This column isn't easy to write. Like Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, I may have discovered a spiritual insight so powerful that it's dangerous. Suffice it to say that if any robe-wearing albinos (other than our music editor) stop by the office, I'll be calling security.
My revelation came in an unlikely form: a report City Councilor Twanda Carlisle commissioned for nearly $29,000 in taxpayer money. The report, which supposedly surveys the health needs of Carlisle's East End district, has attracted almost as much controversy as The Da Vinci Code itself. By an amazing coincidence, the report's author, Lee Johnson, happens to live with Carlisle's mother.
Funny thing about Pittsburgh: You're always running into someone you know.
Carlisle commissioned the report two years ago, but when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review demanded its release this month, it looked like a term paper written the night before it was due. Three-quarters of its 85 pages were photocopies of research done at the University of Pittsburgh, and the parts that Johnson wrote are filled with errors. His résumé, for example, cites experience at the "Pittsburgh County Morgue" and his education at "McKees Rock High School." (Maybe they only had the one rock back then?) And the text concludes with a schoolboy's lame excuse: "[T]his report only begins to give food for thought at the issues of health and wellness." So it would seem to the uninitiated. But consider the following passage:
"[T]he principle of being involves two phases: Invisible and visible. The visible comes forth from the invisible and this coming forth is always according to a universal method of growth. [Religions] must teach morals and dogma, but they must also teach that God is mind, that man is mind. By mind we mean the universal principle of causation which includes all principles. There is nothing but mind and thought principle and its mode of expressions."
What does such mysticism have to do with health concerns? Everything.
Even Johnson's "original" material, it seems, isn't entirely original. Much of the text above can be found word-for-word in two previously published books. One is Charles Fillmore's 1949 Atom Smashing Power of Mind. The other is the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, compiled by the Unity School of Christianity, which Fillmore founded.
Far be it from me to accuse Johnson of plagiarism: Having Xeroxed 60 pages of research compiled by someone else, what's another few sentences? The important thing is that Fillmore believed in faith healing.
And to think: People say Johnson's report offers no solutions.
As the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary puts it, "We can resurrect our body just as Jesus resurrected His. Ignorance and sin kill the body; understanding and righteousness bring it to life." Elsewhere, Fillmore observes that "the learned" who know the "truth about health" will "deny sickness right in the face of it."
Such power doesn't come easy, though. According to the Dictionary, the Bible is "a veiled textbook" that must be decoded. The same is true of Johnson's report.
Drug companies, he writes, "feed propaganda to America's citizenry telling us what medications we need to overcome certain symptoms in our bodies." Damn those drug companies!
So if you can't afford that prescription, East Enders, here's the answer, courtesy of city council: Pray harder.
Sure, Carlisle could have been spent that $29,000 actually addressing district needs. But if you can't find spiritual peace, what's a politician supposed to do? Why ask your city councilor to get a pothole filled, when the real pothole is within?
Carlisle has put the pursuit of knowledge above material concerns before. In 2004, she spent $2,400 on books on the taxpayer's dime. Those purchases provoked ire at the time, what with the city facing bankruptcy and all. But perhaps now they are bearing fruit. She might miss an occasional council meeting, but cut her some slack. She's governing on the inside where it counts most.
Why conceal these revelations in a clumsily written report? Perhaps because Johnson and Carlisle knew we couldn't handle the truth. Or perhaps they were afraid: Tom Hanks has only the Catholic Church to fear whereas now the drug companies know Johnson is onto them.
But the message is clear: If you join Carlisle's inner circle, you, too, may partake of the Life Everlasting. Or at least a share of 30 grand.