Archive for September, 2012


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Friday, September 28th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 49 Comments

Some years ago, some group, I can’t remember who, did an assessment of the artistic quality of the state flags of the United States.  In general, this assessment found that as works of art, American state flags were not very good.

If I recall correctly, the flag of New Mexico ranked the highest and there were a few others that were well-regarded.  But in general, this study found American flags to be artistically dreary things that attempted to say absolutely nothing about their states other than,”Know what?  You’re currently in __________.” 

There were too many state seals that say nothing whatsoever about the state to anyone who doesn’t live there.  And if your state feels the need to put the name of your state on your state’s flag, then your state has a serious problem.

Churches also have flags.  Everyone is familiar with the flag of Vatican City which is also the flag of the Holy See.  There seems to be no hard-and-fast rules for Catholic archdiocesan or diocesan flags in this country.  The flag of the Archdiocese of St. Louis(can’t find an image but I’ve seen it here and there) riffs on the Vatican theme with the archdiocesan arms replacing the crossed keys.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has what’s called a banner of arms as does the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.  In the Orthodox world, Byzantine banners are still regularly flown over Mount Athos and other places.

The Episcopal Organization also has its own flag.  And if you’re wondering why a religious entity which claims spiritual descent from the Church of England displays what is known as a Scandanavian cross(that off-center vertical red bar), you’re not alone.

I think what probably happened was that when TEO decided that it needed its own distinctive flag, someone took the Episcopal shield, turned it on its side and rotated it so that the blue field would be at the top.  The fact that it was no longer a banner of St. George(with the vertical red bar in the middle) doesn’t seem to have bothered anyone.

I said all that to say this.  The Anglican Church in North America now has it’s own flag.  And not to put too fine a point on it but it kind of sucks.











That’s ACNA’s logo in the blue field on the left.  And a logo is just about the dumbest thing you can put on a flag.  Because now it’s got two St. George crosses when it only needs one.  All this advertising banner, for that’s all this thing is, communicates to the world is, “Hey there!  We’re the Anglican Church in North America!”  And that’s all.

Here’s a suggestion.  Want to communicate that you’re (1) a Christian Church, (2) whose roots are in England and that (3) you’re preaching the Gospel in North America?  Lose the blue field and the logo and start with a straight-up St. George’s cross with the vertical bar in the middle.

Make those white fields in the upper-left-hand and lower-right-hand corners of the flag blue and put white stars in them.  Leave the upper-right-hand and lower-left-hand fields white and put red Canadian maple leaves in both places.  Do that and you end up with a flag that might look a little something like this:










If you ever want to change your minds, this one’s on the house.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Friday, September 28th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

When they haul out the pseudo-science.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Thursday, September 27th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 15 Comments

Drama queen?  The guy getting shot in this Turkish movie is a frigging drama emperor.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Thursday, September 27th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Olympia Episcopal Bishop Greg “Don’t Call Me Travis” Rickel tries out some new material for his stand-up comedy act:

Rickel, who has served since 2007 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, which includes all of Western Washington, presents a quite different faith perspective.

“Christianity has held, when considering relationships of all sorts — but especially in relation to two people in marriage — fidelity to be our value,” Bishop Rickel writes.  “Fidelity is the value in most all our sacraments, and also in our life as Christians.”

“It seems to me we have held our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in a Catch-22.  We say they cannot live up to our value because they cannot be married, or even blessed in their union.  While many of them have begged for this, it is still not possible.”

“If one would think about this carefully, it would be clear what they ask of us, the church and their government, is to put boundaries around their relationship, to hold them in the same regard and with the same respect, which would also mean that we expect the same from them, as any loving heterosexual couple.”

Know why that’s funny?  Meet Barry Beisner, currently the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Northern California.  Or Third-Time’s-The-Charm as I’ve taken to calling him.

Want to know why I call him that?  Seems Barry’s been divorced twice and married three times.  While I’m certainly not in favor of kicking guys like Barry out of the church(all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God, etc.), it just seems to me that giving Barry a pointy hat and a hooked stick sends…mixed messages.

Actually, that’s not quite right.  Making a guy working on his third wife into a bishop clearly communicates to any honest person that the Episcopal Organization doesn’t have any genuine beliefs or standards at all.

If the Episcopalians had the reverence for fidelity in relationships that Greg Rickel claims they do, Northern California would have been told, “Look.  Old Third-Time’s-The-Charm may be a great guy and a wonderful minister.  But since we value fidelity in marriage, we can’t possibly let this one go through.  Take another run at it.”

Of course, you and I both know that Greg Rickel is talking out his narthex.  You can stand up in one of their churches, make a marriage vow before God and do it again three years later if you’ve been tapping a Kim Kardashian lookalike and your wife happens to catch you and the young lady in flagrante delicto.

I’m not saying that TEO should adopt the entire Roman Catholic position about marriage.  I am saying that the Episcopal attitude toward marriage needs to be WAY more serious than its current “Oh well, crap happens” stance before I’ll even start to believe that the Episcopal Organization really values marital fidelity.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Thursday, September 27th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

…strikes bedrock and drills through to magma.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 15 Comments

In this case, read Naomi Wolf’s new book about her sausage wallet.

UPDATE: Do not laugh at this because it is not funny.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 30 Comments

University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner thinks that this country really needs to dial down its obsession with free speech:

The universal response in the United States to the uproar over the anti-Muslim video is that the Muslim world will just have to get used to freedom of expression. President Obama said so himself in a speech at the United Nations today, which included both a strong defense of the First Amendment and (“in the alternative,” as lawyers say) and a plea that the United States is helpless anyway when it comes to controlling information. In a world linked by YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, countless videos attacking people’s religions, produced by provocateurs, rabble-rousers, and lunatics, will spread to every corner of the world, as fast as the Internet can blast them, and beyond the power of governments to stop them. Muslims need to grow a thick skin, the thinking goes, as believers in the West have done over the centuries. Perhaps they will even learn what it means to live in a free society, and adopt something like the First Amendment in their own countries.

Maybe that’s right.  But actually, America needs to get with the international program.

But there is another possible response. This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order. Our own history suggests that they might have a point.

Look at it this way.  At least the trains will run on time and everyone will be able to read the “No Food Today” signs.  Posner points out that it was the left which first turned the First Amendment into an weapon.

The First Amendment earned its sacred status only in the 1960s, and then only among liberals and the left, who cheered when the courts ruled that government could not suppress the speech of dissenters, critics, scandalous artistic types, and even pornographers. Conservatives objected that these rulings helped America’s enemies while undermining public order and morality at home, but their complaints fell on deaf ears.

Shogi, the Japanese version of chess, has a unique characteristic.  Because of the way the pieces are shaped, no piece is ever completely out of the game.  Any of your pieces that I happen to take can be turned around and employed by my army.

A totem that is sacred to one religion can become an object of devotion in another, even as the two theologies vest it with different meanings. That is what happened with the First Amendment. In the last few decades, conservatives have discovered in its uncompromising text— “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”—support for their own causes. These include unregulated campaign speech, unregulated commercial speech, and limited government. Most of all, conservatives have invoked the First Amendment to oppose efforts to make everyone, in universities and elsewhere, speak “civilly” about women and minorities. I’m talking of course about the “political correctness” movement beginning in the 1980s, which often merged into attempts to enforce a leftist position on race relations and gender politics.

Posner wants Americans to remember two things.  The First Amendment is strictly an American idea whose inspiration is not shared by anybody else in the world and which cannot force people stop thinking bad thoughts.

We have to remember that our First Amendment values are not universal; they emerged contingently from our own political history, a set of cobbled-together compromises among political and ideological factions responding to localized events. As often happens, what starts out as a grudging political settlement has become, when challenged from abroad, a dogmatic principle to be imposed universally. Suddenly, the disparagement of other people and their beliefs is not an unfortunate fact but a positive good. It contributes to the “marketplace of ideas,” as though we would seriously admit that Nazis or terrorist fanatics might turn out to be right after all. Salman Rushdie recently claimed that bad ideas, “like vampires … die in the sunlight” rather than persist in a glamorized underground existence. But bad ideas never die: They are zombies, not vampires. Bad ideas like fascism, Communism, and white supremacy have roamed the countryside of many an open society.

In the past, American “values” have made this country look bad to the rest of the world.

Americans have not always been so paralyzed by constitutional symbolism. During the Cold War, the U.S. foreign policy establishment urged civil rights reform in order to counter Soviet propagandists’ gleeful reports that Americans fire-hosed black protesters and state police arrested African diplomats who violated Jim Crow laws. Rather than tell the rest of the world to respect states’ rights—an ideal as sacred in its day as free speech is now—the national government assured foreigners that it sought to correct a serious but deeply entrenched problem. It is useful if discomfiting to consider that many people around the world may see America’s official indifference to Muslim (or any religious) sensibilities as similar to its indifference to racial discrimination before the civil rights era.

It says in another part of the First Amendment that the US government is supposed to be indifferent to the sensibilities of all religions.  That’s what we were always told whenever some governmental entity allowed the display of the Cross or the Ten Commandments anyway.  So it’s unclear why the United States government should care one way or the other about the feelings of Muslims. 

But according to Eric Posner, they apparently should care deeply whenever Islamic feelings are hurt.  Not only that, this American law professor thinks that the fact that Washington was unable to legally force Google to take that film down is a scandal.

The final irony is that while the White House did no more than timidly plead with Google to check if the anti-Muslim video violates its policies (appeasement! shout the critics), Google itself approached the controversy in the spirit of prudence. The company declined to remove the video from YouTube because the video did not attack a group (Muslims) but only attacked a religion (Islam). Yet it also cut off access to the video in countries such as Libya and Egypt where it caused violence or violated domestic law. This may have been a sensible middle ground, or perhaps Google should have done more. What is peculiar it that while reasonable people can disagree about whether a government should be able to curtail speech in order to safeguard its relations with foreign countries, the Google compromise is not one that the U.S. government could have directed. That’s because the First Amendment protects verbal attacks on groups as well as speech that causes violence (except direct incitement: the old cry of “Fire!” in a crowded theater). And so combining the liberal view that government should not interfere with political discourse, and the conservative view that government should not interfere with commerce, we end up with the bizarre principle that U.S. foreign policy interests cannot justify any restrictions on speech whatsoever. Instead, only the profit-maximizing interests of a private American corporation can. Try explaining that to the protesters in Cairo or Islamabad.

I’ve got a better idea, Professor.  Try explaining to the protestors in Cairo and Islamabad that ANYTHING that happens inside this country is none of their damned business.

The mendacity and dishonesty of this piece is easily ascertained by asking yourself a simple question.  If some form of artistic expression had insulted Jesus or villified Christianity, would Posner still have written it?

If some museum displays an egregiously blasphemous painting of Jesus or Mary, if a particularly blasphemous movie was made, if another TV show or play debuted which ridiculed Christians or if Bill Maher opened his pie hole, would Posner think it regrettable that the US government was unable to legally prevent these things from happening?

Of course he wouldn’t.  The question wouldn’t even come up.  And the reason why the question wouldn’t come up is simple.  Christians don’t kill people and destroy property when they are insulted and villified or their Lord is blasphemed.

A faculty sinecure at the University of Chicago Law School would seem to suggest a certain level of intelligence.  So it’s hard for me to figure out why Eric Posner thinks that restricting American rights simply to avoid offending Muslims is a good idea.

For one thing, it’s unworkable.  As President Obama said in his recent speech, the Internet means that the genie is out of the bottle.  Putting it back in would mean establishing the sorts of governmental Internet controls which would start a second American revolution all by themselves.   

Even if the Web could be controlled, does Posner really think that the American people would tolerate the establishment of what would effectively be a Federal Bureau of Censorship which would have the power to officially ban or even criminalize any form of expression that it deems contrary to the national interest?

Take this  idea to its logical conclusion and Eric Posner and other First Amendment restrictionists have effectively ceded a large portion of American sovereignty to people who are fiercely hostile to this country and its values.  Not only that, but it would no doubt encourage the same kind of behavior among fringe Christian groups that one sees inside most of the Muslim world right now.

Bill Maher, Ellen Barkin and other fiercely anti-Christian “artists” would probably have to spend a fortune on security for the rest of their lives.

And where does it stop?  I shouldn’t be allowed to make a film that insults Mohammed?  What if I were to write that, as a Christian, I don’t believe Mohammed, assuming he even existed at all, was a prophet of the God I worship?  Is that not an insult to Mohammed and to the adherents of his fraudulent religion?  For that matter, isn’t the fact that I am a Christian an implied insult to Mohammed as well?

See what I did there, Eric?

The world doesn’t love the First Amendment?  So what?  This is one instance where we’re right and the rest of the world is wrong.  Besides, I don’t love societies that make women dress in sacks and/or kill people for changing their religion.  So until the Islamic world develops a thicker skin, I don’t care what it thinks about anything at all.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 41 Comments

Yesterday, the Twenty-First Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, AKA the St. Louis County Circuit Court, asked Your Editor to participate in something in which it hasn’t asked Your Editor to participate since the mid 1970’s.  Jury duty.

As per instructions, I got there at 8:30 AM, checked in and sat down.  We were told that, depending on the number of jury pools called, we’d be in that room until 4:00 PM or so.  Two or three pools were called all day, none of which had my name in them.

But this ain’t your father’s jury duty.  The room had wi-fi, an easily-accessible bathroom and vending machines that sold snacks, cokes and coffee.  And Clayton, Missouri has a number of outstanding eating places within easy walking distance of the court house.

I had a book as well as my iPod Touch with me so at various times during the day, I watched a couple of Family Guy episodes, an “American Experience” documentary on the 1929 stock market crash and some MST3K(Beginning of the End, the one with Peter Graves and the giant grasshoppers, which would be a great name for a rock band).

Put recliner chairs in that room and I could have slept the day away.

Around here, the usual term for jury duty is two days.  About 3:00, a woman came in and informed us that there would be no more cases that day and none scheduled for tomorrow.  We were all basically done, she said, so leave your badges in these baskets on the way out.  Easiest ten-spot I ever made.

So I go home, fire up that Internet deal all the kids are into these days and discover that Sagacious D had alerted me to the existence of a piece in the Washington Post by an Episcopal minister named Cynthia Bourgeault:

You know there’s a buzz out there when 100 emails come into your box all bearing identical links to the New York Times article responsible for the stir.

I click on the link and voilà! There before me is a photo of a small papyrus fragment from the fourth century and distinguished Harvard scholar Karen King explaining how this recently recovered and certified authentic Coptic fragment unmistakably has Jesus referring to Mary Magdalene as “my wife.”

You know who I feel sorry for?  There aren’t that many of them any more but I feel really sorry for those ordained Anglican women who, nonetheless, profess something close to a traditionalist view of the Christian religion.

Anyone who reads something as stupid as the above has to wonder why the hell she spent all that money to attend and graduate from a seminary when any Internet ordination would have conferred far more valid orders than the ones Cynthia Bourgeault conned some seminary out of.

Certified authentic?  Nuh-uh.  Jesus “unmistakably” refers to Mary Magdalene as his wife?  DFisch points out that the fragment reads as follows.

] deny. Mary is worthy of it [
]…Jesus said to them, “My wife…”[
]…she will be able to be my disciple…[

Insofar as there are a whole bunch of Mary’s in the Bible and insofar as Mary was one of the most common women’s names in that part of the world back then, I have to believe that if she actually believes the fragment to be an unmistakable reference to Mary Magdalene, Cynthia Bourgeault must have been doing Orange Sunshine as she wrote.

Wow! That should send another shock wave reverberating through the Vatican!

If “shock wave” means (A) laughing hard enough to crack a couple of ribs or (B) really intense irritation (“Look, we’re currently working our way through something like sixty-seven separate “new discoveries which will fundamentally transform Christianity” so get in the back of the FREAKING LINE, BITCHES!!“), then Cindy may be on to something.

But I think Bourgeault must have stopped writing this piece right about here, come down from the acid and started writing again later because she seems to realize that what she wrote makes her look like a complete jackass.  So she walks back her claim.

Now it’s true that journalism is skewed toward the sensational while scholarship is more skewed toward the cumulative. Karen King is a careful scholar and has done her homework carefully. She knows—as all of us do that have worked in the field with any degree of due diligence—that the contentious issue of Jesus’s marital status is not going to rest decisively on one stray fragment of papyrus.

Insert “but” here.  And that talentless hack Dan Brown has a lot to answer for.

But what this new discovery does do is to provide additional confirmation for a body of evidence already mounting from those other recently discovered early Christian sacred texts—specifically, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the Gospel of Philip—that a group of very early Christians remember a version of their history quite different from what eventually became the officially sanctioned story. They remember that Jesus’s relationship with Mary was far more than just that of a teacher to a pious devotee or recovering prostitute. They remember that the relationship was spousal in nature, and that she was his designated lineage-bearer. This same message is conveyed, in much the same way in Thomas and in Mary, and Philip specifically refers to Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s koinonos, his “companion.”

If the Washington Post had merely identified Cindy as “the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault,” you wanted to identify the church in which Cindy was a minister and you didn’t automatically start with the Episcopal Organization, there would have been something seriously wrong with you if you started with the Presbyterians, the Methodists or the CC(DC).

Because that last paragraph is positively shot through with Episcopalianism.  Notice the progression.  After studying some Really Old Books, the Church’s “officially sanctioned story” teaches A. 

But here are a bunch of other Really Old Books that teach B.  But the Emperor Ozymandias or whatever the hell his name was and the Church patriarchs decided entirely on their own and with no help from anyone else at all that the Really Old Books that teach B are not to be listened to.

And the only reason the Church patriarchs did that was to patriarchially protect their patriarchially patriarchal patriarchy.  Therefore, while the Church teaches A, lots and lots of early Christians, who were too Christians because SHUT UP, believe B and therefore I can believe B too.  Because SCHOLARSHIP!!

It’s also right there hidden in plain sight in the four canonical gospels once you start looking more closely.

Did you know that William Shakespeare was one of the writers of the Authorized Version of the Bible?  It’s right there, hidden in plain sight.  Around the time that the AV was written, Shakespeare would have been around 46 years old.

Go to Psalm 46 and start counting the words from verse 1.  What’s the 46th word?  Now count 46 words from the very end of the last verse, leaving off the Selah if your edition contains it.  What word do you encounter?

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Seriously.  If you ever want to start putting “The Rev.” in front of your name but don’t want to trouble yourself with minor details like history, theology, actual scholarship or what words mean, just get yourself ordained online.  It’ll save you a lot of time, money and effort and you’ll be a more serious, more interesting and more important theological thinker than Cynthia Bourgeault.

Sooner or later, the evidence trickling in from all quarters is going to be too overwhelming for all but the most obdurate traditionalists to ignore.

I didn’t think it would work but my encounter with the American legal system described above dovetails nicely here.  I’m not trained so any lawyers reading this are encouraged to correct me.  But it would seem to be a basic point of law that for evidence to be “overwhelming,” it must first actually exist.

I had already seen this coming when I wrote my “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene” in 2010. My real business in that book was not to argue the question of Mary Magdalene’s and Jesus’s relationship one way or another (I leave that to scholars such as King), but to help people try to get over the shock and sense of betrayal that this revelation so often leaves them with. Why has institutional Christianity become so invested in maintaining that Jesus has to be a celibate to be Jesus? That, it seems to me, is by far the more searching question.

I’ve got an even more searching question than that, Cindy.  Why are you so damned anxious to claim that Jesus had a wife in spite of the fact that there is absolutely no credible evidence for the idea?

Back in the 1990s when I was tending a small Episcopal Church in Colorado, I once asked a group of my parishoners, “How do you feel about the possibility of Jesus and Mary Magdalene having been married?” Without an instant’s hesitation their furious answers came tumbling out: “But if Jesus had had sexual relations with a woman, he couldn’t have been the Son of God; he would have been impure. “ “If he loved one person in particular, he couldn’t have loved us all impartially.” What in heaven’s name does that tell us about our own understanding of human sexuality, human love, and conscious partnership as a path to universal compassion? No wonder our churches are so defiled with sexual misconduct and cover-up scandals: our anthropology of human intimacy is still in the gutter.

That should more than satisfy all you non sequitur fans for the next couple of months.  We believe that Jesus was celibate because, well, there is absolutely no credible evidence that He was married.  And that belief of ours is the reason why there has been sexual abuse and cover-ups of it in Christian churches. 

Got it.

Utilizing Bourgeaultian thinking, I guess I could prove that Cindy is a can of anchovies or a Thomson’s gazelle except that both of those things have more theological credibility than she does.  So the logic wouldn’t work.

And “what in heaven’s name” does that last paragraph say about Bourgeault’s view of Christ when she clearly suggests that God Incarnate’s Earthly ministry was somehow, well, deficient because He didn’t have a wife(“our own understanding of human sexuality, human love, and conscious partnership as a path to universal compassion”)?

And yes, the same old rhetoric has already come out in the rebuttals that are already peppering the internet. “Jesus is the only and eternal son of God who will come again to judge the living and the dead,” one irate Christian fulminated—obviously assuming that this unique divine status entails celibacy as part of the package.

If nothing demands that Jesus needed to have been celibate, nothing demands that Jesus needed to have been married either.  And we’re back to the credible evidence problem.

But if he were to look more closely at that final court of appeals for issues of early church doctrinal orthodoxy—i.e., the Nicene Creed—he would see that nowhere in the creed does it specify as an article of belief that Jesus is a celibate, or that his divine status depends on his presumed celibacy.

Or His marriage, you egregiously ridiculous…Cindy?  I’m only going to say this one more time.  Before all of us obdurate traditionalists accept your stupid premise, we’re going to need to see CREDIBLE EVIDENCE!!  AAAAAAAUUUUUGGGH!!

This is all later Christian midrash, the product of an increasingly patriarchal and misogynist hierarchy which for the past 1,600 years has conducted its theological discourse in the hallowed halls of celibates speaking to other celibates.

If Cindy’s church was still a mystery to you, that right there should have closed the deal because that is exactly why the Episcopal Organization began ordaining women.  Theology?  You want me to theologically justify ordaining women, you sexist?  I’ve got your theology right here.  Ordaining women is obviously right and obviously a matter of justice so if you disagree, you hate your mother. 

A variation of it is still used by Jim Naugton, Susan Russell and other Episco-libs today.  If you think homosexual activity is a sin and that unrepentant sinners like Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool shouldn’t have been given pointy hats, you’re obviously a bigotedly bigoted Nazi Klan bigot, you bigot.

Not only does it not reflect the authentic message that Jesus is teaching; it actively distorts this message.

I’d ask Cindy for a few, oh, I don’t know, Scriptural citations to show me what Jesus’ “authentic message” actually is and exactly how “celibates” are distorting it.  But I guess that questioning Cynthia Bourgeault is misogynistic or something.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Sunday, September 23rd, 2012 | Uncategorized | 51 Comments

I guess it’s safe to say most Americans are grateful that this country elected Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008.  Thanks to the Obama Administration’s wise leadership and inspired statesmanship, the United States is revered and respected around the world as never before.  The new president of Egypt spells out the terms under which he will continue to allow the United States to send Egypt billions of dollars of aid annually:

On the eve of his first trip to the United States as Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi said the United States needed to fundamentally change its approach to the Arab world, showing greater respect for its values and helping build a Palestinian state, if it hoped to overcome decades of pent-up anger.

A former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mr. Morsi sought in a 90-minute interview with The New York Times to introduce himself to the American public and to revise the terms of relations between his country and the United States after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, an autocratic but reliable ally.

He said it was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt, long a cornerstone of regional stability.

If Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, he said, Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule. He said the United States must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values.

George W. Bush.  What an idiot that guy was.  Thank God for the end of that cowboy diplomacy crap.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Saturday, September 22nd, 2012 | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

There are two reasons why I’m not angry at Libya about the recent deaths of four Americans there.  The situation in that country is still revolutionary.  And a substantial number of Libyans appears to be as horrified by what happened as Americans are:

Forces allied with the Libyan government took control of at least two powerful militias’ bases in the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday after protesters overran the compounds in the early morning hours.

Libyan leader Mohamed al-Magarief told reporters Saturday night that all of the country’s militias had orders to come under the authority of a joint security apparatus, including the military and police, or be disbanded.

Magarief, president of Libya’s General National Congress, spoke at a press conference just before midnight, after meeting with officials and militia leaders in Benghazi. A day earlier, clashes between protesters and militias left four people dead and dozens injured.

Those clashes followed a large-scale protest Friday in which thousands of people marched through the city demanding the dissolution of the militias that have run Libya’s streets in the absence of a strong central government and police force since a revolution ended the 42-year rule of Moammar Gaddafi last year.

Many Libyans have blamed extremist groups for the attack on the U.S. Consulate here on Sept. 11 that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. The groups have operated with relative impunity in the security vacuum that has prevailed since Gaddafi’s ouster and death,

On Saturday, fighters from a militia loyal to the government roamed the ransacked base of the Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia, which many here have accused of leading the attack on the consulate.

“The ambassador was a good man. He ate with us. Even during the revolution, he was with us,” said Riziq, a fighter with a government-allied militia across the street that had moved in to guard the abandoned compound and who declined to give his full name out of fear of retribution from Ansar al-Sharia.

Shattered glass and debris covered the base, and the smell of charred wreckage hung in the air. Below ground, Riziq’s brigade had discovered a few windowless cells, which they claimed the extremist group had used in their exercise of vigilante justice.

“They don’t look at us, the Libyan people, as Muslims,” he said. “They would arrest people who drank alcohol and imprison them here. And they were treating foreigners badly.”

So unlike Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood has taken control, Libya appears to be salvageable.  Will it be?  That remains to be seen.  But I think I can say with certainty that it most definitely won’t be if Barack Obama wins another term.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Saturday, September 22nd, 2012 | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Once more from the top and pay attention this time!  As long as Barack Obama remains president of the United States, any religion whose adherents kill people and break things whenever they think they are insulted will get a grovelling apology from the President and from Mrs. Clinton.  Any other insulted religion will get jack squat:

Religious groups are blasting President Obama for not condemning am anti-Christian art display set to appear in New York City and one Republican lawmaker said he is “fed up with the administration’s double standard and religious hypocrisy.”

 “Piss Christ,” once branded as a “deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity,” will be displayed at the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery in Manhattan on Thursday. The artwork features a “photograph of the crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine.”

The artwork debuted in 1989 and was funded through prize money provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. The art gallery hosting the retrospective salute to Andres Serrano is privately owned.

Religious groups and some lawmakers have already started sounding off – and making comparisons to the controversy over a recent anti-Muslim film. The low budget movie “Innocence of Muslims” sparked violent and deadly clashes across the globe.

It also brought strong rebukes, condemnations and apologies from President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a host of administration officials.

The administration tried to have the film removed from YouTube – but Google rebuffed their request. The State Dept. spent $70,000 on a Pakistani television advertisement rebuking the film. And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff personally telephoned a Christian minister in Florida to ask him to withdraw his support of the film.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R, C-NY) wants to know why President Obama hasn’t denounced the exhibit and said he’s fed up with what he called the administration’s “religious hypocrisy.”

“The Obama administration’s hypocrisy and utter lack of respect for the religious beliefs of Americans has reached an all-time high,” Grimm told Fox News. “I call on President Obama to stand up for America’s values and beliefs and denounce the ‘Piss Christ’ that has offended Christians at home and abroad.”

So will the Obama Administration condemn the anti-Christian art display? Will they air a television ad denouncing the exhibit? Will the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ask the gallery to cancel the exhibit?

The White House did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did the Pentagon.

The State Dept. referred to a previous statement Clinton made in reference to the anti-Islamic film.

For my part, I don’t need the Administration to denounce the display of this work.  As I said down here and as I’ve repeated again and again ad nauseam, Our Lord told us to expect this kind of abuse from the culture.

What I do expect from the American government is adherence to American values.  Perhaps something along the lines of, “We sincerely regret that you were offended by this film but one of the key ways the American people define themselves is by the fact that except in limited situations, the American government may not restrict how the American people express themselves in any way.

“Which means that offense sometimes happens.  We allow artists to insult and blaspheme Jesus all the time.  Why?  Because we agree with them?  Certainly not.  We know that He is mightier than His feeble abusers so we let those who insult or vilify Him or His followers say or create anything they want with the understanding that they will account to God for their actions in this life, whether they believe in God or not. 

“And we will not and cannot permit acts of violence on your part to change that.”


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Friday, September 21st, 2012 | Uncategorized | 39 Comments

In the wake of the recent violent Islamic reactions to an anti-Islamic movie, a disturbing idea has reasserted itself.  Free speech is like good bourbon.  Everyone should be able to avail themselves of it but only if they do it responsibly.  Ban Ki-Moon agrees:

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday the maker of an anti-Islam film that triggered violent protests across the Muslim world abused his right to freedom of expression by making the movie, which he called a “disgraceful and shameful act.”

“Freedoms of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose,” Ban told a news conference.

“When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way.”

“My position is that freedom of expression, while it is a fundamental right and privilege, should not be abused by such people, by such a disgraceful and shameful act,” he said.

Islamic countries have been pushing for an international “blasphemy law” for ten years.

A decade-old but temporarily-shelved push by Islamic governments to universally outlaw “blasphemy” looks poised to return to the international agenda, amid the ongoing furor over insulting depictions of Mohammed.

After more than a week of public demands by Muslim figures, including top Sunni clerics, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the Islamist leaders of Egypt and Turkey, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Arab League have signaled a new global censorship push.

And not to put too fine a point on it but screw your wicked, American, so-called freedom of speech.

OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called on political and religious leaders worldwide “to take a united stand against fanatics and radicals involved in destabilizing global peace and security by fanning incitement and religious intolerance.”

It was time “for international community to take serious note of the dangerous implications of hate speech and inciting publications and come out of hiding behind the excuse of freedom of expression.”

Early this week Nasrallah, in a rare public appearance, told a rally of supporters that the Lebanese government must demand a meeting of the Arab League to formulate a response to what Hezbollah’s website called a “sacrilegious anti-Islam film insulting Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him and his chaste progeny).”

“All governments and people are required to put their utmost effort and exercise pressure on the international community to issue an international resolution and pass laws that criminalize such acts of insulting monotheistic religions,” he declared.

What’s ominous is that this pernicious idea has begun to receive Christian support.  Four Anglican leaders recently wrote to Ban suggesting that There Ought To Be A Law:

Four North African and Middle Eastern Anglican bishops have written to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon urging the adoption of an international declaration against religious defamation.

Bishops Mouneer Anis of Egypt, Michael Lewis of Cyprus and the Gulf and assistant Bishops Bill Musk of North Africa and Grant LeMarquand of the Horn of Africa wrote to the U.N. leader on 15 Sept 2012 following the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi on 11 Sept. 

The bishops wrote that in “view of the current inflamed situation in several countries in response to the production of a film in the USA which evidently intends to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters by insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and in view of the fact that in recent years similar offensive incidents have occurred in some European countries which evoked massive and violent responses worldwide, we hereby suggest that an international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.”

Pete Whalon sounds like he’d be down.

European Anglicans have also responded to the video. The Bishop in charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, denounced the film by issuing a statement from Paris on 17th September.

In it he said: “This crude bit of anti-Islam propaganda is nothing more than hate speech, and in France and several other European countries the producers would be facing charges. In the United States, it is famously illegal to cry “fire” in a crowded theater — freedom of speech does not cover every expression”.

According to Bp Whalon, those who planned and created the film would have much to answer for when they came before the judgment seat of God. He went on to say that Christians and Muslims alike should continue to work to defeat attempts of extremists of every religion to create fear, hatred and violence. “Only love can cast out fear”, said Rev. Whalon.

Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not considered art or political expression, Pete.  Besides, notes Bret Stephens, we’re really not talking about insulting or defaming all religions or prophets.  We’re talking about insulting or defaming only one “prophet” and only one religion.  The one whose adherents start killing people and destroying property at every perceived slight.

So let’s get this straight: In the consensus view of modern American liberalism, it is hilarious to mock Mormons and Mormonism but outrageous to mock Muslims and Islam. Why? Maybe it’s because nobody has ever been harmed, much less killed, making fun of Mormons.

Here’s what else we learned this week about the emerging liberal consensus: That it’s okay to denounce a movie you haven’t seen, which is like trashing a book you haven’t read. That it’s okay to give perp-walk treatment to the alleged—and no doubt terrified—maker of the film on legally flimsy and politically motivated grounds of parole violation. That it’s okay for the federal government publicly to call on Google to pull the video clip from YouTube in an attempt to mollify rampaging Islamists. That it’s okay to concede the fundamentalist premise that religious belief ought to be entitled to the highest possible degree of social deference—except when Mormons and sundry Christian rubes are concerned.

The password is…civilization(ding!).

After the debut of “The Book of Mormon” musical, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded with this statement: “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”

Muslims could start by reading their own book.

A principled defense of free speech could start by quoting the Quran: “And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation.”

Know why Christians don’t go bat crap whenever Jesus is insulted or blasphemed?  Know why Bill Maher is still alive?  Because some folks saw and talked with Jesus after He died and watched Him ascend into heaven.

In this light, the true test of religious conviction is indifference, not susceptibility, to mockery.

Oh, and Islam?  If you want other religions to respect you, you might want to give serious thought to the idea of returning the favor, champ.

A defense would also point out that an Islamic world that insists on a measure of religious respect needs also to offer that respect in turn. When Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi—the closest thing Sunni Islam has to a pope—praises Hitler for exacting “divine punishment” on the Jews, that respect isn’t exactly apparent. Nor has it been especially apparent in the waves of Islamist-instigated pogroms that have swept Egypt’s Coptic community in recent years.

It’s been suggested here and there that unbridled freedom of speech is an American thing and maybe, for the sake of working and playing well with others, Americans ought to consider, you know, dialing it down just a little.  Not all that much, you’ll barely notice it.  Just lay off Islam other religions.

To which I have a four-word response.  We’re right.  They’re wrong.

To paraphrase the Gadarene demoniac, the name of the list of problems with such an international “law” is Legion for they are many.  Once you realize that is such a “law” is passed, someone will file charges if they perceive Mohammed some revered prophet or Islam a religion to have been “insulted” or “defamed” and the first of the problems immediately suggests itself.

Who is to decide whether Islam a religion has been insulted and what will be the penalty for such an insult to Islam that religion or to Mohammed its prophet?

The International Criminal Court does not handle cases of this kind while the International Court of Justice only handles disputes between states.  One supposes that the UN Security Council or General Assembly could act as such a tribunal but neither has the power at the present time.

Even if such a tribunal was created, how would its judgments be enforced and who would enforce them?  The day an American citizen was declared an international outlaw by the United Nations, subject to arrest if he or she ever travelled abroad, would be the day that the UN would become a unifying force in American life in that any American politician of either party who approved of continued support for that ridiculous body would commit political suicide.

Since these things tend to happen on a state-to-state basis, it would seem to be more likely that heads of states would be held responsible for any insults to Islam religion that take place within the borders of their countries.  And while I hold no brief for the man and never will, if such a legal mechanism was currently in place and Barack Obama was found guilty under its provisions, I would immediately and loudly demand that this country withdraw from the UN the next day, give all UN diplomats 24 hours to leave the country or face arrest and turn begin turning Turtle Bay into low-cost housing.

Or a yeshiva.  Makes me no never mind.

But I don’t think US presidents would ever have a thing to worry about.  Islamic countries, particularly those with Christian minorities, know, or should know, that the moment charges are filed against a US president for some alleged insult to Mohammed or Islam, the leaders of their countries will be similarly targeted the very next time their Muslims insult and vilify Christianity, physically attack Christians or burn churches down.

Which leads to a much bigger problem.  Exactly what constitutes a defamation or an insult to a religion?  If it is insulting to Muslims to portray their “prophet” as a womanizer or a pedophile, is it also insulting to Muslims when you declare that Mohammed was not a prophet of God, that he was a fraud or even that he might not have existed at all?  Yeah, kind of, says Haroon Moghul of Religion Dispatches.

In Islam, the Qur’an is the literal word of God, and Muhammad represents the embodiment of those words of God. If you want to know what Islam is in text, go to the Qur’an; if you want to know what Islam is in action, study Muhammad’s life. That’s what Muslims do. They study it, debate it, and investigate it obsessively. Muslims believe the road to goodness, to moral excellence and success in the afterlife, comes through an emulation of the Prophet (though that doesn’t mean humans don’t have an innate moral compass). As such, mocking the Prophet is offensive for several reasons (to say nothing of the long history of Western intervention in the Middle East and the traumatic aftereffects of colonialism, which could be a whole article itself). For one thing, Muhammad is dear to Muslim hearts in the way Jesus is to many Christians: He brought us enlightenment.  

But Muhammad is also dear to Muslim hearts because Muslims strive to be like him, to the extent of looking like him (and his close family and companions, with some differences between Muslim sects.) Muslim men grow facial hair because Muhammad did. They dress in certain ways, eat in certain ways, and behave in certain ways, based on how Muhammad did. This isn’t to say there isn’t tremendous disagreement over these behaviors, and many Muslims struggle over whether to emphasize the spirit and the form of the action, as many others do—indeed, we have the same debate over the American Constitution up till the present. But to say Muslims are offended by portrayals of Muhammad is missing the point… many Muslims are busy making themselves, internally and externally, into Muhammads.

To mock Muhammad, then, is to mock what Muslims aspire to be, throughout their lives. Muhammad is not a divine or infallible figure in Islam, but he is the “mercy to all the worlds,” the best of God’s creation. As such, it deserves stressing that the reaction of a minority of Muslims to offensive portrayals of the Prophet, while inseparable from the present political climate, still does a massive and embarrassing disservice to Muhammad’s image—their actions are far more offensive than the efforts of silly filmmakers with unintentionally hilarious scripts. I recall learning in a conservative Sunday school how, time and again, Muhammad would forgive his enemies, and even inquire after them when they didn’t show up to mock him, abuse him, or even dump their garbage on him.

Christians, of course, think the same thing about Jesus.  Which brings up an obvious (but entirely hypothetical since Christians will never do anything about it) situation.  Islam teaches that Jesus was merely a prophet and not even the greatest one.  Christians teach that Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  Under this proposed international “law,” can Christians consider the Islamic view of Christ to be insulting and defamatory to their religion?

Once again.  If I have to watch what I say because you might be offended by it, then you effectively have a veto power over what I might say or believe.  The moment Christianity declares it to be sinful to “insult” another religion is the moment that Christianity dies.  Because if Christians concede that point, Christians will, sooner rather than later, find themselves at a point where merely declaring oneself a Christian will be considered an “insult” to Islam.

Jesus told us in advance that insults against Him and against us were going to part of our lives while the whole matter seems to have slipped Mohammed’s mind.  So I would much rather live in a world where blasphemous works of art are legally allowed while Bill Maher is legally permitted to open his pie hole and say anything he wants.

Because Our Lord warned us a long time ago that insults to Him and to us would be a part of our lives while the whole thing seems to have slipped Mohammed’s mind.  It is an extremely curious fact about the Islamic religion that Mohammed seems to need protection while Jesus Christ most emphatically does not.  I guess when you’re crucified and rise from the dead, a few insults just roll of your back.


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Thursday, September 20th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 28 Comments

2008 – Hope and Change!!   2012 – Never mind:

Nearly four years after he was elected on a promise of bringing change to Washington, President Barack Obama said Thursday that he had embarked on an impossible mission.

“You can’t change Washington from the inside,” Obama said during a live-streamed town hall in Miami which will be broadcast on the Spanish-language news network Univision tonight. “You can only change it from the outside. That’s how I got elected, and that’s how the big accomplishments like health care got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out. That’s how we were able to cut taxes for middle class families.”

The health care bill was basically jammed down the throats of the American people who were and still are overwhelmingly opposed to it.  No one, not even the President himself, the Democratic congressional leadership or the Democratic “legislators” who voted to pass that monstrosity has the slightest idea of what’s contained in its 2,800 pages.

And as far as I know, Obama “cut taxes for middle class families” by extending tax cuts passed during the presidency of George W. Bush.  Somebody really needs to get back on his anti-hallucinatory meds.

But the admission also seemed to undercut a central premise of his 2008 election, and even to raise questions about the urgency of re-electing the president. The comment reinforces the perception that Obama could not accomplish what he set out to do.

Altogether now.  GEE!!  YA THINK?!!


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Thursday, September 20th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Kathy Sebelius has to stay after school:

The White House indicated that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would probably not be punished, after federal investigators determined she had violated the law when she campaigned earlier this year for President Obama. 

Sebelius broke the law by making “extemporaneous partisan remarks” during a speech in February at a Human Rights Campaign Event in Charlotte, N.C., according to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). She made the comments in the city that would later host the Democratic National Convention. 

White House spokesman Eric Schultz explained in a statement that the administration has already taken action on the matter, though, putting Sebelius through training and making sure taxpayers were reimbursed. 

“As the Office of Special Counsel has noted, these were extemporaneous remarks, the Health and Human Services Department has since reclassified the event to meet the correct standard, the U.S. Treasury has been reimbursed and Secretary Sebelius has met with ethics experts to ensure this never happens again,” Schultz said. 

“This error was immediately acknowledged by the Secretary, promptly corrected and no taxpayer dollars were misused.” 

And now for the punchline.

He said the administration holds itself “to the highest ethical standards.”


Posted by Christopher Johnson | Thursday, September 20th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 37 Comments

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t get at least five or six e-mails asking me, “What’s happening in Webster Groves, Missouri these days, Eiríkur Rauði?  Since we live in really boring places like New York, San Francisco or Ireland, we’ll probably never have the privilege of visiting the Paris of St. Louis County.  We need you to keep us up-to-date on what’s going on there so we can live vicariously through you.”

I admit that I have been lax and I apologize.  But with everything else that’s been going on the last couple of months, what with the move, problems with the Ranger, losing three crowns on my teeth and only managing to save two of them, finishing the last story and, starting Monday, something I haven’t had to do in almost 40 years, jury duty, my life has been considerably stressful lately. 

But here’s a little item that David Fischler alerted me to (I didn’t know it was online).  Seems that a Webster Groves church, one with which I am intimately familiar (I worshipped there once; they’re a half block west of where I usually work and back when I played it badly, they were in my church softball league) has decided to change its name:

What’s in a name? For the newly-branded NotAsOtherMenAre United Church of the Zeitgest in Webster Groves, Mo., a name is everything. Formerly the Evangelical UCZ of Webster Groves, the church changed its name in a ceremony Sept. 9 to better reflect its open and affirming environment and its progressive style of worship and the utter scorn, contempt, visceral loathing and pure, unadulterated hatred it has for anything within a light year of traditional Christianity.

“The name ‘Evangelical’ was a serious barrier toward our goal of not seriously believing much of anything at all,” said Pastor Katherine HawkerSelf. “We heard anecdotes that people would pull in our driveway, see the name on the sign and start to cry because they thought, ‘Oh crap.  Now I’ll have to drive all the way out to Kirkwood for my Unitarian smugness and moral superiority fix and there’s never any place to park around that place when that damned farmer’s market is open.'”

The congregation has spent the last five years debating the need for a name change, and nicknamed itself the “Other” Evangelical UCZ of Webster Groves in the meantime. While there was a clear disconnect between the church’s name and its beliefs, changing the church’s identity was still an emotional and tender process, HawkerSelf said, and it took some time to get the church’s few remaining fundie bigots to hit the bricks.

Content edited slightly.  Check out the picture at the link for some in-your-face leftism and ponder the fact that Webster Groves used to be considered a Republican stronghold.

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