Friday, October 22, 2010
First, the theatrical review. In keeping with the notion that a theatrical work's purpose is to entertain the audience, the standing ovation the performance received is evidence that the show has done it's job. The show was indeed entertaining, but I felt it could have been more. So, in the event that any members of the cast or production team should read this, know that you've done well, and take what follows as merely comments on how the show might have been.
Oliver's story is one of creating, or creating the illusion of, dominance of one person over another. It starts with the workhouse beedle, Mr. Bumble exerting his dominance over the orphans and paupers in the workhouse, and continues with each succeeding character in the cast, each of which attempt to exert themselves in one fashion or another over the young boy or each other. Bumble, in his pretensions, exerts himself over not only Oliver and the boys, but over the widow Corney. The undertaker and his wife fence at determining who is dominant in their relationship. Noah uses his position as the older boy to needle and pick on the young Oliver. Fagin dominates and uses his little gang, and in his mold, so does the Artful Dodger. Bill Sykes being the most domineering of them all, to the point, established in song, that even mention of his name is sufficient to command others. Only Nancy and Mr. Brownlow are excluded from this continual struggle to establish pecking order. And in each case, Oliver is at the bottom.
It is therefor crucial that each of the characters establish traits that define how they attempt to exert their dominance. Unfortunately, I thought the performance was a bit uneven in this regard.
Fagin, as a principle character, was wonderfully played, the character believable (even when the fourth wall was deliberately broken in a wonderfully comic moment). Fagin's character as the somewhat reluctant villian, uses the boys as he must, and uses his wits to avoid domination by Sykes. Yet he has a soft spot for the boys, and his villainy is not entirely of his choosing. We see Fagin as villain at least partially out of self preservation, and we see that he truly cares about his boys, and is even proud of them.
Bill Sykes was menacing and heavy as he needed to be. This character exerts his dominance by simply being meaner and more evil than any who would challenge him. Yet we also get to see that he is afraid of the hangman.
Adriene Swenson was delicious as Nancy and her voice is worth the price of admission alone. Her rendition of "As Long as He Needs Me" and it reprise completely sold me on her devotion to Sykes as well as her determination to protect Oliver.
And the young boy playing Oliver was a special treat. (I'm sorry I don't have the program before me to include actor names, but it is at home, and I am not. Perhaps I will edit later.) The innocence, gullibility and inherent nobility of the character came across naturally. This young actor has a career ahead of him.
With Bumble and Corney it is bombast and pretension. Bumble's character certainly had bombast, but the pretension was weak. With Corney, it was missing entirely, leaving her character appearing as a strumpet. Noah is the bully, using his superior size and position to intimidate Oliver (and Charlotte). My advice to the actor here is to spend more time developing character and less on trying to sound cockney. The dialog here simply did not sell me.
Musically the performance was wonderful, though the sound mix was a bit weak on Oliver. Especially during "Who Will Buy?" Oliver's voice was lost under those of the street vendors. Choreography was, well, thin, almost seeming to be an after thought in places. The set design was wonderfully abstract and simple.
Lighting. For the most part I thought the lighting was well done. The lighting designer's use of color for mood enhancement worked well. There were a couple of places where actors were in shadow that seemed inappropriate, and a couple of places where the lighting distracted the focus rather than concentrating it. Sometimes lighting needs to change because something on stage motivates it (morning, evening, sunset, lighting a lamp or flipping a wall switch, etc.) and sometimes the lighting changes because the mood of the action changes (the lighting cools when evil lurks, or warms and brightens when something wonderful happens), and sometimes the lighting changes to focus the audience on what is happening on a particular part of the stage and away from what is happening elsewhere. Some of the lighting changes seemed not to fall within any of these motivations, and were disconcerting. From a static aesthetic point of view, the entire view of the stage was wonderful, but it didn't always enhance the performance.
Overall, the Grand's production of Oliver! is worth going. They did, after all, get a standing ovation. The show runs through this Saturday, so if you haven't gone yet, you'll need to hurry.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
First, for the benefit of anyone who thinks my chief beef with the LDS Church is related to the controversy over same sex marriage, let me set the record straight. I disagree with the church on this issue, but it is far from being the chief complaint I have against the LDS leadership. As those who have followed my postings over the last year are aware, I left the church over the policy of encouraging all unwed mothers to relinquish their babies to LDS Family Services so they could be placed for adoption with good, temple worthy Mormon families.
Now, back to my main topic. We all have opinions. An opinion is something we think is true or that we think is the right course of action. My friend is of the opinion that homosexuality is evil. I have a different opinion. My father in law is of the opinion that unwed mothers should relinquish. I have a different opinion. There is an old saying that goes to the effect that opinions are like armpits. We all have them and they usually stink. Opinion is not evidence, opinion is not fact. Sometimes opinions are no more than a matter of taste. I like lobster, Amy doesn't.
An opinion becomes an error when it is controverted by evidence. The opinion that all unwed mothers should relinquish is controverted by evidence that it is traumatic for the child, that it is traumatic for the mother, that it is contrary to central Christian doctrine and is totally opposed by doctrines of other faiths. I could go into a great deal of detail on the evidence controverting this particular opinion, and have elsewhere. The bibliography of my preliminary research ran to eight pages and included all of the information I could find online and from three university libraries. It has grown since. It covered both theological and secular rationals for adoption, and traced the history of adoption over 2500 years. I found absolutely zero evidence to support the claim that the child is better off. I found substantial (though biased) evidence to the contrary. My opinion is still my opinion, perhaps, but it now qualifies as a "considered" opinion.
Church and political leaders, and others who, by virtue of their positions are followed by many who would otherwise not take the time to do the research to form their own considered opinions, also have opinions. But such a leader, especially one that holds himself out as a prophet of God, and claims to speak for deity, or who is revered as such by his followers, has a responsibility to ensure that the opinions he promulgates are sound and considered. One could argue the such a person in morally obligated to ensure that his personal opinions are not intermixed with the pronouncements of deity. Which brings us to the topic of lies.
We all know the basics of what a lie is. When a person says something is a fact that is not a fact. If a used car salesman tells me that the car I'm looking at was only driven to church on Sunday by a little old lady, and it was really involved in several accidents because its teenaged owner was a bit of a reckless speed freak, then the salesman lies. If a commercial says buy product A because studies show it is good for you, when no such studies exist, the commercial lies. Am I correct in assuming that there is no basic disagreement on this premise.
If a leader esteemed a prophet proclaims his own opinion as "the will of God," such a claim is a lie. If he proclaims his personal opinion as his own but knowingly in a context where it could be considered "the word of God," then he still commits deception, even if the deception is, or at least may be, unintended. If his opinion is later controverted by evidence that shows his opinion to be error, and he fails to correct the misperception created by the error, whether because of personal gain or pride or for whatever reason, then the deception can longer be considered unintentional, and the error must be considered as a lie.
Now, lets put all of this together. If a person (or group of persons) esteemed as a prophet (or group of prophets, seers and revelators) express their personal opinions either as the will of deity or in a context where it would reasonably be construed to be such, and bases this opinion on facts which they allege to be true, but which in fact are not true, and the discrepancy is brought clearly and unambiguously to their attention and they are given an opportunity to correct the discrepancy but fail to do so, then they have lied.
They may very well believe that their opinion is correct, but to pass it off on the membership of the church as prophetic revelation, and then to base it on false information still makes it a lie. Even if they were the victims of someone else's lie (LDS Family Services would cease to exist if this lie were completely eliminated), being shown the error, their failure to correct it still leaves them as deliberate deceivers.
And so it is with the LDS Church's policy, promulgated and ratified by every church leader since 1994. And this policy, blindly followed by the uncritical mass of membership, is the impetus for my comparison with Nazi Germany. The harm to the newborn infant unnecessarily relinquished for adoption is significant enough that I consider it to be child abuse.
As I told the First Presidency in my letter, Jesus said his followers would be known by their fruits. The "fruits" of the LDS policy on adoption are iniquity beyond what I've described here. Harldy the fruits one would expect of the Lord's chosen people.
Ancient Israel was commanded not to bow down to Ba'al or Asherah, and to "have no other gods before me." Before Constantine converted to Christianity, Christians were persecuted in Rome. Christian writings from the first two or three centuries are as concerend with denouncing dissenting views as they are with expounding truth. In early Christian times, a great dispute arose that resulted in the Nicene Creed. Among some today, those who do not adhere to this creed are considered to not be Christians. After Christianity became dominant throughout Europe, those who didn't accept Christian doctrine were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Great crusades were fought over which god was the right god to believe in. Innocent men and women were persecuted as heretics or witches, with some being put to death. The list goes on and on.
Today, the divisiveness of this question still plagues us. Christianity vs. Islam. Irish Protestants vs. Catholics, Christians vs anybody that isn't or anybody they think isn't. This is not an attitude of seeking the divine, but an arrogance in concluding that one's view of deity is the correct view, and the only correct view, and then trying to sell it -- or force it upon -- others.
This arrogance goes even further. Man is claimed to be created in the image of God. One population claims to be God's chosen people. Ancient writings are deemed infallible proof of one's arrogant belief, given to them and protected from alteration (despite evidence to the contrary) by divine will.
When I take a step back and look at it from a distance, it reminds me of children arguing in the sandbox. It seems to me that, as a race and as individuals, we'd all be better served to seek with reason and intuition than to proselytize and evangelize. Rather than propound what we think we know, it is better for us to admit what we don't know, and seek to fill in the gaps.
Let us begin by examining, from an esoteric eclectic point of view what we think we know.
One of the rules I suggested in an earlier post was to be open to alternative points of view that may not have an evidentiary basis. Following this rule we would not deny the existence of deity as the atheist does, nor would we require evidentiary "proof" of the existence of deity. But lacking concrete evidence, we cannot say that a specific deity does exist. At this point, then we have a formal hypothesis that deity exists.
My intuition and my experience lead to the conclusion that there is something which I will call, a "cosmic consciousness." I have a limited ability to communicate with this consciousness, and I am able to receive inspiration from it according to the limits of my personal consciousness. Certain practices improve my ability to communicate, others hinder. Prayer, meditation, and certain ritual practices allow me to focus my mind, especially my inner mind, on touching the consciousness.
Thus far the cosmic consciousness has not revealed any particular form, or even if it has a corporeal form, to me. In a spiritual sense, the question seems irrelevant, and possibly counter productive. My curious engineer mind wants to know how it works, and I can form theories. These theories then form mental images that I can focus on as I meditate, pray, or participate in rituals. I can also accept the models used by others as focal points.
One common model is that of the sacrificed hero god. Jesus of Nazareth, as worhshiped by modern Christians, follows this model but it is in no way unique to him. At another time we can examine the beginnings of this model. (I use the word model here, but the correct term would be mythology. Many people see mythology as "false belief" by in this context it means the central story of a religion. Typically with meaning beyond the mere recitation of events.) The sacrificed hero-god mythology appears to have originated in Egypt about 4000 years BC.
This then brings me to the end of what I am willing to say about the existence of deity. I believe there is a cosmic consciousness that I communicate with. I do not know what form it has, or if it has any form at all, and I don't see a spiritual relevance in knowing what form it has. To imply an animistic form is speculation, to imply an anthropomorphic (man-like) form is, to me, arrogant speculation. Insisting on a particular form or mythology is divisive and counter productive of a spiritual quest. In future posts we can explore the inferences that can be drawn from this position, but for now I am out of time.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Almost all religions I've encountered have some sort of special knowledge, or at least they claim to. Some of them keep their secrets and divulge them only to members in good standing. Some of the rituals and practices are for member eyes only, and often for good reason. If the uninitiated were to observe these practices they would not understand them, and such lack of understanding could impair their later ability to understand.
I'm not talking just about Mormon temple worship, but the practices of other societies and traditions ranging from Wicca to Rosicrucianism. Some sects of early Christianity were esoteric societies of this type, as were many of the non-Christian religions of antiquity. I believe there is much of value in seeking out these traditions, and learning these secrets. And so I have decided to call myself an Esoteric.
But I also believe that, while there is value in some, value isn't present in all. Some esoteric practices are based on supposition and superstition. Some have roots in real phenomena, but have been corrupted by misinterpretations or intentionally obscured for the personal gain of those seeking to fleece the gullible. So I reserve the right to reject any teaching or philosophy, or to reject the interpretation of one. My intention then, is to take those things I find of value and incorporate them into my practice, while leaving those that I find without value behind. So my practice will be eclectic in nature.
Hence, I will call my religious preference Esoteric Eclecticism. Any who wish to walk with me on this journey are welcome. For those whose paths diverge from mine, I wish you every success on your individual journey.
The key, and probably most important rule, of Esoteric Eclecticism is to remain open to alternative ideas and possibilities. The objective is to seek truth and enlightenment, and so it is vital to admit that none of us has truly found its ultimate form. There is no person or book that has all of the answers we seek, that we can rely on as infallible. Yet the leaders of the various sects and the holy books of various traditions do contain wisdom. It is for us to distill the wisdom from the error as the silver from the dross. We will take the wisdom of these leaders and books and apply reason and intuition to their interpretation and evaluation. We seek that which builds us up and makes us better people, that which brings us together as people and strengthens the bonds between us. We reject those teachings that divide us or that make either us or others small, insignificant, or inferior.
We differ from pure science in that we admit that there are or may be things that we cannot directly observe, that we cannot measure. We differ from the purely faith based religions in that we apply and encourage the application of reason and logic to understanding spiritual phenomena rather than accepting dogma. As we obtain new information, we are prepared and willing to change our interpretation and our views.
Hopefully my use of plural pronouns in writing this will not be in the editorial or imperial sense, but will actually include others. Please share your thoughts with me.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
There were two things in Hitler's Germany that led to the Holocaust. The first was racial and ethnic prejudice, the second was uncritical obedience to der Fuhrer. The Germans believed they were "the Master Race," and they also believed that the Jews, nearly two-thousand years after the fact, were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
Hitler, operating on this prejudice and using it as a pretext, ordered the concentration camps and the mass executions. The German military and the German people obeyed his orders uncritically. They just accepted as fact that their supreme leader knew what he was doing, that he was doing what was right, and complied with the orders.
Beyond the death camps, the Nazi's built an extremely efficient infrastructure that imposed the Nazi vision of order on the German society. A part of this infrastructure was the youth groups such as Hitler Youth. All young men and women were pretty much required to join, and were ostracized if they didn't. All members were conditioned to believe that Hitler was pretty much infallible; obedience was paramount, while critical thinking about those orders was discouraged, and questioning orders was unheard of. Mein Kampf became the political scriptures of the German people.
The atrocities of the holocaust were caused by ordinary people who uncritically acted on orders that played on their natural prejudices.
One would hope that the world would learn from this debacle. But, alas, people are basically lazy and don't want to engage their brains. As a result, there are groups and organizations today that follow, and in fact argue for, the Nazi model. Hitler was a politician and Mien Kampf was a political manifesto, but today's Nazi's are just as likely to be following a religious leader, and using a religious text. Some carry the religious idea into the political arena.
The obvious first group an American thinks of would be the radical element of Islam that follow Osama bin Laden or Iranian President Ahmadinejad, or the Islamic Imams. But we are looking at these groups from the outside. The assiduousness of Hitler's Nazis was that they seemed, from the inside, to be harmless, or even beneficial. Once the former Nazis were outside, even they could see, for the most part, that Hitler's policies were wrong.
Any group that relies on a single leader or text as infallible, or so divinely inspired that their policy and counsel should be followed without critical examination is such a group. Catholicism fits this mold (but Catholics have moved away from believing that the Pope is infallible in all things, they only believe he is infallible on issues of faith and morals...) The Bible thumping Protestants who believe the Bible to be infallible, inerrent, and the "word of God" who follows their pastors' interpretation of scripture and counsel uncritically is such a group. Hitler, after all, used the Jewish "responsibility" for the crucifixion as pretext for anti-Semitic purges.
In my experience, the closest mirror to Nazism extant today is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They believe their leader to be a "prophet of God, a seer and a revelator." While the church teaches members to "search, ponder and pray," it also teaches that God won't give different revelation to different individuals, so if the Prophet says one thing, and the seeming answer one comes up with from searching, pondering and praying are at variance, then clearly, one has become distant from the spirit and not received a true revelation, and therefor one should follow the Prophet's counsel (or the Bishop's or whatever leader has counseled).
Hitler Youth in Mormon land is calld "Mutual" or "Young Men's and Young Women's. All Mormons youth are expected to be actively involved, and the church actively pursues any that don't attend the weekly meetings. Parents are told that YM and YW attendance is more important than other family business. Where Hitler's youth wore the trademark "brown shirt," the Mormon youth were the trademark "white shirt and tie." These youth are taught to follow the prophet in all things, and are indoctrinated in LDS thinking from birth. Questioning is discouraged, and obedience is expected in all things.
The result is a 13,000,000 member strong group that unquestioningly and uncritically follows a single individual, and by extension, group of equally indoctrinated sub-leaders, in unthinkingly following various prejudices. In the late 19th century, they followed Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in to polygamy. Until the 1970's they denied blacks equal membership in the church (as sons of Ham/Cain in direct contradiction of one of their central articles of faith), and now they act against the LBGT community and operate one of the biggest baby-selling operations (adoption agency) in the country.
When Jesus said "feed my sheep," He did not mean to pull the wool over their eyes.
I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who once said that "democracy is two wolves and a sheep taking a vote on what's for dinner." One of the chief arguments against ratification of the US Constitution in 1787 was that government would usurp authority beyond what was intended by the framers. Many states made their ratification of the Constitution contingent on the first Congress enacting a Bill of Rights to ensure that certain basic rights could not be legislated out of existence, and preventing the "majority" from running rough shod over and oppress minorities.
The result was the Bill or Rights, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. The subsequent Civil War and its aftermath resulted in the addition of more amendments spelling out specific rights that the federal government could not take from the individual, and also made the rights specified in the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments binding on the states. Three of these specific rights have bearing on the discussion of Prop 8. They are the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, and the Equal Treatment clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. These are rights clearly and firmly part of the US Constitution revered by the folks I was talking about earlier.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one group that fits the description, and it offers a wonderful analogy argument in opposition to the argument they present. The LDS represent about 2% of California's population, far from the majority they enjoy in Utah. What would happen if the voters in California passed a referendum amending the California constitution that invalidated Mormon temple marriages or that prohibited members of the LDS Church from the legal standing of marriage and denied them the legal benefits of marriage? Would the LDS faithful that argue that Prop. 8 should stand because the voters passed it also agree to such an amendment? Or would the LDS faithful argue that the amendment violated the Establishment clause, the Free Exercise clause and the Equal Treatment clause of the US Constitution?
Let us take this analogy a step further, and hold a majority vote on whether or not Mormonism can be practiced in the the United States. Here is what I think would happen: All of the Mormons would turn out to vote against the measure. All of the Christians who think Mormons are not Christians, all of the non-Mormon Christians that want to establish the United States as a "Christian nation," and all of the folks who think Mormonism is evil would turn out to vote in favor. The rest of the country would probably stay home out of apathy. There are 16,000,000 Southern Baptists alone in the United States, whereas the Mormons only number about 13,000,000 world wide. Were it not for the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses, Mormonism would be extinguished in this country.
Then, perhaps, some leader in some other denomination, could stand in the pulpit and tell all of these newly disestablished Mormons that their beliefs are a form of mental illness that can be cured. All they would have to do is undergo a "deprogramming" program (aka brainwashing) developed by this established religion.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
They came from across China to protest under the watchful gaze of the police, brandishing handmade placards with pictures of their missing children. In a sign of growing discontent, the parents' rare demonstration in the centre of Beijing was aimed at pressuring the authorities to do more to investigate the cases of tens of thousands of children snatched and sold every year.Although the story notes that many of the children stolen in China are not sold to westerners, but to Chinese seeking boys or to brothels seeking girls for prostitution, it is still worthy of noting that
Seventy-thousand children. I hope that estimate is high, but even at a quarter of that number, it is far too many children. I have to wonder how much of the demand for thee Chinese children comes from westerners seeking to build their "forever families" through international adoption. If we stopped the practice of purchasing children from adoption agencies and stopped pretending that a purchased child's identity and heritage could be changes by governmental fiat or court decree, how much of this child snatching industry in China, and other countries, would stop? How many of these children would still be with their families if American adopters stopped believing that the life they offer to an adopted child is superior to the life they would otherwise have in their native country?
But the US State Department's trafficking report for 2010 said that despite significant efforts, the government did not comply with the "minimum standards" for eliminating trafficking. It said there were continued reports of children being forced into prostitution.
China does not give figures, but an estimate based on reports for a British television documentary suggested that up to 70,000 children were snatched from the streets every year in China.
There are legitimate times when a child needs to be raised by someone other than his or her natural parents, but these times are far more rare than the adoption industry would have you believe, and there are alternatives to their care that do not involve selling them on the open market.