Thursday, September 27, 2012

Never Apologize, Never Explain

By Gary Berg-Cross

On July 6, 2012 Bill Moyers had humanist poet Philip Appleman on his show. Appleman, author of nine books of poetry, three novels, and six volumes of non-fiction, is famous for many works including his editing of a critical anthology Darwin as well as a poetic turn with his  books Darwin’s Ark and Darwin’s Bestiary. As Moyers noted these have earned him praise for:

       illuminating the “overwhelming sanity” of Darwin’s thought with clarity and wit.  

But for freethinkers we can add to these his recent collection Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems—A Satirical Look at the Bible (published by Humanity Books ) is definitely one to enjoy. Bill Creasy pointed to this collection in his article published in the September 2011 issue of WASHline, the newsletter of the Washington Area Secular Humanists.

A portion of his poem GERTRUDE, celebrating his mother Gertrude Appleman, 1901-1976, is shown below.  Phillip starts with a piece from the  Catechism of Christian Doctrine which states that “God is all-knowing, all-present, and almighty.”

The poem takes this doctrine to task. It includes this:

I wish that all the people who peddle God could watch my mother die: could see the skin and gristle weighing in at seventy-nine, every stubborn pound of flesh a small death.
I wish the people who peddled God could see her young, lovely in gardens and beautiful in kitchens, and could watch the hand of God slowly twisting her knees and fingers till they gnarled and knotted, settling in for thirty years of pain.

I wish the people who peddle God could see the lightning of His cancer striking her, that small frame tensing at every shock, her sweet contralto scratchy with the Lord's infection: Philip, I want to die.
I wish I had them gathered round, those preachers, popes, rabbis, imams, priests—every pious shill on God's payroll—and I would pull the sheets from my mother's brittle body, and they would fall on their knees at her bedside to be forgiven all their faith.

The image above is from Appleman’s poem God’s Grandeur in “Karma, dharma, pudding, and pie...”.  

 The tongue in cheek poem starts out in a Jobian way

When they hunger and thirst, and I send down a famine,
When they pray for the sun, and I drown them with rain,
And they beg me for reasons, my only reply is:
I never apologize, never explain.

When the Angel of Death is a black wind around them
And children are dying in terrible pain,
Then they burn little candles in churches, but still
I never apologize, never explain.

It ends with this:

Of course, if they’re smart, they can figure it out–
The best of all reasons is perfectly plain.
It’s because I just happen to like it this way–
So I never apologize, never explain.”

You can see Appleman reading the entire poem on Moyers show at:

More of Appleman’s thoughts are at The Labyrinth: God, Darwin and the Meaning of Life

A full version of the poem is available on the American Humanist’s site.


Edd.Doerr said...

Let me encourage readers of this blog to read more of Phil Appleman's work, especially his two Norton books on Darwin. I am sorry that I did not know of Phil's appearance on Moyers' show. -- Edd Doerr

Lucy Weir said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucy Weir said...

Utterly brilliant. I looked this up after Enda Kenny failed to apologise on behalf of the Irish state for the suffering and brutalisation of thousands of women who were incarcerated at the hands of 'the religious' in institutions, most notably, Magdalene Laundries, where they were treated as slaves, on the basis that their behaviour and actions (including such crimes as poverty, being pregnant and unmarried and so on) rendered them sinners and deserving of the worst of treatment.