Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 12:15 PM
So it turns out that the whole Salem Witch Trial business may have been the result of a fungus.
As it happens, this theory, more like a hypothesis, similar to a hunch, probably a total waste of ink, was first made public in 1976. But it’s new to me. And if it’s new to me, it’s new to you, because the reality of your “youness” resides strictly in my head, a condition that may also be the result of a fungus.
What got me exercised before I could even finish my coffee was an article up on the Smithsonian magazine website today, which presents a neat little précis of the witch history.
We all learned about the trials in high school, of course, unless you were one of those progressive types and learned of them in kindergarten. They began in 1692 and ended with the election of Barack Obama. More than fifty million men, women, and children were accused of practicing sorcery, witchcraft, and the macarena long after they had become fashionable. Of those fifty million, one-hundred million were executed, resulting in a stain on our history so dark, no amount of OxiClean could prove comfort.
Now that’s what you’d think had happened, given the way the old Puritans are popularly regarded. In fact, the trials occurred over a period of one year, 1692 to 1693. A total of two hundred people were accused of practicing the dark arts, and twenty were executed.
Twenty. As in “20.” As in more people are trampled to death outside Walmart on any given Black Friday. (more…)
Sunday, July 31, 2011, 2:07 PM
Well, I suppose one should be grateful that a mainstream-media outlet like CNN is interested in what Christians believe over and above the desire to either mock or marginalize. But this video, which was featured as part of a nicely designed CNN.com homepage, does more harm than good, I think. At the very least, it does nothing but reconfirm the media’s already daft preconceptions about Christians’ — make that conservative or orthodox and certainly evangelical Christians’ — beliefs, which is to say, that even they are too ignorant to understand what their own faith really teaches.
Yes, what poses as an attempt to explain to non-Christians the “language” of Christianity, in all its many dialects — Roman Catholic, Baptist, and Jehovah’s Witness (we’ll let that go for the moment) — turns out to be a condescending lesson for poor, benighted, and historically illiterate evangelicals (the real target of this piece) about what Christianity is truly about and how they have distorted it.
What source did CNN’s Kirby Ferguson, the writer and director of this video, employ as the basis for this instruction? Marcus Borg. Borg, by all accounts, is an affable chap, and has all his academic ducks in a row. He is also a Jesus Seminar type who denies much of what the Faith has taught as dogma for much of its history.
For example, did you know that to “believe” in a biblical context means primarily to “belove” and has little to do with embracing specific doctrines? Did you know that “salvation” is primarily, if not exclusively, about the here and now and not about eternal life with God, and that it can be worked for? Did you know that if you really understood the Bible in its original context and came to terms with the philology and lexicology of biblical language, you’d be a mainline Protestant or a unitarian (which is certainly the implication of this video homily)?
What a way to start a Sunday. Listen up CNN and ABC and NBC and MSNBC and NPR and anybody out there in the secular wilderness who may desire to learn, never mind teach, what Christianity has historically believed, yes, even in all its many dialects: Next time, would you please contact someone from the masthead of this publication? I’m sure David Bentley Hart or Timothy George or, for that matter, the editor in chief would be delighted to give you a tutorial. And I promise, after your language lesson, you’ll be able to do more than just ask, “Why did the first woman pope write the Gospel of Thomas — and does it come with fries?”
Wednesday, July 27, 2011, 9:55 PM
If you entered the evangelical world when I did, in the 1980s, you were immediately introduced to a Hall of Fame whose inhabitants, some living, some dead, and representing a variety of denominations, had a somewhat uniform presence in the various churches: C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, J.I. Packer, A.W. Tozer, Martin Lloyd Jones, even an Anglo-Catholic such as Dorothy Sayers and a Roman Catholic such as G.K. Chesterton. And, of course, John R.W. Stott, who fell asleep in the Lord today at age 90.
Stott was an evangelical Anglican who for many years preached at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, where no matter the controversy then roiling the Church of England you would always hear the Gospel, and the utter centrality of the Cross. In fact, Stott’s most significant contribution as a teacher may have been his classic work entitled just that, The Cross of Christ, a thorough and biblical defense of the penal-substitution theory of the atonement. In other words, in answer to the question, “What exactly happened on Calvary? What exactly did Jesus accomplish?” penal substitution replies: “Jesus took upon himself the just judgment and punishment due sinners. He accomplished the salvation of those who believe.”
This contentious doctrine continues to drive many up the walls, eliciting some of the most hysterical (in all senses of the words) reactions from Christians who come from traditions that construe the atonement in other ways. Stott never denied that Scripture pictures Christ’s death as multi-dimensional (as Savior, he is also our liberator, model, and healer), only that the minute you lose sight of His role as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, you have lost the key that unlocks the mystery of the Incarnation and how and why God saves. (Stott also riled critics with his belief in annihilationism. But that’s another story.)
If you haven’t yet read The Cross of Christ, make a note to correct this lapse. It is a great contribution to the Church, one that will continue to engender lively debate, and from a man whose energetic defense of the faith will long outlive the carping of detractors.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011, 9:30 AM
So, having accidentally warped my only copy of Transylvania 6-5000 by leaving it a tad too close to the microwave, and having nothing to watch on a simmering summer afternoon, I decided to cough up the clams for the latest Marvel adaptation, Captain America: The First Avenger.
Upon arriving at my local googolplex, which now boasts 2,400 screens and sits on enough land to house the cast of Sister Wives, I was given the option of viewing either the 3-D version or the 2-D version.
“How much do I save if I lose a D,” I asked the ticket-monger, with all the insouciance of a certified public accountant. Turns out it was a good five bucks. I sensed a trend. “You wouldn’t happen to offer a 1-D version, wouldja?” Turns out the technology had not progressed sufficiently to offer a moving picture in a purely vertical format that wasn’t just a stick figure waved in front of a beam of light.
“Well, how much would it be if I sat with my back to the screen and somebody described what was happening?” It’s usually at this point that the manager is called, so I slid my $10 bill under the teller’s slot and received my ticket, not just torn but somewhat mutilated, and was told to please go away, or words to that effect (an effect, it should be noted, I tend to have on clerical staff).
As a youth, I was never much of a Captain America fan, I must admit. My comic-book faves were Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man, Thomas Mann, and Phil: Sensitive Purveyor of Lo-Cal Treats (a series that was ripped from newsstands without so much as a warning after a Senate investigation). Captain America, to me, seemed to be stuck in the 1940s, and as far as I could tell, the war was over (though please don’t quote me), and Red Skull (not to be confused with Red Skelton) was now in Argentina giving salsa lessons under the name Carmine Escobar. So my expectations for this extravaganza were rather low.
Friday, July 22, 2011, 10:30 AM
So Campus Crusade for Christ has decided to change its name. To Cru. Why? Because it thought the “Crusade” part too off-putting to many it was trying to reach with the gospel. Please note that the change of moniker refers only to its U.S. operations. Apparently folks in the other 190 nations it ministers to are more broad-minded, including those in the Middle East, no doubt. But in the States, it’s Cru. Short for Crusade.
Now I am neither a cynic nor a skeptic. I merely assume that everyone is either lying, stupid, or lying to me about how stupid they think I am. So I’m wondering if this name change is merely an attempt to get Muslims to drop their guard long enough for a bunch of flip-flop-wearing Jesus freaks to love-bomb them back to the Lionheart Age. But who am I to judge.
In other news, Coral Ridge Ministries, founded by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, is also changing its name, to Truth in Action Ministries. This, too, is an attempt to facilitate “outreach,” which presumably was hindered by what most people assumed was the true motto of Coral Ridge Ministries: “Miserable Lies in Amber.”
Whether these fresh, fab soubriquets affect the desired change in public perception remains to be seen. Christianity is all about new beginnings, after all. So mazel tov.
But there is another change in name that has been nagging at me for so long that I hit a pastry chef in the pancreas the other day just to get it out of my system (along with a stale cruller). What change is that you ask? (Just play along.) This:
Friday, July 15, 2011, 10:15 AM
Well, well, well. The things you learn on these here Internets. Seems that Lutherans no likey the pope. And Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann used to be a Lutheran, a WELSian more precisely (not to be confused with us Wellsians), and so is tainted by the intolerant anti-Antichristism of that congregation.
I, myself, am outraged. Even if I weren’t myself, I’d at the very least be irked. To think that buried deep within the spirit of the first Protestants, nay, the first Evangelicals, lies the hate that dare not speak its name, unless it’s being spoken by virtually everyone in the mainstream media. Sure, Bachmann is no longer a practicing Lutheran, having now graduated to even meaner wards, certificate in hand, no doubt, declaring her free of rum, Romanism, and ratiocination. But the question remains: When she sat under the teaching of those perfidious Lutherans, did she ever speak up in favor of the papacy? Did she ever wax wistful about the triple tiara? Did she ever put in a good word for Alexander VI or Leo X (or Malcolm X, for that matter, but don’t get me started on the race issue)?
In short, can we allow the election of a Protestant to the highest office in the land? Do we want mayonnaise sandwiches served in the White House cafeteria? Could we abide Moose Lodges and inflatable swimming pools and NASCAR logos to dot our fair land? Will we stand for the iconoclastic debaucheries that will be the very ruination of our churches, not to mention our bowling alleys? I think not, my friends.
Sunday, May 22, 2011, 8:00 AM
With the possible exception of Harold Camping himself, nobody wanted the world to end yesterday more than me. I’m thoroughly sick of the joint. War, rumors of war, politicians, lies (but I repeat myself), cancer clusters, unemployment, certified public accountants, season 7 of House. The whole thing could have exploded in a gargantuan ball of green flame, and I would have been there in the cheap seats with my popcorn (small, no butter) waving goodbye.
In fact, when the infallible date of May 21 was first announced, I was dismayed by all the naysayers mocking Brother Camping and his peculiar brand of narcissistic eisegesis. Could I at least have a few days of wishful thinking, please?
Well, the day has come and gone, and my AMEX bill must still be paid Tuesday. But before those of you who saw through this hokum have a good gloat, keep something in mind: Camping was just an extreme example of a scary form of idolatry that is very, very old and very, very prevalent in every denomination—namely, the cult of personality.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011, 12:58 PM
The Los Angeles Times has a feature called The Envelope in which it examines films in contest, either at film festivals or at the uber-awards, the Oscars. A recent contribution to this feature, “Sundance Film Festival: Movies look at faith in all its forms,” was struck by how many entries at Robert Redford’s independent-film emporium centered on religion. Five films are singled out—out of 120 entries, or a little under five percent. This, apparently, constitutes a significant number in what is ostensibly a very religious country. But this is Hollywood (actually, Utah, but you get the picture.)
As you read on, you quickly realize that these “submissions focused on faith” reflecting how “filmmakers [are] considering issues larger than themselves,” as Peter Cooper, the festival’s director, put it are about psychos, hypocrites, quasi-fascists, and empty, lonely believers looking for something more out of life.
Now, I have not seen any of these films. Very few people have. They’ve yet to be put into general release. But what I found interesting was that the Times writer didn’t stop to google a little film history as a basis of comparison for this new generation of films that “use faith—and specifically Christianity—as either a narrative fulcrum or key expositional backdrop.” From Going My Way and Song of Bernadette and A Man for All Seasons to The Mission and Shadowlands and The Passion of the Christ to five films for which Christianity is, apparently, a fool’s paradise only.
One exception to this may be Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground, in which the central character, a Pentecostal Christian, “is a seeker. She’s got to find herself,” as Farmiga, the film’s director, describes her. While the director sounds like she attempted to provide some nuance, and is not particularly hostile to faith, I couldn’t help asking, Is this is as good as it gets? A case study in which everyone’s lost and no one is found, to twist the lyrics of “Amazing Grace”?
Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 10:23 AM
William Oddie has offered in the Catholic Herald some suggestions for a Second Syllabus of Errors, playing off the original issued by Pope Pius IX in 1864 to the consternation and outrage of various and sundry regarding its reactionary and anti-modernist bent (Pius’s, not Oddie’s). Whether another list is wise, foolish, or merely inopportune, I will leave to those in the Roman fold. As for Protestants, I don’t see why we should not enjoy a list of our own, what with Catholics working on their second.
And so, based on the authority vested in me by myself and “Dwayne,” with whom I struck up a conversation at the Macy’s Home Store, I do hereby submit for your approval a Protestant Syllabus of Errors:
Friday, January 21, 2011, 9:54 AM
Shades of the Gorham controversy! You remember that. No? Great jumping dust bunnies: must Google do everything for you? In 1850 a secular court reversed an ecclesiastical court’s finding that one George Cornelius Gorham was unfit for a post in the Church of England because he denied baptismal regeneration. Not only did the state interfere in church matters (which should not have been thought all that strange given that the British monarch is the de facto head of the church in England), but it permitted a broadening of interpretation of what baptism meant. Evangelicals and Calvinists were delighted, as Gorham’s opinion apparently mirrored their own. High-Church types, who saw the CofE as a branch of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church, not so much, as baptismal regeneration had been the traditional understanding of what the sacrament in fact did—conferred the Spirit, washed away sins, and made you a child of God and a servant of Christ. Henry Manning and other members of the Oxford Movement threw up their hands, donned their water wings, and swam the Tiber, where baptism was one thing only and not a matter of mere opinion.
Fast forward. Really fast. More. More. Stop. (Oh, you went too far. Why don’t you listen?) Reports are that a movement is afoot to abridge and amend the baptismal language currently found in the Book of Common Prayer. Whether this would be a matter of employing colloquial language; dumbing down the theology, with its supposedly antiquated talk of sin, death, and the devil; or leaving Christ out of it altogether, offering a “spiritual but not religious” initiation into the glories of Erastianism, remains unclear. But given that the CofE has only one thing that holds together, however tenuously, its various factions and wings, namely the Book of Common Prayer, messing with its initiatory sacrament will be seen by many as just one more hammer in the already overstuffed coffin that is organized religion in England.
Let’s face it: if anyone thinks that “earthing” the language of baptism will miraculously enthuse millions of unchurched Britons, I have a birth rite to sell you for a mess of porridge. I have no idea what the average Anglican vicar or bishop believes about baptism. I’m sure there are as many opinions as there are prelates. And so I guess this should not be seen as all that scandalous. And that’s the problem. Nothing, apparently, is sacred. In a church. Including what it means to be a member. Of a church.
Thursday, January 20, 2011, 10:57 AM
Among the top contenders for a Best Actress Oscar this year is Natalie Portman, formerly Princess Amidala in the goofy Star Wars: I’m Going to Drive This Thing Straight into the Ground, as Nina in Black Swan. Now I know most of you took off work opening day to make sure you got seats to see the very first showing of this thing, but for the few who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s the story of one young ballerina’s quest for perfection in the role of her lifetime: Swan Lake. Driven to this by a bitter, overprotective/surreptitiously undermining mother, a skank of a director, and colleagues whose sense of esprit d’corps would have terrified even Nietzsche, Nina slowly but surely descends into any one of several dissociative psychological disorders.
Director Darren Aronofsky, whose work is always interesting (Pi, The Wrestler), if not always coherent (the unintentionally funny The Fountain), is quite successful in drawing the audience into Nina’s tippy toe into Loonyville. Perhaps the primary catalyst is Nina’s ballet director-cum-seducer (Vincent Cassel), who applauds her “White” Swan even as he deplores her manifestation of the Black Swan. Nina is simply too naive, too fragile, too “good,” even, to access the “dark side.” She is offering up only half a performance. She must “free” herself! Only then will she be capable of delivering the “whole,” even if it means a terrifying fragmentation of her personality
But with a little help from her friends, and her own internal pressures, she gets better (or worse, depending on how you look at it). And better. Until she achieves that unity of purpose that renders the “perfect” artistic performance—to her ultimate peril.
Friday, January 14, 2011, 12:33 PM
In honor of those who put their faith and fate in the hands of swirling balls of dust . . .
According to [the Minnesota Planetarium Society's Parke] Kunkle, there really should be a 13th sign, Ophiuchus. It seems the Babylonians who invented the zodiac skipped Ophiuchus because they wanted only 12 signs. Here is where the real signs of the zodiac should apparently fall:
- Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16
- Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11
- Pisces: March 11-April 18
- Aries: April 18-May 13
- Taurus: May 13-June 21
- Gemini: June 21-July 20
- Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10
- Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16
- Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30
- Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 22
- Scorpio: Nov. 23-29
- Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. 17
- Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20
Didn’t all previous horoscopical mumbo-jumbo rely on there being only 12 signs for the accuracy of prognostications? Can it be that all those world-renowned astrologers, down through the ages, advising emperors and kings, were operating from false information? Or worse, that they were merely out to scam the over-credulous out of their cash? Could that kindly Romanian lady with the shop over the candy store in Long Island City have been making it all up about my one day being night manager of not one, but two Wawas?
Of course, I’d like to think that all Christians are chortling right about now, the Scriptures being rather explicit in their condemnation of astrologers, soothsayers, and mimes. That did not stop a buncha popes from indulging; even Luther’s right-hand man, Philipp Melanchthon, indulged, to the master’s utter consternation.
I tell you, you go to sleep one day thinking, “I’m a Sagittarius! Sign of the centaur! My planet is Jupiter! I’m optimistic and fiery when I’m not avoiding and glossing over serious problems!,” only to wake up an Ophiuchian. “I am a serpent holder and will leave home at an early age.”
What’s next? Chinese fortunes cookies are massed-produced?
Tuesday, January 11, 2011, 10:11 AM
There had been a long tradition of giving your newborn a saint’s name if you were Catholic. And so you had a slew of Dominics, a passel of Anthonys, a clutch of Patricks, a synonym for “buncha” Peters, Pauls, and Marys. (Puritans preferred more biblical names, like Prudence, Patience, Non-Elect, and Miserable Reprobate.)
Low-church types, believing there was no biblical mandate to name your child Methuselah, began pinning more “all-American” monikers on their little bundles of alloy. And so we were blessed with Skip, Kit, Lark, Kiley, and Jerry Mathers as “the Beav.”
Well, Pope Benedict has had enough. He wants the old ways resumed, as giving a baby a Christian name constitutes “an unequivocal sign that the Holy Spirit gives a rebirth to people in the womb of the Church.”
Now, assuming the pope’s admonition crosses denominational lines, and some liberty is taken with what constitutes a “Christian” name, below are my predictions for what will become the most popular names among Christians:
10. Name-It N. Claim-It
8. Pope Honorius III
7. I’m Not Benny Hinn
6. Church Growth
3. Extra Nos
2. Actus Purus
1. Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Cindy
Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 10:37 AM
So, after 450-plus years, some Lutherans*, presumably trapped in an airport somewhere, bumped from their flights to see the La Brea Tar Pits, or unable to compete in their respective bowling leagues due to wrist-lock, have decided to kill time by issuing a formal apology to the descendants of the 16th-century Anabaptists, namely, Wanda and Earl Kolodny of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Some perspective. To begin with, one must understand that, in nailing his theses to the Wittenberg church door, Martin Luther bore a hole large enough to let loose a bevy of self-proclaimed prophets, apostles, revolutionaries, screwballs, and unitarians. Some were calling for the violent overthrow of the existing order. Some were calling for the near-total withdrawal from the existing order. And some just wanted to prance around naked and sing an early version of the theme to Caddyshack.
Among this dappled crew were those who believed the church to be so corrupt that only the re-baptizing of professing adults could make a clean spiritual start of things. Infant baptism was mere thralldom to an ecclesiastical leviathan that had made common cause with corrupt civil government, pious hypocrites, and whoever invented the atomic wedgie.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010, 12:53 PM
So it seems there’s new evidence that links the appearance of artwork—at least in its Paleolithic forms—with religious belief, rather than just the need to adorn the cave should company drop by and start making smart remarks.
“This theory does not originate with the prehistorians, in other words, those who started to develop the idea that the art of primitive peoples was linked with beliefs of a symbolic-religious nature were the anthropologists,” Eduardo Palacio-Pérez, author of the study and researcher at UC, said. . . . ”Initially scientists saw this art as the way that the people of the Palaeolithic spent their free time, sculpting figurines or decorating their tools,” Palacio points out. His investigation, published in the last edition of Oxford Journal of Archaeology, reveals the reasons for the move from this recreational-decorative interpretation of Palaeolithic art to different one of a religious and symbolic nature.
Those “reasons” are not elucidated in this Science Daily abstract, and I allowed my subscription to Oxford Journal of Archaeology to lapse after neighbors kept stealing it to roll joints with the endnotes. So I went online and was allowed to download one free copy. Here is, I believe, the key explanatory passage:
Thursday, April 15, 2010, 12:00 PM
I don’t believe for a minute that horror over the abuse of children by Catholic clergy is what’s animating Richard Dawkins’ on Pope Benedict XVI. Come on—is Dawkins on record as being similarly outraged over the abuse of children by teachers or Scout troop leaders?
No—this is about another Pope Benedict, one stuck in the craw of every decent English Protestant for two and a half centuries. This is about what that Pope Benedict did, in the long-time-ago days—before the iPod, before the iPad, before the iPhone, before the I-Man (but presumably not before the eyeball). Journey back with me to the dimly dark eighteenth century, when Catholics were objects of ridicule, ire, and fear, and ire, and believed to be in thrall to a foreign prince, who as all good Englishers knew was/is the Antichrist himself. Or a fair semblance therein thereof.
It was early September it was, in seventeen hundred and fifty-two (1752), when the unthinkable happened.
Oh-h-h-h my brothers . . . dare I even say it? How to even describe it? The pope, the bishop of Rome, the putative vicar of Christ on Earth, stole, yes STOLE, 11 days right out of the English calendar.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010, 9:00 AM
Mark Chaves, professor of sociology at Duke University and director of the National Congregations Study, has this interesting chart detailing how broadly defined Christian groups engage politically. (Full disclosure: Mark and I went to high school together. In fact, I was briefly a really bad drummer in his really mediocre band.)
A close examination will show that the so-called Religious Right—which is what we associate with white evangelicals generally, no?—is not all that politically active, at least relative to the other groups studied. In fact, “Black Protestant” congregations appear to be the most consistently “political.” But as they would constitute the Religious Left, at least in the thinking of the mainstream media (to the extent that you could call “thinking” what such organs of disinformation usually do), any breaching of the wall of separation between church and state is ostensibly less worrying. (Let’s be frank: if you say you are against the death penalty because Jesus was a “victim” of the death penalty misapplied, how many on the secular left would care? But if you say you are against abortion because Jesus was once a fetus in the womb of an unmarried woman—duck.)
With that said, the real “marchers” in this study are Catholics. (And the issue most likely to get a group marching? You guessed it: abortion.) But will the scandals that have once again co-opted discussion about things Catholic make political engagement more difficult in the long run? Will every discussion of religion in the public square be diverted by angry denunciations, accusations of hypocrisy, and questioning of moral authority? Will Catholics be forced to retreat in the culture wars? And can evangelicals take their place?
Short answer: no.
Thursday, April 8, 2010, 9:30 AM
So fearing that Adolf Hitler would steal the Shroud of Turin, the purported burial cloth of Jesus, both “the Vatican and the Italian royal family, the Savoys, who were the guardians and owners of the shroud,” had it secretly transported south, to Campania, lest the little Fuhrer add it to his collection of European art and arcana.
Man, is that a loaded sentence. As anyone who has watched Raiders of the Lost Ark knows, Hitler and many in the upper echelons of the Nazi Party were fascinated by the occult. Blitzkrieg and a Ouija board—perfect together.
But did Hitler want the shroud because he believed it had magical properties, which is to say, because he believed it was authentic—and so had touched the person of the Son of God? (Which would make Hitler what? A believer?) Or because it would prove a neat addition to his treasure trove?
Also: “guardians” of the shroud I can understand. But “owners”? (Anybody get a receipt with that?)
I share most Protestants’ skepticism regarding relics and their professed miraculous qualities. Hokum is hokum. But I admit to being fascinated by the shroud. The History Channel did a nice job recently with a documentary about how a team of techies reconstructed a 3D face of Jesus using the cloth as a template. I also admit to being tempted by the notion that the shroud is a Leonardo Da Vinci original. (I know, I know, the carbon dating is all wrong—but everybody says that.)
In any event, the idea of touching something that touched Jesus remains a very alluring prospect—whether for good or for geetis.
Friday, April 2, 2010, 1:00 PM
On Palm Sunday, Pastor Brian Hamer delivered as theology-rich a sermon as I have ever heard, so much so that I requested a written copy—while he was still delivering it. (Apologies to the other congregants.) Among the many interesting points made in his homily, a couple particularly stood out for me. One was that the earthquake, darkening of the sun, etc., that occurred upon Jesus’ expiration were signs of a primordial chaos returning. The one through whom all things were made—and are sustained—is dead! And so order collapses.
Pastor Hamer also alluded to the peculiarly Matthean episode of the resurrection of the saints, whose tombs are knocked open with the rattling of the earth. Theologically this affirms Jesus’ death not as his defeat but rather death’s. It also explains, as Pastor Hamer sees it, why “dead” saints are described as only “sleeping”—not because they will one day be made alive, but because only Jesus can be said to have ever truly died.
Could that be—that only Jesus can be said to have ever truly died, and that everyone else sleeps until the end of history, when body and soul are reunited and judged? Can Jesus be the only one to truly know what death is?
Wednesday, March 31, 2010, 11:11 AM
There was a time that the death of a great artist was a time of national mourning, when even those inhabiting the lowest social stratum shed tears for one who had given voice to their nation’s hopes, aspirations, and perceived nobility. When Giuseppe Verdi kicked, a concourse of hoi polloi turned out to weep and sing arias from the Maestro’s greatest works (and if you don’t think you can’t cry and sing at the same time, you’re obviously not Italian).
And so with the death of Leo Tolstoy. Even the peasantry, which no doubt had never read a syllable of the man’s writings, wept bitter tears at his passing from pneumonia at the Astapovo station in southern Russia, where Tolstoy was held up, having fled his estate to finally live the life of the wandering ascetic that he had been kvetching about for years.
The Last Station, written for the screen and directed by Michael Hoffman (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, One Fine Day) based on the novel by Jay Parini, tells the imagined story of Tolstoy’s last days, as a struggle for the great man’s legacy—and copyrights—reached a fever pitch. The antagonists were his wife, Sofya, played with all the Sarah Bernhardt-worthy gusto you’d expect from the great Helen Mirren, and the Tolstoyans, that group of devotees, nay disciples, who vowed to live the life of agrarian simplicity and nonresistance to evil that Tolstoy believed was Russia’s only salvation, despite the Orthodox Church’s demurral. In fact, the church demurred to the point of excommunicating the author of The Kingdom of God Is Within You, Tolstoy’s distillation of the Gospels into something like Quakerism on borscht.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010, 2:09 PM
No, that’s not one of my all-time favorite movie lines. Those are listed below. But it is one of the Top 100 movie quotes of all time as determined by—well, I’ll let them tell it:
AFI distributed a ballot with 400 nominated movie quotes to a jury of over 1,500 leaders from the creative community, including film artists (directors, screenwriters, actors, editors, cinematographers), critics and historians. [read: two interns on leave from USC film school]
Jury members were asked to choose up to 100 movie quotes from a comprehensive list [read: cadged from imdb.com], including entries such as “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid” (CASABLANCA), “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” (GONE WITH THE WIND), “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” (SHE DONE HIM WRONG), “May the Force be with you” (STAR WARS), “Houston, we have a problem” (APOLLO 13), “Snap out of it!” (MOONSTRUCK), “You can’t handle the truth!” (A FEW GOOD MEN), “I’ll be back” (THE TERMINATOR) and “Show me the money!” (JERRY MAGUIRE). [read: every cliché known to man and beast]
Due to the extensive number of memorable movie lines in American film, jurors could also write in votes for up to five quotes that may not already appear on the ballot. [read: sure, show us up—if you want a room facing the La Brea tar pits in the Old Actors Retirement Home]
So click here to discover both the nominees and the winners. (I can’t believe “She’s my sister! She’s my daughter!” didn’t make the final cut. I mean, Chariots of Fire was a great flick.)
Anyway, here’s my top 10:
Monday, March 29, 2010, 12:24 PM
So Philip Pullman, he of The Golden Compass, is preparing to disgorge The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ into an Amazon shopping cart near you. It seems that Pullman’s contribution to something called the “Myth Series” is the earth-rending idea that there was a historical Jesus but only a mythical Christ—a fantasia of legends devised by the “church” to deify a Palestinian Jew in order to foist meatless Fridays upon the world.
Yes, that tired wheeze.
If you are offended at seeing the modifier “scoundrel” touching the proper noun “Christ,” Pullman couldn’t care less:
When one man said Christians would be upset to hear Christ referred to as a “scoundrel,” Pullman replied: “I knew it was a shocking thing to say, but no one has the right to live without being shocked. Nobody has to read this book … and no one has the right to stop me writing this book.”
Edgy, edgy stuff. Because no one has EVER posited the idea that the New Testament was a redacted collection of foundation documents collated by a gaggle of power-mad men in black.
Pullman may have hit on the one revolutionary idea that tosses Christianity onto the dust heap of blithering God-hype. Just like The Da Vinci Code did before The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity did before Holy Blood, Holy Grail did. Did.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 11:33 AM
So, like many in the Christian blogosphere, I’ve been a regular reader of Michael Spencer’s Internet Monk and Boar’s Head Tavern blogs for years, my clicking those links with an obsessive-compulsive fury. And although BHT is a group blog, it was inevitably Michael’s contributions that would set the direction of discussion. And that direction was always somewhere to the hinterlands of perilous discourse where many an “orthodox” Christian writer dared not go.
A Baptist who questioned the theological status quo and who was open to wisdom from other traditions—Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran— Michael broadened the online discussion beyond the typically boorish and petty blog wars and enabled exhausted Christians to vent their frustrations about not just this or that controversial doctrine but also about how hard life was being a “child of the King.”
Anyone familiar with that trope will know what I mean. If you have spent any time in the evangelical world, you have inevitably been told that, as a child of the King, you are entitled to certain privileges. And those privileges entail getting your needs met. And the key that opens the supply line is faith.
Thursday, March 11, 2010, 10:57 AM
So the Vatican’s chief exorcist insists that the joint is demon-possessed.
Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, who has been the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years and says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession, said that the consequences of satanic infiltration included power struggles at the Vatican as well as “cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon.”
Well, if you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
I mean, he’s an exorcist. What else is he going to say—it’s the plumbing? And not just an exorcist—he’s chief exorcist, which is to say head of a group of exorcists. In the Vatican. The one in Rome.
What I’d like to know is, when you say someone is “linked to the Demon,” does this mean that a member of the species homo sapiens has signed a pact, made a blood oath, offered invocations and conjurations, sold his immortal soul to Beelzebub and his minions, received the diabolical mark forever branding the bedeviled as hell-bound, in exchange for health, wealth, and acclaim? Or do the parties in question merely hang out on the odd Saturday night? And if Mephistopheles is a resident of the Vatican, does he get his own apartment, or is it sharesies? (That heating bill must tax the house accountants sorely. I know Rome is warm, but it ain’t that warm.)
Many a thriller has used Vatican hijinks, not to mention deals with the Devil, as its hook. Think of Windswept House by Malachi Martin, himself a novel-worthy character. And of course, the Reformation produced some nice woodcuts in which the Archfiend and the Bishop of Rome are . . . linked. Luther himself was often referred to as a cohort of the Evil One, but only by his father, and then after he’d had a brewski or two. (Luther’s father, not Satan, who prefers Fresca.)
I wonder if diabology is a growing field? One would have thought that the science of Satanism would have gone the way of phrenology, astrology, and sociology as so much folderol. But given the evil that men do, spiritual causes are as likely as psychological, societal, and biochemical ones. Unless you’re a pure naturalist, in which case, it’s all in the wiring. And electricians we will always have with us.
But where does all this talk of demons finally get us? Can’t we simply agree with Lord Acton that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and leave it at that?
Friday, February 19, 2010, 1:00 PM
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And so, a new Christian denomination prepares to shed its caul and come wailing into the world—the NALC, which, upon first Google, I took to be the National Association of Letter Carriers. Fair enough; a goodly portion of the New Testament is composed of epistles, and so an evangelistic-minded group might very well see themselves as letter carriers, although would someone please tell me where my Christmas cards went, December 1996?
Then I mistook the new ecclesiastical entity for Lutherans Concerned/North America, which I found demoralizing, as I must confess to never having cared one whit for North America, preferring instead the more exotic Oceania and its brilliant array of miniature golf courses (not to mention the white yams of Tonga).
Then I see that, though I have Googled, I have not Googled deeply. The NALC is, in fact, the North American Lutheran Church, as opposed to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, from which congregations are fleeing like Democrats from Congress.
Just what we needed. Another Protestant denomination. This one to straddle the biblicism of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the bibliphobia of the ELCA, presumably with its ratio of traditional exegesis/engagement with modernity balanced so precisely that an ambitious busboy could lay his tray of half-eaten cheesy nachos on its presuppositions without fear of tippage.
I sympathize with those Lutherans who could no longer suffer the leftward march of their denomination into the abyss of irrelevancy, and those who find the denomination of my youth tiresome in its calculation of how grizzlies managed the voyage on the ark without their Dramamine. Yet another denomination can only spawn yet another denomination and so on, until there are so many congregations and so little coherence that only a swift end to history can stifle the cacophony of competing theological claims.
And so I have vowed to give up organized religion for Lent. I remain neither spiritual nor religious, but a Lutheran, sans pew. (This will no doubt send shockwaves up and down the halls of my apartment building, but only because I intend on playing my Jerry Vale albums rather loudly on Sunday mornings.)
I thank the superb religion reporter Julia Duin for bringing this to my attention, via TitusOneNine, via TimeWarner Cable (the place to be).