Miracle of the Sun

HeavenlyLights The events at Fatima in 1917 have occupied me on this blog before. Perhaps it is because of the haunting quality of the whole thing. Children, two of whom died young, saw a vision and the apparition made a prediction that was held in secret for decades. I’m not sure about you, but these days remembering most things for more than a few nanoseconds is a challenge. What was I saying? Oh yes, the Fatima incident. I recently read a book on Fatima, an unconventional book, but one which makes an intriguing case and raises a valid point. Heavenly Lights: The Apparitions of Fatima and the UFO Phenomenon by Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d’Armada draws compelling parallels between the many UFO reports that are in the public record and the strange events at Fatima, Portugal in the latter days of World War I. Immediately some people will be put off, since we have all been conditioned to ridicule the idea that, although there is almost certainly life in space, it would take the trouble to visit our neck of the universe. In the mantra of conventional thinking: it can’t be done. (Sounds rather like my career. What was I writing about, again?)

The valid point raised by the book is that many people are skeptical of the supernatural. That rules out a miracle for Fatima, since in a materialistic universe, miracles aren’t sanctioned. That leaves us with a crowd of at least 50,000 people, perhaps as many as 70,000, hallucinating at the same time. I mentioned this to a very bright college-aged student recently who responded, “Really? Who would believe that so many people saw the same hallucination at the same time?” That’s the official story, however, in the materialist camp. Just outside the tent are those who believe UFOs are material objects. They are in no way supernatural, just impossible (because nobody can fly fast enough to get here, what with light being so sluggish and all—and even if they could, why would they come here where we’re still pretty much all stuck to the surface of the globe?) I’m afraid I suffer from a surfeit of imagination. I like to wonder what might be possible.

The point Fernandes and d’Armada are making is that rural folk in 1917 had no language to describe what they saw apart from religious language. Interestingly enough, the children were always a bit cagey when saying the woman they saw was the Virgin Mary. They recognized that others said she was, but then, the others didn’t see her. The book does not explore the fact that UFOs and religion have a somewhat long association. That doesn’t make interstellar travelers supernatural, though, just out for cheap thrills. Buzz earth a few times and a century later people will still be talking about it. Some will call it a miracle. Others will say it was a mass delusion. And the rest of us will scratch our heads.

Something to Believe

Xfilesiwanttobelieve After a rough week at work, nothing helps so much as simple escapism. Thinking back to my glory days in the classroom, I remembered the movies I used to get students thinking about how the Bible is represented in popular culture. One of those movies was The X-Files, I Want to Believe. Not that the movie was my favorite, but escapism isn’t picky—there’s one reality I want to escape, and just about any other will do. As I watched the film again last night I was struck how very much the whole movie is premised on religion. I suppose the title should’ve given that away, but since it is the slogan of Mulder’s famous poster, I’d not really given it serious thought. Scully is now a practicing doctor in a Catholic hospital, and the number of lingering scenes with stained-glass icons in the background simply can’t be ignored. She has given up chasing monsters in the dark, and come to live in a very Gnostic kind of light. Through a pedophile priest (Father Joe), the darkness finds her again. How could I have missed the centrality of a priest to the plot?

The scene I always pointed out to my students was where Father Joe goes into a seizure while quoting Proverbs 25.2, again citing Gnostic hidden ways. The Bible slips from his trembling hands and falls, closed, to the floor. Later, as Mulder is literally about to be axed to death, Scully finds him by noticing the mailbox number 25-2. A proverb was a prophecy and the Bible retains its ability to guide the believer toward salvation. Through paranormal means, of course. After all, this is the X-Files.

Faith versus science, religion versus reason; these are the underlying motifs of the entire film. Scully the skeptic is the one who believes. Mulder, the high priest of the preternatural is just waiting for her to come home. It isn’t the greatest of movies, but it is based on some classic themes. Wanting to believe, but not being able to believe—isn’t this one of the most religious tensions possible? For years now the internet has been buzzing with rumors of a third, and probably final, X-Files movie. And yes, many people are wanting to believe. And if work continues with weeks like this past one, I’ll be needing a lot more escapism as well. Yes, I want to believe.

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Among the sensitive crowd known as biblical scholars, the chronological designations Before the Common Era (BCE) and Common Era (CE) have long been in use. Perhaps it is because, at some point in the recent past, Christian scholars realized that the Hebrew Bible, until then called the Old Testament, was also the Bible of Judaism. All of history, in the European version, is divided by the figure of Jesus, or more properly, Christ. BC stood for Before Christ, after all, and AD not for After Death (which would leave an embarrassing gap of about three decades), but Anno Domini, “in the year of our Lord.” The conventions of BC/AD had become so entrenched that few bothered to linger over the implications, but implications there are. A case might be made, purely on historical grounds, for maintaining BC. There was a time before Jesus—even the Bible agrees on that point. And, again, from an historical view, the worldview of Christianity forever changed the direction of events for at least two millennia thereafter. It still does, if we pay any attention to the posturing of the Religious Right. We have to start counting somewhere, don’t we, to know where we are in time?

Anno Domini is a tad more colonializing. Short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, “in the year of our lord Jesus Christ,” those two letters make an assumption that the shared lord of the readers is indeed Jesus. For centuries in Europe and the New World, apart from those Muslims that from time-to-time made their presence felt, and the Jews who were conveniently suppressed, this worked for just about everybody. If you disagreed, after all, you were welcome to return to your backwater homeland and count your time by burning hour candles between your toes, if you wished. For the forward march of history, it was onward, Christian soldiers. AD held a proselytizing imperative. But then Christians began to notice two more ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, both with pedigrees that predate AD. Not that this was a problem from a missiological point of view—we can just convert them, after all—but scholars began to consider the implications.

Photo credit: Isabelle Grosjean ZA, Wikipedia

Photo credit: Isabelle Grosjean ZA, Wikipedia

Time is inexorable. At least in our experience of it. No one stopped to begin counting when Adam and Eve were wandering about Eden, and the simple reference to the lifetime of a monarch seemed sufficient for most pre-capitalist business. What fueled the change to attempt an absolute time was the conviction that it was all about to end soon. Jesus seems to have predicted an imminent apocalypse; “some who are standing here will not taste death,” Luke tells us Jesus said. If that is the case, AD is the final countdown. With a delayed onset. Instead of Anno Domini, it might stand for Announcing Doomsday. And since that clock is still ticking, it might be time to acknowledge that we do indeed live in a Common Era.

Liberty and Justice for

Looks like America will be divorcing the self-proclaimed “Defense” of Marriage Act. It’s a small step, but a small step in the right direction. Religious dogma has too long held sway over politics in this land of religious freedom. It must seem astonishing to rational people the world over how a country founded for the very purposes of religious liberty has homed in on a very narrow sect of one religious tradition and used that as the basis for discriminatory laws. After all, even the Bible says very little about marriage—something about taking your main squeeze into the tent with you and voila, you’re married. The Bible never asks what they’re doing in the privacy of their own tabernacle. Now we have a political system that legislates what can legitimately turn you on. Finally we see some light beginning to dawn in the judiciary system.

I don’t take marriage lightly; those of us who are married seldom do. I also don’t take my status as being the only possible way of finding love in a world that sorely needs more of it. Every day I witness acts of uncaring and sometimes outright cruelty, often in the name of the progress of business. And until yesterday I had to live with the knowledge that it was perfectly legal to discriminate against committed couples just because their gender’s don’t fit a preconceived mold. The land of the free? Maybe, just a little bit yes, now.

Our legal system, which pours out its love on corporate culture, protecting business owners more readily than employees, shielding the wealthy whose lifestyles are beyond scrutiny, ends up telling citizens whom they may love and whom they may not. And we complain against countries with arranged marriages. Freedom for some is not freedom for all. Until we as a nation recommit ourselves to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we’ll have to take the small steps towards freedom when they come. Yesterday, for at least a little while, I was glad to see that the system can work for the good of all, when it puts its mind to it. America, you can be proud. Say it loud!

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Con-Ception

Sometimes you see something so often it become invisible. I pass by a local cemetery every day, and it wasn’t until a friend from out of town came to visit that I knew of the irony of its iron gates. Immaculate Conception Cemetery is one of several Catholic cemeteries in the area. In a deeply symbolic gesture, most cemeteries are designed as the ultimate gated communities. One of the great thrills for the young is to hang out in graveyards at night to test their mettle and for boys to impress the girls and each other with their bravery. But this can lead to vandalism issues. I remember how distressed I was, upon visiting a cemetery in upstate New York on a genealogical trip, to find a family marker for several of my ancestors heartlessly toppled over. I wrote to the cemetery custodian (people still used letters in those days), and the next time I visited, it was, to my utter relief, repaired. Part of my past had been restored.

None of this, however, was what my friend pointed out. When the gates to the Immaculate Conception Cemetery are opened, the left hand gate reads, “Immaculate Con.” My curiosity aroused, I walked over the next morning to look. Indeed, “Immaculate Con” standing just beneath the cross. The right hand gate, cross-less, reads “ception Cemetery.” Without treading the road to Inception, I stood before the openly inviting gates with some wonder. Is there something deeper to this Immaculate Con? Is there something the church wants to tell us? Were the iron-mongers insinuating something covert? Or is it just the giddy over-imagination of yet another overstimulated religionist?

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Surely this is just the case of pragmatic spacing and pacing. The dead lie here in faith that they are counted among the chosen. Across town is a cemetery where, I noticed some years before, one half contains headstones facing east and another half has headstones facing west. Those facing east are inscribed with Roman letters, those toward the west with Hebrew. The Jewish and Christian dead lie next to each other, facing opposite directions.

Cemeteries say, despite their silence, volumes about what we believe. We put our dead out of our midst, but our cities grow and consume our necropoli, forcing us to face our beliefs yet once again. Do our deepest hopes and fears, tied so intimately with our mortality, make us who we are? We will all face death at some time. When we face the iron gates before the pearly ones, what will we see? If the gates are open, it might be that we’ll read, with our undead eyes, “Immaculate Con.”

Just Plain Bible

BibleWithoutTheologyBack when I was teaching Hebrew Bible in a seminary for a living, I purchased a book entitled The Bible Without Theology by Robert A. Oden Jr. I had intended to read it as a sanity break from the over-compensatory theological glosses that even the slightest reading of the Bible had in that setting. As the years passed and the book remained unread, I came to think of it as a systematic deconstructing of theological readings of the Bible, which it is not. Instead, Oden has gathered in this useful little book several essays centered on the topic of how the theological reading of the Bible has all but drowned out any other interpretations and has secured the privileged position of the Bible not only in society, but also in academia. Naturally, many people see such privilege as a witness of undisputed truth, even though how that truth is interpreted remains an open question.

Scholars, however, have the obligation not to favor their worldview over the evidence. Oden begins by discussing how history itself is perceived differently among those of various mindsets. History is an important part of the Bible’s theological reading since many Judeo-Christian interpretations revolve around a sense of historical veracity. After illustrating how history and mythology both lay claim to the text, Oden points out that even obviously mythological episodes have been blockaded by a theological reading of the scriptures. With examples from socio-anthropological studies, he demonstrates that parts of Genesis are best understood by investigating how kinship structures work, as well as how clothing serves as a status marker rather than a hidden justification for sacrifice, or chilly nights outside Eden.

Although The Bible Without Theology wasn’t exactly what I’d come to suppose it was, it remains a proper prologue to the issue. When Oden’s book appeared in the 1980s, the Religious Right was just finding its feet, fueled by a hyper-theological reading of the Bible. Since that time, the Bible has been used as theological justification to repress everyone from women to those biologically inclined toward their own gender. Bible scholars have, in general, known this is wrong. However, theologically inclined institutions won’t pay instructors for honestly engaging the text. Bible scholars are expected to throw their expertise behind the theological outlook of their institution in a way that Oden rightly points out, no other academic discipline would accept. In reaction to the biblical abuses of the Neo-Con crowd, many Americans are wondering why this one holy book is so privileged. While it may not have all the answers, Oden’s riposte will help to explain why the Bible deserves better.

Guiding Girls

Girl Guides are the British equivalent to the Girl Scouts. I first learned about them during the three years that I lived in the UK, although, as far as I know, they don’t sell cookies. An article in the Huffington Post last week announced that the Girl Guides have decided to drop God from their pledge, as a move toward inclusiveness. I’ve often pondered the place god holds in various social societies. At my daughter’s Girl Scout bridging ceremony a couple weeks back, I noticed God in the pledge. In New Jersey, where diversity is synonymous with breathing, I wondered how this antiquated oath felt to those who maybe grew up without the concept. Stretching my mind back a few years, when my daughter was in Middle School, she was awarded a good student prize by the Elks. As I sat in the tastefully decorated meeting room, with only a very faint tinge of beer in the air, I wondered if I might ever join a fraternal order. One of the officers stood to welcome us, inviting applications for membership. Democratically, she was a woman in a “fraternal” organization. She reeled off the requirements. As an afterthought she said, “and you have to believe in god.”

How does one measure belief in divinity? It has been my experience that many beliefs fluctuate with time. I can decide to believe, but in many ways, belief decides me. As a mantra to modern society, on the old X-Files series Fox Mulder’s famous poster read, “I Want to Believe.” To join the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, or the Elks, you have to say you believe. Nobody’s going to hook you up to a polygraph machine, but you need to make your public declaration. At least in the last case, beer come later.

Religious diversity is a reality of our lives. From the invention of the steam engine, it became inevitable. Our world was going to grow smaller as we met people who had previously been isolated from us by distance. In 1893 the World Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago. As part of it, the Parliament of the World’s Religions introduced many Americans to the religions of the world for the first time. Hinduism, once an exotic strain quaintly captured in the archaic spelling “Hindoo,” became a sudden fascination. Buddhism was a curiosity. How had it been that the United States seemed only to know about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (in that order) when other belief systems existed? How could we have missed them? More importantly, what were we going to do now that we knew about them? We couldn’t unknow them, like you can unfriend someone on Facebook. We were going to have to learn to live together. After all, we all have just one planet to share. Social organizations are great places for introducing tolerance. You can be moral without being Judeo-Christian. And if our social organizations want to promote equality of membership, maybe the Girl Guides are truly living up to their name.

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Z War to End

World_War_Z_posterWorld War Z is playing in theaters and I haven’t even had time to stock up on water and canned goods. Zombies are everywhere. And we can’t say that we didn’t see them coming. As movie critic Stephen Whitty points out, there are over 900 movies featuring zombies and the vast majority of them are recent productions. Major news corporations have been analyzing this undead interest for a few years now. No doubt the zombie is a populist monster, but why does it have such a potent effect on the modern imagination? Stepping back from the screen a minute, I think perhaps an answer is very obvious.

We live in an essentially programmed society. Philosophically we believe in free will, but economically much of our lives are predetermined. Among the happiest years—speaking strictly from the point of view of what I have been required to do for work—of my life were those of adjunct teaching. I had finally broken into the realm of the major university, and I had class after class of students who wanted to learn. Many disparage undergraduates. I never did. They come to college with what they have been taught, and that teaching comes at the behest of a society that informs them college is all about money. Who needs to really learn to not split infinitives? Or reason out that even if you know that Genesis 1-3 is a myth that evolution is not about religion at all? Who needs to learn to think when your boss will not want criticism? Do what you’re told. Be a good citizen. Be a zombie.

Our children are not stupid. I had many intelligent conversations with many bright young people at our state universities. I learned from them, and I hope they learned from me. The voice of the adjunct instructor, however, is nowhere near the decibel level of higher earnings. Is not the price of being a zombie worth having an adequate home, crippling debt, and access to wifi? The zombie, after all, is the antipode to the life of the mind. Zombies are, by definition, mindless. They carry around a carcass that does only what, in the classical sense, it is told to do. And so, if I loved that bohemian life so much, why did I hypocritically leave it? I have a family that requires healthcare. I have a child to support through college. I have a retirement fund that will not support a modest lifestyle for more than a single year. Yes, I too am a zombie. World War Z is indeed already here.

It’s All Gonna

When I first got married, I was distressed to learn that my wife was an organ donor. Still fresh from seminary, I had yet to outgrown the theological willies concerning earthly remains. Then she told me that she would prefer cremation to burial. My existential angst spiked. Scripture indicates a bodily resurrection, so what about those who are cremated? Obviously I hadn’t thought through the implications seriously. Even for those who are biblical literalists, all kinds of things have happened to Judeo-Christian bodies over the millennia. People have been eaten by wild beasts, fallen off boats, and been cremated without the benefit of being dead first. If the movies I’d watched growing up were to be believed, some might have even fallen into huge vats of acid like they have sitting around laboratories all over the mad scientist world. This week’s Time magazine has demonstrated, however, that my early angst was not a singular one.

In a story about the rise in popularity of cremation Josh Sanburn (with an ironically appropriate surname) addresses the religious objections head on. The reason America has been slow to adopt cremation has been largely religious. Apparently the factor that has turned up the heat on this motivation is financial. Let’s face it: money talks. Cremation costs much less than standard burial, and as much as I like a moody, whimsical cemetery, it just makes better sense. If you can get over the religious objections.

Resurrection has a powerful draw. Movies just wouldn’t be the same without it, whether it is a horror villain whose body disappears to come back in a sequel, or ET rising from his tomb to tell us all to be good. We want to keep it going forever. Life, that is. Funnily enough, resurrection is a miracle. A God who can raise the dead can surely reconstitute the parts, no matter how scattered or charred. Anyone who’s actually looked at a decayed body knows that bringing that thing to life would take a miracle, especially if other newly resurrected bodies want to hang out in the same room with it. As my critical faculties began to grow, I lost my fear of cremation. Maybe even having your ashes mixed with those of your spouse would be a very fitting symbol. Chances are, you won’t have much to say about it in any case. When I went back to the DMV to renew my license, after my wife talked some sense into me, I came out with an orange organ donor sticker affixed to the back. Perhaps life will go on, after all.

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Time in a Bottle

Portmann On of the intangible tangibles of my humble job is seeing a book move from an idea to a published product.  A little bit of joy rained down on my day yesterday as my first Routledge book appeared.  It also helped that this is an important book and no matter what the reader feels about the conclusions, it will be crucial in getting the question out in the open.  John Portmann’s The Ethics of Sex and Alzheimer’s places a face squarely on an issue that will only increase as time without a cure for Alzheimer’s grows.  As a culture, we don’t like to acknowledge aging.  We know it’s happening constantly, but we somehow think if we avoid it long enough, it might somehow, miraculously, disappear.  Portmann, an ethicist and religious studies scholar at the University of Virginia, puts the question boldly: what happens to marriage when one of the partners no longer recognizes the other?  This is a thorny issue.  And that’s an understatement.  We are conditioned to assume that wedding vows, with their origins in an era before people lived long enough for Alzheimer’s to become a plague, must still apply.  Portmann isn’t so sure.

I won’t spoil the book for you by giving away the conclusions of his carefully argued case, but I would like to consider for a moment the importance of ethics.  The religion in which I was reared knew little in the way of uncertainty about right and wrong.  Gray areas were scarce, and often diabolical.  I’ll never forget when I took my first ethics course as a religion major.  It was if someone had thrown open a door to a sunny Arctic day while I was seated in a warm, dark den.  It was blinding.  And disorienting.  I hadn’t thought of issues in that way before.  Simple answers wilted and died by the thousands.  Figuring things out, ethically, was costly and required an awful lot of mental energy.  No matter which answer I chose, there was a good case for an alternative choice to be made.  Morality is seldom black and white.  That’s why when Dr. Portmann pitched me his book, he had my attention from page one.

Ethics is the process of trying to figure out the best way to decide on the right course of action, given any alternative.  Little ethical issues crop up constantly: should I pretend I didn’t see that homeless person stealing an apple?  Should I tell that person who got the job that I wanted when he’s got a mustard splotch on his beard he can’t see?  Should I hold the elevator for that woman down the hall when I really want to get to work a few seconds early today?  Issues-issues everywhere!  Alzheimer’s forces the issues.  We know it is right and good to continue to care for the sufferer.  It’s no sin to forget who you are or when you are.  But what of the partner who’s not ill?  Immediately our moral sensibilities kick in.  And with a population rapidly aging (I know I’m doing my part in that department) the question will likely continue to press on our collective consciences.  Ethics reaches its fingers into those dark spaces we’d rather not put our hands.  There might be spiders in there, or bugs.  It might be something far worse.  Not everyone will agree with Portmann’s answers, but I think we can all agree that he has raised a very necessary, if prickly question.

Holy Hostage

HostagetotheDevilA chance glimpse at a textbook shelf in a university bookstore made me aware of Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil, although it is several years old. I was intrigued that a major, secular, state university would offer a course requiring a book about demonic possession. I’m not completely naive about college students, but this seemed just a tad extreme. Nothing is more dangerous than a book dangling in such a context, like the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred. The world of the demonic is freighted with arcane rules and a decided Catholic superiority. Even to the rational it can be insanely frightening. As I read Martin’s account, I frequently found myself puzzling over the unseen world he so meticulously describes—after all even the Bible has little to say about it. And Martin is a great lover of verbosity, detailing more than the reader needs to know about the five exorcisms he elaborates. If you want to know what a dying priest looks like, in great detail, you’ve come to the right place.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of reading such a book is how such obviously intelligent people can come to such diametrically opposed worldviews while looking at the same evidence. Here was Malachi Martin, convinced that demons lurk about the world in great numbers. There is Richard Dawkins, convinced that we are nothing but particles and proteins walking around. Manhattan—the haunt of countless demons, or the febrile accident of firing synapses that means ultimately nothing? Although much of what Martin describes could probably be mental illness, one has the distinct impression Dawkins has never attended an exorcism. Both write with great authority and even greater conviction.

Hostage to the Devil is not an easy book to read. Martin’s style is smooth, like a novelist, but the length of his book keeps demons on your mind for a protracted period. Rationality can be worn down by attrition, and even the non-believer can be made to wonder. Would priests and their chosen attendants lie? Do the possessed really levitate, and contort, and cause objects to fly around the room in defiance of the physics so highly valued by atheists? For over 450 pages Martin will keep you wondering. You’ll also find out what an exorcist ate for his boyhood breakfast back in Ireland decades before facing the Prince of Darkness. Hostage to the Devil is a deeply disturbing book where the monsters we’ve all learned to shove deeply into the closet come springing back out. And the only effective help in the known world is the Catholic priest who happens to be an exorcist. And who can argue with that?

Sleepy Jean

Last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, an article by Cristina Richie entitled “The Scandal of the (Female) Evangelical Mind” appeared. Richie points out that despite great strides being made in employing women in religious studies positions, Evangelical institutions still fall behind. This dynamic is not unexpected, however. Those of us who grew up evangelical know that no matter how much it may talk the talk of equality, evangelicalism walks the masculine walk of deeply seated patriarchalism. For those who literally “believe the Bible” there is simply no way around a male Jesus. Even if you go that dangerously risqué step and suggest that the Holy Spirit is somehow feminine, when the divine couple gets together (and Father is always in charge), the offspring must be either male or female. In any literal reading, women cannot possibly claim equality. For their very salvation they are dependent on a male. A god with testosterone. As in heaven, so on earth.

Evangelical institutions have a difficult time with women leading men. They’re not alone. As early as the first century of the Common Era, Paul had the same issues. Literal religion in a biologically dimorphic world will always be problematic. Either there is one god, or there are three. In either scenario the males outnumber the females. Should we posit a divine couple (as some in ancient Israel appear to have done—please wave “hi” to Asherah for me) we still have a culture that is dominated by men. The divine couple will always have the goddess deferring to the will of the god. And you can be sure that he will never pull over and ask for directions. We already know which way this chariot is going.

Every once in a while, the Chronicle likes to sit back and take stock of the religious landscape. Religious studies is, despite the bad press, a thriving area of academic interest. Surely to those in more quantifiable fields, our little squabbles over whether god is a man or a woman must seem pedantic and a little pathetic. And yet, the evangelical institution has an instruction book. That book, if followed word-for-word, leads to eternal rewards for those who are willing to foot the hardships. And for at least half of those (and likely much more than half) that will mean living on an earth that mirrors that realm beyond the sky. Although you can’t see it with any telescope, if you believe hard enough, it is there. And in that ideal place, the god in charge is a man’s god.

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The Weather in Kansas

In a move that threatens intellectual whiplash, the Kansas State Board of Education has backed the Next Generation Science Standards. For a state historically at war with evolution, adopting a curriculum that (rightly) presents evolution and global warming as facts, there is cause for hope. As an average citizen sometimes just struggling to get by, I watch in stunned horror as our elected officials try to repeal Obamacare without touching their own health plans paid for by yours truly (and mine truly). I see them vote themselves pay raises while pension plans and salaries of ordinary citizens are frozen. I know where the buck actually does stop. So it is strangely encouraging to see a state that has declared war on science beginning to realize that yes, the truth does have consequences.

Science does not necessarily have all the answers, but it is the best that we know. The empirical method works, and our healthcare, transportation, and communication have all benefited enormously by it. Our way of life has grown easier because of our application of evolution and its ways to our understanding of microbes and the ways to hold off their attacks. Science has been warning us since I was a high schooler, over three decades ago, that our industrialization has been causing grave changes to our ecosystem. Unfortunately, those with money to make from it can simply afford to move to higher ground. Kansas is among the Great Plains states. It is wise to recognize that global warming threatens those who live close to the earth most of all.

The intolerance to science is not simply a religious reaction, as some would characterize it. Religion may be used in the interest of business. And any savvy entrepreneur knows, and exploits that fact. It matters not a jot or tittle if you evolved from a common ancestor with the apes, as long as you can climb, like King Kong, to the highest towers and look down on all the rest of humanity. The water from melting ice caps may be rising below, but the Great Ape need not worry. Until it becomes clear that without the little guys down below, even the top monkey is nobody.

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Supergod

ManofSteelThis weekend the most-seen UFO in the skies was the Man of Steel. I didn’t see the new Superman movie, partly because, I suppose, of my own inadequacy issues. Also partly because I’ve always had trouble warming up to Superman. He’s just got too much going for him. Don’t get me wrong—I love heroes. But heroes are vulnerable. In fact, their vulnerability is the key to their strength. Superman, truly threatened only by kryptonite, is maybe just a little too perfect. A little too… messianic? So it would seem, according to CNN’s Belief Blog. According to a post by Eric Marrapodi, Warner Brothers is pushing hard on the Christian imagery of Man of Steel, encouraging church discussion groups, and even providing a study packet of Jesusesque tropes to discuss with the faithful. All this for a hero dreamed up by a couple of Jewish kids in the 1930s.

A telling observation appears somewhere in the middle of the article, where Ted Baehr is quoted as saying “I think it’s a very good thing that Hollywood is paying attention to the Christian marketplace.” Did you catch it? Christian marketplace? No surprises here, really. Christianity has “been good” to many who advocate the prosperity gospel—god wants the good to be rich. And since I haven’t been able to walk through Times Square for two weeks without seeing the Man of Steel, larger than life, flying off of massive billboards into the crowds of tourists and locals, I have no doubt the movie did very well over the weekend. Some may have even had their faith restored. Others will have had their pockets lined.

A few years back I was asked to present a program for adult education for a church in Princeton. They wanted someone to talk about religion and movies, and this is something I’d often addressed in my classes. I selected movies to discuss that were not “religious”—no films premised on religious characters or situations—and had no difficulty filling an hour with example after example. Movie makers have long known the benefits of movies based on Christian concepts. Self-sacrifice, redemption, and resurrection permeate the movie industry. This is a Christian culture. The parallels between Superman and Jesus have long been noted by critics of religious imagery in both films and comic books. And those who make films have also realized that Christianity is more than just a belief system. Indeed, it is a marketplace. And with enough money, even a regular mortal can bend steel.

Lower Education

Many people have asked me, as a former professor, why universities are so expensive. Ironically, many of these people are in flourishing businesses where the story ought to be as tired as the excuse that’s usually trotted out: faculty are paid too much, mismanagement, etc., etc. The truth is much more insidious and it begins with governments and corporate executives who can’t handle the sharp sting of criticism. I have experienced this firsthand, and unlike many academics, I have an authentic blue-collar background so that my perspective is unclouded by generations of privilege. I recently found this post on The Homeless Adjunct, and I was glad that someone is actually willing to write the truth. The high cost of higher education is because a subtle series of changes—often deliberate—that have been instituted since the 1970s to change colleges and universities into engines to power capitalistic ventures rather than to educate potential critics. Those who have a hard time accepting conspiracy theories may be disturbed by how well documented this development is.

I realize that I am a mere proverbial voice crying out in an even more proverbial wilderness. The fact is, this change in higher education, implemented since the era of protest that was the 1960s, goes on without the knowledge of by far the majority of university faculty. They still tell their promising students to continue on to graduate school, that the bottleneck that has been holding up new, or even replacement, jobs is bound to burst. Things will get better. Not. As the Homeless Adjunct points out, corporate interests now run the universities, sucking up their prestige like bloated vampires, while endorsing their own manipulative interests. How can “educated” people believe global warming is a myth? Get corporations who “oppose” global warming to fund science programs and see what happens. The truth becomes quite malleable when lucre is involved.

Even more chilling, as our brave adjunct reveals, this model has begun to filter into high school, and down to Kindergarten. The way that educational decisions are made is based only, always, and ever on the bottom line. Not for our children, but for corporations that decide what our children can, and more importantly, can’t do. Their future is being undermined.

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As a former adjunct who went blindly through the system, ending up with a doctorate from a major European research institution only to fall afoul of a thickly entrepreneurial administration, the clouds were wiped clean out of my eyes. I believe in higher education. And I believe that those of us with any moral sense are obligated to take it back. We will likely be destroyed in the process, since money is the only value our society recognizes, but if we want a world where our children can thrive, education must be true education.