Saturday, January 11, 2014
tim the baptist
In the 28th year of what today we call the current era (formerly known as AD, or Anno Domini, "the year of our Lord"), a strange figure appeared in Palestine. He came out of the desert wearing animal skins, eating only grasshoppers and wild honey -- no bread, and no wine -- and began preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River.
John the Baptist's message was clear and simple: the end was near, and the people of Judea needed to cleanse themselves of the corruption and materialism of the times, and prepare to meet their maker in a state of purity and innocence.
The ministry of the Baptist had a political as well as a spiritual aspect, since the land of Palestine was occupied by the Romans, who, in the view of the Jewish subjects, had imported the corrupt practices and impious attitudes which infected heir daily lives and their holy temple in Jerusalem.
In the one-thousandth and sixty-fourth year CE, another bizarre preacher arose, this time in the United States, the seat of a mighty empire, and at the time the most powerful nation on earth, just as the Romans had been in their time. Abjuring the comfortable life of a tenured professor at a prestigious university, Timothy Leary baptized his fellow citizens not with water, but with a few hundred micrograms -- not milligrams but micro-grams -- of lysergic acid diethylamide. LSD, the baptismal substitute for water and sacramental meal combined, produced ecstatic visions and intense, frenzied states of mind in the converts to the new faith.
Both men sought to induce a new way of seeing the world in the converts who flocked to them. Both were revolutionaries whose disgust with and contempt for the established order of society was mitigated by the realization that overthrowing the system was impossible, due to its overwhelming strength and universal reach. And both sought to effect an undermining of the establishment through a program of individual liberation.
For both these singular men, the spiritual regimens they prescribed were vague, unfocused, and not completely worked out. Individuals were left to find their own definitions of the better life, free of the corruption and the shallow, childish materialism that characterized the cultures of both eras.
John had grown to manhood in a Judea where the highest priest of the Jewish cult performed daily sacrifices to the Roman Emperor, in the holy temple itself. Jews were required to pay tribute to this human being, who demanded of his subjects that they worship him as a god. Timothy's world was dominated by a war machine which even as he appeared was gearing up to invade a small country in southeast Asia, and this infernal machine's operators demanded the absolute allegiance and half the tax revenue of a cowed and baffled population.
Two prophets, coming of age in societies very different from one another, but experiencing similar manifestations of degeneracy, arrived at similar conclusions. Considering the overwhelming strength of the corrupted established orders they opposed, the only means of revolution open to people who saw things clearly had to be intensely personal.
"Already, the ax is laid at the root of the tree," John warned his listeners, "and every tree which does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." That part of the message was clear -- you'd better get right with God and bear good fruit, because God is coming, and boy, is he pissed!
"Turn on, tune in, drop out," Timothy advised, and the unspoken part of the message was that those failing to see things as they truly are would suffer grievously in the time to come.
Both prophets attracted many followers, but the huge majorities of the subjects of both Roman Palestine and the Pentagon either ignored them, or greeted the news of their coming with hostility, derision and contempt. For those of us who received the message, there is a certain satisfaction, imbued with a heavy dose of sang-froid , in watching the dissolution of those forces against which the prophets feebly arrayed themselves, only to triumph in the end.