The HyperTexts

AUSCHWITZ ROSE

"Auschwitz Rose" is the title poem of upcoming book by Michael R. Burch, with cover art by Mary Rae. This is a preview of the book ...

Auschwitz Rose

There is a Rose, at Auschwitz, in the briar;
a Rose like Sharon's, lovely as her name.
The world forgot her, and is not the same.
I still love her, and enlist this sacred fire
to keep her memory's exalted flame
unmolested by the thistles and the nettles.

On Auschwitz now the reddening sunset settles.
They sleep alike—diminutive and tall,
the innocent, the "surgeons." Sleeping, all.

Red oxides of her blood, bright crimson petals,
if accidents of coloration, gall
my heart no less. Amid thick weeds and muck
these lies a Rose man's crackling lightning struck—
the only Rose I ever longed to pluck.
Soon I'll bed there and bid the world "Good Luck."

If you are a student, teacher, educator, peace activist or just someone who cares and wants to help, please read How Can We End Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide Forever? and do what you can to make the world a safer, happier place for children of all races and creeds.

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch


for the mothers and children of the Holocaust

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this—
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...

When we consider man's inhumanity to man, few images are as stark as the one of Nazi "surgeons" conducting horrific experiments on innocent children.

AUSCHWITZ ROSE, scheduled to be released by Multicultural Books in the near future, is a book of poetry and prose by Michael R. Burch, a widely published poet and editor of The HyperTexts.

AUSCHWITZ ROSE is not a book about the Holocaust, per se, but a book about the human condition, which unfortunately often involves holocausts great and small, global and personal, with far too many of them inflicted on the human race by "divinely inspired" religious fanatics and politicians with Messiah complexes. The book begins with poems and concludes with Burch's humorous account of growing up on various American military bases during the Cold War, trapped between the nuclear-armed bombers of the Strategic Air Command and those of the U.S.S.R., while in between air raid drills trembling at the ravings of "Christian" pastors and Sunday School teachers who, when not singing hymns extolling the love of God,  indignantly proclaimed that little boys who so much as thought about sex would burn in hell for all eternity Lust is, after all, the same as adultery.

Would Jesus Christ save Burch at the last possible instant, or fry him forever? Find out in his mock-epic piece: "Of Men, Mice and Mincemeat (Me)."

Burch turns the tables on the fundamentalists by proving conclusively once and for all that the God and prophets of the Old Testament never so much as mentioned an "eternal hell" to a solitary living soul, and that Jesus clearly mocked the idea of hell in his parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. As the adherents of three major religions—Judaism, Islam and Christianity—prepare for Armageddon, Burch somehow dreams to prevail by defying conventional "wisdom" and proposing a simple solution: let's end the wars and holocausts of the various tribes who breathlessly proclaim themselves the Chosen Few, by establishing sacrosanct national borders and making it illegal for any nation to violate them. According to Burch, if the civilized nations of the earth had cut off all commerce with Germany the minute Hitler violated his borders, the blitzkrieging Panzers of the Nazis would have soon ground to a halt. And so too with the North Korean invasion of South Korea, and the U.S.A.'s illegal "shock and awe" then "aw, shit!" invasion of Iraq.

Did Iraqi women and children invade the United States? Then why are we blowing up their houses and destroying their lives? Are Palestinian women and children "terrorists"? Then why have the governments of Israel and the United States conspired to herd them like cattle into walled enclosures where they suffer and die, bereft of all human rights and dignity? Why, after the Jews suffered through the Shoah, the Jewish Holocaust, did the state of Israel perpetuate exactly the same thing, a Holocaust, on the Palestinians?

The Nazis thought they were the super race, the Chosen Few, compared to the Jews. Now the Jews seem to think they're the Chosen Few, compared to the Palestinians. The fundamentalists of the United States clearly believe themselves to be the Chosen Few, compared to everyone, calling down fire and brimstone on gays, girls who have abortions, and even the saints of other religions, like Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. The fundamentalists of radical Islam have no doubt they're the Chosen Few, and don't seem to mind lopping off heads here and there to "prove" it.

Even worse, if it can possibly get any worse, it seems clear that every American politician is now the Chosen One, the Messiah, and the Lone Maverick. Recently all the major democratic presidential candidates roundly blasted the Bush administration for the war with Iraq. But while they disagreed vigorously with each other on every other matter, they all quite calmly agreed that the United States should invade Pakistan, a nuclear-armed sovereign nation that has never attacked us, if elections to our liking were not held there!
Have we so soon forgotten our own hanging chads?

Do we not urgently need to be protected from such over-avid, addle-brained messiahs? If there is no sanity in religious or political circles, is there any hope at all for the world? Yes, Burch tells us, there is a simple solution that will protect us from our preposterous politicians, and those of other nations. Make war illegal. If only the civilized world would shut off all commerce with nations intent on bringing about Armageddon, within a generation the earth's children would never see another war. War would go the way of cannibalism and head-shrinking.

Can a book of poems and humorous sketches bring about world peace? Will the fundamentalists crucify Burch, or will he have the uproarious last laugh? Perhaps the answers, or at least hints, lie within the pages of AUSCHWITZ ROSE.

Readers interested in buying AUSCHWITZ ROSE can contact Mike Burch at mikerburch@gmail.com. People who would rather save their money can read excerpts below. But regardless, perhaps it's time for every human being to ask himself one simple question: is the key to world peace simply to make war illegal, and so expensive that no bellicose nation can afford to violate its borders? Is it impossible to end war, or very simple? It once seemed impossible to end witch hunts, because the world was full of horribly evil witches. But guess what? There never were any witches. It once seemed impossible to rid the world of highly poisonous tomatoes. But guess what? There never were any poisonous tomatoes. It now seems impossible to rid the world of war, because ... well, because it's impossible. But how far would the German tanks have rolled without fuel? How many nations can the U.S.A. invade without oil? Every nation imports something essential. Can any nation wage war today if every other nation cuts off all commerce with it?

Before our religious fanatics and messianic politicians embroil us in yet another unwinnable trillion-dollar war, such as invading Pakistan for not voting the way we prefer, let's make war illegal and spend our money on things we really need: bigger boobs (bosoms, not politicians!), Botox injections (to erase those little worry lines inspired by the fear of a hell that doesn't exist), and perhaps a planet capable of sustaining life.

Excerpts from AUSCHWITZ ROSE:

Cleansings

Walk here among the walking scepters. Learn
inhuman patience. Flesh can only cleave
to bone this tightly if their hearts believe
that G-d is good, and never mind the Urn.

A lentil and a bean might plump their skin
with mothers’ bounteous, soft-dimpled fat
(and call it “health”), might quickly build again
the muscles of dead menfolk. Dream, like that,
and call it courage. Cry, and be deceived,
and so endure. Or burn, made wholly pure.
One’s prayer is answered,
                                             “god” thus unbelieved.
No holy pyre this—death’s hissing chamber.
Two thousand years ago—a starlit manger,
weird Herod’s cries for vengeance on the meek,
the children slaughtered. Fear, when angels speak,
the prophesies of man.
                                          Do what you can,
not what you must, or should.
                                                      They call you “good,”
dead eyes devoid of tears; how shall they speak
except in blankness? Fear, then, how they weep.
Escape the gentle clutching stickfolk. Creep
away in shame to retch and flush away
your vomit from their ashes. Learn to pray.

Lucifer, to the Enola Gay

Go then,
and give them my meaning
so that their teeming
streets
become my city.

Bring back a pretty
flower,
a chrysanthemum,
perhaps, to bloom
if but an hour,
within a certain room
of mine
where
the sun does not rise or fall,
and the moon,
though it is content to shine,
helps nothing at all.

There,
if I hear the wistful call
of their voices
regretting choices
made
or perhaps not made
in time,
I can look back upon it and recall,
in all
its pale forms sublime,
still
Death will never be holy again.

Flight 93

I held the switch in trembling fingers, asked
why existence felt so small, so purposeless,
like a minnow squirming feebly in my grasp . . .

vibrations of huge engines thrummed my arms
as, glistening with sweat, I nudged the switch
to OFF . . . I heard the klaxon’s shrill alarms

like vultures’ shriekings . . . earthward, in a stall . . .
we floated . . . earthward . . . wings outstretched, aghast
like Icarus . . . as through the void we fell . . .

till nothing was so beautiful, so blue . . .
so vivid as that moment . . . and I held
an image of your face, and dreamed I flew

into your arms. The earth rushed up. I knew
such comfort, in that moment, loving you.

Because Her Heart Is Tender

for Beth

She scrawled soft words in soap: “Never Forget,”
Dove-white on her car’s window, and the wren,
because her heart is tender, might regret
it called the sun to wake her. As I slept,
she heard lost names recounted, one by one.

She wrote in sidewalk chalk: “Never Forget,”
and kept her heart’s own counsel. No rain swept
away those words, no tear leaves them undone.

Because her heart is tender with regret,
bruised by razed towers’ glass and steel and stone
that shatter on and on and on and on . . .
she stitches in damp linen: “NEVER FORGET,”
and listens to her heart’s emphatic song.

The wren might tilt its head and sing along
because its heart once understood regret
when fledglings fell beyond, beyond, beyond—
its reach, and still the boot-heeled world strode on.

She writes in adamant: “NEVER FORGET
because her heart is tender with regret.

Just Smile

We’d like to think some angel smiling down
will watch him as his arm bleeds in the yard,
ripped off by dogs, will guide his tipsy steps,
his doddering progress through the scarlet house
to tell his mommy “boo-boo!,” only two.

We’d like to think his reconstructed face
will be as good as new, will often smile,
that baseball’s just as fun with just one arm,
that God is always Just, that girls will smile,
not frown down at his thousand livid scars,
that Life is always Just, that Love is Just.

We do not want to hear that he will shave
at six, to raze the leg hairs from his cheeks,
that lips aren’t easily fashioned, that his smile’s
lopsided, oafish, snaggle-toothed, that each
new operation costs a billion tears,
when tears are out of fashion.
                                                      O, beseech
some poet with more skill with words than tears
to find some happy ending, to believe
that God is Just, that Love is Just, that these
are Parables we live, Life’s Mysteries . . .

Or look inside his courage, as he ties
his shoelaces one-handed, as he throws
no-hitters on the first-place team, and goes
on dates, looks in the mirror undeceived
and smiling says, “It’s me I see. Just me.”

He smiles, if life is Just, or lacking cures.
Your pity is the worst cut he endures.

And here is the Afterword from the book ...

Afterword
by Michael R. Burch

“Does any country have the right to invade another and impose its values on it?”

This question was posed to me by Geoffrey Jackson on behalf of another writer, Charles Frederickson. I take the second part of the question to be rhetorical, so I’ll attempt to answer the real question as I perceive it: Does any country have the right to invade another?

Of Men, Mice and Mincemeat (Me)
by Michael R. Burch

My father was a twenty-year man in the United States Air Force. I grew up a “military brat” on and around a variety of Air Force bases, smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. So my perspective may differ slightly from the typical civilian’s.

I grew up scared.

In one of my earliest childhood memories I can see myself crouching like a small, beleaguered mouse beneath my clapboard school desk while a shrill, discordant Trump of Doom wails high overhead. It’s the first time I’ve heard an air raid siren, and its intensity is terrifying. A sound that loud, that insistent, could mean one thing and one thing only:

the Bomb was on its way, and I was its target.

My kindergarten class was practicing a new “survival” technique equivalent to a snail retracting its head in a last-second defensive reflex, only to be obliterated, shell and all, by a gargantuan boot. Neither the snail’s fragile shell nor my rickety desk were designed to withstand Arrivals of such Magnitude. But while the snail probably died happy as a clam, unaware of anything beyond the range of its feelers until the instant of its Apocalypse, my big, highly imaginative brain made me the oracle of my own Doom. I had seen the mushroom clouds on TV, had heard the ominous accompanying words: radiation, mutation, annihilation ...

At the tender age of five, I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for: Armageddon, just as John of Patmos had predicted in his Revelation. Being all too aware of my sinful nature and the wrath of God against me, both of which were being drilled into me, inexorably, Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings after pot-luck dinners, what could I do but accept my fate, just as the snail had accepted his, albeit more presciently?

Although in my egocentricism I supposed myself to be the Bomb’s main target and the sole focus of all God's wrath, my class was actually preparing for a preemptive Russian nuclear strike against the nearby Lincoln, Nebraska airbase where my father worked for the Strategic Air Command. No doubt SAC had bombers lined up on the base’s runways, ready to drop retaliatory nukes on Russian kindergartners. But, alas, I found it small consolation that my annihilation would be swiftly and righteously avenged. Still, I had the satisfaction of knowing that we were the good guys and would never, ever strike first! At the very least, we would die with honor, like the good little Christian boys and girls Jesus had commanded us to be, despite our miserable sinfulness!

Our kindergarten class’s “bomb drill” consisted of us huddling benightedly beneath our desks until our teacher gave us the “all clear” signal. In those days, children still presumed the adults in charge knew what they were doing, and why. (Today I suspect trusting adults is one of the childish things Saint Paul meant for us to put away on our path to enlightenment.)

I also vividly remember the USSR invading Czechoslovakia in 1968. I was ten at the time and my family lived on the outskirts of Wiesbaden, Germany, where my father was stationed at yet another arsenal of democracy. Herr Schellheimer, a German neighbor of ours, happened to be visiting Czechoslovakia when the Russian tanks thundered down the streets of Prague. After he made it back to the relative safety of West Germany, the U.S. military confiscated the pictures he’d taken of the Russian tanks, an action I found disconcerting. Why did they need the pictures of a tourist?

Did we have any idea what the Russian tanks were capable of?

In those days it was widely assumed, at least by us military brats “in the know,” that if the USSR invaded Western Europe, NATO forces would be lucky to hold out long enough for the wives and children of American servicemen (i.e., us) to be evacuated. Whether this was true or not, I have no idea, but it seemed my prized baseball cards and comic books were in the same precarious position as the Mona Lisa: likely to be the spoils of war. I remember hearing what sounded like “strategic plans” akin to Frodo’s in Mordor. We would all fall back, then run desperately for our lives, the minute the vastly superior Russian tanks and ground troops so much as sneezed in our direction.

So I suppose I understand what it must have felt like for Iraqi schoolchildren to hear rumors that the invincible U.S. tanks were gassing up for an invasion.

In 1968, did we think the mighty USSR had the “right” to invade Czechoslovakia? No, of course not. We believed the Czechs had the right to self-determination and self-rule. The USSR was the equivalent of the schoolyard bully who steals nerds’ lunch money while stroking his ego at the expense of their humiliation.

Could we have imagined any scenario in which it might have been “right” for the USSR to invade Czechoslovakia? No. What the USSR did, it did entirely by might, which made its actions entirely wrong. Being good little Christians, we had been taught in our diapers that might does not make right. If we were sure of anything, it was that Jesus turned the other cheek and wasn’t a bully. The Russians quite obviously were atheists, not Christians like us. But at the very least we would die martyrs to a noble cause! We would never, in a million years, be the ones to strike first! Perhaps that would be our salvation. If we could only summon the courage, we would turn the other cheek, as Jesus bade us, in between bouts of repenting and footwashing.

It was more than obvious to us that the USSR should not have invaded Czechoslovakia, unless perhaps Czechoslovakia had attacked the USSR first. But even then, because the USSR was so much bigger and stronger than Czechoslovakia, the Russians should probably have merely defended their borders. If a teenage boy slapped Mohammed Ali, should Ali pound him to a bloody pulp? The strong can afford to be merciful, can’t they? Only cowards pick on those weaker than themselves. Or at least that’s what our mothers, teachers and pastors told us. Must I invoke Saint Paul again? Well, perhaps I should, because today the United States has gone far beyond “defending” itself in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both countries are littered with the graves of innocent men, women and children who died in our pursuit of “truth, justice and the American Way.” Because we are so much stronger, can we not afford to be merciful? Perhaps even compassionate? Iraqi women and children did not destroy the Twin Towers. Should we destroy their homes, mutilating and killing them in the process? Is it good enough to merely “try” not to blow their homes, limbs and lives apart?

If there’s one thing good little Christians learn in their nappies, it’s that Jesus hates hypocrites with a righteous passion. He called the hypocrites all sorts of colorful names: fools, a nest of vipers, whitened sepulchers full of dead men’s bones, etc. He even said the prostitutes would enter heaven before the hypocrites! Now if just thinking about sex is a sin that condemns men to hell (after all, lust is the same as adultery) and yet prostitutes are far better in God’s eyes than hypocrites, just think of the torments that must await them! If Jesus is going to separate the sheep from the goats, and if he’s consistent and doesn’t change his tune, which we don’t expect someone perfect to do, then it seems essential for Christians not to be hypocrites. If John of Patmos is correct, and Jesus will return to crush all opposition to God’s rule on earth, in order to establish his kingdom of perfect love, justice and peace, he’ll certainly begin his Doomsday rampage by eliminating his sworn enemies: the hypocrites.

Best, then, not to be one!

China recently announced its intention to “resolutely crush” the Tibetans who oppose them. Of course good Christian men like Dubya and Maverick McCain leapt immediately to the defense of the vastly outgunned Tibetans. But what are we doing in Iraq, pray tell, but resolutely crushing the vastly outgunned people who oppose us? Isn’t it the height of hypocrisy for us to wax indignant about what we do ourselves, only on a far greater and more violent scale? The Chinese don’t like or abide opposition to their plans for Tibet. We don’t like or abide opposition to our plans for Iraq. We both resolutely crush our opposition. We do it “the American way,” with Hellfire missiles, HARMs, MOABs and whatever else wows Fox TV’s shock-'n'-awe-enraptured couch potatoes.

And what is Jesus himself planning to do, according to the Religious Right, but resolutely crush anyone who opposes him? He, of course, has everyone outgunned. And what did Jehovah do in the Old Testament days, but resolutely crush anyone and everyone who opposed him, even the Canaanite babies who perished beneath the fearsome swords of Joshua and Caleb? Joshua, I have been told by various religious experts, is a “type” of Jesus. They share the same Hebrew name: Yeshua.

It seems to be a vicious, if not altogether righteous, circle.

Upon his entry into the Promised Land, according to the Bible, Joshua’s armies killed Canaanite mothers and children. Upon his glorious return, according to the “Moral Majority,” Jesus will slaughter billions of Jewish, Moslem, Hindu and Buddhist mothers and children. If he’s going to destroy much of the earth in order to “save” it, that will mean lots of dead mothers and children, not to mention Wiccans and homosexuals. And heaven help enlightened saints like Gandhi, Einstein and the Dalai Lama, when Jesus returns in all his Righteous Wrath! He’ll save the earth, sure, or at least what remains of it, but only after it lies in smoking ruins.

Sounds a lot like Iraq, doesn’t it?

In the Revelation of John of Patmos (who was probably not the Apostle John, who in turn was probably not the writer of the Gospel of John), all the creatures of the sea and land sing the praises of God, who then turns around and kills them, presumably because he’s angry with sinful mankind. Rather than sending a human-only plague to wipe out his endlessly intransigent children, God instead kills every living thing in the sea and destroys all the green grass. The Lamb, it seems, will kill all the innocent lambs, who can’t survive in a world without grass.

It seems God will become so enraged that he can’t possibly remember what he’s done, because after destroying all the green grass, he then instructs the giant, crown-wearing, man-headed, horse-bodied, scorpion-stinged locusts not to harm the grass among the green things remaining. It seems God should be able, in all his wisdom, to remember that the grass is no longer among the green things remaining, but that might be expecting too much of someone who, however perfect, is dead-set on killing everything in sight.

Can this be right, or did someone misinterpret something somewhere along the line? Is it possible that we have misinterpreted the message and intentions of God, if God is Love, as Christians purport him to be? I for one certainly hope so. And there does seem to be an intriguing clue in the Bible. As Joshua prepared to invade Canaan and commit, or least attempt, genocide, he saw the Angel of the Lord, the Captain of the Lord of Hosts. When Joshua asked whether the Angel was with him or his enemies (who were not looking for trouble, but cowering behind Jericho’s walls like nerds avoiding a bully), the Angel said, “Nay” and told Josh to remove his shoes because he stood on Holy Ground.

Is there a message for us here today? If there is a God of Love who desires “peace on earth, good will toward man,” is it possible that the people of Joshua’s time didn’t understand that Love doesn’t take sides in wars, and that Love doesn’t slaughter mothers and babies? Do we understand it today? Do we need an Angel to appear before us, to gaze down upon us sadly, wondering when we’ll ever get the concept that “peace on earth” begins where war and violence end?

And perhaps there’s another clue in the Bible. When Abraham was convinced that God wanted him to slit the throat of his son Isaac, an Angel stayed his hand. Is it possible that two landmark events of the Bible were not the will of God: the taking of the Promised Land by force, and the holocaust of Isaac?

Can Divine Love command genocide? Can Divine Love command the slitting of the throats of children, or horrific, bloody sacrifices?

Surely not!

I read the Bible cover to cover, ten chapters per day, around age ten. Oh, how my parents beamed to see me devouring the word of God so industriously! But unfortunately for them, for me, and for God Almighty, I fell into deep despair when I discovered that God had sentenced everyone I loved to die; that he was the first murderer (having slain animals to give Adam and Eve skins to cover their nakedness); that he had drowned trillions of innocent animals at the time of Noah, when men were the ones at fault (why didn’t he send a human-only plague?); that he had demanded the blood of innocent animals to “cover” the sins of the guilty; that he had told the Israelites not to kill, but then had led them to commit genocide in Canaan only forty years later; and that he had commanded the stoning of backtalking children (like me!), slavery, and even the murder of mature women while taking their virgin daughters as sex slaves.

Yes, God despised men for their injustice and immorality, but in his wonderful wisdom and love, he had given us the saving grace of Jesus Christ so that we didn’t have to be perfect, like God. God was appeased, even pleased, by the blood of Jesus, and so we were saved from hell (which God had somehow forgotten to mention to Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Moses, or the other Hebrew prophets).

Despite my misgivings about his goodness, God and I achieved a Jesus-inspired truce for a period of perhaps three years. Then puberty arrived with a Big Bang.

When I reached puberty, God, Jesus and I had a falling out, a Cold War of our own. Jesus had said lust was the same as adultery, while my Sunday School teachers informed me in no uncertain terms that all adulterers would burn in “hell” for all eternity. Once again my big, imaginative brain became the oracle of my own Doom. Girls were pretty and close enough to touch, nearly. God and Jesus were distant, silent, and had quite obviously conspired together to manufacture a flimsy excuse to torture me for all eternity. God gave me sexual desires out the ying-yang, while Jesus damned me for so much as thinking about using my wang. I was the Joker to their Batman and Robin. KA-POW!

It was Armageddon, for me. Ah, the sweet joys of fundamentalism! No wonder we sometimes long to go to war and blow our enemies to smithereens. We merely emulate our epitomes, who seem dead set on destroying us.

I had to choose between burning in hell for all eternity, or giving up my burning passions. Of course I did what any sane man (or boy) would do. Like Adam, I chose Eve over God, although at the time “Eve” was a rather mystical concept, since I wasn’t exactly sure what women looked like under their unmentionables. At the time of the Cold War, we hadn’t yet unthawed from the frigidity of Puritanism, or at least not in my family. But that was about to change for me, thanks to Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione. One day a pal of mine “borrowed” some of his father’s Playboys and Penthouses. The rest, as they say, is history.

Once I had discovered the real joys of life—Women, Wine and Rock’n’Roll—it was “high time” for me to make like a “Rolling Stone” and leave God and Jesus “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I remember lying in bed one night, swimming in a sea of tears, like King David (another horrible sinner, like me and Paul), tearfully telling God goodbye forever. I knew I was worthless slime in his eyes, because of my waywardness and lust. Wasn’t that what my Sunday School teachers had been drilling into me from the day I first happily burbled, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so! Little ones to him belong! They are weak, but he is strong! Yes Jesus loves me, etc.”

But unlike Mohammed Ali, who hopefully didn’t pound the hypothetical teenage boy into submission, God and Jesus had no sympathy for my teenage rebelliousness. I was weak. They were strong. They demanded that I choose them over Eve—that I “love God with all my heart, mind and soul.” But Eve was pretty. Eve was mysterious. Eve was hot. And Eve was, almost, close enough to touch.

At least I acted on my conviction. I admitted my miserable sinfulness to God, telling him I knew I was bound for hell for not being perfect, like him. If there was any “salvation” for me at that moment, perhaps it was that I didn’t become a moralizing hypocrite. I was, at least, an honest sinner acting on my deepest conviction: that girls were hot and I needed to get my fingers burned.

Sometimes now I wonder, if there is a God of Love, if he didn’t notice me that night, and make a mental note to himself, “Well at least here’s an honest one. Maybe we can do something with him, someday, if all our other projects don’t pan out.” (I have little doubt that they didn’t, if the Moral Majority is any indication. Who knows: perhaps I’m God’s ace in the hole, in an otherwise stacked deck.)

Because of its dogma of an eternal hell, Christianity made me amoral. I was damned to hell for all eternity, so what difference did it make what I did? If you’re a Christian parent, you might want to consider this carefully. Very carefully. If you teach your children there’s an eternal hell, and that lust is the same as adultery, what will happen to them when they hit puberty? But why tell them about an eternal hell that God forgot to mention to anyone in the Old Testament, even his best buds Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Moses, David and Solomon? Perhaps God thought life on earth was hell enough. Is your priest or pastor wiser than God Almighty? Did hell slip God’s mind entirely, or did religious experts slip it in, like a mickey before a date rape?

But in any case, there was no hope that my mother and father would see their dream of my salvation realized. God and Jesus had conspired to damn me to hell; how could I “love” them? I set off in my pursuit of Eve, which consisted mostly of flipping through the pages of Penthouse trying to imagine what went where.

I grew up to become a staunchly conservative Republican. But over the years pressing worries began to undermine my conservatism. I was in favor of the death penalty, but time and again I saw that our courts did not—indeed could not—dispense justice evenly, much less perfectly. When the justice system was proven to err, improper incarceration could be corrected, at least to a degree, but an undeserved execution could not. Nor did there seem to be a way to end a humane life “humanely.” We are perplexingly hard to kill until it’s our time to go. Both compassion and common sense persuaded me that the death penalty was a horrible idea. And while I wanted to believe that when the United States acted militarily, we did so with the best of intentions and a degree of intelligence, the fiasco of our invasion of Iraq ended that particular pipe dream. From the onset of the war in Iraq, our ability to “shock and awe” our enemies was altogether obvious. But it was soon just as obvious that we were unable to achieve a good conclusion in Iraq, for all our much-vaunted firepower and “accuracy.” As I write this piece the price of oil is sky-high and still climbing, while the cost of the war in lives lost on both sides is incalculable. Yet what have we achieved, really, other than chaos almost infinitely compounded by waste, suffering and death? No one knows what will happen in Iraq the day we pull our troops out. Nor what will happen if we leave them there indefinitely. Only God can bring order out of chaos, and even he seems to have his hands full with Planet Earth. Can we afford to gamble hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars on a shot in the dark? Why risk everything on a roll of the die, when we can’t begin to calculate the odds against us?

For a child the fear of war is a terrible thing. The thing itself is hell on earth. But why in the name of heaven put your children through hell on earth when you don’t have a clue what good it can possibly do them, you, or anyone else? Is it better to be a man than a mouse?

At least mice have the good sense to desert a sinking ship. But do we?

Yes, the United States military has the firepower to bring most countries to their knees. So what? Do we have even the slightest ability to leave them better off than we found them? All we can do with any certainty is scuttle the ship, then get sucked into its vortex—a maelstrom of our own making. When we create chaos, we have no idea what the conclusion will be. If we don’t know that a good conclusion can be achieved, why the phenomenal waste of lives, resources, money and time?

As long as the threat of war exists on the planet, a strong national defense is both wise and prudent. We can and should do what we can to defend ourselves and our children. And no, we shouldn’t be isolationists. We must always remember what happened to the snail when it ducked its head into its shell, and what happened to Europe when it allowed Hitler to violate his borders. We should demand that the United Nations assume its proper role in policing the globe and helping to resolve international, territorial and civil disputes. When a predominately Muslim nation has a situation that requires some sort of intervention, we should employ at least a modicum of reason and let other Muslim nations assume the lead roles. We should prove the goodness and sincerity of our intentions by being willing to play a supporting role, such as providing humanitarian aid. We should act with wisdom and prudence on the international stage. We should be aware that we are increasingly viewed with suspicion, and rightly so, just as the schoolyard bully is by the lunchless nerds he assaults and the defenseless girls he ogles. He too believes that what’s good for him is good for the goose. So does every randy gander. But do we want randy ganders to come near our wives, daughters and sisters with their pants unzipped? If we can’t behave with a degree of civility on the international scene, we have become the bully, the rapist, the oppressor. It’s high time to zip up our pants, holster our guns, and learn to abide by international law, rather than being the biggest bully on the planet.

If we choose to become civilized by acting with more civility, will the results be perfect? Of course not. When has justice ever been perfectly served? We live in uncertain times on a highly imperfect planet. Until every human being renounces violence forever, the globe will invariably have its hot spots. But perhaps we can stop adding fuel to the fire and fanning the flames.

I have another childhood memory—of watching schoolchildren setting fire to crickets, just to see them burn, in a sort of bizarre “experiment.” Dare I say that Iraqi children are going up in flames over our current “experiment” in sword-induced Democracy?

Are we truly dedicated to the proposition that all men, women and children are created equal, and that they have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness? Or do we believe that they can only pursue life, liberty and happiness on our terms? Are we that wise? Is our own house in such wonderfully good order? Is it possible that people in other countries might prefer to be able to eat and live in relative (if imperfect) peace, than to vote this minute? Is the vote itself in any way a panacea? Millions of Americans have voted for government officials, even presidents, who have lied to them, betrayed them, taken bribes, perjured themselves, and played the fool and the hypocrite, often simultaneously. How many moralizing ethical geniuses have we elected, who seldom if ever bothered to practice what they preached? Is the “American way” in any real or measurable way “better” than other methods, or do we simply have such abundance that we can abide bad governance, rampant hypocrisy, shameless graft and ludicrous spending of our tax dollars, while still having something left for ourselves at the end of the day? Do we thrive because of democracy and capitalism, or in spite of them? Do we even know? If not, why not let every nation evolve toward democracy and capitalism at its own speed, not ours?

And who knows but that one day a better system may emerge? One day we may be able to accurately measure the integrity, maturity, compassion and competence of human beings. On that day, wouldn’t it make sense to let those best equipped to lead us, do so? We pay superior athletes the highest salaries because they are demonstrably superior. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to measure the attributes that make for good leaders, rather than hoping, believing and praying that what they say may be true. A friend recently informed me that his company’s clients now employ a test developed by a Nobel prize winner which allows them to gauge the integrity, emotional maturity and compassion of job aspirants. According to my friend, his company’s clients have seen a marked increase in good hires and a decrease in theft since they started using the test. What if we could use such tests for teachers, prison guards, policemen, judges and politicians? What if we were able to measure the integrity, maturity and compassion of people in positions of authority? Would we then be so dogmatic about the vote?

Have we learned nothing from the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, or Jesus Christ? Perhaps we should practice, if not exactly turning the other cheek, at least a degree of patience before we charge in like vigilantes with guns ablaze. Human nature being what it is, I don’t advocate beating our swords into ploughshares just yet. But I do advocate making the sword the very last and always most reluctant implement in our arsenal. I say this for a very practical reason. It makes no sense for me to risk suffering and death for myself, or my son, or your daughter, when the odds are so incalculably against us that I can’t possibly compute them. Are we “making the world safe for democracy” or ensuring its downfall? Does anyone really know? I admit that I don’t. Not a clue. Perhaps honesty is so lacking in American politics today that the “adults” in charge prefer to put our children through hell rather than publically admit “we don’t know what good we’re doing, if any.” Or perhaps they’re so deluded they actually believe the words that unaccountably gush from their mouths whenever we give them a forum to speak.

The level of hypocrisy and lack of reason on both sides of the political fence is shocking, saddening, sickening, disgusting. Not long ago, I caught a few minutes of a debate between the major Democratic presidential candidates. Of course they all routinely and roundly criticized Bush for his mishandling of the war in Iraq. But when asked what they would do if Musharref wouldn’t allow elections in Pakistan, they all quite calmly discussed invading Pakistan! Now let me get this straight. The Bush administration is to be castigated for its mishandling of our problems with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, but somehow it’s still a “reasonable” idea to invade a nuclear-armed, sovereign nation in order to take out an ally who not only has never attacked us, but has indeed helped us on any number of occasions, at considerable risk to himself? Not that I’m a fan of Musharref. But neither am I in any way a fan of the candidates, who probably disagreed on every other subject, and yet were unaccountably of one accord on the question of invading Pakistan. I can’t see why Bush’s reasoning is wrong because he’s Bush, and a Republican, while their reasoning is valid because they’re them, and Democrats. If it was a bad idea to invade Iraq, allegedly our enemy, then how can it be not be an incredibly bad idea to even consider invading Pakistan, demonstrably our ally?

The fact that the candidates all seemed to agree on the question of invading Pakistan troubles me deeply. Do we want that sort of consensus? Do we somehow see ourselves as the self-appointed saviors of the globe? How can we, when we consider our recent track record?

Is it possible that we need to be saved from ourselves, and from our presidential candidates?

Can it be that, because we’re a “Christian” nation, our leaders have Messiah complexes? Why do George Bush, John McCain, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama all sound so alike when they talk about themselves?

My estimation of the Democratic presidential candidates dropped precipitously that night. Between them and McCain, it seems we’re likely to invade Pakistan or Iran at the drop of a hat, no matter who gets elected. Perhaps Saint John the Divine was onto something, after all. Who knows but that my childhood foreshadowing of Doom may have also been true, and only slightly premature?

Does anyone have the foggiest notion of what will happen in Iraq next month, next year, ten years from now, or a hundred years from now? If not, then why don’t we consider pulling out our troops as quickly as possible, letting the United Nations step into the breech, and offering primarily humanitarian aid? Why should we line up our troops—our own children!—like ducks in a shooting gallery, when we don’t know what their deaths, mutilations and amputations will accomplish? Do I have a clue if the next ruler of Iraq will be better or worse than Saddam Hussein? No, I don’t. Does anyone? Does Hillary Clinton have the slightest clue what will happen to Pakistan if she “takes out” Musharref? Does Barack Obama, or John McCain?

Isn’t it true that we can spend trillions of dollars and cause thousands of deaths—both to our own children and to the mothers and children of Iraq—and see everything lost in an instant if the wrong person or persons come to power in Iraq? We once supported the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein. How much money and how many lives did we lose on those desperate gambles?

In my long-winded, rambling way, I have finally come to the question at hand: is there ever a time when one country has the right to invade another? No, I would say not. If there is ever another invasion of a sovereign nation, it should be by a consortium of nations like the United Nations acting to defend a weaker country from a stronger aggressor. It’s high time for the world to define its borders and stick to them. But there are nonlethal methods that can and should be employed before any invasion of a sovereign nation. If one country violates another’s borders, perhaps there should be an automatic international blockade of the offender. In these days of globalization, how many countries can do without imported gasoline, foodstuffs, etc., for any length of time? Such a simple international law might quite possibly have stopped Hitler in his tracks, the first time he exceeded his bounds.

Isn’t such a gamble more sensible than investing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in what seems to be an unwinnable war? And doesn’t it make much more sense to try to win at peace, than to win at war?

Will there be imperfections and setbacks? Undoubtedly. But at least the world will suffer and endure them together. And what have we ever had but imperfections and setbacks when bullying nations have acted unilaterally? Human lifespans are exceedingly short, in the eternal scheme of things. The worst of tyrants are invariably deposed by death. Is it worth the deaths of thousands of innocents to bring one villain to “justice,” especially when in the process we turn our own children into killers, with all that entails and implies? It’s bad enough to kill in self defense. But if I travel thousands of miles to shoot someone on his own turf, who believes in his heart that he’s defending his home, his family, his freedom, his faith, and his way of life, am I in any way “in the right”? Are our troops in Iraq “defending freedom,” or are they engaged in the equivalent of a gang bang between the Crips and the Bloods? If my son kills an Iraqi on Iraqi ground, is he automatically “right” somehow, just because he’s an American? a Christian? my son? How can anyone be “in the right” if he kills someone else on that person’s native ground, and yet that person’s country never attacked his? If my son killed a neighbor because he thought the neighbor might have some sort of weapon that could possibly be used against us someday, would we call him a hero? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condemning our soldiers. But I am questioning our leaders’ morality and sanity. After all, we certainly do have such weapons. How many real missiles did we launch at Iraq to "protect" ourselves from imaginary ones?

In parting, I would like to ask Christians a question. In his book On God, Norman Mailer says that he once heard the voice of God. At the time, he was intent on being a rebel. He was sitting in a diner drinking a cup of coffee. He heard God tell him to leave without paying for the coffee, which probably cost something like a nickel back then. Mailer found this very hard to do. The point, I suppose, was that Mailer was going to have a hard time being the rebel he imagined himself to be, if he was unable to walk away for a cup of coffee without paying for it.

Here’s my question, if you're a Christian: Do you believe the voice Mailer heard could have been God’s, telling him to steal?

Be honest.

I know many Christians will be shocked by the idea that God might suggest that someone commit robbery. After all, they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would never tell a man to steal!

Is this how you feel? Are you outraged that I have just suggested that Norman Mailer may have heard the voice of God telling him to live up to his convictions, by robbing a diner of a nickel?

Really?

But if you’re a Christian don’t you believe that God commanded Joshua and Caleb to steal the Promised Land from its inhabitants, and to kill every man, woman, child and all the livestock?

Are you more offended by Norman Mailer not paying a diner a nickel for a cup of coffee, than by the fact that most Christians believe God is entirely within his rights to command the deaths of women and children?

Which is worse: not paying for cup of coffee, or killing thousands of women and children, “in the name of God”? If there is a God, who do you think God would find more offensive: Norman Mailer, or the people who sing his praises daily, while accusing him of planning to kill a third of humanity, a third of the life in the sea, and all the green grass (which means of course most of the land animals as well). This is, after all, what the bizarre book of Revelation says. If God intends to destroy trillions of animals and over two billion human beings, how can you possibly believe he cares about a fucking nickel?

Does my language offend you? Do you worship a God who plans to kill billions of people and yet my language offends you? Is it just possible that a good, wise, loving God would not want to be “praised” and “worshipped” by someone who considers him a child killer, a woman killer, and a torturer of human souls? If I was God, I certainly wouldn’t want people praising me for such things. Whether there is a God or not hardly matters. Why would anyone praise or worship such an entity, even if he did exist?

Do you believe anything God commands is automatically good, simply because the evil, stupid words appear in the Bible? What if you heard his voice commanding you to kill your mother, your father, or your own child, as Abraham was “commanded” to slit his son Isaac’s throat?

Would you slit your own child’s throat because “God” told you to do it? Of course not!

And yet Christians blather on about the “faith” of Abraham, who was willing to slit his own son’s throat because it was the “will of God.”

It makes no sense.

If you believe in God, what do you believe, exactly? Do you think a fucking nickel is more important to him than all the Canaanites who perished under the swords of Joshua and Caleb? Do you think a fucking nickel is more important to him that all the souls Evangelists have damned to an “eternal hell” in his name? Think about it. Why are Christians so worried about a fucking nickel, or about my using the work “fuck,” and yet are perfectly content for God to damn billions of souls to an eternal hell, as long as he saves them, the Chosen Few, predestined for eternal bliss?

Christians applaud Abraham for “passing” the test of faith. But did he pass, or did he fail? Abraham is the father of three great faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They all begin with the monotheism of Abraham. But Abraham was a horrible father. According to the Bible, he drove his firstborn son, Ishmael, into the desert, where he almost died of thirst. An angel had to save Isaac and his mother, Hagar. Abraham placed his secondborn son, Isaac, on an altar and was prepared to slit his throat, when an angel stayed his hand. Was Abraham in any way a good father? Or was he a man driven mad by his belief that he had to love God more than his own sons? And yet isn’t this exactly what Christians believe today: that they must love God more than their own children? But isn’t it more than obvious that if God is Love, he wouldn’t demand that we love him more than anyone else? Do our mothers demand that we love them more than our spouses and our children and grandchildren? Of course not! Is God less loving than a good human mother?

Did Abraham pass the test of love, or did he fail? Has Christianity passed the test of love, or has it failed? If God is Love, isn’t it obvious that God cannot demand bloody sacrifices, or that mothers and fathers love their own children more than they love him?

I believe the test of Mailer’s nickel is a very important one for Christians. Abraham failed the test of loving his own son more than God. Will you pass or fail the test of Mailer’s nickel? By the way, the word “holocaust” means “wholly burnt,” as in an offering. Did you know that Abraham intended for Isaac to be a burnt offering, a holocaust?

Is this the reason we have religion-inspired Holocausts to this day? Is this the reason Christians abide the Holocaust of the Palestinians that is taking place in Israel under the aegis of the United States government?

What would you say if a Voice told you to take the person you love the most, slit his throat, then burn him as an “offering”? I hope you would tell the Voice to go to hell, where it belongs. That is what Abraham should have done, but he didn’t.

The world can no longer afford to listen to the evil voices of the past: voices that call for human blood, sacrifice, holocausts, genocide and holy wars in the "name of God." If God is Love, he could never have desired such things and it's obvious that evil-minded men made them up. If there is no God, then men made everything up. The only religion that makes any sense is to believe in God as the embodiment of the highest ideals: love, compassion and tolerance. Then, whether there is a God or not, we can't go wrong.

The HyperTexts