Dream Quest

H. P. Lovecraft was a writer who remained unappreciated during his life but who has become a very influential literary figure after his death. So it is with artists. Known mostly for his short stories, one of the novellas he wrote, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” carries immense religious implications. Those familiar with Lovecraft’s fictional world know of the god Cthulhu and the “Other Gods” that he places in outer space. In “Dream-Quest” Lovecraft states that these Other Gods, “are good gods to shun.” While mere fiction, the concept of divinity has become pliable in the hands of its human author. Mortals are those who describe gods, those who decide what their deities will be like. The dream of the titular quest involves the earth gods having been removed from their shining city to leave the dark and dangerous other gods in charge.

While some would dismiss Lovecraft as overly inventive, his view of the earth being clouded by the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep strangely matches what we see playing out in the headlines. Those who are supposed to protect the masses, their leaders – elected or otherwise – have shown themselves to be interested in personal gain above all sense of duty. Throughout the world, and increasingly clearly in the United States, the working poor are seen as simple commodities easily manipulated and programmed to support those who would exploit them. Crawling chaos has landed.

Lovecraft’s “Dream-Quest” has a host of unlikely heroes, among them the cats of Ulthar. These cats maintain a true divinity appropriate for the descendents of Bastet. Feline divinity represents hope to Randolph Carter, Lovecraft’s protagonist. They also represent the tendency of the earth gods only to appear when most sorely needed, otherwise simply to set their own agenda. Where are the cats of Ulthar now? The problem with gods is they don’t always show up when you need them. Many dismiss Lovecraft as just another overly imaginative writer of cheap fiction, but to those will to listen carefully he was an author that could hear a very faint pulse. Even if that pulse was coming from under the floorboards to haunt a reality where the earth gods had gone away.

A little writer shall lead them


Third Mile Island

Sitting in the shadow of the cooling towers of Three Mile Island along the banks of the Susquehanna River the night before a friend’s wedding is one of the college memories that remains vividly in my mind. The accident had occurred some six years earlier, but seeing those ominous blinking red lights, no doubt to warn low-flying aircraft of the massive towers, left me with an irrational sense of danger. It will be a sad day when we have nothing left to fear. The next year, the Chernobyl disaster took place. This tragedy has results that are still playing out among the millions exposed to the radiation. Perhaps these events explain why Alan Parson Project’s Ammonia Avenue remains among my favorite albums.

While having my oil changed yesterday, the waiting room television was fixated on the story of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, settling it comfortably between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. With anxiety about the year 2012 running amok, many people are looking for signs. Perhaps the most unfortunate meme the Bible has introduced to the world is the Apocalypse. In origin apocalyptic concepts emerged from the Zoroastrian idea that a dualistic change in ages was coming. Believing this world to be under the baleful influence of Angra Mainyu, a day was eventually going to arrive where all this would be turned around and Ahura Mazda would set things right. Christianity borrowed the idea, shrouded it in secrecy, and began an unhealthy interest in the end of all things.

Fukushima Daiichi may feel like the end of the world, but it is not. In fact, all that we know of our planet shows its great resilience. The late Stephen Jay Gould, in his popular book Bully for Brontosaurus, opined that the earth is not as fragile as is often supposed. He notes in the prologue, “Our planet is not fragile at its own time scale, and we, pitiful latecomers in the last microsecond of our planetary year, are stewards of nothing in the long run.” Not that we should not attempt to protect our environment – we do that to preserve ourselves and other species – but if we should fail, earth will carry on. Our globe is expected to support life for another 500 million years. Instead of following false positives, we might be better off reminding ourselves that Gaia still has a few tricks up her metaphorical sleeves.

One way or another


Zounds

Back in my first exposure to state university life in Wisconsin, I frequently received eager guidance from students on religion in the media. After having taught in a seminary where interest in the world beyond ecclesiastical walls was rare, this exposure to wider interpretation was welcome. One of the movies suggested to me by helpful undergraduates was the then fairly contemporary Stigmata. My interest in horror films was burgeoning again after my nightmarish experience at Nashotah House, so I watched the movie with renewed appreciation for the abuses presented on the part of the established church. I rewatched Stigmata this past weekend and a number of features stood out as apposite for this blog.

As always in movies, liberties are taken with reality. Stigmata presents the Gospel of Thomas as a serious threat to Catholicism. Of course, even the Gospel of Judas made a public splash back in my Oshkosh days, but the great Titanic of the church remained steadily afloat. The contents of the Bible are secure and non-negotiable for the vast majority of Christianity. There is no more room within its black leather binding for further revelations. The movie also presents a woman – an atheist, no less – as being the vehicle for a truth she can’t understand. In the masculine citadel of the Catholic Church she must be silenced, in an overly dramatic way, of course. The message seems to be that religion is unwilling to learn from secular women, even if they bear the truth.

The critics were not kind to the movie, but I found it a strangely religious film. The premise behind it advocates the reality of Christianity, only the Jesus of history is occluded behind a great mask of human tradition. Enamored of power, the church decides what will be revealed to the masses since control is more important than truth. A woman cannot correct the false belief of men, since a masculine god has given manly instructions to a male institution. Underneath it all, however, is a virgin Mary weeping real human blood as half of humanity is simply disregarded by the half that retains its abusive strength. Perhaps the commentary was a little too close to home, even for the (mostly male) critics.


The Ides of March

In the days of ancient Rome, politicians as well as plebeians feared the interference of the gods. Auspicious days were ignored, even by emperors, at their own peril. In my Mythology class the concept of hubris frequently emerges. Generally thought to be excessive pride, hubris can take many forms. Whenever a mere mortal strives for godhood, however innocently, it must be punished. Julius Caesar, declaring himself emperor, had to face the wrath of the gods. The ides of March kept in check the ambitions of the powerful. In a world where the political become too powerful, the very phases of the moon step in to restore balance.

The ides seem to have their origin in the date of the full moon. The month of March, named after the god Mars, featured a military parade on the ides. Then, as now, political power is simply the form of government backed by the military. The history of human unrest, especially notable since the American and French revolutions when the common people shouted, “Enough!”, is where might is shown not to equal right. Pontiffs and presidents, enamored of firepower and its blandishments, appear like Caesar before their populaces, confident in their wealth and military backing.

The concept of hubris might once again be meaningful to a culture under siege. As pundits and politicians make bids for places of abusive power, confident that there is no one above them, ethics are reformed in their own images. Have they not become their own gods? We the people bow to their vision of what should be. How many political leaders retire to uncertain futures because their own pensions have been slashed and healthcare diminished? Those who care for them in their dotage are the very children whose educational funds they’ve slashed. Hubris? It behooves all of us to beware the ides of March. Most, like Caesar, will ignore the warning and don the purple. Those who read, however, will not anger the gods.

Et tu, Brutus?


Jane Who?

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.” So states Charlotte Brontë in the preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre. I am inclined to believe that the lines were widely ignored by clergy and politicians, for public leaders in nineteenth century Britain were not likely to take the advice of a young lady who only had one real credit to her name. Politicians and clergy of twenty-first century America can hardly be expected to have read Jane Eyre, for how would this woman know the harsh realities of how to assert one’s own will on the masses? In the stewing tea pot of the Religious Right, conventionality is morality. Self-righteousness is religion. George Santayana might well have saved his cramped fingers from writing, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As politicians oil their moving parts in preparation for next year’s great race, they know that many constituents will gladly accept conventionality as morality without asking about the origins of such practices. Schoolyard bullies who seek their own aspirations praise the great darkness that has settled over New Jersey where education is simply a commodity with which to bargain. Jane Eyre? Who’s she? If she’s a constituent, I’d better spin this slashing of education funds to her liking. Without an educated public, it is much easier to bolster one’s personal authority.

For years educators have been watching in dismay as other developed nations soar past American expertise in science, math, and even geography. Our response: let’s cut education funding. Conventionality is morality. Education teaches children to think for themselves. Is it not better to show them that self-righteousness is religion? We can put other religions on trial (thank you, Mr. King), while conveniently forgetting our founders were largely religious dissenters. To know that, however, you have to read a little history. We are far too busy plotting how to shortchange our future in order to feather further already overly plush nests.


Sex and Violence in Ancient Pompeii

The earthquakes and tsunami that have devastated northern Japan have me thinking about natural disasters. Currently in New York City there is a display of artifacts from Pompeii, an exhibit I have not yet had a chance to visit. The parallelism of the two tragedies, however, has not escaped me. Pompeii’s destruction by Mount Vesuvius in 79 of the Common Era and its subsequent rediscovery and excavation are the stuff of legend. An unsuspecting city in the shadow of a sleepy volcano, at the pinnicle of its civilization, suddenly snuffed out. Forgotten for centuries, and eventually rediscovered. But rediscovery led to embarrassing revelations.

How will you be remembered?

Some of the first artifacts recovered from Pompeii were the erotic frescos that adorned many of the buried structures. Further, such images as super-sized phalli and other cultic implements of questionable morality led to reburial of some of the material because of more recent sensibilities. We judge ancient and extinct societies on the basis of modern predispositions on decency and propriety without considering that it is our view that is the innovation. Even a cursory read through the Holy Bible will reveal many stories where sexuality plays a prominent role. This suggests that biblical writers, like most people of antiquity, were less shy of sexuality than their post-Victorian heirs.

Natural disasters have a way of stopping time. Not just in the sense of speeding up the rotation of the earth by another 1.6 microseconds either. Surveying the wreckage of what we believed was a stable status quo, priorities are suddenly shifted. Compassion, rescue, and survival outweigh the petty differences of just the night before. Disasters are snapshots of the human condition. As the hot ash settled on Pompeii, lovers clasped in their final moments, never imagining that some two millennia further on that more modern, civilized tourists would be embarrassed by so human a response. Disasters are harsh teachers, but we may learn in the face of an unfeeling nature that we are all humans after all.


Ring of Fire

It looks so peaceful from above

The great tragedy unfolding in Japan has many Internet pundits wondering if this is a sign of the 2012 apocalypse. In reality it is simply a great human tragedy, a reminder that we are creatures who’ve evolved in a dangerous, often inhospitable universe. Natural disasters may have been one of the stimuli for the development of religion in the first place. Now we can look to seismology and tectonic plates to find out “why” hundreds had to die in Japan, but the human psyche demands a metaphysical reason. Some Christian websites are quick to point out that only a very small percentage of Japanese are Christian. Born with the sin of not being American, well, Shinto happens.

Like last year’s Chilean earthquake, this current disaster has once again shifted the earth on its rotation axis, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. GPS markers on the coast of Japan indicate that the large island has shifted over two meters because of the quake. The world was not made for us, however. We evolved on a planet, peopled it with gods, and decided that they created this place for us. In reality, we survive on the basis of our adaptations to this planet. Any planet dynamic enough to support life will be volatile enough to demand life from its inhabitants.

This is not as fatalistic as it sounds. Religions reflect the impotence humans feel in the presence of raw nature. We’ve shed many physical defenses for the advantages of large brains that require us to piece together a sensible view of an event that has no inherent meaning. The fact is that we are not in control. Once we eliminated the smaller-scale threats of exposure and the dangers of predation, we left ourselves open to macro-scale disasters that no human is large enough to impact. And we know, deep in our psyches, that this is simply part of the price we pay for being human. 2012 will come and go with its own share of natural disasters, but right now we should focus on helping those who’ve experienced their own current apocalypse.


Anubis Rising

As if reality weren’t haunting enough, I’ve been continuing my quest to find the scariest fiction book written. I’ve borrowed suggestions from others, but it seems that the fear factor is a decidedly personal thing. Nevertheless, the suggestions are often enlightening as well as provocative. I recently finished Dan Simmons’s A Winter Haunting. Simmons’s work had previously been unexplored by me, so this was a foray into the unknown. Of course, I read horror with an eye toward the sacred and I’m seldom disappointed. In A Winter Haunting the sacred appears in the form of Egyptian religion. Simmons makes very effective use of hellhounds, tracing them back to Anubis.

Now Anubis lays me down to sleep

The religion of ancient Egypt had a morbid preoccupation with death – or maybe it was just a healthy recognition that it is inevitably coming. Many of their gods eventually ended up patronizing the dead in some way. Andjety, Ptah, Min, Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, Maat, and Thoth, as well as Anubis, regularly appear in the cult of the dead. And, of course, pyramids represented the stairway to heaven long before Page and Plant. Death and its psychological angst have been crucial to the development of religion from the beginning. The Egyptians honed it to a fine art.

Anubis was likely associated with the dead because of the scavenging of wild canines at shallow graves. Magic, a phenomenon anthropologists have difficulty distinguishing from religion, dictates that the source of the problem should be appropriated as its cure. To protect the dead, the scavenger of the dead transformed into Anubis. Simmons did his homework, for this transformation is well represented in A Winter Haunting. Without knowing this particular plot device, I had been reading about Egyptian funerary cult independently of the novel and this coincidence proved entertaining as well as informative. I won’t be sleeping with the lights on, though. The search continues.


Thy King Dumb Come

Is it legal to be Muslim? It is against the law to be religious? What about an extremist? The Peter King Trials, under the auspices of the almighty House Homeland Security Committee, are attempting to put radical Islamists on trial. My question is: when was the last time they cleaned their own backyard? Religions make extreme claims. As long ago as Yahweh thundering from Mount Sinai, adherents to monotheistic religions have claimed that their interpretation of God demands many unsavory actions – genocide, infanticide, war-time rape – all permissible in the Holy Bible. When terrorists draw their inspiration from the Quran, however, it crosses that invisible line in the sand. During the deepest chill of the Cold War nobody thought to bring Russian Orthodox Christians to trial. After all, they are cut from the same monotheistic cloth.

The damage done by Christian extremists is less visible, or at least more forgivable, in American eyes. Innocent mistakes, people doing what they thought that God demanded. It could happen to anybody. As long as they are Christian. As we daily watch the infectious creeping of Fundamentalism and its subtle (or overt) violence against those who are different, in a great move of theatrical diversion, King and his minions try to focus blame on “pagans.” Right belief, the afterbirth of monotheism, has taken on a life of its own. It can brook no rivals. If it is Christian right belief it can support the sale of fellow human beings, the dehumanization of prisoners of war, the starvation of the young. They are, after all, not Christian. Not like us.

In the words of the King, “Too many of the leaders of the Muslim community… are not cooperative and are not willing to speak out and condemn this radicalization that’s going on.” Physician, heal thyself. Radicalization in the name of Christianity is acceptable, even laudable. It is just part of the frontier, pioneering spirit of this great nation. Other religions, however, need not apply for freedom. After all, what do they think this is – a democracy?

Just following the king of kings


If You Ash Me

It was a familiar British voice on the BBC that first introduced me to the concept of Dismal Days. As a very frugal couple newly married and living abroad for the first time, my wife and I had little entertainment other than the radio. Doctoral candidates didn’t have time for television, and besides, in Britain you had to pay for a television license in addition to the electricity it would cost to watch it. We didn’t even use our pathetic wall heater in winter. When the BBC 4 announcer mentioned that it was a medieval dismal day, my wife and I exchanged bemused glances. The concept has become part of our mental warehouses. Today is not a medieval dismal day in that sense, but Ash Wednesday brings a dreariness all its own. As a young Fundamentalist I didn’t know about this particular day, but when I attached myself to the local Methodist congregation I learned a history lesson.

Methodists descended directly from Anglicans (Church of England). And as I learned in my ill-fated Nashotah House days, some Anglicans believe they never really separated from Rome. Ash Wednesday has now become a widely recognized day of mourning and repentance (as if all days weren’t such) and for many years I submitted to the ashes. It was always with wonder, however, since Jesus purportedly said not to show any outward signs when you are lamenting. I wondered where the tradition began. The earliest references to Ash Wednesday date from the papacy of Gregory the Great, in the eighth century of the Common Era. It is just like the Middle Ages to add drear to an already dark and cheerless season. Lent was originally intended for reflection, but in the macabre mind of the Dark Ages it became an excuse for utter misery.

Dismal Days are actually far older. In origin we again have the Romans to thank, although they blamed the Egyptians. In Roman society two days each month were deemed infortuitous to begin important ventures. In fact, the word “dismal” derives from the Latin for “evil days.” The idea that certain days are especially gloomy is a hangover from superstition that many rational people have now completely disregarded. Many of those rational people, however, will be spotted today with ashes on their otherwise hygienically cleansed foreheads.

Why not buy in bulk?


Myth of Jerusalem

As I stood atop the Mount of Olives watching the sun set over Jerusalem several years ago, I had difficulty believing I was actually there. For a working class kid who’d only ever been to Canada before (and only because we lived not too far from Niagara Falls), this was a moment like a scene from the Bible itself. Jerusalem is a city of myth and dream, and it represents just how seriously mythology may be taken. A new book, Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World, by James Carroll, was reviewed in Sunday’s newspaper. I have not yet read the book myself, but a couple of lines from Tom Mackin’s review leapt out at me: “Jerusalem is as much a symbol as a reality. Because most Orthodox males spend their time studying the Torah, they are unemployed. Piety brings poverty.” This is editorializing with parsimony.

Those of us raised to believe that pursuit of the highest calling of humankind is that of seeking the divine often end up forced to live the consequences. This pursuit does not pay, unless one is willing to sell one’s soul to become a televangelist. Unemployment has a way of sharpening one’s focus. The message repeatedly heaped upon you by society is that you have nothing of value to contribute. True, religious founders often declare the ineffectual satisfaction of lucre, but then, most of them didn’t have a child to put through college. Having spent nine years after high school studying the Torah (and Prophets and Writings and documents written long before any of this), I see now what could not be seen then.

When I watched the sun set over Jerusalem with some friends, a stray cat wandered over, looking for affection. Or, more likely, food. I had some scraps that I shared with the hungry kitten when it unexpectedly bit my finger and scampered away. My friends, concerned for rabies or some other infection, rushed me down the Mount of Olives and into the Holy City seeking a holy pharmacy. Little did I know at the time that a myth was being enacted at the expense of my aching finger. Acts of kindness are rewarded with the hand that feeds being bitten. I had to come down from the mountain, earn a doctorate, and be dismissed by well-groomed evangelicals before I could finally see that the symbol was the same as reality. I need to read this book to restore my faith in mythology.

More and less than it seems


Gila’s Got the Whole World

Singing pretty-boys and colossal lizards – it must be time for The Giant Gila Monster. A horror film that portrays all the innocence of the 1950s before the Beat Generation led us down the path to reality, the film has earned cult status in recent years. More accurately titled, “A Regular-Sized Gila Monster Filmed in Close-Up,” the sub-mediocrity of the movie has probably done more for preserving it in popular culture than any other aspect. The film stars the relatively unknown Don Sullivan as a great teen role model who writes and performs his own songs. The number that receives the most Internet attention, and the one that makes this movie of interest to this blog is “The Mushroom Song.” Chase Winstead (Sullivan’s character) has a young sister who is just learning to walk with leg braces. To cheer her, he picks up a ukulele and sings: “And the Lord he said I created for you/A world of joy from out of the blue/And all that is left to complete the joy–/Just the laugh of a girl and boy/And there was a garden, a beautiful garden/Held in the arms of a world without joy/Then there was laughter, wonderful laughter/For he created, a girl and a boy/And the Lord said, laugh, children, laugh/The Lord said, laugh, children, laugh” with the final line repeated numerous times.

Laugh, children, laugh

Perhaps intended to underscore the societal norms of a time when “the Lord” made frequent appearances as an unseen supporting actor in many movies, this song is oddly out of place. The disability of Missy Winstead is obviously a device to raise tension: how will a disabled girl run from a giant lizard? The song, however, provides the resolution – the Lord will take care of all good people. Their response should be to laugh. The reference to Adam and Eve, fitting for teen fantasies of all generations, also belies the evolution of this monster. The gila grows to its great size because of chemicals in the water that wash to the delta somewhere in Texas. This creature did not evolve. The Lord will take care of it. The Lord and nitroglycerin.

Respectful teenagers with predictable haircuts and a society that believes a missing teenage couple could be doing nothing but eloping fits the world of the Religious Right exceptionally well. Even though they may not be perfect, these kids know right from wrong for they live in a black-and-white world with no ambiguity or ambivalence. Children of subsequent generations have grown up with shades of gray or psychedelic colors. The older generation is frightened by new developments, claiming that the world they know is about to end. In fact, an evolution is occurring. Those who try to hold society to the norms of the 1950s would do well to move ahead a decade and at least listen to Bob Dylan. No matter how far we progress, however, it seems that Texas will always delight in producing Lord-loving, bloated threats to rational civilization.


In the Beginning FIRST

Robots can be strangely emotional. Partly it’s that Colosseum atmosphere of a FIRST Robotics event, partly it’s being reminded of the vitality of youth, partly it’s hope for the future, and partly it is being part of something larger than yourself. Sounds religious. All that and lack of sleep. Yesterday was the culmination of the New Jersey Regional competition of this year’s FIRST Robotics season. As a non-scientist/engineer wannabe parent, I attend the competitions I am able to and I always leave deeply conflicted. There is a strange disconnect between science and religion that maintains an uneasy peace in many educated minds. My malaise began when I saw the following plaque, quoting the Bible, outside the Trenton Sun National Bank Center. In a state where labor is constantly under attack by its aristocratic government, it was a poignant reminder that such events as this celebration of science would not be possible without the efforts of laborers.

Bible lesson before the games

Emulating sports events, FIRST Robotics begins its events with a ritual. This in itself goes back to classical religions where competitions were dedicated to the gods. As a local speaker stood before the crowd of several hundred youth, mentors, and advisors, he reiterated the commitment the FIRST program has to service. To make his point, he began speaking about what he’d learned in church. It was here that the conflict settled home. For many years I taught (still do, in a less direct way) those who were training for careers in the church. I am committed to teaching them that religious reactions against a scientific worldview are misguided and bound to collapse. And yet here was a highly educated scientist simply accepting the teaching of a minister. There is a deeper issue here.

I know many clergy, perhaps too many for the good of one layman. And I know that many of them are far too busy to sort out the detailed intricacies of how science and religion interact. In fact this may be the only truly honest way to engage our world. As I listened to excited kids making announcements about the millions of dollars available for budding science students in college, I reflected on our treasure lying where our hearts are. Looking around at the mess the world is in, I see religion often taking a leading role in violence and distrust, reaping the benefits of science for evil purposes. I see scientists attempting to instill a rational worldview on societies deeply mired in unreflective religion. And I find them mixing at the fringes. I salute FIRST Robotics, but I wonder if we can ever truly escape the wrath of the gods.


Get Lent

Time to get Lent

Each year as spring struggles to overcome winter’s terminal chill, colorful flowers begin to burst from the earth to announce the rebirth of hope. So it is that bright purple signs have begun to spring up all over town announcing the joy that is Lent. Wait a moment – Lent and joy in the same sentence? The radiant signs read, “Lent: a good time to come home.” That’s not the Lent I remember. Having spent the longest decade of my life at a seminary that was frequently touted as “all Lent, all the time,” I suffered my share of the season. While I think I comprehend the tactic behind this attendance boosting campaign, I wonder if it isn’t leading with the chin.

Back when flowers were the first colorful signs of spring, when I was young, churches did not advertise. Stolid bastions of the truth, each and every one, they awaited sinners to come to their senses and select the correct avenue to the truth. If you missed, well, Hell never turned anyone away. Nowadays, however, we need advertising to convince us. In a consumerist heaven, we are deluged with choices. When the faithful dither, it must be time to advertise.

The first to admit personal bias, my experience of Lent has usually been dreary and unrelenting. A naturally quiet and self-critical individual, I don’t need a whole denomination on my back to force me to think about the faults I already castigate. The thought of the season makes me shudder – people who spend all the rest of the year looking out for number one are to emulate Jesus’ reflective 40 days in the wilderness to be like their savior, only to snap back to their old self-serving ways on Easter. Could be a recipe for collective schizophrenia. Temporary Christianity. Do we really need more occasions to be glum? My favorite part of Lent was always Mardi Gras; at least then we were working on something new to contemplate during the next 40 long, chilly days.


Shake Your Booty?

The Roman Catholic Church has been making headlines again. Yesterday’s newspaper afforded two headlines to the great mother church – or maybe I should say “pleasant parent church.” The first story regards the Pope’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth-Part II, due for release next week. In it the Teutonic Vater exonerates the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. The embarrassing mastodon in the room, however, is why the church ever blamed the Jews in the first place. From the beginning Christian theology declared Jesus’ death part of God’s master plan. It also provided a convenient excuse for centuries of hate crimes that continue to this day. Believers, however, are quick to justify God’s actions, even when the Bible tentatively raises its own objections. In my prophet’s course, many students had trouble accepting the fact that the story of Micaiah ben-Imlah in 1 Kings 22 indicates that God sanctions lies in the mouths of prophets for a larger divine purpose. Perhaps we should also look for Micaiah ben-Imlah-Part I on the bookstore shelves soon.

The second article, already making its rounds on the Internet, concerns a new translation of the Bible. Shaking the traditional word “booty” from its vaunted position, the Ash Wednesday Bible calls it “spoils of war.” I was pleased to see my personal friend Bishop Sklba interviewed as part of the release publicity. As he rightly notes, “English is a living language,” to which some have subtly added, “and a dying art.” The article rehearses the sophomoric tittering at funny-sounding verses that has plagued the church ever since the laity have been educated. Gelding the Bible is a small price to pay for sanctity.

Regardless of efforts on the part of the religious, the Bible remains an often bawdy text set in the context of a sexist and supersessionist world. It is the world in which the Roman Catholic Church came of age. As we start to see the first, faint blooms of a distant equality beginning to push through a vast leaf-litter of decomposing, brown tradition, the theology and foundational document of the church require some window-dressing. In this world of aggressive, bully governors and oh-so-self-righteous politicians, it is encouraging to see a massive religious organization bashfully blushing and suggesting that shoving others may not be the best method of getting your own way. Could it be that the church still has some valuable lessons to teach the world?

Oh, uh, sorry about that...