Conquering Our Moloch

An 18th century illustration of the Canaanite ...

An 18th century illustration of the Canaanite deity Moloch, as depicted in the Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been considering John Milton’s Nativity Ode anew this Advent.  Today, I saw a tweet from The New York Review of Books quoting from Milton’s Paradise Lost about the blood lust of the pagan god Moloch and the gruesome terms of his worship, child sacrifice.

I clicked through to the piece, which you can read here. The gun, says Gary Wills, is our Moloch.  Maybe so. But if so, our collective and willful ignorance of America’s mental health crisis is something of an original sin from which we haven’t come close to working out or making right.

Wills reminds us that in Paradise Lost,  “Milton represented Moloch as the first pagan god who joined Satan’s war on humankind.”  Yes.  And in Milton’s Nativity Ode, Moloch is among the first to flee his seat of power at the birth of Christ, the coming of the Holy Child.

I left this comment at NYRB:

“To continue the Milton and Moloch theme, on the Third Sunday of Advent, we remember that Moloch only flees with the birth of the Holy Child. I don’t offer that as a bit of religious imperialism, but as a comfort to those who will find comfort in it, and as a point of literary irony worth considering in the larger context of the extended metaphor.”

There’s something fundamentally profound about the juxtaposition of the reign and flight of Moloch with the coming of the Prince of Peace as an infant, as a child.  I’m not offering a positivist religious fatalism, here.  I’m saying that Wills makes one of the best arguments for pacifism you’re likely to hear if you bear mind 1) the Mennonite insistence that the crucifixion of Christ was God’s clear condemnation of violence as a means of ending violence 2) Milton’s liturgical resister in Advent, and 3) Milton’s insistence that God’s overthrowing of idols happened not only at Christ’s death but also, fundamentally, in his birth.

In the Nativity Ode, Milton struggles with the now-and-not-quite-yet nature of the Prince of Peace’s reign.  I struggle with it, too.  The child Jesus would grow up to say “The Kingdom of God is here!” but few and far between are the kinds of communities that prove the claim.  Few and far between are the leaders who lead and live like Jesus, few and far between are churches with progressive witnesses for peace and mental health commitments.

Think what you will about guns.  But it’s hard to argue that with our wars, our drones, our violent entertainment and our voyeuristic gaming, we’re not sacrificing children to the grim god Moloch, to the military-industrial complex, to big businesses and lobbyists and other interests.  All the while spending a comparative widow’s mite on the nation’s mental health crisis.  That’s idolatry any way you cut it. That is injustice, that is sin, that is, frankly, evil.

A Bill of Rights for Mental Health Care

It turns out this was too much to ask for in 2013.  And 2016.  And 2018.  We have to do better.

From 2013:

The candidate I’ll vote for in 2016 will be the one with an ambitious and progressive plan to fight our nation’s dirtiest open secret: we face a monumental public mental health crisis the likes of which have never before been seen.

Mental health benefits for the poorest Americans are being lost left and right as states trim budgets.  In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth decided years ago to shut down mental hospitals as a way of saving money, yet we pay more now per year per homeless mental health consumer than would have had the hospitals stayed open.  This is not to mention all the other societal costs.  This is not to mention the kinds of things none can put a price on:  healthy communities where everyone is safe and everyone is cared for according to their need.  In 2013, is that really too much to ask?

McCartney Will Front Nirvana Tonight? (It’s Always About a Girl)

Maybe so.

If this happens, I guarantee “About A Girl.”   From your friends at Wikipedia:

According to the 1994 Nirvana biography Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana by Michael Azerrad, “About a Girl” was written after Kurt Cobainspent an entire afternoon listening to Meet The Beatles! repeatedly. At the time, Cobain was trying to conceal his pop songwriting instincts, and he was reluctant to include the song on Bleach for fear of alienating the band’s then-exclusively grunge fan base. In a 1993 Rolling Stone interview with David Fricke, he explained:

“Even to put “About a Girl” on Bleach was a risk. I was heavily into pop, I really liked R.E.M., and I was into all kinds of old ‘60s stuff. But there was a lot of pressure within that social scene, the underground — like the kind of thing you get in high school. And to put a jangly R.E.M. type of pop song on a grunge record, in that scene, was risky.” [1]

However, Bleach producer Jack Endino was excited about the song, and even saw it as a potential single. Years later, Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana’s 1991 breakthrough album Nevermind, would cite “About a Girl” as the first hint that there was more to Nirvana than grunge. “Everyone talks about Kurt’s love affair with… the whole punk scene, but he was also a huge Beatles fan, and the more time we spent together the more obvious their influence on his songwriting became,” Vig told the NME in 2004.

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Recorded in 1988.  25 years ago.  25 years before that, the Beatles released Please Please Me and With The Beatles.  That means if Dave Grohl were George Harrison, he’d already be past the “Set On You” era.  Time is crazy.

I hope this happens.  I really do.  DVR set to awesome.  Perhaps this is the space-time disturbance the Mayans foresaw.