Wednesday, September 12, 2012

the realm of the snake fuckers

Once upon a time, The Village Voice, then a left-leaning tabloid in New York, ran a whimsical quiz in which it listed the names of ten rock bands and asked the reader to identify which of the ten was bogus.

I can't remember all of the names, but as I perused the list, I considered that the most outlandish names were probably true (I didn't know a lot about current bands) and the made-up name was probably more prosaic. Still, "The Snake Fuckers" struck me as so outlandish that I could not resist putting my mental money down.

And I was wrong.

"The Snake Fuckers" really did exist. The bogus group was, as I had suspected, more prosaic ... so prosaic that I can't remember what it was.

And for some reason, "The Snake Fuckers" came to mind this evening and sent me off on a keenly-felt train of thought -- one that is likely to partake of the unsubstantiated, caterwauling mish-mash of opinion and bias that characterizes so many blogs. Sorry, I just haven't got the energy to look things up and link them ... I'm in the mood to spew.

Over the last several years, I have been involved or have involved my mind's engines in the corrupt aspects of spiritual life. I don't consider myself especially well-informed, but I am well-informed enough to have some fiery opinions ... a strong sign of a weak mind. First, it was Zen Studies Society and the sexual and ethical depredations of Eido Tai Shimano. And later it was the Roman Catholic Church -- initially with its priest-sexual-abuse component and later with the structural deficiencies and cruelties as promulgated in canon law. The most compelling piece of writing I have seen in the realm of those dismayed and sometimes disaffected or crushed by the Vatican, is "A Modern Monk's Tale" by John Cavanagh, a former Trappist monk who grew up in the lap of luxury ... a luxury that included close ties with the Vatican hierarchy.

Cavanagh's piece came to me via the Rev. Emmett Coyne, a Roman Catholic whose book, "The Theology of Fear" was recently published. I just ordered a copy today, so I cannot claim to know it from muzzle to butt plate, but I do know that Emmett is due for a meeting with his superiors on Oct. 26 and the meeting is not likely to be about whether to paint the front door of the church green. Coyne seems to be among a growing number of dissenters from within the ranks of Roman Catholicism ... saying that the church has replaced the loving message of Christ with the fear tactics used by powerful organizations everywhere.

But it was Cavanagh's note to Coyne, which I received together with Cavanagh's tale, that caught my eye. In it, he suggested ever so gently that the problems of the Roman Catholic Church are deeper than mere theology.

And (here comes the personal bias), I agree with him. I agree with him as it pertains to the Roman Catholic Church. I agree with him as it pertains to Zen Studies Society or Buddhism in general. I agree with him, in fact, as it might pertain to any spiritual persuasion. I agree ... and that agreement flummoxes me.

In any debate, there are two sides. In the case of spiritual formats under attack, there are the dissenters and there are the supporters of the same ol' same ol'. There are variations on the theme, subtle changes in emphasis, but that's about the sum of it.

Coyne, like other dissenters, seems to argue that there is room for correction within the church ... a return to principles of the past, deeply touching and important principles of love and decency. And in the realm of Buddhism, Stuart Lachs, with whom I have had a number of edifying and enjoyable to-and-fro's, argues convincingly (the man knows his history) in a number of papers that Buddhism in the West is top-heavy with intended and unintended bullshit.

Both men, if I am not mistaken, argue for removing the bullshit ... and it is precisely here that I get flummoxed. I agree that the bullshit exists and I agree that less of it would be better. Remove and remove and remove the bullshit until ... until what?

Until the church is bullshit-free? Until Buddhism is bullshit-free?

The bullshit referred to in each case is very serious stuff from my point of view. People get hurt where the bullshit flows. And my bias is not to like seeing people get hurt in a realm where they are trying to dig their way out of what may be a world of pre-existing hurt.

So ... remove and remove and remove the bullshit until you reach the point where imagination and hope say the bullshit no longer exists, a place where the yearning human heart can be gently and fully assuaged.

And then ... and then ....

And then, I cannot help but think, as soon as anyone opens his or her mouth, as soon as format and direction are formulated, at that point precisely, the bullshit starts flowing all over again. Not precisely the same bullshit, perhaps, but bullshit nonetheless.

It can't be helped. That's all I can think: It can't be helped and running away from that fact is the last thing anyone in their right mind would want to do.

Sure, call it holy, call it wise, suckle at the breast of so-called kindness or clarity ... pray from dawn until dusk; practice meditation till the cows come home....

Where the human heart yearns in its most touching ways, there will always be a snake-charmer, a snake fucker. It's not worth criticizing, but it is worth noticing. Enter the realm of bullshit and grow the flowers from there. Since there is no other choice for anyone spiritually-inclined, well, there is no other choice. Hymn-singing and hosannahs and vibrant theology and smarmy homilies and swirling Dharma talks can't change the facts.

The heart yearns to be free of bullshit and yet at every hand there is nothing but bullshit. Bullshit is horrific stuff -- empirically horrific. And there are bullshit artists at every turning, speaking of all the "good that can be done" and all the "evil that can be avoided."

But once the mouth is open and the lyrics tumble forth, well, The Snake Fuckers are back in business.

And like as not, I am their lead singer.

Dishonesty is not enough.


  1. We the people, have yet to create a people proof system of any sort. And yet we continue to try and organize ourselves in dangerous ways, with imbued authority and tools of fearful derision. History suggests we do not learn from our mistakes, therefore the big brain is likely to prove an evolutionary failure. I try to take some pride in that.