Hope for the Flowers

Resurrection can become a tired trope, but it is the stuff of both religion and science. Last week it was reported that Russian scientists revivified a plant frozen on the tundra 30,000 years ago. Quite apart from proving that Siberia was already in place 24,000 years before God got around to creating the planet, this amazing feat teaches us lessons about life and its resilience, and also of the possibilities beyond the great pale. The scientists regrew the plant without the benefit of using seeds, making this a kind of virgin birth of the florid kind. Using plant versions of stem cells (the kind of science forbidden in the USA: “won’t somebody think of the seedlings!”), the dead plant was rejuvenated and is alive and healthy in a world vastly different than the mammoth-infested, frosty plains of northern Russia where it first saw daylight. Still, that environment was less hostile to science than the Religious Right. This resurrection shows that we don’t need miracles to bring inert matter back from the dead. No doubt there are covert Creationists trying to sneak into Russia with travel-sized bottles of Roundup in their carry-on bags.

Science has brought us to incredible places by its continued, self-critical process. Religion, preferring no critique, has given us characters like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Rick Santorum. And a really big book. Looking at the religious scene today it is difficult to believe that religions began as exercises in optimism—the world could be better if only we’d progress. Regress now characterizes the religion in the public eye—men (occasionally women) claiming that things were better when we were tilting with mammoths than they are now with people advocating equality for people of other genders, races, and sexual orientations. Science represents our progress, and the vocal theocrats claim we should be going backward. Back to when men were measured by the size of their spears.

Back when I was a teenager I discovered the book Hope for the Flowers, by Trina Paulus. Not really a graphic novel, and not really a children’s book, it tells the story of two caterpillars with the courage to reject the constant, heartless climbing so often required by the world. In the end, of course, they become butterflies. The story has a religious subtext, naturally, but it was for a religion that believed butterflies should be valued rather than smashed between the pages of a heavy Bible. Butterflies bring the pollen that allows flowers to thrive. We live in a world where butterflies have become soft and defenseless while religion is aggressive and offensive. Science has shown us the way to bring flowers back from the grave, but old-time religion is waiting in the shadows with its rusty scythe.

Restoring Horror

Few television families are as true to life as the Simpsons. At least on a metaphorical or symbolic level. Last night as I watched the episode entitled “She of Little Faith,” I was reminded of just how large a role religion plays in this sit-com. While the majority of Springfield’s inhabitants don’t ever question the correctness of the local church, Lisa Simpson remains the avowed skeptic. Conflicted over her own sense of what is right and family expectations, she becomes a Buddhist yet continues to attend church with her family. This image of religious compromise strikes many as precisely what is wrong with organized religion today – it lacks the coercive power it once had.

In a free-market economy religious belief is a commodity to be selected and purchased. Most people are far too busy trying to get ahead to spend much time thinking about religion; it is far simpler to allow the clergy to do that. They come back to us, telling us what to believe, like some congressional report from heaven’s house of representatives. We pay them a salary and their service is to make sure we believe what keeps God happy. Religion, potentially the most powerful motivator in the world, is up for grabs like former Soviet nukes. Anyone is free to declare him or herself a religious leader, qualified or not.

So over the weekend thousands flocked to Washington to hear 2012 presidential hopefuls Beck and Palin tell them how to restore “honor” to our nation. Beck commented that his rally marks the point at which America starts to “turn back to God.” Most Americans at the rally (or those at home) seldom think about the amorphous God to which he refers, for themselves. Americans are consumers. We purchase what we like. If the God that is touted will make things better for me, then I’ll buy it. This is the price we pay for refusing to take religion seriously at an academic level. It is not about to go away. I side with Lisa Simpson as the honest individual who has an examined life. Facing opposite me on the Mall are tens of thousands who would rather be led. I am afraid. I am very afraid.

E.T. Go Home!

Now that my family is back from vacation, daily life is starting to regain a focus. One of the goodies my wife brought me from out west was an article from the Spokesman-Review, a Spokane, Washington, newspaper. The article is actually a letter to the editor, so it should not be taken as representative of the views of the paper, or of reality, for that matter. Obviously written in response to an article I missed, the letter is concerned that “Conservative Christian” viewpoints towards illegal aliens are being ignored. With a bravado that might be termed Christian jihad, the letter writer claims that “our nation’s laws are based on the laws God has laid down.” The authorities she cites? “Beck and Palin.”

Beck and Palin would make a great comedy team were it not for their crazed intolerance. Although devoted to this dynamic duo, our writer goes one better and cites the highest possible authority, “the Lord God.” Specifically, Numbers 15:15-16: “As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.” Problem is, this passage doesn’t refer to the state assembly of Arizona, but of an ancient Israel that is largely the creation of the writers. The Torah, explicitly, applies to Israel, not to other nations.

Quite often in my classes I have students claiming that our laws are based on the Bible. To extent there may be a modicum of truth in the claim, but in fact, American law is based on English Common Law, influenced by, yet not taken from, the Bible. I’m no legal expert (I wouldn’t be jobless if I were), but I do take the Bible at its face value. The laws apply to Israel alone. It is a mark of how little our religious leaders have been able to educate the public that we see this ingrained prejudice masquerading as divine truth. Fair treatment is a secular as well as a religious value. In addition to doling out abuse, the Bible itself continues to be a constant victim of abuse at the hands of Neo-Con nonsense.

Isn't God an alien?