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AND NOW…IDIOTS

Monday, April 7th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 43 Comments

Some Spanish researchers recently claimed to have discovered the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus employed at the Last Supper.  I’m not convinced but since I’ve never been a relics kind of guy, that doesn’t much matter.  Candida Moss, professor of the New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, is also skeptical:

Even if you strip off the precious metals the cup is still too fancy. Agate was widely used to carve high-value objects like signets and cylinder seals in the ancient Near East. The historian Pliny the Elder describes owning agate cups as a sign of wealth and luxury. The imperial biographer Suetonius tells us that, of all of the riches of Alexandria, the emperor Augustus kept only a single agate cup. The emperor Nero—known for his debauchery apparently collected the things. In 66 C.E., when one of Nero’s contemporaries, Petronius, realized that he was about to be executed by the emperor and planned to commit suicide, his final act was to smash an agate ladle worth 300,000 sesterces rather than allow Nero to get his hands on it. To put that in perspective: male laborers living in Republican Rome made about 3 sesterces a day. While agate could likely be acquired much more cheaply, aristocratic Romans were serious about their agate.

Yeah, uh, Candy?  Cupcake?  If I remember the Scriptures correctly, the Lord informed His disciples that the place where He was to eat His final Passover with his disciples had been prepared in advance so there would have been no need for Our Lord to have owned any particular item involved with it. 

Inasmuch as, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” why would the Son of the Most High God have ever owned His own chalice?  This is the intellectual and theological reason why, claims Candy, professor of the New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame as well as an intellectual and theological badass.

Arguably the bigger issue is the cup’s appearance. As any fan of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade knows, Jesus would have used a simple carpenter’s cup. Like all dramatic reenactments, Indiana Jones has some minor historical flaws, but it certainly got that right. Archeological excavations have yielded many examples of ancient Israelite cups and they are made of cheap durable fabrics.

‘Kay.  Except that the “carpenter’s cup” in IJ&TLC was lined with gold.  Just sayin’, Candy.  Roman Catholics?  I know that most of you have gotten a huge kick out of how often you’ve rolled the Anglicans and quite justifiably so; if you’ve got a mark who doesn’t know he’s a mark then work that mark for as long as you can.

But Candy and ND are all yours.  So you will hopefully forgive a few Anglican chuckles.

HORNET’S NEST II

Saturday, April 5th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 28 Comments

You have to hand it to Justin Welby; the man has seriously rattled Anglican leftists all over the world.  The Guardian’s Andrew Brown is honest enough to admit that people with functioning consciences realize a Western gay person not receiving a pointy hat and hooked stick or not being able marry his or her partner in church just isn’t as ethically serious a matter as people being raped or MURDERED, except, perhaps, to moral bankrupts, sociopaths or, apparently, western Anglicans:

There are some sympathetic aspects to Welby’s position. In fact, there exists a perfectly good moral defence of it. The odd thing is that it’s not a Christian defence at all, but a strictly utilitarian one. The suffering caused to a lesbian priest in England who cannot marry her partner is – as far as we can measure and compare these things – less than that of an African woman raped and then murdered along with her children. If there really is some kind of exchange between the two, however tenuous, the utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer would surely argue that the African’s interests come first. 

Nor are we relieved of moral responsibility for a crime or tragedy simply because other parties are more to blame. If some lunatic holds a knife to my child’s throat and says he will kill her if I say “Cheese”, it would be wrong to say “Cheese” just to show how irrational the lunatic is being. The whole point about moral blackmail is that something of value could be lost to the blackmailed person.

Right here, of course, is where the “but” goes.

Archbishops are not supposed to be Peter Singer-style utilitarians. And it seems to me that there are two things wrong with the Welby position from the point of view of Christian ethics. The first is surely that, while we have the right to make our own decisions about whether or not to yield to moral blackmail, we have no right to make them for other adults.

You might object that an archbishop is there to make decisions for other people, so different rules apply. But he is also there to set an example. And this leads to the second Christian objection to this kind of blackmail. Christians are called on to do what is right, and to trust that God will bring good out of it even if evil immediately follows. Failing to do what you believe is right is, in some lights, a kind of blasphemy.

A reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.  And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.  But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords),yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.  For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?  And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?  But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Here ends the reading.  You may be seated.

The situations are different, of course.  What Paul says here, Andy, is that because of what Christ accomplished for us on the Cross, Christians have the freedom to do a great many things.  But if exercising Christian freedom causes or could cause harm to another Christian or even to another human being, true Christians ought to have enough concern for others to volutarily refrain from exercising their freedom.

Because which is more important?  A gay “marriage” or a human life?

Please stand for the Nicene Creed.

Brown’s piece is a commendable effort to at least try to understand both sides of the issue Welby raised.  The response of San Francisco California Episcopal Squishop Marc Andrus, on the other hand, is an intellectually-incoherent mess.  Par for the Episcopal Organization course, in other words.  It starts out like this:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has made public statements that reveal at best a lamentable naiveté and at worst both homophobia and colonial thinking. Archbishop Justin Welby has claimed that the Church of England, if it marries gay and lesbian people there is responsible for the deaths of homosexuals in Africa.

Which is not what he said AT ALL, Andrus, you pea brain.  I hope you all have some IQ points to spare because you’ll lose quite a few of them if you read all of this.  But let’s get the meaningless boilerplate out of the way, shall we?

The archbishop was shown the mass grave of Christians from a village in Africa, killed, he was told because their neighbors did not want to become gay by association with people whose religion supported rights for LGBT people. It is clear that the archbishop was shocked by the brutality behind this mass murder, and the very scale of the killing. I too am overwhelmed by it.

You, too, are “overwhelmed” by something you didn’t see or experience.  Right.

In the face of tragedies larger than a human can take in, I think we often go to answers and solutions that we know, that are familiar.  Here, I think the archbishop fell back on a solution that was already unjust, but familiar to him: retrench around marriage as only between a woman and a man. Don’t inflame violent people further.

Or my gracious lord of Canterbury took people at their word and suggested that western Anglicans, for the sake of people that they claim are their Christian brothers and sisters, might want to consider backing off exercising their “rights” for a while.  To-may-to, to-mah-to.  Then Andrus gets even dumber still.

Welby’s argument is parallel to saying that the segregation laws in the United States that obtained until the mid-60s and the disenfranchisement of women in the United States until the 20th Century should have both been continued if someone claimed that blacks and women in other countries would be endangered by moves towards greater justice here.

Only to a blithering idiot, Andrus.  In fact, it requires a blithing idiot to consider that a serious argument about anything at all.  As inadequate or unjust as the American political system far too often was in our history, that inadequacy or injustice had absolutely no effect whatsover on non-Americans.

But since the Anglican Communion crosses borders, decisions made by its individual churches have a profound effect on every other church in the Communion.  If the Episcopal Organization wants to give Robbie a pointy hat and a hooked stick, Robbie becomes, by the rules of the Anglican game, an Anglican bishop regardless of what Africa and the rest of the world think about it.  While we’re on the subject of colonialism, Marc. 

We should remember that the archbishop has made his views on same-gender marriage clear. In an address to the House of Lords he reiterated, as he did in the radio interview most recently that marriage is a sacred institution reserved for heterosexuals. In fact, in this most recent interview the Guardian wrote that the archbishop did not want LGBT people to be treated with any greater severity than adulterous heterosexuals are treated. The core idea here if anyone cares to look closely is that same-gender relationships are sinful.

That pretty much bottom-lines it there, Marc.  As most of us figured out a long time ago, The Issue has only one right answer and until the Third World understands that answer and accepts it, we here in the comfortable West are quite prepared to accept a little “collateral damage,” if you know what we mean and we think you do.  Oh, we’ll pretend to feel bad about it but you know how it is.

HORNET’S NEST

Saturday, April 5th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 37 Comments

It’s entirely possible that I badly underestimated What’s-His-Face.  Because, mirabile dictu, my gracious lord of Canterbury just did something that his broccoli-shaped predecessor regularly and strenuously went out of his way to avoid doing.  Justin Welby pissed off the Anglican left in a major way:

The Archbishop of Canterbury revealed today that Christians in parts of Africa face abuse, violence and even death because of decisions on sexual equality made by Anglican Churches in the West.

Justin Welby, the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, made the comments in an hour-long phone-in programme on LBC radio today.

In particular he was was responding to a question from Kes, a Church of England priest who had called in to ask why English clergy were not allowed to decide for themselves whether to marry gay couples.

“Why we can’t do it now is because the impact of that on Christians in countries far from here like South Sudan, like Pakistan, like Nigeria, would be absolutely catastrophic and we have to love them as much as the people who are here,” he said. 

“At the same time we have to listen incredibly carefully to the LGBT communities here and listen to what they’re saying and we have to look at the tradition of the Church, the teaching of the Church, and of Scripture which is definitive in the end, before we come to a conclusion [on the issue of same sex marriage].”

When challenged by the LBC presenter James O’Brien about the Church of England’s decision not to perform same sex weddings, Archbishop Welby stressed that it had nothing to do with avoiding upset to African Anglicans. Rather it was about not putting them in danger.

“It [the issue of same sex marriage] is something I wrestle with every day, and often in the middle of the night. I’m incredibly conscious of the position of gay people in this country, how badly they’ve been treated over the years, how badly the church has behaved. And, at the same time I’m incredibly conscious of what I saw in January in  South Sudan, in the DRC, and other places. You know, it’s not a simple issue,” he continued.

The Guardian picked it up so expect this story to have a long shelf life.  Needless to say, Jim Naughton’s habitués are OUTRAGED over Welby’s remarks (some of those folks are in full Resolution B033, Braxton’s Lear, bat crap mode and there’s an expected, brain-dead and historically-idiotic invocation of Martin Luther King or two) while Andrew Brown should have a genteel, overly-long and repetitive sneer up any day now.

There is nothing particularly controversial in Welby’s remarks.  You’re a gay person, it’s a Sunday morning and a friend or a relation is driving you home from an extended and painful hospitalization caused by at least seven or eight people (there might have been more but you’re not sure) who loudly chanted the F-word with every punch each one landed on various parts of your body.

Your friend or relation turns on to your street and passes some Christian church or other.  Whereupon you notice several of the people who put you in the hospital, dressed in their Sunday best, walking in to worship God.  So if an acquaintance of yours invites you to his or her church the following Sunday, what’s your response likely to be?

Damn right it is.

But, as Welby correctly points out, there are two dynamics in play here and you can see the other one working if you read the comments at Naughton’s.  The actions of the western Anglican church caused non-European people to be murdered?  How dare you even imply such a thing, Your Grace?  HOW DARE YOU, SIR?!!

It must be nice for Welby to have people like Naughton’s commenters basically prove His Grace’s other point for him.  When the western Anglican left wants something, it will get it and it will not even pretend to give a crap how that affects anybody else in the Anglican world, people with whom it claims to be in “communion.”

Really sorry to hear about your family being murdered but if we want to ordain homosexuals or let them “marry” in our “churches,” we’re going to since it’s obviously an issue of “justice” so you’re just going to have to accept the fact that it’s going to suck to be you for a while.  But hey, if you want to make a Western leftist, pseudo-Christian omelette, you have to be willing to break a few non-Western, Christian eggs.

Many of us have known this for a long time.  In October, 2003, the rest of the Anglican primates told Frank Griswold exactly what would happen if Gene Robinson got a pointy hat and a hooked stick.  Frank signed his name to that document, flew home, completely ignored it and then pretended to act surprised when some of the primates got angry at Frank’s duplicity and decided to take that document seriously.

If you wanted to, I guess you can trace this mindset back to the early 1970′s and the Episcopal Organiztion’s decision to officially allow women’s ordination.  Never mind the position into which this will put the rest of the Anglican world.  And especially never mind that our decision will effectively kill any conceivable rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church.  We want to ordain women and we want to do it right now.  So we’re going to ordain women RIGHT NOW and we can’t even pretend that we care how our decision might affect you.

What with you being wrong and stuff.  Deal with it.

I like to think that if I had to vote for a policy that might cost innocent lives, I would back off regardless of how right I thought the policy was.  One would think that if Gene Robinson had had a microgram of humility in him, he would have taken one look at the firestorm his election caused in the Anglican world and said something along  the lines of, “God only knows how much I appreciate this honor.  And I do not currently believe that there is any theological impediment against consecrating a gay bishop.

“Nevertheless, it is clear that the Anglican Communion is not ready for this step so I wish my name to be removed from consideration as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire.  And if I should be selected anyway, I will not accept the position.  I value the Anglican tradition and the Anglican witness far too highly to subject it to violent disruption. 

“At some time in the future, the Anglican Communion will be ready for an openly-gay bishop.  But that time is not now and that openly-gay bishop does not need to be me.”

But Robbie and his supporters never said anything like that or even contemplated the idea.  Because God’s Congress the Episcopal Organization amended the Bible and any God’s Congress Episcopal Organization Biblical amendments are exactly like the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be altered.

Regardless of how many Africans die.

LOCAL WEATHER UPDATE

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Some of you have expressed concern so here’s the current Webster Groves, Missouri weather situation.  Around 7:00 or 7:30 PM, somewhere in there, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for a confirmed tornado in a town not too far due west of here and quickly moving east.  So I went into my walk-in closet, shut the door, turned on a light, laid down against some pillows I have in there, read for a while and dropped off to sleep for a very nice nap.  I either woke up safe and sound a little before 10:00 PM or the afterlife is going to be a tremendous disappointment for a great many of you. :-)

TRUE TO THE BOOK

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 19 Comments

It was a sad day for this site when Episcopal News Service shut down its letters-to-the-editor section, known around here as Lil’ Slice O’ Goofy.  Some of my greatest posts were inspired there.  So thank God for Religion Dispatches which does its best to pick up the slack.  Who says that the new movie Noah isn’t Biblical, wonders Annette Yoshiko Reed?

While Baden defends the inclusion of Watchers he does bemoan that “the same cannot be said for the antagonistic narrative the film creates between Noah and the movie’s villain, Tubal-Cain.” We might, however, note that Rabbinic Jewish and Syriac Christian interpreters, for instance, commonly read Genesis’ references to the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” as alluding to an antediluvian conflict between the pious line of Seth and the corrupted line of Cain. More importantly, we might question what is lost when we judge a work based on the origins of elements therein. (If we expected any biblically-related work to go no further than what is said in the Bible, for instance, we would be forced to abandon most of Western religious art.)

All of which is simply to point out that attention to parallels with biblical and ancient Jewish and Christian sources reveal the degree to which “Noah” participates in a long tradition of storytelling about the Flood. As in the Book of the Watchers and Jubilees, so too in Aronofsky’s Noah: new and old elements are interwoven to create stories that speak to their own times. Specifically, Aronofsky’s Noah mobilizes the apocalyptic rhetoric of contemporary environmentalism, though the controversy surrounding the film’s faithfulness to the bible is no less a part of that same tradition. And it suggests that a more pressing issue, for much of the film’s audience, concerns the limits of creativity surrounding the Bible—and who has the right to decide just how “biblical” even the “least biblical, biblical film” should be.

In other movie news, fans will, in George Lucas’ upcoming Oliver Twist, see 19th-century London police equipped with light sabers.  Pixar’s next project, an animated version of Proust’s Rememberance of Things Past in which all the characters will be computer-generated hamsters, is described as, “entirely in the spirit of the original.”  And what Stephen Spielberg considers, “the greatest conceivable cinematic achievement of my career, West, Allis, Wisconsin Alexanderplatz, is, he says, “as Fassbinderian as hell.”

SINGLE-ISSUE BELIEVERS

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 | Uncategorized | 53 Comments

Kristen Howerton, whoever that is, pretends to worry that Christians are increasingly perceived by the Young PeopleTM as well as by the secular culture as narrow-minded bigots about a particular issue.  See if you can guess what that particular issue is.  Here’s a hint: the word begins with a H:

In Christendom, there is apparently no topic quite as explosive as same-sex relationships. Christians are sharply divided and passionately opinionated on the issue. Same-sex marriage debates seem to rally and galvanize Christians lately. Chick-Fil-A, a fast food restaurant with a conservative Christian at the helm, became embroiled in a controversy when it became public knowledge that they regularly contributed to organizations that oppose LGBT rights. Christians quickly came to their defense, attending events at the restaurant and publicly showing support with everything from bumper stickers to Facebook updates. Others in the Christian community pushed back against what seemed like glee in denying rights to others, and a fervent debate ensued.

Damn!  Never saw that one coming.

We don’t see nearly the same level of outcry or gatekeeping when it comes to biblical mandates that are often mentioned in conjunction with homosexuality. I don’t recall a boycott of companies who hire unrepentant gluttons. Christians aren’t generally voting on issues related to outlawing the right to be drunk. And yet, there seems to be a heightened sense of outrage on this particular issue. Many Christians believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, but why is this sin given so much more airtime? Perhaps it’s time to honestly examine whether or not the attention paid to this particular issue displays some covert fear or prejudice.

Kristen accidentally backs into a bit of a point here.  To name one example, one of the reasons why we are where we are is because Christian churches, every single one of them, stopped taking marriage anywhere near as seriously as Christ said that marriage needed to be taken a very long time ago. 

So if your church allows a man or a woman who were married but are no longer married to remarry, under whatever concept or process your church chooses to call it, you need to come to grips with the fact that any arguments you make against same-sex marriage are badly undercut before you even make them.

But let’s turn that question around.  What in the world does Kristen Howerton think is even remotely attractive about a religion with only one remaining sin, refusing to affirm homosexual activity?  Why should gays and lesbians, and gays and lesbians alone, be allowed to dictate to the Christian church what is and what is not a sin?

Because gays and lesbians are not the first people to whom this question has, implicitly, been asked?  Because the Church has regularly invented reasons why other people can violate Biblical principles without sanction?  After all, the Episcopal Organization made a bishop out of a guy who’s been divorced twice and married three times.

It’s like this.  If I have an appointment in downtown St. Louis that requires me to get on to the eastbound Interstate 44 on-ramp but I get on to the westbound Interstate 44 on-ramp instead, I have two choices.  Get off at Berry Road and turn around.  Or figure on missing my appointment, what with having to drive completely around the world and all.

Christians will likely remain divided on this issue. Is the only solution a form of excommunicating one another — denying fellowship over this issue?

Yup.  Kristen?  Solve this equation: 1 + -1=__.  But you can’t even remotely begin to understand, says Howerton.  This stance is wreaking spiritual havoc with Christian gays like my friend, Kevin.

It gave me so much hope when WV made their announcement; it felt kind of monumental for a truly evangelical Christian organization to be WELCOMING to people like me. But the response and subsequent reversal was devastating. More than one of my friends used the phrase “kick in the gut.” I think the worst part is that the negative response and WV’s lightning-quick reversal felt so personal. After the initial announcement, I read so many tweets and Facebook statuses such as “saddened to withdraw our support,” “angry that WV has given in to the gay agenda,” “I support traditional values,” “I will not support an organization that enables unbiblical lifestyles” and so on.

For them, it is merely an issue up for debate, not something they live with or experience. But LGBTQ+ people are not “issues” to be debated. We are people with a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. Some of us have struggled mightily to reconcile our sexuality and/or gender identity with faith in Christ. The diversity and complexity of our stories are discounted too easily by treating us like an ‘issue.’”

I don’t want to sound heartless or anything, dude, but so what?  As a Christian, I’m not called by God to make you feel comfortable about yourself.  I’m called to tell the truth.  You, on the other hand are called to reconcile what the Word of God says with what you’ve decided that you are.  Nobody’s going to make it easier for you.

All that is between you and God alone so man the hell up and deal with it.  In other news, friend of this site Rachel Held Evans thinks that “evangelical” Christians are obsessed with homosexuality.

There is a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that consistently dehumanizes, stigmatizes and marginalizes gay and lesbian people and, at least in this case, prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.

Dearest conservative Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  May I be the first to extend a hearty welcome to the “evangelical” Christian community.  The coffee’s already paid for and you can help yourself to as many donuts as you’d like.  Raytch has some questions for “evangelicals.  And all of you Orthodox and Roman Catholic n00b “evangelicals” are officially a part of all this.

Is a “victory” against gay marriage really worth leaving thousands of needy children without financial support?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth losing more young people to cynicism regarding the church?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with LGBT people?

And is a “victory” against gay marriage worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks, “What if we get this wrong?”

Raise your hand if you noticed a recurring theme there.

I, for one, am tired of arguing.

Nice to hear since you suck at it, Raytch.

I’m tired of trying to defend evangelicalism when its leaders behave indefensibly.

In othe words, when those leaders disagree with my extremely valuable insights.

I’m going AWOL on evangelicalism’s culture wars so I can get back to following Jesus among its many refugees: LGBT people, women called to ministry, artists, science-lovers, misfits, sinners, doubters, thinkers and “the least of these.”

In other words, Raytch is going to go back to her life’s calling.  Thanking Vague, Ambiguous, Infinitely-Malleable, Inclusive, Affirming, Open-Minded And Tolerant Deity Concept that she is not as other men are.

Works for me, R.

SEPPUKU

Monday, March 31st, 2014 | Uncategorized | 41 Comments

Go ahead, Republicans.  Throw away a presidential race that’s yours for the taking:

Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.

Bush’s advisers insist that he is not actively exploring a candidacy and will not make a decision until at least the end of this year. But over the past few weeks, Bush has traveled the country delivering policy speeches, campaigning for Republicans ahead of the fall midterm elections, honing messages on income inequality and foreign policy, and cultivating ties with wealthy benefactors — all signals that he is considering a run.

Many if not most of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s major donors are reaching out to Bush and his confidants with phone calls, e-mails and invitations to meet, according to interviews with 30 senior Republicans. One bundler estimated that the “vast majority” of Romney’s top 100 donors would back Bush in a competitive nomination fight.

“He’s the most desired candidate out there,” said another bundler, Brian Ballard, who sat on the national finance committees for Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008. “Everybody that I know is excited about it.”

That last paragraph should tell you everything that you need to know.  GOP, if you decide to go this route, figure on two things.  Regardless of who the Democrats run, you’re going to get your asses handed to you in 2016 since most of your base will either vote for a third-party candidate or stay home.  And your days as a national political party will finally, deservedly and forever be finished.

SCRIBES AND PHARISEES, HYPOCRITES

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 23 Comments

All sorts and conditions of men turn up at this site from time to time.  Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians regularly comment here, disagree with one another’s theology now and then but do it, for the most part, respectfully.

That’s because of most of you, not me.  You guys set the tone for this joint a long time ago.  But if I do see what I consider to be disrespect in the comments, which happens, I’ll quietly edit the comment or remove it entirely.  And if things get too intense in a comment thread, which sometimes happens, I won’t hesitate to shut that thread down.

I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing atheists comment here a lot more often than they do.  I’m not talking about some douchebag whose default position is, “Christians are brain-dead morons” or who claims to collapse on his or her fainting couch at the mere sight of a Bible verse, a Christian Cross or any other Christian image.

I refer to that rare breed of atheist who doesn’t believe there’s a God but is comfortable with the fact that some people disagree and who doesn’t feel the need to insult or belittle religious believers.  I can respect and even be friends with a person like that.

What I can’t and, indeed, refuse to respect are those atheists who still pretend to be Christians but who think that they’ve finally discovered What Actually Happened Two Thousand Years Ago And What It All Means.  Guys like Bart Ehrman, say:

Jesus was a lower-class preacher from Galilee, who, in good apocalyptic fashion, proclaimed that the end of history as he knew it was going to come to a crashing end, within his own generation. God was soon to intervene in the course of worldly affairs to overthrow the forces of evil and set up a utopian kingdom on earth. And he would be the king.

Insert “but” here.

It didn’t happen. Instead of being involved with the destruction of God’s enemies, Jesus was unceremoniously crushed by them: arrested, tried, humiliated, tortured, and publicly executed.

Which is why Jesus’ influence ended right then and there and is also why absolutely no one anywhere, with the exception of obscure Middle Eastern scholars, has any idea who Jesus of Nazareth was.  But for the following bizarre reason, that’s not what actually happened.  Stop Bart if you’ve heard this one.

The followers of Jesus came to think he had been raised because some of them (probably not all of them) had visions of him afterwards. Both Christian and non-Christian historians can agree that it was visions of Jesus that made some of Jesus’ followers convinced that he was no longer dead. Christians would say that the disciples had these visions because Jesus really appeared to them. Non-Christians would say that (several of ) the disciples had hallucinations. Hallucinations happen all the time. Especially of deceased loved ones (your grandmother who turns up in your bedroom) and of significant religious figures (the Blessed Virgin Mary, who appears regularly in extraordinarily well-documented events). Jesus was both a lost loved one and an important religious leader. As bereaved, heartbroken, and guilt-ridden followers, the disciples were prime candidates for such visionary experiences.

Once the disciples claimed Jesus was alive again but was (obviously) no longer here with them, they came to think that he had been taken up to heaven (where else could he be?). In ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish thinking, a person exalted to the heavenly realm was divinized – himself made divine. That’s what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus. After that a set of evolutionary forces took over, in which the followers of Jesus began saying more and more exalted things about him – that he had been made the son of God at his resurrection; no, it was at his baptism; no, it was at his birth; no, it was before he came into the world; no – he had never been made the son of God, he had always been the Son of God; in fact, he had always been God; more than that, he had created the world; and yet more, he was an eternal being equal with God Almighty.

That Kierkegaard quote’s on the top of this page for a reason.  That an alleged “scholar” can seriously advance a view so fundamentally unscholarly, so absolutely unsupported by anything remotely resembling actual evidence, convinces me that a great deal of “Christian scholarship” is, as the Great Dane observed, as monumental an intellectual scam as the world has ever known.

Where to begin?  Say what you want about him but Mohammed’s followers thought he was a prophet of God.  No doubt, the Buddha’s disciples intensely revered him.  Yet none of the followers of these two men, or any other great religious leader in world history, for that matter, ever invented a resurrection from the dead for their particular “prophet” and made that “resurrection” the basis of their religion.

Only the Christians did.

It seems to me that if you and all your associates somehow convince yourselves that you’ve seen the risen Jesus when you haven’t, you are, at some point, going to come down from your mass hallucinations.  At which point, you can either admit to yourself that you were wrong or continue with the charade and maybe get yourselves executed at an early age for something that you know deep down is a lie.

And did any of you happen to notice who Ehrman leaves out here?  I’ll give you a few hints.  A devout Jew, he was not only not connected to the Apostles and Christ’s early believers in any way, he was, by his own admission, actively hostile to the new movement, imprisoning many of Christ’s followers and having others killed.

He received authorization to travel to Damascus in order to do more of this sort of thing.  On the way there, he claimed that he saw a vision of the risen Christ, a claim from which he refused to back down to the end of his days, and began to preach Christ and Him crucified almost immediately.  When they heard of it, the Apostles and most of the disciples initially and quite understandably didn’t trust him.

The man’s claim compelled him to plant Christian churches all over the eastern Mediterranean and to write letters to many of these churches, encouraging and/or upbraiding their members as the need arose.  And this man’s claim about what he saw on that road to Damascus ended up prematurely costing him his Earthly life.

I’m pretty sure that the guy had a short name.  Don’t hold me to this but I think that it began with a P.  It’s right on the tip of my tongue.

I don’t know about you, Ehrman, but I can’t make myself die for an illusion.

THE HOUSE’S MONEY

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 25 Comments

Since President Empty Suit doesn’t leave office until 2017, I guess that Czar Vladimir figures that he might as well push all-in:

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ex-advisers has claimed that the ex-KGB agent ultimately wants to reclaim Finland for Russia.

Andrej Illiaronov, Putin’s economic adviser between 2000 and 2005 and now senior member of the Cato Institute think tank, said that ”parts of Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland are states where Putin claims to have ownership.”

“Putin’s view is that he protects what belongs to him and his predecessors,” he said.

When asked if Putin wishes to return to the Russia of the last tsar, Nicholas II, Illiaronov said: “Yes, if it becomes possible.” 

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Friday, March 28th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 34 Comments

One of the greatest mysteries is why Hollywood hates Christians so much (actually, it’s not a mystery at all but play along anyway).  Christians spend the same money everybody else does.  And as The Passion of the Christ demonstrated, if Christians are presented with a well-made movie that simply tells the story and that respects them and their faith, they will quite happily make some filmmaker a BOATLOAD of jack.

Hollywood, you’ll recall, has made two sets of Spiderman movies within about a decade.  Christopher Nolan’s excellent Batman series, the second, is over but don’t be the least bit surprised if another studio or director rolls out a third very soon.  And it would not shock me at all if someone took another run at The Lord of the Rings.

Big-time showbiz, then, is out of ideas which is why it’s periodically forced back to the Bible from time to time.  A “Biblical” movie, Noah, debuts soon.  Will I see it, either at the theater, on DVD or Blu-Ray or downloaded?  Are you kidding me?  If Ben Shapiro is accurate, this thing seems to have been created by an Episcopalian on crack.  How does Shapiro hate Noah?  Here are several of his ways:

The story goes something like this: incipient Jedi master Noah is tasked with keeping the earth safe from the clutches of the encroaching and exploitative Emperor, Tubal-Cain; Tubal-Cain, aka Avatar’s Colonel Miles Quaritch, seeks to murder Noah and his family (a la Avatar’s Na’vi) and destroy the planet’s animals and resources; the Jedi, aided by Treebeard’s rock-cousins, the Nephilim, build an Ark; Yoda Methuselah helps Noah find his path, and also magically heals infertility; the flood comes; Jedi Noah considers becoming a homicidal maniac. If this sounds like the Bible to you, complete with magical gold-like material that creates energy and rock monsters that contain fallen angels, then this movie is for you.

You all remember the rock monsters from Sunday school.  Right?

Yes, Treebeard’s slag cousins show up here, this time in the form of supposed fallen angels imprisoned in their stone bodies as a punishment for helping humanity. They talk like Treebeard. They walk like Treebeard. And they kill villains like Treebeard. These were supposed be the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4. Those Nephilim, however, were not giant rock people tasked with bludgeoning legions of humans.

Remember all the rumors about how this thing was going to be some kind of environmentalist fable?  Those rumors seem to have been absolutely spot on.

In this version of the Noah story, the sins of mankind that require Godly extirpation are not chiefly sexual immorality or idolatry or murder. They are environmental. Tubal-Cain’s motto is that he will do everything he can to allow humanity to survive: “Damned if I don’t do what it takes. Damned if I don’t take what I want.” As the villain of the film, he paraphrases Genesis 1:26, in which God gives dominion over nature to mankind and says that man is made in God’s image. Noah, meanwhile, believes – we are supposed to agree with him – that man has destroyed Eden because he is exploitative and brutish. Because man has sinned against nature itself, man must be destroyed.

I don’t know where Aronofsky got the following twaddle.  James Cameron, maybe?

Noah wanders the earth with his family in search of Methuselah’s mountain, and stumbles on a mining operation designed to uncover “zohar,” a magical substance that acts essentially like oil. The primitive fracking operation that has uncovered this zohar is seen as a disastrous environmental degradation.

Then there’s the whole, “Maybe Hitler wasn’t ambitious enough” idea.

Because man has destroyed nature and therefore deserves to be destroyed, Noah is left in the odd position of saving his family alongside the animals. That’s odd because Noah and family are also humans – humans who have also exploited nature in order to survive. In the Biblical narrative, God saves Noah because he is not immoral – because he walks with God. In the Noah story, God chooses Noah because Noah supposedly has the strength to do away with all of humanity. God chooses Hitler. What Aronofsky never quite explains is why God rewards Noah for failing in his mission – and why, if humanity was meant to survive and Noah’s children will be sinners, God doesn’t just send a couple cases of TB to finish off the job. Instead, Aronofsky’s Noah sits by idly while the last of the humans drown just yards from his boat, screaming pitifully. Then he proceeds to consider whether or not to demolish his own kids.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

Erick Erickson thinks Noah is one of the funniest movies he’s ever seen.  Over on the left, Jay Michaelson thinks that Christian fundies will absolutely hate this flick which is why it’s great Noah is “nuanced.”

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is, in contrast, an exercise in complexity. Its title character is being marketed as your standard Russell Crowe action hero—Gladiator, the Prequel. In fact, he is tortured, obsessive, wounded, and deeply flawed. He ends up being the villain of his own story, eager for humanity to be wiped out.

No, this kind of hero—corny, shallow, stupid, unrelatable, and flattening of the beautiful and horrible complexity of the human experience—is not specific to any religious tradition. It is specific, rather, to a particular unsophistication of taste and simplicity of intellect, both attributes that are affirmatively praised by many religious fundamentalists. Simple faith, simple values, common sense, old time religion. 

In this reading, Noah has to be a good, simple guy because he’s a hero (in Christian readings of the Bible anyway—Jews were always more ambivalent about him) and therefore he can’t be seen getting in knock-down, drag-out fights with his sons. Good people don’t do that. And of course, Jesus can’t be tempted by sins of the flesh—even though the Bible itself suggests that he might’ve been.

While Brook Wilensky-Lanford observes:

So after all this hubbub I was eager to see for myself just exactly what Aronofsky’s Ark did contain. The answers were just as fantastical as I had hoped: a terrifying burnt-out post-paradise landscape, a feverish retelling of the necessary prehistory that gets boiled down to just three shots: snake; apple; fist of Cain. An invisible God, never named as such but always called “The Creator” or “him”, a jolly if terrifying Methuselah, has in his possession magical seeds from Eden that grow an entire forest for Noah to chop down and build the Ark. Giant benevolent fallen angels trying to redeem themselves after being turned into stone for failing to protect Adam and Eve. It’s even got intelligent female characters, conjured from nearly nothing in the text, and a believable backstory for Ham, the cursed son.

All of these directorial choices required thoughtful religious research, but were deployed without the tone-deafness of Biblical propaganda. (With the exception of villain Tubal-Cain, representative of all that God found worthy of drowning, who says things like “It is man who decides when he will live and when he will die.” But you gotta have one, right?) If Aronofsky’s movie tests the proposition that there is room in American pop culture for a movie that is biblical without being religious, I say he succeeds. But of course it’s this weekend’s box-office numbers that will have the last word.

Bottom line?  This turkey’s going to tank in a major way.

So why make Noah in the first place?  I can think of only two possible explanations.  The first is to sabotage the idea that Biblical movies can make money.  “See?!  We made Noah and nobody cared!  So stop bugging us to film more of this fundie crap!”

The other explanation is simpler and I believe correct.  As far as American professional show-biz is concerned, serious and committed Christians might as well be space aliens.

ATTENTION “TRADITIONALIST” ANGLICANS WHO, FOR REASONS KNOWN ONLY TO GOD, PERSIST IN BELIEVING THAT “OFFICIAL” RECOGNITION FROM CANTERBURY IS SOMETHING WORTH STRIVING FOR (AND YEAH, ACNA, I’M LOOKING AT YOU)

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 54 Comments

Do I have to draw you a damn picture?

The Church of England will provide no more resistance to gay marriage among churchgoers, the Archbishop of Canterbury revealed last night.

Gay marriage becomes legal tomorrow and thousands of ceremonies are planned across the country from one minute past midnight onwards.

Changing the law has caused bitter divisions within the church.

Last month, bishops attempted to ban clergy from marrying same-sex partners, provoking a backlash among Christian supporters of the change.

However, in a shift in tone, Archbishop Justin Welby tells the Guardian today, “I think the Church has reacted by fully accepting that it’s the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being.”

LADIES NIGHT

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 34 Comments

Christian Piatt has come up with five reasons why, regardless of your denomination, your church’s senior minister not only should be but must be a woman.  They’re all stupid so caveat emptor and all that:

Many people beyond the walls of institutional religion either have bad personal experience with organized religion or harbor a negative perception based on the way religious leaders are presented in the media. It’s not that a woman can’t lie, steal, or commit acts of sexual impropriety the way men do. But seeing a woman in a position of top leadership can help challenge, and even break down, some of those preconceptions for the skeptics among us.

Kind of not the reason why ministers get called to churches anywhere.  And if you want to get nasty about it, Katharine Jefferts Schori, after having never ever been a parish priest, once knowingly allowed a child molester to work in the Diocese of Nevada.

Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund, a regional minister for the United Church of Christ, told me, “As a woman and a feminist, I am more inclined to empathize with other oppressed groups and appreciate feminist, womanist, liberationist theology.” Yes, men can have compassion for people and groups who have been historically oppressed or denied equality, but empathy emanates from shared experience.

Um…what?!!  Everybody knows that the only reason Jozef de Veuster went to Molokai in the first place was because of the surfing.  Yeah, yeah, Father Damien did a good job.  But if the Roman Catholic Church had only been enlightened enough to send a female priest out there, that work would have been REALLY impressive.

Fellow author and ordained Presbyterian pastor Rev. Carol Howard Merritt noted that Christians have cleary been interpreting scripture from a predominantly male point of view for a long time. As such, we run the risk of missing some inherent biases in how we tell and explain biblical stories.

And the gals don’t have “inherent biases?”  I have to admit, Chris 3.1416att, that I’m having a difficult time understanding why I should remain connected to any organization that basically hates me.

A Gallup poll conducted a couple of years ago found that 47 percent of women surveyed in the U.S. claim regular church attendance — compared to 39 percent of men. Author Sarah Thebarge, director of communications at Imago Dei, a nondenominational Christian church in Portland, put it this way: “Most congregations are more than 50 percent female, so [women pastors] have the advantage of being able to identify with more parishioners’ gender.” Having a woman in the lead helps assure women who attend that their pastor understands their daily experiences in a deeper, personal way.

So.  The way to get more men into church pews or keep the ones who are already there from deciding to sleep in on Sunday mornings and start spending their pledges on booze is to communicate to them that their “daily experiences” no longer mean jack squat?

We tend to think of God in traditionally masculine terms, though many churches have made strides by using more inclusive language. Still, actively imagining the more feminine qualities of the Divine is another thing entirely. “A woman minister,” said Rev. Lund, “can offer insight into the feminine image of God that informs the Trinity in both female language for God in the Bible (God described as a mother hen, ancient images of nursing mother God) and in Sophia Wisdom.”

The Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund of the United Church of the Zeitgeist, if you need her.  This, of course, is one of the countless examples of why my default position on anything written by “The Rev. Dr.” Anybody is intense skepticism. 

For my part, I’m having a tough time wrapping my elderly brain around the fact that one part of the Trinity repeatedly referred to a second part of the Trinity as “Father.”  But that’s probably because of the Patriarchy and crap.

(:-((

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Rachel Held Evans, whoever she is, was disappointed by World Vision (US)’s reversal on allowing the hiring of the same-sex married.  REALLY disappointed:

For those of you who donated, thank you. That money will be put to good use, I assure you. But I am deeply, profoundly sorry that I inadvertently rallied these fundraising efforts in response to a decision that would ultimately be reversed. Though I certainly hope everyone who sponsored a child or made a donation will continue to support World Vision, I can see how this effort would make you feel betrayed, as though it were launched under false pretense. And I’m so, so sorry for that. I’m as surprised by all this as you are.

This whole situation has left me feeling frustrated, heartbroken, and lost. I don’t think I’ve ever been more angry at the Church, particularly the evangelical culture in which I was raised and with which I for so long identified. I confess I had not realized the true extent of the disdain evangelicals have for our LGBT people, nor had I expected World Vision to yield to that disdain by reversing its decision under pressure. Honestly, it feels like a betrayal from every side. 

Sucks to be you, kid.

World Vision (US)’s policy shift and its subsequent, frantic, “Never mind,” might be one of the greatest public relations disasters since New Coke or Rowan Williams’ archbishopric.  If this story is accurate, World Vision (US)’s board seems to have contemplated making this change for quite some time.  And the following paragraph:

Stearns expects the board to continue to deal with questions about employment and same-sex relationships. “I think every Christian organization will continue to deal with this sensitive issue,” he said. “The board will continue to talk about this issue for many board meetings to come. … We need to have a process to do further and wider consultation with key Christian leaders around the country, and we will be discussing how that can happen.”

suggests that the board was taken completely by surprise by the resulting firestorm and tried to cover its ass while intending to continue to look for a way to slide this policy change in under the radar at some point in the future.

But the fact remains that your allegedly-Christian organization cannot claim to uphold a set of beliefs while regarding blatant contradictions of those beliefs by your employees as matters of indifference or mere “disagreement” and most intelligent people understand that.  So as a result of this incomprehensibly inept PR train wreck, I don’t think that the Christian left or the Christian right will ever completely trust World Vision (US) again.

LAODICEANS

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 21 Comments

Another “Christian” ministry surrenders to the Zeitgeist:

World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.

Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule. But a policy change announced Monday [March 24] will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at one of America’s largest Christian charities.

Stearns asserts that the “very narrow policy change” should be viewed by others as “symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.” He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.

Oh, sweet mother of…

“Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues,” he said. “It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.”

Face?  Palm?  You know the drill.

“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,” he said. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”

“We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us,” said Stearns. “This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.”

Give me a break, Stearnsie.  Quick question.  If you weren’t under some kind of pressure, if some group or other wasn’t threatening to sue you, then WHY MAKE THE POLICY CHANGE AT ALL?!!

While we’re on the subject of slippery slopes there, Stearnsie, what are you going to tell a potential employee who wants a job with World Vision but tells you that he’s a devout Christian who’s living with and currently banging three women on a regular basis?  After all, “the global church” hasn’t definitively weighed on that topic yet, has it?

Prominent Christian thinkers aren’t buying what you’re selling, Stearnsie.  Russell Moore:

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.

John Piper:

This is a tragic development for the cause of Christ, because it trivializes perdition — and therefore, the cross — and because it sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor.

When J.I. Packer walked out of the 2002 synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, he was protesting its decision to “bless same-sex unions.” His rationale is relevant for the developments at World Vision.

First, his words about unity expose the crass alignment of homosexual intercourse and baptism as comparable markers for biblical faithfulness. Packer wrote, “It is most misleading, indeed crass, to call this disagreement simply a difference about interpretation, of the kind for which Anglican comprehensiveness has always sought to make room.”

When World Vision says, “We cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue,” here is the side they do, in fact, jump onto: We forbid fornication and adultery as acceptable lifestyles among our employees (which they do), but we will not forbid the regular practice of homosexual intercourse. To presume that this position is not “jumping into the fight on one side or the other” is fanciful.

But worse than fancy, removing homosexual intercourse from its biblical alignment with fornication and adultery (and greed and theft and drunkenness) trivializes its correlation with perdition.

Mark Marshall:

The explanation given by World Vision President Richard Stearns is fatuous.  He claims World Vision is remaining neutral on the issue of same-sex “marriage”.  No, World Vision’s policy for employees was celibacy for singles and monogamy for the married.  By deciding that gay sex inside of same-sex “marriage” meets that requirement for employees, World Vision is most definitely taking sides.

This is a cover for partnership with apostate denominations and letting them call the shots.  The United Church of Christ holds to the faith of the creeds?  Really?  As long as libchurchers can cross their fingers and mouth a creed, Stearns is just fine with partnering with them and letting them set, nay, abolish Christian moral standards for employees.  And that in the name of a unity which really destroys genuine Christian unity.

Franklin Graham:

I was shocked today to hear of World Vision’s decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages. The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. My dear friend, Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, would be heartbroken. He was an evangelist who believed in the inspired Word of God. World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is between a man and woman and any other marriage relationship is sin.

Check the stats, World Vision; Episcopalianization is not the wave of the future.  So I have no idea who you think that this move is going to impress.

UPDATE:  World Vision has backed down.

BUT NO CIGAR

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Know who’s not going to be the 51st American state?

Puerto Rico has lost nearly half a million people in the past ten years, a number greater than the total current population of its capital city. The government is now taking desperate measures to stem the tide.

Too many citizens have lost faith in the government’s ability to provide even the most basic of services. One resident told USA Today: “There’s more opportunities if you move. People who live off government support here are doing better than those of us who work and pay taxes.” Another said: “You see what the government does with your money over there [in Florida]. Here, you contribute and contribute and contribute and nothing improves.”

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