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Heavenly Discourse is a collection of satirical essays by Charles Erskine Scott Wood written in the form of plays or discussions between such characters as God Jesus Mark Twain Tom Paine Robert Ingersoll Billy Sunday Theodore Roosevelt Politically radical the essays ridicule militarism prudery religious intolerance Ten were originally published in Max Eastman's magazine The Masses the 1st in '14 Following passage of the Espionage Act of '17 The Masses was suppressed by the US government on grounds it was detrimental to the war effort Wood continued to write discourses In '27 Vanguard published a collection of 41 of them under the title Heavenly Discourse Titles include Is God a Jew; Marriage; God Receives a Delegation; Freedom; The Monkeys Complain; Birth Control; Anthony Comstock in Heaven; Prohibition; Billy Sunday Meets God; The US Must Be Pure; Billy Sunday Instructs God; A Fly Bothers God; St Peter Loses a Soul; Preparedness in Heaven; Prayer; Satan Brings the US into the War; A Pacifist Enters Heaven in Bits; The Stupid Cannot Enter Heaven; TR Enters Heaven; Prince Buttinsky; God Paul Satan on Christianity; Satan Loses His Mind; God's Picnic; God's Picnic the Playwright; Rabelais Censors; Censorship; God Christ Have a Merry Christmas; Denver Prays for Rain; God on Catholicism the KKK; God Advises Peter as to the Church; Bishop Wm Montgomery Brown Enters Heaven; God St Peter Discuss Theology; Joan of Arc Heretic Saint; Satan Regains His Reason; Charles Evans Hughes Visits Heaven wout a Passport Is Deported; England's General Strike; The Lame Duck Imperialism; The Golden Rule; Satan Asks for Help; Noah's Cruise; God's in His Heaven All's Wrong wthe World In Billy Sunday meets God Sunday is surprised to find people he condemned in heaven Why there is Herman Morgenstern I sent him to hell He kept a family beer garden on 4th Avenue in New YorkWhat is he doing here? Jesus replies I liked him He was a gentle charitable soul Sunday objects that he kept a beer salon Jesus replies I lived with publicans sinners Sunday complains about the presence in Heaven of a woman who had had an illegitimate child; Jesus replies I liked her The one with her is Mary Magdalen From A Pacifist enters Heaven—in bitsBATTERED SOUL I'm a pacifist GOD A what? BATTERED SOUL A pacifist I believe in Jesus peace GOD So you are a Christian? BATTERED SOUL O no I really do believe in peace In a discourse on Preparedness in Heaven God decides to prepare for a war against SatanGABRIEL I am afraid Heaven won't stand for that Jesus has preached peace too long GOD We must first frighten them fill them with fear then with hate For example headlines in the Heavenly Herald Horrible Atrocities of Satan Make the Cosmos Safe for Jesus Satan Threatens Your Halos Satan Disembowels a Cherub Satan Rapes the Ten Foolish Virgins so on GABRIEL But none of this will be true GOD True? Of course it won't Don't be a fool Gabriel You can't work up a war—preparedness I mean—on the truth This is war—I mean preparedness— we simply must lie—the horrible the lies the better


10 thoughts on “Heavenly Discourse

  1. says:

    Firebrand reading for difficult times funny a window into early 20th century politics inspiration to show up for your shift at the barricadesCharles Erskine Scott Wood was a fascinating character; in fact I’ve ordered his biography He was born in Pennsylvania in 1852 but eventually settled in Oregon then in California He graduated from West Point but rails against TR’s fervent ‘preparedness’ in these essays and fought in the northwest Indian wars The bio on the back cover says he learned the wisdom of the Indians and was accepted in their tribes He became a writer and distinguished attorney He had two chambers one where he met corporate clients and another where his Bohemian artist friends gathered These essays appeared in the socialist journal The Masses in the teens and twenties Luckily I was simultaneously listening to essays on Theodore Roosevelt by his biographer Morris which gave me information about many of the events and characters who appear in these heavenly dialogues eg Elihu Root Charles Evans Hughes Robert Ingersoll Billy Sunday and reading the New York Times Book Review article on War Against War The American Fight for Peace 1914 1918 by Michael Kazin which describes the crack down on pacifists that came with the eventual entry into WWI Namely Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 18 which were used to shut down The Masses Other background on Anthony Comstock came from The Most Dangerous Book The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham But a uick google will fill in at least minimal background as you need itEach of the essays sets up a debate in heaven involving God and any number of sympathetic free thinking familiars Rabelais Voltaire Mark Twain Margaret Fuller etc plus a rotation of friends and enemies of free thought and speech on topics of the day God is committed to the unhindered proceedings of the world according to the iron clad universal laws he set up at creation; he will not answer prayers or intervene in any way Jesus and Satan are portrayed as brothers with important roles to play in events on earth than as the the embodiments of good and evil Within this framework Wood skewers those who would impede rights of Catholics or any other minority censor anyone prohibit alcohol or anything similar use a bully pulpit to rouse irrational reactions etc etc He is relentless on the stupidity of war and the power of the rich Each of the characters speaks as one would expect from reading him or her Rabelais offers delicious detailed riffs on the joys of the table I found them very funny and very timely; nothing changes Some excerptscomments on a newly arrived battered soul who dared to express pacifist views and was vilified chosen since I also just finished reading Dark Money and Strangers in Their Own Land Rabelais And this Patriotism?Voltaire Cher ami you know bird breeders set mechanical devices to whistle the tunes they wish their birds to sing in their cagesRabelais Deceiving them with notes of liberty Unhappy little victims Ignorant of the skiesVoltaire Voilá That is patriotism The tunes of the masters taught to birds in their cagesor on the uestion of whether the US should defend American financial interests in Mexico and Nicaragua with American troops again timely background filled in from currently reading The Wise MenSix Friends and the World They Made Harriman Atcheson Kennan Lovett McCloy Bohlen by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas although the dialogue itself presents a uick explanation of the various interestsIngersollA clash with the soldiers in Mexico; a clash with the marines in Nicaragua war and all for oil for concessionaires for “investors” Nervous Nellie the Secretary of State is only their valet and Congress helpless except officially to declare war after a lame duck has made itGod I am listening I am watching I will see the end It does occur to me in my infinite wisdom that if your common people were not common fools they would say “Let those who go into foreign countries with their money take the risk of their investments or keep out We refuse to die for anybody’s money” What were you about to say Abraham?Lincoln My country is sowing to the wind and will reap the whirlwind Hate hate for the Americans throughout all Latin countriesOn censorshipMark Twain Rabelais you were fortunate to have lived before the putrid days of puritanism Today your book would be prohibited by the censorVoltaire Loathsome wordRabelais What is the matter with my book?Carrie Nation It is obsceneRabelais Skip itCarrie Nation I will notVoltaire Of course notCarrie Nation It will corrupt the youngRabelais Not unless they read itCarrie Nation But they will read itRabelais The you prohibit the curious they will be To prohibit is to arouse thirst My book has been on eery bookstall for three hundred years and has never corrupted anybody If they like it they are already corrupted Margaret Fuller Much is not of our day and I skipped what offended me I never felt that because strawberries grow out of manure I must eat the manure alsoRabelais Ha That is the very pulp of the melon Some like garlic Some do not Yet our great good friend reposing there made the strawberries and the garlic Behold He has spread for us a most sumptuous and abundant feast on a royal table There is a place for everyone viands for every taste At this end are the most excellent great roasts of fat beef; haunches and saddles of mutton; ducklings fattened on milk curds with the little new peas beads of emeral and jade; hams of the brave curve tusked wild boar; and crispy crackling juicy roast suckling pig with apple of Normandy Hélas Excuse me I am overcome with memoriesas a soul Rabelais can no longer eat a never ceasing cause of pain for himsigh I just can’t get images to work in my reviews I saved a photo of the cartoon I want to use in my Goodreads Profile and have the format img srcmy id number omitted for privacy1804921jpg width“240 height“750”Can anyone tell me how to get the image to appear larger? Thanks


  2. says:

    Not uite as clever as it sounds at first blush but still an interesting satiricalphilosophical discussion Heavenly Discourse is a rumination on what would follow if Christians and professed Christians heeded the spirit of their own books and dogma rather than adhering to the letter of it or as is often the case picking and choosing what they adhere to As Wood was writing in the US at the time of World War I Heavenly Discourse tends to focus on that time and place as part of its satire While interesting the book suffers from its own rumination on current events around the time of World War I This can make the book feel irrelevant or make the reader think it is irrelevant when it actually makes valid points about the moralizers and hucksters that exist in this country that both exploit people and usurp basic freedoms in the name of our betterment The author is occasionally a victim of his own dogmatism however Being a socialist at the time of WWI he tends to fall in line with what anyone writing for the Masses would say about Soviet Russia at the time Additionally he tends to use his own in group jargon and phrases that are as self limiting as the in group jargon and phrases of Fascists or Anarchists or Republicans of the last 20 years for that matter which is to say when you dress an idea up in the clothes of your own group you won't often persuade anyone but persons in the group or the people who don't want to think too hard about the ideaI liked it alright Ultimately anyone who wants to read some fair criticism about Christianity and the United States will get a kick out of the book


  3. says:

    Published in 1927 this collection of satirical plays or conversations between God Jesus St Peter and various souls such as Voltaire Mark Twain Socrates Billy Sunday and notable people of the first half of the 20th Century consists of ideas that are as applicable today as they were when these were written during the period of WWI and the early 1920s I became interested in this book when I found out that this book was held in high esteem by John Steinbeck Considering the recent wars the US has engaged in the influence of religion in our politics education other life choices and the detrimental impact of religion elsewhere the talk of building a wall restricting Muslims and growing income ineuality and other issues these dialogues are still relevant today It's easy to substitute contemporary issues for the issues used to highlight hypocritical policies and thinking in these dialogues The satire is as thought provoking today as these were when originally wriiten The collection can be read in one sitting but are best read spread over days or weeks Warning if one is set in their thinking on religion this book may offend


  4. says:

    This I believe was another book recommended by a high school teacher Jim Gottreich which happened to be in the family library in the edition pictured Although I didn't get all the references at that age it was funny sometimes moving as in the story of the unwed mother For years afterwards everything I knew about Billy Sunday was what Wood wrote of him within it Reading the satire got me interested in learning about who and what Wood was satirizing


  5. says:

    a must for any atheist worth their salt