Monday, October 29, 2012

'Cane Pain

OK, so far, for the first time in decades, my feverish storm preparations have NOT been for nought! I am now glad I bought:

1) a large/long pruning shear, to clip branches of the trees that might endanger the power line into my house (there is still one I'm worried about, but I can't reach it without standing on something. ).

2) Gorton's Fisherman Rain Wear from Home Depot, for standing out in the cold, blowing rain cutting branches.

3) 4 new battery operated tube lights.

4) 4 30-packs of batteries.

5) new, electric-blue-and-black blanket for Teddy, which I hope he is still wearing. The other horses found him quite the fashion plate after I put it on him yesterday, and he was definitely not loving the attention.

6) an anti-fungal rain-rot prevention spray which I applied liberally before blanketing The Ted.

7) groceries, tp, etc., because who the heck wants to sit in a drive thru or run out to Walgreen's in this?

Things I bought that I am glad to have but that I have not yet needed:

1) Enough bottled water to supply the cast and chorus of War and Peace for a year. Yeah, what's not to love?!

2) a neat little hand-crank/solar radio/flashlight/alarm with a USB port (!) for charging a cell phone!

3) A fireplace screen, which I have needed since I moved into this house in 2008. Wal Mart had the same ones on sale for $5.00 that Home Depot was offering for $40.

4) A tarp. I'm planning to do some painting soon, after all.

5) a cord of wood and an anti-creosote log.

As I write this, we here in Manassas, VA are experiencing the 30-mph sustained winds and 40-mph gusts that were forecast. Mea culpa to Bob Ryan! Y'all to the north - take care.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome

I am a great champion of music by women composers, so my musical offering for today is an 1824 piece by a very talented "Young Lady" of Philadelphia who, sadly, chose to remain anonymous. Was it so unladylike in those days for a lady to let her name appear atop a piece of music written for the newly-organized (1820) Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia and very likely played at the reception for the Marquis de Lafayette on his returning-hero tour of America in 1825? (, n.d.) I saw a name connected with her, apparently through contemporary hearsay which still only gave her last name, but I cannot find the link now, and there is no other documentation. In any event, the piece is part of the Keffer Collection of Sheet Music at the University of Pennsylvania.

Miss Anonymous's "Lafayette's Welcome to Philadelphia"

Resources: (n.d.) "A Rich Heritage," Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia (webpage). Retrieved from on October 13, 2012.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Evelyn Lear

The memorial program for my late friend and mentor Evelyn Lear will occur this evening at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. As I am unable to attend, I wrote the following in remembrance of her:

One day in the spring of 2005, I was summoned to the dining room of the Tulip Inn where I was staying. I was in Hilversum, Holland, rehearsing for my European debut in Erwin Schulhoff's "Flammen" with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. As I took the call, I could hear Evelyn on the other end, weeping. I thought something terrible had happened... But it turned out that Evelyn was overcome with emotion and pride after hearing a bootleg of my first Brunnhilde at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. That was the kind of woman and mentor the great Evelyn Lear was to all who, like me, were fortunate enough to fall under her loving and nurturing wing. Over the past decade, Evelyn was, with her dear Tom, a rock of support, a ray of enlightenment, and an oracle of artistic experience and knowledge. She heard me in a master class and from there promoted me to all who would listen. She didn't get rich doing this; she didn't claim glory for herself. Her work was in humble service to the art she loved, and without her, I know I would not be where I am today. Godspeed, Dearest Evelyn, with deep love and gratitude. Jennifer Wilson

Unfortunate News

It is with the deepest regret that I must announce my withdrawal from the La Gioconda at Opera di Roma. My sadness at this development is all the greater because Gioconda was a new role which I have been excited to perform and which, despite initial reservations, I have come to feel fits my voice exceptionally well. Unfortunately, I arrived in Rome two weeks ago with bronchitis and haven't been well since. My respiratory tract is now clear, but for the past three days I have suffered from fatigue, headaches and a fever which have defied ibuprofen and have made standing up and working difficult. As the role is a new one for me, sitting out tech week rehearsals and then attempting to perform seems a very bad idea. Flu-like symptoms, ironically enough, are harder for an artist to work around than respiratory ones, which respond to decongestants, steroids and whatnot. Drinking Red Bulls to get through rehearsals when you are only sitting watching is a very bad sign. I have the highest regard for the medical practicioners of Italy, but given that I have been ill to some degree for the past six weeks, I think it best that I go home and see my own physician, to make sure I am in top form for my remaining engagements this fall.

I offer my most heartfelt gratitude to Maestri Abbado and Pizzi for their inspiration and support, and to the administration of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma for their confidence in my abilities and for their ongoing interest in collaborating with me. To my wonderful colleagues I wish a stupendous opening night and a successful run. All the best, and thanks for the music!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Am What I Am

It's been a while since I have made a post, so I thought the next post I make should be this one. Certain people have long tried to rob me of credit for every little silly (and not-so-silly) idea I have come up with, because I had a couple of difficult years in the mid-80s and mid-90s, during which I experienced writer's block. Therefore, so this person's thinking goes, I could not possibly have written good things at other points in my life - it must have been someone else, inexplicably using my extremely common Anglo-Saxon name (why not simply call oneself "Mary Smith" and be done with it?) as a nom de plume.

Thus, I take this opportunity to clear up any rumors or misunderstandings that some in their madness or busybody-hood might be spreading about me. Let's see. I have actually written, from my own thoughts and in my own words (except where appropriately cited), in its entirety, every item I have ever submitted or published anywhere under my byline. No one has ever used my screennames (including Nachtigall, Tyrrath, Bloghilde, and several others) to write a single word, as far as I am aware (though it is always possible I will find out I have been hacked at some point). No one else has ever logged on any of my screennames or email accounts with either my knowledge or my permission - in other words, IT'S ALWAYS ME unless illegal activity unbeknownst to me has occurred.

While we are clearing up rumors, I have never taken recreational drugs; I am not addicted to any substance;  I am neither a tramp nor an ascetic; I was born fully, 100 percent a biological female and am still so; I am not mentally ill; I harbor no hatred toward any group in society; I am even-tempered and a good friend and colleague; I am not autistic, and I do not have Down Syndrome or any other mental handicap; I have never sent a lookalike colleague to do rehearsals or performances for me, presumably splitting the fee, though I'll admit it's tempting; I am not secretly a soubrette; I do not require a microphone to be heard in opera houses large or small; I have never weighed in excess of 300 lbs; I have never knowingly had a relationship with a married man; I am attracted ONLY to adult biological human males, though I embrace with love and respect those in the LGBTQ community; I have never known or had any relationship with any criminal of any kind; I have never stalked anyone, though I have certainly been on the receiving end; and I HAVE NEVER BEEN ACTIVELY INTERESTED IN NOR HAVE HAD ANY RELATIONSHIP, OPEN OR CLANDESTINE, WITH ANY 80s POP STARS!
HAHA, yes - I knew you'd be entertained! I do have a good reason for posting this however, as just about anyone who knows me is aware.  Anyone who can come up with any MORE possible (or fanciful) rumors about me, please feel free to email me!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

John/Paul, Gotye, and the Power of the Tune

Gawker's Dramatization of Gotye's Evil Super-power

The above link carries you, the gentle reader, to a depiction of the impact the irresistible Gotye-earworm can have even on the skeptical and unwilling listener. "Somebody I Used To Know" is an unusual pop ditty in that it features not only one eminently hummable (though only marginally singable) primary melody, but verses that, compared to most current pop tunes, are downright Schoenbergian in their complexity. There is the relentless 'rinky-tinky-tinkytinkytink' xylophone tune, the boing-boing-a-boing-boing-boing synth countermelody (at least I think it's a synth), plus a verse that actually features phrases longer than a measure and, even, almost, a sequence!Then just when you think you have successfully resisted THOSE burrowing sonic larvae, along comes that high, keening, Sting-sounding melody with its catchy 'Ahhhhahhhahh....oooohhoohhhoohhh' backing vocals. Is it any wonder that this number by an obscure Kiwi has become the most infectious, ubiquitous tune of the year?

Others have had similar successes in pop music, from Lennon/McCartney to Michael Jackson. Giving the casual, non-musically-educated listener something slightly more complex to listen to and reacting with shock when he/she embraces it, with all his/her millions of listening and music-buying companions, the record industry still doesn't quite seem to get it - but then again, neither does the classical music world. Though it is producing more work that is tonal and listenable than in the recent past, when was the last time you heard an actual tune in a new classical piece that was not part of a film soundtrack? I'm talking within the past 20 years.

(Apologies in advance to those of you out there that are actually writing tunes in serious music, whose work I have not yet come across.)

The success of Gotye's single proves that the public can handle songs with multiple, intersecting melody lines. Didn't that used to be called counterpoint?  And isn't counterpoint the basis and wellspring of the Western tonal classical music tradition?

So why has it gone away, seemingly forever?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Hills Are Aliiiiiivvve...

My Multi-Cycle Jetlag Horror Dream, 6/9/12

When the dream began, I was living in a palatial apartment in Manhattan – an apartment within an enormous, well-appointed, 19th-century mansion, of a type that long ago either ceased to exist or was renovated and subdivided into apartments.  I was there as a guest, since the owners were some sort of patrons of whatever company I was performing with, and I got the impression the run of the opera I was doing was nearly over, with maybe one or two performances left, and that I had had a decent enough if uneasy time staying there. 

The place had dark, polished hardwood floors which were original to the building, and it was furnished with overstuffed sofas of heavy brocade, ancient grandfather clocks, enormous oriental carpets, and other antiques. I had a live-in maid, whom I’ll call Cilla, and I was the guest of a middle-aged, old-money set of siblings, whom I’ll call Brewster and Annabelle. Other people also popped in and out, including a butler and an older, slightly heavy-set woman whose function in the household remained unidentified. Cilla was a younger woman who had been friendly to me during my stay.

I felt the first pang of dread as I went to the theatre to sing one of my remaining performances. The theatre was old, with ancient dressing room facilities more reminiscent of older houses in Europe than of the relatively plush environs of a 60s-built theatre like the Met or the New York State Theatre. I do not recall anything as being amiss with the performance – I got a bouquet of roses, which I took home with me to the apartment.

On arriving back at the apartment, I was looking around for a vase to put the flowers in when I saw Cilla lying on her stomach on a sofa, whimpering. Someone had slashed both her legs ankle-to-hip with a razor or a knife and left her there to die, apparently. She was lucid enough to tell me that Brewster and Annabelle had been responsible. Fear seized me that I would also be in danger if I reported the crime to the police, but I determined to do so anyway. I tried using my cell phone to call 911, and the dispatcher did not seem to be able to understand what I was trying to tell her.  I hung up not knowing whether police and paramedics would be sent or not.

I was already beginning to panic when the older, heavyset woman came in to inform me that dinner was served (maybe she was the cook, or another maid). She ignored Cilla and her condition on the sofa, and I got the distinct impression that I should come to dinner and behave as if nothing were wrong, lest I also be in danger of some dire fate. I began to worry that Annabelle and Brewster were serving me something Sweeney-Todd-ian in the mystery-meat stew, as they carried out their normal mealtime small talk. Perhaps, I thought, they were vampires, or maybe just mad – in any event, I knew I had to get out of there immediately. 

When I returned to my suite, Cilla was dead. She was still lying as I had left her, on her stomach on the divan, but she was no longer moving or whimpering, and her eyes stared out into the room. There had never been any blood, strangely enough, and there still was none. I rushed to my bedroom and began packing furiously. I had gone to my home in Virginia at various times during the run, so when the older woman came in and inquired why I was packing, I said I simply planned to go home for a few days. She seemed satisfied with this, and left.  When I emerged into the suite’s living room, rolling my bag, Cilla was gone.

At this point, I heard gunshots and men shouting as they chased one another down the hall. At last, I hoped, here were the police! However, that went unconfirmed as I realized that I was in danger from the firefight as well. I first hid behind the sofa (from which Cilla’s body had so recently been removed). After a few moments, I only knew I wanted out of there, and I dropped my bag and ran through a series of hallways, narrowly missed by bullets a few times before emerging into the sunlight in a driveway populated by a number of shining Bentley/Rolls Royce-type cars. I do not recall seeing a police car, so either they might have been unmarked, or the shooters were not police, but other criminals who had some quarrel with the siblings. I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

Yet suddenly, I found myself not at the palatial house in “Manhattan,” but in a strange, warehouse/dock-like complex in what I understood to be Florida. I had been sent there by the siblings, apparently for my own protection. However, the denizens of this strange community were inbred mutants like something out of “The Hills Have Eyes,” only even more monstrous looking. I was given over to a couple, who seemed to want me as a concubine of some sort. I recall the man grabbing me with enormous, almost super-human strength, and telling me how happy he was that I was there. He had no eyes, actually, and his skin was a waxy white, with a deformed skull that seemed drawn up into a single misshapen ridge at the top. 

Somehow, I was able to break away from him, and I ran for my life. I ran through maze-like metal corridors, at last halted in despair and fright by a dead end.  This being a dream, I did not remain asleep to see the monsters find me, but there I was again, trapped. Through the miracle of the dreamer's deus ex machina, I found another corridor and made my way out of the place, again into the sunlight. The mutants did not pursue me, perhaps out of fear of discovery. 

And then I woke up. This is all about learning Gioconda, right?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The New Yorkers beat Dulles? Naaaah!

A new JD Power survey has ranked Dulles International third-worst in customer satisfaction among medium-sized US airports (Kiser, 2012).  Third, schmird. IAD is by far the worst airport I have experienced in passport control/immigration and security. More often than not, they give half their screeners/immigration officers the day off, even if multiple large transatlantic flights are coming in or going out, leaving thousands of passengers in winding queues in a room so small that terrorists must be salivating. The pre-security passport control queue system is so bad that they have taken to holding hundreds of people (who thought they arrived with plenty of time for their flights) upstairs, unable even to get on the escalator to take them TO the winding queue downstairs, with no preference given for business class or elite frequent flyers.

Once through all the pre-security queues, passengers are reminded that Dulles International Airport is the Land of the Strip-Search Scanner and the Home of the "Don't touch my junk, bro!" Patdown.

Don't even get me started on the horrible little tram system post-international flight, which adds nearly an hour to the trip and which until recently featured rudely shouting "officials" hollering that the tram wouldn't move until every available space was occupied, so exhausted fliers had better move to the center of the car! Not to mention that transferring passengers must claim and recheck their baggage, and those remaining in DC must wait far too long, after the previous long process, to claim their bags - but if the immigration process took too long, a brigade of workers will (even if no other flights have come in and the only flight on the baggage carousel is yours) yank your bags off the carousel and stack them in rows on the floor, which you must search to find your bags, which are then difficult to retrieve because they are lined up so tightly.

After ALL this, another long queue for the 4 customs officers (if you are lucky), then (again if you're lucky and haven't been so stupid as to report your 3 Valencia oranges from your fridge that morning, which will get your bags searched), FREEDOM - to force your way past a crowd of family/friends who always seem to be waiting with signs and anticipation for their loved ones, past impatiently dour limo drivers, etc. Then either the pricey monopoly of Washington Flyer taxis/buses, or waiting for your ride next to all the smokers outdoors.

I haven't flown via La Guardia yet, but I have experienced the joys of O'Hare, LAX, JFK, EWR, LHR, CDG, FRA, and MUC, among others, and while CDG might give IAD a run for its money in the 'vast distances between terminals' and 'lengthy immigration queues' categories, none of the other airports matched Home Sweet Home for sheer, dehumanizing impact on the jetlagged.

Let us not even DISCUSS the air-traffic control system, which once told a nervous United crew I was eavesdropping on (United lets you do this on occasion) that they were sorry, but they didn't know whether there was wind shear at the airport, because they had turned their detection equipment off to keep it from being damaged by a TORNADO which had just passed through. This was after we had been diverted to Harrisburg, PA (where our aircraft-carrier-experienced, ex-Marine copilot expertly landed our Triple-7 on a rather short runway), then bounced along in heavy turbulence/upper level wind shear for some 250 more miles to reach northern Virginia. Yay, Dulles!

Kiser, G (2012) "The WORST Airports in America: JD Power," Huffington Post. May 2, 2012. Retrieved from on June 3, 2012.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Lost Piece by Beethoven -- Yankee Doodle?

Yankee Doodle Rondo by... Benjamin Carr?

Ok, ok, hear me out. The year is 1804. Beethoven has just written the Eroica Symphony (No. 3), and he wants to dedicate it to Napoleon Bonaparte. His publisher, Simrock, won't let him, likely for political reasons. He tries to placate them by changing the dedication from "Fuer Bonaparte" to "Auf Bonaparte." They still won't budge. That familiar, melodramatic story from Ferdinand Ries takes place, of Beethoven finding out Napoleon has crowned himself Emperor and, ripping the dedication page from the manuscript, Ludwig fumes,"Now he is just another human-rights-trampling, Europe-invading thug!" (or somesuch)

Even after all this, in August 1804, Beethoven writes to Simrock that the name of the symphony is "really Bonaparte." However, what's done is done, and the editions of the full score that eventually make it to print (the unauthorized British version from Boosey in 1809, the authorized German version in 1822) bear the familiar dedication and title.

Could Beethoven have been so incensed by Bonaparte's power grab and adventurism or even by the restrictions placed on him by a skittish publisher that he wrote a little rondo based on Yankee Doodle later that year and sent it to Benjamin Carr, the leading publisher in Philadelphia at the time? Might cooler heads have prevailed and induced Beethoven to allow Carr to publish the piece (in 1804-5) under his own name rather than letting Beethoven's authorship be known? Have I been Punk'd? You be the judge.

To my ears, it sounds like Beethoven, and it does not sound like anything else of Carr's available for listening on Youtube. But I could always allow that Carr might have been a surprising talent with a great love for Beethoven and a great gift for imitation.


Wikipedia, "Symphony No. 3 (Beethoven)". Retrieved from on May 7, 2012.

Wikipedia, "Benjamin Carr." Retrieved from on May 7, 2012.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Playing Post Office

Please note: This made-for-film opera libretto was originally created for the English National Opera mini-operas competition under an in-kind Creative Commons license. Anyone who would like to use it in creative projects may do so, under the terms of that CC license. For more information, visit All other work on Bloghilde's Blather is subject to traditional copyright.


By Jennifer Ann Wilson


BRODY is seated at a disorderly desk, tapping at a laptop. He seems engrossed in what he is reading, alternately peering intently at the text, smiling, and chuckling. Gazing at the screen, he ardently sings.

Dearest light of my days,
Sweetest sunshine piercing the haze
Of my weary existence,
You are the highest,
Richest, most splendid essence
Of womanhood’s most brilliant best.
I long to hold you,
To  touch you,
To press your lips to mine –
Not merely online,
But in the warm and welcome flesh.
Soon, soon we will be joined, my dear,
Our lives and souls will enmesh forever.
This gift I send to you is
Proof of my promise.  The promise of
Your most sincere,
Passionately aspiring,

MRS. BRODY enters, standing in the doorway for a moment before rushing toward the computer, which BRODY quickly snaps closed.  She stands over him, and he gazes up at her, submissive and sheepish.

We must discuss this!

What are we discussing?

The new furnace will cost nineteen hundred dollars! 

Furnace?!  But it’s July!

It doesn’t matter! The technician said the old one could kill us all!

Candace, seven, runs into the room. She clambers into her father’s lap.

(cooing to Candace as he embraces her)
Hello, my sweetheart!

Anyhow, if we buy from Sears, we can get six months with no finance charge…

Walter, 12, enters, wearing modern play-clothes – shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers. His hands and shins are covered in blood.

Both BRODY and MRS. BRODY sit stunned for a beat, before MRS. BRODY grabs Walter and rushes out. BRODY gently shoos Candace off his lap, calling after MRS. BRODY.

Honey, I have to run some errands… can I get you anything while I’m out?

BRODY pauses briefly, waiting for but not expecting an answer. Candace skips off. BRODY, at last alone, grabs a sheet of paper from a nearby printer, scrawls something on it with great care, then with a slight glance over his shoulder, withdraws a rectangular box from the briefcase at his feet. He fondles the box, kisses it, then gently places it into a mailing envelope with the piece of paper. He seals the envelope, then hurries out.


BRODY ambles briskly down a street, approaching a mailbox. The sun is shining, and the birds are singing. He opens the mailbox and drops his small package in, patting the door as it closes, before turning and walking off, a cheery spring in his step.

Just as BRODY disappears from view, CHERISE enters, bearing a small, ladylike stationery envelope. It is unsealed, and as she pauses by the mailbox, she slowly and deliberately licks the seal. A thought occurs to her suddenly, and she stands awkwardly for a moment, rummaging through her purse. She pulls out an atomizer and spritzes the envelope with it before dropping it into the box. She smiles with satisfaction, heading off in the opposite direction from BRODY’s.


CHERISE’s apartment is a modest, big-city one-bedroom, furnished with feminine bourgeois elegance. The d├ęcor is all lace runners and flowered tapestries, betraying no sign of masculine presence or taste; a doll collection rests on a long table beside one wall. CHERISE enters, hip-bumping the door closed behind her, her hands occupied, respectively, with a cell phone and a stack of mail. She shuffles toward a sofa, singing as she goes.

We haven’t actually met, but it feels as if I’ve known him forever.. Of course he isn’t married! He said, “No one holds my heart but you, Cherise!” I really must go… He sent me something… (shakes the package)  It feels like jewelry! OK – goodbye!

CHERISE sets the phone aside, drops the rest of the mail on a table, then proceeds to tear open the bubble-wrapped package. She pulls the sheet of paper out first, unfolding it and gazing at it lovingly. She sings, reading Brody’s letter.

“Most lovely moonbeam,
My pitiful present, understand,
Is only of value because my hand
Has touched it and, by sweet extension,
Your loveliness.
Ever always, yours and mine,
Lips in tender kisses twine.

CHERISE pulls the box from its wrapping. She lifts the lid and reaches inside to extract her gift – a spectacularly garish and un-lifelike love toy. Alarmed and with trembling hands, she replaces it in its box, then drops it as if it is burning her fingers.  She stands and, backing away from the object, makes her way to her desk, seating herself at the computer.  Beside the computer is a framed photograph of a smiling man with a luxuriant head of hair. It is Brody, in younger days.  CHERISE sings as she types.

Thank you for your gift.

CHERISE  pauses for a moment, composing herself. Composed, she sings.
When I was a little girl, Mama told me I should
Hold out for a certain kind of man. He would
Arrive bearing flowers… he would ask for my hand.
He would be courteous at all times, and at no time demand
Any more than I, his lady, could properly give.
As long as I lived, he’d take care of me
And I of him.
I thought such a man would remain a dream
Until the day I met you
On Yahoo.
The thrill my heart gets
From your honeyed tete-a-tetes
Means more to me
Than rustic chivalry.
Therefore, I beg you, don’t ever change.
Never exchange your enchanting eloquence
And manly charm
For petty decadence and smarm!


Darling!  I’ve been waiting to talk with you all day. Did you like your gift?

Beloved… it was… a fascinating color! 

You didn’t like it. I’ve offended you.


Oh no, darling Brody, I could never be offended by something from your… hand.

I’m glad for that. I only wanted to bring you the same pleasure you have brought to my life…

The same pleasure?! You mean you…


Well, of course… I mean…. don’t you?
Cherise? Cherise, are you there?

I am here.

I’m sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?

Brody darling, let’s just forget about it…

MRS. BRODY enters quietly. BRODY, because of his absorption in the online exchange, does not notice her entrance or that she is peering over his shoulder.


Dear! I was just…

 Brody starts, knocking the laptop to the floor. It is still connected to the internet, and CHERISE’s messages are still popping up on the screen. Nearby lies the envelope CHERISE had sent, a photograph of her half sticking out of it.

… and go back to the way things were.

Are you having an affair?!

BRODY cools, taking MRS. BRODY’S arms in his hands and pulling her gently away from the computer’s resting place. 
What makes you think such a thing?

Who is Cherise?!

She is a colleague from work, darling. We had an argument, and I was trying to soothe her feelings.

Brody? Are you there? Brody?

(caressing MRS. BRODY’s arms)
I have never touched another woman, my love, and I never would. (kisses her) Come on. Get the kids ready, and we’ll all go out to the Sizzler.

I’ll get the kids ready, and we’ll all go out to the Sizzler.

Brody? Oh Brody! His Yahoo must have crashed!

MRS. BRODY, mollified, departs. BRODY scrambles for the computer, hastily typing.



Yes -- I was just going to log off. I am so glad you’re back!

Darling, I must go.  Send me something, and I’ll do the same for you. I promise I’ll make this up to you.

Of course, dearest Brody. Until the next, my love…

CHERISE’s computer displays the message “BRODYPACKERSFAN has disconnected.”


CHERISE walks briskly down the street, approaching the mailbox. Just as she reaches it, she stops in her tracks – on the other side of the mailbox is BRODY. They wordlessly stare at each other for a moment. It is clear that they recognize one another, but they do not exchange even a smile in greeting. Slowly, BRODY reaches for the mailbox drawer with his left hand and holds it open for CHERISE. CHERISE’s eyes wander over the hand, with its gold wedding band clearly displayed, then flicker to BRODY’s bald pate, before she abruptly glances away, attempting to look cheerful.

 Without making eye contact with BRODY, CHERISE drops her letter into the box. BRODY does the same. BRODY’s expression is one of controlled panic. CHERISE dons a mock-insouciant smile. Their eyes still do not meet as they turn on their heels and walk away, in opposite directions.



Monday, February 13, 2012

Is Religion Still an Effective Control for Human Behavior?

I originally wrote this paper for my Philosophy-200 class. The views expressed are my own.

Among the most persistent charges hurled at religion is that it primarily exists as a means for a small group of philosophical oligarchs to control great masses of other people. Atheist writer Austin Cline (2005) states, “It has been argued that one of the reasons for the existence of religion is that it's an effective means for society's powerful to control everyone else.” Religious belief, however, has long served as an effective means of behavioral self-constraint for individuals, providing a ready-made, usable moral philosophy for the non-philosopher to use in his daily life. From the relentless assault on abortion rights from Christian conservatives to the practice of Sharia law even in Western Islamic enclaves, it would seem that religious control of the individual is alive and well. Nevertheless, while large-scale religious control both of adherents and of non-adherents may still be of major cultural, legal and interpersonal importance, the capacity for religion to regulate individual behavior and self-control appears to be waning, and this loss of influence is detrimental to society.

Is religion still relevant? Is its ability to control the masses on the rise, or on the wane? Has our modern world of technology, science, and myriad media role models dampened the influence that organized religion and personal faith hold over our society?

To the atheist, the waning of religion as a dominant cultural, social, and governmental influence would be a welcome development. They assert that religion primarily exists as a means of controlling others, citing as evidence both ancient and modern history from the Crusades and the Inquisition to modern Islamic fundamentalism.  They may believe, as does Austin Cline, that the attempt among the religious to control the lives, beliefs and behavior of unwilling others “…seems to be increasing.” (Cline, 2005) To the worried atheist, the American Religious Right is a group of irrational, superstitious yokels who want to institute a theocracy designed to deprive atheists, agnostics, and those of other belief systems of their civil rights.

These fears are not baseless; large-scale intervention in politics and reproductive rights by the Religious Right has been on the rise for more than 30 years.  Pastors of conservative churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, urge their congregations to go out and vote for candidates based on their positions on abortion, the death penalty, contraception, stem cell research, and gay rights. Republican-Party candidates tailor their messages to court the support of these religious and social conservatives, attacking other officials and office-seekers considered too “liberal” for those audiences. Elections have been won and lost based on candidates’ appeal to religious groups, and those decisions in turn affect such things as judicial appointments (including the composition of the Supreme Court) and lawmakers’ support for the Religious Right’s agenda with regard to pending legislation. To the secular segment of American society, such influence seems undue, disproportionate, and even frightening.

            If one asks the Religious Right, however, they might say that society is out of control, having lost the moral compass that religious faith once provided.  Peer-reviewed psychological studies have found that religion is a means of self-control for individuals.  Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby (2009) quote one such study as stating, “…The researchers found that parents who frequently attended church and who frequently discussed religion in the home rated their children as having higher self-control and lower impulsiveness.”  McCullough and Willoughby examined the mechanisms by which religion and self-control affect one another, opening their own study’s report with the statement, “Many of the links of religiousness with health, well-being, and social behavior may be due to religion’s influences on self-control or self-regulation.” (McCullough and Willoughby, 2009)  

McCullough and Willoughby determined that religion influenced both self-regulation and self-control behavior in subjects. They quoted researchers Baumeister and Vohs as defining self-regulation as, “how a person exerts control over his or her own responses so as to pursue goals or live up to standards.”  Regarding self-control, McCullough and Willoughby stated, “We reserve the term self-control for situations in which people engage in behaviors designed to counteract or override a prepotent response (e.g., a behavioral tendency, an emotion, or a motivation),” giving examples such as overcoming the urge to hit someone who has given one offense. (Ibid.)

McCullough and Willoughby state that prior evidence demonstrates that religion and self-control interact with each other in the following ways:

First, personality research shows that people with higher scores on measures of self-control and personality dimensions that subsume self-control also tend to be more religious. Second, family research shows that religious parents and families have children with high self-control and low impulsiveness. Third, several longitudinal studies shed light on the causal relations between religiousness and personality variables that subsume self-control. Fourth, a single published experiment suggests that religious cognition is automatically activated as a form of self-control in the face of temptation.” (Ibid.)

The authors concluded that religion influenced self-control by regulating goal choice and formation and the selection of principles, as governed by peer pressure, by principles learned under religious auspices, by the sanctification of goals involving greater self-control, and by influencing how goals are internalized. Religion, they stated, also promotes self-monitoring, a key element of self-control, via peer pressure, the fear factor (the fear of going to Hell, for example), ethical instruction, and reinforcement through rituals which activate self-monitoring. (McCullough and Willoughby, 2009)

             In spite of organized religion’s influence on American culture and government, some still believe that Americans have lost their moral compass and spun out of control.  “As a society, we are out of control,” complained Yvette Dombrowski (2011), continuing that America’s “…capitalistic me-first attitudes have made us the laughing stock of the entire world.” 

        According to the Washington Post, church attendance is down nationwide, and congregations are growing older. (Banks, 2011) As a result, the boons to individual self-control offered by organized religion have given way to impulsive behavior affecting workplace ethics, sexual activity, and interpersonal relationships.  Peer pressure against unethical or immoral activity often gives way now to peer pressure in favor of such activities. Among the young, athletes, musicians, actors, and other celebrities have replaced parents and spiritual leaders as role models. In the 1990s, the Gallup survey of Most Admired persons often featured religious figures such as Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham. (, 1996-2011) More recently, role models have more likely been Presidents and First Ladies, or celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. (Ibid.)  A survey by the Pew Forum (2010) showed that young people are less religious and less are religiously active than older Americans.

            How does this waning of religion’s influence among the young affect society as a whole? It removes the beneficial effects of religion on the hearts, minds and characters of young people, forcing them to substitute other models for ethical behavior and moral philosophy.  Schools may provide some moral and ethical teaching, while parental teaching and example solidifies the individual’s view of the world and of his place in it. If those institutions are lacking in moral philosophy lessons for the young, those youngsters may find themselves turning to peers and to such unreliable sources for ethical training as television, film, music, sports, and celebrity culture. A teen might learn through team sports, for example, that loyalty, hard work and fair play are positive ethics to hold in modern society. A child might learn the basic moral lessons taught via certain early childhood-targeted television programs. Joining the military might expose a young man or woman to virtues such as patriotism and duty. Still, the acquisition of moral philosophy would be piecemeal and sporadic, and that philosophy would not contain the explicit and systematic ethical code offered by organized religion. 

            “But,” the atheist might reason, “Religion is for ignorant bumpkins!”  Religion, however, even if false, can have benefits to society. In fact, the actual existence of God has very little bearing on whether religious observance and the societal and self-control that accompanies it has a positive effect on the world around us. When faced with the question, “Is Christianity good for the World?” posed in a debate between the late atheist author Christopher Hitchens and theologian Douglas Wilson, Russell Powell made the following point:

“Posed as a disjunction, the question assumes (and by inference, these opposing authors assume) that religion cannot be both absurd, in the colloquial sense of illogical or laughably false, and good for the world, in the sense of furthering what humans rightly value.” (Powell, 2009)

Nonetheless, the atheist line of thinking continues, for any good that religions have done in the world, they have done much more evil. The late Cornell astronomer and media personality Carl Sagan once said, “In Italy, the Inquisition was condemning people to death until the end of the eighteenth century, and inquisitional torture was not abolished in the Catholic Church until 1816. The last bastion of support for the reality of witchcraft and the necessity of punishment has been the Christian churches.” (Sagan, 1995)

Religion may have produced positive effects over the course of human existence, but it also has a great deal to answer for. The non-believer may see the controlling aspects of religion only in a negative light, because his frame of reference is only the application of human brutality to faiths presumably conceived by golden-rule-teaching pacifists. That inherent conflict is viewed by many is hypocrisy; however, an adherent to the religion in question would defend it on the ground that while those who oppressed others did so in the name of their faith, they were not necessarily practicing their faith while doing so. As the Rev. Bob Eckherd writes, “…we can see even more clearly that a religious belief is poorly defined by selecting as a sample the extreme and vocal minority who least understand or practice the central instruction within its primary texts.” (Eckherd, 2011)

According to Scott Schieman (2010), socioeconomic status is associated negatively with a belief in divine control over the world and human affairs. Schieman writes:

“Individuals who sustain a belief in divine control perceive that God has a determinative influence on the good and bad outcomes in their lives, that God has decided what their life shall be, and that their fate evolves according to God's will or plan for them (Schieman et al. 2005). Moreover, they tend to rely on God in their decision-making and more fervently seek His guidance for solutions to problems.” (Ibid.)

According to Schieman’s study, the higher one’s socioeconomic status, the lower one’s belief in an all-powerful God who directs human affairs, with whom one may have a personal relationship, and to whom one must answer for his behavior. (Ibid.)  For this reason, religious governance of moral philosophy and ethical behavior exists more prominently among poor and less-educated Americans, while those lacking the ethical directives and self-control provided by religion are more likely to be among the better-educated and wealthier classes of society who are more likely, through economic advantage, to seek higher education and to assume leadership roles in society.

Moreover, the combination of low socioeconomic status, poor educational opportunities, and lack of critical-thinking training and skill may lead those in that socioeconomic stratum to place excessive trust in the teachings and preaching of their religious leaders. This, in turn, plays into the hands of those who dismiss the role of religious belief in determining ethical behavior patterns by providing a negative stereotype of religious believers against which those of higher socioeconomic status might wish to define themselves. In other words, to the educated, well-to-do person, religious self-regulation and self-control become undesirable qualities, for the “great unwashed” rather than for the educated person in a position of authority and leadership. If those educated persons are of different faith traditions or are agnostics/atheists, that “us vs. them” mentality may become quite angry and brutal, with those perceived as the enemy demonized, and all that they represent – including faith-based self-governance – rejected and despised.

In such a climate, those who are demonized may in turn demonize their demonizers, as many in the Bible Belt appear to do toward the Northeastern US elite.  The rise of religious conservative assertiveness in the 1970s and 1980s was a reaction to the vast social changes which took place in the 1960s and early 1970s. Whenever change happens at a faster rate than some elements of society can tolerate, there is an inevitable backlash. The 1960s and 1970s brought the (religious-leader-driven) Civil Rights Movement, tremendous technological advancement, and sea-changes in the way American society dressed, spoke, and behaved. Great, charismatic leaders rose, became popular, and were assassinated. The era brought the Sexual Revolution (driven by the introduction of the birth control pill and the relaxation of social mores), advances in civil rights for minorities and women, legalized abortion, and increasingly visible ethnic and religious diversity in the culture. It also brought with it a spasm of reactionary fear from the former dominant culture, which had only recently come out of a period of unchallenged hegemony and prosperity and which seemed shocked to see it all end. This backlash from the white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian social conservative community gave rise to the era of Ronald Reagan, the Religious Right, and to all that have followed in their wake.

Both religious conservatives in the red states and agnostic liberals in the blue behave as if they are under siege. In fact, they are reacting and counter-reacting to the waning of religion’s influence on modern American society. The Western World’s vast scientific and technical knowledge has made blind acceptance of religious teaching difficult for many well-educated Americans. Rather than providing a tool for understanding the Universe, the great religions’ texts now come across to some as simple myths and fairy tales, hardly a basis for a personal ethnical philosophy. Church attendance and religious participation among the young are in decline. In response to this waning of religious influence over the population as a whole, some desire to boost religion’s influence through lobbying legislators and political speechifying from the pulpit. When gains for the religious conservatives become visible, secular liberals recoil in outspoken revulsion and terror. Each side is absolutely convinced it is the victim, yet both factions are attempting to control and to stifle the efforts of the other. Nonetheless, neither side is fundamentally correct in its assumptions, either about the other, or about the role of religion in society as a whole.

Religious practice is both filled with benefits and fraught with peril. It provides hope for life after death, a belief in a benevolent, caretaker God, social interaction and fellowship, and support for the needy and ill. Perhaps most beneficial to society, religion provides a set of rules for social and personal conduct which are agreed-to and obeyed by the majority of a religious community. For believers, religion provides a moral compass and an easily-accessible code of ethics.

Some, however, may find such rules stifling, controlling and intolerant, and may rebel, rejecting the teaching of their parents as something diabolical and designed to squash their emergence as fully-formed, adult human beings. Some may also rebel against the social constructs which may accompany the formation of religious communities. Most rebels against religion seem to become atheists or agnostics, rather than converting to a different system of religious belief. The negative psychological impact of religious practice on some inevitably leads those individuals to suspicion and reaction against religious control – or even religious self-control. And certainly, there are elements within the world’s religions which seek to control and oppress others, particularly women. It is easy to see why some might want to choose a different path other than the one directed by faith and by the instruction of deities.

As the individual decision to choose religion as a source of one’s moral compass and ethics has declined, the efforts of religious conservatives to force Christian belief and practice on those individuals have risen. Religious belief has many benefits, but the choice to believe or disbelieve must be left up to the individual. Religious practice forced upon the unwilling generates animosity and rejection of even the positive effects of religion. Society would benefit from a retreat from influence by large, organized religious conservative movements, accompanied by the return to faith of the individual, with religious diversity fully accepted and celebrated. Such a society of openness and tolerance would remove the incentive for those of other belief systems to attack, while it would welcome them into the great community of searchers for truth and wisdom.

 In such a climate, individual, faith-based self-governance could flourish, and we would be a better, more functional society as a result. Religion, properly utilized, is neither the enemy of rational thought nor a simple set of superstitions and myths which should be stamped out. Unfortunately, abuse of religion (and particularly of Christianity) and unjust bids at controlling others on the part of America’s conservative religious have placed them and their faith at bitter, enraged odds with those who do not share their beliefs. This, in turn, has caused a backlash against religion, accelerated by our society’s growing scientific knowledge base, sending religious practice in America into a tailspin of disuse. The case for religious control - particularly religious self-control - is compelling. Reversing its trend of decline may prove critical to America’s future well-being as a nation. 


Banks, A. (2011) “Church Attendance Down, Congregations Getting Older, Report Says,” Washington Post. September 30, 2011. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Cline, A. (2005) “Using Religion to Control Others,” Atheism, April 11, 2005. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Dombrowski, Y. (2011) “As a Society, We Are Out of Control,” Morning Sentinel. December 3, 2011. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Eckherd, B. (2011) “Is Religion Bad for Society?” Philosophy Now. November/December 2011. Retrieved from on December 19, 2011. (1996-2011) “Most Admired Person (poll),” Retrieved from on December 19, 2011.

Mosser, K. (2010) A Concise Introduction to Philosophy. San Diego: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

McCullough, M. and Willoughby, E. (2009) “Religion, Self-Regulation, and Self-Control: Associations, Explanations, and Implications,” Psychological Bulletin. 135(1): pp. 69-93. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Pew Forum (2010). “Poll: Religion Among Millennials,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. February 17, 2010. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.

Powell, R. (2009) “Is Religion Good or Bad for Society?” Oxford University Practical Ethics. November 12, 2009. Retrieved from on December 19, 2011.

Sagan, C. (1995) The Demon-Haunted World. New York: Random House. Retrieved from on December 19, 2011.

Schieman, S. (2010) “Socioeconomic Status and Beliefs About God’s Influence in Daily Life,” Sociology of Religion,  71(1):  25-51. February 10, 2010. Retrieved from on December 5, 2011.