In Praise of Holy Madness

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image “One mark of our soulless New American Century is the lack of respect for saintly madmen. By that I mean holy seers of the Blakean-Coleridge stripe who could be found on America’s streets as recently as the hippy era. The kind of crazy adepts and enlightened iconoclasts honored by Allen Ginsberg and the beats, holy foolishness in the tradition of Saint Simeon with the dead dog tied to his waist and throwing nuts at the congregation, or Tibetan lama myonpas and India’s avadhutas. Perhaps such holy madmen are still out there among the homeless and the crack whores.”

by Joe Bageant

The Wild Palms of Etowah

One mark of our soulless New American Century is the lack of respect for saintly madmen. By that I mean holy seers of the Blakean-Coleridge stripe who could be found on America’s streets as recently as the hippy era. The kind of crazy adepts and enlightened iconoclasts honored by Allen Ginsberg and the beats, holy foolishness in the tradition of Saint Simeon with the dead dog tied to his waist and throwing nuts at the congregation, or Tibetan lama myonpas and India’s avadhutas. Perhaps such holy madmen are still out there among the homeless and the crack whores.

Maybe there are legions of Zen alcoholics and the like, and maybe we have lost the ability to see them in this season of imperial hubris, consumer fatigue and existential numbness. But I don’t think so. I know crazy wisdom and saintly madness in men’s eyes when I see it, and I am not seeing it very often in America these days. It has been outlawed by the Republicans and soundly condemned as Devil’s work by the Christian Right.

Of course if the dear reader is one who believes science defines all reality and that men possess no spiritual aspect, then it might be best to turn off the computer right now and go out for a beer or click on another story, because I am of the opposite disposition. So much so in fact that I am convinced things like grace really exist and that mankind is so murderously full of shit because it cannot apply itself to higher laws, laws which must be called spiritual for lack of a better term.

Having cleared the air between you and me (assuming you’re still reading), let me tell you about a rare saintly madman I laid eyes and heart upon recently. He is presently eating very expensive pies and watching television with his dogs in his own personal hell out in Etowah, Tennessee, the former “Rubberized Hair Capital of the World.”

At home in hell

For the past two days Bob D— has lain stupefied in his chlordane insecticide soaked house in Etowah, alternating between near coma and electrifying terror of opening his mail or answering the phone. Chlordane poisoning has destroyed his nervous system, rendered him freakish and weird, and in his own words “with an agonized countenance, a bony ‘horn’ growing out of the middle of my forehead, strange disoriented behavior, and fat. I didn’t get old. I got killed.” And on it goes . . .  “I took my dogs to the vet last week where ‘substance abuse’ on my part was suspected,” he tells me. “Once I got locked out of my car, and the police took me in for drug testing. I’m used to the horror of it all. I noticed in one of your columns that you were struggling to remain objective after watching a video beheading. That’s my life. Early on, I got this ‘view of things.’ I keep asking myself, ‘Why would I, of all people, know these things?’ I have alienated all my friends and relatives. My closest acquaintances know NOTHING about me. And the question lingers always: ‘Why would I, of all people, know these things? Am I just crazy?’”

Home for Bob D— is a sprawling old Victorian ruin on an entire city block, complete with fountains and lighted gardens, with more white fence than the state of Kentucky and covered parking for 10 cars, paved parking for another 20. This is the materialist nightmare of his late father who was raised in a boxcar and obsessed with the American Dream. He advised his wife, in the event of his death, to move immediately “or be ruined financially.” The old man died twenty years ago and his admonishment has become prophecy. The place is a money trap beyond anything yet known, and as Bob carries pills to his 90-plus-year-old mother between his own attacks of chlordane poisoning, she loudly refuses to move, despite the roof and the floors and the ongoing disasters. Now everything’s gone but her small pension and health insurance. The roof is shot, furniture, rare books and carpets ruined by rain long ago. So Bob D— spends his days amidst buckets and pans full of water watching videos and eating expensive Edwards pies:

As you probably know Joe, a Christian company cooks those Edwards pies, and they are – to my taste – decadent. Next to a really good orgasm (the once-in-five-years kind), the Turtle Pie, or Key Lime or Lemon – well, it’s not something that should be discussed in decent company. One of Edwards’ likeable things, in addition to the pies, is what they call “personality pans”. There’s a Bible verse embossed in the aluminum under the pie. Surprise! “God is love” “All good things come to him who waits” “Do unto others . . .” Nothing heavy, just fun wholesome Bible verses. Anyway, one day I was eating my pie, eagerly anticipating the happy moment when the Bible verse would be revealed. As I pushed aside the last lump of gooey lime and lard, there it was, one of those “jaw on the floor moments” (still scraping) . . . “He who will not work, let him not eat!”

STARVE THE MOTHERFUCKER! Implicit in this is everything I despise, the assumption that the poor are worthless scum and “won’t work”, blah. It’s about money, taxes . . . It’s about corporations. And it’s embossed onto the bottom of a $10 pie (as opposed to a $2 pie, if you get my point) The spirit of the moment, after eating a pie with enough calories to restore all the starving children in Calcutta, was another right-wing “FUCK YOU” in the name of the Lord. IT’S THOSE FUCKING POOR PEOPLE, GOD DAMMIT.

As to the videos, Bob has made an intense study of Oliver Stone’s 1990 ABC TV miniseries, Wild Palms, which he deems prophetic. Set in 2006, Wild Palms begins with a nightmare, a rhinoceros in an empty swimming pool, symbolizing “the beast in place of the baptism,” Bob asserts. “The hero runs inside to the screams of his children where, if you look closely, a shadow forms a distinct cross on their bedroom door from which hideous screams emerge. It is about media manipulation, especially through television. Corporations are running wild and their goon squads are beating the uncooperative; torture is discussed and executed by children. There has been a ‘synthetic terrorist attack’ which gave the police ‘broad new powers.’ I think it is damned weird that Wild Palms was so correct right down to the specific year. All cultures have their own prophets that are every bit as important as those in the Bible, but the prophet of course is never recognized in his own time.”

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“How has Deepak Chopra managed to express such Republican conservative values with no criticism whatsoever from the left? Chopra is the ultimate example of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, a denizen of Oprah, and a spiritual guru for the superficial, self-serving rich in a miserable, dying world. Listen to him carefully. It’s the Benny Hinn/Robert Tilton/Creflo Dollar “gospel of prosperity”. (If you’re poor, you’re ungodly, and you got what you deserve. God prospers his people.) Chopra states overtly that material success is directly related to spiritual attainment. Oh, really? It would be news to Christ and Buddha.”

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, my friend!!

I have never even read anything by him, in all honesty, but my deepest gut instincts tell me to stay the fuck away.. Thank you for providing the reason. I knew I wasn’t crazy. Well, maybe just a little.

I also have a deep love for Holy Madmen.
I am reminded of the guy I met on the bus once, who told me, “I am Jesus!”  Yes!! My friend, you are!!  I understood that, that epiphany of prior unity, only my head went somewhere else with it, so that I don’t tell strangers on the bus about it, but live it as a moral duty and a spiritual necessity, in the way we all should, if we cared.

Posted by Chandira  on  02/11  at  09:45 AM
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