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Execute me in absentia…Brendan Behan

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge

Seamus Healy, Punishment, 1975

I am an Irish-Catholic American. My religious beliefs have wandered far from what the good sisters and priests tried to map for me; while I donate to my Jesuit college and to Catholic Charities, I do so because of what they do and do well, not because of who they are. Of course, having made the 9 First Fridays more than once, I can sin very boldly indeed.  Now the ravings of a French teenager in the 19th century are probably not worth more than a moment of sad reflection; but, Bernadette believed, and so do a lot of people. Still. And while I no longer share their belief, I can respect that, and I can understand it. Hell, there’s a strong possibility that it’s my reluctance to get up early on Sundays that led to the whole Tiffany Anti-Theist Thing.

Of course, I’m sure they maintained the right to excommunicate. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I have been excommunicated for years — and I am  quite comfortable with that.

I have lately been in a bit of a pissing contest over a commentator who thinks that all soldiers who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan are, ipso facto, war criminals, and I’m bothered by it. That sort of simplicity and conspiracy-theory nonsense may reflect strong ties to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion combined with Palinesque desire to blame the mainstream media and the Liberals and the Federal Reserve and the fucking Bildenbergers and George Soros and the Koch brothers and eveeybody else including victims for horrible nonsense. While I have none of the volumes of poetry I wrote as an undergraduate — thank god — I do remember one line in a poem to a lovely girlfriend named Anne Winschel who has led a marvelous and productive life with nothing to do with me with lines to the effect that “But, I said she’s too tall!/When what I meant was “I’m too small…”

Self-awareness is a hierophany in a teenage boy, especially an Irish Catholic American teenage boy getting ready to go off to Holy Cross. Rare as they are, hierophanies happen occasionally, and that was one occastion. In something like the Irish Catholic Church and in the Catholic Church as a whole and in all organizations, self-awareness is critical and yet so non-existent. It’s called for in fact — anyone who has attempted or even read the Exercises of Ignatius Loyola and the other people like St John of the Cross or St Teresa knows that. If you want to approach the fundamentals of existence, be you Catholic, Jew, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan or Devil-Worshipper, self-awareness is critical.

The totalitarian mindset really doesn’t like to let you leave. Like some insane Book of the Month Club from Hell, they’re not ever going to let you go.

Self-awareness is not self-centeredness, of course. And this article by Russell Shorto from the New York Times Magazine about “The Irish Affliction” reflects the problem both from a religious and an organizational dynamic point of view. The Irish Church is Catholicism writ large; as the article points out, the Catholic Church is established as a partner with the government and the Irish Nation in the Irish Constitution. The article cites one activist in this way:

Certainly many Irish people find the idea of abandoning Catholicism to be as counterintuitive as giving up their racial or sexual identity. A televised panel discussion on the abuse crisis last summer ended with a reporter asking a woman who was voicing her anger if she was ready to leave the Catholic Church. She paused, as if befuddled, then said, “Where would I go?”

Certainly there is a reflection here of something deeper than self-identity. I am compelled to think of the Book of Ruth, of all things. The language in the King James Version (Chapter 1, verses 1-20) is marvelous, and I have to admit, the allegory is worth considering.

Naomi is a widow, and with two of her daughters-in-law, decides to go back to Isreal from Moab. She asks her daughters-in-law to leave her and return to their homes. She is old, and has nothing to offer them. Oprah, one daughter in law, kisses her and leaves. Ruth, the other, does not but in the words of the text, “cleaves” to her.

15And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.

16And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

17Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.

Interestingly, the article describes an organization and website that was intended to help Irish Catholics to leave the church formally. To respond, the Church changed Canon Law, eliminating the ability to defect from the Church. Of course, I’m sure they maintained the right to excommunicate. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I have been excommunicated for years — and, as a Tiffanyist Anti-Theist, quite comfortable with that.

The totalitarian mindset really doesn’t like to let you leave. Like the Book of the Month Club from Hell, they’re not ever going to let you go. I left one cable-internet provider about a year ago for another because I was really unhappy with the one I had. They call, they write, they email — Baby come back. Well, the closed totalitarian organization doesn’t need to do that; the Irish are certainly used to that as are any one who’s ever joined a secret organization (Illuminati, Masons, Skull and Bones, Delta Tau Chi, the Mafia, whatever). The IRA has a very direct and fairly simple point of view on this — Once In, Never Out.  The Mafia has a rather more florid approach –

“I (NAME GIVEN) want to enter into this secret organization to protect my family and to protect my brothers. “”morte alla Francia Italia anelia!” With my blood. (A knife is used to place a cut on the right index finger or hand) and the blood of all the saints, and the souls of my children.
(The sign of the cross is made) I swear not to divulge this secret and to obey with love and omerta. I enter alive into this organization and leave it only in death.”

Although the Catholic mass has been simplified, the nature of the priesthood is understood that way — the Consecration contained the words “Remember you are a priest forever, by the order of Melchisedec.”

Well, the problem with this is fairly simple. As Brendan Behan said once about an IRA internal catfight in Dublin, “They tried me in absentia, convicted me in absentia, and sentenced me to death in absentia — so, I said they could execute me in absentia.”

What we’re seeing in the Irish response is interesting — Catholicism is part of our heritage, part of our way of looking at the world. Less so in American Irish, by the bye, than in Ireland. At the same time, the Church has done horrible, horrible things in Ireland to the people. And, the clergy has conspired to not only protect the guilty but to go out of their way to blame the victims. Again, the article cites some fairly horrific examples. Some of them are either hysterical false memories or the sexual abuse was a reflection of out and out Satanic practices in various orders. Shorto quotes an abbot who has achieved some level of awareness light years beyond the senior hierarchy…

“Ireland is a prime example of what the Church is facing, because they made this island into a concentration camp where they could control everything,” Mark Patrick Hederman, abbot of Glenstal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in County Limerick, told me. “And the control was really all about sex. They told you if you masturbated, it meant you were impure and had allowed the devil to work on you. Generations of people were crucified with guilt complexes. Now the game is up.” (Emphasis added)

Once In, Never Out.

One of the things that I note in these accounts as well as others from around the world is that the issues usually are not sexual. Priests and brothers and preachers and politicians and other people who perceive themselves as having power are not so much as reflecting their sexual urges as their power, their ability to inflict themselves on others. This is debased, but it is human. Totalitarian organizations develop these practices because they can. If you consider the treatment of most “heretics” in history, you realize that you’re dealing with sexual fantasies played out by people who can play them out. The Templars were accused of horrible practices that were largely sexual in nature — the Jews of the same sort of things. Priests and Nuns and Catholics in general were accused of sexual deviance, rape and murder of babies by Protestants in Northern Ireland and in the US. The College of the Holy Cross was established in large part as a response to the burning of an Ursuline Abbey in Boston in 1841 by a mob of Know-Nothings convinced that there were tunnels with the aborted fetuses of the nun’s babies underneath the place.

So, blanket condemnations tend to make me wonder about large organizations in general. I find something both hopeful and at the same time mournful about this passage from Shoto’s piece…

To reach the geographical heart of Irish Catholicism, you leave the main road in windswept County Donegal and drive through miles of gorsy heath, past sheep poised on gray knuckles of rock, until you come to Lough Derg, a wilderness lake edged with pines. Half a mile offshore lies Station Island, where according to legend, St. Patrick had a meditative epiphany in the fifth century, during his mission to convert the Irish.

Station Island has been a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages. Its director, Prior Richard Mohan, who has worked there since 1974, greeted me as I stepped ashore, while a brewing autumn storm roiled the tea-colored water of the lake. Over lunch in the staff dining room, he told me how he has modernized the pilgrimage center. Early pilgrims relived the saint’s experience of huddling in a pit in the ground. Today there are updated dormitories, showers, even a gift shop. Prior Mohan said that Station Island “is in the genes of the Irish people,” so much so that there is a phrase for making the pilgrimage: going in on Station. Indeed, Ireland’s greatest living writer, the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, devoted what is perhaps his most beloved collection, “Station Island,” to a meditation on the pilgrimage, the Irish and their tug of war with the church.

Mohan reckoned that the island’s impressive number of visitors — more than 20,000 a year — actually relates to a drop in church attendance in Ireland. Many people have abandoned the institutional church but not their faith, so they come to this wild spot in an effort to plug directly into their historical religious tradition without the mediation of the church. “This is seen as independent,” he said. In fact, the Catholic Church maintains control over the island, as it does over dozens of such places around the world.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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