16 November 2002
A pack of Peter Parkers


He would turn down relationships with people he loved because he knew his presence in their lives endangered them. He would get fired because saving people made him chronically late for work. He would leap into harrowing situations to save people, knowing most of them were scared of him, and that if he wasn't careful the cops would try to nab him. The press always vilified him, lumped him in with the criminals he tried to stop, and even though he succeeded time and time again at getting the bad guys and saving the good ones, he never outlived his bad rep.

J. Jonah Jameson dumping on Spider-Man again? Well, yeah. But, as Bryan Preston points out, the ol' web-spinner gets about the same sort of press as your average conservative Christian: if it's at all positive, it's probably grudgingly so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:12 PM)
24 November 2002
The divine warranty card

Note: I didn't write this. It was posted to Usenet many years ago and a copy has been sitting in my Temp folder all this time, and I figured I ought to do something with it.


God would like to thank you for your belief and patronage. In order to better serve your needs, He asks that you take a few moments to answer the following questions.

1. How did you find out about your deity?
__ Newspaper
__ Bible
__ Torah
__ Television
__ Book of Mormon
__ Divine Inspiration
__ Dead Sea Scrolls
__ Near Death Experience
__ Near Life Experience
__ National Public Radio
__ Tabloid
__ Burning Shrubbery
__ Other (specify): _____________

2. Which model deity did you acquire?
__ Jehovah
__ Jesus
__ Krishna
__ Father, Son & Holy Ghost [Trinity Pak]
__ Zeus and entourage [Olympus Pak]
__ Odin and entourage [Valhalla Pak]
__ Allah
__ Satan
__ Gaia/Mother Earth/Mother Nature
__ God 1.0a (Hairy Thunderer)
__ God 1.0b (Cosmic Muffin)
__ None of the above, I was taken in by a false god

3. Did your God come to you undamaged, with all parts in good working order and with no obvious breakage or missing attributes?

__ Yes __ No

If no, please describe the problems you initially encountered here. Please indicate all that apply:

__ Not eternal
__ Finite in space/Does not occupy or inhabit the entire cosmos
__ Not omniscient
__ Not omnipotent
__ Permits sex outside of marriage
__ Prohibits sex outside of marriage
__ Makes mistakes
__ Makes or permits bad things to happen to good people
__ Makes or permits good things to happen to bad people
__ When beseeched, He doesn't stay beseeched

4. What factors were relevant in your decision to acquire a deity? Please check all that apply.

__ Indoctrinated by parents
__ Needed a reason to live
__ Indoctrinated by society
__ Needed focus in whom to despise
__ Imaginary friend grew up
__ Hate to think for myself
__ Wanted to meet girls/boys
__ Fear of death
__ Wanted to piss off parents
__ Needed a day away from work
__ Desperate need for certainty
__ Like organ music
__ Need to feel morally superior
__ Thought Jerry Falwell was cool
__ Shit was falling out of the sky
__ My shrubbery caught fire and told me to do it

5. Have you ever worshipped a deity before? If so, which false god were you fooled by? Please check all that apply.

__ Baal
__ The Almighty Dollar
__ Left Wing Liberalism
__ The Radical Right
__ Beelzebub
__ Bill Gates
__ Barney The Big Purple Dinosaur
__ The Great Spirit
__ The Great Pumpkin
__ The Sun
__ The Moon
__ Elvis
__ Other: ________________

6. Are you currently using any other source of inspiration in addition to God? Please check all that apply.

__ Tarot
__ Lottery
__ Astrology
__ Television
__ Fortune cookies
__ Ann Landers
__ Psychic Friends Network
__ Dianetics
__ Palmistry
__ Alcohol
__ Bill Clinton
__ Amway
__ CompuServe
__ Jimmy Swaggart
__ Wandering around a desert
__ Insurance policies
__ Barney T.B.P.D.
__ Other:_____________________

7. God attempts to maintain a balanced level of disasters and miracles. Please rate on a scale of 1 - 5 his handling of the following (1=unsatisfactory, 5 = excellent):

a. Disasters:
  1  2  3  4  5  flood
  1  2  3  4  5  famine
  1  2  3  4  5  earthquake
  1  2  3  4  5  war
  1  2  3  4  5  pestilence
  1  2  3  4  5  plague
  1  2  3  4  5  Spam
  1  2  3  4  5  AOLers

b. Miracles:
  1  2  3  4  5  rescues
  1  2  3  4  5  spontaneous remissions
  1  2  3  4  5  stars hovering over jerkwater towns
  1  2  3  4  5  crying statues
  1  2  3  4  5  water changing to wine
  1  2  3  4  5  walking on water
  1  2  3  4  5  getting any sex whatsoever

8. From time to time God makes available the names and addresses of His followers and devotees to selected divine personages who provide quality services and perform intercessions in His behalf. Are you interested in a compilation of listed offerings?

__ Yes, please deluge me with religious zealots for the benefit of my own mortal soul.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:12 AM)
1 December 2002
They love that dirty water

The embattled archdiocese of Boston, having been unable to settle some 450 claims of sexual abuse by its clergy, is now on the verge of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

There are distinct advantages to a Chapter 11 filing. Existing civil lawsuits will be suspended; no new suits can be filed. But there is also a downside: the filing will be widely construed as an admission of liability by the archdiocese, and their financial records will be opened to the public for the first time. Some church properties notably, the chancery in Brighton, to include Cardinal Law's residence are likely to be turned over to the court to pay claims against the church.

Cynics, of course, will scoff. "They're already morally bankrupt; this just takes care of the money."

(Muchas gracias: Bill Peschel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:45 PM)
28 January 2003
Tutu: solid flesh

John Perazzo did a pretty good job of slicing and dicing Bishop Desmond Tutu in FrontPage last week, but as always these days, it takes a blogger to really finish someone off. In this case, it's Patty at Pdawwg.

Tutu is quoted thusly:

"We're giving up on a fellow human being when we demonize a fellow human being," he said. Exhorting his listeners to remember that Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda members are also children of God, he stated that "the Christian God we worship gives up on no one."

To which Patty says:

Who said we gave up on them? If we send them to God, he can figure out the state of their souls.

Once again, Tutu, as quoted in FrontPage:

"[S]ome of the greatest saints in the Christian firmament were notorious sinners," [he said], and wondered aloud whether such people as Mary Magdalene and St. Francis "would have survived indictment" in the United States.

Patty knows better than to buy into this one:

I missed the part in Butler's Lives of the Saints where Mary Magdalene and St. Francis induced others to blow up innocent civilians.

Desmond Tutu, man of God and Nobel Peace Prize winner, yet. Jeebus. How did he ever get out of pushing a barrow in the marketplace?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:30 PM)
1 February 2003
A surplice of neuroses

The Vatican has decreed that transsexuals suffer from "mental pathologies" and therefore should be barred from Catholic religious orders.

Yeah, they wouldn't fit in with the well-established straight-arrow image.

But what do I know? I don't have the emotional stability required to work for the U. S. Postal Service.

(Muchas gracias: Jesus Gil.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
4 March 2003
Pointing skyward

If I'm reading Spiced Sass correctly, the problem with these proposed World Trade Center replacements is a lack of, well, divinity, something that's manifest elsewhere in society as well:

My theory, in a nutshell, is since we eliminated God, liberals have been trying desperately to fill the vacuum. You simply can not legislate into the human heart or genes all the moralistic altruistic utopian crap they try to sell.

Not that a return to things churchly is necessarily the answer either:

I still am never going to buy into man's rendering of God, but I sure like mankind better when they are seeking God rather than attempting to be God.

The precise mechanism which determines the sense of transcendence in architecture (and elsewhere) is assuredly beyond my comprehension, but, to borrow a phrase, I know it when I see it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
8 March 2003

John Paul II is still alive and kicking, but speculation as to his successor at the Holy See is rampant. One Spanish site has already winnowed down the 185 members of the College of Cardinals to an even dozen. (Who was that in the corner muttering about "March madness"?)

Meanwhile, Jesus Gil analyzes the results. What is perhaps most surprising is that five of the top seeds um, perceived front-runners come from Latin America. The Italians, of course, have four, but the balance of power has been shifting away from Italy ever since, well, the election of John Paul II.

It takes a two-thirds majority of the College to elect a Pope. Fortunately, they don't have to deal with things like butterfly ballots.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 PM)
11 March 2003
Sharia stops here

The ever-erudite David "Clubbeaux" Sims notes that the Netherlands, Europe's ostensible Party Capital, is likely to become the first European nation to adopt Islamic law, and explains exactly why:

[D]octrinaire Islam believes in something. Contemporary Dutch society does not believe in anything. Therefore it's falling to an entity which believes in something.

A moral vacuum being filled. And just in case you missed the point:

Islam spits on the amoral valueless Western Europeans the way Japanese soldiers spit on opponents who surrendered during battle. This is why militant Islam doesn't bother terrorizing their friends France, Germany or Russia. They've already defanged them so why bother? They're not going to give Islam any trouble. They're toothless. America, though, that's a different story. Militant Islam hates and fears America because America is still, underneath it all, a nation of belief. And that is the only thing strong belief fears: Stronger belief. And right now America is the only counterweight to Islam in the world.

Now you know how we got to be the Great Satan. "It's no wonder," says Sims, "Europe wants to sit this one out." Of course. They don't want to piss off their new masters.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 AM)
26 April 2003
Received wisdom (one in a series)

Peppermint Patty was explaining how it is she came to embrace Catholicism it's a good story, and probably should be read alongside Craig's account at MTPolitics when she popped this bit of wisdom into the light:

There is no proof to faith, but I know absolutely that life isn't just a series of coincidences.

Eighteen words. In a lifetime, I've spent probably eighteen thousand saying the same thing less precisely.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:37 AM)
12 May 2003
Roll away the stone

Two Romanian astronomers have announced that by reviewing astronomical data and Scriptural reportage, they have determined the dates and times of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Liviu Mircea and Tiberiu Oproiu, from the Astronomic Observatory Institute in Cluj, Romania, say Christ died at 3:00 pm (presumably local time) on Friday, 3 April, 33 AD, and rose again at 4:00 am on Sunday, 5 April. I'm guessing this was under the Julian calendar, proclaimed seventy-odd years earlier and still more or less in sync with the seasons.

The Gospels specify the resurrection to have taken place on the first day of the week and shortly after Passover, which is the first full moon after the vernal equinox. And in the spring of 33, there was a solar eclipse visible from the Middle East, which would account for the incredible darkness of that weekend.

(Muchas gracias: Jesus Gil.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:44 AM)
29 May 2003
From both sides now

The road not taken, you say? If it's a spiritual path, SurlyPundit has either taken it or mapped it out:

[B]y pretty much any definition, I'm not a person of faith. I have been Christian, fanatically Christian, indifferently Christian, agnostic, atheist, Wiccan, and pagan. I've read about Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Satanism, Santeria, and Hinduism. I've thought about it all from different angles. I know Anglican and Catholic theology inside and out. In other words, I may not believe, but it's not because I don't know the arguments or haven't tried to, in various ways. No, the reason for my chronic fence-sitting is just that I don't (can't?) feel comfortable in any of it.

Sterner sects would insist that you adapt to them: they're certainly not going to adapt to you. Probably why I subscribe to none of them. There's a lot to be said for the straight and narrow, so to speak, but if every time you turn around you're going to get busted, eventually you'll stop moving altogether.

Interestingly (familiarity? leftover childhood indoctrination? random selection?), she feels "more at ease" with the Judeo-Christian deity:

I've tried various strains of paganism and Wicca, but I always feel like I'm disappointing the Big Guy. I don't call this a logical belief and it certainly shouldn't convince you, but it lets me sleep at night and does no harm.

And one doesn't have to have the Dies irae ringing in one's ears to want to avoid disappointing the Big Guy, I think; if you're persuaded that there's something beyond merely a vague Something Beyond, it seems reasonable, or at least human, to want to personify that something, and it's a fairly small jump from there to wanting to stay on his/her/its good side. (Paybacks, be they purely karmic or incarnated as plagues, are a bitch.)

I don't sleep that well at night myself, but that's another issue entirely.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 AM)
6 September 2003
Rare and well-done

Rod Dreher at NRO's The Corner picked up on this letter to the editors of Crisis magazine by George W. Rutler, a clergyman from New York City. It's a gem from start to finish, and it provides, um, food for thought:

Taste is one thing; it is another thing to condemn meat eating as "evil" and permissible only "in rare and unfortunate circumstances." [Danel] Paden disagrees with no less an authority than God, Who forbids us to call any edible unworthy (Mark 7: 18-19), and Who enjoins St Peter to eat pork chops and lobster in one of my favorite revelations (Acts 10: 9-16). Does the Catholic Vegetarian Society [of which Paden is the director] think that our Lord was wrong to have served up fish to the 5,000, or should He have refrained from eating the Passover Lamb? When He rose from the dead and appeared in the Upper Room, He did not ask for a bowl of Cheerios, nor did He whip up a meatless omelette on the shore of Galilee.

Man was made to eat flesh (Genesis 1:26-31; 9:1-6), with the exception of human flesh. I stand on record against cannibalism, whether it be inflicted upon the Mbuti Pygmies by the Congolese Army or on larger people by a maniac in Milwaukee. But I am also grateful that the benevolent father in the parable did not welcome his prodigal son home with a bowl of radishes.

For the moment, I am enjoying a visual of PETA's sainted Ingrid Newkirk slow-roasting at 300 degrees for eternity, her own sanctimony for marinade with just a dash of Lea & Perrins.

(Muchas gracias: The American Way!?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:24 AM)
21 September 2003
I knew you were going to say that

It's just not a World Wide Rant without Andy going ballistic over what he perceives as the perversities of theists, and usually he's quite entertaining in the process.

I think, though, he's a couple degrees off plumb this time. For one thing, he insists on defining "eternity", following the lead of the Raving Atheist, as an "infinite number [of] years." I have just enough background in mathematics to point out that the notion of an "infinite number" is meaningless: if there is any number at all, it's not technically infinite. There are transfinite numbers if you're so inclined, aleph-null is the total number of integers but they aren't particularly useful in measuring time, which doesn't have an irreducibly-small integral unit to count. (On the other hand, the counter at Wendy's World has already hit aleph-null.)

More serious is his revival of the classic conflict between free will (do we have it?) and divine omniscience (does your friendly neighborhood deity have it?), which was analyzed in terms of game theory by physicist William Newcomb. Newcomb's Paradox presents the following situation:

A highly superior being from another part of the galaxy presents you with two boxes, one open and one closed. In the open box there is a thousand-dollar bill. In the closed box there is either one million dollars or there is nothing. You are to choose between taking both boxes or taking the closed box only. But there's a catch.

The being claims that he is able to predict what any human being will decide to do. If he predicted you would take only the closed box, then he placed a million dollars in it. But if he predicted you would take both boxes, he left the closed box empty. Furthermore, he has run this experiment with 999 people before, and has been right every time.

What do you do?

On the one hand, the evidence is fairly obvious that if you choose to take only the closed box you will get one million dollars, whereas if you take both boxes you get only a measly thousand. You'd be stupid to take both boxes.

On the other hand, at the time you make your decision, the closed box already is empty or else contains a million dollars. Either way, if you take both boxes you get a thousand dollars more than if you take the closed box only.

(Thanks to Franz Kiekeben.)

The most sensible reconciliation between free will and divine omniscience I've seen was written up by theologian Dr William Lane Craig, and it's based on Newcomb with apparently just a dash of C.S. Lewis. Dr Craig's conclusion:

It is I by my freely chosen actions who supply the truth conditions for the future contingent propositions known by God. The semantic relation between a true proposition and the corresponding state of affairs is not only non-causal, but asymmetric; the proposition depends for its truth on which state of affairs obtains, not vice versa. Were I to choose otherwise than I shall, different propositions would have been true than are, and God's knowledge would have been different than it is. Given that God foreknows what I shall choose, it only follows that I shall not choose otherwise, not that I could not. The fact that I cannot actualize worlds in which God's prediction errs is no infringement on my freedom, since all this means is that I am not free to actualize worlds in which I both perform some action a and do not perform a.

If you change your mind, God's knowledge changes right along with it.

Okay, not the easiest concept to swallow. But it's easier, at least for me, than a completely predestined world with all the options foreordained.

(Note: Minor changes in the last sentence for purposes of optic beam removal.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:57 AM)
21 October 2003
Of little faith

In an op-ed in The Boston Globe, unfortunately titled Warring with God, James Carroll, in his haste to paint General William G. Boykin as some kind of religious extremist without actually saying so, reveals that he, Carroll, has only the vaguest idea of what Boykin's religion actually is.

It was unfashionable of [Boykin] to speak aloud the implications of his ''abiding faith,'' but exclusivist claims made for Jesus Christ by most Christians, from Vatican corridors to evangelical revival tents, implicitly insult the religion of others. When Catholics speak of ''salvation'' only through Jesus, or when Protestants limit ''justification'' to faith in Jesus, aspersions are cast on the entire non-Christian world.

In his effort to avoid implicitly insulting other religions, Carroll explicitly insults one. Those "exclusivist claims" are at the very heart of Christianity; you take them out and you have what? Certainly nothing recognizable as Christianity. What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai did not read "I am the Lord thy God, one of a panoply of such, all interchangeable." And Jesus Christ's statement that "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) quite clearly doesn't allow for alternate paths.

But Carroll isn't interested in simple messages. Instead, he wallows in this multicultural mishmash:

How to affirm one's own faith without denigrating the faith of others? The problem can seem unsolvable if religion is understood as inherently dialectic reality defined as oppositions between earth and heaven, the natural and the supernatural, knowledge and revelation, atheism and theism, secularism and faith, evil and good. If the religious imagination is necessarily structured on such polarities, then religion is inevitably a source of conflict, contempt, violence.

This teeters perilously close to an insistence that It's All Good, a notion that comes only from extreme blinders or high doses of Prozac. I don't think you could even sell this package to the Unitarians.

Susanna Cornett disposes of this premise more eloquently than I, and I find it interesting that while she is far more devout than I've ever been, we're pretty much on the same page here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:03 PM)
29 October 2003
Part of the plan?

Michele wonders, as I have from time to time:

If you believe in God, do you believe he is an interventionist God? For instance, do you think that prayer can cure illnesses, help rescue people from burning buildings or bring a lost child home? Or do you believe that God is just an observer; he made the world and now just sitting back and watching what happens with his invention?

Michele herself doesn't believe in God at least, she doesn't believe she believes in God but it's a puzzle that has perplexed many of us over the years. She's getting good answers in her comment section, but I wanted to single out this one by Analog Mouse:

The best explanation I've heard, and the one that prevents me from being kept awake nights, is that all of creation is like a pointillist painting. We, being in the painting, see every dot as crucial and every change to those dots as a hugely significant event. But to God, the painter, he sees the whole picture. Changing a dot or two over here (answering prayers) may not be a big deal, but the placement of another dot may be completely crucial to the formation of the work of art ("allowing" 9-11 to happen). Then, factor in the fact that the dots can do whatever they want (free will), including destroying the other dots. In the end, the painting will be what God wants it to be, but there are a zillion ways it can happen.

I'm not entirely happy with this explanation for one thing, it invites higher levels of mockery than usual from happy atheists but as someone who has always tried to see a bigger picture than the one right in front of me, I find the concept appealing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
3 November 2003
The Anglican rift

Christopher Johnson has been covering the Episcopalian schism in the making almost from day one, and in reviewing his most recent posts, I really can't blame him for wanting to cut his ties to the American church.

Generally I don't gnash my teeth over the elevation of gay folk into positions of power, but for the life of me, I can't understand why it was so important to make Gene Robinson a bishop when, as Greg Hlatky puts it:

[H]e left his wife and children, not to follow Christ as James and John did, but to follow his own carnal desires. It would have been enough to sink a heterosexual minister; why should Bishop Robinson have been treated differently?

Why, indeed? Scriptural justification for homosexuality is nebulous at best, but Scriptural justification for adultery is nonexistent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 PM)
16 December 2003
Available in monotheist and stereotyped

Kelley wants to know, and really, so do I:

Why is it that on the occasion during which Bush mentions G-d, the media springs like an attack dog, quick to point out what a Bible-thumper he is. Yet here we have a full-fledged Reverend running for President, a legitimate candidate who participates in the debates, etc., and nobody's said a word about Rev. Sharpton and his relationship with G-d. Is it because he's a Democrat? Democrats are allowed to have religion, but Republicans aren't to be trusted with it?

Quit laughing at "legitimate candidate" and answer the question, dammit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:18 AM)
17 December 2003
Schisms and other shiznit

Paul Emmons of West Chester University, on the split in Anglicanism following the ordination of a homosexual bishop:

The consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of the New Hampshire Diocese of the Episcopal Church is an affront to Christians everywhere.

I am just thankful that the church's founder, Henry VIII, and his wife Catherine of Aragon, and his wife Anne Boleyn, and his wife Jane Seymour, and his wife Anne of Cleves, and his wife Katherine Howard, and his wife Catherine Parr are no longer here to suffer through this assault on traditional Christian marriage.

(This was apparently floating around about a month ago, but this is the first I've seen of it; I caught it in Phil Proctor's column in Funny Times, January '04.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 PM)
10 January 2004
The Brattleboro catechism

Rod Dreher, on The Dallas Morning News blog (scroll down to 9 January, 4:49 pm), sees some inconsistencies in Howard Dean's sudden spirituality:

He said that President Bush had no business making a stem-cell policy decision based in part on religious belief even though Dean said just the other day that his religious faith guided his decision to approve civil unions for gays.

Here's the Dean Doctrine: The Lord Your God permits you to make faith in Him a factor in policy decisions, but only if the outcome is politically liberal.

There are times when I suspect the only book of Scripture Dr. Dean has read is Numbers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:16 AM)
4 February 2004
Blame the Baptists

It's a popular game here in Soonerland; if for some reason (and there's always some reason) the state gets some derisive coverage in the pop press, well, it's all the fault of those wacky fundamentalists.

Over the years, I've demonstrated that I'm not above this sort of thing myself, which illustrates a truism: hardly anyone in the middle, and absolutely nobody on the left, ever has a kind word for Christian conservatives.

Like most truisms, this contains a fair amount of falsity. I commend to you the following example, from the March 2004 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, which isn't up on their Web site yet. According to Colonel Tom Wilhelm, defense attaché at the American embassy in Mongolia, a chap somewhat in Wesley Clark's political neighborhood who admits to voting for Al Gore in 2000, the "flowering of the middle ranks," as correspondent Robert D. Kaplan describes it, and the marked improvement in overall discipline since the days of Vietnam, are in no small part due to an influx of Christian evangelicals into the Armed Forces over the past decade or so. Says the colonel:

[Their] zeal reformed behavior, empowered junior leaders, and demanded better recruits. For one thing, drinking stopped, and that killed off the officers' clubs, which, in turn, broke down more barriers between officers and noncoms, giving the noncoms the confidence to do what majors and colonels in other armies do. The Christian fundamentalism was the hidden hand that changed the military for the better. Though you try to get someone to admit it! We never could have pulled off Macedonia or Bosnia with the old Vietnam Army.

Inasmuch as Wilhelm was there, in Macedonia anyway, I'm inclined to take his word for it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 PM)
11 February 2004
Many levels of license

Religious conservatives, says Adam J. Bernay, are missing one obvious point in the gay-marriage debate:

[T]heir insistence on the State's regulating moral and religious issues has done nothing more than debase the Sacred and has turned religious sacraments and morals into political footballs. There are lots of issues where this has become a problem: ordination, burials, freedom of speech from the pulpit, and many more?but none has become a thornier problem than marriage.

Religious conservatives are missing the obvious answer to this issue: return the "regulation" and "licensing" of marriage to the private sector, and the recognition of such to the people. This will take this issue out of the hands of those who want to use it to force religious conservatives to accept their "life partnerships" as equivalent to marriages under our religions.

Well, okay, if you say so. How is this power to be wrested from the State? Is there popular support for a referendum on the matter? Do religious non-conservatives or the non-religious have their own interests, their own reasons to want to preserve the status quo?

So simple, this solution, that it automatically sets off the Huh? detector in the back of my head.

Marriage is, or ought to be, something other than, in Dawn Eden's phrase, "governmental sanction of sexual practices." Does the answer lie in taking the government out of the equation altogether? I'm still pondering this one.

If nothing else, this debate should silence, at least for a while, that old saw about how you "can't legislate morality." Actually, it's one of the few things you can legislate you don't hear anyone saying you can't legislate thermodynamics.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 PM)
13 February 2004
Purely scriptural

What would a Constitutional amendment defining marriage strictly according to Old Testament principles look like?

I suppose that depends on which principles you choose to read.

(Muchas gracias: JP LeCompte.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 PM)
19 February 2004
It's a(n un)clean sweep

Here's one for the theologians in our midst:

Is there any human act that can be said to violate all Ten Commandments at once?

Terence Jeffrey, editor of Human Events, says: Yes, there is.

(Via Hit & Run)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
22 February 2004
Fact-checking Mel

And the task falls to Dawn Eden, who was assigned duty on a two-page color section devoted to The Passion of the Christ that appeared in this morning's New York Post. (The paper's Web site, as of a couple minutes ago, contained only the intro.) Part of that duty was to determine how closely director Mel Gibson had hewn to the text of the Gospels.

Her conclusion: It's a mixed bag.

While The Passion may indeed be an inspired film, no one seeing this film should think they're getting the pure gospel truth. It's colored throughout with imagery which, while it may be in keeping with Roman Catholic tradition, is nonetheless distinctly extrabiblical.

This might explain John Paul II's reported enthusiasm for the film, anyway.

Still, whatever Gibson's vision, give him credit for sticking to it, and for going outside The Industry to sell it. Had this been the usual Hollywood biopic, we'd probably be yawning at the prospect of Ashton Kutcher in Dude, Where's My Cross?

(Update, 23 February, 5:45 pm: Dawn, following up, turned up this Christianity Today interview with Gibson and check out that title!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:58 AM)
26 February 2004
Surges of Passion

No, I didn't go see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ yesterday. As a general rule, I don't see anything the day it debuts, especially if there's a lot of buzz, and Passion, I suspect, now owns the world record for buzz.

Besides that buzz, there were plenty of church groups here who booked entire screenings the Wednesday-evening service is de rigueur for many congregations which means that even had I been inclined to go look for a seat after a ten-hour work day, I probably wouldn't have found one.

Still, it's a film I'll have to see at some point. Meanwhile, the first-night crowd seemed to respond with a combination of shock and awe, which strikes me as a good sign.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
1 March 2004
Beyond faith

"As a non-believer," writes Michele, "I walk around with the knowledge that I just may be wrong."

For some reason this reminded me of a dream Isaac Asimov once described. It went like this:

I dreamed I had died and gone to Heaven. I looked about and knew where I was green fields, fleecy clouds, perfumed air, and the distant, ravishing sound of the heavenly choir. And there was the recording angel smiling broadly in greeting.

I said, in wonder, "Is this Heaven?"

The recording angel said, "It is."

I said [and on waking and remembering, I was proud of my integrity], "But there must be some mistake. I don't belong here. I'm an atheist."

"No mistake," said the recording angel.

"But as an atheist how can I qualify?"

The recording angel said sternly, "We decide who qualifies. Not you."

Mysterious ways, as they say.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 PM)
22 April 2004
Body count: 0

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has been saying that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was getting a bad rap from the media, and apparently he was right:

Two months have elapsed since the film was released and no Jew has been killed. Not only have there been no pogroms, there have been no reported beatings, and no reported acts of vandalism associated with the film. This is true not only in the U.S.; it is true all over the world. By now the movie has played in literally scores of countries, all without violence.

Those who predicted that the movie would generate violence need to explain themselves. And in some cases, they need to apologize to Christians. Recall that it was ADL director Abe Foxman who said last January that Mel Gibson is 'hawking it [the film] on a commercial crusade to the churches of this country.' He then concluded, 'That's what makes it so dangerous.' In other words, it's not lax Christians who are a danger to Jews, nor is it the anti-war protesters who carry banners bashing Israel, it's those Catholics and Protestants who go to church on Sundays that Jews have to fear the most. Not only is this radically wrong indeed it's dangerously wrong it's also insulting to practicing Christians.

As the phrase goes, read the whole thing.

("Protestants"? Does anyone outside Catholicism, or maybe the Armed Forces chaplain corps, use that term anymore?)

(Via Hit and Run)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
25 April 2004
Ex cathedra

The ever-curmudgeonly Francis W. Porretto outdoes the Baltimore Catechism by giving the real lowdown on papal infallibility:

This widely misunderstood teaching does not guarantee that the Pope will always be correct in his pronouncements; the horrible crimes of the Renaissance popes would refute that idea all by themselves. What it does is to indemnify the faithful against any errors they might commit by following papal teaching. If the Pope can be wrong, he is nevertheless Christ's designated vicar on Earth; one cannot be held to account for taking his statements as morally authoritative.

This is not, so far as I know, what spurred Tom Lehrer to intone, "Do whatever steps you want if / You have cleared them with the Pontiff." And I'm reasonably certain Sister Mary Discipline never explained it quite this way.

Although actual pronouncements which were claimed to be infallible, says Porretto, have only been issued twice in two thousand years, certain aspects of the doctrine still provoke controversy. As a practical matter, though, if you ever have a run-in with an individual who is Never, Ever Wrong, it's far more likely to be someone at work than someone in the Vatican.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 PM)
19 May 2004
I don't believe this

"Darn those Unitarians!" says the old joke. "They burned a question mark on my lawn!"

Suddenly it's not quite so funny. A Unitarian Universalist church in Denison, Texas has lost its tax-exempt status because, says Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, it does not have one system of belief.

Jesse Ancira, counsel for the Comptroller's office, says that the criterion for the tax exemption is simple: the group must have "a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power." Most of the groups turned down are distinctly outside the mainstream, but the Unitarians (who merged with the Univeralists in 1961) boast two US Presidents: John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams. Not that they'd ever boast, of course.

Notes Patrick Nielsen Hayden:

This kind of story always provokes the suggestion that maybe nobody should get a tax break for calling themselves a church, which would have the salutary effect of getting the government out of the business of ruling on what is and isn't religion. In the real world, however, that isn't going to happen. Meanwhile, to the State of Texas in 2004, a money-making racket founded by a third-rate science fiction writer qualifies as a "religion" and the faith of Ethan Allen and Daniel Webster doesn't. This is what barbarism looks like.

Name of said racket withheld for obvious reasons.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
28 May 2004
Float, float on

"Angels can fly," observed G. K. Chesterton, "because they can take themselves lightly."

As a rule, Dawn Eden takes the train, but she knows the joke is on us all:

Faith, like humor, is all about having a sense of the fantastic and feeling deep inside that the people who puff themselves up are the very people that need to be brought down. Especially if that people is oneself.

One of my internal alarms goes off at the point where I cross the line into self-importance, which may be one reason why I am uncomfortable with many of our current crop of leftists, who strike me as a generally dour and humorless lot. This is not to say that there aren't nauseatingly-earnest people on the right I swear, the Oklahoma GOP recruits candidates from a roster of the humor-impaired but the liberal notion of Creating Utopia seems to lend itself more easily to unnecessary seriousness than does the conservative concept of Trust But Verify.

So in the unlikely event that I start acting like the second coming of Ozymandias, look upon my works, ye Mighty, and guffaw. The one inescapable fact about life is that we won't get out of it alive at least, not in the physical sense.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
8 June 2004

The Cornerstone Baptist Church in Stafford, Virginia lacks something you'd think might be essential to a congregation of this denomination: a proper baptismal pool. Previously, they had been borrowing the facilities of other churches in the area. But Rev. Todd Pyle, ever-resourceful, hit upon a solution, and one with Biblical antecedent at that: hold baptisms in the Rappahannock River, at the Falmouth Waterfront Park.

Officials at the park were less than delighted, and tried to break up the ceremony, claiming it might be offensive to others using the park.

Perhaps surprised by the level of outrage their action generated including objections from the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute and the state branch of the ACLU [link is to a Microsoft Word document] park officials promised to reevaluate their policies. Meanwhile, Rev. Pyle is looking for another place to conduct the ceremony.

(Via Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
11 June 2004
The divine giggle

"Does God have a sense of humor?" asks Abigail at Lazy Reflections.

First thought out of my head was "Have you ever seen a platypus? Exhibit A."

But that really doesn't answer her question, nor is it particularly kind to the platypus. (I mean, if I need to see an ungainly creature which seems to be assembled from random parts, I need only pass by a mirror.)

And I think really she's already answered her own question, since she admits to being a fan of P. G. Wodehouse, who, in her words, "uses Biblical imagery in such a way as to make it humorous without a hint of mockery."

I'd also point her to this observation by Dawn Eden:

I realize that life is a joke and I'm in on it.

So much of Christianity is about paradoxes Jesus' saying, "Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it," or God's telling Paul, "My strength is made perfect in weakness." There's a cosmic absurdity to being an immaterial soul in a material body, a Spirit-driven creature in a flesh-driven world.

In the twenty-first century, when rapid-fire gags constitute most of what's considered "humor," this notion may seem almost quaint. Still, if you love paradoxes as much as I do, and I really, truly hate them sometimes, it makes perfect sense.

One last bit: Car and Driver once got a letter from a subscriber perhaps, now that I think about it, a former subscriber complaining that the magazine's studied irreverence had gone entirely too far this time. The aggrieved correspondent signed off with: "My God will not be mocked."

The editorial reply: "We wouldn't dream of mocking God. But we'll be damned if He can't take a joke."

Which, I think, pretty much says it all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:56 PM)
15 June 2004
O Lord, won't you buy me a PlayStation 2

Abigail's been given one of those Teen Study Bibles, and she is not impressed with its approach:

Throughout the Teen Bible there are extra pages on things such as school, guilt, parents, dating, death, and others. They feature a dictionary definition of the word and an alternate "teen" definition. Then they give a little bite of Scripture for each one. Here are some of the "teen" definitions: School "a place where teens have to learn stuff adults never use but say teens will need someday" Prayer "talking to the ceiling and wondering if anybody's listening" Church "what you have to get dressed up for so you can be bored for an hour at a morning service" Parents "adults whose actions often drive teenagers crazy" Siblings "a monster, younger or older than you are, who lives in your house but couldn't possibly be related to you or any other human being". Yup, that's what it means to be a teen. But you would think the church of all institutions would try to fight against that mindset!

It is automatically assumed these days that anyone in this age group is motivated most strongly by snarkiness; a spoonful of smartass, the publishers are sure, makes the eternal verities go down.

This strikes me as counterproductive. What teenagers want more than anything else is to finally get into adulthood, to be what they imagine is "grown up"; when a church is telling you to wallow in your adolescence, it dilutes any other message.

Abigail is smart enough to see this:

I'd rather have all teens thinking of church as boring than having those who are devoted to it slighted by this demeaning of it. It's mortifying how low the dignity of the Bible has to sink to be considered "cool".

Not to mention the dignity of the teens trying to understand it; even if they're getting Scripture intact, the wrappings serve to dumb it down. Were I her age, I think I'd be insulted by a package like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 AM)
1 September 2004
Counting icons on the wall

Seventh grade at a Catholic school in Rhode Island, and Justin Katz is there. In fact, he's been there before, and something is now conspicuous by its absence:

The school's new principal has been going through the building in a thorough sweep of reorganization and redecoration, so when I noticed the absence of a picture, of Jesus looking over a valley, that often attracted my attention when I taught in the computer room, I asked the new computer teacher where it had gone. Apparently, it wasn't the impulse of fresh surroundings that had pulled the picture down, but rather a Title I grant.

Title I, says the Department of Education, is intended "to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments."

A marked absence of any references to wall decor, which prompts Katz to ask:

Is it definitional to "fairness" that a room be free of religious imagery? That would seem manifestly unfair to students from communities that consider religion intrinsic to proper education. If the purpose of a grant is to provide, for example, adequate computers for use by students who otherwise would have to make do with the 1995 donations of working-class parishioners, how is it otherwise than discriminatory to expand on that purpose to ensure that the walls pay homage to anybody except explicitly religious figures? (Incidentally, don't even atheists concede that Jesus was probably an historical figure?)

The knee-jerk (not to be confused with "genuflection") answer is "Separation of church and state, case closed, so there." This might make some small amount of sense if the school in question were being asked to give up its religious instruction, in which case I think it's a safe bet the school would have refused to accept any grant money, under Title I or any other Roman numeral you care to name.

And why is it just religion that is subjected to this sort of treatment, anyway?

Ink would fly among all three branches of our government were any one governing body to offer grants with the provision that no figures representative of racial, gender, or ethnic identity contributed to the educational setting. How turned around we must be for religion among the primary and most explicit areas in which our government is required to take no coercive interest to be the one aspect of life that provokes government leverage for extraction.

And while it's certainly true that some parents are upset by religious imagery, it would seem logical to suggest that those parents refrain from enrolling their children in a school run by a church unless, of course, you think a steakhouse should be required by law to cater to vegans first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:11 AM)
30 September 2004
Nobody expects the Spanish disestablishment

The Roman Catholic Church holds a "privileged position in society," says Spain's Socialist government, which has decided to take steps to reduce its influence, to cut state funding to the church and to remove crucifixes from government buildings.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has announced ambitious plans to turn Spain into more of a secular society by simplifying divorce laws, liberalizing abortion laws and sanctioning same-sex marriage.

But maybe "secular" isn't the right word, since Zapatero is also seeking greater rapprochement with Islam, which may include the teaching of Islam in Spanish schools and some funding of mosques. Which suggests that Zapatero has learned one thing from contemporary American politics: that "secular," a word which used to be neutral, is now often as not a synonym for "anti-Christian."

(Via The Penitent Blogger)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
12 October 2004
Sunday will never be the same

Everything I've read and heard tells me that John Kerry takes his religious faith seriously; he has, to be sure, some substantial differences with official Catholic doctrine, but I'm not inclined to accuse him of apostasy.

Still, Kerry's appearance at a predominantly-black Baptist church in Miami strikes me as at least somewhat cynical. As Susanna Cornett notes:

What do you think the Democrat party would do if Bush started showing up in churches all over Michigan, handing out Bush/Cheney signs and denouncing Kerry from the pulpit? You think suddenly the separation of church and state would become a hot issue? You know it would. Bush already is decried as the Evil Frothy-Mouthed Religious Freak by demonizing Dems because he lives his faith. So why aren't John Kerry and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton called into account for pulpit stump speeches?

And "demonizing" is an important word here, says John Rosenberg:

There have been frequent laments about the increasing harshness of those who "demonize the opposition," but this is usually simply a figure of speech. But in that Miami church it became literally true, through the good offices of Rep. Carrie Meeks (D, Fla.), who declared that Kerry is "fighting against liars and demons."

There is, I submit, froth on both sides of the aisle.

(Update, 13 October, 7:30 am: La Shawn Barber looks at Kerry's pulpit pitch from a Biblical point of view.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:24 AM)
17 October 2004
Where the tolerance is

An observation from Greg over in Denmark:

For good or ill, the secular west has bitchslapped Christianity and Judaism into submission. I was very close friends in Los Angeles with a woman who described herself as a "fundamentalist" Christian. She knew I was (at best) an agnostic. I once said, without thinking, that I thought the Gospels were one of the most beautiful myths of the western inheritance. My friend smiled at me indulgently and said that although she didn't consider it mythology, herself, she was at least gratified that I could see the beauty of her religion. I was mortified and apologized for my insensitivity. Then I asked if it bothered her that I wasn't Christian.

"It doesn't bother me," she said, "but I sure do pray for you!"

And I knew she meant that literally. She prayed every day, and somewhere in those prayers, sometimes, was a prayer that God might see fit to bringing me around to her (my friend's) point of view.

Does this sound like the reaction of "self appointed stuck up assholes with crosses stuffed up [their] asses"?

Compare and contrast:

I think it's safe to say that a lot of Muslims don't seem to want to play ball. They don't seem willing to subjugate their religion to... anything. It's Mohammad's way or the highway.

But in our marvelously tolerant namby-mamby western ways, we're all bending over backwards to accommodate some of these monsters. I don't understand why. Look at the mockery directed by western intellectuals toward Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other evangelizing western Christians. Why aren't evangelizing Muslims subjected to the same derision?

Oh, wait, I remember... I think there was something about it in that book by Salman Rushdie...

Actually, Falwell and Robertson, often as not, deserve that derision, owing to their prodigious, maybe even God-given talent for absurd pronouncements. Still, Christian evangelicals as a group are viewed with suspicion by the More Secular Than Thou crowd but God forbid we should fail to understand and appreciate Muslims.

(Via Debbye Stratigacos, who has been much missed these many months.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:47 PM)
30 October 2004
Pitching in the next world

Let the record show that I was a quirky sort of child and how surprising is that? and that after three years of school, during which I was largely bored out of my misshapen skull, the parental units dispatched me to the distant city of Summerville, where I did two years at a compound for the allegedly gifted, emerging with certification through grade eight and no place to go and no idea of what I wanted to do once I got to wherever I was going.

The man who found a place for me was Father Robert J. Kelly, then recently installed as rector of Bishop England High School, the Catholic high school in Charleston. His terms were clear: some allowance would be made for my appalling youth, but I would be cut no academic slack whatsoever.

It was much later that I learned that Kelly had gone through some serious soul-searching of his own: while in the seminary in New England, he'd been spending his summers in the then-class A Eastern League, and big-league clubs were offering him bonuses to come pitch for them. In the end, a lifetime of service was more compelling than a career of uncertain length, and Kelly put on his collar and never looked back.

I'd like to say, now that he's gone, that everything I know I learned from Father Kelly, but obviously that isn't so: as a kid with a puckish sense of humor and a marked lack of maturity, I had to go to considerable effort to stay out of his office. I figured out quickly enough that he had a finely-tuned sense of humor of his own, but in the presence of an erring student he was all business, and that stuck. What I remember most, though, is that I was wandering in the desert, to the extent that you can wander in the desert at age twelve, and he was happy to take me in.

"If we are lucky," said Father Lawrence McInerny (also BE '69) in Father Kelly's funeral homily, about the same moment I was on the operating table last month, "we get to meet certain people who are simply 'larger than life'." The big Irish priest, I remember, was the very definition of the phrase; I am lucky indeed to have crossed paths with him.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 AM)
5 November 2004
Turning purple

Neither vivid red nor solid blue, my little corner of Oklahoma City is decidedly divided, as many Democrats as Republicans, with a salting of independents, third-party types, and, I suspect, a fair number of folks who are utterly indifferent to it all. Running just north is a street which contains five churches in the space of one mile; in the 49 weeks I've been here, while occasionally a flyer is left at the door, only one of them has contacted me personally through outreach, which is not at the level of what I'd consider annoying. Of the five churches, only one of them is what I think of as a conservative evangelical congregation in the present-day sense I had attended one such church when I was younger and presumably less wicked but that wasn't the one who sent the guy to ring my doorbell.

Proving that "your mileage may vary," the OkiePundit seems to be awash in evangelicals:

I have them in my family, living next door, at the workplace, they are everywhere here. And they are voting. The churches have become a center of partisan (Republican) agitation. Every week there is a voting information table at my church and it is loaded with right-wing Christian propaganda. The pastor tells us to vote for Godly people and leaves little doubt as to who those people are. It's difficult to get through an entire day here without an evangelical trying to "save" me into his or her particular brand of Christianity.

Now when I lived way out on the east side, I got more visits, largely from members of black churches, which given the population distribution in that quadrant is unsurprising, but none of their representatives ever struck me as being particularly insistent or coercive. And since I'm an irritable old cuss by nature, I have to conclude that they didn't go out of their way to bother me.

Obviously you can't extrapolate from here to a hundred miles up the turnpike, but something seems to be different around Alfalfa Bill's place. Speculation is welcomed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:29 AM)
10 November 2004
As endorsed by dhimmicrats

Once upon a time, Christopher Hitchens asserted that he's an atheist, and then some:

I'm not neutral about religion, I'm hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one. And I mean not just organized religion, but religious belief itself.

He hasn't changed his mind on the subject, but he's persuaded that some of those beliefs are worse than others:

[A]ll faiths are not always equally demented in the same way, or at the same time. Islam, which was once a civilizing and creative force in many societies, is now undergoing a civil war. One faction in this civil war is explicitly totalitarian and wedded to a cult of death. We have seen it at work on the streets of our own cities, and most recently on the streets of Amsterdam. We know that the obscene butchery of filmmaker Theo van Gogh was only a warning of what is coming in Madrid, London, Rome, and Paris, let alone Baghdad and Basra.

So here is what I want to say on the absolutely crucial matter of secularism. Only one faction in American politics has found itself able to make excuses for the kind of religious fanaticism that immediately menaces us in the here and now. And that faction, I am sorry and furious to say, is the left. From the first day of the immolation of the World Trade Center, right down to the present moment, a gallery of pseudointellectuals has been willing to represent the worst face of Islam as the voice of the oppressed. How can these people bear to reread their own propaganda? Suicide murderers in Palestine disowned and denounced by the new leader of the PLO described as the victims of "despair." The forces of al-Qaida and the Taliban represented as misguided spokespeople for antiglobalization. The blood-maddened thugs in Iraq, who would rather bring down the roof on a suffering people than allow them to vote, pictured prettily as "insurgents" or even, by Michael Moore, as the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers. If this is liberal secularism, I'll take a modest, God-fearing, deer-hunting Baptist from Kentucky every time, as long as he didn't want to impose his principles on me (which our Constitution forbids him to do).

Score one for Jesusland. The American left will support damned near anything so long as it sounds sufficiently anti-American.

(Via Common Sense and Wonder.)

(Aside: This piece was completed long before it got a title, and when I finally came up with one, I reasoned, "Surely someone has used this term before." So I sent "dhimmicrats" to Google, and back comes this: "Did you mean: democrats"? Case closed, and thanks to Aaron.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:49 AM)
12 November 2004
We have our reasons

Jonah Goldberg digs deeply into the thought process:

It is no more rational to vote based on a desire to do "good" than it is to vote based on a desire to do God's will. Indeed, for millions of people this is a distinction without a difference as it was for so many of the abolitionists progressives and civil-rights leaders today's liberals love to invoke but never actually learn about.

They drop names to obtain street cred. Here in Oklahoma, the number of people who invoke the name of Ralph Ellison seems to exceed the number of people who have actually read anything Ellison wrote by a factor of two, maybe three.

Love, in fact, is just as silly and superstitious a concept as God (and for those who believe God is Love, this too is a distinction without a difference). Chesterton's observation that the purely rational man will not marry is just as correct today, because science has done far more damage to the ideal of love than it has done to the notion of an awesome God beyond our ken. Genes, hormones, instincts, evolution: These are the cause for the effect of love in the purely rational man's textbook. But [Bill] Maher would get few applause lines from his audience of sophisticated yokels if he mocked love as a silly superstition. This is, in part, because the crowd he plays to likes the idea of love while it dislikes the idea of God; and in part because these people feel love, so they think it exists. But such is the extent of their solipsism and narcissism that they not only reject the existence of God but go so far as to mock those who do not, simply because they don't feel Him themselves. And, alas, in elite America, feelings are the only recognized foundation of metaphysics.

Being the INTJ type myself, I obviously have no future as a postmodern metaphysician.

I might add that this disdain for the divine does not equal an insistence upon the concrete: it's perfectly respectable to concern oneself with, even to obsess over, the supernatural, so long as it's clearly divorced from that icky "religion" stuff.

This is not to say that no religion exists on the left, and I'm not about to say, for instance, that John Kerry's Catholicism is somehow bent and twisted because his official position on abortion is in opposition to that of the Vatican. I know not the man's heart; for all I know, he may be horrified by the very idea but suppresses that horror because it wouldn't sit well with the Democratic base. But another can of worms awaits an opening: whether voting against what you perceive as your spiritual interests constitutes hypocrisy, or something much worse.

(Poached from Justin Katz.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:02 AM)
4 December 2004
Inclusive, not conclusive

The other day, I left this bit of small-scale snarkage at Andrea Harris' place:

[T]here is no higher goal in life than to get laid without facing the wrath of Christendom Assembled a notion which persists in the American left to this very day.

Motivated by something other than that sentence by this, in fact Ms Harris has now expanded greatly on the premise therein:

This is where everyone goes off the rails, because modern Western society has been obsessed for decades now with the notion that the sex impulse in all its manifestations and above and separate from the reason for its existence is the All Good and must in no way be thwarted or denied.

A deity in its own right, even. With its own consequences:

As C.S. Lewis pointed out in, I think, Mere Christianity, when you worship anything other than the actual God that thing, no matter how good it may have been in the beginning, becomes a demon. It seems to me that whether you believe in God or not this observation is as true of human psychology as anything.

And this is why, she says, that television spot for the United Church of Christ is not likely to produce any worthwhile results:

One of the basic tenets of Christianity is that one must actually stop sinning, not that one must have never sinned before being allowed to be a Christian. Of course gay people can go to any mainstream Christian church they please; they just can't flaunt behavior that their own religion condemns and expect to get a pat on the back any more than adulterers or murderers can expect to get approbation for their acts of adultery or murder. The United Church of Christ, in its desperation to entice warm young bodies into its churches, has sold out to the sex worshippers. I don't think that this will have the salutary effect they seemed to think it will.

I reread John 8, in which Christ meets the woman charged with adultery, for context, and the scribes and Pharisees were saying: "Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned." I leave for the theologians the question of whether the forgiveness of this particular sin in this particular instant constitutes the invalidation of the whole of Mosaic law, but it seems pretty clear to me that the woman would never have been forgiven had Christ determined that she would go forth and do it all over again.

Now I don't buy the argument of various TV networks that the UCC spot is "too controversial"; it was run here as a test earlier this year and barely raised eyebrows. Nor do I believe that because almost everyone has had more sex than me, I have some claim to the moral high ground.

But one thing bugs me. The decision in Lawrence v. Texas effectively invalidated the nation's laws against "sodomy," and good riddance, say I. But while the Supreme Court has spoken, I missed any similar statement from the Supreme Being. Maybe I'm just out of the loop.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:46 AM)
8 December 2004
Robbing the dreidel

You think Christmas is overwrought? Let Eric Akawie tell you what's happened to Chanukah:

[T]he very foundation of the holiday is about maintaining a unique Jewish culture in the face of pressure to assimilate into a dominant surrounding culture. So taking the holiday, and making it as similar as possible to Christmas, to make the message "we all have something to celebrate at this time of year," to conflate it with the birth of a false Messiah (not to offend, but from a Jewish perspective, that's what Christmas is), is foolish, ignorant, and cultural suicide.

On the upside, Purim has got to be more fun than Lent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:01 PM)
12 December 2004
License to, um, something

The United Church of Christ has filed a petition with the FCC against two Miami-area television stations, WFOR-TV and WTVJ-TV, respectively CBS and NBC owned-and-operated stations, asserting that there is reason to question whether the stations' parent companies, Viacom (for WFOR) and General Electric (for WTVJ), were operating, in the FCC's catchphrase, "in the public interest." The petition stems from the networks' refusal to run the UCC's recent ad.

Andrea Harris is not impressed:

Oh way to go, you idiots: just what Americans respond to best a show of theocratic muscle!

Because you know that's how people will respond to it, despite the newsertainment media's weaselly parroting of the UCC's "tolerance" jive.

Then again, this is standard operating procedure for the UCC, which was formed through the merger of two smaller denominations in 1957; by 1964, they'd already set up an Office of Communication, and challenged the license of WLBT (Jackson, Mississippi) on the basis that it was racist. The FCC held that the church had no legal standing to challenge a broadcast license; the church took them to court, and the Supreme Court eventually overruled the FCC: "The broadcast industry," wrote Chief Justice Warren Burger, "does not seem to have grasped the simple fact that a broadcast license is a public trust subject to termination for breach of duty."

Of course, the Supremes' ruling in the WLBT affair made it possible for everyone up to and including Brent Bozell's boob-counters to get into the act. And in the 1960s, Jackson had a total of two television stations. Today, with half a dozen, plus cable and the Internet, it's difficult to argue with a straight face that any media operation is actually affecting the course of public discourse, let alone dominating it. The FCC answers to Congress, not to the Executive, so the President won't be taking a broom to the place any time soon; too bad, because I'd love to see a Commission with the temerity to laugh at both the UCC's "They should be forced to take our ads" stance and Fox's upcoming reality series "America's Scariest Brazilian Waxes."

(Update, 13 December, 3:45 pm: Fixed one set of call letters see comments.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:06 AM)
17 December 2004
Well, it's better than USA Weekend

This Sunday's Colorado Springs Gazette will come with a special section: a New Testament with some local flavor.

The International Bible Society, based in Colorado Springs, is planning similar inserts for other papers; they paid the Gazette $36,000 to distribute the 91,000 booklets.

Interestingly, the distribution was planned for last Sunday, but it was decided that handing out New Testaments in the middle of Chanukah might not have been the best possible public-relations move. The local Temple has a further objection: placing a Bible in a plastic bag and then pitching it onto the ground constitutes, well, desecration.

As for me, I'm waiting for a remark any remark from Andy at The World Wide Rant.

(Via Romenesko.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:49 PM)
19 December 2004
Season's greasings

We're at a flashpoint, says Bruce Prescott of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

We've got a lot of people who are much more militant trying to assert faith in the public square.

Um, much more than what? Is there an established standard for militancy? If you drive downtown at night this week, you'll see two crosses in the sky, one on the Bank One tower, one at Kerr-McGee, and if you swing by the Oklahoma City National Memorial, "Jesus wept" is translated into stone. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think of any of these manifestations as being in my face.

Dr Prescott, I should point out, is not some blithering neo-Newdow; he's a Baptist theologian. His take on the infamous Mustang incident:

We need to dispel the myth that Christians are being persecuted in our public schools. Most of the instances I hear about Christians being persecuted are really examples about Christians no longer being permitted to dominate the stage and school or takeover the public square.

In Mustang, people are complaining because their children could not stage a dramatic visual climax to a play that was designed to give dramatic emphasis to one faith the Christian religion.

If public schools are going to talk about religion, they need to see that each faith gets [fair] and equal treatment. They cannot give token mention of minority faiths while providing catechisms and Sunday School lessons for the majority faith.

And they did get to sing "Silent Night" in Mustang, which is not exactly generic.

Where, however, is the line between "token mention" and running afoul of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause? Here's Mike Korenblit, co-founder of the Respect Diversity Foundation:

I think it's important that Jewish kids understand about Christmas and what Kwanzaa is. I want Christian kids to know about Hanukkah. When we do that, we're celebrating everybody, and I think that's important.

Hanukkah is certainly a legitimate Jewish celebration, albeit one which has been stretched almost beyond recognition, and certainly there's a good reason to go over the Muslim holidays which bracket the season. (There's something weirdly artificial about Kwanzaa.) But if the whole idea is to enhance the kids' self-esteem or some such business, then put me down for celebrating nobody.

Last word? I cede it to Dr Prescott, because I think this, at least, is one of the few inarguable points that can be made:

Some statement of the Golden Rule, either positively or negatively, is common to all faiths. It is not a controversial value. If everybody would practice it, we could put an end to about 90% of these church-state cases.

Sounds good to me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
24 December 2004
Working at cross-purposes

When last we left the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, they were voting to change the official county seal in an effort to head off a lawsuit by the ACLU. Among the changes: the crosses over the Hollywood Bowl and the San Gabriel Mission were erased.

And they won't stay erased. The decals ordered by the county to be placed over the old seals don't seem to cover up the crosses at all; in fact, one cross shows up atop the Mission despite the fact that the image of the Mission was moved.

Wiser men than I might take this as a Sign.

(Via McGehee, a wise guy in his own right.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:22 AM)
31 December 2004
Because I said so

The tale of a dog who never quite has his day, as told by Lileks:

For reasons I cannot remember the Christmas Jell-O dessert was placed outside on the patio table after dinner. Covered with foil. The squirrels found it the next day, peeled back the foil, ate their fill, and departed. Jasper watched them from the back door, whining: impudent usurpers. When I let him out he went straight for the Jell-O. I moved it to the center of the table. (Easier than taking it inside and cleaning the pan.) For the next two days he was obsessed with the Jell-O. He circled the table. He would put his paws up then he would recall his lessons, which forbade such things. But still. But still. At some point he found a loophole: if he sat in a chair and leaned over to eat the Jell-O, and did not put his paws on the table, he was breaking no rules, committing no sin. I watched from the back door. He saw me; his ears went back, and he climbed off the chair. Then he came inside and watched the Jell-O from afar, waiting for the bushy-tailed vandals who knew no rules to return and feast. Nothing made him more miserable than the notion that the Jell-O existed, but nothing would have made him happier than to eat it without censure.

Morals in creatures without morals. They exist in the dog not because he understands why there are rules, only because he knows there are rules, and He Who Is Alpha might be watching.

A few ticks higher on the food chain, some of us have bought into the notion that there really aren't any rules; there is some antiquated stuff in old books on dusty shelves, yes, but how can that possibly be relevant today? And aren't we the Alpha, the top model in the product line, the biggest, the baddest, the most evolved? Forget the Hairy Thunderer and the Cosmic Muffin and all the gradations in between: we have no need to look anywhere beyond ourselves.

For most of us, this phase lasts maybe two and a half hours, until we do something prodigiously stupid and it dawns on us that the entire freaking universe is out there ready to fact-check our ass. Unless you were raised by wolves and even then you're acutely aware of the pack order and the rights and responsibilities derived therefrom you learn early on that there are rules, and that there are consequences for breaking them.

Or maybe not so early on. As JanJan notes:

Many of the kids whose journals I see catalog a miserable life spent trying to make sense out of their dysfunctional families. Actually it is heartbreaking to see how many cases of arrested development are masquerading as responsible adults. I see the inner thoughts of kids whose upbringing has been bereft of guidelines, rules and God. Kids whose parents are so busy "self actualizing" their children are involved in things which should make your hair curl, right under the radar.

Far be it from me to discourage anyone from pushing the envelope. But you should never be surprised if the envelope pushes back; we're not as Alpha as we think we are.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
2 January 2005
You are ----> here

A sound: loudest at first, then softer, then softer still, then finally gone. In technical terms, the wave diminishes in amplitude until eventually it's lost, faded into the background noise, indistinguishable from any other random quantity of air.

My father has always believed, perhaps with a nod to Zeno, that "finally gone" is never finally achieved, that under the right set of circumstances, or with the right set of tools, that sound can be reclaimed, amplified, restored to its original loudness: it never really went away to begin with.

I live in what the city calls an Urban Conservation District: there exists a zoning overlay which prescribes that changes to properties must be consonant with the character of the district, if not necessarily the actual building materials, that existed when it was built. Ideally, you should be able to turn off the main road and fall right into post-World War II America.

All this is by way of saying that the past never goes away. We have a path, a timeline, from which we do not deviate, but so does everything else. What we see as the present is simply the intersection of all those timelines: our own, those of our friends and families, the homes in which we live, the forests that were supplanted by the cities that now contain most of those homes. I'm not saying it's possible to walk up my street and suddenly jump back into 1948 the first Honda or Toyota you see would likely catch you in mid-jump and send you back where you came from but I am saying that an awful lot of 1948 remains, even in 2005.

This is the premise behind Jack Finney's 1970 novel Time and Again, which Michele is discovering right about now. And she clearly grasps the concept:

The idea that different planes of time can co-exist is something talked about in science fiction novels, but taken seriously by very few. I don't know anything about quantum physics. I can understand very little of the mechanics of theories put forth on this subject. For me, it's not a matter of equations and calculations. It's just feeling. It's the knowing that something existed long before you did and lived and breathed on the very spot you are standing on now. Who is to say it is that January 2, 1894, 1900 or 1776 does not still linger there? Perhaps reaching those dates from 2005 is a scientific impossibility, but that doesn't mean they aren't here, unfolding right on top of us, unseen.

And, in the other direction, that something will exist long after we do: when our own timeline is terminated, interrupted, rerouted, whatever, the world goes on. Two thousand five will still exist in 2525, if man is still alive, if woman can survive.

We may not think of ourselves as time travelers, yet truly we are, even though we seem to be limited to a single route at a specified speed (one day equals, well, one day). And the fact that we are moving means that each present, each intersection with all those other timelines, is necessarily different. It's this very multiplicity of intersections that makes it impossible, so far as we know, to alter the past, but it's that same multiplicity that makes it possible, in fact necessary, to alter the future.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:57 AM)
21 January 2005
Also some original Mosaic Law tiles

Nobody bid on this early Bible on eBay, despite the seller's claim that it was "signed by jesus!"

I certainly wouldn't trust it without a corroborating statement from Dan Rather.

(Via Fritz Schranck.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 PM)
2 February 2005
In lieu of actual opiates

JunkYardBlog's Bryan Preston spotted this on a bumper sticker:

It's what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.

The quote is attributed generally to Napoleon Bonaparte; this sticker is sold by Northern Sun, a long-standing vendor of left-wing posters, buttons and tchotchkes. I get their catalog occasionally, probably by dint of having an actual Mother Jones subscription.

I'm at a loss, though, to figure out what Napoleon meant by this. It seems fairly obvious what Northern Sun means by it: Wall Street and evangelical Christians are supposed to be locked into an unholy alliance to smite the poor and downtrodden. This doesn't jibe with my experience, but then I am not especially poor, nor have I been trodden upon on a regular basis. (The question of whether I'm smitten can wait for another time.) It is certainly useful, though, to have all your designated demons on the same side.

The JYB analysis:

It has a very Marxist flavor, a sort of "opium for the masses" drive, doesn't it? Which tells me that the couple inside the van were in all likelihood rabid lefties.

And idiots. I don't suppose it ever occurred to them that even if religion's sole purpose was to keep the underclass from murdering the rich, that that would be a good thing. I don't suppose it ever occurred to them to think that if the restraint of religion were removed, and the poor did indeed murder the rich, that all that would do would spark yet another round of bloodletting once some of the former poor had managed to amass enough of the riches left behind by the dead.

Same as the old boss, as Pete Townshend might have said. A cursory glance at some of our mean streets, though, would suggest that if the poor are inclined to murder anyone, it's each other.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
Both ends against the middle

My favorite Walt Whitman passage has always been this bit from Leaves of Grass:

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.

Justin Katz finds multitudes inside Andrew Sullivan:

The niche that he has claimed ... has made Sullivan an especially influential advocate for a cause with which many [conservatives] do not agree: same-sex marriage. In his various expositions of the case for same-sex marriage over the years, Sullivan has trapped himself in a series of opportunistic contradictions which may tell us something about the contradiction at the heart of his cause.

The passage that caught my eye is a quote from Sullivan's book Love Undetectable:

"The truth is, homosexuals are not entirely normal; and to flatten their varied and complicated lives into a single, moralistic model is to miss what is essential and exhilarating about their otherness." The truth that Sullivan evades is that flattening to a model is precisely marriage's social purpose, and furthermore, his arguments for same-sex marriage are in conflict with the desire he expresses in this passage to preserve homosexuality's "otherness." After all, how can "otherness" be preserved if distinctions are effaced?

I don't have a particular problem with "otherness," even (especially?) if it's "essential and exhilarating," but it sounds to me like Sullivan is trying to have it both ways: he wants to be a wild and crazy guy and Ward Cleaver simultaneously. I had enough trouble with that when I was married, and I'm on the straight side of the aisle.

Is domestic bliss incompatible with, say, a Pride Parade? I don't know. I think that it probably isn't but then there's this piece from Sullivan's Virtually Normal:

No homosexual child, surrounded overwhelmingly by heterosexuals, will feel at home in his sexual and emotional world, even in the most tolerant of cultures.... Anyone who believes political, social, or even cultural revolution will change this fundamentally is denying reality.

Maybe these contradictions can be resolved somewhere down the line. I hope Andrew Sullivan isn't holding his breath.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:04 PM)
7 February 2005
St Theresa's prayer

Note: This has made the email rounds several times; I wanted to see how well it works as a blog post.

In case anyone is interested, Saint Theresa is known as the Saint of the Little Ways. Meaning she believed in doing the little things in life well and with great love. She is also the patron Saint of flower growers and florists. She is represented by roses. May everyone be blessed who receives this message.

Theresa's Prayer cannot be deleted. REMEMBER to make a wish before you read the poem. That's all you have to do. There is nothing attached. Just send this to seven people and let me know what happens on the fourth day. Do not break this, please. Prayer is one of the best free gifts we receive.

There is no cost but a lot of reward. Suggestion: copy and paste rather than forward to protect email addresses and access to e-virus. (Did you make a wish?) If you don't make a wish, it won't come true. Last chance to make a wish!

St. Theresa's Prayer:

May today there be peace within. May you trust your highest power that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you....May you be content knowing you are a child of God.... Let this presence settle into our bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of you.

Now, send this to 7 people within the next 5 minutes and your wish will come true. And remember to send this back...you'll see why.

Can I get 84 visitors this hour? It could happen. It's not what I would wish for, though.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 PM)
20 February 2005
The least of these my brethren

We are not wealthy, generally, in the flyover zone, but we do our part for those less privileged.

And sometimes we go beyond the call of duty. The OKPartisan has traveled to Peru on missionary work for her church in Edmond, and has come up with the notion of an International Mall, which would work something like this:

Artisans from Peru and other countries create wonderful and unique goods that they sell in their own countries for very little money, but often a little money goes a long way. The groups from here who work with them could bring their goods here, mark up the price, and send the artists the profits, perhaps with a portion going to support other charitable activities. We could help musicians travel here to perform and record their music. We could have a food court with interesting foods from around the world. All of this could be presented along with educational displays about the countries, communities, and organizations represented.

This does seem to go beyond the boundaries of what we think of as traditional missionary work, but for what it is a classic hands-across-the-water operation it's a heck of a good idea, if it could be gotten to work with a minimum of fuss and overhead.

And speaking of across the water, Julie Neidlinger is back home in North Dakota from Nicaragua, and is posting her journals from the eleven-day trip.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 AM)
28 February 2005
Waiting for the recall notices

I have stayed away from the Creationist 2.0 Intelligent Design debate, largely because both sides of the argument have been pretty much beaten to death.

Well, except for this angle: Maybe the design isn't all that damn intelligent, you know?

(Via the very bright Chris Lawrence.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:11 PM)
3 April 2005
Down in the Conclave

I had just finished one year in a Catholic grade school when Pope John XXIII died, so you can be sure that we were steeped in the rules and regulations of replacing a Pontiff, at least to the extent it was possible to explain these things to someone just out of the fourth grade. And they've changed somewhat over the years John Paul II himself made the last few alterations in 1996 but given the Church's devotion to ritual, the basics are essentially unaltered.

One thing that's changed in the last forty years is the restriction of voting for the new Pope to cardinals under the age of 80. (Eleven of the 13 American cardinals meet this requirement.)

Father Thomas J. Reese explains the transition and election process here. Reese's prediction is interesting:

I think the next pope will be a cardinal between 62 and 72 years of age, who speaks Italian and English and reflects John Paul's positions (liberal on social justice and peace, traditional in church teaching and practice, and ecumenical but convinced the church has the truth) but has a very different personality and is a supporter of less centralization in the church and therefore probably not a curial cardinal.

The Curia is the Vatican bureaucracy, which includes nearly a quarter of the cardinals.

And it's unseemly to make side bets on the outcome of the Conclave, but if I have a favorite, it's probably Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa; he's fairly close to Father Reese's criteria (he's 62), and there is reportedly some substantial sentiment among the cardinals to pick someone outside Europe.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 AM)
5 April 2005
Nudging the Vatican

By and large, John Paul II's hard line against various "modernizations" of the church is just fine with The Glittering Eye:

[W]hile the Church may change various different practices and accidental features of Church teaching, essential doctrinal issues won't change. The Church simply isn't in the business of conforming to the prevailing beliefs (whatever those might be) of the contemporary world. On the contrary the job of the Church is to urge people out of conformity with the contemporary world and into greater conformity to the will of God.

Although there's one area, says the Eye, which needs further study:

I've always been skeptical of the position on birth control that Paul VI promulgated in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. I hurry to mention that I understand the Church's position and I accept it. Eppur si muove.

I do believe that this teaching puts the Church in something of a pickle. There is an incontestable relationship between fertility and poverty. By and large the very poorest countries also have the highest fertility rates. I won't bother to cite statistics you can look it up for yourself. But here's the pickle. Either the Church is advocating poverty and misery (which is inconceivable), or the Church needs to moderate its stance on birth control (which I believe can be done without doctrinal trauma), or the Church needs to advocate other policies (like the education of women) which are closely correlated with reduced fertility.

While I agree with the Eye here, I think there's a greater risk of "doctrinal trauma"; I reread Humanae Vitae last night, and it's what you might call inflexible and adamantine. From section 23:

We are fully aware of the difficulties confronting the public authorities in this matter, especially in the developing countries. In fact, We had in mind the justifiable anxieties which weigh upon them when We published Our encyclical letter Populorum Progressio. But now We join Our voice to that of Our predecessor John XXIII of venerable memory, and We make Our own his words: "No statement of the problem and no solution to it is acceptable which does violence to man's essential dignity; those who propose such solutions base them on an utterly materialistic conception of man himself and his life. The only possible solution to this question is one which envisages the social and economic progress both of individuals and of the whole of human society, and which respects and promotes true human values."

But from Populorum Progressio, a year earlier:

There is no denying that the accelerated rate of population growth brings many added difficulties to the problems of development where the size of the population grows more rapidly than the quantity of available resources to such a degree that things seem to have reached an impasse. In such circumstances people are inclined to apply drastic remedies to reduce the birth rate.

There is no doubt that public authorities can intervene in this matter, within the bounds of their competence. They can instruct citizens on this subject and adopt appropriate measures, so long as these are in conformity with the dictates of the moral law and the rightful freedom of married couples is preserved completely intact. When the inalienable right of marriage and of procreation is taken away, so is human dignity.

Finally, it is for parents to take a thorough look at the matter and decide upon the number of their children. This is an obligation they take upon themselves, before their children already born, and before the community to which they belong following the dictates of their own consciences informed by God's law authentically interpreted, and bolstered by their trust in Him.

There's a fair amount of wiggle room in that last sentence, perhaps.

And it should be remembered that the fact that the Church hasn't changed doesn't invariably mean that it won't. I don't expect any changes in the female-ordination policy, for instance, or in the opposition to abortion, but the contraception restriction, as the Vatican surely knows, is more honored in the breach. Still, there will be no changes without a fight: while Paul VI didn't say so in so many words, there is still a belief that Humanae Vitae qualifies as ex cathedra and thus infallible.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
11 April 2005
The Good (e)Book

Tom Lehrer, when he proposed "The Vatican Rag" as a means of making the Church more "commercial," was kidding. I think.

Meanwhile in England, the Norfolk County Council is revising the syllabus for religious education, and one of their revisions calls for the abandonment of the name "Old Testament" for the first thirty-nine books of Scripture; says the council, it makes this part of the Bible seem out of date.

Of course, the New Testament isn't all that new either, come to think of it, and if you ask me, there's only one way to resolve this issue: with a contest.

Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to come up with new names for both Old Testament and New Testament that will pass muster with the likes of the Council without being excessively irreverent or irrelevant. Feel free to request the assistance of the Holy Ghost Spirit. Entries will be taken in Comments through Friday evening.

(Suggested by this Tongue Tied item.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 PM)
The Italian job

A reader sent a link to an Irish site taking bets on the next Pope. As of this writing, Francis Arinze (Nigeria) is the favorite, at 3-1; Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga (Honduras) and Dionigi Testamanzi (Italy) are at 9-2, with Joseph Ratzinger (Germany) at 6-1. The American accorded the best chance is Sean Patrick O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, at 33-1, which strikes me as overly generous.

They're also taking bets on the Pontiff's name; the favorite right now is Benedict XVIII (3-1), followed by John Paul III (7-2) and John XXIV (5-1). Peter II is a 20-1 shot, though I can't imagine anyone taking that name.

I will, of course, burn in hell for suggesting that Arinze be elected, becoming the first black Pope of modern times, and that he take the name "Urban IX."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 PM)
17 April 2005
Try new Life Savers® Testa-Mint

A while back, I asked for updated nomenclature for the two main sections of Scripture, for the benefit of those desperately-trendy types who thought "Old Testament" sounded, well, old.

Lots of neat responses, but I'm inclined to give the nod to Matt Barr for both ingenuity and prosody: Commandments and Amendments.

Thanks to all who participated.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 PM)
18 April 2005
Salami tactics

You cut a little here, you cut a little there, and sooner or later what's left won't hold together.

The Passing Parade applies this meatmanship to the Papacy:

The problem the Sandinistas had with the Pope was that he was not some mush minded gringo dolt who couldnt get past his romantic notions and the Sandinista propaganda about the glories of the Revolution; he was a man who saw the Sandinistas for what they were: Communist totalitarians out to turn the Nicaraguan church into an arm of their regime. And the Pope was having none of it. The Pope lived through the Soviet occupation of Central Europe and knew the tactics the Russians used to get their way in such countries as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the salami tactics, as people called those tactics back in the day. The tactics are relatively simple to understand: the Communists would make a series of non-negotiable demands and threaten civil disorder if they didnt get their way. Once in the government they would demand control of certain ministries, especially those controlling national security and the police, and then would use that power to systematically destroy their political rivals. Hence, slice by slice, like cutting up a salami, the ability of the government to resist the Communists would weaken with every concession until the Communists, with the help of the occupying Red Army, could overthrow the government.

And this experience was put to use in John Paul's spiritual leadership as well:

If the Pope resisted even so-called minor reforms in the Church, I think he did it because he questioned the ultimate motives of those making the demands for change, knowing that if he backed down on one item then the pressure to back down on other items would be all the greater, for having made one concession would only convince the detractors that [they] could have their way.

There's no way to know for sure, but this makes sense to me: what would they ask for next?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
19 April 2005
Urbi et orbi et Andy

It occurs to me, now that the ballots have been burned, that the really interesting bet would not have been who was elected Pope or what name he would take, but how long it would take Andrew Sullivan to complain about him.

It's not simply a continuation of John Paul II. It's a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church. The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct. And the attack on individual political freedom is just beginning.

In other news, the sky is falling.

(Update, 3:35 pm: "I thought only teenage girls could swoon so dramatically," says McGehee.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:56 PM)
20 April 2005
And the ursines remain on the sylvan glades

Is the Pope Catholic? Yes, and this simple fact seems to have upset the Usual Suspects.

Lileks' take is instructive:

The selection of Ratzinger was initially heartening, simply because he made the right people apoplectic. I'm still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As Pope? How could this be? As if ... this was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who's about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious: it's the Catholic Church, for Christ's sake! You're not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter's and replace them with IKEA wine racks, okay?

Too facile, you think?

Yes, yes, easy for me to say, it's not my church. New age of oppression and intolerance, and all that. Write me when hot-eyed Jesuits walk into a mosque in Qom with ten pounds of Semtex strapped to their chest.

Naw. He's got them dead to rights.

Note to those of you in the cafeteria line: The Church owes you nothing. It was here first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
10 May 2005
Fresh angles in the public square

After the kerfuffle over last December's Lakehoma School musical in Mustang, it was clear something was going to be done, and the something begins this way:

Public schools may neither instill nor inhibit religion. They must be places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect. Mustang Public Schools uphold the First Amendment by protecting the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or no faith.

It remains to be seen whether this new policy, adopted by the Mustang school board last night, will be enough to keep everybody happy, but the opening words, at least, seem scrupulously fair. (The full document hasn't been posted yet.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
18 May 2005
Scripture rescripted

I spent enough time in Catholic schools to become familiar with what was called the Douay Bible, and most of the verses I committed to memory were taken from versions thereof. (I took three years of high-school Latin, which threw me into the Vulgate, but that's another matter.) Still, the text I found most appealing was one from a different tradition entirely: the Authorized, aka King James, Version, which, to me at least, always stood out for its lyric quality, as though it were written to be performed in public. It is, of course, no coincidence that this was about the same time I was immersing myself in Shakespeare.

A more recent text has emerged, called the English Standard Version, and it looks promising:

The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on "word-for-word" correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

Which latter, alas, wasn't the KJV's strong point. And this is the clincher:

Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between "formal equivalence" in expression and "functional equivalence" in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be "as literal as possible" while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence.

Susan B. posted the ESV Psalm 91, and, to these eyes anyway, it has all of the lyricism of the King James version, without the necessity of translation from Elizabethan English into something more contemporary, and with the sort of balance between spirit and letter I generally don't see in more "modern" (read: "less literal") renderings.

The entire text is available online, but I'm thinking of ordering one of these for myself anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
27 May 2005
Injunctions in lieu of burning

Last year, a Marion County, Indiana judge ordered that a divorced couple who are both practicing Wiccans may not expose their nine-year-old son to any of the trappings of their belief system, which he complains is "non-mainstream."

The county's Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau apparently advised the judge on this matter, noting that the boy is currently attending a Catholic school.

The boy's father is appealing the pertinent section of the divorce decree. I figure the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment ought to make this a slam-dunk, even in Indiana.

(Via Ed Brayton at In the Agora.)

(Update, 10 am, 28 May: Steph Mineart observes: "I guess getting a divorce in Indiana entitles the courts to dictate how to live your life.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:20 PM)
28 May 2005
Payments from here to eternity

Winston at nobody asked... gets an email comeon for a "Christian mortgage," and certain questions just naturally come up:

  1. Most importantly, does claiming to be a Christian give an applicant a lower price or rate?

  2. What kind of documentation is required to prove that claim?

  3. Are all brands of Christianity treated equally? Do Catholics get a better shake than Baptists?

  4. Are these products also available to non-Christians? Religious discrimination?

  5. If I get one of these mortgages and later convert to, let's say, Judaism, am I required to forfeit?

  6. If I am late with a payment, am I treated with compassion and tolerance?

I wouldn't bet on #6.

I figure the concept is probably legit I mean, they have, for instance, financial services for Lutherans but the use of spam techniques automatically lowers one's credibility by 99-point-something percent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
1 July 2005
Here, have a tablet

If you're a bit baffled by those two Ten Commandments cases fielded by the Supreme Court last week, John Rosenberg proposes to invoke the wisdom of Solomon:

Since the opinions of the Supremes in this area, as in so many others, are more legislative than judicial, balancing interests and splitting fine factual hairs about the degree to which this or that display is really religious as opposed to secular, it would be much simpler for the Court to handle these 10 Commandments cases in the classic legislative manner: by splitting the difference, and allowing the posting of 5 [Commandments] (any 5 will do). That would make as much sense, and would be much easier to understand and act upon in the future, than trying to untangle the lessons of the 10 separate opinions that were just delivered in the recent case from Texas (10 Commandments stone monument O.K.) and Kentucky (framed 10 Commandments not O.K.) Why not just let Texas have five and Kentucky have five?

Which (you saw this coming, didn't you?) leads me to the next question: Which five would Texas, or Kentucky, or your state, prefer?

And if you insist on splitting them right down the middle, what happens to "Thou shalt not kill," which is #5 in Catholic and Lutheran parlance and #6 elsewhere?

(I don't think we're quite ready, or maybe just I'm not quite ready, to drop down to two Commandments, as George Carlin recommends.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
31 July 2005
File under: mysterious ways

Dawn Eden pays a visit to the "Winking Jesus" in Hoboken, and reports:

I didn't see anything out of the ordinary but the statue does look eerie.

I prayed silently as I would in a church and tried to discern what, if anything, was going on, beyond people praying most of them Hispanic women and [statue owner Julio] Dones standing by exhorting onlookers to prayer. He had made a hand-lettered sign which said something like, "If this gives you hope, pray for the needy and yourself." He also said to anyone who would listen that he was not asking for money, only that people should pray and turn to God.

I didn't feel that anything was terribly wrong other than the discomfiting sense that Dones's peaceful shrine could easily turn into a carnival if the forces of greed were allowed to take hold. But that was just my fear. The scene itself was prayerful and moving. It was as though the entrance to Hoboken's projects the dividing line that separates the city's $400,000-plus condominiums from its crime and poverty-ridden ghetto suddenly had an angel's foot wedged in the door.

I don't claim to have any explanation for this sort of miracle, if miracle it be; indeed, were there an explanation, the miraculousness of it all might dissolve in a glass of bitter cynicism. For some people, that's just fine.

But I think that what matters in these incidents is not so much the mechanics but the response: people believe, and when people believe, unexpected things can and apparently do happen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 AM)
7 August 2005
Building the faith base

Usually, church advertising in local newspapers is simple: there's generally a weekly "Worship Services Directory" or something like that, and various congregations put up a few bucks for a business-card-sized block. Once in a while, a church will buy a page for something out of the ordinary a revival, say, or to take a stand for or against something but by and large, it tends to be a low-key sort of thing.

This morning's Oklahoman, though, contains an oddity: a sixth of a page about the same size as the bank ad below it bought by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and tagged "Ever Thought Of Becoming Catholic?"

This is the letter from Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran:

For 2000 years Roman Catholics have gathered together to worship God and to serve their brothers and sisters through an abundance of ministries and services for the needy and poor.

Our parishes are anxious to welcome you into their communities. For information about joining us please contact the Church nearest your home.

There follows a list of six local parishes; there are many more than that in the city, which suggests either that this ad is customized by location (more likely, since all six are north of the river) or that these six are particularly anxious for new parishioners.

Times do change.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
8 August 2005
Green grow the Lileks

He's back, he's sort of rested, and he's ready to Explain It All:

In principium era verbum: in the beginning was the word. And the word was go. Or Bang. Doesn't matter; I have never found religion and cosmology to be in conflict, which is why the ID debate is boring. It's like a debate that seeks to prove whether cats or forklifts exist.

Uh how about both?


There are fewer stray forklifts, but otherwise I think it's settled.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
12 September 2005
With a cameo by the Essenes

I am unabashedly theist, possibly even Deist, with vaguely-Christian leanings which of late have become somewhat less vague. This much you should know up front.

That said, I'd definitely like to see The God Who Wasn't There, a documentary by "former fundamentalist" Brian Flemming, last seen putting together Bat Boy: The Musical, likely the only theatrical production based upon a Weekly World News character. (Personally, I'm champing at the bit for My America: The Ed Anger Story.)

My curiosity is motivated by two factors:

  1. Flemming, on the film distributor's official site, seems to be comparing himself to Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, and, well, I've always had a soft spot for people who were full of crap but were entertaining about it;

  2. The cast includes Barbara and David Mikkelson, aka Snopes.com.

And until there's a full-fledged exposé on the Pastafarians, this will have to satisfy my occasional thirst for rank heresy.

(Suggested by Leaning Towards the Dark Side.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
14 September 2005
The Christian imperative

One interpretation, by self-described "poor Christian" Dave Schuler:

What Jesus did not say was that there was an affirmative obligation to hire people whose putative duty was to help the poor or people in genuine need of help. He easily could have. He could have imagined the Samaritan as, rather than binding the wounds of the man who fell among thieves, taking him to an inn himself, and pressing money on the innkeeper to take care of him, tossing a shekel at him and hurrying on his way or speeding his way to the nearest town to notify the authorities. Or, rather than saying "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" he could have said, "Petition the authorities to feed the poor and clothe the naked".

And, in particular, I don't think Jesus taught that paying taxes (or voting for policies that caused other people to pay taxes) to support a government which, among other things, helped the poor and those genuinely in need of help was particularly virtuous. Quite to the contrary he said "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's".

If the central issue were helping the poor and those in need of help, it might have been more effective. But that's not what He said. He said to feel compassion and take direct action yourself and I think there's a very different spiritual conformation and commitment required to do that.

The new Luke 18:11: "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Republican."

Domine, non sum dignus.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 AM)
25 September 2005
Jesus, what a documentary

A couple of weeks ago, I expressed the desire to see Brian Flemming's The God Who Wasn't There, and this being a desire that was not particularly difficult to fulfill either I could wait however long for a rental, or I could ante up $25 and get my own copy it has now come to fruition by way of Option B.

As a film, it's just this side of brilliant: despite an awful lot of talking heads, there isn't a dull moment in the 60-minute running time, and Flemming's narration pulls off the difficult task of balancing serious and snarky. The inclusion of some bloody footage from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ "used without permission," reads the credit comes with a graphic reminder that it wasn't particularly bloody: once you're past the first reel, you're hard-pressed to find two consecutive minutes without some scenes of violence. (A handy minute-by-minute index to said gore is provided on screen.) A group of revival-goers interviewed outside a Billy Graham proves to be suitably fervent, but hardly what you'd call comparison shoppers. And Flemming's visit to the Christian school in southern California where he was first, um, indoctrinated turns ugly surprisingly quickly.

As an instrument of persuasion? Me, I remain unpersuaded. Then again, I was aware of the porous history of early Christianity, and the similarities in the Gospel stories to tales of other deities; I wrote about one here many years ago. And a few bits of talk on the commentary track bordered on paranoid: yes, we do have a lot of fundamentalists, and no, it's not likely that they're going to have the atheists rounded up and shot. To no surprise, the Raving Atheist, whose voice is heard on this track, doesn't rave at all: he's as sensible in person, apparently, as he is in text form.

Still, I recommend The God Who Wasn't There, even if it wasn't a life-changing experience (a phrase I truly despise) for me: it's consistently entertaining and it asks the right questions. To quote an earlier screenwriter: "I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education." This film, I'd say, can legitimately be considered educational, though I suspect that the truest of True Believers will remain unmoved.

(Addendum: Brian Flemming has a blog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:05 PM)
1 October 2005
Family Fun Fellowship foofaraw

A local public school I'm guessing in Mid-Del apparently has been soliciting student participation in activities at a local church, which prompted a debate on a local message board. (I am fairly confident I know which church is involved.)

The principal of the school says he's looking into how the church flyer got into school distribution in the first place.

And that's the problem here: that the school was actually distributing a church flyer, which appears to step over the line drawn by the Establishment Clause. I'm thinking that if they had simply parked a box of flyers in the hallway with a Take One sign, they might have been able to slide, but apparently they sent them home with the individual students, a distribution vector which always suggests Official School Business. ("Make sure you give this to your parents.") I have no problem with churches doing outreach to public-school students, but they can't use those schools as their agents.

(Update, Sunday: It ain't necessarily so. Read this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:42 AM)
2 October 2005
Further Family Fun Fellowship foofaraw

When last we left this story, I had suggested that there were Constitutional issues involved.

Sean Gleeson reports on what those issues are:

[A]s the law stands now, it would have been illegal and unconstitutional for the school to refuse to distribute the Pumpkin Festival flier!

In 1993, the Supreme Court decided Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, holding that it is a violation of the First Amendment for a public school to "discriminate on the basis of viewpoint." In other words, the school must treat religious persons and organizations no differently than non-religious ones. This legal doctrine was strengthened and reaffirmed with Good News Club v. Milford Central School in 2001. In both cases, the court forced the schools to allow religious groups to use their facilities.

These cases were not specifically about distributing fliers, but in 2003 the U.S. District Court in San Diego ruled against the San Diego Unified School District in a case involving fliers advertising free lectures at a Lutheran church. The school district was ordered to post and distribute the church's fliers. The school district was ordered in a summary judgment to post the church's fliers. A summary judgment is one in which one party's case is so weak that the court can rule without hearing any testimony. After this, the school district settled out of court and agreed to distribute the church's fliers to students as well.

Which would indicate that if the school is handing out promotional material for non-religious organizations been a while since I've had any dealings with grade schools, but I rather suspect that they might be they have no basis on which to refuse material from religious organizations.

And that would seem to settle that.

Addendum: The Subjective Scribe says it's okay with him if they send home no materials at all:

[O]utside groups, religious and otherwise, have other avenues for reaching their target market. An involuntary, captive audience should not be subject to outside marketing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 AM)
28 October 2005
Next, the Penguin vs. C. S. Lewis

I'd link this just for the title: Why the Blessed Virgin Mary Is Better Than Wonder Woman or My Mom Can Beat Up Your Feminist Icon.

But there's more: the top 10 reasons, in fact. I'll just quote #6:

Better Allies.  Do you think St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse, has anything to fear from being one-upped by Steve Trevor or even Superman? Guess again. Once you put in that Mary, as Queen of Heaven, also, can count the apostles, prophets, martyrs, confessors, and the many other saints, Wonder Woman will be hard put to impress me even if she were to marshal all the forces of Themescrya.

Not to mention that if an invisible jet had landed at Lourdes, it would have screwed up the spring something fierce and Bernadette probably wouldn't have seen a thing.

(Via E. M. Zanotti.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
23 November 2005
Not Scopes II

This week's Oklahoma Gazette has an actual debate of sorts on "intelligent design", pitting UCO professor (and blogger) Dr Kurt Hochenauer against Rep. Thad Balkman (R-Norman), perhaps the prime mover for the theory in these parts.

I wasn't persuaded in either direction there's an "It is written" phrase that comes up occasionally on the sidebar which says "Evolution is God's way of issuing upgrades," which is pretty much my position on the subject (and which, you'll note, sidesteps the question of origins) but Balkman loses (on) points for talking around ID without ever actually using the phrase: it's as though he suspects that particular dog isn't evolved enough to hunt.

"Critical analysis of evolution?" Absolutely. Any scientific principle worth its sodium chloride ought to be subject to critical analysis. On the other hand, "critical analysis" and "Thad Balkman" really don't belong in the same sentence, and God only knows what I'm risking by this heedless juxtaposition.

Still, this comment by Sean Gleeson is probably the most sensible observation I've seen on this subject lately:

I propose to revisit this topic in 100 years, and we'll see what the scientific consensus is then.

A lot can happen in ten decades.

Update, 29 November: J. M. Branum says he's "torn between both perspectives."

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:10 PM)
5 December 2005
Saltier than Lot's wife

Yes, I'm aware that there are scenes of fierce eroticism in the Old Testament, but do I really want to see them in full color on a calendar?

Well, um, maybe.

(Via Sexoteric Blog; I wouldn't recommend opening up any of these links in the presence of coworkers.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:11 PM)
7 December 2005
A pox on both your houses

The flap over Christmas and other minor skirmishes in the culture wars are basically a product of an "unholy collusion," says Eric Scheie:

There used to be a more or less secular form of God, but over the years champions of secular atheism such as the ACLU in unholy collusion with certain religious conservatives worked relentlessly to purged this workable compromise from the schools and even from the founding. This has radicalized the debate into two very shrill camps: those who scream "God" when they mean fundamentalism, and those who scream "secular!" when they mean atheism. In my view, it's increasingly hopeless.

Pat Robertson types and ACLU types have done more for each other than they have for the country. The fact that enemies often obtain leverage from their enemies is a simple enough concept that I suppose an economist or mathematician could reduce it to a formula.

It's a perfect setup: each demonizes the other and requests funding to sustain the fight, and the cycle repeats indefinitely. The only way to break the cycle is for the general public to tell one side or the other (or, preferably in my view, both sides) to go to hell, or the secular equivalent thereof.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
9 December 2005
God and the UFCW

Here's the script:

Our faith teaches us "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

If these are our values, then ask yourself: should people of faith shop at Wal-Mart this holiday season?

When Wal-Mart repeatedly broke child labor laws, is being sued by 1.5 million women for discrimination, and over 600,000 Wal-Mart workers and their families have no company health care?

If these are Wal-Mart's values should people of faith shop at Wal-Mart?

Should you?

This spot is running in six states, including Oklahoma.

I'm guessing I was absent the day they covered the Biblical requirement for health insurance, but that's a minor issue compared to this:

"Out of our religious heritage comes the recognition that we are not allowed to deprive people of their God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In this respect the Wal-Mart form of business represents plantation capitalism; the few become very wealthy and the many become poorer," stated Reverend James Lawson of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, CA.

They're depriving people of life, liberty and so forth? Is something going on at Associates meetings that I don't know about?

I admit to being a bit perplexed by this "Where would Jesus shop?" premise. I think we can safely conclude that JC opposed commerce in the Temple, but beyond that, it's hard to be sure.

On the other hand, Paul lectured the Thessalonians thusly (New KJV):

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.

For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.

And we're awash in busybodies these days, says Dan Fogelman of Wal-Mart:

Truly, many Americans are deeply offended that union leadership would use religion as just another tactic in the negative attack campaign against a company that donates more money to good works than any other company in America.

"Deeply offended?" I'm not. Then again, I rather strongly suspect that if the United Food and Commercial Workers had negotiated a contract with Bentonville that gave Wal-Mart Associates exactly what they're getting now, we wouldn't be seeing any of this.

(Disclosure: Total amount spent by me at Wal-Mart this year: $0. Last year: $0.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 AM)
Virtue is its own punishment

Pope Benedict XVI disagrees:

Man nurtures the suspicion that God, at the end of the day, takes something away from his life, that God is a competitor who limits our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we will have set him aside.

There emerges in us the suspicion that the person who doesn't sin at all is basically a boring person, that something is lacking in his life, the dramatic dimension of being autonomous, that the freedom to say 'no' belongs to real human beings.

I must point out here that occasional sin hasn't made me any less boring.

Besides, as E. M. Zanotti notes, "There is only so much debauchery you can take."

And, well, most of the time I wouldn't even recognize a bauch.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:29 AM)
15 December 2005
The nerve of some people

Marc was going through some old boxes at his mom's house, and found a pocket-sized New Testament that appeared to be at least half a century old. He popped it open, and this was waiting on the first page, dated 25 January 1941:

To the Armed Forces:

As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.

Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt.

No one would dare offer any such thing today to our "men of many faiths and diverse origins."

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:18 AM)
22 December 2005
May I see your fake ID, please?

For a topic billed as "intelligent design," it certainly generates a lot of unintelligent discussion.

McGehee attempts to improve the odds:

I remember reading about "Intelligent Design" as a concept back in the 1990s. It is not new.

Even back then, while it was still under the radar of sensible people, it was already under attack as "creationism" even though those who were talking about it then were not creationists. But the detractors made enough noise that it brought the creationists into the picture and they decided since the "evolutionists" were agin it, that meant they oughta be for it. And that?s when the people who first brought it up lost control of the concept.

What I recognize as "Intelligent Design" was formed back then before it became a cause célèbre of those who think the Genesis timeline of six days (and a day of rest) must mean six 24-hour days (and a 24-hour day of rest) and had nothing to say about the mechanics of evolution except that it takes more faith to credit it all to "accident" than to "not an accident." Indeed, the fact that the universe does indeed abide by these natural laws, and that these laws, seemingly implemented in a heartbeat at the moment when time and space began, made possible such a multivaried and beautiful universe, and one in which not only life could arise, but intelligent life, was all itself being held out as a pretty good argument for an intelligent designer. ID was never meant to be science, but a philosophical response to what science has shown.

And so it came to pass that the concept was inappropriately appropriated, and the label was pasted on Creationism v.2:

What offended its detractors, I think, is that it does indeed require more faith to credit it all to accident than otherwise and that meant ID was challenging that faith.

Since the most recent challenge to that faith had indeed been "creation science" an oxymoron of monumental proportions and since the Holy Church of Divine Accident had defeated that challenge, of course the counter-attack followed the same strategy.

This battle percolated on the back burner for several years, only emerging into the public eye relatively recently, as former "creation science" advocates hijacked the label of "Intelligent Design" for yet another attack on evolution.

My own thinking along these matters has been something like "God made the soup, and what happened after that depends on which bowl it wound up in," which would seem to be at least somewhat consistent with McGehee's description of original ID and generally contrary to the new, usurped ID. My idea of a proper biology class would point out that evolution explains some phenomena extremely well, others not so well, and that science is always subject to change as new information is received but never subject to change by popular vote. (Otherwise, this being December, I'd be out campaigning for more global warming.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
23 December 2005
Your tax shekels at work

Truly a scary headline:


Nazareth Carpenter Being Held On Charges Involving Underage Mother

And while the government is on a roll:

The owner of the barn is also being held for questioning. The manager of Bethlehem Inn faces possible revocation of his license for violating health and safety regulations by allowing people to stay in the stable. Civil authorities are also investigating the zoning violations involved in maintaining livestock in a commercially-zoned district.

Where's the Judean People's Front People's Front of Judea when you need them?

(a bow to Accidental Deb)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
24 December 2005
Vestments of white

"Catholic feast days are almost always depressing," says E. M. Zanotti, and Christmas, despite having spread far beyond Catholicism, may be the bleakest of all:

Mary, likely only about 14 at the time, was a child having a child: the kind of unexpected situtation that we, here and now, might automatically suggest abortion for. Just days after her giving birth in secret, Herod, in an effort to pre-empt the prophecy, kills off hundreds of innocent children, thinking that Jesus was among them. Through the ordeal, the players in the Christmas pageant endure some of the worst that society has to offer discrimination, aggression, and genocide with only a crucifixion and death to look toward.

But then, there's this:

Christmas comes without ribbons, it comes without tags. In the bleak midwinter, when the snow has just become annoying and the temperatures are dipping below the freezing mark, when the days are the shortest, and the sky is overcast, the trees barren, in the bleakest moment in world history, surrounded by pain and suffering and the worst of the human condition, Christmas was, and is, a beacon of hope, a reminder that our time in this place is only temporary. After all, if He helped us out once, He can help us out again.

Another reason not to fear the Newdows of today, or the Newerdows of tomorrow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:38 AM)
25 December 2005
Contemporary reports

The gospels of John and Mark don't spend any time on the birth of Jesus; what we know, mostly, comes from Matthew and especially from Luke.

What we tend to forget is that many other accounts were written which aren't part of the Scriptural canon. One of the more interesting versions is the one appearing in the Protevangelium of James, attributed to the half-brother of Jesus. This seems unlikely, since James was put to death about AD 62, before the writing of either Matthew's or Luke's gospel, and James clearly draws from both; the Protevangelium was probably written about 150. (By general agreement, Mark's gospel was the first written: it dates to 70 or so. Keep in mind that the actual birth of Jesus was before AD 1, perhaps in the early autumn of 5 BC.)

The Glittering Eye today reprints three Nativity scenes, one from James and two later editions, which obviously don't replace the canonical versions, but do represent the thinking of some early Christians, a useful reminder that then, just as now, not everyone fell into doctrinal lockstep.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 AM)
16 January 2006
From the Birmingham jail

Four years ago, I posted part of a letter written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while he was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1963.

I reread that letter in full today you can, too, if you so desire and found a different part to highlight today.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. We we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

In the streets of Oklahoma City today, there will be two marches: one the official parade, which starts at 2 pm at 7th and Robinson and proceeds through downtown; and, perhaps more pertinent, a silent march from the Ralph Ellison Library to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which begins at 9 am.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
29 January 2006
How it's done

There is but one Decision Tree, ordained by the Almighty and formatted for your convenience by Francis W. Porretto, and it goes like this:

  1. Select a technique that you think will get you what you think you want.
  2. Will this technique require you to lose body parts, go to jail, or burn in Hell?
    • If so, return to step 1.
    • If not, proceed to step 3.
  3. Do a little of it.
  4. Are you at your goal, approaching it, or receding from it?
    • If at your goal, stop.
    • If approaching, return to step 3.
    • If receding, return to step 1.

There might be some human endeavor which this does not cover, but if so, it's one I have yet to discover.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:18 PM)
16 February 2006
Healing the lame

In one sense, anyway: MyLameSexLife.com.

At least they didn't actually mention me by name.

(Via Church Marketing Sucks. Yes, really.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
22 February 2006
Ashes to ashes

Well, not exactly:

The Sermon I think this Mom will never forget.... this particular Sunday sermon.... "Dear Lord," the minister began, with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face. "Without you, we are but dust."

He would have continued but at that moment my very obedient daughter (who was listening!) leaned over to me and asked quite audibly in her shrill little girl voice, "Mom, what is butt dust?"

I know I wouldn't have an answer for that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
6 March 2006
You think, therefore I am

Might George Berkeley have been right after all? Julie R. Neidlinger, on the persistence of memory, or the lack thereof:

Being remembered is important to people, especially if they think that this life is all they get. A new book, The Brief History of the Dead, touches on the importance of this by setting up an alternate plane of existence where those who have died only exist as long as someone alive remembers them. I find this horrifying, the idea that my existence would be wrenched from my control and placed in the wispy basket of memory, casually handed over to other people, people who might not cherish it as I would.

Julie? Oh yeah, remember her? Barely. She was like the color gray, nothing much, I imagine them saying. And then they toss me out of the basket.

Though this is only a science fiction book and not reality, I still allow people a fraction of that power every time I grasp at straws when I realize that someone is willing to let me "slip out of their reality." They are willing to let me go, in all ways. The check's paid up, the beautiful dinner is over, and they are out the door.

There is something else, though, something worse than being let go, being forgotten. What could be worse than someone letting you go when you don't want them to? What could be worse than being forgotten?

I was going to say "Not being noticed in the first place," but obviously that's wrong; if you've never had something, you'll never know what it's like to have it taken away from you.

As close as I ever came to the heart of the matter was the day I turned forty-nine:

[M]ost people tend to wilt just a little when contemplating the Grim Reaper. Some of us are better at sneering at it than others "Yo, Death, I got your sting right here," said James Lileks but we laugh at Death because we know Death will have the last laugh on us. (Christ, I'm quoting Lou Grant now. And it's not "I hate spunk," either.)

[K]nowing I'm going to die isn't what scares me; what scares me is knowing I'm going to die alone. Some day, more likely some night, that "finite number of breaths" will be reached, everything will come to an end, and no one will know until two or three days later because some mundane task wasn't performed on time, some phone call wasn't returned, or, most absurdly, because this goddamn Web site wasn't updated.

But this would seem to defy Berkeley: if I exist outside of other people's perceptions, at least long enough to expire unnoticed some weekend, then that existence cannot be dependent on those perceptions.

Still, there's a part of me which believes, insists even, that I make no particular impression, that I leave no footprints in the sand, that the moment of my demise means not only that I no longer am, but that I never really was.

Or, as Julie says:

It isn't the fear of slipping in and out of someone's reality. It's realizing you've never even made it in.

Another reason, I suppose, to keep on writing, on the off-chance that I might make it in, somewhere, somehow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
8 March 2006
You deserve a break this eternity

"I'm sorry, honey, I can't," he says. "It's Lent."

"That's awful," she sobs. "To whom, and for how long?"

Your reaction to that may well foreshadow your reaction to this. [Requires QuickTime.]

Think of it as an object lesson in the superiority of Western civilization: we can take it as well as we can dish it out.

(Via Church Marketing Sucks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:06 AM)
18 March 2006
Make a reasonably-positive noise

I have previously suggested that my personal religious faith is, shall we say, something less than muscular: part wishy, part washy, even the Unitarians could mock me.

So I'd best get busy learning some of these church songs ("hymns" sounds so ... so liturgical):

  • A Comfy Mattress Is Our God
  • Lord, Keep Us Loosely Connected to Your Word
  • All Hail the Influence of Jesus' Name
  • My Hope is Built on Nothing Much
  • Amazing Grace, How Interesting the Sound
  • O God, Our Enabler in Ages Past
  • Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me
  • Praise God from Whom All Affirmations Flow
  • I'm Fairly Certain That My Redeemer Lives
  • Take My Life and Let Me Be
  • There is Scattered Cloudiness in My Soul Today
  • What an Acquaintance We Have in Jesus
  • When the Saints Go Sneaking In
  • Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following
  • Lift Every Voice and Intellectualize

Brought to you by the Church of the Lukewarm.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 PM)
30 March 2006
Non-Judgmental, I guess

The last time the United Church of Christ came up with a "controversial" television ad, it got a rhetorical shrug from this quarter; it struck me as earnest but mild, hardly worth the brouhaha unless you're one of those people who believe that churches ought to have someone permanently stationed at the door scanning entrants with a Manual Gaydar Device, in which case you might have actually thought it, well, controversial. (More about it here.)

Well, they're at it again:

This time around a traditional American family looks horrified at the non-traditional church goers single mother, gay couple, Hispanic or Middle-Eastern and each one is literally ejected. The tagline is "God doesn't reject people, neither do we."

Which, I suppose, is probably slightly pithier than "You must be this holy to ride this pew."

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:26 PM)
9 April 2006
Far from the comfy chair

Dawn Eden, approaching Catholicism, is facing her first Confession, and things don't seem to be quite the way I remember them from the Pleistocene era. The Archdiocese of New York recommends:

When finished examining his conscience, [the penitent] should make a mental list of all the mortal sins he committed, noting how and how many times he committed them, as far as he can remember. He can also add any venial sins he remembers.

This is "not helpful," says Dawn:

How exactly does one confess all one's sins from birth onward? I have some vague idea of going down the list of the Ten Commandments and highlighting anything particularly egregious.

Back when I carried around a Baltimore Catechism, I once used exactly this tack for the Sacrament of Penance Reconciliation, and was lectured by the priest for being too concerned with the details, possibly at the expense of the actual repentance.

Besides, we have all sinned. God knows that; the priest hearing the confession knows that. What matters, I think, is that you recognize the more serious lapses, take note of the pattern if there seems to be an awful lot of them, and work diligently to do better next time. The first confession is scary, but it's the second one from which you measure your progress.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:08 AM)
13 April 2006
Let us slouch together

A few months back I raved about Salvador Litvak's When Do We Eat?, a tale of the World's Fastest Seder and how it didn't stay that way.

Apparently this idea has occurred to others. Michael Rubiner has scripted a Two-Minute Haggadah, billed as "a Passover service for the impatient." The Passover story boils down to this:

It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through; the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several years without being persecuted again. (Let brisket cool now.)

As Tevye might not have said, "Tradish!"

(Via Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 AM)
15 May 2006
Cloud 10 or higher

From the Holy Office in deepest Connecticut, an explanation of what's beyond the gates of pearl:

Heaven is a term referring to the ultimate destiny of a certain number of souls. Depending on who you listen to, heaven is either: where all of us will end up (Origen); where many of us will end up (St. Gregory of Nyssa); where some of us will end up (John Calvin); where a small portion of us have, in some sense, already ended up (John of Leyden); where precisely 144,000 of us will end up (Charles Taze Russell); or where Jack Chick will end up (Jack Chick). Theologian Belinda Carlisle once posited that "Ooh, baby, heaven is a place on earth," but explorers combing the globe have yet to confirm this.

Other complicated Christian terms are also explained at this page.

(Poached from the divine Jane Galt.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:14 PM)
17 May 2006
Blogging the Bible

Plotz, n. To burst, to explode: "I can't laugh anymore or I'll "plotz." To be aggravated beyond bearing.

I'm hoping that David Plotz' Bible-blogging brings me closer to the former than to the latter. There is reason to be hopeful. For instance, Genesis 7:22-23:

The grimmest verse so far: "All in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life, all that was on dry land, died. All existence on earth was blotted out man, cattle, creeping things, birds of the sky; they were blotted from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark."

What a chilling account of the flood, and of the loneliness of Noah. Even the good man, even the righteous man, is alone in the world, and always subject to God's awesome power. This is pretty raw. It seems clear that the Pre-Deluge evils were not crimes of men against other men, but crimes of men against God. As men mastered agriculture and metalwork and built cities, which earlier verses suggest they did, they felt they didn't need God. They came to see their laws, achievements, and prosperity as their own, accomplished independently of God. So, perhaps the point of the flood was not to restore ordinary moral behavior day-to-day decency, law, etc. but to restore faith, or at least fear. We thought we didn't need God, and that was what angered Him. The Flood this verse in particular reminds us (or at least the one righteous man who is permitted to live) that we are never independent of God, but always floating alone, vulnerable, at His mercy.

At least we know Plotz is taking this particular task seriously.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:16 PM)
19 May 2006
Meanwhile, Leonardo snickers from a cloud

The LOOK@OKC blogger known as 3E weighs in on The Da Vinci Code:

The Baptist Messenger recently devoted a near entire issue to "combating" the message of the Da Vinci Code. Including how and when to use tracks w/ the unbeliever. It also suggested that newly "saved" believers may need to be discouraged from viewing the movie, so as not to endanger their souls.

Of all the things to get worked up over. Poverty? Nah. Discrimination? Nah. Senseless War? Nah. Nepotism in Politics? Nah. Corruption? Nah. A work of Fiction? Well gulldarnit, now the collective masses are worried.

Then again, Bad Santa ruined Christmas for me, so maybe their fears have some basis.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:28 PM)
1 July 2006
George Washington's axe

I haven't actually seen it, but I'm guessing it might be in a museum somewhere. Over the years, the blade has been replaced three times, the handle four times, and wait a minute.

What is an axe? A blade with a handle.

And if you've changed both the blade and the handle, several times yet, does the resulting object, obviously never once touched by George Washington, still qualify as George Washington's axe?

This question is far more serious than you think. Francis W. Porretto would say that it does:

[M]etaphysically, it spotlights the nature of identity as men understand it.

The undefined abstraction we call identity is inseparable from continuity.

And he throws a counterquestion into the mix: were you to find the original blade and (less likely, wood being rather impermanent stuff) the original handle and combine them into a unit, could you legitimately call the resulting object "George Washington's axe"?

Push this into the future. Right before you die, the contents of your brain are uploaded into a computerized storage facility of some sort. Time passes, as time is wont to do; eventually someone downloads those contents into an independent and, let's say, ambulatory, or at least self-propelled, container.

Is that you there?

And does it make any difference if time hadn't passed, if the transfer from the dying body to the new vessel had been instantaneous?

The robot R. Daneel Olivaw, in Asimov's Foundation and Earth, said that over the centuries, every part of him had been replaced and/or upgraded, and that he'd used version n of his brain to design version n+1, which was then activated in place of the older one.

This question goes back as least as far as Plutarch, which tells me that it's more than just a mere museum piece.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:22 PM)
18 August 2006
Scroll up

A monument engraved with the Ten Commandments is to be installed near the Coal County Courthouse, though not actually on the courthouse grounds: it's on private property and was built entirely with private funds "to keep some of these protesters away from it," said County Commissioner Johnny Ward.

I'd like to get a look at it, but given what happened the last time I was in Coal County, I'm thinking I can wait a good long time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:49 PM)
4 September 2006
Just don't use That Word

It's just, you know, too non-inclusive:

One of the larger churches in Oregon is no longer a church. Well, it still would probably be categorized as a church. But it no longer calls itself that. East Hill Foursquare Church in Gresham is now simply known as "East Hill Family."

And why is that?

"Church implies a single group of people," Senior Pastor Ted Roberts stated. "Now we are multiple people groups, the 'Café' service, the 'Classic' service, and the 'Central' service. Probably within one to two years, we will have an additional worship venue service off campus.

"And that is the future of East Hill to go beyond these walls eventually and not be limited geographically. We will become a family."

Or maybe a sports bar. Who's gonna know?

Oh. Right.

(Via Church Marketing Sucks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
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