Today marks the final day of my Iowa odyssey. The state that is about as heart-of-the-nation as you can get is chaffing under the weight of political lard as the caucuses near. According to the Huffington Post, Newt Gingrich is roaring mad about the negative ads that are choking the airwaves. You’d think with a life in politics he’d be used to it by now. Religion, of course, is playing an undue role in this season’s GOP contest—everyone knows Mitt Romney is a Mormon and publishers are scrambling to get out books on that religion as fast as their authors can write. Rick Perry, to the chagrin of many, bears a Methodist affiliation and the religious sensibility of Genghis Khan. Of course, Newt appears relatively calm as a Catholic, at least for the time being. Jack Kennedy, however, he is not.
The Republican Party began a flirtation with religious conservatives as early as the Nixon years. Pundits realized that, like the Alaskan oil reserves, religious fundamentalists were an untapped resource to grease the rails to election day. Overjoyed to have a voice in high profile public office, the conservative Christian crowd began to wilt from the perceived failure of Jimmy Carter and began to glom onto the media image projected by Ronald Reagan. We all suffered through the Bush years, hearing more about God from the president than we heard about the soaring national debt or the coming crash that would implode upon the working class that elected him to office (so they say). Now, facing the choice of candidates wealthy enough to run for office, many are finding the choices on the shelves of the spiritual marketplace a little understocked.
Back in the days when America was young, the founders laid down rules declaring that no religious tests would be imposed on those running for public office. Their fears proved prescient and uncannily accurate. Today perhaps the biggest test any candidate has to pass is his or her religious affiliation. Can we imagine a Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, or Michele Bachmann without their Bibles tucked under arm? Religion has no corner on the market for sanity. Many, in fact, would argue that the indications sometimes point in the other direction. The corner America has painted itself into is not so much shaded with red, white, and blue, as it is with the muddy brown of religious slurry that has become the new politics. Newt, newly minted from his Southern Baptist heritage, is mad about mudslinging. I think Americans should be enraged about religion slinging instead.
Posted in Bibliolatry, Current Events, Natural Disasters, Popular Culture, Posts, Sects, Travel
Tagged Huffington Post, Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich, politics, religion and politics, Roman Catholicism
Some of us have been dragged into the electronic age kicking and screaming. Our apartment at home is full of books, and they are made of paper, not plastic. In college, some of my friends and I vowed we would never use computers—harbingers of a cold, new age. It was a vow I kept until working on my doctorate (pretty much). Despite keeping this blog, I really have very little native intelligence about the world of circuit-board, integrated circuit, and chip. I would probably be the last person to have thought to ask for an iPhone—I frequently forget to take my cell phone with me, and when I do, I sometimes neglect to turn it on. So I was stunned to find an iPhone with my name on it yesterday. I looked at it like an alien baby, wondering what it might eat. As the day wore on, however, I started to see some of what it might offer.
Siri, the software personal assistant for iOS, responds in a friendly voice to questions asked. “She” (and you can’t help personifying her) is like a personal portal to the mind of the Internet. You want a pizza? Siri knows the location of all the places in your neighborhood that deliver. You wonder what the most recent nation in the world is? Siri will look that up for you. (South Sudan, as of yesterday, according to her sources.) My brother-in-law, intrepid with electronics, and knowing my background, asked Siri about God. She replied, “Humans believe in spiritualism. I believe in siliconism.” Someone at Apple clearly has a sense of humor, but the more I began to parse this statement, the more I realized Siri could use a personal assistant in the religion field.
Spiritualism is not the same as spirituality; the former is the belief in ghosts and the religions that accompany that belief, such as Theosophy. Clearly in an American market, any product that denied belief in God, even by implication, would become the product of a witchhunt. The sad image of heaps of iPhones being melted as leering evangelicals look on is disturbing but unfortunately easy to conjure. Best to program Siri to deflect any potential ire with humor. The second component of her pithy reply is siliconism. As a religion, it is clearly underway all ready. Who reading this blog can imagine life without electronic media? Be honest! What does a computer believe? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Does Siri say her prayers as she’s being shut down for the night? What does it mean to believe? So now I have an iPhone. The day before yesterday I couldn’t find my app with both hands. Now I have a personal religion consultant. I suspect I’ll be starting a new religion by the end of the day—the First Church of Christ, Programmer. Its headquarters will be wherever a true believer is located at the moment, as long as s/he has an iPhone. Blackberry users will, of course, be considered heretics.
Posted in Books, Consciousness, Just for Fun, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Origins, Sects
Tagged First Church of Christ, iOS, iPhone, Philip K. Dick, Programmer, Siliconism, Siri, South Sudan, Spiritualism, Theosophy
Iowa is a state for reflection. For many years Christmas in Iowa was a family tradition, but living on the east coast makes such pilgrimages rare. On Christmas Eve in Ames, we drove past a Nazarene Church decked out for the holiday with a sign reading, “Jesus Came for You.” Perhaps I watch too many movies, but the images that came to mind were of Rambo and The Terminator—menacing figures who’ve sought out their victims for revenge. Coming for you was a threat rather than a promise. Who can forget Arnold’s “I’ll be back”? Was the child who came sent with a mission of punishment or of peace? To hear presidential candidates and other evangelicals tell the Christmas story, it is clearly the former—the Rambo of God who blows away the sins of the world—that we should expect. The Prince of Pieces.
That version of Christianity that likes to present itself as the default, the natural form of what the church has taught all these years, has a strong current of threat running through it. God never shows up unless there is a problem—an absentee father only too swift to remove his ample belt to begin a sound thrashing. Religion often thrives in the context of menace. Teaching that people are evil by nature and only good when under promise of Hell, such believers understand the coming of Jesus to be cause for fear and alarm. According to Luke, the angels began their message with “Fear not.”
How Christmas is understood reflects on the view of Christianity that believers choose. For the advent and arrival of an emissary can be cause for celebration or of fear. In some mangers the infant conceals a cudgel and woe to those who suggest equal treatment of all or a non-literal reading of favorite prooftexts. This time of year stands as an excellent test of what this child will grow up to be in the minds of his latter-day cohort. What arrival should we anticipate? If it is the Jesus of the politicians and evangelicals, we only have to look at the headlines to discover the answer.
What child is this?
Posted in Bible, Bibliolatry, Current Events, Holidays, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged Ames, Christianity, Christmas, Iowa, Luke, Rambo, Terminator