Prayer before Meals

It was in Wisconsin. Oshkosh. I was teaching for a year in a replacement position, and my roster of classes at the university covered several aspects of religious studies. During the course of prepping a course, I first saw it. The Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was only a virtual Flying Spaghetti Monster sighting, but since Creationism was much in the news in those days, I boiled with curiosity. By now it would probably be a strain to explain the whole thing, since everyone knows about his noodly appendages and predilection for pirates. The short story is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster was an invented deity to demonstrate the ridiculousness of trying to get Creationism taught as science in public schools. For those who believed in other gods, such as the FSM, there should be equal time in the classroom, the argument went. Since that time Pastafarianism has taken on the semblance of a real religion with “believers” earning the right to have driver’s license photos taken with colanders on their heads, and even a book of scriptures being written.

An Associated Press story from Sunday’s paper tells of the world’s first known Pastafarian wedding. Bylined Akaroa, New Zealand, the blurb indicates that the Oceanic nation down under has decided that Pastafarians can officiate at weddings, and a couple was married with al dente accoutrements. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it seems, is going the way of the somewhat more serious Jediism and Avatar religions in that people are deliberately electing fiction as their faith. Interestingly, this may not be a new phenomenon. We are told, for example, that Zarathustra deliberately outlined a new religion—one that may end up having had the greatest impact on humanity of all time, if roots are considered. In those days the strict division between fiction and fact may not have been a mental filter yet discovered. The “it really happened” test of religious veracity was still some distance in the future. Metaphor meant something then.

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The internet, it seems likely, has facilitated and accelerated the appearance of new religions. As with most things, the real issue comes down to money and power; if a government recognizes a New Religious Movement as legitimate, it may be granted tax exempt status. And how can it be proven that someone really does or does not believe what s/he says s/he does? If you’ve got a box of Barilla on your pantry shelf, who’s to say? It’s a short distance from that colander in the cupboard to the top of one’s head. And who doesn’t like pirates? And who’s to say that under that rotelle moon in a stelline-studded sky someone hasn’t indeed kissed their hand and swore the ultimate starchy allegiance? Keep watching the skies!

Dead See Scrolls

Despite her ability to overlook my obvious deficiencies, my wife has good eyesight. Last week she spotted an article carried by the Associated Press entitled “Dispute over ancient scrolls changes modern law.” Although many ancient documents (notably those from Ugarit) outweigh the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding the religion of ancient Israel, the Scrolls have continued to be headliners. There never seems to be some sort of scandal very far from the Scrolls, and this article by Jennifer Pletz reaffirms that assessment. The name of Norman Golb is familiar to just about any Hebrew Bible scholar. His work on the Scrolls is highly regarded. The story, however, brings the scandal down a generation to Golb’s son Raphael, a lawyer and literature scholar. In a case whose details rival the minutiae of the Scrolls themselves, the younger Golb is accused of sending emails putatively said to have been sent from his father’s rivals confessing plagiarism. To what point, beyond alleged family honor, one hesitates to speculate.

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“Sculduggery,” J. C. L. Gibson once said, “is always just around the corner in archaeological circles.” The same might be said to apply to the Scrolls. Episode after episode of scholars behaving badly have attended the controversial documents since their accidental discovery on the eve of Israel becoming a state. Ironically, the Scrolls in some symbolic ways represent the struggles of the Israelis. No one doubts their importance, but access has always been an issue. Careers were made and secured by the Scrolls, reaching to the highest academic offices in the land. And yet, we can learn more by turning back the pages of history just a little further.

The Scrolls date from that troubled time period when Christianity was just beginning to emerge from Judaism. Tempers flare at implications masked or insinuated. As if the Scrolls were really the much sought philosopher’s stone. The original generation of Scroll readers is going the way of all nature. Those associated with the more solid tablets of Ugarit have long passed that way already. And yet we still have Bible museums being built and implications left dangling. Law suits are filed and ownership of the Scrolls is disputed. In the twenty-first century scholars are still willing to risk it all on some parchment fragments that have the appeal of the esoteric. Hidden truths, almost apocalyptic, squirreled away in desert caves. Knowledge is indeed money, unless, of course, you actually know how to read the Scrolls for yourself.

Science Fiction Double Feature

Two news stories last week—one from the Associated Press and one from the Chronicle of Higher Education—hit upon a common theme: scientific illiteracy. Both articles presented scientists who felt that if they could just reach the (mostly) American public with easily digested facts, then belief in the Big Bang, evolution, and global warming would suddenly make sense to everyone. It may not be my place to say, as I’m not a scientist, but I believe they’re wrong. Don’t misunderstand. I do believe in the Big Bang, evolution, and global warming. In fact, I spent part of last week flagellating myself (metaphorically) for not posting something appropriate on Earth Day. I worry a lot about global warming and what we do to our only planet. What I mean is, these scientists don’t understand religion. People don’t willfully reject the facts. That takes religion.

One of the reasons that I continue my daily efforts on this blog is that our educated elite constantly refuse to acknowledge the blue whale in the room. People are naturally religious. Some grow out of it, some are educated out of it. For most, however, the price to do so is far too high. Science offers little to take the place of faith. For all of its innuendo, the Big Bang tends to leave most of us cold. I don’t support religions spreading ignorance, but even the Bible recognized that it is useless to say to a poor person, “stay warm and well fed” if you don’t offer a blanket and some food as well. It’s chilly in an infinite, yet expanding universe. Why don’t scientist understand that if you give a jacket, maybe people might actually warm up and listen?

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Religion, however we define it, is a coping mechanism. Even many atheist biologists admit that it has an evolutionary utility, embarrassing as that may be. Evolutionary scientists also tell us that we don’t evolve according to plan. Nature (de-personified, of course) opportunistically uses what’s at hand to help creatures survive. Instead of trying to understand religion, many in the hard sciences think that speaking loudly in single-syllable words will convince those who’ve found meaning in evolution’s solution of religion that somehow evolution was wrong. The worst thing we can do is to waste more money trying to understand religion! I hear it’s very cold in outer space. Still, things seem to be warming up down here. For those who can’t evolve gills, it’s time to learn to swim.

Rocket Cats

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A few weeks ago the Internet’s attention was captured (if such a thing is possible) by rocket cats. Apparently the brain-child of sixteenth-century artillery expert Franz Helm, the story raised outrage and some giggles and then faded from view. In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education, however, the issue jetted back to life in an academic forum. The article by Steve Kolowich helpfully pointed out that the idea isn’t exactly new. My regular readers know that I advocate for animal rights and I believe most animals are far more intelligent than we deign to admit. In other words, I consider this an inherently bad and distasteful idea. Nevertheless, to look at it academically—Steve Kolowich was referring to the fact that the manuscript, being digitized from Penn University’s library, had been known previously. It went viral when the Associated Press decided to make something of the story. The Internet took an old idea and made it current.

The idea goes like this: a city is under siege and you’re getting impatient. What to do? Strap incendiaries to cats and birds and send them into the city that is guarded against human-sized invaders. Although this does have an evil genius quality to it, I wonder if Franz Helm didn’t get the idea from the good, old Bible. In the commentary on the rocket cats I’ve seen, nobody is giving credit where credit is due. Samson, according to Judges, was fond of the ladies. Not just any ladies, but Philistines in particular. Prior to his wedding he set a riddle for the Philistines to solve and when they pressed the bride-to-be for the answer, Samson ended up owing the Philistines a fair bit of cash. Samson simply killed some Philistines, took their goods, and paid those he owed. Meanwhile, his father-in-law supposed, reasonably enough, that Samson no longer loved his daughter, and gave her to another. In a fit of rage, Samson caught three hundred foxes, tied torches between they tails of each pair, and sent them out to burn up the crops in the field. Substitute city for field and you have Helm’s idea. With steampunkish add-ons.

In an era when the Bible is treated as increasingly irrelevant, the media (and scholars) frequently overlook how important it was to people in the past. You might even say it was inspirational. Despite all that, I’ve met a fair number of clergy who’ve never read the whole thing (it is a big book, after all) and meddlesome laity like yours truly often point out the more uncomfortable aspects of scripture. But even Samson may have to give a nod to the Hittites. Before Israel showed up on the scene, the Hittites, if i recall correctly, had figured out that it you sent a diseased donkey into an enemy’s city, the contagion would do the gruesome work for you, killing of people and well, the donkey was dead anyway. There was no Internet to spread the idea, but it was quite literally viral. Ancient manuscripts can teach us quite a lot, if we can take our eyes from the more questionable bits long enough to read the rest.

Sunday Best

When my rural, northwestern Pennsylvania shows up in the news, I pay attention. An Associated Press story recently appeared concerning Rev. Chris Terbush of Bradford, Pennsylvania. Inspired by the success of Duck Dynasty (which seems poised to overtake even Apple as the most popular purveyor of popular culture), Rev. Terbush has encouraged his congregation to show up on Sunday mornings in camouflage, ready to go forth and claim dominion over nature once the service is over. I’ve been ambushed by enough clergy that the idea makes me a little nervous, I’ll have to admit. But then again, I know where he’s coming from. I grew up in a town that celebrated the first day of deer season as a public holiday, with schools closed and the hills alive with the sound of muskets. Not being a hunter, I just enjoyed the day off school. This upbringing, however, gave me a profound appreciation for the Jeff Daniels’ movie, Escanaba in da Moonlight. But I digress.

Religious services evolve, just like any other social phenomenon. When I was young, just as the sixties were wresting the color of life from the black-and-white fifties, going to church was a formal event that demanded your “Sunday best.” Only the worst of heathens would show up before the Almighty in anything less than a white shirt and tie, a jacket and uncomfortable shoes. You had to show the divine that you were willing to go that extra mile and implicate that you didn’t intend to have any fun when it was over because the sabbath is a solemn occasion. I remember the weird feeling of walking into church during the weekday wearing jeans for the first time. It felt as if I were dissing the rules of the club. It was an exclusive affair.

The “theology of dress” has become an area of scholarly investigation with the growth of embodiment issues. What we wear says something about our beliefs, and the fact that we wear clothes at all is sometimes even traced back to Genesis 3. The origin of “good clothes,” clearly, was a status issue. Those who could afford to keep some surplus clothes unsullied by labor wished to strut their stuff on occasion. And who better to impress than God? All of this has eroded over the years with many churches as casual as any man cave. Now you can camouflage yourself in church. There may be more going on here than meets the eye, both literally and metaphorically.

What happens in the woods stays in the woods

What happens in the woods stays in the woods

Beliefism

A question never adequately resolved revolves around the status of atheism. What exactly is it? Well, I suppose it is many things, actually. One thing that seems indisputable is that religion has been part of human culture from the beginning. It would seem likely that not all believers carried the same level of conviction, and there may have been “atheists” shortly after theism evolved. The difficulty is that both belief in god/s, and/or the lack thereof, are matters of personal conviction. That somewhat blurred line has been crossed, according to some, by the recent growth of “atheist churches.” In several web stories my friends have pointed out to me, a growing movement of atheist “mega-churches” has been noticed. These are groups of atheists who meet for many of the same reasons religious folk do, sans salvation. It is a social occasion, and a chance to fellowship with like-minded non-believers, and to support their lack of faith. Some atheists bristle at this (as do some religious), claiming that it cheapens the atheistic enterprise (or that religions somehow hold a copyright on belief-based gatherings).

Herein lies the rub. Atheists are no more cut from the same cloth (or lack of cloth) as religious believers are. There are varieties of unbelief. Some obviously see that the weekly gathering has benefits. There’s no question that atheists can be every bit as humanitarian as religious believers are. Besides, who doesn’t like to meet with people who think like them? “Minister” might not be the leader’s title of choice, although it has a long pedigree in politics as a secular title (as, for example, in the Ministry of Defense). The slow decline in mainstream Christian services, however, might suggest that atheist services would be inclined to grow. Weekends were originally created for religious reasons and still generally remain the religious meeting days of choice. Some religious groups do not insist on doctrine to be members—Unitarians are a prime example of this—but the value of meeting together is human, all too human.

Clearly the purpose of an atheist gathering is not primarily worship. I should imagine, however, that wonder is still part of the non-religious vocabulary. God is not necessary for feelings of awe and joy. And sometimes it is fun to get together for some structured activity that isn’t work (for those who have jobs). An Associated Press story, however, points out the irony of the gathering of “people bound by their belief in non-belief.” There is, however, believing going on here. There can be no escaping it. Despite all the problems associated with omnipotence, the idea of a deity where the buck indeed stopped was an ebenezer for grounding belief. Even the most outspoken of atheists share this with the literalist and the moderate—they all believe. And as long as people believe, they will seek groups of those who share similar views. Why not? Even the truth requires belief.

What does it  mean?

What does it mean?

Personal Dogma

Dogma is a movie that many seminarians discover at some point in their theological education. Smart, funny, and irreverently reverent, the film follows the exploits of a couple of misled angels trying to get back into Heaven and thereby negating all of existence. It is no surprise, given Kevin Smith’s origin myth, that the film opens and closes in New Jersey, but I often ponder the strange coincidence of places in the movie to places I’ve lived since my own seminary career began (and ended, rather like the massacre scene in Red Bank before God cleaned it all up). Nashotah House, where I discovered Dogma, is in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is the state to which Bartleby and Loki, the two angels, have been banished. The means of their escape from this upper-Midwest purgatory is a church in New Jersey. Along their way the angels pass through Illinois and Pittsburgh, before crossing into the very state where God is located throughout the movie (the Garden State, of course!). After having been summarily dismissed from my seminary post in Wisconsin (not for watching Dogma, I’m assured), I too headed for New Jersey. Before that I had lived for a while in Illinois (home of Bethany) and Pittsburgh (home of Moobie). Watching Dogma is in many ways a reflection of a journey that I’ve accidentally undertaken.

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Another kind of dogma seems to be at work in the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas. The Associated Press announced that 21 cases of childhood measles had broken out in the church, particularly among the homeschooled and unvaccinated. Fears of inoculating against a pre-medieval faith have led many of those who trust their own knowledge above that of the collective specializations of educators, to put their children at risk for the sake of belief. The belief, perhaps unsurprisingly, is poorly informed. One of the pastors of EMIC (!) has been encouraging vaccination as biblically sanctioned. If not for the sake of your children, for the sake of the scriptures…

Vaccination, in various forms, was developed in both Christian and pagan contexts. The earliest examples come from Asia where the plagues sent by the devil were resisted with human ingenuity. It takes a paranoid twenty-first century, first-world faith to suppose saving our children is some kind of conspiracy. “Let the one without germs,” we can almost hear them say, “throw their tissues away first.” In my Pittsburgh days, I was very much a literalist. How surprised I was to see Lady Aberlin from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood playing an angst-ridden nun, derailed by an exegesis of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” in Dogma. Although the Neighborhood is “anytown” those of us locals knew that Fred Rogers was from Pittsburgh. Lady Betty Aberlin was the niece of King Friday XIII, and only those with no conspiratorial imagination would suggest it is merely coincidence that her cousin is named Kevin. With or without dogma.

Seems Reasonable

Florida is a state of contrasts. A news story from the Associated Press highlights that divergence. On the lawn of the Bradford County courthouse is a monument to the Ten Commandments that American Atheists sued, unsuccessfully, to have removed. In response to their legal defeat, they have placed their own monument to atheism alongside it. Well, what’ fair’s fair. Local reaction, according to the story, has been anything but positive. Nevertheless, I wonder what a monument to atheism must look like. The partial photographs reveal the atomic symbol-based American Atheists logo on top, and words on the sides. The monument, the story indicates, bears quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the last of whom was gruesomely murdered as an early martyr to the atheist cause. There are those who suggest that the atomism of Democritus in the fifth century BCE already tolled the death knell of the gods. Deities and very small particles, however, have continued to get along for the past 2500 years.

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David Silverman, the current president of American Atheists, is quoted as saying the monument is an attack on Christian privilege, not Christianity. This may seem a fine point, but it is valid. Most reasonable atheists have no difficulty granting freedom of religious belief to anyone (only the more radical members of the atheist camp suggest religion ought to be stamped out). Does that mean governments should not display monuments to Moses’s magnum opus but not to, say, that of Lao Tzu? Or, perhaps in this instance, Lucretius? It might appear to be over-protesting, but what would a Hindu’s thoughts be, should s/he be ushered past the statutes of a foreign god on the way to court?

One of the most difficult things for a person to do is envision their normal as another person’s weird. Religions that seem perfectly logical to those raised within them have a way of seeming unbelievable to those who encounter them as a part of an exotic culture. To me it is difficult to suppose anyone would see American culture as “exotic.” I mean, we’re talking Wal-Mart and MacDonald’s here. It seems pretty ordinary to me. When I take a mental step back a little further, however, I begin to see a nation of widely varying traditions. Little pockets of true culture punch through the plastic here and there, and the light that shines through can be brilliant at times. And if you happen to run afoul of the law while visiting, you might end up in a courthouse that not only advertises the Ten Commandments, but also has a monument to humanistic spirit as well.

Iconic Book

A recent Associated Press story celebrated the achievement of Phillip Patterson. In an age when we just can’t get enough technology, when we live with, sleep with, and dream of electronically generated reality, Mr. Patterson was feted for his arcane accomplishment. Decidedly low tech, at that. After four years Phillip Patterson has finished copying a book, word-for-word. I don’t even have to mention which book, because we already know it can only be the book that Americans recognize without reading. It is the iconic book. The holy book. Sometimes working up to 14 hours a day on the quest, according to AP, Patterson was not undertaking a spiritual journey here. He was simply wanting to learn about the book. If it had been any other book, it would hardly have been newsworthy.

An iconic book (photo by David Ball)

An iconic book (photo by David Ball)

I have recently been introduced to the concept of the iconic book. A colleague of mine kindly shared the idea during a campus visit. He and I happen to share advanced training in reading the same book, but, as he pointed out, it is the book and not its contents that our society recognizes. This is what makes it an iconic book. When we go to court we are asked to place our hands upon it and swear—something the book itself would doubtlessly consider some form of idolatry. We use it for inaugurating the highest officials in our land. We see it laid out in public places and private homes. We consider harming or disrespecting it to be an act of sacrilege. To us, it is more than paper, ink, leather and glue.

The dedication of Phillip Patterson ought to be celebrated. As he noted, to learn more about a book, you have to be willing to dig deeply. Look at every single word. Not that such treatment is fashionable. In a society enamored of power, we prefer the power of the iconic book over its often troubling content. It is certainly much easier trumpeting it than reading it. As I listen to the debates about public policy, the endless attempts to legislate morality, I ponder how little people actually read Mr. Patterson’s book. That’s what makes his accomplishment so remarkable. In producing an iconic book, a book that I don’t need to name because anyone might figure out what it is, our protagonist actually read it. In this age of technology, that is an accomplishment to be celebrated indeed.

The Skinny on Kansas

Perhaps it was just a slow news day, but Monday the Associated Press ran a story about a year-old skinny-dipping episode involving Kevin Yoder, US Representative from Kansas, and, by extension, Jesus.  Given that I’ve just posted on the skinny-dipping priest in A Room with a View, this seemed an apt place to consider what is being shown to the public. First of all, Yoder did not go au naturel in the swimming hole behind his house. The incident took place last August in the Sea of Galilee, the very body of water Jesus putatively walked upon.  Here’s the rub: with or without a boat, because of the association of Jesus of Nazareth with the Sea of Galilee, many people consider it a holy site. Even an Israeli police spokesman seemed a little put off by the mental image that, even if a year old, is a bit disturbing.  (The thought of any politician undressed is a bit jarring to the puritan imagination of the United States, and, one imagines, in many cases it is a reasonable phobia.) Yoder was reportedly in Israel for a trip funded by the American Israel Education Foundation. They were traveling to discuss international relationships, apparently.

As much fun as it is to catch a big player with his (less often her) pants down, I do wonder at the fuss. During my time in Israel—granted, many years ago and fully clothed except when in the shower—I noticed that American standards were not completely in force. A stroll down the beach in Natanya would easily prove my point. We like to hold our public officials to a higher standard that the average citizen, and given what they take from the system, rightfully so. Nevertheless, I wonder what harm is really done by a bit of juvenile fun. Obviously I wasn’t there, and I don’t have the context with which to judge such behavior accurately.  The Israeli police representative stated that public nudity is forbidden at the Sea of Galilee, so I suppose the legality of the act was an issue. American sexual mores, in addition to having been tempered by Victorian attitudes, are largely based on religious prejudices. The Bible is not shy on nudity, however, and people in the early Christian centuries participated in that world.  According to the Gospels, Saint Peter went fishing naked on that very same lake.  Progress obviously involves putting a cover on it.

Ironically, in trying to explain himself, Yoder said that the jump in the lake was spontaneous, a moment of joie de vivre, “just to have the experience.” He conceded that the Sea of Galilee is a special place.  And, he avers, drunk diving was not involved in the incident. No matter your level of tolerance, the emerging picture is an odd one. A group of government officials, one of them naked, standing around the Sea of Galilee at night.  A 30-something from Kansas jumps in for 10 seconds and it seems as if a storm arose over the feted Sea of Galilee just like New Testament times. One wonders how well our government represents the puritanical interests of their constituency.  Kansas, as we all know, is immune from evolution and provides a home for Fred Phelps and company. And it’s also a land-locked state. If you want to run around naked, and you’re a public official, it looks like you—like Dorothy—have to get out of Kansas.  Even then you might find yourself rocking the boat. Let’s just hope that if Peter’s inside he has the sense to pull on at least the girdle of righteousness before company comes.

Just You Wait, Professor Higgs

They finally found him. Peering deep into the invisible world of the sub-atomic universe, his hiding place has practically been discovered. I knew that when it happened my alma mater, Edinburgh University, would be part of the equation. That’s just the kind of thing you know deep down in your sub-atomic parts. Scientists are now coming very close to announcing definitive proof of the “God particle,” or Higgs boson. Named for theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, who predicted the particle, this elusive piece of physics has been nicknamed the “God particle” by journalists who want to express just how great its explanatory value is. The average citizen knows very little about the inner workings of science—thus we have Creationists and Tea Partiers—so we require striking neologisms to help us comprehend that this is not only important, but really, really important. For explaining the way the universe works, the Higgs boson has been likened to Newton’s discovery of gravity, although apples had always fallen from trees even before he learned why.

I have always found it curious that when we need a superlative we dash back to the biblical worldview. As John Heilprin and Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press make clear, “God particle” is not utilized by physicists (although coined by one), but is used “more as an explanation for how the subatomic universe works than how it all started.” To get us to read about science they have to use mythology. The more we understand about science and the way our minds work, the more perplexing it becomes. Humans are meaning-seeking creatures and we often find story more meaningful than fact. Facts, however, determine what actually happens or what actually is. The Higgs boson is getting close to facticity. We whimsically call it the “God particle.”

Could the great gulf between science and religion, I sometimes wonder, be bridged by good, liberal arts education? The liberal arts, particularly the humanities, are all about understanding what it is that makes us, well, human. They aren’t precise like science, or profitable, like business. At the end of the day, however, in those few quiet moments, don’t we dwell among the realm of humanity? When we stop posturing for our co-workers, the media, or our neighbors, when we are who we truly are—then we are engaging in the humanities. Education can be in the service of becoming human as well as becoming rich. In one of its latest triumphs, it has produced physicists who have discovered the footprints of the Higgs boson, potentially revolutionizing the universe as we know it. And many of us would have never even heard if they hadn’t called it the “God particle.”

Like atoms over our heads

Biblical Sex

Legislation covering female reproductive health maintenance has finally passed. Even in a nation where equality is highly touted, women will have, until 2013, been treated as more expendable than men. A few years back I read Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. There I learned that even as of the publication date of her book, many aspects of the female reproductive system were still poorly understood. The reason: lack of interest by (mostly) male scientists. Of all the great equalizers of humanity, it might be expected that religions would step in to champion the cause of citizens routinely treated as objects and chattels. Instead, the opposite has been the case. Most religions, and even until the last century Christianity in the forefront of them, relegate women a secondary status to men. Religion is all about power. Now that legislation will allow women basic reproductive rights without extra fees, Catholic hospitals are concerned about the implications. “They defied the bishops to support President Obama’s health care overhaul. Now Catholic hospitals are dismayed the law may force them to cover birth control free of charge to their employees.” Thus begins an article in today’s paper by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press.

Instead of cheering equality, the church is muttering about medieval conceptions of conception. The entire idea that life begins at conception was not even possible in the biblical world where sex did not involve sperm and ova—such things were unknown in those days. The Bible has a few clues to when human life begins, and generally it is thought to be at first breath. Semen should not be wasted, however, since it was thought to be the full set of ingredients to grow new people. The uterus was simply a waiting area, a comfy place to grow with regular womb service. Men were the creators, women were the deliverers. That idea of reproduction formed the basis for all biblical and other ancient legislation on the subject. Comprehending “conception” as now scientifically understood, was only possible with the invention of the microscope. In response, a sexually underdeveloped church decided that the new data strengthened the male hold on ecclesiastical authority. Once the seed is planted, there’s no uprooting allowed. What male, after all, has ever had to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term?

Female religious leadership was recognized in many early societies, and even in some branches of early Christianity. No legitimate rationale exists for saying half the human race is disqualified on the grounds of basic hardware. After all “male and female created he them.” Concerns of “purity” for an age when menstruation was not understood could be marshaled to the cause of male supremacy. That mystery was solved when conception became clear. An unequal result emerged nevertheless. Since women couldn’t be discounted on genetic grounds, they could on the basis of “impurity.” And here we are two thousand years after pre-scientific Christianity was conceived, still waiting while a coterie of all-male bishops castigates normal health care for females. Believers like to suppose that their leaders receive special word from the mouth of God. Those leaders tremble in the face of true equality for the very first word the Bible has to say on the subject is “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Who's superfluous here?