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Is This the End?
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by Morris Sullivan
...and the Lamb had opened the first of the seven seals, and behold! a white horse. And War sat upon it, and went forth as conqueror to conquer...
If I believed in such things, I'd think maybe the end of the world was coming.
...when he opened the second seal, there went forth a red horse, and to Strife who was sitting on it was given to take peace from the earth, that men should kill one another...
American culture has sunk about as low as it can. There's now an opera based on the Jerry Springer show. It's making the rounds of Fringe Festivals, and is apparently pretty popular.
Meanwhile, Springer has won an award for Worst Show in the History of Television, or something like that. In response, the producers have decided to stop writing lines for the bad actors who portray women who have lesbian affairs with their daughters and the like, and merely have them come onstage and pull up their shirts. (If you question my "actor" remark, you probably think professional wrestling is a "sport.")
Not to be outdone, Fox has combined the reality-show genre, the daytime-talk formula, and the immensely popular American Idol format to create The Harvey Caligula Variety Hour. In it, trailer-trash lesbians will confess their mother-daughter sexual trysts, transsexuals will reveal their true genders to their fiancées, and so on.
After they've heard these sordid stories, the audience will vote by phone; their votes will determine whether the participants will have to marry each other, fight each other with knives in the ring of death, wrestle in a vat of creamed corn, or merely be fed to lions.
...and when he opened the third seal, behold a black horse, upon which Famine rode...
Someone please tell the president how to pronounce "nuclear." I watched the State of the Union Address, and the guy must have said "nuke-you-ler" at least a dozen times. It drove me nuts.
Otherwise, this president's State of the Union Address wasn't any worse than most. They usually contain about as much real information as a middle-school pep rally, serving mainly as midterm rehearsals for the campaign speeches they'll feed us in another year. TV newscasters like them because they give them a chance to pretend they're journalists.
Anyway, we should insist the president work on his pronunciation. Of course, seeing Bush in action thus far, I worry a little he'll follow the example of Spainšs legendary lisping king, in which case "nuke-you-ler" will become the officially correct pronunciation, as will "reel-a-tor" and "jew-ler-ee."
...and when he opened the fourth seal, there came a pale green horse. He who sat upon it was named Death, and Hell followed him. And he was given power over the earth to kill with sword, with hunger, and with disease...
Speaking of the State of the Union Address, I've had an old southern Gospel song stuck in my head. The song, "There is Power in the Blood," was penned by Lewis E. Jones, who wrote it for a "camp meeting" in 1899. It's been a tent-revival favorite ever since.
Bush quoted it in his speech. "There is power--wonder-working power--in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people," he said.
I missed the next few minutes of his speech. In my mind, Bush had broken into song (with Ashcroft singing the bass counterpoint): "There is power (power), power (power), wonder-working power in the blood (in the blood) of the Lamb (of the Lamb). There is power (power), power (power), wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb."
By the time I returned to reality, Pastor Bush had about finished that part of his sermon and was saying something about converting Americans "one soul at a time."
I looked up the text of his speech later, to make sure I hadn't lost my mind. I hadn't--not completely, anyway. The president was talking about his "faith-based" programs:
"Americans are doing the work of compassion every day: visiting prisoners, providing shelter for battered women, bringing companionship to lonely seniors," he said, before mentioning these "good works" should get federal funding. "I urge you to pass both my faith-based initiative and the Citizen Service Act to encourage acts of compassion that can transform America one heart and one soul at a time."
I watched the news commentary about the address. The media seemed to completely overlook the obvious reference to washed-in-the-blood, born-again Christianity. Even now, almost no media type has mentioned it. Perhaps they're all Godless Communists and don't know the song. Or perhaps they've been rendered idiotic by the demands of keeping the corporate sponsors happy.
Whatever the case may be, mainstream media seems content to blithely refer to this "faith-based initiative," and either too unwilling or too stupid to come out and call it what it is: religion. And from Bush's choice of hymns, preferably good ol' Christianity.
I have news for the president and his administration. I've met lots and lots of people who volunteer at prisons, women's shelters, and with the aged. I've met others who volunteer in public schools, AIDS support services, and other non-profits; help old and infirm people clean up their yards; build homes for needy families, and serve breakfast in homeless shelters--and they manage to do it without trying to convert anyone "one soul at a time" to their "faith."
One problem with Bush's plan to get federal funding for what essentially amount to church programs--besides the fact that it's fundamentally unconstitutional--is that these secular organizations that provide those services deserve more support, help, and government funding than they're getting, and shouldn't have to compete with churches for it.
I'm sure lots of church programs are led by people who have no motive beyond helping their fellow humans. However, churches have a leg up: If you give money and volunteer hours to a secular organization, about the best they can offer in return is a tax deduction and the chance to feel good about helping your fellow human. If you give money to a church, they can offer you everlasting life in heaven. It's pretty hard to compete with that.
....they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They sit before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple...They shall neither hunger nor thirst any more...God will wipe away every tear from their eyes...
Of course, most people who watched the address were anxious to hear what the president would say about Iraq. He didn't say much, beyond the usual swaggering, Texas-style saber-rattling.
As of this writing, we still are not at war with Iraq. The Pentagon has admitted we have soldiers there somewhere, but they're not fighting a war. (Of course, Vietnam never became a war. It was merely a "police action" -- sort of like giving a small Third-World country a parking ticket, only it lasts a hell of a long time and lots of young people on both sides get killed.)
Most Americans assume we're waiting for the rest of the world to get behind the U.S. on the issue, we're giving the weapons inspectors a little more time, or we're waiting for conclusive evidence that Saddam is really a bad guy--not just a regular guy with a bad mustache.
The truth is far more complicated. Wars cost money; in classic Grand-Old-Party fashion, this administration has already managed to generate a big deficit. However, during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, a Washington think-tank came up with the answer to the question, "How will we pay for another war?"
Apparently, the idea arose while some White House types were watching a football game. They noticed the community-spirited Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, etc., had each become some variation on the Big Eight Accounting Firm Bowl, the Usurious Lending Institution Bowl, or whatever. All were played at places that used to be named after cities, ball teams, or famous philanthropists, but kickoffs now happened in Lemon Rent-a-Car Stadium or International Insurance Company Field.
Putting two and two together, amassing funds for a war suddenly seemed childishly simple. Why have another Desert Storm when you could have a Mastercard/Visa Desert Storm, for example?
Now the government is merely busy negotiating sponsorship, licensing, and product placement deals. Pentagon sources won't admit this, of course, but rumor has it Gillette is designing the package for its new line of deodorant, "Desert Guard." However, Gillette will have to outbid Pepsi; another rumor says their marketers think associating Sierra Mist with a war in the desert would be worth billions, if not trillions.
The rumor mill also has Burger King and McDonald's in a bidding war for the right to add their logos to those lawn-dart-sized little antitank bombs that don't explode when they land in soft sand. Apparently, they're popular toys for Middle East children. No doubt the commercializing of the war will help prepare Iraqis for their coming liberation by American-style consumerism.
...and the beast shall cause all to have a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, that no one may either buy or sell, unless he has the mark---the name of the beast or the number of its name--and its number is six hundred threescore and six...
I'm sitting at my desk on a lovely, warm winter Saturday in Florida. I should have heard a sonic boom an hour ago as the shuttle flew over on its way to Kennedy Space Center. A pair of cardinals happily call to each other in their high-pitched metallic voices and take turns visiting my bird feeder.
And I'm trying to get a mental grasp on what I think might be the most unimaginable, ironic event I've ever seen. I've not even begun considering the tragedy yet--the likelihood of this is so remote I can hardly believe I'm not dreaming: A space shuttle carrying the first Israeli ever to go into space just broke up over Palestine, Texas.
I can't imagine a darker, more threatening omen. Yet the cardinals still take turns diving down from the branches into the bird feeder as I look out my window, searching the sky for horses.
...the kings who have fornicated and lived wantonly with the whore of Babylon will weep and mourn when they see the smoke of her burning, and cry, Woe! Woe the great city, Babylon! For in one hour has thy judgment come...
Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous "Nude Macbeth," which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's "Real Sex," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
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