Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Storied Mask

The Storied Mask

The vast kaleidoscoped cosmos
On black velvet background
Galactic star swirls,
One great masked Chagall

We turn our stained-glass faces…

Above us in infinite light years,
Visioning vivid rose and royal blue,
So covered the costumed earth,
Weeping colors of bowed rain,

We turn our stained-glass faces…

In this troubled world's lastness,
From the very beforeness,
Out from the mummering
Great cosmic Blast,

We turn our stained-glass faces…

A hooded violet trope
That hurtled us across time
Into the endless question
Before the troubled asking;

We turn our stained-glass faces…

Our distraught disguises
Cascading down,
Away from the pierced harshness
Of wintered survival rage
To stare at the flaming sun,

We turn our stained-glass faces…

Gleaming through, unmerry
Makers, not mindfully blind
But behind metaphor's
Vivid translucent veil,

We turn our stained-glass faces…

Seeing the One True Face,
Stained with the sorrow
Of ever-becoming visually real,
Ruby, emerald, and sapphire,

Yes, we turn our stained-glass faces

To one finally white endless strobe,
Encompassing all despaired weeping
In the brightness of transcendent becoming,
Unlimited strophe of the cosmic Masque
Of all Dancing.

by Daniel Wilcox

First published in different form in Mad Swirl;
later in the poetry collection, selah river

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Who, When, Why--10 Times the Bible Says Torture is OK by Valerie Tarico

This is a guest article by psychologist Valerie Tarico. A very troubling article. It could be considered part 2 of Unholy Night, my last blog post. Originally, I scheduled to finish the year with a hopeful message bringing in the New Year. After all the blog title is "Infinite Ocean of Light..."!

So why the drastic change?

Because again this week another Christian leader has written a news article defending the use of torture, based on the Bible! Don't forget many Christian leaders are declaring that the Jewish Holocaust and all manner of evil are God's will and that such horrendous events happen for God's glory and pleasure! Whew...
Even some Jewish leaders are claiming God created evil!

But then we shouldn't be surprised if we only remember that many, if not most, Christian leaders also have defended the killing of over half a million unarmed civilians in the last 70 years:-( "So it goes." (Vonnegut)

So it seems very important to repost this new article, a powerful, lucid explanation by Valerie Tarico. (I strongly disagree with a few of her points, but many of her key insights show why so many Christians now--and in the past--have supported horrendously evil actions such as torture.)

Please read Tarico's article carefully and respond at her site (or in the comment section below).

Who, When, Why –10 Times the Bible Says Torture is OK

by Valerie Tarico

"When conservative Christians claim that the Bible God condones torture, they’re not making it up. A close look at the good book reveals why so many Christians past and present have adopted an Iron Age attitude toward brutality.

The first half of December 2014 was painful to many moderate American Christians who see their God as a God of love: A Senate inquiry revealed that the CIA tortured men, some innocent, to the point of unconsciousness and even death; evidence suggested that this torture extracted no lifesaving information. A majority of Americans responded by giving torture the thumbs up, with the strongest approval coming from Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Faced with moral outrage, including from within their own ranks, Christian torture apologists took to the airwaves and internet, weaving righteous justifications for the practice of inflicting pain on incapacitated enemies.

As morally repugnant as this may be, anyone familiar with either past survey data or Christian history shouldn’t find it surprising. One of the CIA’s favored leave-no-marks torture techniques, waterboarding, was refined by Inquisition authorities during the interrogation of heathens and heretics.

There’s a reason that devout Christians past and present can turn to torture when it suits their ends and then blithely maintain that they are on the side of God and goodness. The Bible itself—Old Testament and New—endorses torture regularly, through stories, laws, prophesies and sermons; including from the mouth of Jesus himself.

Don’t take it from me. The following passages are a sample of those available, but I encourage you to pick up the Bible yourself, starting at the book of Genesis. Here, so you know what to look for, is Wikipedia’s definition of torture:

The act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological pain and possibly injury on a person (or animal), usually one who is physically restrained or otherwise under the torturer’s control or custody and unable to defend against what is being done to them.

I include in this category the act of deliberately inflicting prolonged and intense suffering in the process of killing a person or animal, when the killer has the option to end the life quickly and painlessly. Merriam-Webster adds that the torturer’s goal is “to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.”

Torture as Punishment: Eve’s Curse –Intense and prolonged pain meted out as punishment appears almost immediately in the pages of the Bible, inflicted by God himself, who curses Eve because she has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you’” (Genesis 2:16).

As understood by the ancient Hebrews, physical pain would have been just part of Eve’s curse. In generations past, an estimated 1 in 10 women eventually died of childbearing, as they do today in places like rural Afghanistan where modern contraceptives and medicines are unavailable and men “rule over” women. The psychological element of the curse was repeated cycles of fear and uncertainty for a woman who might labor, give birth and then bleed out; or who (in the absence of caesarean section) might labor for days, unable to deliver, until her body gave up and she died. Leading church fathers saw maternal suffering and death as right and proper, because of Eve’s sin and the role God had prescribed for women.

Torture as a Test of Loyalty: Job –In the book of Job, torture isn’t a punishment but rather a test of loyalty. Job, a righteous man becomes the subject of a divine wager between God and Satan, who claims that Job is faithful only because he is blessed with health and wealth. Bets are laid, and over time Job is subjected to first psychological and then physical anguish. His crops fail. A house collapses, crushing all of his children during a family gathering. He is rejected by neighbors and ends up a beggar, covered in painful boils.

After Job passes the test, God restores his health and wealth, and replaces his dead children. Christians to this day frequently perceive inexplicable and unmerited suffering as a “test of faith.”

Torture for Self-Gratification and Gain: The Midianite Virgins—torture - sex slaveIn wars, victors often rape conquered females as a means of further humiliating male enemies. In the story of the Midianite virgins, though, the motivation is more instrumental. God’s command, (“Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” Numbers 31: 17-18) The girls are taken as booty of war, tallied along with livestock and gold, and the purpose of their sexual slavery is to provide pleasure and progeny for the men who have slaughtered their families.

While this story may not count as sadist torture in the classic psycho-sexual sense, it does illustrate the Bible God’s approval of inflicting intense and repeated suffering on a helpless victim for the purposes of sexual gratification and/or personal gain.

Torture as a Show of Strength: The Egyptians. The story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt is a cornerstone of Jewish identity, the basis for the Passover holiday. It is also a cat and mouse story, the tale of a supernatural being toying with mortals because he can, inflicting round after round of terror and suffering with the self-admitted goal of displaying his power.

Yahweh speaks to Moses from a burning bush, telling him to go to Pharaoh and demand freedom for Israelite slaves. He promises that the Israelites will be free. But instead of making things easy, Yahweh does the opposite: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:3).

He then methodically terrorizes the Egyptian populace. He turns their drinking water to blood, then fouls the land with a plague of frogs, then sends clouds of gnats to torment man and beast, then fills fields and homes with locusts, then kills their livestock, then infects them with boils and sores, then rains down hail to destroy their remaining crops . . . . The torments go on for pages. After each round, Yahweh again “hardens Pharaoh’s heart.” The awfulness crescendos until we reach the climax—the death of each firstborn male, no matter how young or helpless, including the firstborn of the cattle.

This story endorses not only torture, but vicarious torture. Suffering is inflicted on children and animals to maximize the distress of their adult guardians and owners, producing abject learned helplessness in the face of Yahweh’s overwhelming power.

Torture as Correction: The Law and Proverbs. When it comes time for the Israelite people to devise their own government, torture—as punishment and crime deterrence—gets built into legal codes. A man can beat his male or female slave bloody as long as the slave doesn't die within 2 days of the beating (Exodus 21:20-21). A judge can condemn a criminal to receive a similar beating after forcing him to lie down (Deuteronomy 25:2). Adulterers are to be stoned—a slow painful death that adds the extra humiliation of broad public participation (Deuteronomy 17:2-7).

The same approach is recommended for parenting. Parents are exhorted to beat their children, who otherwise will grow up foolish, and to ignore their crying (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 22:15). If you don’t think these constitute torture, I would suggest that you read some of the accounts of children who have lived for years in terror and pain because earnest Christian parents decided that godly parenting required breaking their will.

Torture as Vengeance: Elisha’s Curse. torture - Some Bible references to righteous torture appear to simply satisfy the human drive for vengeance. For example, the Law of Moses contains this bizarre prescription: “If an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned” (Exodus 21:28). Consider: The Iron Age Israelites were herdsmen and hunters. They knew how to kill animals swiftly, with minimal pain and tissue damage. In fact, rules for ritual slaughter demanded that they do so. Stoning a large, dumb, horned animal to death, by contrast, was a mob process that might take hours.

In the book of 2 Kings, an equally awful, protracted death befalls 42 youth who taunt God’s prophet, Elisha. He curses them and God sends two bears, who kill the boys by tearing them apart. Remember, if you will, that this is a God who can swiftly and silently strike people dead and sometimes does. Remember too, if you’re willing, the audio recording that the subject of the movie Grizzly Man unwittingly made of his own slow death—the interminable grinding and moaning that followed the bear attack. The moral of the Elisha story isn't just that those who disrespect God’s messengers will die; it is that they may die gruesome, excruciating deaths.

Threats of Torture as Persuasion: In the New Testament, threats of torture appear regularly as tools of persuasion—the stick half of a carrot and stick approach used by writers who warn repeatedly of torments that will befall those who don’t repent or convert.

The book of Matthew puts these words into the mouth of Jesus: “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:8-9).

Later, Jesus tells the story of an unforgiving servant to illustrate how God will treat unforgiving people:

Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart (Matthew 18:32-33).

Grudge holders and bankers beware.

Torture as Redemption: Jesus. The crucifixion story elevates torment to a whole new level, giving torture-unto-death the power to redeem a broken world.

The notion that sacrificial killings can please or appease gods long predates the Bible, and it evolved over the centuries in which the Bible texts were written: from residual human sacrifice in the early Hebrew religion, to animal sacrifice during the temple era, to (in Christianity) the final sacrifice of the perfect lamb without blemish, Jesus himself.

Without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin. It’s an old concept, but in the Jesus story, the Hebrew concept of sacrifice morphs into death-by-torture. Perhaps a three-day death follow by glorious resurrection struck early Christians as cheap grace. Perhaps the followers of one Yeshua ben Yosef needed some way to explain the horrible death of their movement founder at the hands of Rome. Perhaps weary people in need of hope found a template for a suffering messiah in an ancient text. Whatever the reason, mythological or historical, torture became a defining feature of the orthodox Christian salvation narrative.

In this version of the story, Jesus doesn't merely die for our sins, side slit or heart stopped.torture - Mel-Gibson-Jim-Caviezel He is also tortured for our sins, as centuries of bloody iconography, passion plays, imitative self-flagellation, sermons, alter calls, and now movies like Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ attest.

Modern preachers sometimes wax eloquent on this point, elaborating the tortures in graphic Hollywood detail, but the notion of redemptive suffering goes back to a time before Jesus worship: “Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live to righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed,” says the author of 1 Peter. His words repurpose a passage from the Hebrew Song of the Suffering Servant: “He was wounded for our transgressions . . . By his stripes we are healed.”

To this day, Catholic ethicists propose that ill people who are suffering unto death, for example because of terminal cancer, should be offered not aid in dying but rather a Christian understanding of the value of redemptive suffering. Mother Teresa exhorted one terminal patient to think of his pain as “the kiss of Jesus.”

Torture as the Shape of Eternity: The torture most taught by modern Evangelicals is neither redemptive nor terminal; it is infinite. Perdition, hades, Gehenna, the lake of fire, outer darkness, eternal torment—hell represents the most intense and most prolonged torture the Iron Age mind could conceive and the Medieval mind could elaborate.

The concept of eternal torture crystalized between the time the Hebrew Bible and New Testament were written, and early Christian writers elaborated this concept in their efforts to woo converts.

In some of these texts, torture is the fate of fallen angels. Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?, demons ask Jesus when he casts them out of men and into a herd of swine. (Matthew 8:28-31)

It is the fate of the wicked and the wealthy:

The rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. Luke 16:22-24

It is the fate of those who serve the Beast (aka the Roman Empire) when apocalypse arrives:torture - hell

And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. (Revelation 9:5-6)

And lest we think that days or weeks or months or years of torture are excessive, we are assured that God himself disagrees:

The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. (Revelation 14:10-11)

By some accounts, witnessing the much-deserved torments of the damned will be one of the perks of heaven.


Good is what God does. “Be ye holy for I am holy” God says in the book of Leviticus. The author of 1 Peter echoes him: “Be ye perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” For many American Christians, as recent polls show, this model of perfection includes torture, as long as it is committed by and for God’s chosen people.

Religious believers often claim that without a god everything is permissible. I tend to think that the opposite is true. Without gods we are guided, however imperfectly, by empathy, fairness, and truth seeking—impulses that are built into us by our evolution as social information specialists. These impulses are enforced by moral emotions like shame and guilt and by moral reasoning capabilities that emerge during childhood. Humanity’s shared moral core can be glimpsed in every one of our wisdom traditions, religious or secular. It is the reason that our wisdom traditions tend to converge on the Golden Rule. Do unto others doesn’t offer a neat answer in every situation, but it does offer a coherent objective.

By contrast, religious morality, dictated from on high, can be as contradictory or cruel as the god doing the dictation, or the culture that created that god. When god is the supernatural version of an Iron Age warlord, that’s when everything becomes possible—including torture. And God said, let there be torture. And there was torture. And it was good.


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.
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Friday, December 19, 2014

Oh Unholy Night versus the Truth

When one observes the tragic events dominating the news and the way humans constantly argue, distort, does seem one long unholy ocean of darkness.

But there is another way--

Three Sons Fight

Disking the rock strewn
Objected earth near Bet Shean,
Underneath the Middle Eastern sky
Rows of mean earth riven by the blades,
We cut away our anger, hate, and pride,
Stopping to drink, not from the liquor
Of fanatic corruption but from
The precious water welling up,
Our oasis of Jacob'd sharing,
In this Hanukkah season
Of Christ's mass after


We three sons of Abraham,
Muslim, Jew, and Christian,
Fight the true battle
Not each other but
To be found worthy
In compassion
And purity--
The true
To God


First published in,
Knot Middle Eastern Magazine,
and the poetry collection of
selah river

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What is This Crime of Illegal Immigration?

Before we exclude the "others," let's consider this powerful quote from a long editorial by Orson Scott Card, the famous science fiction author and conservative commentator:

"What Is This "Crime," Really?

By Orson Scott Card

"A fifteen-year-old boy -- let's call him David -- has been yearning for his driver's license for a long time.

But today all thoughts of waiting for his license are out the window, because his little sister cut herself and he can't stop the bleeding...So David puts his sister in the car and, holding a towel on the wound to apply pressure, he drives...heading for the nearest medical emergency center.

...a state trooper sees him driving too fast and pulls him over. David tries to explain that he's only driving illegally in order to save his sister's life, but the trooper doesn't listen.

He drags David out of the car and handcuffs him and yells at him that he has no business driving a car without a license...

I'm sick at heart about the number of Americans, including friends of mine who should know better, who are proud of being exactly like that state trooper, when it comes to the question of illegal immigrants.

"They have no right to be here in the first place. If we give these people amnesty and let them stay and apply for citizenship, we only encourage more illegal immigration in the future. Besides, they use up our welfare and add to our school costs without paying taxes!"

In vain do the immigrants try to explain that their families were desperately poor...
Why can't we look at what these people are actually doing? Why can't we see the bleeding child in the passenger seat, and realize that most of these illegal immigrants are doing precisely what you or I would do in the same circumstances?
So what is this vile crime of "illegal immigration"...It consists of crossing over an arbitrary line that somebody drew in the dirt a century and a half ago. On one side of the line, poverty, hopelessness...
On the other side of the line, plenty of jobs that...would save your family's lives, give you hope for your children...

Wouldn't you take any risk to get across that line?..."

By Orson Scott Card
Read the rest of this heartfelt article and another one on immigration at

There are, of course, complications in this difficult issue. About twenty percent of illegal immigrants are criminals. They need to be arrested and deported.

And we need to have Congress and the President figure out a humane way for hard-working, law-abiding illegal immigrants to pay a fine for their breaking the law and then help them become citizens if they wish to do so. Also, our immigration policy needs to favor the poor and wretched of the earth as it once did!

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
On the Statue of Liberty
Emma Lazarus

And at the same time, we all need to remember that most of the American Southwest was stolen by American crooks about 170 years ago!

A biblical passage comes to mind on all of this: “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens...
Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy and Evil

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him.

Martin Luther King Jr.