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a blog by Ann Althouse

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"I never watch anything foul smelling or evil. Nothing disgusting; nothing dog ass. I’m a religious person."

"I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Invocation of the Saints, all of it."

Said Bob Dylan, asked if he streams movies on Netflix to relax.

But that word "relax" did not resonate with him. He's already relaxed — "too relaxed... like a flat tire; totally unmotivated, positively lifeless." So he says. But that doesn't mean he's looking for things to stimulate him, because it "takes a lot to get me stimulated" and he's "excessively sensitive," so he's liable to go from totally inert to "restless and fidgety." There's no "middle ground." 

On or off. One extreme or the other. Maybe that works for someone who performs on stage and then must spend so much time in a travel routine. He can fall asleep "at any time." He also says "I can write songs anywhere at any time."

He muses — comically — about songwriters who have a routine: "I heard Tom Paxton has one. I’ve wondered sometimes about going to visit Don McLean, see how he does it."

"I felt cornered and powerless as law enforcement officers began questioning me while the last of my mother’s life was fading."

"I wanted to be comforting her, telling her how she was about to see her daddy and younger brother as she 'went away home,' as we say in Appalachia. Instead, without it being indicated I had any choices about when, where and how to participate, I began a series of interviews that felt mandatory and imposed on me that drew me away from the precious end of my mother’s life. And at a time when we ourselves were trying desperately to decode what might have prompted her to take her life on that day, we each shared everything we could think of about Mom, her mental illness and its agonizing history. I want to be clear that the police were simply following terrible, outdated interview procedures and methods of interacting with family members who are in shock or trauma and that the individuals in my mother’s bedroom that harrowing day were not bad or wrong.... This profoundly intimate personal and medical information does not belong in the press, on the internet or anywhere except in our memories. We have asked the court to not release these documents not because we have secrets."

Writes Ashley Judd, in an essay in the NYT.

"Afterlife conversation - extremely booooring.... stopped watching about half-way through."

Said Whiskeybum, in the comments to the collection of TikTok videos I posted last night, here

There's an easy riposte: You think that's boring, wait 'til you see the actual afterlife, and try stopping halfway through. What's half of eternity?

But I commented earnestly over there: "My favorite might be the conversation, and not because of the particular things they say about the afterlife, but because of the interesting interior where they are sitting and the way each of them is reading a different book and has a different style mug in front of them. It's just a nicely set up, gentle contrast between the 2, who ultimately have hit it off, despite taking somewhat opposing positions on the afterlife. There's a gentleness to it that I find very appealing. Both roles played by one person, Baron Ryan. As a commenter says [at TikTok] 'Your chemistry with yourself is amazing.'"

Here's that video. Here's a collection of all of his videos. And here's a well-made video about Baron Ryan, explaining what he's doing and showing exactly how he does it:

Take a break from the political drama and watch these 9 TikToks I've curated for you. Let me know what you like.

1. A baby reacts to thunder.

2. What the long-distance runner eats in a day.

3. What to name cats and dogs in the Middle Ages.

4. How to cut your hair in North Korea.

5. Advice from the dandy.

6. A conversation about the afterlife.

7. Why can't you people of a certain age and income level understand what's so good about working at home?

8. Rufus Wainwright at home, playing piano.

9. Mountain biking in Marquette, Michigan.

"The human brain, having evolved to seek safety in numbers, registers loneliness as a threat. The centers that monitor for danger, including the amygdala, go into overdrive..."

"... triggering a release of 'fight or flight' stress hormones.... Subconsciously, you start to view other people more as potential threats — sources of rejection or apathy — and less as friends, remedies for your loneliness... Loneliness is a subjective feeling. People can have a lot of contact and still be lonely, or be perfectly content by themselves. For many New Yorkers, the pandemic brought too much contact with others — in crowded apartments, workplaces or subways. But the contacts were not necessarily fulfilling or desired and maybe seemed dangerous. This, too, is a condition for loneliness." 

From "How Loneliness Is Damaging Our Health/Even before the pandemic, there was an 'epidemic of loneliness,' and it was affecting physical health and life expectancy" (NYT).

This is a long article, and the focus is on how the Covid lockdown exacerbated feelings of loneliness, but there was also some stray information about how isolation may have increased our susceptibility to the disease.

We're told that those “fight or flight” hormones — brought on by loneliness — cause the body to produce "extra inflammatory cells to repair tissue damage and prevent infection, and fewer antibodies to fight viruses." That is, the lockdown isolation — if you reacted by getting lonely — made you "less resistant to" the disease and "less responsive to the vaccine, because you have fewer antibodies to fight it."

I don't think I've seen that health issue discussed before. Does the body have to "decide" whether to go with inflammatory cells or antibodies? I can see why withdrawing from the world might cause the body to produce fewer antibodies, but this is saying that the loneliness caused by isolation generates hormones that restrict the production of antibodies. Is that true?

I was also struck by the one appearance of religion, from a man whose wife had died: "Who doesn’t see suicide as an option at that juncture of life? But I’m religious, and that would terminate any chance I have of being with my wife or my loved ones when I’m dead. I can’t jeopardize that possibility."

"'There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other."

A quote I blogged here, in February 2016, which I'm reading now as I review my posts with the Madeleine Albright tag.

Albright died today at the age of 84. Here's the NYT obituary, "Madeleine Albright, First Woman to Serve as Secretary of State, Dies at 84/She rose to power and fame as a brilliant analyst of world affairs before serving as an aggressive advocate of President Bill Clinton’s policies."

The obituary does include the women-in-hell quote:

In 2016, Ms. Albright again supported Mrs. Clinton for the presidency. At a campaign stop for the New Hampshire primary, Ms. Albright told a crowd, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” The line went viral. She had used it previously without objections. But some voters now found it offensive, taking it as a rebuke to younger women who supported a Clinton rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

An ardent feminist, Ms. Albright apologized in an opinion article in The Times. “I did not mean to argue that women should support a particular candidate based on gender,” she wrote. “But I understand that I came across as condemning those who disagree with my political preferences. If heaven were open only to those who agreed on politics, I imagine it would be largely unoccupied.”

"To be sardonic is to be disdainfully or cynically humorous, or scornfully mocking."

Wikipedia explains at "Sardonicism," to which I was redirected when I clicked on the words "sardonic grin" in the caption "Sardo-Punic mask showing a Sardonic grin" under this riveting image:

I found that at the Wikipedia article "Punic people," which I was reading because the letter combination "punic" had arisen in the course of talking about a particular word puzzle.

But what is the "Sardonic grin"?

Both the concept and the etymology of the word ["sardonic"]... appear to stem from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The 10th-century Byzantine Greek encyclopedia Suda traces the word's earliest roots to the notion of grinning (Ancient Greek: σαίρω, romanized: sairō) in the face of danger, or curling one's lips back at evil.

One explanation for the later alteration to its more familiar form and connection to laughter (supported by the Oxford English Dictionary) appears to stem from an ancient belief that ingesting the sardonion (σαρδόνιον) plant from Sardinia (Σαρδώ) would result in convulsions resembling laughter and, ultimately, death. In Theory and History of Folklore, Vladimir Propp discusses alleged examples of ritual laughter accompanying death and killing, all involving groups. These he characterized as sardonic laughter:

Among the very ancient people of Sardinia, who were called Sardi or Sardoni, it was customary to kill old people. While killing their old people, the Sardi laughed loudly. This is the origin of notorious sardonic laughter (Eugen Fehrle, 1930). In light of our findings things begin to look different. Laughter accompanies the passage from death to life; it creates life and accompanies birth. Consequently, laughter accompanying killing transforms death into a new birth, nullifies murder as such, and is an act of piety that transforms death into a new life....

Risus sardonicus is an apparent smile on the face of those who are convulsing because of tetanus, or strychnine poisoning. From the Oxford English Dictionary, "A fixed, grin-like expression resulting from spasm of facial muscles, esp. in tetanus." Also:

[Convulsion of the] facial muscles may cause a characteristic expression called Risus sardonicus (from the Latin for scornful laughter) or Risus caninus (from the Latin for doglike laughter or grinning). This facial expression has also been observed among patients with tetanus. Risus sardonicus causes a patient's eyebrows to rise, eyes to bulge, and mouth to retract dramatically, resulting in what has been described as an evil-looking grin.

In 2009 scientists at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Italy claimed to have identified hemlock water dropwort as the plant responsible for producing the sardonic grin. This plant is the candidate for the "sardonic herb", which was a neurotoxic plant used for the ritual killing of elderly people in pre-Roman Sardinia. When these people were unable to support themselves, they were intoxicated with this herb and then dropped from a high rock or beaten to death.

If I read that correctly: The old people were given a substance that made them look like they were laughing while they were being murdered, and the murderers were also laughing, and not because they found it funny, but because they believed their laughing would transport their victim to a new life.

And that's what "sardonic" means.

"Religion gave us not just an afterlife, but a beforelife, too. God creates people as souls first and then gives them physical shape."

"'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,' God says to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). 'Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,' David says to God (Psalm 139:16).... Well, if you believe that people exist before they exist, that they’re waiting out there with God somewhere before they are 'heaven sent' into someone’s womb, then of course you’re going to put the needs of that (still pure and precious) person ahead of the needs of the (sinful) womb-holder.... To those of us who don’t believe in God, this sounds fantastical... Human lives, when seen this way, inhabit a strange kind of solidity even in the abstract: Before they live — even if they never live — these people were meant to be.... Reasonable people can disagree about when a developing fetus has rights that must be considered. And people who are happily pregnant might assign complete personhood to a pea-size clump of cells from the moment the pregnancy is confirmed. But how we feel about that clump is not the same as how it feels....  [E]veryone who asks how abortion advocates would feel if they had been aborted, as if unborn people hover about ruing their nonexistence — remind us that religion is driving our abortion debate. Religion — not reason and not compassion for people who already exist in this earthly realm." 


I'm just blogging, not writing a book, so I'm not going to engage with all of that. I will only make a few points:

1. If you don't believe in any world beyond our world, it's indeed easy to say you'd feel nothing if you were aborted. But what's the answer to the question what would you feel if you — you who who believe only in this life — were murdered? You get the same answer: Nothing! 

2. The belief that there is no life beyond this life is also a religious belief. You might want to stand apart from the openly religious people and claim that you — and not they — have true reason and true compassion, but you too are engulfed in belief.

3. I subscribed to the Disney Channel so I could watch the Beatles documentary, but I've used my access to check out some other things, one of which was the 2020 animated film "Soul." This film shows a man who gets off track to the afterlife and finds his way into the place where souls are formed before they can make their way into bodies. It's not presented within a specific religion's framework, but it's an extensive visualization of life before birth:
The filmmakers animated the souls featured in the film in a "vaporous", "ethereal", and "non-physical" way, having based their designs on definitions about souls given to them by various religious and cultural representatives. At the same time, they did not want the souls to look overly similar to ghosts, and adjusted their color palette accordingly.... Animators created two designs for the souls in the film; one for the new souls in "The Great Before", which animation supervisor Jude Brownbill described as "very cute, very appealing, with simple, rounded shapes and no distinguishing features just yet", and one for mentor souls, which do feature distinctive characteristics due to having been on Earth already.

This was a big Pixar film designed to appeal to everyone, not just believers in conventional religions that have doctrine relating to the creation of souls. 

4. The desire to believe in soul is very deeply embedded in the human mind, and if you're a person of reason and compassion, you should not find it easy to slough off.

"I am more than willing to go to jail if they want to put me in jail. And if they do, they’re going to suffer the consequences in heaven. I’m not, I didn’t do anything wrong."

Said Rudy Giuliani, quoted in "Rudy Giuliani Says He’s ‘More Than Willing To Go To Jail’ But Did Nothing Wrong in Amazing Interview with NBC New York" by Caleb Howe at Mediaite. 

Giuliani's interviewer, NBC's Melissa Russo, follows up, asking, "Why are you willing to go to jail if you feel that you’re innocent?" 

His answer "Because they lie and they cheat" doesn't really answer the question, but it ought to prod us toward an answer. The Mediaite writer doesn't seem to have a clue or is choosing to act as though he hasn't a clue, but I think Giuliani — who'd just mentioned "consequences in heaven" — is playing the role of the martyr, unjustly persecuted, bowing to the impositions of worldly government, and deeply believing that his reward is in Heaven. 

Whether this is self-serving rhetoric or sincere religion is another matter. I wrote the preceding sentence after reading the text and realized I need to watch the video. Hang on a sec. No. I don't know. But I will confess to editing that "self-serving rhetoric." Before I watched the video, I'd written "self-serving bullshit." Be clear: I never called it bullshit. I just viewed it as an alternative to sincere religion. But after watching the video, I toned down the alternative. Here's what I thought: He's accused of a crime, and if he's going to speak on camera, he's got to defend himself staunchly. That's not bullshit.

Here's the Bible verse Giuliani's willingness to go to jail reminded me of, Matthew 5:10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Be glad to be persecuted.

"Afterlife conversation - extremely booooring.... stopped watching about half-way through.""To be sardonic is to be disdainfully or cynically humorous, or scornfully mocking.""Religion gave us not just an afterlife, but a beforelife, too. God creates people as souls first and then gives them physical shape."

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