8. Another Christian Fable: Montana Town Stunned by Cannibalism. (12/21/2000)

As horrible as it may be, we are, collectively, called upon to witness yet another case of human eating human this millennium holiday season. Merry Christmas. Nathaniel Bar-Jonah, apparently unrelated to the one who was swallowed by the whale, but who can say that for certain, recently washed ashore in Great Falls, Montana, only to surface on the abcnews.com website in a headline of a story that alleges he has been killing children, cooking them in his cannibal pot, and serving the stew to his neighbors, several of whom have admitted that the food they ate at his table did taste a little strange. If only there were a way to turn hind-taste into foreknowledge; but alas, no such talent exists in Great Falls, Montana. Apparently there is a serious lack of the same talent in most other parts of the globe.

Bar-Jonah, of course, has been characterized as insane and has even spent a considerable amount of time in mental hospitals after he was arrested and charged with kidnapping and raping children in Massachusetts. The Bay Colony, as you may remember, was the home of Increase Mather, the good Puritan who caused the annihilation of the Pequot tribe because he refused to negotiate with a woman for the purchase of their land, and a place apparently that could not stomach Bar-Jonah either and sent him west (Go west, young man and make your fortune) to the Big Sky country, rather than keeping him in jail, so he could bring his special brand of culinary art to people more tolerant of difference and diversity than Puritans are in the Small Sky country of New England.

Are there cannibals among us?

They are everywhere, as I have troubled to point out elsewhere, in as much as a nation founded on the religious ideology that you must drink the blood and eat the flesh of the human Savior if you are to be preserved from eternal damnation cannot help but foster, if not actually nurture, a wayward soul here and there who takes his/her Bible stories a bit too literally for comfort's sake. Of course Bar-Jonah is insane. It goes without saying that anyone who believes salvation only comes to those who eat human flesh, and to no others, can hardly be anything else but a little loony. What never ceases to amaze me is that entire hamlets, villages, towns, and great cities, are stunned when someone only does what religious ideology mandates and warrants. What do you expect when the heart and soul of your religious upbringing teaches cannibalism as its central tenet--that people everywhere are capable of understanding that you don't really mean it literally. Well over half the people in America today will tell you that the Bible is the literal truth of God. Homosexuality is evil. The Bible says so. Eat human flesh and be saved. The Bible says so. Where is the difference between one thing and the other?

I'm no lawyer; but Bar-Jonah's defense is obvious: "I thought the little boy was God, so I cooked him up and served him to my neighbors so I could save them from eternal damnation." Saint Bar-Jonah? "I was only doing what my religion demands be done." And now the religious right can claim him as another one of those Christians persecuted by non-believers for only doing what God demands for personal salvation.

What I find really troubling is that George W. Bush was dragged kicking and screaming into the White House on the wings, and in the claws, of the very angels of the radical right-wing minority who believe that Bible-babel is the literal and absolute truth of the word of God. Makes me wonder what kind of State dinners are likely to be served up in the West Wing in the New Millennium. An interesting irony--Bush was going to nominate the Governor of Montana as his Attorney General. Racicot, however, declined the nomination. Doesn't want to be the next Janet Reno, I guess, or he would rather stay in touch with the criminal justice system out there in the Big Sky, just in case an opportunity to pardon Bar-Jonah comes up in the next several months--you know, so he can send his cannibal back to Massachusetts where he came from. He can stand up on a stack of Bibles, on the Rule of Law, which was responsible for getting Bar-Jonah out to Montana in the first place, and Bush into the White House in the second, and intone with overarching seriousness: "Get thee hence," while pointing a stern finger toward the glowing dawn of the last Republican administration of the 21st Century. Rule has it that you can only steal a single election every hundred years or so. It's in the Constitution. Supreme Court notwithstanding.

The good news, if it can be given such a name, is that the local school board in Great Falls has arranged for psychological counseling for any of the children who wonder what happened to the one who has gone missing. Exactly how you explain to a ten-year-old child that one of their friends was fed to your Brownie troop-leader by a very bad but Christian man who was once swallowed by a whale of a justice system and then cast up on the shores of your own little town is a concept I am having a hard time imagining. I presume the counselors will avoid drawing any parallels between recent events and the darker sides of the religious ideology that both underlies and justifies Bar-Jonah's enactment of the sacrament of Christian salvation. Avoiding that subject has always saved it from rational scrutiny and allowed for its continued existence on the black underbelly of our nation's political unconscious. Turning a blind-eye to that which otherwise would be universally condemned saves us all, not from the random cannibals among us, but from having to deal with the fact that we harbor them as willing participants, if only vicariously, as Vicars of Christ, in the rituals they perform for the sake of us all.

I, of course, exclude myself from that all-inclusive characterization because of the fact that I belong to one of the tribes always accused by Europeans of practicing that which best defines their own worst religious predilections. I side with the native Americans in Texas who were outraged when they discovered that Cabeza de Vaca's associates had eaten each other in a vain attempt to salvage their own most worthless lives when they, the Spaniard's, were unable to feed themselves with ordinary food.