Monday, December 18, 2006


I reread Portnoy’s Complaint this summer and culled this interesting piece of writing by Philip Roth, a distinguised atheist.

“An atheist, I cry. I am nothing where religion is concerned, and I will not pretend to be anything that I am not! ….And I find no argument for the existence of God, or for the benevolence and virtue of the Jews, in the fact that the most re-ver-ed man in all of Newark came to sit for ‘a whole half hour’ beside my mother's bed. If he emptied her bedpan, if he fed her her meals, that might be the beginning of something, but to come for half an hour and sit beside a bed? What else has he got to do, Mother? To him, uttering beautiful banalities to people scared out of their wits—that is to him what playing baseball is to me! He loves it! And who wouldn't? Mother, Rabbi Warshaw is a fat, pompous, impatient fraud, with an absolutely grotesque superiority complex, a character out of Dickens is what he is, someone who if you stood next to him on the bus and didn't know he was so revered, you would say, ‘That man stinks to high heaven of cigarettes,’ and that is all you would say. This is a man who somewhere along the line got the idea that the basic unit of meaning in the English language is the syllable. So no word he pronounces has less than three of them, not even the word God. You should hear the song and dance he makes out of Israel. For him its as long as refrigerator! And do you remember him at my bar mitzvah, what a field day he had with Alexander Portnoy? Why, Mother, did he keep calling me by my whole name? Why, except to impress all you idiots in the audience with all those syllables! And it worked! It actually worked! Don't you understand, the synagogue is how he earns his living, and that's all there is to it. Coming to the hospital to be brilliant about life (syllable by syllable) to people who are shaking in their pajamas about death is his business, just as it is my father's business to sell life insurance! It is what they each do to earn a living, and if you want to feel pious about somebody, feel pious about my father, God damn it, and bow down to him the way you bow down to that big fat comical son of a bitch, because my father really works his balls off and doesn't happen to think that he is God's special assistant into the bargain. And doesn't speak in those fucking syllables: ‘I-a wan-tt to-a wel-come-a you-ew tooo thee sy-no-gawg-a.’ Oh God, oh Guh-ah-duh, if you're up there shining down your countenance, why not spare us from here on out the enunciation of the rabbis! Why not spare us the rabbis themselves! Look, why not spare us religion, if only in the name of our human dignity!”

—Alexander Portnoy in Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth


As I write this on a Saturday afternoon, Gonzaga is losing to Georgia, again letting an unranked team beat them, for the third time this year—if it ends up that Georgia does beat them. I can't watch, can't listen. I'm going for a walk. Of course, then they'll beat Duke next week in New York. O, the upsendowns of rooting for Gonzaga this year!


"More than any single figure, for the right, Bork's nomination represented the culmination of a strategy put in place at the beginning of the Reagan administration to force a right-wing economic and social agenda on the country by judicial fiat. Judicial conservatism—the respectable idea of a limited role for the judiciary in a democracy—was abandoned by these right-wing judicial extremists, who belonged to a secretive legal network called the Federalist Society, which was devoted to restricting privacy rights and reproductive freedoms, rolling back civil rights gains, and thwarting the authority of government to regulate industry in the public interest. In the Reagan administration, Federalist lawyers, including Attorney General Edwin Meese, William Bradford Reynolds, Theodore Olson, and Kenneth Starr in the Justice Department, Kenneth Cribb in the White House, and Clarence Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, among many others, worked to strip away civil rights, voting rights, and environmental and consumer protections, and to defend discriminatory practices by cities, local schools, and religious institutions. Reagan-appointed Federalist judges like Bork, Antonin Scalia, and Laurence Silberman did the same from the federal bench. After years of pitched battles over the selection of judges in the Reagan era, the elevation of Bork was seen as a way to turn back decades of liberal jurisprudence by tipping the balance on the high court toward the right for years to come." —David Brock, Blinded By The Right, p. 45

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