A Christian Cretin

About that Florida minister, Terry Jones, who is about to create havoc with the burning of the Quran, I agree with everything others have said about his selfish and precipitous intention, including the Rev. Pat Robertson, whom I criticized in a previous post (“Misplaced Reverence”, January 18th, 2010). There is no need to repeat the condemnation from so many others in this post.

But on his own religious terms, Jones should go back to praying and ask himself, to whom did he listen when he decided on this action. Was it God, or Satan, or his own vanity (which in Christian terms is the same as Satan)?

Consider the discord he is creating, the future danger to our soldiers in Afghanistan and to all Americans overseas, and the increased likelihood of attacks to this country from terrorists. Consider the encouragement of hate in people who have bought and sent him copies of the Quran. (They certainly did not have them lying around at home.) Consider the feelings of hate that are churning inside him. Yes, it is pretty clear that he is acting in the interests, not of God, but of Satan.

The sad thing is that his own vanity (the sin of pride, Satan’s sin) won’t let him back down. And, no doubt to the joy of the Evil One, the rest of us will have to suffer.

Palin’s “Christian Nation”

So Palin thinks that this nation was founded as a Christian nation. She said this piece of fiction in a speech on Friday, April 16.

Sorry, Sarah, you just confirmed what I was saying in the last post, “Ignorance is Right,” because the United States was not founded as a Christian nation.

The founding fathers were at great pains to make sure that the Constitution established the government as a secular government, even though the founders themselves were at least nominally Christian (except for Thomas Jefferson who was not. He believed God created the world but after that took no further interest in it.)

To be founded as a Christian nation, the religion needs to appear in the founding documents, but the Constitution makes no mention whatsoever of Jesus, or Christianity, or any defined god that we could recognize as Christian. John Adams made it clear that the Government of the United States is NOT founded on the Christian religion.

When Palin quotes Washington’s farewell address that extols “religion, faith, morality [as] indispensable supports,” no mention is made of the Christian version of religion, nor of the Christian faith, nor of Christian morality.

Palin’s fiction is another example of the ignorance of the far right at work again. Ironically, she told the women in attendance at her speech that they should not listen to critics who would make them feel that their movement is “all a low-cost brand of ignorance.” But what she was asking them to swallow was exactly that – ignorance of the lowest kind!

God is Hate II

(See also the “God is Hate” post of January 31.)

Satan’s favorite Christians, homophobe Fred Phelps and his rabid band of followers at Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas, (mostly members of his own family), have for some time emotionally and psychologically harassed grieving families of dead soldiers at their funerals. They do so by holding signs saying, “God Hates You,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “God Hates Your Tears,” “Fag Troops,” and many that are more offensive.

This happened at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder who was killed in combat in Iraq on March 3, 2006. Here the group also included a sign that said, “Matt in Hell.” It was never suggested that Snyder was gay, but Phelps claims he died because he fought for a country that condones homosexuality. He also said on his web site that Matthew’s father “raised him for the devil.”

Albert Snyder, Matthew’s father, sued for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury agreed, but this was later overturned by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeal on the basis of the First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech. Now the matter is before the Supreme Court, and it is hoped that this court will find a way to do the decent thing.

It is unfortunate that basic human dignity and respect for intensely personal issues do not enter into considerations of free speech. But surely what Phelps and his minions have done is a gross violation of basic rights. They do have the right to express their views, however evil they may be, but one’s rights are limited when they intrude on someone else’s rights and privacy. Grief is a necessary step in restoring one’s self and one’s life; there is no question in my mind that in seeking to deny both the grief and the dignity of laying a loved one to rest, these hatemongers have intruded on the rights of the mourning family. It was not as if the family of Matthew Snyder could turn away. If someone wants to debase a funeral, the mourners are trapped, and the forces of evil are victorious.

If Phelps really wants to deal with the issue of homosexuality, he should look within himself. His extreme homophobia suggests that he is struggling to deal with strong homosexual urges of his own. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will rule to restore the judgment against him as well as the damages award that the original jury imposed, in effect curtailing his hate mongering. This will give him more time to examine his own deep motives.

God is Hate

On January 29th, 2010, the followers of Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, descended on Gunn High School, Palo Alto CA, to spread their message of hate. They sported signs that said, “God Hates You”, “God Hates America”, “Your Doom Is Coming”, “God Hates Obama” and “Bloody Obama”. They picked on Gunn High School because of a number of recent suicides in front of trains of kids who were associated with the school, events that have traumatized students at the school.

The Westboro extremists were there to rub it in. “You’ll be in front of the train next! God laughs at your calamity!” Phelps’s daughter shouted. “Sodomites,” they sang, “your kids are killed by trains.” The Sodom reference is key, for these hate-mongers have a homophobic fixation and believe that the acceptance of homosexuality is the root of all evil.

Fortunately, the Gunn students and teachers rallied, and with support from the community and many students from other nearby schools, they met the messages of hate and evil spite with signs proclaiming love, with songs and with support of each other, so much so that their unity was an uplifting, inspiring experience. As one student said, “It really helped to pull us together.”

The Westboro group then took its hate to sinful Stanford University, only to be met by a large crowd of students, the school mascot, the outrageous Stanford band and a lone piper playing “Amazing Grace”. It was a message of love mixed with humor to counter those poisoned with hate from Kansas. A student posed with the extremists, holding a sign that said, “Gays for Fred Phelps.”

How can a “Christian” group like this be so filled with hate when the Christian message is so full of love? Only once did Jesus show a flash of hate, and that was when the Greek woman kept bugging him to cast the demon out of her daughter (Mark 7:26-29). Because she was a gentile, not a Jew, he called her a dog: “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to the dogs”. But he quickly relented when she replied, “Yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” Jesus also showed anger at the desecration of the temple by profiteers, but this was not hate.

Phelps obviously has his own thing going (which is definitely not Christian), and his irrational paranoia about homosexuality says a lot about his own demons.

Abortion Terrorist found Guilty

The Kansas Christian, Scott Roeder, who shot and killed the abortionist Dr. George Tiller, was convicted of first-degree murder. His defense all along was that it was the only way he could halt the “death of babies.” The position on abortion is not relevant here. What is wrong is his justification.

The key question is who or what gives him the right to murder another in cold blood. He took the coward’s way and shot him from behind in a church and threatened others as he left. To do it in God’s sanctuary shows what little respect he had for sanctity. He and his supporters who are probably much like him feel that the courts should sanction his action and set him free. Worse still, he and the supporters identify themselves as Christian; yet he acted like the terrorists that we condemn. Should we let the 9/11 conspirators go free because they felt justified in their actions since America in their eyes is the force of evil in the world? Of course not!

The question remains then: Who gave you the right? It is written in the Bible, “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Vengeance was not yours to take, you moron!

Let us pray that in his long, long time in prison, Roeder will realise that by giving in to his wrath, he played into Satan’s hand. If not, he’ll probably work that out in the hereafter.

Misplaced Reverence

The Reverend Pat Robertson showed his true colors again by saying in effect that the Haitians deserved the devastating earthquake of January 12. In the same vein, three days after the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001, he “totally concur[red]’ with the Reverend Jerry Falwell that   “pagans… abolitionists… gays… lesbians… the ACLU” were to be blamed for those acts—God’s vengeance. Falwell has meanwhile gone to his ultimate reward, whatever that might be. (It may not have been the one he expected.) We are still left with Robertson and his extreme views.

It has been suggested that Robertson, like other televangelists, is motivated by money, not by religious altruism. I would not dispute that, since I have grown up believing that the sincere ministers do not seek publicity or vast audiences, or solicit large donations; instead, they work for the spiritual welfare of those who seek them out. Robertson, however, is after more than money, for there would otherwise be no need for the Haiti or 9/11 statements, or his suggestion that someone ought to take out Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

I think Robertson suffers from what a lot of clerics suffer from: an exaggerated sense of self-importance. They end up confusing the importance of their ministry with self-importance, in other words, pride (Satan’s sin). They believe that their pronouncements must be true because of what they are — something like the Pope’s infallibility, a person with whom clerics like Robertson would not wish to be identified.

Associated with the conviction of importance of self is a quest for power.  And Robertson did seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1987, an occasion when he apparently lied about his combat experience and also claimed he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa (not so), but then Christian conservatives are OK with lying. (See Christian Implants and Other Wonders, November 18th, 2009, below.) Lack of support forced him to quit, leaving him his media outlet to give him a platform of influence.

Except for the people who keep sending him money, we know that he is an extremist who shoots his satanic mouth off every now and then, and for that reason, we can ignore him except to contain his extreme statements. What is fortunate is that he is one of ours. If he were persuaded by another religion, or lived in another system, he would probably be another Osama Bin Laden.

On the Movie “Avatar”

(Warning: This post contains spoilers.)

After some conservatives, now the Vatican has come out against the movie “Avatar”. They are criticizing the movie because they say it suggests that the worship of nature is a replacement for religion. They also described the movie as simplistic and sappy, despite its “awe-inspiring special effects.”

Yes, the movie is simplistic, and yes, I suppose it can be described as “sappy”, but both of these shortcomings are lost in the grandeur of its presentation. On the basic concept level, the movie is little more than a screen rendition of a comic book story. What attracts in a comic book is the graphical presentation, and here “Avatar” has outdone the imaginable. The movie is more than two and a half hours long, but you are so drawn into the visual experience that you do not notice the passage of time. I have sat through ninety-minute movies that have seemed twice as long as this one.

The Vatican says that “Avatar…gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature,” and “nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship” (L’Osservatore and Vatican Radio). I would dispute the “bogged down” part, but certainly the Na’vi  (the blue deer people) are very closely attuned to and part of the nature of their world. But when we watch the movie, we know that these are the Na’vi, not human beings; we can’t even breathe their air; they are blue and ten feet tall; their world Pandora is an alien world, not earth (though in a metaphorical ecological argument, you might want to make that comparison); this is science fiction, a fantasy, not a sermon. Nor is it “Dances with Wolves”, despite the similar response to a pure native culture by a battered or in this case crippled military man. If these fictional native people “worship” Ewya, this is clearly their “religion”, not ours. Besides, Ewya is less a deity than the essence of Pandora, and “worship” and “religion” are not appropriate words for the Na’vi behavior. In our religions, we worship; in the Na’vi way, they commune.

The Vatican, therefore, has nothing to fear from “Avatar”, just as the conservatives, who are worried about possible “liberal” views, have nothing to fear. Even if you support the exploitation of nature, few conservatives are as ruthless as the Colonel Quaritch or even the company man Selfridge. The presentation of Quaritch is so comic book two-dimensional that he represents a concept rather than a real character. Selfridge, who is less of an extreme, towards the end seems to show some doubt over where everything is heading.

Some will see this movie as an allegory of American exploitation, but it is jingoistic to make it “American”. “Human” would be more accurate. There are elements that have allegorical overtones, say, in the names. Pandora reminds one of Pandora’s box (almost but not opened in this movie). The mineral sought by the humans is Unobtainium. Na’vi is a corruption of “native”, Selfridge of “selfish”; Quaritch seems to be derived from “quarrel” and “son-of-a-bitch”, while the sympathetic research scientist is called “Grace Augustine”. The plot can also be reduced to a formula: The bad guys want to strip mine the planet; the good guys beat them off. This is not a new theme. It is also not what draws a viewer into this movie, or what holds the viewer’s interest. The final battle is pure comic book style entertainment, leading to resolution rather than making a point. Besides, the strength of the movie lies in its presentation, not in its story.

The Na’vi are depicted as ten feet tall. One might rationalize this as being due to the “pure” way they live, but that is a minor point. What is  visually striking is that humans appear small and insignificant next to them, and, in the final scene, they seem almost like vermin, a reflection of their failed mission of destruction. Size is significant, as Jonathan Swift realized in “Gulliver’s Travels”, where in the first two books, the ones who are satirized are the little guys. In this movie also, we come to look down on the smaller figures. But our hero, the last good guy, has grown spiritually. He becomes his avatar and we have our closure.

A Right Christmas?

The shortened word Xmas for Christmas used to upset my mother because she saw the “X” as negating the real reason for Christmas. But the “X” is not a negative. It is the Greek letter Chi, which stands for Christ, so the meaning of Christmas is actually preserved in Xmas.

Today as we go into the Christmas season, we are moving into a time when the holiday is being increasingly turned into something that is religion-neutral. Public displays avoid religious references, students at school concerts have to sing about Santa Claus and reindeer with red noses, and stores play neutered jingles that one might call holiday music—all to avoid the real reason for the holiday. The Post Office sells both “winter holidays” and Madonna and child stamps, the former as usual outselling the latter, and a survey shows that at least one third of us say “Happy Holidays” now, instead of “Merry Christmas.”

It is no surprise then that this is also the time when the right wing media front men rail against the movement away from Christ in Christmas. It is true that many people are concerned about the secularization of the holiday, but those shrill complaints are not really based on true religious concern. Their motives are political. They want to take possession of the holy-day part of Christmas, just as they wrapped themselves in the flag and seized on patriotism after 9/11, trying to make them theirs.

These small-minded reactions are presented as countering the perceived all-pervasive “liberalism” that is supposedly neutralizing Christmas, but even if the intent is genuine rather than calculated (as I suspect it really is), the result can only be divisiveness—us versus them; our version of Christmas is right—or Right; they are the heathens.

Letting narrow-minded bigots make Christmas theirs rather than keeping it ours will be a loss to all of us. We need to keep the religious side of Christmas intact.

Historically, it is very likely that Luke and Matthew (or their sources) made up their versions of the Christmas story, but this does not matter. Over the last two thousand years, the story of a couple traveling a long way with the woman pregnant, giving birth to the Savior of mankind in a stable, angels telling shepherds of the wonderful event, and they and wise men from the East coming to worship the new born infant—this simple story has become enshrined in our culture. It is part of who we are. And it is a very beautiful story, especially one that, together with its evocative songs, engenders the innocence and nostalgia of childhood and of a simpler time.

If we remove that part of Christmas, what are we left with? Santa Claus, elves and reindeer? Is this our substitute for the Christmas story? A story of deception until the child finds out that there is actually no Santa Claus?

I find the “worship” of Santa Claus of the North Pole highly ironic. Santa Claus is a corruption of Saint Nicholas, a religious figure, supposedly a bishop of note. But Saint Nicholas is himself a representation of something else. Missionaries commonly substitute acceptable figures or practices for pagan ones that are unacceptable. So Christmas is a substitution for pagan celebrations of the passage of the winter solstice, and Saint Nicholas is a substitution for Old Nick, the man from the north, and the one we still recognize in the name Nick, the devil himself. (Even more ironical, the word Santa is an acronym for Satan.)

A key aspect with public placement of religious symbols is whether there is proselytizing or not. On the hills of San Juan Bautista, California, there is a large cross, which overlooks the little town. This cross is clearly a Christian symbol, but its location has to do with the historical origin of the town, a Spanish mission founded in 1797. The original location of the cross on the hill not only was a substitution for an Indian meeting site, it also enabled the location of the mission to be identified from afar. The cross here is part of our heritage. Similarly, children in California schools routinely build model missions when they study early California history.

The same distinction should apply to seasonal displays. Permanently posting the Ten Commandments in an official location is different from displaying a Christmas crèche. The commandments are a religious prescription to be followed and so violate the distinction between church and state, but the crèche merely represents a story, albeit fundamental to Christianity. Similarly, the public display of a menorah, while strongly associated with Judaism, is again a representation of a story, not a general prescription for action or religious behavior.

We know what Christmas stands for, even if we pretend otherwise, and while we may still phrase our holiday greetings to accommodate others, we should not get away from what the day really represents in our culture. We should not abandon our heritage, and substitute something that’s plastic, shallow and deceptive. We are able to do precisely that with Thanksgiving. Let us also do the same with Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all!

Christian Implants and Other Wonders

Carrie Prejean, as a conservative Christian Miss California, got her first nationwide publicity when, in answer to a Miss USA pageant question, she said that she was opposed to gay marriage. She was criticized for her answer, but what did the interviewer expect? Should she have lied? It was a stupid question by an idiot who had his own agenda. She was entitled to express her belief and she should be admired for daring to say it. Her later preparedness to switch off Larry King, during an unacceptable line of questioning, shows that she still has spunk.

The publicity from the gay marriage answer, however, led to other revelations, and she lost her the Miss California title. The subsequent happenings made her look like an airhead, especially when she proclaimed that Sarah Palin, the primo political airhead, was her idol. Some commentators suggested a joke Palin/Prejean presidential ticket for 2012!

First, it turns out that she had breast implants. Prejean defended these by saying that there was nothing un-Christian in getting them. “I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it says you shouldn’t get breast implants.” Then she had posed for half nude photographs, which she blamed on the wind blowing her top open. She did not say it, but there’s nothing in the Bible that says you shouldn’t pose for nude photographs. Then a solo sex video surfaced. Then many more. There’s nothing in the Bible that says you shouldn’t make masturbation videos. Now she has had a firm offer for a porn movie. Carrie, there’s nothing in the Bible that says …

I shouldn’t make fun of her conservative Christian rationalizations, since the fabric of her world may be crashing around her, or perhaps those fifteen minutes of fame are being effectively extended. Maybe her Christianity will allow her to venture into the seedier world into which she seems to be heading. If so, I feel kind of sorry for her.

Conservative Christians are very good at rationalizing. In Prejean’s case, what may be embarrassing to her, is no more than harmless amusement to the rest of us. Where it is not harmless, is when it appears in the people to whom we may someday entrust society and government. The ultra-right wing of the Republican Party is trying to purge the moderates of the party, and, together with the “screamers” on radio and Fox News, it defines itself solidly as Christian.

But what kind of Christianity is this?

It is certainly not the caring, charitable kind of Christianity we associate with Jesus, when its main characteristic is denial, when it takes rather than gives, when it says no to need and care. It is a selfish Christianity without moral depth and without charity. Christianity with implants!

It is okay to lie and deceive, both openly and through manipulation. We can divorce our wives, even as they are confined to bed with cancer. Adultery is fine, because our colleagues will forgive us (which is just about as good as God’s forgiveness.) We can send prurient emails to boy pages we lust for. Being “unclean” (Matthew 16:10) is now perfectly fine and Christian.

Additionally, we can now place money above morality. We can bow to special interest groups that line our back pockets with green and then we go and do their bidding, even if it flies against national and humane interests. We operate as back pocket gophers and persuade ourselves that this is in everyone’s best interests. Yes, our Christian implants say; yes, yes, we can worship both God and money (Matthew 6:24).

The two references I gave are to actual words of Jesus. The rest of the Bible, both old and new, has many prohibitions that are either ignored or simply flouted by these professed Christians. In fairness, I should point out, though, that when it comes to health care, the biggest back pocket gopher seems to be Joe Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut, who is neither Republican nor Christian, but the political conservative Christians are not far behind.

Prejean defended her implants by saying that there was nothing in the Bible against them. But the actions of the super-conservative Christian Republicans fly directly in the face of what is proscribed in the Bible. Clearly, they must have implants that allow them to put on this front.

The wind is blowing.

Your implants are showing

And you don’t care.

God is all knowing

And you will be going

To you know where.