Halloween All Year

Despite the obvious consanguinity with the Dawn of the Dead, I am not a mall person. Last week, however, I had a job interview and I discovered that most of my white shirts would be appropriate garb only for the undead, so my wife forced me to look around the local mall for some new apparel. As we walked down the interior boulevard crowded with people younger than us, we couldn’t help overhearing the conversation of some young women behind us. “Yeah, it’s so cool! He’s a vampire; he’s got fangs and everything!” And they weren’t discussing Edward or Lestat, but a (presumably) flesh-and-blood beau one of them knew. Yes, Halloween season is upon us again.

An early Celtic turnip Jack-o-lantern
(An early Celtic turnip Jack-o-lantern)

I loved Halloween when I was growing up. Despite the innate conservatism of my family, we always enjoyed dressing up, trick-or-treating, and being just a bit scared. When I reached college, however, I discovered that Halloween was perceived by many to be satanic, and I had to dig deeply into the past to argue that it came from Christian tradition and was, itself, nothing to be afraid of. Still, my friends looked at me askance. When I reached Nashotah House, a perfectly Gothic setting for the twilight of the year, I discovered that despite the theological conservatism there, Halloween was a time-honored tradition. My first year there while driving home after picking my wife up from a conference in Madison, I drove the familiar road into campus only to see a single, ghostly white face float across the road in front of us. I was so astonished I pulled the car to a stop to look back and could just make out several of the students I knew, dressed fully in black cassocks and cappa negras, only their faces showing, painted white. They stood alongside the lonely road and “floated” across it as slowly approaching cars rounded the bend. (I guess that, being potential priests, they were not too concerned with eternal consequences of metal meeting mere flesh in the dark of night.) On the campus, until the takeover by a Fundamentalist administration, All Hallows Eve was a bone fide sacral event.

The reason for Halloween’s popularity, I believe, is that deep down people really are frightened. At some level we know that we aren’t really in control of our lives and we seldom have a say about them ending. Halloween, with its dark Celtic origins, is the acknowledgment that it is acceptable to be afraid. Each year as more and more elements appear beyond our control, our pantheon of Halloween specters grows. One of our neighbors’ houses has a fake cemetery in its front yard. One of the headstones reads “The Stockmarket / 2008.” Even with the economy dipping and reeling like a drunken bat, lawns sport larger, more expensive and expansive Halloween displays. Halloween represents the pulse of fear than animates religions. We should all be afraid!

Religion’s Double-Edged Sword

This podcast discusses a recent visit of Westboro Baptist Church’s “protesters” to Rutgers University. The issue is whether religious freedom includes the right to encourage hate crimes on the part of those not directly involved in the “protests.” Religious freedom is the phenomenon that allows such groups to develop in a democracy, but the end results of such groups is destructive to the democracy that engendered it. This is compared to the Scientology case that is simultaneously taking place in France and noting the differences between them.

Feline Angels and Demons

Happy National Cat Day! Well, to you readers in the States in any case. October 29 has been declared National Cat Day, and as a blogger who has frequently posted on ancient cats, I feel a sense of duty to include our feline friends in today’s entry.

Elsewhere on this blog I have extolled the divine nature of cats. The Egyptians revered them to the point that killing a cat was a capital crime, but the evolution of domestication was probably very practical. Domestic cats appear in the archaeological record along with the advent of grain silos, also an Egyptian invention. When the grain attracted rats, the rats attracted cats, and the cats stole Egyptian hearts. Even before the Egyptians, however, archaeology points to associations of cats and humans in Neolithic Jericho, perhaps the oldest city in the world. As early as 9000 years ago, cats were stalking the allies of the city of the moon god. They have been among our most loyal companions.

The domestic cat’s spread into Europe only began in earnest, it seems, when Christianity reached the continent and the cat was no longer considered divine. Perhaps cats had to be profaned before being admitted to the church’s roster of approved animals. Nevertheless, under the influence of a predominantly Christian milieu, in the Middle Ages Europe had come to see cats as the demonic companions of witches and vampires. Did some memory linger of the divine cat of Egypt? Did those dark days of suspected sorcery glance back to the magicians of Egypt and their suspect pets? We will never know the answer as to why cats, long encouraged to join human households, became evil in superstitious Europe. Even my stepfather in the twentieth century America counted to ten after spotting a black cat, and followed the count with a solemn cuss each and every time.

I, for one, cast my vote on the side of the felines. I don’t have cats (allergies and irate landlords, and such), but I enjoy them when I visit those who do. Sure, they rip up furniture and bring unwanted gifts of dead things to you as a kind of feline worship, but with their loving nature I simply can’t see a devil in our everlasting cats.

Swiped from Dr. Jim's Thinking Shop

(Swiped from Dr. Jim’s Thinking Shop)

The Power of Pyramids

One of the benefits of teaching is the constant refreshment of ideas presented by students to air out the stuffy closets in minds that tend to close around academic orthodoxies. Each field of studies has its sacred shrines not to be disturbed, and none more so than the field of religious studies. That’s why I appreciate the openness of student minds. This summer I was introduced to the alleged Bosnian pyramid that I posted about some months back. Having reviewed the statements of both archaeologists and geologists it is easy to see how what looks like a pyramid might not be a pyramid at all. Some experts even theorize that the pyramids of Egypt took their inspiration from the shape of a natural desert mountain.

Wikipedia's photo of the "Bosnian Pyramid"

As we were winding up our classroom discussion of Egyptian mortuary cult and its awe-inspiring pyramids, another student asked me if I had heard of the Okinawa pyramids. I hadn’t. Back in my student days I recall a professor entering my Egyptian Religion course after having just read a book on the mystical power of pyramids wherein the author claimed that dull razors placed under a small-scale pyramid would come out sharpened the next morning and other such nonsense. We all had a good laugh and got onto the serious business of comprehending the fascinating world of Ptah and Atum. When I first heard the phrase “Okinawa Pyramids” I had to fight down the immediate flash of embarrassment of unrestrained academic laughter should I be found even considering such a proposal.

I have always, however, listened to those willing to ask about even the most anomalous incidents of history. Two years back I had a student share the “helicopter hieroglyphs” of ancient Egypt with me, despite a fully understandable reading of signs that can look like a helicopter to the uninitiated. The Okinawa Pyramids, however, were different. As the student whipped out his laptop and pulled the images up from the internet, I was intrigued. These were not pyramids, but rather monolithic blocks 60–100 feet below the surface of the ocean near Japan. My amateur study of geology has taught me that many species of rock naturally have squared fractures along various planes and facets, but the number of offset angles and the profusion of the squared edges forced my mind open just a bit. What is more striking yet is that there is no Wikipedia article on this formation at all, despite its discovery in the 1980s. Most intriguing of all is that the complex seems to have sunk at the end of the last ice age, thus predating even the pyramids of Egypt. Even the stepped pyramid of Djoser.

Is there evidence of a pre-civilization civilization under the coastal waters of Japan? I am not qualified to decide. I feel safe in saying that whatever is there is not a pyramid, but I am impressed by the photos and the relative silence about them even on the web. Since the best photos are copyright protected, I’ll provide a link for anyone wishing to creak open a dusty mind-closet and wonder about the implications.

Moral Monsters

trees

Everyone likes to feel vindicated. From my childhood I have felt marginalized because of my interests in monsters, and now a book has just been released from Oxford University Press that vindicates my interest! Stephen Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College, Chicago, has written a monograph entitled On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears. Further vindicating my idiosyncratic interest is the fact that the Chronicle of Higher Education even has an electronic front-page article on the book this week. I am overcome with credulity! I haven’t been able to lay my hands on the book yet, but I hungrily read the article and look forward to the whole product.

Readers of this blog know my assertion that monsters originate in a mental space shared by religion. Both are responses to the unknown. Asma writes in his Chronicle article, “The monster concept is still extremely useful, and it’s a permanent player in the moral imagination because human vulnerability is permanent.” Indeed, his article is entitled “Monsters and the Moral Imagination.” The thesis he promotes is that our morality (again tied to religion for many people) benefits from its struggle with monsters. We imagine our moral responses to being faced with the truly horrific, and the monsters themselves are less frightening than our imaginary responses. The top box-office winner this past weekend was Paranormal Activity, a movie noted for not showing the menace, but implying it. There is an evolutionary advantage here; we learn about coping with real danger by imagining danger.

So as I look out the window on yet another cold, gray, rainy October morning, and see the trees swaying in the wind, my imagination takes flight. Those Saturday afternoons and late nights filled with cinematographic visions of even worse things that could happen are cast in a new light. Instead of scaring myself, I was building moral character! As my friend K. Marvin Bruce likes to say, “monsters are only mirrors.” Sometimes the mirror reflects a truly untamed world, and Dr. Asma informs us “inhuman threats are great reminders of our own humanity.” I would simply add, “and of our religions.”

Smiling Goddess

One of the enduring myths of the Victorian Age is that of the benevolent “mother goddess.” Amorphous, unnamed, this protective goddess of archaeological imagination was used to explain unlabeled figurines and frescos of the peaceful feminine archetype. As real goddesses were discovered and catalogued, they were frequently discovered to have a violent and fierce aspect, one feared and revered by ancient worshipers. Even today, however, some persist in this blissful pre-conflict image of the mother goddess.

This morning I was sorry I even glanced at the paper. The reality of the violence in the name of religion was everywhere. In Kabul a mob of angry protesters, fueled on by rumors that American troops had desecrated the Quran, burned an effigy of the President Obama. In Jerusalem Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount to subdue angry mobs in tensions over one of the world’s great holy cities. Even in England, metaphorically, Pope Benedict XVI “has parked his tanks on the Church of England’s lawn” in the words of A. N. Wilson in the New York Times. Three clashes: Muslim on Christian, Jewish on Muslim, and Christian on Christian. Where is Mother Mary speaking her famed words of wisdom?

As even the ancients knew, religion was prone to violent outbreaks. In a polytheistic world the accounting was perhaps simpler: one god or goddess was upset. Here in the monotheistic world, we have either an angry God or a bevy of intolerant interpreters of that single God. There is no mother goddess whispering words of calm to the world’s religions. When opening the papers brings such a jolt to weary, Monday-morning eyes, the appeal of a smiling mother goddess is all too apparent.

The myth of the smiling mother

The myth of the smiling mother

Biblical Lyres

lyrelyre

The head of Ur’s bull harp stares at me from the article announcing Penn Museum’s “Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery” exhibit down the road in Philly. Despite recent questions of the ethics of laying off yet more academics, this exhibit beckons to those of use who’ve only ever seen pictures of the famous finds from the ancient world that we’ve spent our lives reading about. Penn’s museum is famous for its holdings from Sumer, and I’m trying to scrape together the change to go and take a gander.

Still, I was not surprised to see that the biblical angle was tied into the article as well. “The royal tombs of Ur (the city believed to be the home of the Bible’s Abraham) date to 2,600 to 2,500 B.C.” it reads. The article doesn’t go as far as to state that Abraham, not historically attested, if he ever lived, dates to at least a millennium later than Sumer’s heyday. No, Abe never strummed that beautiful bull-headed harp nor thought on Isaac as he stared at the “Ram-in-the-Thicket.” The only way to get the paying public in, however, is to play the biblical card. Were it not for Abraham, however, Sumer would likely have remained the orphan child of early antiquity.

Among the great civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Sumer failed to make it into the Bible. Its Mesopotamian successors Babylonia and Assyria marched into Holy Writ when they sacked Jerusalem and Samaria, and even the Hittites merit a mention with Abraham’s poignant loss of Sarah. Sumer was a civilization that stood on its own. No Bible story was necessary for any to see its greatness, yet there was no public interest without biblical bating. Nevertheless, this is a road-trip worth the taking. It will be nice to see the glory of Ur, even without Abraham lurking in the shadows.

Sonoco

sonoco2

What do God and great pools of gooey, flammable, decomposed ancient biomass have in common? Quite a lot apparently. A picture in this morning’s paper of a Caribbean Petroleum Corp. storage facility explosion took me back to my childhood. I was born in the same place as the oil industry, although I think it was in different hospitals. Northwestern Pennsylvania is where the industrial use of oil was discovered (ancients had learned that the stuff was extremely flammable and used it for cruel weapons, but never figured how to grease an axle with it). One day my brothers and I were playing outside and noticed flames jetting up from an adjacent hillside. We saw giant ashes, some nearly the size of dinner plates, floating down on a summer day and it seemed like a strange gray snow was falling. A funny smell was in the air. That night on the news we learned that a local oil refinery had exploded and when we went to the site to gawk, it was amazing to see colossal storage tanks melted like so many ten-ton candles. It is an image I’ll never forget.

Lord Balfour envisions chariots of fire

Lord Balfour envisions chariots of fire

My wife’s favorite historian is Barbara Tuchman. We’ve read most of her books. Bible and Sword, however, was especially eye-opening for me. This book describes, step-by-step, how the British Empire forged its alliance with Israel. Tuchman is a meticulous historian, noting minute details that add understanding to the overall picture. One of the key motivating factors that led Lord Arthur James Balfour in his support of a homeland for the Jewish Diaspora was his belief that a physical Israel was required before the Second Coming of Christ could take place. This is a sentiment that has been shared by some recent, very highly ranking American politicians.

Enter Col. Edwin Drake. Drake was the first person to have the idea of drilling for oil. Several local prospectors scampered through the hills of Pennsylvania looking for oil streams where petroleum could be skimmed off the water and refined into kerosene. As an alternative to whale oil, petroleum was much easier to collect and didn’t involve peg-legs spearing great white whales — oh wait, wrong story. As an alternative to whale oil, petroleum made a market impact and soon other uses were descried. There was an oil boom near Titusville, Pennsylvania when Drake hit oil, and soon the industry that give birth to Quaker State, Pennzoil, and Enron was up and running. As uses for petroleum multiplied demand shot through the roof. Drake died in poverty and the industry he helped found rolled ever forward.

Col. Edwin Drake envisioning a drink

Col. Edwin Drake envisioning a drink

After the Second World War, vast oil beds were discovered in the Middle East. Israel was declared a nation, and world-wide demand for petroleum was astronomical. Not all nations of the former Ottoman Empire welcomed the sudden interest in their natural resources or the presence of an allied nation in their midst. Although the roots go deeper and are much more complex, the scenario was set for a crisis that has lasted for my entire life and shows no signs of slowing down.

So what does God have to do with a complex mix of hydrocarbons and other organic compounds? The unbelievable wealth generated by petroleum products has been under-girded with a religious gullibility and deeply held faith that Jesus needs some help in returning. As long as we’re waiting, we might as well get filthy rich. Politicians with connections to Big Oil and the Big Guy have it all figured out. Take all that you can and wait for the God who has blessed you so richly to come home. I still remember that refinery explosion, and some childhood memories have become paradigms and parables that have as many applications as petroleum itself. When the oil beds run dry, what will grease the axles of Kingdom Come?

Mechanical worshiper bowing down to a subterranean god

Mechanical worshiper bowing down to a subterranean god

Bes Leave It Alone

One of the constant enjoyments of teaching is the interactive learning that takes place. I tell my students that I learn from them just as they learn (hopefully) from me. One place this has been happening regularly is in an Ancient Near Eastern Religions class I teach. Students have to provide weekly class reports on somewhat obscure deities that I chose for them to research. One of the groups was assigned Bes, the minor Egyptian protective deity, and their research had uncovered the suggestion that Bes may have originally been a cat-deity. As Halloween approaches with its plethora of black cats, I found this connection to be fascinating.

The Egyptians domesticated the cat, and revered it. The nimble catcher of vermin (although, in all fairness, vermin are only doing what vermin have evolved to do), the cat was seen as a protector. When in need, why not call upon a deified cat, an everlasting cat, if you will? It makes sense that Bes with his stubby proportions and bewhiskered face, often portrayed poking his tongue out, might have evolved from a feline original. His iconography often features leonine imagery as well. We may never know his true origins, but Bes was widely recognized in the ancient world as an effective protector.

Bes

Back in 1987 I volunteered as a digger at Tel Dor in Israel. This was my first exposure to archaeology, and I loved every bit of it. The digging, the expectation of discovery, the honest physical work, the endless bouts of Herod’s revenge — well, some parts were better than others. One of the artifacts I discovered was a sky-blue faience head of Bes intended, apparently, to be worn on a necklace (there is a hole drilled through his head). I also found two bronze seed-beads that went with the necklace in the same matrix. Often I have wondered who, in an Israelite context, wore that amulet of Bes and what fate befell the wearer nevertheless. Bes is paradigmatic of our trust in help from beyond, but every once in a while even Bes ends up being dropped in the dirt only to be dragged out again by some future cat.

What Are They So Afraid of?

I just had an email from a friend whose son is being sued. By the university he attends. The story was covered in Inside Higher Ed, and although I do not know the ins-and-outs of the episode, it reflects poorly on the state of higher education in this country. The student’s stepmother was dismissed from a chair in the Butler University Music Department and he blogged about it, feeling the dismissal was unfair. I am not privy to the details of the dismissal, but I am intimately acquainted with the ensuing scenario. When the student’s identity was learned, his father, my friend, did not have his contract as Dean renewed. The legal suit, claiming defamation, is still pending.

What saddens me perhaps the most, apart from the obvious social justice issues, is the breadth of such retaliation in institutions of higher education. Having once lost a position in higher education “without cause” shortly after making a principled stand against what I understood to be prejudice, I am particularly sensitive to how schools that have money to hire high-powered lawyers seem to have no difficulty in turning on anyone who criticizes or disagrees with official policy. Isn’t that what higher education is all about? I don’t agree with my colleagues on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean I want them fired! We hand out and we take in.

If it were simply coincidence that I found a single colleague who also faced punitive action from a school for a perceived slight, I might be persuaded that it was an accident of tragedies — two unlikely victims sharing a prison cell. But no, the evidence has been building for some time. During my last years at Nashotah House I taught as an adjunct instructor at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. A faculty search had stalled in the Philosophy and Religion Department and I was local and willing. I was present to watch as two colleagues (the remainder of the small department) were dismissed (denied tenure and forced out) after having been critical of some administrative decisions. They were among four faculty so targeted, and I watched them go with worry increasing in my gut. “Gag orders all around!” No one was permitted to discuss what was really happening.

It was the next year that I was terminated. After moving to New Jersey, I attended a professional conference (SBL, for those of you in the loop) in San Diego. It was probably not unlikely that the person next to me on the plane was also headed to the same conference since it was a 6 a.m. economy flight. Sure enough, I saw the woman reading some theological tome and knew we were headed for the same place. As I struck up a conversation with her, I learned that she had also been dismissed from a college in the south for advocating equal racial representation on the student council. This was not in the 1960s, but a couple decades closer to our own time. No reason was given, but her contract was not renewed.

By this point in time a clear image is coming into focus in my mind. It is not a pretty picture. The scene shows a juggernaut called Higher Education, bloated, powerful, wearing a mortar board, with a killer football team yapping at its heels like wolfhounds, but terribly afraid of criticism. Those who lie crushed under its great feet, the general issue instructors, have earned their place in academia by taking the hard knocks and criticism that are anticipated and constantly delivered in higher education, but the juggernaut drowns out any criticism of itself with allegations of being molested by the critical thinkers it hired to give it respectability and who now lie supine in submission beneath it. Something has gone horribly awry. And instead of talking it over, human-to-human, lawyers are hired to frighten off the weak and silence discussion. “Anything you say can and will be used against you,” thank you Sergeant Friday!

Like a co-dependent spouse, I will always love higher education. It has cradled our most influential minds and taken us beyond our earth-bound dreams. The academy has brought us to the place where we stand today. But universities now also parrot the corporate model and intimidate those who do not take their inspiration from free-market economy. If you feel inclined to voice a vote for the rights of students, this link will take you to a petition for the dropping of legal charges against my colleague’s son. (You will be taken to a donation page after signing the petition, but donations are purely voluntary.) I understand it to be a vote for common sense and personal freedom of expression.

Who Inherits What Now?

Grading exams is not my favorite activity, so when forced into it by psychopomp and circumstance, I attempt to select appropriate axe-wielding music to accompany the venture. My music collection is modest, so often I have to go back to the classic eras of rock for something that fits the mood. Recently I selected Rush’s 2112. I have a long, if tangential connection to this album. Afraid of its pentagram imagery and heavy metal sound (to my young ears) when it came out in the mid 70s, I only listened to it when my older brother put it on the stereo, and then only furtively enjoying it. Looking back now, I often wonder how any of us survived the 70’s styles and outlook — they feel dingy and hopeless in many corners, while sloppy and simplistic in others. Some of the music, however, has proven timeless.

Rush

After the instrumental prelude, the first words on the album are from the Bible: “the meek shall inherit the earth.” This particular statement is among the most easily ignored in the Gospels, just as the meek are easily ignored on the earth. With all the trumpeting and bellowing that sound from self-righteous commentators beating their religion beneath them like an over-taxed war-horse, it is plain to see how the meek might simply get in the way. This particular verse from the Sermon on the Mount, however, is one of the reasons that I cannot give up all faith in traditional religions. It sets the perfect juxtaposition between greed and selflessness out in full light for all to assess. Thus say the priests of the temples of Syrinx.

There was a time when rock became self-righteous to the point of caricature; but Rush’s 2112 was not such a place. The meek inheriting the earth is sticking it to the man unlike any other biblical dart can. And it is probably a good thing to queue up when I’m having to face the onerous task of grading exams once again.

We Don’t Need Another Bible

This podcast addresses the issue of agenda-driven Bible translation. Although all translators, being human, have agendas, typically they are for the advancement of knowledge. The news about Conservapedia’s Conservative Bible Project suggests that progress should be turned back to the first century and fast-forwarded to the Neo-Con agenda. The trend is disturbing because not many Americans have the essential background to assess critically whether Bibles are translated with serious scholarly intent or not. The ten principles of conservative Bible translation from Andrew Schlafly’s Conservapedia are examined.

In Our Own Image

Word is out that Andrew Schlafly, spawn of Phyllis, is working on a new Bible. In a stunning move that will amaze even many conservative Christians, Schlafly has decided that the Bible itself is too liberal. On his alternative to “liberal” Wikipedia, Conservapedia, he cites the ten principles for translating the Bible in a conservative-acceptable way. Unable to attain the lofty heights of rhetoric on Conservapedia’s Conservative Bible Project page, I need to quote verbatim the 10 Commandments of Schlafly’s ideal Bible:

1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level
4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent; Defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”; using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

Am I the only one to sniff a strong scent of Orwell here? Principle 1 stipulates that the translation, by converse logic (the kind apparently in favor) should be biased, as long as the bias is neo-con. In principle number 4 we are told that the word “word” has changed in meaning. Suddenly I’m reaching out for the railing – steady, steady! Principle 7: “free market parables”? Here is Jesus made-over in the image of Rush (I Can’t Have the Rams) Limbaugh; remove the kindness and compassion please. Jesus’ only goal is to be the CEO, or at least his only son. The translators reserve the right to remove objectionable material traditionally attributed to Jesus. Even Mr. Rogers could spell Revisionist!

Sure, Bible translators need to give the readership what they want. Thomas Jefferson removed the miracles and divinity claims for Jesus before publishing “the Jefferson Bible.” And he was a president! Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton led efforts to produce the Woman’s Bible, removing masculine bias from the text. Bible scholars, however, do not accept their efforts as original biblical manuscripts. Even the general public knows better. What Mr. Schlafly is proposing is giving a gullible readership a Bible that contains what God meant to say; i.e., if God were me. What is disturbing about this is not that one person is offering his or her own version of the Bible – that’s been done before – but that it is intended to lead the unwary to a vision of Christianity that is new but claiming to be apostolic.

I think I feel a podcast coming on.

Woman's Bible

Woman's Bible

Jefferson Bible

Jefferson Bible

Jersey Vampires

Subscribers to the New Jersey Star-Ledger receive a periodic local-interest magazine called Inside Jersey. Since I’m already inside Jersey and have too much to read as it is, I generally ignore the freebie unless a story catches my eye. Anyone who has followed this blog for long knows of my contention that what truly frightens us is related to religion, or lack thereof, including fictional movie monsters such as vampires and werewolves. Despite the claims that such interests are juvenile and immature, this month’s Inside Jersey features a story reflecting just how serious such issues can be. When my wife showed me the cover, I knew it was blog-worthy.

VampireJ

There are vampires among us. Not Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee-type Draculas, but actual blood-imbibing vampires. Only those who have shunned bookstores like a crucifix will not be aware that the Twilight series of teen romances have dominated middle and high school female reading lists for the last few years. The vampires in this magazine story, however, are not conflicted teens, but conventional young adults. The story covers what religionists call a New Religious Movement, or NRM. It is a religion, growing in the larger New York City area (as well as in other parts of the country), where consenting adults don artificial fangs and sip blood from willing donors. According to the story these groups, which include professional people who join under pseudonyms, engage seriously in religious rituals not unlike traditional Christianity’s sacramental rites. Now before snatching up your holy water and fresh hawthorn stakes, consider for a moment that adherents to this sub-culture are actually exercising their religious freedom.

Older, established religions are often quick to judge newer religious rivals. The fact is, however, that every religion on the planet was once a new religion. Believers often attribute the origin of their species of religion to the divine: special revelation, enlightenment, or a growing-up of humanity. All other religions, therefore, must be false. The difficulty here is that there are no final arbiters who can stand outside human religious institutions to tell us which is the right one. Lessing’s three rings have reached mass production and still there is no Ragnarok so that one religion might brag “told you so” to all the others. While I’m no vampire — I’ve been a vegetarian for over a decade — I have to accept the claims of those who are that this is their religion. The article ends with a revealing quote from a member of a local Court, so I give the final say to an actual interview with a vampire: “So many people think being into a certain lifestyle, you cut yourself off from the divine. It’s quite the contrary. To me, when you become more attuned to yourself, who you are uniquely, it brings you closer to God.”

I’ve Been Meming to Tell You . . .

There’s a tag game going on among the blogging community in an attempt to get a new meme going. Perhaps in payback for my researching memes for years, I was tagged by Dr. Jim of Dr. Jim’s Thinking Shop to reveal something about myself you wouldn’t normally guess. Now, I’m not much of a tag player, but I am a good sport, so I’ve been trying to think of something I wouldn’t mind letting the world at large know.

A little background first: I am a pacifist. When I had to register for the draft back in the Dark Ages I learned how to sign on as a conscientious objector. I don’t kill bugs in the house. Even the scariest looking ones I capture in a jar and release in the wild. In Wisconsin we used humane mousetraps and any captured rodents received a complementary automobile trip across a river a few miles away so that they couldn’t tunnel their innocent way back into our kitchen. I believe life is a good thing.

So far anyone who knows me could have guessed most of that. The new meme to be added is this: I am a good shot. With guns. I am not some gun-slingin’ ranger, but on the occasions when I’ve been invited to heft a sidearm and let fly, I’m not a bad shot.

melvin-purvisHow far back does this go? It’s hard to say. I am related to Melvin Purvis, J. Edgar Hoover’s “Little Mel,” probably the most famous FBI operative in history. Purvis was responsible for tracking down such characters as Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger. Less famously, he married my father’s aunt. My cousins who saw his house before he died (apparently shot himself accidentally while cleaning a gun) tell me that it had a grand entrance hall lined with guns. Well, I’m related by marriage, and as much as I’d like to blame my short stature on him, it just won’t wash.

Little Mel with J. Edgar Hoover

Little Mel with J. Edgar Hoover

Probably more to the point, I grew up in redneck territory. The first day of deer season was a school holiday (not kidding here), and my high school had a rifle range in the basement. This latter point is unbelievable in the shadow of Columbine, but it is true. When I worked as a janitor in the school I saw the (by then disused) range with my own eyes. All boys were required to pass a course on gun safety before going to high school. Every week we sat in the Junior High School auditorium with Mr. Meade, the very masculine gym teacher, while he lectured about the parts of a gun, how to use one, and general safety issues. I shot my first rifle before I was twelve.

A typical day in seminary

A typical day in seminary

Well, there you have it. A pacifist who knows how to shoot. Now, I’m not sure if anyone on my blogroll plays tag or even if most of them read my humble attempt at a blog. If you’re out there reading this, I would tag my following colleagues: Wulfila of the Lonely Goth’s Guide, Alan of Feeling Finite, James of Kethuvim, Stephen of Biblische Ausbildung, and Daniel of O. McClellan. Let the meme-pool remain ever refreshed.