Friday, February 1, 2008
Retro-Journal: The Sacred and the Profane in Early 1995
Today, as I write this, it’s February 1, 2008 — and the scheduled first day of this blog’s “Month Without God,” in which I’ll wrestle with some religion-vs.-atheism questions. This month will also see (aside from these Friday Retro-Journal entries) a shift toward more frequent, shorter posts here. But the atheism-religion tension was also an important one back in early 1995…
It was then that I had a brief long-distance romance with a woman who, despite having led a fairly wild, rock n’ roll lifestyle, had undergone a gung-ho conversion to Christianity — the first of three such women I’d be involved with over the years, as it happens, and surely at some point I have to ask whether there’s a telling pattern there. The wonderful woman in question started out as a penpal, writing to me in response to my National Review article about going to Woodstock ’94 (described in my prior Retro-Journal entry). She was pleased to see there was another conservative out there who appreciated rock and pop culture, something young conservatives were starved for in the mid-90s. (She had dated — and promoted — rock singer Brian McCarter, who, despite believing in God, will argue yes on the question “Does Christian Rock Suck?” in our April 2 Debate at Lolita Bar, against non-believing yet Christian-pop-culture-appreciating Daniel Radosh, as mentioned yesterday.)
Some would simply accuse me of dating strange women, but I think the truth is that I’ve gravitated toward women who were hybrids or converts, out of a desire for balance and moderation, not a desire for strangeness. If someone is, to take three non-hypothetical examples, a rock band promoter and Christian, or a scientist and Christian (a topic I’ll return to later in the month), or a rock writer and Christian, it could mean a touch of schizophrenia or it could simply mean the woman is well-rounded (or both, I suppose). No regrets.
That half-year would also see one of my favorite profane-yet-sacred friends, Christine Caldwell, now Christine Ames, married for the first time, not to Ames but to a budding Episcopal minister who liked James Taylor. Though Christine had gone to Yale Divinity School with him and disagrees to this day with my atheism, I wasn’t the only one who was a bit skeptical about the prospects for a match between the mild-mannered, somewhat uptight and hypochondriac minister and a woman who’d written raunchy comedy for National Lampoon, loves Guns N’ Roses, and can probably hold her liquor better than I can. But again, I always hope to see such differences transcended.
On a more purely profane note, that was also the half-year in which another friend from college, Reid Mihalko, was given away on the Montel Williams show as a “dream date” to a seventeen-year-old girl (with whom he went to Disney World — and with whom he did not have sex, as he recently explained to people gathered for his birthday party). He had previously done some modeling/acting work that included portraying the cowboy-hat-wearing stripper in the Salt N’ Pepa video for “None of Your Business,” the song that taught us that if she wants ta be a-freakin’, do it on the weekend, none o’ your business.
If I haven’t been as averse to consorting with the religious folk as some of my fellow atheists and agnostics might expect, it may be because religion was in many ways easy to ignore until the last several years. The year 1995 was, for instance, a year poised right in the middle of the wonderful, decade-long period during which the modern world was neither divided into (a) a religious West and a thriving, godless Eurasian Communism nor (b) a secular West and God-fueled Eurasian terrorist movements. Religion may have been as false then as it is now, but it didn’t seem like that big a deal.
That year was, in retrospect, the last hurrah of secularism for the Republican Party in a way, too. Sure, the GOP said nice things about Jesus from time to time, but there was little question during the Gingrich-led First Hundred Days of the new Republican Congress that the locus of conflict for right and left alike was the size of government, with the fired-up Republicans wanting slightly less, at least at first, and Bill Clinton wanting more. His speeches, however well-delivered, were always monotonous lists of petty new programs. As in the Reagan days, when my political views first formed and I saw religion as little more than an oddball extra tool in the conservative arsenal for use against Communism, everyone seemed to agree that mid-90s politics was mainly about the economy, not the hereafter.
That would fall by the wayside soon enough, and during the Bush/al Qaeda years, politics has been more frequently about war and/or God. Perhaps that will change under a President McCain, especially if he has an econ-focused (albeit Mormon) vice president instead of soldier-for-Jesus infrastrucuture-subsidizer Mike Huckabee, who could send the whole conservative project straight down the crapper. Under McCain, I expect conservatism would merely take a sort of much-needed sabbatical, almost as if a living tangent to the political spectrum such as Ross Perot had become president. We’ll have a slightly better idea this coming (Super Duper) Tuesday — and then we’ll fight over what it all means on Wednesday at Lolita Bar, remember, with John Derbyshire and Seth Colter Walls (so join us). If we end up with Clinton/Obama vs. McCain/Huckabee, I may well not even vote, so a lot could be riding on McCain’s v.p. choice — but enough about the future. Let us return to the past…
One great upshot of all the political attention being paid to the size of government was that my favorite political topic was relevant and justifiable for use in the weekly column I started writing that year for New York Press, then owned and edited by libertarian Republican Russ “Mugger” Smith. Whereas my bimonthly column in Reason two years earlier had been called “A Crazy Man’s Utopia,” the Press column was called “Fear Itself” and it borrowed frequently from my copious notes for an unpublished anti-government book that would blow the lid off the whole absurd, slavery-like scam of “governing” innocent people once and for all. I likened minimum wage laws to laws against prostitution, then condemned as absurd laws against prostitution. I said unions were about as bad as the Mob even when not infiltrated by the Mob. I called the people on both sides of the abortion issue nuts. And I generated tons of hate mail, which the Press editors loved. One letter-writer dismissively referred to one of my columns as “another dispatch from Planet Seavey,” and I almost felt like starting another personal newsletter just so I could use that as the title. Future Green Party activist Chris Brodeur wrote in at great length to challenge me to debate him anytime, anywhere and called me a “tomatohead.”
I threw a party that year and got a healthy eighty or so guests for the first time in my then-fledgling adulthood, and my friend and fellow new Press writer, Scott Nybakken, was just drunk enough to climb over a high chainlink fence at the end of my alley in order to get back into the festivities. I admire that sort of dedication, even though I’m pretty sure he could’ve just undone the latch on the gate. People in attendance ranged from future Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michelle Boardman to future New York Post film critic Kyle Smith to a future girlfriend (but more about her in next Friday’s Retro-Journal entry). A future “quantum healer” who was then just a Kaplan co-worker, a future diagnosed schizophrenic who was also a Kaplan co-worker, a future extra in a James Bond movie — we had a decent range of human beings, as it should be. I felt like I was starting to get the hang of this living in New York thing.
In his capacity as a New York Press film critic, Scott — around the time Quentin Tarantino’s example was beginning to sink into Hollywood’s thick, complacent skulls — introduced me to the work of Jackie Chan, and as my Kaplan co-worker Laura Zito agreed, a world of Batman-like greater human possibilities seemed to open up. How pathetic to climb staircases when one man, at least, can climb up the outsides of buildings with ease (no wonder I eagerly befriended the “urban explorers” of the Jinx Society when I met them seven years later — but I’m leaping ahead again). How timid to hold one gun and stand still when one could leap through the air in slow motion, screaming, holding two guns at the same time, with the handles angled sideways (and watching anime to boot). Within two years, I would visit Hong Kong.
I did not strive and achieve as much as perhaps I should have, though — I notice one to-do item written (in two places) on my calendar for the first half of 1995 that does not appear ever to have been checked off: read Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own. Perhaps this omission is why I remain so hopelessly bourgeois for an anarchist.
Speaking of bourgeois anarchists, that year I attended a New York memorial service for one of the most important libertarians who ever lived, economist Murray Rothbard (about whom I’ve written before). It’s a telling sign of how nerdy we libertarians are that beloved longtime movement member Andrea Millen-Rich, with absolutely no intention of showing any disrespect toward Rothbard, attended in appropriately serious attire but topped it off in a non-ostentatious fashion with her Starfleet insignia brooch. Ritual and symbolism do matter.