Hoping for Light

Although the stores have been playing Christmas music for some weeks now, it is technically Advent. I think we could all use a little Advent as days grow shorter and dark nights increase their influence over our lives. As a nation we’ve been brutalized by a minority candidate and this has become a bleak December that Poe would certainly have understood. The spinning mind occasionally falls upon George W. Bush who somehow has begun to look normal. The president who told us when America was under attack we should shop. After all, that’s what people do in December, right? We buy things to make ourselves feel better. It sure is dark outside most of the time. Advent is all about candles and light and hope.

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One of the more endearing aspects of human beings is our ability to see the positive amid negativity. Darkness is the natural state of the universe. Stars are tiny points of light in an endless cold and dark universe. Most of what’s out there has no light beyond those willing to burn bright enough for others to see. We, however, see the light of daytime as normative, slumbering away the hours of darkness. We thrive in light and the light has to be augmented by candles as we struggle against the natural darkness that would, if it could, encompass the universe. Darkness, despite its emptiness, is endlessly hungry. Advent reminds us that we must be light if we want anyone to see in the growing nighttime.

We miss this important dynamic if we leap straight from Halloween to Christmas, pausing briefly for Thanksgiving. The church has made its fair share of mistakes, but Advent wasn’t one of them. Experts tell us Jesus wan’t born in December. Christmas isn’t really a physical birthday. It’s an ancient rite concerned with the return of light to darkened skies. A fervent appeal for our colorful lights and candles to encourage the light that we know, we believe, is out there to return to us. Scientists tell us that it’s just that the earth lolls at 23 degrees on its axis and all of this is just a balancing act. That may be so. I’ve never been off the earth to check. Down here on the ground, however, the days come only reluctantly and the nights linger longer and longer. And we can choose to see darkness as our natural state, or we can ignite a candle to encourage the light to return.

Throwin’ Away My Shot

In what sense can someone claim to win when they failed to get the majority vote? A crooked one, by definition. Some might say “rigged,” to use language that has mysteriously disappeared once one party “won.” The definition of crooked is “not straight; bending; curved.” We cast our votes, and depending on which imaginary lines we live within, those votes are diverted to a party of electors. That means that the person who actually wins the majority vote might not win. When it happens—not often—it always benefits the Republican Party. So it has been in my lifetime. And the “winner” never mentions that the majority voted against him. It’s always a “him.” By a recent count Hillary Clinton had over 400,000 more votes than Donald Trump. That final figure may be closer to a million. Whose votes didn’t count? Compare that conservative 400,000 to the 2,000 votes that “won” Pennsylvania. Go ahead, Trumpetters, you like numbers. Isn’t that an order of magnitude or two out of whack? Doubled? Crooked.

The point of the electoral college is that it has now become a game. Games, as we know from each time George W. Bush was elected, can be cheated. “Hanging chad” is engraved on the tombstone of democracy. Was my vote one of the 400,000 that didn’t count? Most assuredly so. If you know how to read, chances are so was yours. Gaming a system hardly seems to be the basis for the will of the people. The people have spoken and they have been, once again, ignored. W didn’t endorse Trump. I wonder what he thinks of the electoral college now. How does it feel, Mr. President, to have thrown away your shot?

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Some who claim that Republicans know what it feels like to lose need to stop and think. When has their opponent never won both the popular vote and the electoral college? It hasn’t happened in their lifetime. The electoral college may have made sense once, but it no longer does. When we try to tell young people that their vote counts, then put the candidate in office who decisively lost the popular vote, we’re really telling them “throw away your shot.” Still, Republicans are gloating even as the Democrats play by the rules (they’re nice people) and politely throw away their shots. It’s time we stood up for ourselves. When the most contentious candidates (the mind reels at where the GOP can go from Trump), not backed by any previous presidents of their own party, can win based on a technicality, we all need to stand in Weehawken and contemplate what this country has come to.

Storm Watch

Nothing encourages sleeping in like a blizzard. Although it’s a talent I’ve largely lost over the years, hearing the bellows of the wind and seeing the white reflecting through the blinds, and being a Saturday morning form the perfect recipe for letting my brain relax enough to fall back asleep after I’ve awoken. It’s a guilty pleasure that I had, quite honestly, nearly forgotten. Unlike several winter storms predicted last year, this one has actually come to pass. Prediction of the future may be one of those “God-of-the-gap” things, but meteorologists are modern-day prophets. In a society driven by work uniformity, days off are unwelcome, so a weekend blizzard might just seem to come from God. The highly anticipated list of school closings simply doesn’t apply. Many businesses still recognize the sanctity of the weekend, and we can just roll over and go back to sleep.

In ancient times the weather was anything but natural. The sky—so large and so far away—was purely the realm of the divine. The only way to impact it from down here was to pray and sacrifice and hope that it would behave. Getting back to that view of the world is nearly impossible here in the twenty-first century. We are so accustomed to natural causation that it is just one of those “butterfly effect” things. In truth, though, we know that human activity also has to share some blame with the butterfly.

Winter storms in January are not uncommon in the northern hemisphere, of course. January hurricanes, however, are. And as political rhetoric heats up and we once again ponder what it would be like to have another clown in the White House, global warming is dismissed as just another bad joke. As a nation we’ve been enamored of those who can provide the most entertaining gaffs and still claim they know enough to lead the nation. I have a hard time believing those who voted for Reagan had any success at separating fiction from fact. I still can’t convince myself that W was legitimately elected. The second term of both of these actors freezes me as much as the chill draft making its way through my apartment. The meteorologists nailed this one with their predictions. I’ll stay inside and huddle under my blankets until the all clear. And that may not be until well after November.

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Let There Be

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was, as everyone knows, a military man. With the role of Commander in Chief, United States Presidents control a military that eats up an enormous amount of tax dollars. To keep us safe, we’re told. Even though he was a military man, in his farewell address Eisenhower warned the American people of the Industrial Military Complex, a group of companies that not only eat national budgets for breakfast, but also control the most dangerous technology in the world. Secrecy, we’re told, is key. We don’t want any other nation on earth knowing what we’re up to. In fact, most Americans have no idea of and no control over what we’re up to. When people like Edward Snowden come out, their tales are so extreme that it is fairly easy to dismiss them. Would a good government ever do that? Nah. We’re the good guys, right? These were the thoughts going through my head after I watched Star Trek Into Darkness. I always run a couple years behind, it seems, on major movies. This one disturbed me in a way uncharacteristic of the Enterprise and its crew.

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Since it’s been out a couple of years I don’t need to give spoiler alerts unless some readers are even further behind than me. Okay: here’s a spoiler alert.

As James T. Kirk gets busted down in rank for violating the prime directive to save Spock, he takes over the Enterprise when Admiral Pike is gunned down in a top-level Star Fleet meeting. Vowing revenge, he encounters Khan, the eponymous villain of the old series Wrath of Khan. As Admiral Marcus had made an alliance with Khan the parallels with the Bush family and Sadam Hussein became clear. And when Scotty finds a super starship on a moon of Jupiter, secretly developed by Star Fleet to go to war with the Klingons, more than a touch of the Black Ops came to mind. Here was a government that couldn’t be trusted and that didn’t trust its people to know its intentions. When Khan pilots this Black Ops starship into San Francisco, the shot of it falling out of the air so resembled classified military craft that I actually shuddered. The destruction was a parable of 9/11.

Throughout the movie there is a dialog of ethics. Is it right to kill a known criminal without trial? Is it permissible to start an unprovoked war? Does might make right? Khan, despite being evil, tells the truth. The movie disturbed me because I can’t remember the last time I could truly trust the government. I vote Democrat because they are the party that seem to do the least damage to the planet and actually care for the poor. I was born, however, after the Eisenhower administration. John F. Kennedy was assassinated after my first birthday. My reading since leaving college has convinced me that we will never get the full story. Star Trek, although set in the future, has always been a projection of the present day. Those few groaners of episodes from the late ‘60s that delved into popular culture proved that. As I watched the crew of the Enterprise battling an enemy under its own flag I realized little has changed in the final frontier.

Apocalypse When?

We want to understand what worms through the mind of terrorists, and yet we don’t want to be bothered with religion. For decades universities have been shutting down departments of religion because they don’t make money. Religions aren’t materialistic in that way. In the light of the attacks on Paris over the weekend, many have been turning to the media to learn more about ISIS. A piece in the Atlantic by Graeme Wood, published back in March, pointed out how we have tended to see the movement as political, not religious. Wood, however, demonstrates the apocalyptic intentions of the leaders of ISIS. They are religious. Just because you carry guns and high explosives doesn’t mean you don’t believe.

Apocalyptic thought and politics are a deadly combination. The United States is not immune. Knowing the bent of George W. Bush’s distortion of Christianity, his terms in office were very frightening for many of us. Some Christianities, as well as some Islams, not only anticipate the end of the world but earnestly long for it. Pray for it. In the case of some Fundamentalist Christian sects, world leaders should orchestrate events to force God’s hand in bringing about end times. The fact that we had a president sympathetic to those beliefs should send shudders down anyone’s spine. The idea of an apocalypse is a religious one—there is nothing secular about it. We know the history of the concept, although universities eschew those who look that far back. Zarathustra, also known as Zoroaster, devised a new religion that reflected the basic dualism we all feel: good versus evil. The only way that good could ultimately win in such a worldview was through the complete destruction of evil. And evil wasn’t going down without a fight. This idea influenced Judaism during the Exile, and thus Christianities adopted it. And Islams. No moral relativism here.

The horsemen close in

The horsemen close in

Religion is not evil. Historically it has attempted to be a moral compass to guide believers toward right over wrong. The fact that any religion faces opposition shoves those weak of mind into an apocalyptic state. Gather the horsemen and try to prod God into action. We don’t see divine activity on any kind of scale that we would recognize. The religious events of the past—the Islamic expansion, the Crusades, the Jewish revolt against Rome—these events are merely political. Those who’ve been conditioned to see God behind human activities, however, view such things very differently. Apocalypses are religious events. No amount of reason will convince a convicted believer to look elsewhere for consolation. Yet we press on with guns and bombs and ignorance of what makes religions tick. And tick they will. No matter how secular we might wish the world to be.

Burden of Democracy

Speaking of revisionist history, I see that I’m negligent on updating my Egyptology. In a year when you need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the sheer number of GOP presidential wannabes, I had to ask my wife who Ben Carson was. She sent me a story explaining how the league of presidential dreamers believes that the pyramids were ancient Egyptian grain silos. His reason for believing this has nothing to do with archaeology or with history and everything to do with the Bible. Now, other presidents of too recent memory have had strange biblical beliefs as well. And that raises the intractable question of how you run a democracy with religious freedom. Some people like to claim religious belief is a matter of choice, but that is rarely true. At a young age we are programmed to accept what our parents or guardians tell us is true. Studies of the brain suggest that once wired for concepts of how God works, the circuitry is difficult to displace. In a country where most people can’t tell a Seventh-Day Adventist from an eight-hour clock, they may be surprised that a brain scientist might believe the pyramids were built to biblical specifications.

From WikiCommons

From WikiCommons

The Adventists are a literalist sect. And they are not the only ones who believe the pyramids have something to do with Joseph and the biblical famine that set the stage for the exodus. It is an idea I encountered as a child, and I didn’t even have a denomination to call my own. Religious belief can be, and often is, completely separate from rationality. Some very intelligent people are biblical literalists. The real problem is that the Bible doesn’t mention the pyramids at all, but then most Americans know as much about the Bible as they know about Seventh-Day Adventists. If people actually knew how much incentive George W. Bush had to start Armageddon, the turn of the millennium would have been far more tense than it was. And that’s saying something.

In our democracy, we want freedom of religion, but we don’t want to be bothered with the details of what a religion teaches. Like many, I was shocked by the headlines of a potential president grossly misunderstanding history, but as soon as I learned Carson is an Adventist everything clicked into place. I would suggest that it is a moral responsibility in a democracy to learn something about religion. We like to think we can fudge on that part of the homework. If we want the freedom of having anyone capable of becoming president, we need to learn something about a human being’s deepest motivations. No matter how much reporters and skeptics want to laugh and scorn, religion makes many decisions for by far the largest majority of people on the planet. The thought that a democracy can thrive without learning what truly motivates its leaders, I would suggest, is the most naive position of all.

Substance of Faith

Every once in a very great while, faith is rewarded. I’m not talking about the faith that is bound up in black leather, inaccessible to realists who struggle daily to keep going. No, this particular faith is human based, based on my fellow citizens who saw it necessary to do the right thing. Although I have to rise before 4 a.m. to get to work, I tossed all night wondering what was happening at the polls. Obama’s reelection meant more to me than I guess I even realized. You see, I look at elections symbolically. Not as overtly black and white as Dark Vader and Luke Skywalker (neither candidate is pure good or evil), but I see that candidates stand for something. I don’t care what religion a president claims, but I do watch closely for what they value. Money, to my way of thinking, is not the way to build a society. Once in a while the rich need to be reminded that no, money can’t buy you everything.

Politics went off the rails when conservative religious issues were mingled with unfettered entrepreneurial aspirations during my formative years. God, I hope those days are over! People often vote with their emotions and studies have repeatedly shown that even conservative religionists like George W. Bush did not deliver a more productive, biblically literate nation after eight years of fumbling in the dark. The legacy was a national debt that should have been an embarrassment and a deeply polarized society. I was glad for the GOP nomination of Mitt Romney—it was a chance to test if the privilege of wealth had a chance of winning without the evangelical interests who see Mormonism as a “cult.” My faith in the American people paid off.

No, Obama’s first term was not a picnic, but every time I peeked, it sure looked like hard work was being done. Prolonged vacations to the ranch seemed to be a thing of the past. Difficult thinking was given a place in the nation’s capital again. If we want the one percenters to get the message, we must shout loudly. They live far, far above the rest of us in sound-insulated penthouses and never have to wait in line four hours just to buy gasoline. There is work to be done, and it has to start at the street level, if not below. This is faith. Quoting the Bible while bombing your enemies and protecting the wealthy elite is disingenuous in anybody’s ethical playbook. Thank you America for showing that giving in is not the only option. Tonight I will be able to sleep.

Criticism Is Not Attack

Each administration of George W. Bush was marked by a major disaster. 9-11 was followed four years later by Hurricane Katrina. The United States had received a one-two punch. I recently read Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. This is a book that should be read by every American, and it wouldn’t hurt others to read it too. This account follows the lives of a New Orleans family through the aftermath of Katrina. The main character, a tradesman named Abdulrahman Zeitoun, is a permanent resident of the United States from Syria. His wife Kathy, a convert to Islam, was American. When Katrina bore down on New Orleans, Kathy took their kids to safety with friends while Abdulrahman (known by many as Zeitoun) stayed in the city to look after the properties they owned. When the flooding had engulfed entire sections of the city, Zeitoun paddled about in a canoe, rescuing those he could, and even feeding abandoned dogs. Family and friends urged him to evacuate, but he felt he was doing good. Until he was arrested on his own property and imprisoned for being Syrian.

In a wrenching account based on interviews with Zeitoun and Kathy, Eggers describes how the US government quickly set up Guantanamo Bay-style prisons rather than attempting to rescue those stranded in their homes. Zeitoun was arrested and never informed of the charges, although he heard paramilitary guards armed with machine guns uttering “Taliban” and “al-Qaeda” at him. He watched as a mentally disabled man was pepper-sprayed by soldiers when he clearly couldn’t understand what they were commanding him to do. Despite having government issued ID and good standing as a business owner in New Orleans, Zeitoun was presumed guilty because of his profile: “Arabic” and Muslim. As Eggers reminds us, Homeland Security is now the administrative head of FEMA, and those that Homeland Security distrusts (all of us) are potential terrorists rather than citizens in need of help during times of disaster.

I grew up in a rather monochromatic part of the country, but as I traveled I met and befriended those of differing nationalities, including Syrians. Those considered “the others” by xenophobic bureaucrats are just as kind, loving, and good as those of us born under the sign of the cross with “white” skin. Zeitoun stands as an indictment of the jingoism that has come to be recognized as the only legitimate American citizenship. Zeitoun spent nearly a month in maximum security prison before being released after a makeshift trial, when no evidence existed that he’d done anything wrong. What has happened to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free? They’ve become the enemies of the state. I know, Katrina engendered extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances, from a “Christian” view, however, demand extraordinary sympathy. Do the nation a favor. Before November, read Zeitoun.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” so the books of Psalms and Proverbs agree. It must be true. Religion and fear walk happily along hand-in-hand. Some have suggested that religion began as a human response to fear. So this week I felt a little conflicted as I read Daniel Gardner’s The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain. The book had been recommended to me by one of my brothers. As a child fear defined me—it seemed that in a world where God was meant to be feared (for I was a literalist) that fear was the basic operating system for life itself. Gardner’s book is a fascinating exposé of the culture of fear. Gardner doesn’t really suggest that fear should be eliminated, but he does show how many of those in power manipulate fear into a faulty perception of risk management, for their own advantage. Beginning with 9/11 he demonstrates how the irrational responses of people to the tragedy led to even more deaths that quickly became buried in the white noise of everyday society. Comparing Bush’s response to FDR’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Gardner demonstrates that the United States emerged from the depression and Second World War weary but confident and strong. After Bush’s two terms, the country is cowering and weaker. Why? The Bush administration heavily mongered fear.

Funnily enough, the release from fear comes from two main sources: statistics and psychology. Statistics reveal the true odds of common fears—these can be inflated so as to create an atmosphere of threat. People, as herd animals, will gladly give more power to the alpha male when serious treat is perceived (don’t kid yourself, politicians have long known this). Psychology enters the scenario because people think with both reason and emotion. Our immediate, visceral response (the “gut reaction”) is instantaneous and powerful, developed from millennia of evolution. It is, however, irrational. Reasoned responses, often better for us, take longer and people do not like to force themselves to think hard. We have a whole educational system to prove that. Faced with hard thinking or quick solving, which do you prefer? Be honest now!

Ultimately The Science of Fear is an optimistic book. Being made aware of the problem is half the struggle. Garden-variety fear is fine. Systemic fear paralyzes. Religion is often defined as one of the building blocks of culture. Instead of offering release from fear, religions frequently add their own ingredients for recipes of even greater fear. The concept of Hell is a great example: think of the worse thing you possibly can. Multiply it by several orders of magnitude. Repeat. And repeat. You’re still not even close to how bad Hell is. There’s your motivation right there. Place that religion in the midst of a society rich with natural resources and led by schemers who know that xenophobia increases power, and voila! Paradise on earth for some, a life of fear for the rest. Manipulation characterizes both the evolution of religions and societies. Gardner doesn’t directly address the religious side, but that’s the beauty of reason: he doesn’t have to. The cycle can be broken; think of Mark Twain’s words I’ve selected as a title. Think hard.

Send in the Robots

The FIRST Robotics kickoff is an event that is difficult to describe for those who’ve never attended. First, it must be noted that FIRST Robotics is sometimes described as “the varsity sport for the brain.” While engineering students with a penchant for athletics are not unheard of, the majority of robotics team students are not cut from the same cloth as the athlete. The FIRST kickoff, the first Saturday in January, is the opportunity for these kids to be told it is cool to be smart and that application of brain power is not the liability that many of the electorate seem to think it is. At this event the competition for the year is unveiled, and the kids (with some adult help) have six weeks to design and build and program a robot to do some very complex tasks. It is a season of sleep deprivation, programmed Saturdays, and the celebration of learning. Before NASA shows the game animation—the competition for the year—celebrities and other people in the public eye endorse the program. It is a time for praising the benefits of science.

Yesterday’s kickoff, however, was marred by the appearance of one of the guest celebrities. When George W. Bush was announced as a supporter of the program, a sense of disbelief fell over the room. This man who advocated for creationism in the classroom, who fought to stop research in cutting edge disease control, who began a war as a personal vendetta, was showing his dully beneficent face on the big screen telling the kids what a great program it was. A chance, as he said, to use your “God-given talents.” He ended his brief—and obviously scripted—sound-byte with his characteristic “God bless you.” I could not stomach the hypocrisy. I’ve blogged about religion and the science of robotics before, but to have a president who did nothing to strengthen the cause of higher education and fought science with eight years at his idle hands was just too much. If I was Dean Kamen, I would have insisted that that clip be left on the cutting room floor.

The former W represented religion in its guise as the enemy of science. It should be clear to my readers that I do not believe science has all the answers, but I also believe it is wrong for religion to stand in the way of knowledge. Science is something that we shouldn’t give lip-service without backing it up with programs and funding. That one minute of disingenuous, religion-riddled speech trumped all the other endorsements, including the sensible one by Bill Clinton who emphasized the need to work together even with those who are your opponents. This was a point W obviously missed. There comes a time when some public figures, like overused cattle, should be put out to pasture. There are some cowboys that should just stay on the ranch. I understand that presidential endorsements are important to FIRST, but in this case integrity should not be compromised. Especially when most of the teenagers watching the kickoff possess far greater potential than a mere politician elected on religious sentiment and dubious counting.

Does this face inspire science?

Political Games

The Lord is in a changeable mood these days. So many GOP wannabes and so many disappointing results in Iowa. The fact that politicians now routinely rely on religion to get elected is bad enough, but the very mockery they make of the faith of their followers is criminal. This is the surreal paradox of a nation based on religious freedom—we are free to believe, well, whatever. It never fails that as the weekend rolls around newspapers trot out the religious stories. Men and women who live otherwise secular lives wash into churches like a spiritual tsunami, and by the time the rinse cycle comes, they’ve already got their sights set on the post-game show. In everyday life religion seldom enters, but when it comes to the polls, it counts for everything. Maybe if god didn’t have so many golden boys (the one golden girl dropped out of the race) all of this would be a little easier to bear.

The problem, speaking from the point-of-view of someone experiencing a little too much Christianity at the moment, is that the early form of the faith was a bandaid solution. You see, Jesus’ early followers thought the world was about to end at any minute. This was before the Republican Party even formed, and long before Joseph Smith made up a story about rose-colored glasses and an Italian angel named Moroni. The religion had no longevity plans. All the faithful were supposed to be gone by the end of that first century, and now, some twenty centuries later, they’re running for office in a nation equipped to bully the world. The logic of the situation dictates that if any one candidate is telling the truth of god’s sanction the rest are all pathetic liars.

When politicians began courting religious conservatives in an unconscionably cynical act of sympathy, they were taking out a promissory note they never intended to pay. The nature of religion, however, is to accept even what is improbable—even better—what is impossible. This faith, even after eight years of Bush failing to keep his promises to deliver on the issues they so crave, remains intact. The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Now, less than four years later, they are ready to believe all over again. And as long as we are looking for the impossible, is it too much to ask that religion be left out of politics so that the business of running the nation might be done with at least a modicum of rationality? Now that deserves to be called faith!

GOP's favorite game?

Whatever Happened to Marshmallows?

A rainy Sunday evening seemed like a good time to watch a scary movie. I had already viewed an exorcism movie or two over the last couple of days, so my wife and I decided to try something scarier: Jesus Camp. This 2006 documentary shows the workings of an evangelical, Pentecostal children’s camp run by Becky Fischer. By not skewing the evidence but by letting the organizers and children speak for themselves, a disturbing political agenda is revealed. Even more disturbing is the psychological scarring that accompanies such childhood indoctrination in a religion of fear. Fischer is obviously concerned with militant Islam, but her tactic of countering it with militant Christianity where children are soldiers (“this is war!” she shouts at one service) feels equally wrong. Part of the problem with such “Bible based” groups is that the Bible contains many contradictions and the Fundamentalists must pick and choose. For example, Rev. Fischer has chosen to disregard 1 Corinthians 14.34, stating that women should keep silent in the church. (I certainly do not advocate the literal application of that verse, nor of many others that made their way into a misogynous Bible.)

Utilizing the Bible only goes so far as a political tool. At the Kids on Fire camp the children are geared up to an emotionally intense state and lectured about the evils of abortion, evolution, belief in global warming, and Harry Potter. No mention is made that the Bible says nothing about abortion or evolution, and global warming had not yet become an issue. I can’t seem to recall Harry Potter being mentioned by name in the Bible, but other fictitious characters are from time to time. The Bible, having been written over a span of about a millennium, contains differing voices making statements for specific circumstances, and never intended to be used as political platforms. One gets the sense that “Bible believers” seldom read the Bible seriously themselves. Certain favorite passages are committed to memory and rehashed to death while others molder in dank corners of Fundamentalist basements.

What is lacking here is the long view. Once such groups win political power—they should be taken far more seriously in this arena—the religious freedom that will have launched them to that position will disappear. Like all human enterprises, however, it too will eventually crumble. Ted Haggard was spotlighted in the film, shot before his own hypocrisy came to light. At the camp George W. Bush is held up as a saint with Samuel Alito as his acolyte. The psychological manipulation and emotional abuse that the children trustingly accept is condemnation enough in itself. The camp was shut down after the film was released, but Becky Fischer, like Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared, “I’ll be back!” This is one Terminator I truly fear. Having watched a couple of exorcist movies over the weekend as well, I am left wondering which is scarier: demons that possess children or false prophets who do the same?

Livin’ On a Prayer

Am I the only one who finds it disturbing that Neo-Con politicians are naïve enough to believe that prayer will solve all our problems? Where was God during the Bush years, for crying out loud? And yet headline after headline speculates about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s prayer-fest scheduled for Saturday. What is more disturbing than the lack of imagination on the part of would-be candidates is the sheep-like following on the part of a large segment of the electorate. If God is going to step in and take charge, he had a great chance back on May 21 and refused to pick up the option. If God was behind politics, why did George W. Bush fail to find Osama Bin Laden? If God is running things, why are so many unemployed? Ah, but the religious pundits have a pat answer: America is a sinful nation. What it takes is religion, Texas-style.

In the many years I spent at Nashotah House, the majority of our students hailed from Texas. They represented the conservative hard-line and doctrinal strappadoes that caused much suffering but still somehow didn’t placate an angry God. That, of course, says more about Nashotah House than it does about Texas. Perhaps it is the logical evolution of a country that began with prominent ministers gleefully describing sinners in the hands of an angry God. Nearly three centuries later and we are being told God is still angry. Thou shalt not hold a grudge, eh? The problem seems less about sinful folks just trying to get by (a la Bon Jovi) than about politicians using their religion to get elected. Centuries down the road it will be the topic of some new series of History’s Mysteries that an affluent, educated, and generally forward-looking nation cluttered its governing bodies with politicians who believed the answer to complex problems is to bow their heads and tell God how to fix it. Are we really half-way there, or have we spread our arms to embrace Jonathan Edwards once again?

In MSNBC’s article on Rick Perry’s prayer day, it is noted that the book of Joel is cited as an inspiration for the event. For such a brief book, Joel has been at the forefront of a ton of damage wrought by prooftexters. Joel wrote three brief chapters about a locust infestation for which the suggested response was prayer. One wonders if Rick Perry simply prays when the termites begin to gnaw on his expensive home, or does he call Ortho instead? Joel was truly old school. The locusts in his day meant literal mass-starvation. No chemical romance to solve the problem there. Unfortunately we don’t know how that one turned out—Joel doesn’t say. I’m just glad that Governor Perry hadn’t been reading Psalm 137 when inspiration struck, and can I get an amen from the pro-lifers on that?

Ricky used to work on the docks?

P.S. Matthew 6.5.

The Return of Christendom

Well, the Internet is shaking because Anne Rice has left Christianity. Not exactly, however. In her own words, according to her Facebook page, “I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” For years I have observed decent people “quitting” Christianity because the name has been co-opted by intolerant, bigoted Neo-Cons who more often than not have political agendas in mind. I think the battle has been lost, the trademark name of Christianity must be surrendered to those who claim it most loudly. The meek have disinherited the earth. How many Catholic students have introduced their comments to me with “Christians say…” as if Catholics aren’t part of the club?

There was a perfectly good word for what Neo-Cons are calling themselves. It used to be “Christendom.” Harkening back to the imperial days when Orthodox Christianity ruled the East and Roman Christianity ruled the West, Christendom implied the power and the glory in its very name. Beyond a religion, it was a system of rule. The world was fine as long as everyone stepped in line to a magisterial faith that held the only set of keys to Heaven. Then Islam. Then Reformation. Then Enlightenment. The keys began to jangle amid many others on that divine keyring. Christendom seemed pretentious when there was no military might to back the strappado or red-hot iron. Christianity was but one belief system, deeply fragmented, among others.

Under the vision of James Dobson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and their minions, Christianity in its Neo-Con armor has once again become a forum for abuse and intolerance. Bearing little resemblance to the ethics and outlook of the carpenter of Nazareth, this religion would find an easy home in imperial Rome or medieval Aragon. As Ms. Rice notes, she is committed to Christ, but not a Christian. Although my impotent voice bears little weight in this overly loud and hyper-productive world-wide web, I would humbly suggest that Christendom be reinstated, instead of Christianity, to describe the Neo-Con religion. Christendom, after all, retains the imperial bearing and absolute authority the movement craves. Those, like Ms. Rice, who prefer to follow the teachings of Jesus might then have use of the traditional term of “Christian” once again.

Green Bible


One of the most heinous theologies to emerge from Christendom is the idea that exploitation of our planet is good for the soul. The idea, apart from having been foundational to Bush II’s administration, is based on the idea that if we mess up our world badly enough we will force the divine hand into sending Jesus back to clear up our detritus. The Second Coming apparently will be in a garbage heap rather than a garden. Christian businessmen rest secure knowing that their exploitation of our natural resources is all part of God’s master-plan. This “theology” is alive and well among many Neo-Cons and it insists that the fact of global warming is a myth and the myth of creationism is a fact.

One of the unexpected perpetrators in the war on our planet has been the Bible. Accurate records of the number of Bibles actually printed were not kept in the early days of Gutenberg’s dream machine, but current estimates place the number of Bibles printed at over 8 billion. That’s more than enough for one per person. Some of us would have to confess to owning multiple copies, making us perhaps guiltier than the rest. It was in an effort to stem the dendrite slaughter of this industry that I shifted to the Green Bible for my classes last year.

Some people treat the Bible as an object of veneration, never laying it on the floor or putting other objects atop it. Some people object to making Bibles out of “inferior” products – the Green Bible is printed on recycled paper and is biodegradable – but to me this seems to be the most responsible way to produce a book with the enormous environmental impact that the Bible has. I could live without the “green letter” sections intended to prooftext the Bible’s environmental concerns, but care for our planet trumps good taste at times. If anyone from Oxford University Press is reading this, the eco-friendly aspects of this Bible are what reluctantly switched me from 15 years of requiring students to purchase the New Oxford Annotated Bible! It is time that the Bible owned up to its part in our planetary plight.