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Thursday, June 13, 2013

So Much of the Time We're Lost

All court room dramas are, ultimately, morality plays.

But the best of them capture, in our desire for justice, a religious sense--our longing for ultimate meaning in the universe. 
This is a great piece of writing by award-winning playwright David Mamet from his screenplay for the Sidney Lumet film The Verdict, a story of as rigged and corrupt a trial as can be imagined, to protect a Catholic Diocese against a rightful claim of complicity in the death of a young girl.  Paul Newman, playing the broken-down whiskey lawyer Frank Galvin, gets these lines to say to the jury at his summing up:

You know, so much of the time we're lost.  We say, 'Please, God, tell us what is right.  Tell us what's true.  There is no justice.  The rich win, the poor are powerless...'  We become tired of hearing people lie.  After a time we become dead.  A little dead.  We start thinking of ourselves as victims.  (pause) And we become victims. (pause)  And we become weak...and doubt ourselves, and doubt our institutions...and doubt our beliefs...we say for example, `The law is a sham...there is no law...I was a fool for having believed there was.'  (beat)  But today you are the law.  You are the law...And not some book and not the lawyers, or the marble statues and the trappings of the court...all that they are is symbols.  (beat)  Of our desire to be just... (beat) All that they are, in effect, is prayer...(beat) ... a fervent, and a frightened prayer.  In my religion we say, `Act as if you had faith, and faith will be given to you.'  (beat)  If.  If we would have faith in justice, we must only believe in ourselves.  (beat)  And act with justice.  (beat)  And I believe that there is justice in our hearts.  (beat)  Thank you.

(The power of Newman's acting, by the way, is in the pauses, which show you a broken man trawling the depths of his soul to find the capital-T Truth.)
You can watch it here:

There was a documentary last month on Rupert Murdoch. As you may be aware, Mr. Murdoch has decided that "Tony Abbott should have a go at running the country for a while." This would be just one man's opinion, were it not for the fact that the famously megalomaniacal Mr. Murdoch owns 70% of Australia's media. (The press is free, if you happen to own one!) Banana Republic, anyone?

And so, repeatedly brayed at by the world's biggest megaphone, the world's best-performing economy (Australia) actually believes itself to be in a fiscal Armageddon, with the opposition declaring an 'emergency budget.' 
You get a country with international law obligations to humanely deal with asylum seekers, vowing to 'stop the illegal boats', despite the fact that most unsuccessful applicants for asylum arrive not on boats, but on airplanes. 
It's your own fault for not ponying up the airfare
You get a country with endless energy resources of wind, sun, and coastline fracking for coal-seam gas at the behest of the petrochemical multinationals.
They call it 'fracking' in the rest of the world
And on and on: up is down, black is white, so why not elect Mr. Inside-outski?

Seriously, would you buy a used car from this man?

Mr. Murdoch's multi-faceted, polyphonic, and persistent message to us can be summarised: "Here's your bloke.  Make it so, and go back to sleep.  There's a good little country."  And so is it any wonder we've developed a fatalism about the outcome of the coming election.

Before the 1997 UK general election, the Rev. Judith Walker-Riggs (an early inspiration for me) said that "election day is the only Holy Day of Obligation for Unitarians".  Fortunately, here we have compulsory voting.  But we do not, alas, have compulsory rational thinking.  Nor do we have compulsory diversity in the media, which provides us with the information upon which we build informed political views.

So, much of the time we ARE lost, as Mamet says.  But on election day, YOU become the compass for the laws of the future.  As Unitarians hungry for Truth, I urge you to put down the Advertiser, The Australian, turn off Sky News, and think very carefully about whether or not you want a self-professed conservative Catholic running the country.  This is not really being talked about but should be, as Catholic orthodoxy takes very particular views about gender equality, reproductive rights, sexual preference, and the environment (if heaven everlasting is your reward for being a good Catholic, what do you care if this veil of tears is laid waste?)
The anointed of the Lord
As an immigrant, it's always baffled me why a country of such no-nonsense, down-to-earth people would regularly allow themselves to be so poorly led.  But I believe too that we have a deep sense of justice in our hearts.  But it's hard to hear when we also have the incessant drumbeat of conformity in our ears.  Tune it out, get informed, and turn in to your heart, which is where true justice resides.
If you do that and still prefer to vote for Rupert's bloke, go for it. But at least you'll be making a choice that involves both head and heart, and at least you won't have sleep-walked into whatever's to come--lost and weak, like sheep to shambles.