Everything is Sacred

1.

The character of “Will” in William Duncan’s play, HolyHolyHoly, like the author himself, may have gone to school for a post graduate degree in sociology.  The hypothesis is plausible because it would explain why Will treated the “sacred” as a sociological category.  By the time we meet him, “sacred” did not refer to anything perceptible by any other measure than human social convention.  For Will, trained since childhood for the Catholic priesthood, the “sacred” was neatly divided from the “profane” and easily identified because it was thoroughly exhausted in the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

What was sacred was what was declared sacred by the teachings of the ecclesiastical authorities and accepted as sacred by those who submitted to their teaching.  “Sacred” was a word, therefore, that labeled a social bond: the Roman Catholic Church, docens et discens,  both teaching and listening … and when that bond was broken — when Will stopped listening — the word and category became meaningless; the sacred no longer existed.  After that, for Will, nothing was sacred. 

The division of reality into sacred and profane has been called a “principle,” following the categorical analysis of social philosophers, like Emile Durkheim.  Along with the prestige of his name, saying the distinction is a “principle” implies that it is grounded in reality, i.e., that there is something intrinsic and necessary about dividing the world into sacred and profane.  But in fact it is merely the generalized description of a series of causally unconnected phenomena, viz., human societies that have, since time immemorial, divided reality into the “sacred and the profane.”  So it is not a principle, it is rather a sociological “law” in the sense of a valid description of a repeated pattern of social behavior for “larger” societies (not all sub-groups are covered) that, until modern times, seems to have had no exceptions.  But it cannot be used as a universal premise from which to deduce incontrovertible conclusions … even when its predictions appear to be confirmed.  It’s the nature of a scientific law.  The most it can validly claim is that it is an accurate description of observed facts and its predictions have a high degree of probability.  It cannot be adduced, for example, to disprove either of its two contraries: that some people may believe everything is sacred, or that nothing is sacred.  Indeed, if the attitude that Will himself displays represents the “truth,” as he believes it does, then the law would be invalidated because for him there is nothing sacred.  On the other hand, perhaps many people will come to the same conclusion that I have, viz., that everything is sacred.

The Catholic Church of Will’s formative experience was a perfect example of Durkheim’s  sociological law, because it had, at least since the third century, declared itself to be the only authentic source and repository of the sacred in the universe.  “Outside the Church there is no salvation,” was coined by Cyprian of Carthage around 250 ce.  It was the same as saying the Church alone is sacred and outside the Church everything is profane.  The Church, still to this day in its official documents, claims that anything besides itself that has any sacredness to it at all, has received that sacredness through contact with the Christian message or its ritual … or with Christians whose thoughts and actions had been sacralized by those words and rituals.  Until that contact is made and those transformations occur, all of reality remains profane, and being profane according to ancient Christian ideology connotes a measure of corruption; non-Chris­tian reality is un-redeemed, “unregenerate,” under the control of Satan.  That means it is not only not-sacred, but it is anti-sacred — actually hostile to the sacred.  To one degree or another, non-Christian … and then, after the Reformation, non-Catholic … meant “actively evil.”  Thus was the “sacred” made distinct from the “profane” in Western Christendom, a condition that called for a Christian “mission” to transform the profane into the sacred, or if that proved impossible, to preside over its destruction, for the profane had no right to exist.  By thus demonizing the existence of non-Catholic, non-Christian, and non-human reality, the core beliefs of the Catholic Church have maintained the perennial justifications for the separation, exploitation and even the extermination of “the profane.”

But notice in this scheme of things: the sacred and the profane are intrinsically bound together in a binary system.  You can’t have one without the other; if there were no “sacred,” there would be no “profane” and vice-versa.  Once the sacred disappears, the profane disappears with it.  We should take note of the transcendent importance of this fact.  It means that by doing away with Durkheim’s categories, we immediately do away with the age-old justifications for the traditional hostilities that characterize the human family and condone disregard for species other than man and the earth that spawned us all.  It is an absolutely necessary first step on the road to a new way of being-human.  So when Will declares that nothing is sacred because he realizes that the claims of the Catholic Church are false, he is also declaring, whether he is aware of it or not, that nothing is profane.  Annihilating the sacred/profane dichotomy sets him on a promontory with a view of universal reality rarely achieved by humans in this vale of tears.  By discovering that nothing is sacred Will is within reach of its correlate implication which is much more important: nothing is profane. 

Once you make that step, and realize there is nothing profane, you have opened a door to a respect and esteem for things (and people) that you may have been taught by your religious tradition to hold in disdain.  Words like “respect” and “esteem,” like “cherish” and “love,” come awfully close to what people have in mind when they use the word “sacred.”  Opening our eyes to the transcendent significance of that step is the beginning of wisdom: the understanding of what “sacred” really means — that everything is sacred.

2.

So we have stumbled onto a series of paradoxes: the path to understanding that everything is sacred begins by realizing that, in the traditional sense, nothing is sacred.  And since the traditional sacred has always been identified with traditional religion, saying nothing is sacred necessarily involves the abandonment of religion in its traditional form.  The ultimate paradox is that the universalism that first-century Christians claimed to bring to the religious life of humankind has been vitiated by the sectarian beliefs that have come to define the Christian institution at least since the third century.  Clearly we are dealing with two different notions of what “sacred” means, and the meaning we are familiar with — which requires a complementary “profane” — is not only at odds with the earlier version but it has clearly displaced it.  Will’s rejection of the accepted dichotomy as meaningless represents an inchoate move toward the other.  He is on the way toward a new way of being human.

It’s important to keep in mind that Will and Durkheim before him were working off that second “traditional” definition of “sacred.”  The word “sacred” had been given a sectarian significance by a class-dominated Christianity that was almost two millennia old by modern times and formed the horizon of their lives.  They knew nothing else.  I contend that the “sacred/profane” dichotomy became a categorical paradigm in Durkheim’s mind because Christianity in its sectarian form dominated the religious environment in which he was formed.  From there it was not difficult for him to see that the religious precursors, like Judaism and other Semitic religions including the later Islam, concurred; Christian sectarianism had, in fact, emerged historically from and recapitulated their fundamental assumptions.  Eastern religions like Jainism, early Buddhism, Taoism are different.  They do not fit so easily into that schema (though anything can be made to fit).

If we look at the question as a function of logic, Will’s conviction that being “sacred” can only mean being opposed to what is “profane,” is really the result of a circular reasoning.  The very category is established only by ecclesiastical fiat — an historically conditioned sectarian Christianity taken as a paradigm — and when made to function like a universal metaphysical “principle” proves only itself.  As a premise it is false and misleading.  When the term is finally factored out, the equation yields the beginnings of an understanding of the universality of the sacred.  A “sacred” that needs a “profane” to make itself intelligible is logically untenable — it floats groundlessly in mid-air — and its effects on the human project, predictably, damaging.

If our “classical” sociological definition of “sacred” is indefensible, what then is the true one?  The true definition of “sacred” stands on its own.   It has no need for opposition to an imagined “profane.”  The sense of the sacred is the primordial human reaction to being-here — existence, LIFE.  It is the direct corollary of the irrepressible joy-of-life that accompanies the conatus, the instinct for self-preservation and the inescapable ecstatic embrace of self-identity.  It is inescapable because it is embedded in the organic matter of which we are made.  It is innate.  As such the sacred is revealed as absolutely universal, for all things share that élan, and it is necessarily self-grounded, self-evident, and undeniable.  There is nothing profane, as Will will shortly discover if he is faithful to his insight that nothing is “sacred,” and therefore no transformation from profane to sacred is required.  The spontaneous focus of the conatus’ self-embrace is for the organism to continue to be what it is.  To continue in existence as I am is survival.  Survival is not optional.  It is the “law of nature” that establishes the foundational priority of the sacred.  We are in the realm of metaphysical transcendentals here: the sacred is an intrinsic and inalienable property of existence that emanates from the drive to survive.  I am organically predisposed to cherish life.

3.

If the “sacred” is the psychological reflection of the very energy of existence itself, its universality is primordial.  How did such a transcendent foundation get trivialized into the sacred / profane dichotomy so characteristic of our religions?  Mircea Eliade believes that when it becomes self-conscious and reflexive, the very transcendence of the experience of the sacred is so different from the way “ordinary” things are perceived that it was categorically set apart and given a privileged place in society’s efforts to provide safety for its members; hence, it was associated with the gods.  The sacred appeared to be “other” than normal reality.  However, transcendence — the characteristic of properties that qualify absolutely everything that exists — arises from the very inner depths of mundane reality itself and is intimately identified with it.  Its projection into “otherness” is a metaphoric displacement — an example of the symbol-making process that in humans has turned consciousness into creative intelligence.

Besides this generic tendency to think of the sacred as “other,” our particular Western way of structuring the sacred-profane divide is rooted in our history.  Specifically, it comes from two beliefs inherited from ancient times, each coming from one of the two source cultures which melded in Christianity: (1) the Greek belief that (sacred) spirit “fell” into (profane) matter — the body — a substance distinct from spirit and the cause of all human weakness, corruption and mortality, and (2) the Jewish myth-turned-belief that the events in the garden of Eden literally introduced evil, suffering and death (the profane) into human life, a subsequent corruption of pristine (sacred) reality that reached even to the human spirit.  Both were erroneous, but Christians believed them; together they guaranteed that the natural universe including humankind would be considered corrupt and evil without the saving action of the Christian Church.   The Church was sacred, everything else — absolutely everything — was profane.  The Greek and Jewish traditions had concurred in this: nature as we know it was the result of an unnatural “fall.”  This concurrence suggests there was more collusion between Greeks and Jews in the sixth century bce than is normally acknowledged.  For both agree: the universe is not what it was supposed to be; it had to be “saved” from what it had become and transformed back into what it should have been.  “Nature” was corrupt, it needed to be made whole and healthy by something more powerful than nature — something “supernatural” — for nature was incapable of “saving” itself.

Christians then, taking the “fall” as the primary fact of life and the source of all human suffering and mortality, claimed that it was the death of Christ that “saved” us and reversed the effects of the fall.  They then said that the Church was the “body of Christ,” the repository and exclusive agent of the “saving power” of Christ’s death through time.  This dynamic, in place by the third century, set the clear lines that divided the sacred from the profane for western Christendom for millennia … for Will and for the rest of us.

4.

But it was not always so.  Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians claim is their inspiration, was conspicuous in flouting the customary sacred/profane taboos of the time.  In fact, if the gospel accounts can be trusted, it was precisely Jesus’ penchant for disregarding the prohibitions against contact with the profane that was the main cause of contention in his relationship with the Jewish religious authorities: he consorted with “tax collectors and prostitutes,” he performed works of healing and condoned his disciples’ gathering grain on the Sabbath, he healed lepers, the possessed, the blind and crippled, a hemorrhaging woman … all of whom were considered unclean, “sinners,” and were to be avoided.  Some of the most moving stories about Jesus recounted his characteristic way of treating the “profane” as if they were “sacred:” the story of the prodigal son, the woman taken in adultery, his friendliness with the Samaritan woman at the well, the gentile woman in Sidon who asked him to heal her daughter.

It seems Jesus knew that nothing was profane without having to get there by the “back door” — by way of thinking that nothing was sacred.  Everything in his demeanor and what he said indicates that he had a profound understanding of the primordiality and the universality of the sacred.  For Jesus, everyone and everything was sacred, nothing was profane.

Some people attribute this to a “special knowledge” he had because he was “God.”  But there is nothing in the narratives to indicate that he was telling people something they had never heard of or did not immediately recognize as human and completely familiar.  This was not an esoteric “gnosis,” it was the fundamental message that Jesus had gleaned from his formation, life and experience as a Jew who knew the story of his people and the poetry of the prophets who interpreted that story.  Jesus had no knowledge that was not available and familiar to all.  If there was any source of his simple wisdom outside of his personal experience and family formation, it was the Jewish religion as practiced in Palestine of the first century ce.  His vision was entirely human, profoundly human. 

The only thing “divine” about him was the depth of his humanity.  He was one of us, no more no less.  The claim that Jesus was “God” is just another alienating tactic designed to excuse refusal to embrace the natural humanity that we all know we are not only capable of but that we have as our destiny.  The kind of humanity Jesus was talking about is familiar to us all; and we have all met many people of other traditions and no tradition, who live it with an ease and simple joy that owes nothing to the “sacred” beliefs, rituals and practices hawked by the Catholic Church.  Jesus, like any good Jew is a mensch — a human being.  That’s all he’s talking about: be a mensch, be what you are.  Be a human being.  Being a human being means recognizing that being human the way Jesus was human is completely natural; it means living with the understanding that everything is sacred.

 

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Is Nothing Sacred?

The following piece is the promised reflection on the play “HolyHolyHoly” by William Duncan. It is a “religious” critique, for want of a better word. I think the play tries to make a major statement about the place of the sacred in our lives. I disagree with it, and I offer these reflections in response.

 1

“The play’s the thing … wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

Thus does Shakespeare, through the dramatist efforts of his character Hamlet, acknowledge the furtive power of “the play” to communicate ideas and opinions.

Hamlet is in a bind. Enjoined by the spectral visitations of his recently deceased father to avenge his “most foul” murder, Prince Hamlet promises he will do it, but does not. “Conscience,” he says, justifying his inaction, “doth make cowards of us all.” He plots instead to “out” the murderer, his uncle, by putting on a play for the court, written and directed by himself, that depicts “someone” pouring poison in the king’s ear as he naps in the garden. Like Billy Budd, Hamlet is full of rage but cannot speak. He uses the play to vent the feelings he cannot express in thoughts and words.

Not all playwrights have Hamlet’s problem, but they all use their plays instead of speaking directly. It’s the nature of the medium. They are trying to convince the audience of something they cannot or choose not to express conventionally. Plays communicate through the display of narrative interaction. The display evokes feelings in the audience who experience the attitudes even without necessarily hearing an argument; it communicates by sympathetic effect. Once the play is over, reality re-enters and the listener ratifies or rejects the imaginary world the author had wrought along with the attitudes that were embedded there. But in any case the point has been made.

2

William Duncan’s play, HolyHolyHoly, offers to lift the curtain on the “inside story” of the lives, loves and motivations of three Roman Catholic ex-priests (a pedophile among them) ordained in the 1960’s. Its “voyeur” appeal is undeniable; and many in the audience, perplexed by the scandals affecting the Church and unfamiliar with Catholic clerical culture, will doubtless find it riveting. For others it will be entertaining and nostalgic: Duncan’s dialog captures the era and his deftly portrayed characters interact with compelling energy. But still other people like myself who actually were ordained priests in that era and went through the very transitions related in the play, do not find it riveting or entertaining. For me the characters are composite caricatures of people I know and the play presents one person’s view of religion skewed by an intransigent Catholicism that, as the play opens, had just then fatally embarked on its current course toward terminal disintegration. The play uses the power of sympathetic effect to evoke an attitude about religion that is, in my opinion, shallow and shortsighted.

The narrative is almost entirely psychological; nothing much happens except the progressive self-revelation of the characters disclosed through time. As we watch this long evolution unfold (from high school in 1955, to 2030 in a “euthanasia clinic”), a realization begins to dawn for the reader: men who had been formed from the time they were boys in Catholicism’s obdurate absolutism, despite its discreditation and their own rejection of it, are locked into it emotionally, morally, spiritually … and they cannot escape.

The principal character’s name, not surprisingly, is Will. His leadership in the social activism of the sixties gives the narrative its shape and direction. What Will reveals without saying it directly is that whatever was “sacred” in life had been so absolutely and irrevocably identified with Roman Catholic “truths,” that with their passing the sense of the sacred disappeared for him altogether. The very word “sacred” is no longer a legitimate word. Will is still encased in the exoskeleton of the “one true Church,” but the problem is he no longer believes in it. When the Church went down, for Will “the sacred” went down with it.

Will is eternally nostalgic for what he no longer has and knows he absolutely does not want.  But the play goes further.  Will argues that not only do some people end up in this pathetic state, which is true enough, but that this is just the way life is — it’s the human condition — end of story. We are all locked into our illusory beliefs — the “fog” — and besides illusion there is nothing.  We stay in the fog because we can’t bear to live in the open air.  To say anything else is “bullshit.”

But is it fair to say that the author is intentionally trying to make that point? It is only a play, after all; plays don’t have to be carrying on an argument by other means. Duncan may not be arguing for nihilism at all. It could be that he is simply holding Will up for our compassionate consideration as an example of the sorry state that some people find themselves in. It doesn’t matter. Let’s leave Duncan out of it. The characters have declared where they stand and must answer for themselves. “Will” is the character who is espousing ideas and attitudes that I find false and misleading, and it is what Will says and does that I challenge.

The two characters who are foils for Will’s declamations are also ordained priests. There is Avery, who remains a priest but becomes an Episcopalian.  He is described as an academic “nerd” for whom religion is an intellectual pastime. Avery conspicuously opts out of the social justice struggles of the sixties; he’s also a repentant “one-time” pedophile and recovering alcoholic.

And then there’s Zeke, the comic relief, a nice guy who loves people, not entirely “with it,” but funny and benevolent. Zeke was forced out of the priesthood when it was discovered that he had married clandestinely; he is the totally innocent victim, devoid of doctrinal issues, sacrificed to the absurdity of mandatory celibacy and the Church’s obsession with its traditions. These characters contrast with Will for whom religion was “warfare.”

3

Avery’s nerdiness comes to be associated in the ‘90s with a “new theology” labeled “metaphor” about which he has written a book. Will informs us that it is “bullshit.” He attacks it as mere deception — he might have said “sleight-of-hand” — a sleazy attempt to maintain religious feelings in the complete absence of “truths,” like the Resurrection, once held as literal historical fact but now considered myth by many experts in scripture.

In my reading of the play, it is significant that Will’s most heated confrontation is not with some traditional Catholic who is insisting that Church doctrine is literally true, but with Avery on the issue of metaphor. It’s not immediately clear how a metaphoric interpretation can be called “deception” unless the accuser is a dogmatic fundamentalist who feels that it dilutes the “real truth.” Metaphor means that doctrine is not a literal fact, and Will the atheist, one would presume, should have no trouble with that at all. So what’s his problem? That people “have no right” to feelings that come from taking religion as poetry?  Why is “metaphor” more of a problem for Will than belief?

We have to remember Will is a cyclopean “soldier” whose one-eyed stare is still fixed inerrantly on what he was vowed to defend: the Roman Catholic Church and its infallible absolutes — the only “sacred” thing in the universe. You’re not allowed to have religious “feelings” unless they are based on those absolutes. Now that those absolutes are gone, you can’t have those feelings … period.

I ask: what might have been said about “metaphor” if it were being defended by someone other than the unsavory Avery using words that Duncan put in his mouth? Might it have been explained that, inspirational value aside, first and foremost metaphor clarifies the objective truth-content of religious doctrine: supernatural “facts” do not exist and miraculous events never happened. “Religion,” therefore, is not the quid pro quo “salvation” business the Church taught us it was. Religion is not about earning life in another world after death, but how to live with justice and joy in this one. The “resurrection” is a prime example. A different Avery might have said:

“The religious question, Will, is not whether Jesus rose from the dead. For thousands of years before Jesus, god-men (and women) who died and rose were a prominent feature of the religions of the Mediterranean world. It doesn’t need to be said that none of them died and rose. The question is not whether the claims made for Jesus are any more factual but where that constant human drum­beat comes from. Religion is not created by some miraculous event, or some great story-teller, it arises from the unquenchable thirst for life in the heart of man. That is the undeniable datum, the source of what drives us. Life is the miracle, the sacred “fact” that will not go away. It is the only “fact” — it’s always been the only fact — the rest is all projection, and “God” is the personal human face we put on it; we really don’t know what it is. All we know is that Life is precious to us, sacred.  Life is to die for.  That’s why fighting injustice is more than a sport, or someone’s personal hobby. Death is abhorrent to the very marrow of the living matter of which we are made. We are inclined to trust our  thirst for life … we hardly have a choice.

If Jesus did not rise, so what? How are we going to deal with it? Say “bullshit” and die? Humankind faced the dilemma of death long before religions were invented to resolve it. Christianity was just another attempt to answer this life-death contradiction that we carry like a plague in our gut. Our religions … all of them, from the beginning of time and from all over the globe … came from people just like us caught between the poles of this fatal counterpoint and they didn’t know how else to cope with it … and now it’s our turn. What do you propose will help us trust life? Metaphor is not trying to keep a lie alive, it’s acknow­ledging that “resurrection” is an ancient symbol that encourages us to trust life so we don’t tear ourselves to pieces. Religion is not science, it is poetry. If you try to make it science, then It is “bullshit.” Whe­ther we live forever or not, life is precious, sacred, and religion is its poetry. That’s what metaphor means.”

“Metaphor” would turn religious dogma from being the false locus of the sacred into a “search engine” — a poetic guide — for finding the sacred “out there” in the world and in people and in the depths of living, evolving matter. What’s at stake is our sense of the sacred which the Church expropriated, exploited and then used to control us.  “Metaphor” would make the Church subordinate to the sacred, its servant, not its proprietor. … None of this is given expression.

To reduce the hierarchy’s dogmatic authority justifications to metaphor would break its control over the minds of men. I believe Will senses exactly that: metaphor would vaporize dogma, and his subconscious Catholic atavism will not allow it. Like all of us Will believed what they told him; there is nothing sacred but Catholic truth — for Will, “the fog” — everything else is profane. Once the fog is gone, there is no sacred; to use Dogma as “guide” to a sacred universe is a contradiction in terms. There is nothing sacred “out there” to find, and therefore no need for a guide to find it. There is no possibility that this natural world and its living, evolving matter is sacred, evoking a response that engages our awe, care, service … and trust. Saying so makes him mad, and “mad” is what Will does best.

4

As they enter retirement age Will’s acknowledged “eternal anger” is described adoringly by his estranged but still loving wife Brenda as his need to “be eternally at war.” Sorry. I don’t buy it. There are plenty of reasons for Will to be angry, but for me this “warrior” stuff reeks of Hollywood. I see it as a dramatic turn that correlates with the superficial religious bearing of the play, and I select it for criticism for that reason.

Hollywood’s muscular “theology” says that the “warrior’s” anger is innate, primordial. It gives him a genetic superiority over others which also makes him incapable of partnering with a woman. Brenda had to leave Will but … she understands. An American audience will recognize the familiar features of every heroic leading man from the old westerns to the current superheroes. These men are too involved with their own incredible machismo to share life with a woman. We have all been conditioned to the genre: there is no domestic life in Valhalla and fighting injustice is not for women and children. The celibate mystique was part of the same male warrior ethos, and historically, may even have been a factor in its creation. Will may think he’s a warrior, and Brenda may know he needs to hear it — but it’s adolescent crap.

In the Hollywood version of life, the pursuit of justice is not a universal responsibility, it belongs only to the warriors, the guardians. And courage is not a virtue achievable by all, developed by shouldering responsibility and struggling to overcome fear. Courage, for Hollywood, comes only from being a warrior by birth, born with a full measure of divine testosterone. The brave are fearless by nature. You either have it or you don’t. And … do I hear hissing in the background … those who need “religion” don’t?

Then, the “surprise” ending will be no surprise to anyone who watches TCM with any degree of regularity. In 2030 while his two friends are dying from self-admini­s­­tered and Churchpermitted (sic!) euthanasia, at the very last minute Will takes Brenda’s hand, dumps the death pill in the trash and lives! … (Yay!!). Note that true to Hollywood form, he “gets the girl” at the very end of the movie … because she is a trophy, not a partner. It is announced by Flora our personal Greek chorus that Will finally found the answer to life. Curtain falls. End of play. Yikes! Burbank studios may be lining up for options even as we speak.

Here’s my take: the play exploits past commitments, friends and serious current concerns for their “entertainment value,” which is entirely acceptable, but Will’s narrative also conforms to the fatuous standards and stunted values of the entertainment industry — the “fog” that keeps us shopping — which isn’t. But it is entirely consis­tent with Will’s persona: a man who has decided that there is nothing sacred.

If there is nothing sacred, nothing “out there” to stand in awe at and serve, the only thing left is yourself, your image in the eyes of others. It would explain Will’s relationship to the adoring Brenda. Brenda does not represent something sacred “out there” for Will to stand in awe at and allow himself to be expanded by. No, for Will Brenda is the mirror, the still pool in which his adorable “warrior” image is reflected. Note that it’s only when she re-assumes that role that their estrangement ends.

Similarly, Will never gets past Catholicism’s veneer to the sense of the sacred universe that underlays it all. His creepy attachment to his chalice at the end of his life is not explicable otherwise. When those externals stopped being “holy” he was blindsided; Will doesn’t like being fooled.

No one does. There is good dose of “Will” in all of us. Will was made a fool of by historical forces, too big to blame, that made fools and victims of us all, including those teachers who fed us the “bullshit,” and the supervisors who made sure we ate it. Will cannot let it go. As with Melville’s classic anti-hero: Ahab can never forget what that whale did to him. Nothing must get in the way of its destruction!   … that’s why Will found “metaphor” so threatening!

The Church is, in fact, withering. But no one is destroying it; the Church is destroying itself. Starting in the era depicted in the opening scene of the play, the Church went on a narcissistic orgy that has shamed and humiliated us all. It revealed to the world the self-cen­tered­ness of its vision and the irrationality of its intransigence: on sexual issues, simultaneously inflexible and degenerate, in politics, despite its “social doctrine,” as always, in bed with wealth and power — all the result of a seriously flawed understanding of man and “God” and itself — earning a long-overdue catastrophic loss of credibility. Like Joyce’s Finnegan, whose avatar shamed himself in a public park, the Catholic Church committed moral suicide and we find ourselves in mourning at its wake. To one degree or another we are all like Will. We are the children of a Church that told itself it was “divine.” It preferred the morbid adoration of its own self-image to the muddling business of bringing justice and joy to the living present. We can all identify with his anger. The redeeming value here is that the play holds up a mirror for us — all of us, including the Church — to see what we have, or could have, become … and be glad to be moving on.

Plays, and lives, and eras end; but LIFE does not. Finnegan himself, remember, when his body was splashed with whiskey by those celebrating his passing, sat up in his casket … demanded a drink … and joined the revelers!

L’chaim …