Monday, December 31, 2007
Here is one of those stories that becomes a story because it has to do with the Bible. It is also exactly the kind of story that Matt Drudge loves.
Here is what happened:
A woman was reading the Bible to her two children. The bus driver found her loud and inappropriate and told her to stop. The woman refused. She was kicked off the bus.
First of all, the bus driver was in the right. Every bus driver has the right to enforce company policies (in the case, a policy of no loud or abusive behavior) and to refuse service to those who violate the policy after due warning.
So what is the journalist's excuse (or in the case, CBS Dallas/Fort Worth news)? How is this a story? Take out the "Bible" and it is a story of a woman who refused to comply with the city bus policy of conduct. Had the woman been reading Harry Potter too loudly and been asked to stop, this would not be a story.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I know this is fuzzy (the original is not much clearer) but notice that right between "scattered volcanic eruptions" and "sudden cool down" we have the "Hebrew Exodus from Egypt" at around 1200 B.C. and, at a time of global temperature equilibrium, Jesus was born. Then things really started to heat up.
Readers of the Bible bending blog know that the Bible can crop up anywhere at anytime. Often its use is defended as a culturally efficient way to focus mass attention on moral imperatives (say, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked). Aside from negating the complexity of the Bible and reaffirming the Bible's usefulness for all parties (those who feel that men lying with men is an abomination, for example), such a defense attempts to ignore the impact of the Bible's take on history and its vision of the future. The Bible creates an entire world view that makes sense of past and present events in a way that only rarely agrees with historical analysis, archaeological evidence, and the current political environment.
Cliff Harris, co-creator of the above graph, is a self-taught climatologist who according to an article in The Spokesman Review (February 26, 2007) believes the Bible is loaded with clues on predicting the weather.
Harris told the newspaper, "I do believe in a period of extreme global warming. That will be in the tribulation period. That's when the real global warming will come in. Those of us who are believers, we're looking forward to it."
The "tribulation period" (for those dozen or so of us who have not read the Left Behind series) is the time referred to in Mathew 24:21 and Revelation when sinners will meet divine judgment. So according to Harris, global warming is coming, it is our fault, and there is nothing we can (or should) do about it.
Harris is not just a man who needs to invest in some better graph software, he is the go-to climatologist for global warming skeptics. So take this Bible bending climate graph to heart: the Bible is not just a quirky cultural reference, it is leading us down the road to dusty death.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Is it: "Christmas is about Jesus not Santa, so Santa must die"?
Or (and I know this is a bit of Da Vinci Code bending here): "Jesus so loved the world that he gave us his love-child with Mary Madelene and that child grew up to become Santa Clause and now he too must die"?
Or maybe: "Boy those Romans were sick bastards; they crucified some nice fellas."
Or maybe I am missing the point completely and the white beams were just the necessary buttresses behind creating "Flying in for a Hug" Santa Clause.
As it turns out, none of thee above.
Apparently Art Conrad, the creator of this lawn ornament, is making a statement about Christmas and consumerism. For those who wouldn't have picked up on that right away, Mr. Conrad has placed the words "Santa died for your MasterCard" under dying Santa. Still, I find the whole theology behind it a bit muddled. Is Mr. Conrad recommending crucifying Santa Clause as part of our road to recovering from our seasonal shopoholism? Or is Santa sacrificing himself for our consumerism sins? Is Santa a martyr or an unwanted rebel-rouser? Maybe the reason the theology behind the death of Santa Clause is so fuzzy is that the similar death of Jesus is fuzzy too.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Wonder no more. Thanks to the all-seeing Google Earth and the all-willing-to-cut-and-paste Glue Society, we now have satellite photos of biblical scenes:
such as Adam and Eve relaxing in Eden:
Noah's ark surrounded by flood waters:
Moses parting the Red Sea:
And Jesus on the crucifix:
Before you get too excited, you won't be able to buy these pictures for your loved ones this Christmas. The set was sold for $36,000 last week.
The White House Christmas card features a verse from Nehemiah 9.6.
You alone are the LORD.
You made the heavens, even the highest heavens,
and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it,
the seas and all that is in them.
You give life to everything,
and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
Barbara Walters commented on "The View" that it was the most religious White House Christmas card that she has ever received.
UPDATE: Not to be out done, the Huckabee campaign has released this new commercial in which Huckabee tells his potential voters:
"Are you about worn out with all those TV commercials you've been seeing--mostly about politics? I don't blame you. At this time of year sometimes it's nice to pull aside all of that and remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ, and being with our family and our friends. I hope that you and your family will have a magnificent Christmas season. And behalf of all of us, God Bless, and Merry Christmas."
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
After a meandering discussion on the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 B.C. - 270 B.C.) and happiness, Whoppi Goldberg comments that there was no "Jesus Christ stuff around" at the time. To which Shephard responds, "no, there were still Christians." When Whoppi tentatively suggests that Epicurus predates Christians Shephard declares, "I don't think anything predated Christians."
The Huffington Post points out that the argument could have easily resolved itself if someone told Shephard what B.C. means (BEFORE Christ). But my favorite part of the show was when Whoppi calmed Shephard's insistence that Jesus predated Greeks and Romans with a mere "not on paper" as if the only flaw in Shephard's understanding of history was that it was not written down. What are we going to do with the view of history that is "on paper"?
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Responding to a pointed question by Joseph Dearing who held up the Bible and asked the candidates, "Do you believe in this book?" Huckabee flashed his minister credentials:
"I believe the Bible is exactly what it is: it's the word of revelation to us from God himself. And the fact is that when people ask, 'do you believe all of it?' you either believe it or you don't believe it but in the greater sense, I think that what the question tried to make us feel like is that 'well, if you believe the part that says 'go and pluck out your eye,' ...well none of us believe we ought to pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical. But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left to interpretation. 'Love your neighbor as your self.' 'In as much as you've done to the least of these brethren, you've done unto me.' Until we get those simple, real easy things right I am not so sure that we should be fighting over those other parts that are a little bit complicated. And as the only person here probably on this stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand but I am not supposed to. Because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it; if they do, their god is too small."
To recap, Huckabee knows 1.) the difference between allegorical passages and passages "not left to interpretation" and 2.) that things he doesn't understand about the Bible he is not supposed to understand. Fine. Frankly, it was a nonsense question. But since Huckabee writes on his official website: "My faith is my life - it defines me. I don't separate my faith from my personal and professional lives." here is what the American public should be asking Huckabee:
1.) how do these non-negotiable passages like "love your neighbor..." apply to your foreign and domestic policy, Huckabee? Specifically on issues such as immigration and the war on terror. 2.) If we agree that there are passages of the Bible that "are a little bit complicated," can we have your word that you will keep them out of the primary and (if applicable) the presidency?
UPDATE: Answering my last question is Dick Morris, Huckabee's potential adviser as the Republican nominee who told the LA Times on Sunday:
"[Huckabee] puts all of the Bible into play. It's not just 'thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not,' but it's the positive aspects of his religion, too -- which is 'love thy neighbor,' and 'when I was naked you clothed me,' and a sense of helping poor people." All the Bible into play? Oh Xenu, help us.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
This version, compiled in German by 50 theologians, is the product of an effort to do "justice to women, Jews, and those who are disregarded," says Pastor Hanne Koehler, who led the team of translators. The result is a Bible that uses inclusive language: instead of "Son" there is "Child," instead of "Our Father" there is "Our Father and Mother," and instead of just male rabbis, there are female rabbis as well (interestingly, Satan is still only male).
Despite the obvious problems with historicity (there were no female rabbis until the 1970s, for instance) and theology (a Mother and a Father God?), I question the efficacy and motives of these efforts.
The Bibel in gerechter Sprache, as it is known in German, is not unique. There are "hip hop" versions (Psalm 23: "The Lord is all that"), the People's Bible (where Jesus multiplies hamburgers instead of loaves and fishes), and the Street Bible ("[Jesus'] supernatural sessions and radical views have made him No. 1 celeb from Judaea in the south to Syria in the north") and the same issues of historicity and theology could be raised. This is Bible bending at its most extreme: actually getting in there and modifying the offensive or arcane bits.
Earlier I wondered if Bible bending may be a step in the right direction; maybe changing the language to be more accepting of women, homosexuals, and other cultures was just a means to a better ends. But when looking at these Bibles, it strikes me as incredibly condescending. Are people so mindlessly dependent on the written words of the Bible that if someone does not spell it out for them differently that they will indulge in bigotry and sexism? Yes, yes, I am pro- challenging every one to think differently but through critical thinking not publishing another version of the Bible. I am not ready to accept that the bending the Bible is the only way to bring about a more just world.
UPDATE: According to a New York Times article published today, Muslims in the US struggle to do the same thing with the Quran as Christians do with the Bible--find space to reinterpret scripture in a more just way.
As any one of intellectual integrity would tell you, it is better to be accused of being wrong than vague.
A wrong philosophy will collapse and its place will emerge a stronger one. A vague philosophy will collapse and redefine itself, collapse and redefine itself... for as long as those who have adopted it are willing to suffer for it. Over the last fifty years biblical scholars have slowly reached the conclusion that the Bible, as a philosophy, is vague. This satisfies the secularists and leaves ample room for the religious.
But according to Bart D. Ehrman, the Bible is not merely vague, it is wrong.
"Wrong" not in the sense of its failure to reconcile what we know about the world with what we don't, but wrong in the ethical sense. Ehrman finds the Bible morally repugnant.
In his book God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer (due out February 2008) Ehrman reveals that after years of devotion to the Bible as both a scholar and a minister, the Bible's varied attempts to reconcile a benevolent, omnipotent God with our random suffering is inadequate and repulsive. Stanley Fish summarized Ehrman's summary of the Bible's various explanations eloquently:
God is angry at a sinful, disobedient people; suffering is redemptive, as Christ demonstrated on the cross; evil and suffering exist so that God can make good out of them; suffering induces humility and is an antidote to pride; suffering is a test of faith – but he finds them unpersuasive and as horrible in their way as the events they fail to explain: “If God tortures, maims and murders people just to see how they will react – to see if they will not blame him, when in fact he is to blame – then this does not seem to me to be a God worthy of worship.”I have not read Ehrman's new book but if the description of it is accurate then it presents a challenge to the many theologians and biblical scholars who either try to fix the problem or do not see it at all. In the former category are scholars like Marilyn McCord Adams who attempts to resolve "the problem of evil" with her many books including Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology. In the later category are scholars like Robert Alter, the famous literary critic, who wrote in The Art of Biblical Narrative, "the paradoxical truth of the matter may well be that by learning to enjoy biblical stories more fully as stories, we shall also come to see more clearly what they mean to tell us about God, man and the perilously momentous realm of history." The paradoxical truth might actually be that when we look at the stories we rely on to make sense of a chaotic world we find only more chaos.
Ehrman's book will likely get brief nods from those who have already concluded the Bible does not answer the problem of evil and receive a "you missed a spot" reaction from those clinging to the Bible's vagueness. But in a perfect world what would come out of Ehrman's book is a lasting acknowledgment that not only does the Bible fail to justify suffering, but our attempts to do so (even by merely describing suffering as "biblical") reveal a startling ignorance of the world around us.
Can Bible-bending be a force for good? Should we use the Bible to change the way the Bible is used--finding other passages in the Bible to cool down the heated ones?
Take homosexuality, for instance. According to a Barna survey, "While six in 10 young Americans said the homosexual lifestyle is a problem facing America, just 1 percent said they pray for those who identify as homosexual." Citizen Link and I disagree which portion of the survey is the most disturbing but it is a good sign to see Christians being more introspected on this issue.
"It's appropriate to be anti-homosexuality," David Kinnaman, President of Barna group and co-author of unChristian, told Family News in Focus. "It's not appropriate, for us as Christian believers, to be anti-homosexual, to be anti-sinner, to be against these people. And that really is the perception, that Christians have lost the ability to love and to deal with and to have meaningful friendships with these individuals." So Family News in Focus has encouraged anti-homosexuality Christians to listen.This positive note came after the Love Won Out conference held in Indianapolis this weekend. "We are proponents of loving men and women who are gay-identified," said Melissa Fryrear, director of the gender issues department at Focus on the Family and former lesbian, "with the hope that we can witness Jesus Christ, and that those persons will come to know Christ personally, and then be open one day, ideally, to God radically transforming their lives and helping them to overcome homosexuality.
"Our message is twofold: It is standing for biblical truth, and also complementing that truth with much love, with much grace and compassion."Sad? Yes. According to a recent study, Exodus can describe 38 percent of its programs' participants as successes: changing to either a "meaningful but complicated" heterosexuality (15 percent) or a stable chastity (23 percent). (Results that Christianity Today says are the fruits of a 30-year-old program!)
Better than the approach of that these sorry-excuses for human beings are taking? Absolutely.
While "forgiveness" is on the surface a positive application of the Bible (and feels like being attacked by a pack of puppies when set to music and images), the question "what is there to forgive?" becomes more divisive than Hilary Clinton. This past year the film Because the Bible Tells Me So has tackled the issue of negotiating a bellicose memorandum on homosexuality and the message of love and acceptance. While fighting Bible with Bible is only destined to repeat itself ad infinitum, I cannot fault efforts like those of Kinnaman to nudge what it means to be Christian in a more open minded direction. Perhaps it will also encourage the secularist among us to re-think the sense of superiority.
The Sunday Times Online (UK) chose to lede an article about the floods in Mexico with: "'Biblical' flood leaves Mexico battling to cope."
Sure it gives the horror of the Tabasco state an extra kick, but how helpful is it to relate a natural disaster to the Bible? If the writers were going for rhetorical flair, there is no short supply of flood stories; the Bible is a calculated choice and not an innocuous one.
The flood in Tabasco is not the only flood to be proclaimed "biblical" (e.g. Katrina, the 2004 Tsunami, and the Midwest floods of 1996) nor is it the only disaster to align itself with biblical themes (famines in Sudan or the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth in the UK). It lends a reassuring "tale-as-old-as-time" feel to an otherwise horrifying story, it relieves the rest of us mere mortals of blame and it leaves room for redemption; after all, the flood story ended happily for at least one family who went on to populate the earth.
But how cruel is it to compare a modern day disaster with a story about God wiping out all the wicked from the face of the earth? Chalking it all up to divine providence is one way we can fall asleep without feeling obliged to buy the first available plane ticket to Mexico and head out with a box full of canned goods, some rope, and waist-high Wellies. But at a time when fundamentalists are plotting our course along the road to Rapture, do journalists really need be handing anyone push pins?
Monday, October 29, 2007
I have written on several occasions about journalists' ubiquitous use of biblical illusions or rhetorical appeals to "what the Bible says." The introduction of this article is a perfect example:
How can anyone doubt the Bible's cultural relevance? We live in a society where the religious icons public officials affix to their doors receives attention from halfway around the world; where Christian leaders answer questions on the Bible in otherwise secular newspapers; where street preachers are a notable part of our urban landscape; and where the sexuality of a fictional character is questioned on biblical grounds. Remind me again why we are not addressing the Bible in schools?
A Westchester judge played King Solomon yesterday in settling a dispute between the feuding flanks of the Astor family - as he appointed administrators from both sides to oversee Brooke Astor's $200 million estate.
Surrogate Court Justice Anthony Scarapino Jr. split the baby by naming JPMorgan Chase and retired state appeals court Judge Howard Levine temporary administrators of Astor's legacy.
Bible bending is so sneaky that sometimes no one notices except the wittiest of satirists.
Satirists such as Chris Kelly, a writer for television and a frequent contributor to Huffington Post, who had this to say about Britney Spears last words to the LA judge:
"And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."
- Genesis 1:28
"Eat it, lick it, snort it, fuck it."
- Britney Spears
What's the problem? Give her her kids back.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Later, when given the opportunity to clarify, Coulter said she did not mean to be offensive "but that is what Christians consider themselves--perfected Jews." Then she offered this piece of theology: "We believe the Old Testament. As you know from the Old Testament, God was constantly getting fed up with humans for not being able to, you know, live up to all of the laws. [...] Christians believe in the Old Testament, you don't believe in the New Testament." (View the video here).
Burt Prelusky, who is also Jewish, wrote a column in Pajamas Media today declaring that he was not the slightest bit offended. For one thing, Prelusky explains, "I am not religious." Unlike other atheists and agnostics he knows, Prelusky prefers the company of religious persons.
...how is it my concern what people believe if it gets them through the bad times or it helps them to lead decent lives? I think the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule make a lot of sense, but I don’t feel the need to believe that Noah set sail with the world’s largest zoo or that Jonah set up housekeeping in the belly of a whale. In the immortal words of Ira Gershwin, I’m of the opinion that it ain’t necessarily so. But, heck, I’ve been wrong before and I have two divorces to prove it.Ah, the old "Am I my brother's keeper?" defense. And in Coulter's defense, Prelusky offers another timeless fig leaf:
we shouldn’t forget that Coulter has a new book out. By uttering those few rather benign words on Donny Deutsch’s show, she has garnered a million dollars worth of free publicity, guaranteeing that If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans will be a blockbuster.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
In the age of Bush, even the conservatives' much-vaunted moral clarity does not always bear close inspection. A Pew poll taken in March found that only 18 percent of self-described conservative Republicans believed that torture was never justified. Who was it who said, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"? It must be one of those damn liberals.*When following the asterisk down to the bottom of the page, we see its source: Romans 12:17, 21.
There you have it: conservatism no longer upholds American traditions such as the Constitution and the Bible. And there is a hint in Kamiya's "damn liberal" comment that he is suggesting that liberals just may have a better grasp of it.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
"We've just been used and abused and lied to and betrayed enough ... We're like the biblical Jews, who couldn't get to the Promised Land until that leadership of the Jews of that time had passed from the scene. Conservatives are not going to get to the political Promised Land until we get new leadership ... [And] we're not going to wait for them to pass from the scene, we're gonna push them."
~Richard Viguerie, a conservative activist, in an interview with Salon
The Values Voter Summit concluded its two-day review of the (Republican) presidential candidate's values yesterday, but values voters are still no closer to finding their Joshua.
Little wonder, since the ideal resume of their candidate is demanding. That "ideal resume" is shaped by organizations such as the Family Research Council, the heavy-weight sponsor of the event, whose mission statement includes "[championing] marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society" and "promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society."
To meet the demands, candidates earned easy applause lines with promises to control immigration, fight "Islamofascism," support home schooling, clean-up pornography, and appoint Supreme Court Justices who will swear on their mother's lives to overturn Roe v. Wade. Most of these promises are either currently in action (and faltering at a heavy price), are a mute point (by definition there is little one can do to "support home-schooling"), or pointedly futile (even the tenacious Anthony Cromstock, without modern obstacles like television, Internet, and camera phones, could not curb the American enthusiasm for "the flesh").
But at least these issues gave Rudy Giuliani the chance to show the voters he was "nothing to fear." He meekly explained that "I don't easily publicly proclaim myself as the best example of faith, possibly because I grew up in an environment where faith was considered, if not private, at least separate from political life"; but assured potential voters that, "My belief in God and reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am."
But other candidates were more successful than Giuliani as they took turns flashing their "Judeo-Christian" credentials. Mitt Romney drove home his point about the importance of family with Psalm 127:5, "We have been taught from our youth that marriage is ordained of God and that 'children are a heritage of the Lord; happy is he who hath his quiver full of them.'"
Sen. John McCain who, speaking of his stance against torture, daringly invoked the Bible in a plea to his audience to see the humanity in their enemies "who refuse to acknowledge our humanity." McCain explained, "The Bible's call to do just that reminds me of the saying that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, so much as it has been found difficult, and not tried."
But Mike Huckabee, who came only 60 votes behind Romney in the straw poll, takes home the Bible Bending Prize.
Huckabee divided his speech into three sections: our freedom is threatened, our families are threatened, and our faith is threatened. Huckabee was especially critical of those unwilling to change the words of the Constitution but willing "to change the word of God as it relates to marriage" and received a standing ovation when, explaining why he would not "accommodate" the sexual behavior of unmarried youth (presumably by supporting comprehensive sexual education), he said: "We do not have the right to move the standards of God to meet new cultural norms, we need to move the cultural norms to meet God's standards."
For his closing thoughts, Huckabee attempted to galvanize voters by comparing them to "the prophets of old" and encouraging them to go back to their communities and "be true to your faith, to your convictions." His words are a true Bible bending tour de force:
You see, I was lead to believe it was better to be with David, that little Shepard boy with five smooth stones, than it was to be with Goliath with all his heavy armor. I was taught that it was better to be with Daniel than with it was a whole den of lions because Daniel would come out better than those lions who went to sleep before it was all over. I was taught that it was better to be those three Hebrew children, then it was to be those fiery flames of the furnace, because, with God's power, those flames couldn't even leave the smell of smoke on the lives and clothes of those three Hebrew Children. I was taught that it was better to be Elijah with an altar that had been soaked not once, not twice, but three times with water, than it was to be 800 prophets of Baal who were screaming and yelling all day long for the fire to fall on Mt. Carmel. I was led to believe that we serve a god who stood in the middle of a boat in the sea of Gailalee in the midst of a storm who ordered the storm to stop and it did. For Jesus took mud and put it in the eyes of a blind man, and he could see again. And one who could take two little fish, and five biscuits and feed a crowd of 5,000 people and have enough leftovers that it would make the disciples realize that there was no end to the supply of what our god could do when our people had faith. A savior, who in fact could go to the tomb of a dead man named Lazarus, so dead that scriptures say he was already stinking--that's pretty blunt, folks--and he made him live again. I don't ever want us to chose expediency or elect-ability as the new value. The new value needs to be the old value.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
When BuzzFeed alerted me this morning to the new urine therapy "trend" (teenagers, bless 'em, they'll do anything to get rid of acne), I knew that there had to be some Bible bending afoot.
"Drink water from your own cistern, flowing from your own well." (Proverbs 5:15)
"But the Rabshakeh said, "Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the people sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?" (Isaiah 36:12; see also 2 Kings 18:27)
Sure enough, the first (and most compressive) site, SkepDic, welcomed me with the above Bible quotes. Robert Todd Carroll approaches the issue with the best kind of holistic medicine: a dose of scientific and historical analysis (though I do not know how many of us needed any evidence to ignore this trend). Still, it had me thinking about how bizarre trends find footing in the Bible.
Take, for instance, that first quote from Proverbs. As SkepDic points out, it is probably a message of remaining faithful to your spouse, but you have to admit, it works in favor of urine therapy activists. And there are many passages with mention of excrements, such as when God advises the Israelites to eat bread made of excrement when mingling with the Gentiles (Ezekiel 4:10-17) and commands that feces should be spread over disobedient Israelite's food (Malachi 2:1-3).
Then there is the strange-sounding exaltations of Isaiah 16:11 that in the King James Version reads: "Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirharesh;" but in the New International Version sounds far more innocuous: "My heart laments for Moab like a harp, my inmost being for Kir Hareseth." So if I were to whip up a religious sect in my laboratory today, using only the King James Version as a guide, I could produce Flatulence for Jehovah, perhaps in the style of the Whirling Dervishes.
Yes, bodily functions are funny; and yes, suggesting a religious off-shoot that utilizes them for worship is offensive, but what is important is understanding the diversity among and within bibles. For that reason, the Bible has become more of a Rorschach test than anything else and its proving that there are some interesting personalities looking into it.
The image above is from Dan Savage's column in the The Stranger, Seattle's only newspaper.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
A. J. Jacobs, who is Jewish "in the same way that the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant," challenges himself to live up to biblical standards for one year without being "picking and choosing." After all, 33 percent (ahem, excuse me, 63 percent; no, 55 percent!) of the American population believe in the Bible literally. But what would it mean to live the Bible literally?
That means Jacobs not only honored his father and mother and refrained from murdering anyone, but he grew a beard, bathed after sex, declined fruit from a tree less than five years old, and did not mix linen with wool. And Jacobs tries to answer all those biblical-scholar-pleasing bits too, like which Bible he should use, what does it mean to take the Bible literally, and should he obey the Old Testament, the New Testament or could he obey both?
Most of all, Jacobs approaches the task he sets for himself with empathy and humor. He speaks with all sorts of people who try to live out the Bible literally from the Amish to the ultra-Orthodox to Pat Robertson. So take my words literally: read this book.
Stephen Colbert announced his run for presidency Tuesday night* on his own "prestigious show" after a teasing on "The Daily Show" Fred Thompson/Al Gore/Newt Gingrich-style a half hour before. But the most revealing moment of what Colbert has to offer the 2008 presidential election was his Op-ed piece in the New York Times this Sunday.
This Bible-bending gem speaks for itself:
Look at the moral guidance I offer. On faith: “After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up.” On gender: “The sooner we accept the basic differences between men and women, the sooner we can stop arguing about it and start having sex.” On race: “While skin and race are often synonymous, skin cleansing is good, race cleansing is bad.” On the elderly: “They look like lizards."
*This post originally and incorrectly stated that Colbert made his announcement "yesterday."
And that is exactly what the New York Times did in a brief article article on the evolutionary function of Grandmothers. Think that grandma's are a product of twentieth-century nutrition? the article asks. Think again:
Plenty of women were living well past age 40, Dr. Hawkes said. Even the Bible recognized that women can live well beyond their fertile years, NAMS executive director Dr. Wulf Utian noted.See? even the Bible had grandmas. It is a good thing that journalists have their Bibles, or we might not have a cultural history to turn to when we need to check where we are in relationship to where we were. And this is exactly, possibly the only, bible bending we should allow.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Here is a nice comparison they made:
King James Version: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
New International Version: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
English Standard Version: Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
New Revised Standard Version: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood
abide in me, and I in them.
New Living Translation: All who eat my flesh and drink my blood remain in me, and I in them.
1 Corinthians 1:30
King James Version: But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.
New International Version: It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from Godthat is, our righteousness, holiness and
English Standard Version: And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
New Revised Standard Version: He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
New Living Translation: God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and he gave himself to purchase our freedom.
Associate Pastor Daren S. Larmond, in a Gleaner letter, argued, "Death is not a
penalty. Death is an easy way out" and asking, "why should we kill a man for
killing a man?" He added the perennial adage that, "no evidence exists that capital punishment is a deterrent to murderers".
From whence the idea of life for life came into human societies? Well, blame the God of the Bible. Because, He did tell Noah, "I will demand an accounting for (taking) the life of his fellowman. "Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen 9: 5-6) He later delivered to Moses his command to His people, "Thou shall not murder" (Deut 5:17) Jesus, the victim of capital punishment, made it clear
that "anyone who murders will be subject to the judgement" (of both the Sanhedrin and God's final punishment) (Matt 5:22).
As the God of the Bible, beginning with His experimental nation Israel, shaped the type of earthly Kingdom to come, He prescribed civil laws to rid His people of by death or banishment, gross delinquents, including murderers. God is not squeamish and He is certainly no bleeding heart, He sets up earthly authorities, and yes, some are corrupt and unjust, but He "demands an accounting for taking the life of a fellowman".
I have read through this letter over and over again trying to understand the position of this writer. Is the author responding critically to Father Larmond with a "don't complain about the death penalty; it is the God you preach about that commanded it!"? Or is the author saying, "like it or not, the death penalty is God's will"? The use of the phrase "God of the Bible" has me thinking the former but there is a note of satisfaction in the author's last paragraph that reveals something of the cowboy ethic we have become accustom to in the US.
Isn't it odd that I cannot tell the difference between an apologist and a cheeky critic? Perhaps the author, Claude Wilson, will respond?
UPDATE: Claude Wilson responded to my post and with his permission, here is his response:
Without getting into Philosphical debate. Noticed I did not played my hand pro or anti Capital Punishment. Those against told me off, called me name in their e-mails this morning. some commended me becausr they are pro CP. The letter answered a pastor of a Christain church who asked where did man's idea of taking a life for a life came from. A pastor of the Bible, should not have phrased the question that way. So, I merely pointed to the Scriptures in the bible, and in a small way, outline the bible's justification. That was the point of the latter.When I wrote for the same Gleaner they had requested a story from me about Capital Punishment in the Bible. I outlined them but alas the same Bible shows that despite the penalty it was difficult to be executed. The witnesses had to tell the exact story and if the evidence cannot stand up it would be imprisonment for that witness. So in most cases Capital Punishment was not carried out. But, the law was on hte books as the penalty.Light reading of the bible is given to erronous ideas, one responded took me on, not about CP, but it was absurd to say Jesus died via CP, so what was it?A part of the letter was editted out as the Pastor beleived that the murderers should be tried, condemned ant out to work with our National Solid Waste company.That is absurbed.RegardsClaude
I find it puzzling how the recent atheist manifestos by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have all turned into bestsellers in a country that's overwhelmingly religious. According to various polls, half of all Americans believe the Bible is the literal truth. A recent Newsweek poll found that 91 percent believe in God. How do you explain the enormous popularity of these books?
PINKER: Part of it is that the people who buy books -- at least that kind of highbrow trade book -- are not a random sample of the population. The opinions sampled by these polls are probably soft. When people are asked a question, they don't just turn
a flashlight into their data bank of beliefs and read out what they see. When people say, "Yes, I believe in God and the Bible," they're kind of saying, "I'm a moral person. I have solidarity with the community of churchgoers that I was brought up in and that I currently belong to." I think that if you were to probe a lot of people's religious opinions, they would not be as religious as the numbers would suggest.
GOLDSTEIN: It would be fascinating, though, to see a poll of the people who are buying the new atheist books and see how they are answering these questions.
PINKER: Well, the question often arises whether these authors are preaching to the choir. Especially since these books make no concessions toward religious sensibilities. It's a full-throated intellectual assault on the concept of God. My sense is that the books are really not aimed at the 91 percent of the people you cited who believe in God, but rather at some minority of people who are wavering, who've been brought up in a religious way but now have some private doubts. They perhaps think that confessing to being an atheist is like confessing to being a child molester. So they're not willing to even think those thoughts. Then they come across a book that seems to vindicate all of their doubts. And that tortured minority of reflective, analytic people
from a religious background -- perhaps like Rebecca from her religious background -- are who the books are aimed at. Julia Sweeney's one-woman show, "Letting Go of God," would be representative of the kind of person whose mind could be changed by a book like that.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Touchez. With one allusion to the Bible, Brown put the debate to rest. Yet there are still those, like Simon Barrow, co-director for the British-based Christian think-tank Ekklesia, who argue that the Bible is benign. Barrow distinguishes between civic-use of biblical language and the Church's use of biblical language:
I don't think a PM can ever do proper justice to biblical language, however,
because its alternative power - which looks very like powerlessness in a worldly
context - resides in sources other than the kind of authority he (in this case)
is properly mandated, able and willing to deploy in a democratic arena. By
contrast, the vision of the kin-dom of God as an invitation to the politics of radical forgiveness, peacemaking and common life is what church needs to be about, in action not just rhetoric.
The Bible, Barrow argues, is as much a cultural tool for talking about morality as our other sacred Western writings. But when was the last time Brown or Cameron used Winnie the Pooh to remind us of our obligation to our neighbors? Barrow's argument that civic leaders employ biblical language because it is useful but the Church wields it into action because the have to does not make sense. To suppose that biblical language only has authority in a Church context is to negate how nations come to see themselves and their duty to the world which is through every decision they make, from buying produce to electing their leaders.
And Britons, whom Stuart Jeffies argues are becoming increasingly more judgemental about the beliefs of others , are looking for talk of plain old God in their everyday lives. "Indeed, in Britain's ethically repellent consumerist society, even some atheists might consider it would be good to hear from the old man [God] again, if only to provide a moral framework beyond shopping."
Brown knew what he was doing. By invoking the Bible he not only squashed debate but he signaled his willingness and ability to shape how Britons see themselves and others.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
First, with conservative Christians getting jumpy and strategizing to bail on Guilliani, it was a wise move for McCain to start singing "This Land is Your Land" to Christians.
Second, if you will allow me to sweep our history of insisting we are not a Christian nation aside (Treaty of Tripoli, anyone?), can anyone truly deny that America has at least been digging through the Christian wardrobe and trying a few things on for size? Are sexual abstinence programs mandatory because Congress persons do not read? If we believe that the nation of Israel is more than sixty years old, where do we think we get the extra three thousand years of history? And when Dr. Ravi Zacharias leads the nation during this year's National Day of Prayer under the theme "Prayer! America's Strength and Shield" (which is based on the verse from Psalm 28:7) how many people will be acknowledging the Salah that contributes to our strength?
But our secret, which we are drawing out more and more each year of President George Bush's presidency, is we really have no idea what it means to be a Christian nation. As Stephen Prothero has pointed out, we have cozied up to the burning fuse of our religious illiteracy as though it were camp fire. Christianity will continue to shape our nation, but into what remains a secret.
UPDATE I: McCain gets slammed by the American Jewish Committee. On Tuesday McCain clarified that he meant "Judeo-Christian" values.
UPDATE II: McCain is not the only one wielding religion as a political weapon.
UPDATE III: Neil Steinburg of the Chicago Sun-Times convincingly argues that we are not a Christian nation but a nation of Christians who are mostly pulling the levers.
UPDATE IV: Ha'aretz newspaper in Israel agrees with McCain. In response to the media response that refute America's Christian-ness, Bradley Burston writes:
"Hogwash! Every Jewish kid in America who has ever worn a kippah, every Muslim who has worn external evidence of his or her devotion to Islam, knows very well that Senator McCain was right. Every public school child who was raised in a home where Jesus was not believed to be God, and who was made to sing "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" with devotion and feeling, know just how right McCain was. Every high school football player who began every game hearing invocation to the Lord Jesus Christ cannot help but wonder what all the fuss is about. "
UPDATE V: A South Carolina news source uncovered at 1989 article in which McCain said,
"The Christian nation issue is one which I think is stupid and unfortunate, and one which has alienated a lot of voters."
UPDATE VI: McCain opens up some more: taking his comments a step further, McCain tells South Carolina voters:
"Well, if you agree that the greatest threat we face is this evil, radical Islamic extremism, then I'd like for you to look at my qualifications and see if I'm the one that you need to lead so we can prevail," added Senator McCain.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Friday, September 7, 2007
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
"Iowa, for good reason, for constitutional reasons, for reasons related to the Lord, should be the first caucus and primary," Richardson told the crowd.
While talk of God's will is something Americans have become accustom to, it is probably a good sign that Richardson's comment was not well-received. "That was a little weird," said Sioux City resident Joe Shufro. "I don't know what God had to do with choosing Iowa among other states. I found that a little strange."
"It's the kind of thing that would make me wince if, for instance, George Bush said it," said another resident. "Richardson has the saving grace of not taking himself too seriously. It was one of those off-the-cuff remarks that can't be taken as seriously as the punsters will make it."
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Presidential hopeful Barack Obama told a congregation in New Orleans:
"Getting ready to talk to you today, I recall what Jesus said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. He said, whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on a rock.
"The rains descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. But it did not fall, because it was founded on the rock."
That rock was a principal of brotherhood exemplified by the church during Hurricane Katrina — but not the federal government.
"Something was wrong in America. Our foundation wasn't built on the rock."
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007
I have reported on Regent University's influence on politics before, but influencing Hollywood is different. Even if we allow that Robertson has sway in Hollywood (and it is a stretch to connect one writer and director with mild success to Robertson), it is Hollywood's job to sell what people are buying. Ireland's only revelation is that writers trained to communicate a message "through the lens of scripture" are creating a product that is selling.
Like 911 conspiracies that attempt to assure us that the White House was really in control all along, perhaps this "Robertson Factor" is about an allusion that some maniacal Right Wing Christian mastermind is in charge, not the free market. I think it might be time to stop playing "follow that Regent graduate!" and ask ourselves why we care so much anyway.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Eric H. Cline, the archaeologist and historian of National Geographic, shines "new light on questions that have intrigued scholars and believers for centuries" with his new book From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible. Questions such as where Eden, the Ark, and Sodom and Gomorrah are located, and why mention of the Exodus is conspicuously absent from Egyptian records.
Although USA Today makes it sound more like The Da Vinci Code than SBL material, Cline presents a long awaited challenge to the community of biblical scholars. In the The Chronicle of Higher Education's podcast, Cline argues that "Bible studies have become dominated by 'junk science' (Noah’s ark found in Turkey!) because academics have yielded the field." To which I say, here, here! The field of Biblical Studies is in desperate need of a Skeptic magazine or the James Randi Educational Foundation to respond to this "junk." Or course, there is always Bible Bending...
(The above picture is from National Geographic's Kids News--an article on the discovery of what could be Noah's Ark in Turkey)
By this point it should be clear that figuring out "what the Bible says" and "what the Bible means" is a national pastime in many countries. When it comes to the Bible, everyone's a scholar and thanks to the Internet, everyone is also a student (albeit, not always a willing one).
I am not breaking any earth-shattering ground here. But in my defense, neither does Evil Bible.com, the official website of The Church of Theists Suck. Its primary purpose is to point out the Bible's cruelty (or, in its own words "to spread the vicious truth about the Bible") by highlighting instances of rape, murder, slavery and human sacrifices. It also counts 143 inconsistencies.
This need to vent about the Bible--its ridiculousness, its inapplicability to modern life--is an itch many have needed to scratch. And not just recently. Thomas Jefferson cut out all the bits he did not like, Mark Twain's wrote his own hilarious account and Robert Ingersoll in the late 19th century offered a large sum to any pastor who would preach the passages he chose.
It is an understandable itch. Of course, I have to ask the same question of Evil Bible.com as I have of Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris: who is your audience?
The fire to talk about the Bible is coming from all directions. So how do we get light out of this heat?
The Chicago Tribune wondered rather 'God' by any other name would be just as holy. Many readers responded either with their choice words for God or by pointing out that the God of the Bible and the God of the Quran are different. Here is my favorite:
Sorry, but the God of the Christian faith is a different deity than the god the muslim faith!!!!!!!! It would be like having 2 children, but using only a single first name for the both of them.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
But Levitt, who is after all an economist, cannot grasp the motivations behind people who buy "anti-God books." Since he doubts that religious people would spend time or money reading why they are wrong, he wonders, "Do the people who despise the notion of God have an insatiable demand for books that remind them of why? Are there that many people out there who haven’t made up their mind on the subject and are open to persuasion?"
Levitt received dozens of responses (178 at last count). Most readers gently pointed out that people care about God. A lot. In the words of one blogger, "'apatheism' is much less common than you imagine." Others went on to say that Atheism is a belief-system and requires nurturing and mulling over details like any other "faith." This is especially true since Atheists are the most hated minority in America. But all this talk of where the "anti-God" market comes from got me to thinking if this is more about an "anti-Bible" market. After all, as many responders noted, this deluge of books declaring that God is Not Great is more a reaction to Judeo-Christian religion than the esoteric spiritualism trumpeted by authors such as Deepak Chopra and Karen Armstrong.
Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens each include numerous mentions of the Bible's inconsistency and inapplicability to 21st century life (I have not read Stangers' or Mill's book, though I would be willing to bet that they could not avoid mention of the Bible either). Dawkins, for example, responds to Stephen Jay Gould's suggestion that religion has a different sort of truth then science does by asking: "To which chapter, then, of which book of the Bible should we turn--for they are far from unanimous and some of them are odious by any reasonable standard?"
Dawkins and others seem to be under the impression that the Bible is the infallible foundation of faith. But many people these days are "freelance monotheists" (as Armstrong calls herself) who considers the Bible to be more a poetry of the sacred than a history of the profane. This crowd can "Amen" to much of these books, only pausing to add that where these authors looked at the evidence and said "no," they have decided to say "yes."
Perhaps we can say these books are more about "To Hell with the Bible" than declaring that God is Dead. Aren't people more enraged when Bible creeps into science textbooks, political debates, and social policy than when people gather to pray after a disaster? I may be accused of pointing out the obvious on these posts, but isn't Bible bending what is really on people's minds?
(The above picture is from the website of the James Randi Foundation.)
Introducing Jesux. The first ever Christian friendly Operating System for your computer. Building off Red Hat's distribution of open source software, Jesux has adapted the Linux kernel to create "an environment that is pleasant for Christians to work in, with all the amenities a Christian might expect, and when possible, free from worldly influences."
And what sorts of "amenities" might a Christian expect?
- A Fortune File with quotes from the scriptures, Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Chuck Swindoll, etc.
- Icons with "Christian Enlightenment themes"
- Login screen has full text to Lord's Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, with Christian and American symbols (The website also remains open to providing "alternate screens for non-Americans")
- "Pre-screened Christian web sites and newsgroups" will automatically be added to Netscape
- The calender includes Christian holidays
I must admit, I would love to see what this OS looks like. Perhaps the search engine will display a "seek and ye shall find." Or when the computer shuts down, it can say "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." PowerPoint users can finally be called what they are "Preachers" while Word Processor can be "the Scribe" and Netscape can simply be "the Wilderness." But while I could spend hours musing over all the Bible Bending opportunities available to Jesux, an open source software just for Christians raises an alarm.
The Internet has allowed us to live our lives in the narrow parameters of our tastes and beliefs. You can read the news with the bias you prefer and you can forgo the radio to listen only to music based on what you already know you like. So while open source software may very well be precisely the vehicle that drives us into the next wave of technological advancement, could it also mean the further fragmenting of a society where individuals surround themselves only with their opinions?
I am not alone. Jesux was never going to be anything more than a clever "what if." But the fictional OS proposed in 1999 struck a cord. Ubuntu Christian Edition, has been available since 2006 and features almost everything that Jesux proposed including Bible Fox, What Would Jesus Download Toolbar, the Virtual Rosary, and a number of Bible study applications. One Ubuntu user summed it up this way, "'Ubuntu' stands for community, and making a version aimed at specific people goes against this philosophy." And this is exactly my point. Bible bending in general--using the Bible to argue a political or social position--goes against the philosophy of functioning as one community. We may choose to listen to different music, but we need to be willing to think outside The Book.
Lastly, I apologize for the spotty Bible Bending summer time coverage. The Bible continues to bend in the direction of its user despite the fact that I have been traveling. I will try to make amends in the coming days.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
- To change the culture of the marketplace by our testimony.
- To target active Christian businessmen in the 30-50 age group as members.
- To challenge them to bring guests from their business community.
- To target Tuesday thru Thursday for a 1-hour breakfast or luncheon.
- To conduct the meeting in a restaurant with a private room.
- To start every meeting sharing the vision and purpose of BMF.
- To present Christ-centered testimonies that comfortably fit the one-hour program.
"In the Old Testament there is little mention of an afterlife; the rewards and punishments invoked by Moses were to take place in this world, not the next one. Only near the beginning of the Christian era did one Jewish sect, the Pharisees, take the afterlife seriously, in the form of the resurrection of the body. The idea that “the dead shall be raised” was then brought into Christianity by St. Paul.
The Judeo-Christian version of immortality doesn’t work very well without God: who but a divine agent could miraculously reconstitute each of us after our death as a “spiritual body”? Plato’s version has no such need; since our platonic souls are simple and thus enduring, we are immortal by nature."
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Tammy Faye Messner, better know as Tammy Faye Bakker, left her mark on the American cultural landscape with her unique way of talking about the Bible. Tom Gregory recalls, "Tammy Faye would call her beloved bible 'God's word,' then hand you a copy she had autographed herself -- that was Tammy Faye. She wore pain for a moment and optimism for a lifetime. Her brand wasn't all religion -- it was all Tammy Faye. "
Tammy Faye has always been a controversial figure. As the wife of the American televangelist Jim Bakker, the couple flew around the world, collecting houses and foreign cars and making bizarre demands that they billed to Praise the Lord Ministry, which they founded together in 1972. They were part of the surge of American evangelist to preach the prosperity gospel rather than the virtues of asceticism. Material wealth was a sign of God's blessing and by all appearances, they were one of their deity's favorites.
PTL Ministries dissolved in the mid-80s after Bakker was found guilty of stealing $3.7 million from his flock. The Bakkers were divorced in 1992 and Tammy Faye then married Roe Messner who helped found the Christian-themed amusement park Heritage USA in North Carolina.
Tammy Faye repeatedly defended her extravagant lifestyle. She told Larry King, "People say we went too far - but what's wrong with Christians having some fun?"
But aside from the lavish lifestyle that arose suspicion of the true motives of her dedication to evangelism, she and Bakker will likely be most remembered for their dedication to gay rights. Their understanding of the Bible meant supporting the gay community and they stuck to their message at a time when doing so as an evangelical was almost unheard of.
Jim Mayard, a gay activist (and atheist) in Memphis had this to say:
"Tammy Faye was one of the first 'evangelical' Christians to embrace people with AIDS in the 1980s when Falwell, Reagan, etc. were demonizing gays and people with AIDS. In her later years, Tammy found support among many in the gay community and even traveled to gay pride events to share her gospel of love. [...]
I may not agree with her religious beliefs, and she was not a 'saint,' but if anyone showed the true meaning of 'Christianity' I think Tammy did. She made big mistakes in her life, and suffered greatly. But if you actually read the Bible it is filled with flawed people who made BIG mistakes ("sins"), but found forgiveness ("salvation") through their belief in a god of love. Jesus himself embraced people rejected by society and spent most of his time preaching against self-righteous religious fanatics ("scribes and Pharisees").
Tammy did that too, and her son formed a church in New York that reaches out to those who do not measure up to many "mainstream" churches: poor, punks, homeless, gays, etc. I doubt he will become rich or get his own TV network, but maybe he learned the true meaning of 'Christianity' from his mother. RIP Tammy Faye, I hope you found peace. The way you lived in the end almost persuaded me there might be a god, or I hope you found something like that in the end."