; and, instinctively, the first thing they attacked was the Church, followed by the great landowners – their two ancient enemies. As they burned churches and convents and massacred priests, any doubts anyone may have had about hereditary enemies vanished completely.

I’ve always been impressed by the famous photograph of those ecclesiastical dignitaries standing in from of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in full sacerdotal garb, their arms raised in the Fascist salute toward some officers standing nearby. God and Country are an unbeatable team; they break all records for oppression and bloodshed.”

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