The Only Question

The Only Question

…and that is when he came to me, 
the great sucking darkness, the formless
one, not a place where anyone or anything
is, but the place where everything is not
(at least as far as he can help it). And that 
is when he said to me, “Do it.” He said only
that at first: “Do it.” But then he said, “You
know you want to.” And I hesitated to answer,
because there is no point talking back to him: 
there is no reasoning with him. He is a void
that does not give, a depth with no surface. 
But I could not help but wonder out loud,
“So what?”

…and that is when the light appeared. 
When he appeared, the other vanished as if
he had never existed, because he didn’t. 
The light filled the room, the house, the universe,
and it flowed through me as I bathed in it, 
and I knew that it was love. And the light
said, “I want you to do it too.” I could not process 
that moment in which God and the devil agreed, 
where they both wanted me to do the same thing. 
I realized at that time that there was no
question about what was to be done. 
The only question to be asked was,
“Why was I doing it?” 

c 2016 James Rovira
09-10-16 MS | Image Credit

Why Kim Davis Isn’t a Hero

If you’ve been following the news, you may have read that Kim Davis, a Rowan County Clerk of Court in Kentucky, is refusing to sign gay marriage licenses, which she is required to do since a recent US Supreme Court decision legalized gay marriage across the country. She has argued (and lost) that being required to sign those licenses violates her freedom of religion. Because she is an elected official, she can’t be immediately fired, but she is facing misconduct charges that could lead to fines, imprisonment, and removal from office. It’s a somewhat lengthy process requiring a trial, though, and only the State of Kentucky can remove her from office, not the county.

***

UPDATE: As of September 3rd, 2015, Kim Davis has been jailed for contempt of court but not yet removed from office. She was released on September 8th, 2015 on the condition that she did not interfere with deputy clerks signing marriage licenses. If you view images of the Rowan County marriage license, the Clerk of Court’s name does not automatically appear on the form nor is her own signature required. This whole issue was really a non-issue in terms of her own religious freedom, as she was never required to sign anything nor to release any document that had her name on it. Commentary below was written before these details were publicly available, so it was assumed that Davis had to sign these documents to do her job. I’ve made slight modifications.

***

There seems to be a good bit of confusion about freedom of religion and about the principles of civil disobedience related to this issue that I’d like to address.

First, people have the right to be bigots.

Next, people have the right to disagree with or oppose gay marriage.

But, people don’t have the right to act like bigots in some contexts, especially as functionaries of the state at any level (city, county, state, federal). They don’t have the right to act like bigots even in any private setting: we don’t have segregated restaurants, barbershops, schools, and bus seating for that reason.

Employees of the state don’t have the right to choose which laws they will uphold and which laws they will not while remaining an employee.

So, get this — Kim Davis has the right to refuse to sign gay marriage licenses, whether you think that’s a bigoted act or not. But she does not have the right to refuse to sign gay marriage licenses and remain in her job, and she certainly doesn’t have the right to prevent any of her employees from doing their jobs. She doesn’t have to sign gay marriage certificates, but she doesn’t get to determine, single-handedly, the rule of law.

We never have to do anything, much less everything, that the state tells us. Members of religions that are pacifist are exempt from military service, but that means that they don’t serve in the military. Being a pacifist means you don’t serve in government in that way. It doesn’t mean you get to serve in the military and then choose which orders you disobey and which you obey.

This is where the principles of civil disobedience come into play. Civil disobedience understands the state and the individual as being in a contractual relationship: if the individual obeys the laws of the state, the individual gets to participate in the life of the state and receive its benefits. If the individual does not obey, he or she suffers the consequences: loss of freedom, or fines, or loss of benefits.

What acts of ethical civil disobedience do is recognize the validity of the law by disobeying it and then accepting the consequences. That’s the difference between acts of civil disobedience and criminal behavior: those engaged in civil disobedience accept the consequences of breaking the law, get arrested, and fight it out in court. Criminals just break the law for their own benefit and refuse to accept the consequences.

So no, Kim Davis does not have to support gay marriage. She does not have to sign gay marriage certificates if she does not want to. She can avoid doing so by stepping down from her position: if the state asks her to do something that violates her conscience, she doesn’t have to do it. But by refusing to carry out the law and remaining in her position, or actively preventing others from doing their jobs, she’s avoiding the consequences.

She’s not being a hero. She’s acting like a criminal, largely because she is making her individual conscience out to be legally equivalent to US law by imposing it upon others. While she has the right to follow her own conscience, she doesn’t have the right to require others, through the power of the state, to do so as well above and beyond the rule of law.

The only ethical choices here are to do your job or step out of it.

black-police-officer-helping-a-kkk-member-as-a-mob-of-protesters-were-closing-in-on-their-demonstrationIf you’d like to see exceptional examples of state employees carrying out their duties ethically, you might want to read about the African American police officer who helped a member of the KKK during a rally, or maybe just remember the image to the left.

I would like to add a postscript here about Christian civil disobedience. It’s necessary because the Kim Davis case has added a religious component to this debate. Because Christians were persecuted for about three to four hundred years at the beginning of Christianity, and still are in some parts of the world, principles of Christian civil disobedience were established by church leaders early on to distinguish between Christian acts of civil disobedience and simple lawbreaking.

Traditionally, Christians are ethically required to engage in civil disobedience under two conditions:

  1. The State forbids what God commands. For example, if the State ever forbade Christians to meet, the church would say that Christians should do so anyhow, as they have been commanded to do so.
  2. The State commands what God forbids. For example, if the State were to command Christians to worship the emperor, the church would say that Christians should refuse to do so, because they have been commanded not to worship idols.

But the conditions under which Christians are not to engage in civil disobedience include:

  1. The State allows what God forbids.

The State always has to allow at least some immoral behavior. This applies to both gay marriage itself and its detractors, as people on one side of the debate believe that gay marriage is sin, while people on the other side of the debate believe that opposition to gay marriage is bigotry. The result of attempting to legislate all immorality out of existence would be worse than immoral behavior itself, as it would (unsuccessfully attempt to) eliminate human freedom and create massive totalitarian states.

This principle is important both as a principle of Christian civil disobedience and as a part of secular law: it is the principle that both allows Kim Davis to be a bigot and allows for gay marriage to begin with, regardless of anyone’s opinion about the morality of either. If God allows human beings to sin out of respect for human freedom, which seems to be the message of the story of Adam and Eve or of the prodigal son, so should the State. The question that we all have to negotiate as a society — among ourselves — is what sins we allow and which we attempt to legislate away. We’re pretty clear on murder, but we’re still arguing about different kinds of pornography and about prostitution. We’re still arguing about gay marriage, but that argument has recently been legally resolved by SCOTUS in terms of the law, at least. So we can continue to argue about it, but short of a Constitutional amendment banning it, gay marriage is now legal.

What should be obvious, though, is that even from a very traditionally Christian point of view, both gay marriage and abortion fall under the category of allowing what God forbids. As a result, neither of these meet the conditions under which Christian civil disobedience is either warranted or required. Human beings are free, which means they are free to commit acts that you think are wrong, and even acts that they think are wrong. If you respect your own freedom, you need to respect the freedom of others.

A Taxonomy of Satanisms

Satan_Calling_up_his_legionsA few days ago I was watching That 70’s Show, and backwards masking came up in one episode. It was season 1, episode 8, “Drive-In.” One character — Fez — is a foreign exchange student (“F.E.S.,” pronounced “Fez” on the show, which is not his real name) from an undisclosed foreign country whose host parents are very conservative Christians. They warn him of Satanic messages that are hidden on rock albums by being recorded backwards and then embedded in the music or between songs. This practice, called “backwards masking” at the time, or “backmasking,” was being widely reported among Evangelical Christians prior to the age of CDs as an attempt to get listeners to unconsciously accept Satanism. It’s a frankly dumb idea on the face of it. Most people don’t get rock lyrics even when they’re hearing them performed forward. But TV evangelists like Paul Crouch would bring “neuroscientists” on their show to attest that this kind of recording could subconsciously influence listeners.

So if you spin the albums backwards (on your record player, of course — this is the 70s, but vinyl is making a comeback) you can hear the messages. Yes, I am a child of the 70s, and I did this myself. As you can imagine, it all sounds very creepy in a campfire story kind of way, so my friends and I enjoyed doing this the way people liked watching Creepshow in the 80s. There’s a great scene in this particular episode in which the teenagers are sitting around, getting high, imitating backmasked messages (“Get Satan a cherry pop”), and generally trying to creep each other out.

But yes, backwards masking is “real” in the sense that some bands did embed hidden messages on their albums. The Beatles (who else?) used backwards recordings on “Revolution 9,” so of course once it became controversial and popularized bands started doing it just to get “exposed” by people like Paul Crouch: this stuff is great advertising. It was taken seriously enough for an anti-backwards-masking bill to be passed in California, of all places, in 1983.

Besides the wonderful reminder that Laura Prepon performed Donna Pinciotti, That 70s Show got me thinking about the figure of Satan in society, particularly what this figure means to different people. The traditional Satan, of course, is an irredeemably fallen angel who has rebelled against God and is responsible for his deception and temptation of Eve and, by extension, the fall of humankind. Adam, in the traditional account, wasn’t deceived: he chose to fall with Eve. In the traditional account, Satan embodies evil and will be cast into Hell at the end of time.

But all that this narrative provides is an outline: the social significance of this figure varies greatly. I can think of at least four different Satans or Satanisms in the contemporary imagination.

Satanism as animalistic hedonism. If you’ve ever seen any contemporary representations of SamaelLilithGoatPentagramSatan at all, you’ve very likely seen at least one version picturing him with a goat’s head and feet. Known as Baphomet, this version of Satan (with wings added) has most recently been in the news as a monument erected in Detroit by the organization The Satanic Temple. While Baphomet has a history dating back to the Crusades in the eleventh century and wasn’t originally associated with Satan, the goat’s head became associated with the inverted pentagram and generally represents the union of physical or biological forces: the point is that it’s all about the body, not the mind or reason. The goat itself has had dubious associations since the time of the Mosaic law, the “scapegoat” being the creature who bore the sins of Israel out of the camp.

If you were to invert the pentagram pictured above, so that only a single point faced up, the pentagram would then be a symbol of man, the head at the peak of the upper point with the other four points symbolizing the arms and legs. So turned one way, with a single point facing up, the head or the human mind stands at the apex of the star, while turned another way, the mind is diminished and the animal is exalted. Satan as goat man is the antithesis of reason and culture, celebrating the release of unrestrained animal forces at the expense of reason. When the film Constantine depicted demons as having animalistic heads with empty brain pans, it was following this tradition.

Given this history, The Satanic Temple’s very noble statement of purpose sounds ridiculous: “The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.” It’s a wonderful statement of purpose, but it isn’t Satanism, and Baphomet isn’t an appropriate symbol for an organization serving these goals. What Satanism means to The Satanic Temple, really, is a rejection of authoritarian theism, which makes it more sympathetic to Gnosticism — or even to certain branches of Christianity (except that it is “non-theist”: not “atheist,” but non-theist).

You can really get a good sense of what’s behind this movement from the geek-out moments on this video:

Which are probably best compared to this Saturday Night Live skit:

https://screen.yahoo.com/goth-talk-christina-ricci-000000520.html

Gema_o_Piedra_Abraxas_de_la_obra_-The_Gnostics_and_their_remains-_de_Charles_W._King,_1887

Satanism as Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a syncretist religious movement arising in the early days of Christianity that combined the teachings of Platonism, Christianity, and typically some forms of Middle Eastern or Egyptian pagan religions. According to Hans Jonas in The Gnostic Religion, many gnostic religions adopted the following narrative: that there was one true God, and that lesser gods, or demigods (associated with the planets), rebelled against the one true God, creating physical matter as a prison house for the true God and ruling over it as God themselves. They were only partially successful in this attempt, trapping some of God, but not all of God. They then established moral laws by which they could keep the one true God suppressed within the physical creation.

In this narrative, then, the physical creation is a prison house, and human beings are all fragments of the one true God seeking to escape the prison house of matter to be reunited with their source. Human beings gain freedom through arcane knowledge, which allows them to move up through the spheres — the courses of the planets — to finally reunite with the one true God. A Gnostic reading of Genesis would make out the Creator to be a lesser deity, an usurper, while Satan is the hero of the story, convincing Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which leads to death, which is understood in Platonic thought as escape from the physical body. While the truth about Gnostic religions is much more complicated than this, Gnosticism in common discourse has come to be associated with anti-authoritarianism and anti-morality, Satan in this case being a symbol of Gnostic goals and an emissary of, not rebel against, the true God.

What about Romantic Satanism? Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost is perhaps the true inspiration for the vision of Satan adhered to by The Satanic Temple, but at the same time, this version of Satan is too petty and vindictive to be heroic: Percy Shelley rejected Milton’s Satan as a viable hero and chose Prometheus instead. Eve is the most admirable figure in Milton’s story, perhaps the only admirable figure in the story next to Christ and then Raphael, and Satan causes her to fall out of sheer vindictiveness toward God, even when Eve more powerfully compelled him toward goodness than anything else in the natural world, including the sun.

The figure of devils or of Satan are moving targets in William Blake. Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, consistent with the goat tradition that I described above, associates devils (Satan is not named in this work) with energy, activity, the body, and creativity, but consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition, sees the body as good. It just needs to be placed in a dialectic with reason, restraint, and order, so that we have enough energy to create, but enough restraint to keep our energies from being destructive. “Angels” and “devils” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell are then so-called because they reflect the view of these very human forces by the Church of England, which in Blake’s opinion had a negative view of energy and of the body and mistakenly thought that only reason, restraint, and morality were good. Blake’s Satan going forward in his other mythological works is an ambiguous figure, eventually becoming passive-aggressive, like the Satan of Paradise Regained.

So Romantic Satanism is perhaps a combination of Gnostic Satanism and the next kind of Satanism, Satanism as a mirror of society.

Satanism as a mirror of society. This kind of Satanism dominates punk rock and heavy metal. Not long ago I watched Wolfgang Büld‘s Punk in London, his 1977 documentary about London’s early punk scene. Some of the musicians interviewed were asked why they wore swastikas and Satanic symbols, and one of them said that they didn’t believe in it: they were just reflecting back the society that they were observing.

Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is probably the best statement of this kind of Satanism:

You can read the lyrics here:

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death's construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord yeah!

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor

Yeah

Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait 'til their judgment day comes
Yeah!

Now in darkness world stops turning
Ashes where the bodies burning
No more war pigs have the power
Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of judgment, God is calling
On their knees the war pig's crawling
Begging mercy for their sins
Satan laughing spreads his wings
Oh lord yeah!

As you see, this song isn’t about the worship of Satan. Like Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” the song protests the military-industrial complex and its war profiteering, which it associates with Satan by way of hell: the bodies burning on the battlefields resemble bodies burning in hell, and modern generals resemble witches and sorcerers. Black Sabbath’s Satanism, like punk’s, is there to emphasize the implicit Satanism of western capitalism, which is immorally profiteering and murderous. However, it does so from the standpoint of an essentially Christian morality: God eventually punishes the wicked.

Satanism as nihilism. When I was a teenager, I read Anton LaVey‘s The Satanic Bible. In it, there’s an anecdote about a young man who is told by another man on the street that if he will hand over all of the money in his wallet right then, that minute, the man will tell him the secret to a lifetime of wealth. When the first man hands over his money, the second man whispers in his ear, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

It’s a funny anecdote, but the point is that there is no point. This may as well have been a joke told about the purchasers of LaVey’s literature.

The actual worship of the Biblical Satan? Of evil? Doesn’t happen. Every one of these Satanists would be scared senseless if they ever had to confront real evil.

CFP (Anthology): Rock and Romanticism

CFP: Rock and Romanticism

NOTES: 

  1. I have set up a blog dedicated to the Rock and Romanticism anthology: https://rockandromanticism.wordpress.com/. When this page is no longer pinned to the top of this blog, all future updates on the anthology will have been migrated to that location. 

2. The August 1st deadline for proposals has passed. However, I plan to send my first proposal out to a publisher by August 15th at the latest, so I can still accept proposals through August 8th. Please contact me by August 8th if you have an idea but cannot send me a proposal until after August 8th.

3. This page is continually being updated as I receive proposals or ideas for proposals. Please check the list below for topics covered. I am happy to accept more than one essay about the same figure, but of course these essays need to take different approaches. 

4. I was on the road from July 5th to July 14th. There may have been delays responding to your queries and proposals during that time. Please accept my apologies.  

The editor of Rock and Romanticism is soliciting essays about the ways in which rock music, broadly defined, expands, interprets, restates, and conflicts with Romanticism, broadly defined. “Rock music” as a category will be extended to include all popular music since the 1950s, including but not limited to rock, varieties of metal, R&B, soul, varieties of punk, folk, techno, progressive rock, indie, new wave, alternative, psychedelic, industrial, gothic, funk, country, and blues. If the music has been written or performed since the 1950s and you’re wondering if it fits, the answer is “yes.” [1] For the purposes of this study, “Romanticism” will also be broadly defined, considering trans-European, trans-Atlantic, and global Romanticisms as well as Romanticism in literature, art, and music.

You can see a list matching potential musicians and Romantic-era literary figures, a provisional bibliography, and a sense of how I’m theorizing Romanticism on the blog post “Romanticism and Rock.”

Papers might consider

  • women in rock and women in Romanticism;
  • lyric poetry and song lyrics or song lyrics as lyric poetry;
  • readings of rock and Romanticism that compare
    • conditions between Europe during the Napoleonic wars and conditions in the post-McCarthy era and/or post 9-11 United States,
    • the 1960s or later Ireland or the UK, or
    • 1960s or later continental Europe, including Eastern Europe and the Baltic states (any possible essays on Rammstein and Romanticism?);
  • the gothic in literature and in music;
  • opera and the rock opera;
  • drug use, drug literature, and drug music of the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries;
  • the pastoral in Romantic literature and in rock music;
  • adaptations, interpretations, direct responses to, and performances of Romantic-era texts by twentieth-century and later musicians;
  • the figure of Satan in Romanticism and in rock;
  • protest literature and protest music;
  • sexual identity in Romanticism and rock.

Ideal papers will theorize or historicize their subjects in a way that places rock music in a coherent dialog with Romantic-era art, literature, or music, contributing to a consideration of the boundaries or definition(s) of “Romanticism” as an artistic mode while also considering the implications of chronological, national, social, sexual, and/or economic difference. Papers from contemporary artists/musicians reflecting upon the influence of Romantic-era art, literature, or music upon their work are also welcome.

Please email a 250-500 word proposal that includes your name, title, institutional affiliation (if applicable), mailing address, email address, and a brief, updated CV to jamesrovira@gmail.com by August 1st, 2015. Completed papers, which should be within the 5000-7000 word range, are expected by November 15, 2015.

You can see a list of artists and poets with a provisional bibliography on the blog post “Romanticism and Rock.”

I have received notice of interest or proposals for the following figures:

Musician/Artist Romantic Era Connection Status
The Beatles/Sgt. Pepper’s Wordsworth Proposal received and accepted
David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust Blake and Keats Proposal received and accepted
David Bowie and Brian Eno (late 70s) Wordsworth/Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads Proposal received and accepted
Nick Cave Romanticism/gothic and sublime Awaiting proposal
Nick Cave Romanticism/transgressive artist Proposal received and accepted
60s Dylan (not comprehensively) Blake and the Beat poets Proposal received and accepted
Dylan Keats and Shelley, or just Shelley Proposal received and accepted
Woody Guthrie, Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti Theorizes Guthrie’s ballads using Sayre and Lowy’s “Figures of Romantic Anti-Capitalism” Proposal received and accepted.
The Herd (early Peter Frampton), perf. Paradise Lost Milton and Blake Proposal received and accepted.
Mick Jagger, 1969 Jagger reading Shelley’s Adonais Proposal received and accepted
Iron Maiden Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” Awaiting proposal
Aimee Mann Mann as a Romantic figure as theorized by Cavill Proposal received and accepted
Marilyn Manson’s Triptych Blake and Bryon Proposal received and accepted
Morrisey and Bowie Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Proposal received and accepted
Norwegian Black Metal Primitivism/return to nature Awaiting proposal
The Pretenders, Pretenders William Blake, Vision of the Daughters of Albion, comparing female responses to male aggression and passivity. Proposal received and accepted.
Martha Redbone’s Roots Project William Blake Proposal received and accepted
Lou Reed, The Raven Edgar Allan Poe Proposal received and accepted
Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil” Milton’s Satan Awaiting proposal
Rush Rush and Romanticism Proposal received and accepted
U2, Songs of Innocence Blake Proposal received and accepted
U2, Songs of Innocence and Leonard Cohen Blake Proposal received and accepted
Van Morrison VM himself as a Romantic poet, comp. to several Romantic-era figures, particularly Blake Proposal received and accepted
Various: the 60s Various: the 60s as a Romantic era Proposal received and accepted
Various: 60’s era apocalypse Various: the Romantic era and apocalypse Proposal received and accepted
Various: 80s New Romanticism Various: English Romanticism Proposal received and accepted
Various: a contribution by the author/director of a staged version of Werther set to music by Lou Reed, Florence and the Machine, Rhianna, etc. Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther Proposal received and accepted.
Various: Pathetic fallacy in rock and Romanticism. AFI, Finch, La Dispute, etc. Various: Blake and Wordsworth Proposal received and accepted
Various: songs of the open road, including Joplin, Springsteen, Dylan, and Berry Various: Songs for the Open Road anthology Proposal received and accepted
Tom Verlaine/ post-punk Romantic-era responses to Napoleon Proposal received and accepted
Women in Rock (Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Stevie Nicks) Women in Romanticism (Mary Shelley and Charlotte and Emily Brontë) Proposal received and accepted
Neil Young and Jackson Browne These musicians as Romantic poets, compared to Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats Proposal received and accepted
4AD Records’s This Mortal Coil project (includes The  Cocteau Twins) Walpole, Beckford, Shelley and Lewis Proposal received and accepted

[1] Except for disco, because disco sucks.