Through a glass darkly

I’m sharing this article from Independent Journal Review just to make a point.

hypocritesIndependent Journal Review: Those Outraged At Trump Blocking Refugees Didn’t Seem To Care About What Obama Did To Cubans

I learned of it from the Facebook page Conservative Daily. To hell with that page, no link. Thanks to my embrace of people at least as good-hearted as me however differently, people of widely differing viewpoints, I have the good fortune of seeing this kind of crap splatter across my screen on a regular basis, like I’ve just flown under a magpie’s flight path at exactly the wrong time.

For the moment, for the point I’m coming to, I actually don’t care if the claims in this particular case are true or not. The truth of the claims is beside the point. Continue reading

Happy Easter

I have a few questions.

If i have the story right, Jesus was crucified and then resurrected three days later. That is, Easter. Now that’s a neat trick and i suppose a good reason to celebrate … especially since he apparently didn’t resurrect zombie style and gnaw on the Apostles. Praise be that our Lord and Savior came back with a taste for souls rather than brains. Resurrection doesn’t have anything on ascension though. Yes i know, there’s still another 40 days before he pulled that one off, but nobody except Catholic school kids and maybe Congress will get that day off so this is the best time to discuss it.

After proving to everyone that he really was alive, Jesus eventually led the disciples to Mt. Olivet, gave them a little speech, and rose up into the clouds. “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Luke) In Acts, we get Jesus telling the assembled that they’ll get the power of the Holy Ghost and spread the word to all the known world. “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

So, we’re talking about literal, bodily ascension into heaven. In Mark 16:19-20, Jesus is seated (past tense) at the right hand of God. But in Ephesians 4:10 we’re told that Jesus ascended “higher than all the heavens.” That’s presumably a very long trip in a very short amount of time, depending on our definition of heavens. It can’t be just up in the clouds, or on a sunny day we’d be treated to a lot of dead people floating in the sky and that would be weird. So we have to assume that “heavens” is likely at least as far as the moon, but that’s hardly higher than all the heavens any of the disciples could see with the naked eye. I don’t know, maybe heaven is located on the dark side of the moon and that’s why we never went back. Any further than that and we run into some problems.

If Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, then heaven has to be a physical place. A mere gathering point for spiritual souls could be anywhere or nowhere, but you need space to house all the people who’ve ever lived … excepting the ones, like me, who go to hell. So where is it? We now know that “higher than all the heavens” is a really long way away, given the presumption that it’s all “up” from here. Did Jesus have to go to the edge of the solar system, the galaxy, where?

I’m willing to give Jesus a lot of credit. If anyone could reach the speed of light, it’d be that guy. On the other hand, i don’t know if he’s above the special theory of relativity. That would explain a lot actually. We’re all anxiously awaiting the return of Jesus, and in John 14:2-3, he explains, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus will return in the same manner as he left. At  roughly 149,896,229 cubits per second, our Lord and Savior can cover a lot of ground in a hurry, but according to the Special Theory of Relativity, our vantage point relative to his means that a short trip for him will seem much longer for us.

That’s a pretty big bummer. It’s been almost 2,000 years. The man would be covering 5 trillion cubits per year. No wonder his imminent return always ends up being further in the future, even if he’s almost back, the relative slowing down of time for us compared to Jesus probably means that we have a while to wait yet. Those are big numbers, depending on exactly where heaven is located.

Of course, the CERN scientists have accelerated a particle faster than the speed of light and some physicists theorize that not only is it possible to exceed the beard rippling 149,896,229 cubits per second but that a parallel universe exists where everything moves faster than that all the damned time. However, before arguing that Jesus is almost certainly the kind of guy who could go faster than the speed of light, remember that those theories calculate an odd phenomenon. The faster something goes beyond the speed of light, the more mass it loses. At infinite velocity, the object’s mass becomes zero.

Here’s where i get confused. Bodily ascension higher than the highest heaven but from the text it appears that Jesus made it to sit at the right hand of God almost instantaneously since it’s written in the past tense. If  he achieved infinite velocity, then he couldn’t have ascended bodily as he’d have no mass. If he’s constrained to the speed of light, he might still be on the road and we’re going to have wait a long time … or at least it will seem like a really time … for him to finish the round trip.

You’d think that the Church would have provided a cosmological map locating heaven by now. If it showed us that, we could track Jesus like NORAD does to Santa. Sort of a Distant Early Rapture Warning System. The least it could do would be to tell us how fast Jesus travels in a vacuum and which direction he headed off in so we can do the math. The universe is a big place, and i’ve spent too many Easters looking at pictures of the sky like a “Where’s Waldo” picture for a glimpse of Junior without success.

Are Americans becoming less religious? New Pew study says yes and Dawkins is optimistic

Given the course of Campaign 2012, the idea that Americans are trending toward less religion probably sounds ludicrous. But maybe not.

In response to an audience question last night, Richard Dawkins said he’s “optimistic” about the future of religion. (If you’re a religious type, he doesn’t mean that in the way it probably sounds.) He noted that the US is still exceptionally religious when compared with other nations along criteria such as education levels and scientific accomplishments, and he further allowed that we’re not nearly as far along the path toward a truly secular society as he might have expected several decades ago. Still, he says “I’m optimistic in the long term” – pointedly emphasizing long term.

Dawkins, a prominent scientist and intellectual who has authored a number of influential books, including The Selfish GeneThe Extended Phenotype and The God Delusion, was speaking at the University of Colorado’s Macky Auditorium as part of a US tour promoting his latest book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. This book is intended for younger audiences – in essence, it’s designed to help children understand how science works and to develop the faculties necessary to parse reality from superstition and the various kinds of “magic” that lead them into the sorts of folly afflicting American politics and policy development today. Illustrated by Dave McKeanThe Magic of Reality makes a compelling visual impression, as well, not only highlighting the essential concepts in ways that make them easier to grasp, but at the same time stylistically conjuring a pensive, dramatic sense of the natural world that I imagine will last young readers the rest of their lives.

One hopes Dr. Dawkins is justified in his optimism, and one might also hope that we don’t have to wait too long for the long term to arrive. He made the point judiciously, of course, but while the US ranks far ahead of the rest of the world in many measures of intellectual achievement, we’re also the undisputed leaders of the developed world when it comes to batshit religious crazy. I’ve addressed the “Christian nation” question here a couple of times in the past, and it’s perhaps reminding everyone of some numbers.

  • Polls show the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian ranging as high as 85% or beyond.
  • The president is a Christian…
  • …as is the VP.
  • The Speaker of the House is Catholic…
  • …and the Senate Majority Leader is Mormon.
  • Well over 90% of our Congressional representatives are Christian, with a majority of the remainder being Jewish.
  • The Supreme Court features seven Christians and two Jews.
  • All of our major presidential candidates in both major parties.
  • Almost all of our past presidents; depending on how you count Unitarians, you have to go all the way back to Lincoln (ironically enough, the founder of the GOP) to even find one to debate over;
  • Hell, even sports franchises are starting to build their operations around the evangelical litmus test.
  • It seems unlikely that a similar review of the legislatures and courthouses in the 50 states would reveal too much variation from this overpowering Judeo-Christian norm.

You have to be willfully stupid – and polls suggest that in many places the voting majority is just that – to think that ours is a Christian system of government. However, numbers are numbers, and I don’t think it controversial to say that we are a Christian culture. For better or worse. Mostly worse.

Of course, my colleague Otherwise believes that we’re one of the least religious places on earth. At some point he and I need to sit down and discuss our criteria. Perhaps he’s looking at the Muslim world, or perhaps he’s looking at cultures dominated by Catholicism. Fair enough. Or maybe he’s thinking more about the gap between what people report when polled and how they live when the pollster drives away. He grew up in the South like I did, so he’s probably well familiar with a certain breed of Christian – let’s call it the devout son of a bitch. Never misses church, publicly quite upstanding and pious, but at his core he’s just a mean redneck. He’ll say he believes in Jesus, but you’d never know it to watch him.

It’s like the famous singer and comedian, Jim Stafford, once said: Baptists are like cats – you know they’re raising hell, you just can’t catch them at it.

A new study from the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life suggests that perhaps Dawkins (and Otherwise) are right.

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

Note: “religiously unaffiliated” doesn’t mean “atheist” by a long shot.

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

While I don’t care what people believe per se – I’m very 1st Amendmentish in that respect – I care a great deal what people do, and these days ignorant, dingbat theocracy-leaning religious conservatism exerts way too great an influence on the laws that govern our lives. For that reason, the new Pew study, which indicates, at a minimum, a shift away from organized fundamentalism, brings welcome news. Perhaps the single most encouraging bit is the “a third of adults under 30” part – I suppose that’s the “long term” hope that Dawkins is hanging his hat on.

Time will tell. Common sense says that at some point either the pendulum has to swing back the other way a bit, away from reactionary religiosity and neo-medieval conservatism, or the culture will simply explode. Perhaps we tip over into the kinds of full-blown theocracy that more and more Republicans are openly advocating, or we erupt into open and potentially violent conflict to prevent it.

The Pew report suggests that with each passing year America’s clear thinkers regain a little more territory. Let’s hope they, and Dawkins, are right.

Image Credit: Touch Reviews

In Defense of "Jesus Glasses"

Jesus Glassesby James Corbett

The facts of my case are fairly simple. Chad Farnan, a 15-year-old self-described Christian fundamentalist student in my Advanced Placement European History class, sued me for a “pattern” of statements unconstitutionally hostile to religion. His claim was based on hours of illegal and surreptitious recordings.

In my attorney’s opinion, the law was on our side, so he advised me to seek a summary judgment. I now believe that was a critical error because when a defendant requests a summary judgment rather than a jury trial, the law requires that all the facts presented by the plaintiff be accepted as truthful. No fact may be disputed, only the law. My attorney believed a fair application of the Lemon test would turn in my favor, but the test fails in a case such as mine both as a matter of law and of logic. Had I gone to court, I could easily have demonstrated that Chad and his mother are Continue reading

Nota Bene #106: [no title due to budget cuts]

“Working for a major studio can be like trying to have sex with a porcupine. It’s one prick against thousands.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #101: Your Pal, Mike S.

“The guys who are shooting films now are technically brilliant, but there’s no content in their films. I marvel at what I see and wish I could have done a shot like that. But shots are secondary for my films, and with some of these films, it’s all about the shots. What’s the point? I’m not sure people know what points to make.” Who said it? Continue reading

Sundays with Uncle-God Momma: anger and compassion

My friend Dawn wrote a post worthy of a Sunday; please read it:

On Considering Compassion

Well, as one who can dish out vitriol with the best of them, i can feel a finger pointed at me. I also know better…which obviously doesn’t mean that i act better.

I’m familiar with the Bodhisattva’s vow: self-sacrifice for the sake of compassion towards all living things, to practice until every blade of grass attains enlightenment. (i differ with it there, the grass is already enlightened)

The fear-anger-hatred continuum is the strongest metaphysical force in the universe because it is easy; it does not take self control. It’s dangerous because it is easy and because it is self replicating and communicable.

Continue reading

The Best CDs of 2009, pt. 2: the Platinum LPs

Best-CDs-of-2k9In Part 1 we had a look at some very good 2009 releases, and in other years some of those CDs might have made a run at a Platinum LP. As I said, though, this was maybe the best year for new music since Jimmy Carter was president. So please, give these recipients of the S&R/Lullaby Pit Platinum LP a listen.

The Platinum LPs

Antony & the JohnsonsThe Crying Light
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of in-between where Antony Hegarty is concerned. Listeners either get it or they don’t, and while I’m in the “he’s brilliant” camp, I do understand why some find his music hard to access. In a nutshell, it’s probably some of the most painful stuff I’ve ever heard – pure, distilled essence of anguish at times. Continue reading

The Best CDs of 2009, pt. 1: the Gold LPs

Best-CDs-of-2k92009 was arguably the best year for new music since 1979, and that’s saying a lot, even if I’m wrong. For whatever reason, this year was just packed with incredibly great CDs from bands we knew were great, bands we didn’t know were this good, bands we hadn’t heard from in a long time and bands we’d never heard of, period. The result – it was all I could do to keep up, and I fully expect to spend the next couple of years tripping over even more awesome releases from 2009 that I missed this year. So in advance, apologies to those artists I didn’t find my way to in 2k9.

So here’s the format. There are usually three tiers: Gold LP, Platinum LP and CD of the Year. (The LP is taken from my personal site, Lullaby Pit, which is where this annual tradition started several years ago. And the fact that albums used to be LPs. Get it?) This year the glut of outstanding CDs have necessitated the addition of a new level – SuperPlatinum – because a few of those platinum discs are a notch above the rest. Over the next few days, then, the Scholars & Rogues/Lullaby Pit Best CDs of 2009 will be rolled out in four installments.

Up first, in roughly alphabetical order… Continue reading

Nota Bene #95: STFU

Gonna try something different Continue reading

Sundays with Uncle-God Momma: Eve was framed

Adam rested contentedly in the Garden. If we take The Book of Genesis at its word, all was perfect and pure. Opposites existed. There was, after all, a female companion for Adam named Eve, but they produced neither concern nor complication for the various named beasts and naked progenitors of human kind. At least not until the serpent came along…

The serpent, “who was more crafty than any of the wild animals the lord God had made,” practiced his deceit with the cunning of Socrates. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” he asked, leading poor Eve towards our collective doom. Only two trees—one mostly ignored—were forbidden with the pain of death. The serpent persuaded Eve that she would not die; instead, he told her, “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Continue reading

Nota Bene #87: Supersize Moi

There’s an old saying in Tennessee Continue reading

Saving the Bible from pinkos and feminists

Modern Conservative is a powerful language, more capable than Greek or Hebrew of expressing the profound new concepts that Christianity introduced into the world. Evidently then, it needs to be applied to the Christian Canon. The perfectly revealed word of God turns out to be not-quite-perfect enough. Just kidding. It’s that liberals, feminists and maybe even Catholics have muddled the good news. You see, The Lord must have spoken Modern Conservative because he made modern conservatives in His image. It says so in the Book nearly ruined by pervasive, liberal influences.

Continue reading

Sundays with Uncle-God Momma: it's in the stars

One of the best facets of studying myth and religion is the amount of weirdness there is to be found. Some of the weirdness involves people interpreting myth and religion in new (or sometimes old) ways and making connections between the seemingly disparate. Some of the weirdness springs from myth itself, in the way that it mirrors itself across time and culture and the layers that pile one atop the other like archeological strata. This week’s installment will feature both. Better yet, it’s a video so you won’t have to follow my mind chasing tangents.

Continue reading

The Summer of Hate provides a watershed moment for "reasonable Republicans"

I’m not a Republican, but I know many people who are. I have GOP friends, co-workers and family members, and for that matter I used to be a Republican myself. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, to be sure. But it’s true.

It’s no secret that I don’t agree with the GOP on much of anything these days, but there’s kind of an odd element to my conversations with Republican acquaintances lately: a lot of them profess significant disagreement with the platform and policies of their party, too.

Taken in a vacuum, this is hardly surprising. Continue reading

Columbine and the power of symbols

columbine-hillPart three of a series.

In the days following the murders at Columbine High School I visited the school and the grounds of Clement Park. Those walks produced this piece, which was originally published ten years ago today.

We have learned a great deal about the  events that took place at Columbine since  this essay was written (for instance, we now know that the  “Cassie Said Yes” story never actually happened,  and we also know that the whole “Trenchcoat Mafia”  thing was also a media-propagated fiction). But it seemed to me that going back  and revising to account for new information would damage the  fabric of what I wrote in late April and early May of 1999.  I have therefore elected to leave the factual inaccuracies  in place. I do, however, note the spots containing errors with an asterisk (*). and provide as thorough and accurate  a picture as we are ever likely to have of the shootings and  the aftermath, and I recommend them highly.


Sunday, May 2, 1999

It won’t stop raining, and nobody seems to care. Continue reading

Evangelicals are good for us, whether we like it or not

by John Harvin

Last night we had dinner with my daughter’s future in-laws. They are devout Christians, members of an ultra-conservative evangelical mega-church.

As we sat down to eat, they asked if anyone minded if they said grace. We smiled and went along with it, but the truth is I do mind. I think coming into someone’s home and imposing your belief system is unspeakably rude and completely unacceptable. What if I belonged to the Sacred Church of Zoophilia, and I came to dinner at your house and asked, “While you dish out the salad, do you mind if I have sex with your cat?” To me, talking aloud to Jesus and forcing me to listen in on the conversation is much the same thing. And after dinner, when the inevitable sales pitch came, we turned it away as gracefully as possible.

Marrying into an evangelical family is a very depressing prospect. Continue reading

What Would Jesus Do (with $40 million)?

33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

– Matthew 25: 33-40

I was reminded of this little passage today as I reviewed these numbers: Continue reading