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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Acting Crazy: Doug in a New Show

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Last week I opened in a new show: Harold Pinter’s (Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) “The Homecoming,” a very famous play (and which now looks impressive on my theatrical resume).  In it I play the mentally unbalanced head of a very dysfunctional lower-class English family, in what is a dark comedy that sends the audience out of the theater arguing about what it all meant.  For this role I had to learn a new accent, which was difficult, and, since I have the largest part, pages and pages of dialogue that ramble disconcertingly from one topic to another.  My character, Max, is a 70 year-old retired butcher, who has three sons, one of whom comes back suddenly from America with his new wife (hence the “homecoming” of the title).  Max has dialogue like this one as he talks about his deceased wife with his newly-discovered daughter-in-law, while pointing to his three sons:

Mind you, she taught those boys everything they know . . . Every single bit of the moral code they live by was taught to them by their mother.  And she had a heart to go with it.  What a heart!  Listen, what’s the use of beating around the bush?  That woman was the backbone to this family.

But less than a minute later, angry at his brother for possibly being late for work, he descends to this diatribe:

I worked as a butcher all my life, using the chopper and the slab . . . to keep my family in luxury.  Two families!  My mother was bedridden, my brothers were all invalids.  I had to earn the money for the leading psychiatrists.  I had to read books!  I had to study the disease, so that I could cope with an emergency at every stage.  A crippled family, three bastard sons, a slutbitch of wife—don’t talk to me about the pain of childbirth—I’ve felt the pain, I’ve still got the pangs—when I give a little cough my back collapses—and here I’ve got a lazy idle bugger of a brother won’t even get to work on time!



Language this chaotic is—I’ve discovered—harder to learn than Shakespeare because Max jumps wildly from one thought to another, often with no obvious connection between them.  At one moment he’s a loving man, and the next he needs a straight jacket (and everyone on stage would help put him in it).

Our cast is terrific (five men, one woman), with every one of these talented people having a great time with their roles. Our director, Bo Rabby, is possibly the best director I’ve ever worked with (he directed me in “The Price” last year), and he knows how to make his cast delve into the inner workings of any play, particularly ones as interesting and mysterious as “The Homecoming.”


Harold Pinter at the time of the play
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Harold Pinter, the playwright.  Whenever I see or read one of his plays I always think the same thoughts: people don’t talk like this, people don’t act like this, but—wow!— what’s happening on the stage is fascinating.  In “The Homecoming” the play veers from simple conversations into a major fight scene with injured people all over the place, to a major seduction scene in which various men vie for the attention of the newly-arrived daughter-in-law, to an ending that produces gasps from the audience.
 
Aftermath of the Fight Scene
 Each night when I go out front after the show to talk to the audience as they exit, I clown with them and challenge them to “Please explain to me what the play means.”  I thought they would throw up their hands at this question, but I was wrong.  They all have definite thoughts about what’s just happened and what the characters were doing (and I’ve learned some things from listening to their comments).  Three very young women who came on opening night told me that the seduction scene in Act One was mesmerizing, which surprised me greatly.  Also surprising is how funny much of the play is, with the laughs coming not only at predicable moments, but also when Pinter spins things so that the audience is gasping to keep up with the shenanigans on stage.

We have twelve performances left.  “The Homecoming” plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. for the last week of October and the first two weeks of November at the Columbus Civic Theater, 3837 Indianola Ave. Columbus, OH 43214. Tickets can be reserved by calling (614) 447-PLAY or online at http://www.columbuscivic.org/index.html.
Come see us and then perhaps you can explain to me your own take on what this terrific play is all about.  I also predict that same night, as you put your head on your pillow, you’ll puzzle over the play for some time.  Theater that makes you think—just what Pinter had in mind!

[Click to enlarge]

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Related Posts:
"Douglas Whaley, Actor," August 14, 2010
"Directing 'Closure'," June 5, 2010
“I Am an 89 Year-Old Russian Jew,” January 31, 2011
“Another Opening, Another Show: Doug is in ‘Hamlet,’” April 29, 2011

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?


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As an atheist, I’m leery of any presidential candidate who makes much of his/her faith.  While I certainly respect the right to believe, I also don’t want religious beliefs about how the world works clouding the judgment of public officials.  A president who believes that God is talking directly to him/her scares me.  When presidents affirm their faith, I always hope they’re not such fervent believers that some religious book will be dictating public decisions.

Mitt Romney is a fervent believer in Mormonism from all accounts of his life, and, frankly, that bothers me for many reasons.  Mormons must do exactly what the Church demands or face expulsion, and the President of the Church is considered a prophet who receives revelations directly from God, which, while not infallible, are determinative.  These “revelations” have sometimes been steered by political concerns, as when the Church abandoned bigamy in 1890 (in order for Utah to become a state), or finally allowed blacks to be full-fledged members of the Church in 1978. 

There is much about Mormonism to be admired.  Its members eschew alcohol, tobacco, and other unsavory lifestyles, and promote health, strong family ties, and concern and care for the poor (particularly destitute Mormons, who receive extraordinary aid from the Church).  The Mormons I’ve known and counted among my friends have uniformly been intelligent and admirable people.


But when dealing with Mormons I usually bite my lip to keep from asking questions which, while very offensive, ought to be fair matters to explore.  The only time I do ask these questions is when Mormons approach me.  In one case it was a student of mine (see “A Mormon Loses His Faith,” below), but usually it’s when the young missionaries ring my doorbell and explain they want to tell me all about the wonders of Mormonism.  Normally I politely send them away, but if the mood strikes me, I invite them in, listen to their standard pitch, and then turn into a law professor engaging in a Socratic dialogue designed to find the truth.  My primary question to these youths is whether they have read any of the books written about Mormonism that are not approved by the church.  The answer is invariably “no,” since doing so is forbidden.  I then tell them that I’m an atheist and therefore suspect of all religions, but that I certainly think it’s unconscionable to go from door to door proselytizing for a religion when you haven’t even explored the truth of its teachings.  If those teachings are wrong aren’t you doing something bad, not praiseworthy?  And further aren’t you wasting your time and much of your life supporting something that’s unsupportable?   That does bother them.  I then—evilly?—ask them what they would be doing if they weren’t missionaries.  One of them laughed and said he’d spend a lot more time on his motorcycle.  [One time the missionaries called me on the phone a day or so after they left, saying they had spoken to their leader who told them I couldn’t really be an atheist, but at most was an agnostic, and were confused when I assured them that was not the case.]

I think all religions are founded on wrong assumptions and over-reliance on fantastical tales.  Humankind invented gods because they feared death and therefore would accept any explanation—no matter how improbable—allowing them to conquer death and continue living in some altered state. Thus mighty Jove could throw thunderbolts from the heavens, snakes give epicurean advice about apples, slain prophets rise from the dead and float up to heaven (or ride there on a horse), and Joseph Smith could peer into a hat and dictate the meaning of golden plates unfortunately recalled before their data could be backed-up. If you’re not a member of a particular religion, the myths of that particular religion seem ridiculous. Everyone is an atheist as to religions other than their own.

But Mormonism (with which I’ve been fascinated for most of my life because its success is so improbable) faces a difficulty that most religions can avoid: it’s history can be documented as based on provable fraud.  The slightest impartial investigation of Mormonism and how it developed demonstrates that Joseph Smith, a charming and charismatic man, created his religion from whole cloth and duped his followers into ingesting his fantastic dreams.  The leading biography is No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (1945, updated in 1970) by Fawn Brodie (for her efforts, Brodie, who began life as a Mormon, was excommunicated).  In it we learn of a young Joseph Smith, who created a new religion in the 1820s in upstate New York when doing so was practically a cottage industry.  Four years before claiming to have been given golden plates by an angel that told the story of Jesus in the New World, Smith had been convicted of fraud in claiming an ability to find gold by using a magic stone.  Smith (who could read a little, but not write) dictated the contents of the plates (which he would not let anyone see) to others, though he had to disavow his first attempt when the manuscript was stolen—causing major troubles because Smith couldn’t, of course, recreate his dictation from memory. Fawn Brodie comments:

But none of Joseph’s secretaries knew the rudiments of punctuation, and when the manuscript finally went to press there was scarcely a capital letter, comma, or period in the whole.  The typesetters broke up the clauses as they saw fit, with the result that of the first two hundred sentences one hundred and forty began with “And.”

The resulting book is badly written, though it does have some thrilling moments, but it’s hard slogging to get through it.  I tried once and failed.  Mark Twain famously called it “chloroform in print.”  It tells the story of a lost tribe of Israel who made it to North America and became the American Indians (!).  Jesus paid the tribe a visit after his resurrection (!).
 
 

Joseph Smith
The sad history of the Mormons as they faced adversity on many fronts and bravely persevered makes for a tremendous story, but Joseph Smith’s part in it is not so admirable.  He flouted his own rules, drinking wine and smoking the occasional cigar, and when he wanted to do something he did it even if it was outrageous.  Desiring other women sexually, he created polygamy and said that it was commanded by God.  He even married women already married to other men, all the while lying to his long-suffering wife Emma about what he was doing.  When in financial difficulty he stole from his own flock, and was guilty of counterfeiting, which got him into trouble with the federal government.  There is good evidence that he ordered the murder of the governor of Missouri, before being himself shot to death by an angry mob in an Illinois prison.

No one, viewing the issue with a determination to find out the truth, can read Brodie’s book, or the many others exposing the discrepancies in Mormonism [see particularly Robert Linsey’s “A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder, and Deceit, Laytane C. Scott’s “The Mormon Mirage”] without coming to the conclusion that Mormonism is based on fraud committed by its founder, who made up the whole religion out of thin  air. The ex-Mormon forums are also illuminating; see http://www.exmormonforums.com/.

When asked to copy some of the writings from the golden plates so that its Hebrew could be examined, Smith replied that for simplicity’s sake the golden plates were written (by God) in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and he supplied a sample.  In Smith’s time the meanings of such hieroglyphics were a mystery, but subsequent discoveries and translations of real Egyptian hieroglyphics make it clear that Smith’s imitations are not connected in any way with Egypt.  Even more embarrassing, DNA tests show that Native Americans are descended from Asians, not Jews.  The list of facts demonstrating the impossibilities of Smith’s story and the incidents in the Book of Mormon goes on and on.
Smith translating the golden plates
So Mitt Romney, like all devout Mormons, is a person who takes his faith without exploring its validity, knowing that any investigation of that validity would be condemned by the church.  Phrased another way, he’s been brainwashed since birth and has never surfaced to explore reality.  When Mormonism is called a cult, there’s something valid in that accusation.  If Mormons deviate in any way from the dictates of the church, they must leave.  Much about Mormonism, as I said above, is admirable, but this lockstep adherence to its dictates is not.  Nor is the way it treats women, apostates, or those who acknowledge being gay (who are told they can stay in the church only if they never have sex).  When their children come out of the closet, many Mormon parents abandon them instantly. Salt Lake City has a disgraceful history of gay children living in the sewers! [If you think I'm overstating this, watch the DVD "The Mormon Proposition," the last 30 minutes of which deals with this very issue in footage that will make you squirm.]  Mitt Romney may say that he believes marriage is ordained by God to be only  between one man and one woman, but coming from a Mormon that sounds like a joke.
One Man, One Woman?
 
So here’s my conclusion.  The election of Mitt Romney will put into office a man who’s belief system is based on a fraudulent premise that he has either (a) never investigated, or (b) investigated and decided to keep quiet about the disturbing things he found (thus leading a life that’s duplicitous).  As I also said above, I don’t want any American president to be very religious, and this is particularly true when that religion itself is so easily revealed to be founded on a sham.
 
The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City
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Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"An Atheist's Christmas Card," December 23, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Atheists Visit the Creation Museum

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Last Saturday I joined a small group of Ohio atheists who’d decided to visit the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) to see what we would see.  The museum is dedicated to presenting the traditional version of the Bible’s creation story in dioramas, videos, books, a petting zoo, and exhibits of all sorts.  Much money has gone into this endeavor and it is—frankly—quite impressive.  We had lunch before we went with Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director for American Atheists (who has himself visited the museum in the past), and he sent us off with the instruction “Prepare to believe!”  That’s the motto of the museum, and, indeed, I now own a refrigerator magnet bearing that legend.
Said Refrigerator Magnet
As one enters the museum there is a large sign warning visitors that this is a privately-run enterprise, and that the views expressed herein are to be respected and not subjected to scorn or criticism. Throughout the facility are stationed rather large intimidating-looking men in uniforms very similar to Kentucky State Troopers, with arms folded and stern expressions, clearly there to enforce reverential decorum among faithful and scoffers alike.
When I stepped up to purchase my ticket, the happy young woman staffing the cash register quoted me the price, including the senior discount, though she (with apparent seriousness) casually commented I obviously didn’t yet qualify for that.  Smiling, I allowed as how I did, at which point she looked at me curiously and asked, “Are you over 60?”  I was delighted!  I replied, “Yes, my dear, but I’ll pay full price if you card me!”  She took me at my word, and the entry fee was just under $24.00. 
Why, you might ask, would atheists want to visit a museum explaining creationism at all?  There were certainly a number of our fellow atheists who posed this question, disapproval in the voices.  The answer is that it’s useful to learn what the other side is saying so you can be prepared to refute it.  In this case there was a lot to refute.
The dioramas were fascinating.  They told various biblical stories: Adam and Eve existing happily with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden,  Noah building his ark and giving instructions in a heavy Jewish accent, St. Paul writing epistles (apparently he was right-handed), etc.  I’m told that a live-size replica of the ark will soon be built at a nearby Kentucky location.  In the loading of the ark diorama the animals included paired dinosaurs trudging up the entry ramp! There was even an explanation of how the animals were fed and watered (though the Bible says nothing about this—apparently the carnivores were fed dried meat).  I couldn’t resist having my picture taken in a number of these settings (click to enlarge).
 

Helping Noah Build the Ark


There are a number of exhibits explaining and refuting Darwin and his evolution “theory,” and the bookstores are filled with many tomes on this subject.  Interestingly, the exhibits acknowledge that the idea the earth is only around 6,500 is not validated by scientific fact, but then go on to demonstrate that this should be ignored!  One poster lists “Man’s Word” and then “God’s Word,” and then asks the viewer “Which do you believe?”  For the usual visitors to the Creation Museum the answer is clear.  If man’s facts differ from those God has given us, then God’s version triumphs and man’s facts, however compelling, must be ignored. 

That this leads to scientific illiteracy and contempt for the real world where decisions must be made on some group of facts is apparently of no concern.  Such a casual dismissal of science would be funny if there weren’t huge consequences.  Ronald Reagan appointed a Secretary of the Interior who allowed the looting of the public parks because he was a devout man who believed that Jesus was about to return and thus there was no need to protect the environment.  Arguments put forth by the creationists lead to a distrust and indeed a contempt for science, a dumbing down of our society, and make us look absurd in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Okay.  I’ve visited the Creation Museum, I know what they profess, and I avoided being eaten by overly large reptiles.  Now if a group of creationists want to attend a program put on by atheists, they’re welcome to do so.  To them I boldly say, “Prepare not to believe!”

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[Postscript:  On August 8, 2014, a news report stated that the Creation Museum will suspend its Ark project due to declining attendance and serious financial problems.  Apparently those who believe in creationism and are willing to fork over $30 a person to have those beliefs reinforced are a dwindling number.  See http://deadstate.org/kentuckys-creation-museum-in-financial-trouble-due-to-declining-attendance-video/]

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Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"An Atheist's Christmas Card," December 23, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013