Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Burning Slaves at the Stake
On "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

Rev. Jonathan Edwards delivered the hellfire and brimstone "spider" sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741. This topical sermon is a bitter jeremiad against the "New York Negro rebels" who were then being executed for plotting to burn the village of New York to the ground.

From late May to August 1741, in the public market place that later became known as "the Five Points", thirteen slaves were burned at the stake, sixteen were hanged, hundreds were jailed, and seventy-two were transported to certain death in the West Indies. Contemporaries compared these events to the Salem witch hysteria of 1692. When Edwards preached in early July, twelve slaves had already been burned, and nine were hanged; the minister had no way of knowing how many more would be tortured.

The courtroom tirades of Edwards' personal friend, the prosecuting attorney William Smith sent many innocent slaves to their fiery deaths amid the screaming populace. Smith's tirades echo in the nightmarish images that build to terrifying effect in "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God". Jonathan Edwards met William Smith at Yale University, and from August 1722 to May 1723 lodged with Susanna Odell, Madam Thomas Smith, in New York City--the prosecuting lawyer's mother. Edwards supplied the pulpit of a small Presbyterian church on Williams Street, near the docks. Thomas Smith was a church trustee. William's younger brother, John Smith, became Jonathan's closest, and abiding friend both at Yale, and during the New York days, their correspondence continuing twenty years later.

There is a tradition that Edwards delivered his discourse while staring fixedly at the bell-rope that hanged directly opposite the pulpit. This uncharacteristic preaching manner drew attention. Edwards likely stared not to the rope, but directly beyond it to the Negroes segregated in the gallery....

...Jonathan Edwards did not create terrifying visions of torture in order to hurl his people into despair. The congregation, unwilling to accept any responsibility for slavery and its trade, needed "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" to ease the intolerable pangs of conscience that were provoked by the events in New York....

What do we talk about when we talk about wine?

...What they rarely seem to be about is drinking wine. Remarkably, nowhere in wine writing, including Parker’s and Echikson’s, would a Martian learn that the first reason people drink wine is to get drunk. To read wine writing, one would think that wine is simply another luxury food, like smoked salmon or caviar or chocolate; the one idea that is banished is that it is a powerful drug, which can wash away, in a few minutes, the ability to discriminate at all. The end of food writing is to turn eating into a metaphor for wanting, of all kinds. The end of wine writing is to turn drinking into a metaphor for judging. Since we know that this is false, we feel the falsity, and the pathos of the falsity.

For it is not wine that makes us happy for no reason; it is alcohol that makes us happy for no reason. Wine is what gives us a reason to let alcohol make us happy without one. Without wine lore, and wine tasting, and wine talk, and wine labels, and, yes, wine writing and rating—the whole elaborate idea of wine—we would still get drunk, but we would be merely drunk. The language of wine appreciation is there not because wine is such a special subtle challenge to our discernment but because without the elaborate language—without the idea of wine, held up and regularly polished—it would all be about the same, or taste that way. Wine talk and wine ceremony are not simply snobbish distractions that lead us away from the real experience; they are part of what lets the experience happen. To turn wine away from happiness is the drinker’s sin. A good fruity bottle of a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, with a pretty label and a decent story, makes us happy, and happier than that we don’t really deserve to be. In that James story, of course, the innocent empirical American’s reward and punishment would come when he marries that comtesse and retires to her ch√Ęteau, where they spend the rest of their lives drinking nothing but water, for their health.

Is America in Bible Prophecy?
Beliefnet talks to the evangelist whose new book has zoomed up the best-seller lists in its first two weeks.

...So extrapolating from the scenarios of the Bible, what do you believe is our nation’s future, based on prophecy?

The story of prophecy that has to do with the Jews goes all the way through to the end of the Book of Revelation. Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24. The disciples said, “What shall be the signs of the coming of the ends of the age?” And he said, “The first sign would be deception.” Now, there’s never been greater deception then what happened on September 11, 2001. In the 1990s, New Age relativism redefined a terrorist as just an “extremist.” Bill Clinton and his moral relativism wanted [a Middle East peace agreement] because he was trying to get a postage stamp of himself over Monica’s face. By doing that, he sent a signal to the Islamic fundamentalist world that was already in a rage, that America would embrace terrorism.

In the 1990s, Jews were being blown up almost weekly, and we would not acknowledge it as terror. We called it a “cycle of violence.” We would not define morality, and we allowed the disintegration of our moral values to affect not only the private life of a president, but also the domestic policy in America and also our foreign policy.

What does your theory mean for the coming presidential election?

Number one, we’re in a horrendous battle between darkness and light. We began with a distraction of our moral principles We saw it through the 1960s and the 1970s. We saw it through abortion and prayer in school and all these other issues. We saw it in the White House through Clinton. Then we saw that it translated into our foreign policy--not just our domestic policy. It spread like the Ebola virus.

And now we realize that the holy grail of understanding is that 9/11 was the most apocalyptic day in American history. And we woke up from our innocence to realize that we cannot put our heads in the sand any longer. We’ve got to stand up to the New Agers who believe that a terrorist is not a terrorist. ...

Once Born (Kerry) vs. Born Again (Bush)
Influential conservative writer Marvin Olasky, who coined the term "compassionate conservatism" and helped craft Bush’s original faith based agenda, has raised an interesting distinction between the spiritual lives of George W. Bush and John Kerry. In the course of a column about the paths they chose related to Vietnam, Olasky writes:

"The other thing both of us [Olasky and Bush] can and do say is that we did not save ourselves: God alone saves sinners (and I can surely add, of whom I was the worst). Being born again, we don't have to justify ourselves. Being saved, we don't have to be saviors.

"John Kerry, once-born, has no such spiritual support, nor do most of his top admirers in the heavily secularized Democratic Party. It would be great if he could say: 'I was young and vainglorious and often self-absorbed. I exaggerated and lied at times, and since then have thought it necessary not to disavow the fantasies I wove. But I do deserve credit for being there and serving my country in a mixed-up era in which I at times was also mixed-up.'"

This prompted liberal blogger Josh Marshall to ask whether Olasky was saying “John Kerry fibs about his war record because he's a Catholic.” I wondered about that and a few other points so I wrote to Olasky, who emailed back quickly. Our exchange...

...Olasky: As I wrote, "he evidently does not believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Based on the evidence I've seen, he seems to want to justify himself. If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd be glad to see it.

Me: If you don’t have to justify your actions, does that mean you don't have to lead a good life....as you long as you accept Jesus Christ?

Olasky: [After noting that he didn’t have time then to answer fully—I’d written him at 10 pm on a Friday night, after all—he wrote] I'll direct you (or your readers) to chapter six of Romans. Paul writes, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound. By no means." He then explains why we should not let sin reign. His thinking is far better than mine.

Me: On a more pedestrian level. Isn't it hard to be a politician without "justifying" yourself? Doesn't President Bush (and any other politician) do that every time he explains why he behaved a certain way?

Olasky: "Justifying" vs. justification; big difference between explaining actions and claiming a life of perfection....

Monday, August 30, 2004

In the name of God
George Bush really is doing God's work - according to the Rev Evans' best-selling book, that is

One of the surest ways of testing a country's political temperature is to look at the national bestseller list. The current No 1 on Amazon's chart, Unfit for Command, in which "Swift Boat veterans speak out against John Kerry", will draw attention in this country. Formerly No 1, currently holding on at No 3 among the mega-sellers, The American Prophecies, will probably not. It should.

The author, Michael D Evans, is part preacher, would-be sooth-sayer, big-time blowhard. He's also rich, given his book's runaway sales. Not that money is a main motive, any more than it was for Moses. The book purports to reveal how "ancient prophecies reveal our nation's future". More precisely these prophecies, correctly decoded, confirm that George Bush's tearing up of the Middle East road map, last April, has found great favour with God.

The current conflict accords exactly, for those that have eyes to see, or teachers like the Rev Evans to instruct them, with the divinely ordained script for America and Israel. We are now, as Evans puts it, "in the eye of the prophetic storm". Bracing, perilous, but for the American faithful, deeply reassuring.

Much of The American Prophecies is devoted to close exegesis of the page of the Bible on which incoming presidents have laid their hand while taking the oath of office during the swearing-in ceremony. It is a presidential privilege to choose the passage. What did the 42nd president (known to the irreverent as Slick Willy) select for that fateful day? Galatians 6:8, "For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption."

Prophetic or what? More damning, however, than his fleshly reapings with Monica, was Clinton's betraying the sacred mission entrusted him by God. He cannot plead ignorance, when his time comes to stand before the divine bench. As governor of Arkansas, he was specifically instructed by his pastor, the Rev WO Vaught, "You might be president one day. You will make mistakes and God will forgive you. But God will never forgive you if you turn your back on Israel." Which, to the great peril of his country, Clinton did, at Camp David in July 2000. What followed, 14 months later in Manhattan, was a mark of God's stern displeasure at the errant president. ...

...Soon after Hagel spoke, the acting state Republican chair--an African-American man in a white cowboy hat named Leon Mosley--urged his delegates, "Let's remember what's paramount in our life: God ... This is the GOP: God's Official Party." At that, the room burst into sustained applause. Behold, the Republican base.

Evangelical Anxiety I
George Ratliff's documentary Hell House is an extraordinary film. Here's the IMDB summary:

A look at the "Hell House" performed annually in October by the youth members of Trinity Church (Assemblies of God) in Cedar Hill, Texas (a Dallas suburb) -- seen by over 10,000 visitors each year. We see the organization and planning of the event -- including auditions, construction, scripting and rehearsals -- largely through the involvement of one family: a single father with 4 children (one of whom suffers from cerebral palsy) including his daughter, a cast member.

The remarkable thing is Ratliff's detachment and lack of spin. He presents Trinity Church and its "Hell House" as they are and allows the members of the church to speak for themselves. The result is a film that I think the members of Trinity would find represents them accurately, but that most viewers will find appalling....

Thursday, August 26, 2004

RNC singer: war on gays who "kill and rape our children"
..."I'm not in the mood to play with those who are trying to kill our children." - Donnie McClurkin, GOP Convention entertainer speaking about gays.

Donnie McClurkin, one of the just-announced (http://www.gopconvention.com/contents/newsroom/releases/082304.shtml) entertainers to be performing at the GOP Convention in NYC, thinks homosexuality is a "curse," (http://www.charismamag.com/a.php?ArticleID=5999) that it's caused by men raping small children, that being gay is a choice, that it can be cured, and most explosively, that gays are trying to "kill our children." Big tent? Try big tent of hate.

One more thing before we get to the good stuff. The GOP Convention Web site notes that (http://www.gopconvention.com/contents/newsroom/releases/082304.shtml) McClurkin "is spearheading a grassroots effort to bring about unity among churches throughout New York and New Jersey." What the GOP doesn't tell you is that, according to the 700 Club, he's spearheading the grassroots effort so that "Christians can have a major voice against the homosexual agenda." ...

Holding the Pentagon Accountable: For Religious Bigotry
The first reports sounded like an over-the-top satire of the Bush Pentagon: the deputy secretary of defense for intelligence - the ranking general charged with the hunt for Osama bin Laden - was parading in uniform to Christian pulpits, preaching that God had put George Bush in the White House and that Islamic terrorists will only be defeated "if we come at them in the name of Jesus." But now a Pentagon inquiry has concluded that Lt. Gen. William Boykin did indeed preach his grossly offensive gospel at 23 churches, pronouncing Satan the mastermind of the terrorists because "he wants to destroy us as a Christian army."

It was stunning last fall, after the general's lapse into brimstone bigotry became public, when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, far from disturbed, praised General Boykin for an "outstanding record" and kept him at the highly sensitive intelligence post during the inquiry. Now it is simply mind-boggling that Pentagon reports suggest the general may survive with only a reprimand for having failed to clear his remarks in advance.

General Boykin has to be removed from his current job. He has become a national embarrassment, not to mention a walking contradiction of President Bush's own policy statement that the fight against terror is bias-free and not a crusade against Islam. (General Boykin preached of a 1993 fight against a Muslim warlord in Somalia: "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.")

The sense of offense among Islamic Americans is already deep. Removal of the preacher-general should be a no-brainer, however much the president's campaign generals might fear offending the Christian right voting bloc.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl
In many ways, George W. Bush: Faith in the White House lives up to its title. The 70-minute documentary, released to Christian bookstores this week and eyeing a possible network TV primetime slot in September, is indeed an informative and inspiring look at the faith that drives our President.

The film, from Grizzly Adams Productions, is based primarily on two recent best-sellers—Tom Freiling's George W. Bush: On God and Country (Allegiance Press/FaithWorks) and David Aikman's A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush (W Publishing Group). Numerous interviews with Bush experts, advisers and observers—many of them evangelicals—are spread throughout the piece, giving it credibility.

We see not only Bush's faith in its current form—a man driven by prayer and the principles of Scripture...

...Right after that, NAE president Haggard announces that Bush "will be known as the man who stood up to Islamic fundamentalism being used to tyrannize their own people, so that in another hundred years, in the Islamic world, he'll be viewed as a great liberator."

I winced at that quote: A hundred years? And how will the Islamic world regard Bush in the meantime? It was an odd—and hardly ringing—endorsement.

The film finally addresses Michael Moore, less than five minutes before its conclusion. Well, he's sort of addressed. Parshall narrates: "But will George W. Bush be allowed to finish the battle against the forces of evil that threaten our very existence? One thing appears to be certain: He has already paid a very high price politically for this dedication. One Hollywood filmmaker who claims to be non-political has written and produced what he calls a documentary, that many critics quickly disclaimed as pure propaganda dedicated to the sole purpose of damaging the president's image …"...

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Poll: Americans Wary of Politics in Church
WASHINGTON - Most Americans oppose political parties obtaining church rosters, says a new poll that found bipartisan opposition to a step the Republicans have taken to identify voters...

Monday, August 23, 2004

So the biblical model of marriage is one man, one woman, one lifetime?
Campolo: A "biblical model" is harder to establish than you think. A colleague of mine has identified, I think, 16 models of marriage in the Hebrew Bible, including polygamy, concubinage, handmaidens, levirate arrangements, purchasing of wives, and spouses that accompany political alliances. It's so pious to say "the biblical model of marriage." Which of those forms of marriage do you mean?...

...Campolo: Speaking of Mark 10, what do you do with divorced people who remarry? Do you accept them in your church? I mean, while Jesus never speaks about gay marriage, he speaks very clearly about those who remarry after a divorce. I don't know many churches that enforce a no-remarriage rule.

Has the church said, "We have to be faithful to Scripture about marriage, except on the issue of divorce and remarriage"? Or do we extend grace? Because if we're going to show grace toward people who are divorced and remarried, an area Jesus specifically called sin, then how do you not show grace to people in a sexual relationship that Jesus never mentions?

Yes, Paul addresses it. But the fact that Jesus doesn't is important, because it's apparently not on his top ten list of sins....

...Sanders: The Bible warns us against those who are proud of being right, even when they claim Scripture as their authority. Jesus rejects that self-justifying, judgmental attitude.

Based on history, the African-American perspective would suggest that white evangelicals are not to be readily trusted on biblical interpretation. It goes back to what they said about slavery. That's why black people didn't get too excited about debates over inerrancy and the authority of Scripture, because you look at the behavior of the people carrying on the conversation. Are they using the Bible to justify themselves?

I'm learning from Jesus that it's more important to be righteous than to be right. Our attitudes and actions speak louder than any position we articulate....

Friday, August 20, 2004

Angry notes take a shot at drinkers
People in the Wilkes-Barre's Heights section are told of a mysterious program that says it will respond to results of heavy drinking.

WILKES-BARRE - Up Sherman, and down Meade streets. Along a stretch of Northampton Street. The bizarre white fliers appeared tucked beneath windshield wipers and taped to some doors in the Heights neighborhood.

Bouncing between anger and sarcasm in tone, the unsigned flier that appeared Wednesday describes an "alarming rise in the number of worthless, alcoholic pieces of crap in the area," the word "worthless" underlined for emphasis.

The flier promises an unknown group called "ADVANCED AA" is on the way, "Helping you when you can't help yourself."

Described in the flier are these scenarios:

# "Where there is a man who has nothing better to do than wake-up, crack open a beer and proceed to beat his wife."

# "Where there are children that are scared of their own father due to the fact that all he does is drink and beat them."

# "Where there is a woman who chooses to buy a case of beer instead of food for her children."

# "Where there is a family that is falling apart because alcohol is more important than love."

Each scenario ends with the ominous phrase, "there we'll be..." - leaving the reader uncertain of just what "Advanced AA" intends to do....

Boykin violated military rules with speeches, report says
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- The Pentagon's chief intelligence official violated military procedures while giving controversial religious speeches, an internal investigation has reportedly found.

News organizations reported Aug. 19 that the Pentagon inspector general's office had given lawmakers a long-anticipated report on Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin. Boykin angered Muslim-Americans and many supporters of church-state separation in October, after news reports revealed comments he had made in a series of speeches to Christian groups.

Among the most controversial of Boykin's statements were comments casting the war on terrorism in spiritual terms, referring to the United States as "a Christian nation," saying Muslims worshiped an "idol" and asserting that God had put President Bush in the White House.

But Boykin's most publicized remarks came during a January 2003 speech to a pastors' meeting at First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla. There, he spoke about his involvement fighting warlords during the United States' ill-fated intervention in the Muslim nation of Somalia. One top lieutenant to a Somali warlord had been quoted on CNN as saying he would not be captured because Allah would spare him.

"Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his," Boykin said, according to a tape of the speech. "I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol. But I prayed, 'Lord, let us get that man.'"

He also reportedly showed his audience photographs of Mogadishu taken at the time, and pointed to a black streak above the city that he described as the presence of evil. ...

The Real Deal:
How a Philosophy Professor With a Checkered Past
Became the Most Influential Catholic Layman in George W. Bush's Washington

Editor's note: Deal Hudson announced Aug. 18 that he would be giving up his position with the Republican National Committee in reaction to questions posed by "a liberal Catholic publication." In recent days, NCR has tried repeatedly to meet with Hudson to get his response to questions about his departure from Fordham University in 1994 following allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a freshman female student. The university said Hudson "surrendered" his tenure. He also paid a settlement of $30,000 to terminate a lawsuit that the student brought against him on the basis of these allegations. ...

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Pastor wonders: What the h---?
Celebrities to stage Hell House for grins

Hell House is going Hollywood - with a twist.

The incendiary show, which sent the Denver area into an uproar with its graphic depiction of hell and the sinners who go there, opens Aug. 28 in Los Angeles.

It features a large cast of celebrities, including comedians Bill Maher as Satan and Andy Richter as Jesus, plus Julia Sweeney, Richard Belzer and more.

So why has a professional production, mounted at the Steve Allen Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, put fire in the eye of Hell House's creator, the Rev. Keenan Roberts?

Because the show will use Roberts' script and special effects "to lampoon (Christian) fundamentalist beliefs about hell," admitted producer Maggie Rowe, who bought a $200 Hell House kit from Roberts.

"It will be a parody of itself," she said in an interview Monday. "It will be very funny. We're having a hoot."

Rowe represents the Center for Inquiry-West, a group whose mission is "to promote and defend reason, science and freedom of inquiry in all areas of human endeavor."

Roberts' warnings that abortion, homosexuality, drugs and teen sex lead to hell get a new twist on the Hollywood production's Web site, www.cfiwest.org:

"Feast your eyes on a grody abortion!" the site trumpets. "Find out why it's wrong to be gay!" "Descend into the pits o' Hell!" ...

A GOP struggle for the podium
Conservative Christians feel slighted by party's moderate picks for prime convention slots.

...Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said she thought her party was engaged in a misguided attempt to spotlight moderate "political celebrities" who play well to a liberal media. Janice Crouse, a leader of Concerned Women for America, said President Bush should worry more about evangelical Christian voters, or he will jeopardize their support in tight races in the crucial swing states. "The gays and pro-abortion people are saying you've got to add a plank," Crouse said. "If the president adds that plank, they will nail him to it." Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson is talking about not going to New York at all.

"Apparently political stars get rewarded with a prime-time convention spot if they disagree with President Bush's position" on a constitutional gay marriage ban, "as well as … President Bush's position on the right to life," conservative columnist Paul Weyrich said. "They can also disagree with the president's position on capital punishment, guns and a host of other issues."

"As an Orthodox Christian, I am outraged that men like this would be highlighted," Weyrich said. "If the president is embarrassed to be seen with conservatives at the convention, maybe conservatives will be embarrassed to be seen with the president on election day."...

...But so far, she said, the lineup of speakers creates the impression that the Bush campaign is trying to distance itself from evangelical Christian supporters in an attempt at "avoiding controversy," she said. "We've been painted as extremists, in terms that nobody would want to play up their association to."...

God Will Provide, but He May Not Finance
All he needed was a Bible and a lot of attitude.

A young man drove up in a pickup truck to a Farmington, N.M., Chevrolet dealership Monday, walked in and demanded that he be given a new car, reports the Daily Times of Farmington.

When asked how he planned to pay for the vehicle, the man's answer was simple: Jesus would finance it for him.

Then he became threatening....

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Journalist killed in Fallujah
AN Iraqi freelance journalist working for Germany's ZDF television has been killed in the flashpoint city of Fallujah, the network said today.

Mahmud Hamid Abbas, 32, had gone to the city on Sunday to film when he was killed "in unexplained circumstances", it said.

The media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) said the journalist was killed as he was leaving his native Fallujah for Baghdad.

"When he phoned the ZDF office in Baghdad to say he was coming he mentioned he had just filmed a house destroyed by US warplanes," RSF said, quoting ZDF's Iraq correspondent.

"About 25 minutes later, he rang again to say he had seen a second attack. During the call, he suddenly said he and others with him were being fired at. There was a dull thud, apparently an explosion, and the line was cut off, according to the ZDF correspondent in Iraq," the Paris-based rights group said in a statement. ...

Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? And I tell you this morning that he's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this.
-- Lt Gen William Boykin, speaking of G. W. Bush, New York Times, 17 October 2003

God gave the savior to the German people. We have faith, deep and unshakeable faith, that he was sent to us by God to save Germany.
--Hermann Goering, speaking of Hitler

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side
-- Aristotle

These Christians Radically Rethink What a Church Is
In the emerging movement, small is beautiful and creativity in worship is key.

The 1-year-old church in Orange County has no name, no building and no set time to meet.

For its members, church can be spending an afternoon at a Costa Mesa park, where they share lunch and conversation with the down and out.

Sometimes, church for them entails an excursion to Los Angeles, where the mostly white group worships at an African American church. And, sometimes, they visit a Buddhist gathering in Fountain Valley and talk and write about the experience afterward.

Shepherded by Spencer Burke, a former pastor at the 10,000-member Mariners Church in Irvine, a small band of men and women belong to this highly movable congregation.

They're part of a new phenomenon — "emerging churches" — growing out of evangelical Christianity.

The movement was started over the last six years or so by Christian leaders disillusioned with churches that they complained were run like big corporations, stressing celebrity preachers, glitzy services and huge budgets. The movement aims to bring churches closer to people, with small communities of prayer and learning — mostly fewer than 50 people.

Although varying widely in membership and practices, emerging churches shun hierarchy, emphasize outreach to the poor and worship creatively....

Keyes likens abortion to terrorism
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes said Monday that women who choose to undergo abortions and the physicians who perform the procedure are essentially terrorists because "the evil is the same."

The remarks came as Keyes was explaining why three months ago he said that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a "warning" from God to "wake up" and stop "the evil" of abortion.

"Now, you think it's a coincidence that on September 11th, 2001, we were struck by terrorists an evil that has at its heart the disregard of innocent human life?" Keyes said in a May 7 speech in Provo, Utah. "We who have for several decades killed not thousands but scores of millions of our own children, in disregard of the principle of innocent human life -- I don't think that's a coincidence, I think that's a warning."...

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Church Denies 8-Year-Old's Non-Wheat Communion
Girl Has Digestive Problem

BRIELLE, N.J. -- An 8-year-old girl who has a rare digestive disorder and cannot consume wheat has had her first Communion declared invalid because the wafer contained none....

Candidates Cross Paths in Oregon
... Bush had to calm the ardor of the crowd at Southridge High School in Beaverton. One woman noted that Oregon has one of the nation's highest percentages of "unchurched" citizens and asked the president to "take a minute to pray for Oregon."

Bush, who had won loud applause earlier when noting his Christian faith, told the woman "I appreciate what you say" but then seemed to rebuke her statement. "People can choose church or not church, and they're equally American," he said, adding that it is important that "we jealously guard" the tradition of protecting religious freedom.

The crowd, seemingly surprised by Bush's refusal to endorse the woman's statement, responded with only a smattering of applause. ...

Bible Porn
The joys of exposing minors to the Good Book’s nasty bits.

Once, when I was eight, I knelt down at my bed alongside my mother, admitted I was a sinner, and asked Jesus Christ into my heart. Once, when I was eleven, I stood up at a Bible campfire and promised my peers and elders that I would earnestly strive to bring my unsaved friend to church. And once when I was 22, among ten high school boys whose souls had been entrusted to me for a week, I sat down on the carpet and read them, for their edification, Bible porn.

"Judges 19:29-30: When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. Everyone who saw it said, ‘Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!’ " ...

Preaching to the choir, Bush keeps God out of it
BEAVERTON - President Bush's critics accuse him of wearing his religious faith on his sleeve. But this past week, the president more often seemed to be keeping it under a bushel.

At town-hall style events from Niceville, Fla., to Albuquerque, N.M., to Beaverton, many supporters posed the president with religiously themed questions and comments about faith, prayer and issues such as abortion and stem cell research.

And while the president does not usually shy away from discussing his personal faith, he sometimes found himself in an awkward position - trying to validate his supporters' views without endorsing them in a way that would alienate more moderate swing voters.

Typical was an exchange at a packed high school gym in Beaverton, where a woman lamented that, ``I've heard through the grapevine that Oregon is one of the most unchurched states in the union. And I really feel like it shows up in every walk of our society.''

She asked Bush, ``Could you take a moment to pray for Oregon, for us, right now?''...

Red and Blue Churches
Is religion more influenced by our politics than the other way around?

...In his acceptance speech at last month’s Democratic National Convention, Kerry spoke more openly about his faith than ever before when he explained, “I don’t wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don’t want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God’s side.”

Foolishly, I hoped this was just the beginning. I was sure Americans would want to hear far more about the beliefs of any man who might lead the nation. But then this week, I visited the Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zionsville, Ind., outside Indianapolis. And the believers I spoke to there convinced me this is not the case.

Because when I asked what more they’d like to know about how Kerry’s faith has formed him, their unanimous answer was: not a single thing. Some snickered at the very idea. “I want to hear nothing more about him” on any subject, said Linda Silverberg, whose husband, Jon, a retired naval aviator, agreed: “It wouldn’t make any difference at this point.”

Gala Wurdeman, wife of the assistant pastor at the fast-growing suburban church, said President George W. Bush’s faith is very important to her “because my faith is important to me.” But of Kerry’s beliefs, she said wryly, “I think I have a pretty good idea” already.

Another church member, Marilyn Mesh, said that in fact, she was infuriated when Kerry “started off quoting the Bible” at a local campaign appearance she saw on television. (”Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord,” Kerry had said, quoting from the Psalms.) “I thought, “Oh, that sounds sacrilegious to me,” Mesh said, “speaking these words as if he were a prophet … I know his voting record is very liberal and to me that does not jibe with a profession of faith.”...

Monday, August 16, 2004

The End of Faith
Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
By Sam Harris

Sam Harris is tired of being nice to religious people. Why, he wonders, should we be expected to respect individuals who in the year 2004 still believe in virgin birth? And Christians rarely return the favor. Instead, they're down in Washington holding prayer breakfasts and smiting "sinners" through mandatory drug sentences, intrusive sex laws and prohibitions against stem cell research.

If Harris mistrusts Christians, he's openly mocking of Muslims, whose beliefs, he suggests, "belong on the same shelf with Batman." In fact, he doesn't like any religion much at all. As he points out in "The End of Faith," believers of every denomination constantly engage in civil wars. They are also responsible for such historical lows as the Inquisition, witch hunts and the sustained anti-Semitism that eased the way for the Nazis.

What most annoys Harris, however, is that the faithful are averse to development and change. Fixated on ancient scriptures, they ignore the accumulating insights that have transformed the world. Every other field redefines its positions in the light of fresh data. Only religion takes increasing pride in being backward.

There, indeed, exist moderate clergy and flocks who try to accommodate their faith to the times. Harris, however, dismisses such people as decoys who distract our gaze from their dangerous brethren. The true believers are the fundamentalists, and they want to turn the clock back 2,000 years. ...

..."The End of Faith" offers something to offend everyone and is certainly not for those who read only what they agree with. Yet, despite its polemic edge, this is a happy book -- Harris is obviously tickled by his own intelligence -- and he writes with such verve and frequent insight that even skeptical readers will find it hard to put down.

Besides, we might all check our belief systems for deadwood. Because it touches a nerve, "The End of Faith" is a good place to begin. The fundamentalists' greatest asset is that they believe what they say. If Harris is right, the rest of us will be sitting ducks unless we discover -- and then live -- what we really believe as well.

The Christianity Battles
What if Ebionite Christians, Marcion Christians, or Gnostic Christians had been more convincing?

God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat
"It is the responsibility of every political conservative, every evangelical Christian, every pro-life Catholic, every traditional Jew...to get serious about re-electing President Bush."
- Jerry Falwell, The New York Times, July 16, 2004

"I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. The Lord has just blessed him.... It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad."
- Pat Robertson, AP/Fox News, January 2, 2004

These leaders of the Religious Right mistakenly claim that God has taken a side in this election, and that Christians should only vote for George W. Bush.

We believe that claims of divine appointment for the President, uncritical affirmation of his policies, and assertions that all Christians must vote for his re-election constitute bad theology and dangerous religion. ...

On the Road, Bush Fields Softballs From the Faithful
...Many times the questions aren't even questions at all. Exhibit A might be these words from an audience member in Niceville, Fla., on Tuesday:

"I'm 60 years old and I've voted Republican from the very first time I could vote. And I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.''

"Thank you,'' Mr. Bush replied, to applause....

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Holy Terror
Religion isn't the solution -- it's the problem

President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate have failed — for the moment — to bring the Constitution into conformity with Judeo-Christian teachings. But even if they had passed a bill calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, that would have been only a beginning. Leviticus 20:13 and the New Testament book of Romans reveal that the God of the Bible doesn't merely disapprove of homosexuality; he specifically says homosexuals should be killed: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death."

God also instructs us to murder people who work on the Sabbath, along with adulterers and children who curse their parents. While they're at it, members of Congress might want to reconsider the 13th Amendment, because it turns out that God approves of slavery — unless a master beats his slave so severely that he loses an eye or teeth, in which case Exodus 21 tells us he must be freed.

What should we conclude from all this? That whatever their import to people of faith, ancient religious texts shouldn't form the basis of social policy in the 21st century. The Bible was written at a time when people thought the Earth was flat, when the wheelbarrow was high tech. Are its teachings applicable to the challenges we now face as a global civilization? ...

...There are now more people in our country who believe that the universe was created in six solar days than there were in Europe in the 14th century. In the eyes of most of the civilized world, the United States is now a rogue power — imperialist, inarticulate and retrograde in its religiosity. Our erstwhile allies are right not to trust our judgment. We elect leaders who squander time and money on issues like gay marriage, Janet Jackson's anatomy, Howard Stern's obscenities, marijuana use and a dozen other trifles lying at the heart of the Christian social agenda, while potentially catastrophic problems like nuclear proliferation and climate change go unresolved. ...

...It is time we recognize that religious beliefs have consequences. As a man believes, so he will act. Believe that you are a member of a chosen people, awash in the salacious exports of an evil culture that is turning your children away from God, believe that you will be rewarded with an eternity of unimaginable delights by dealing death to these infidels — and flying a plane into a building is only a matter of being asked to do it. Believe that "life starts at the moment of conception" and you will happily stand in the way of medical research that could alleviate the suffering of millions of your fellow human beings. Believe that there is a God who sees and knows all things, and yet remains so provincial a creature as to be scandalized by certain sexual acts between consenting adults, and you will think it ethical to punish people for engaging in private behavior that harms no one.

Now that our elected leaders have grown entranced by pseudo-problems like gay marriage, even while the genuine enemies of civilization hurl themselves at our gates, perhaps it is time we subjected our religious beliefs to the same standards of evidence we require in every other sphere of our lives. Perhaps it is time for us to realize, at the dawn of this perilous century, that we are paying too high a price to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Recovering a Hijacked Faith
...It's why we doubt the goodness of all superpowers and the righteousness of empires in any era, especially when their claims of inspiration and success invoke theology and the name of God. Given human tendencies for self-delusion and deception, is it any wonder that hardly a religious body in the world regards the ethics of unilateral and preemptive war as "just"? Religious wisdom suggests that the more overwhelming the military might, the more dangerous its capacity for self and public deception. Powerful nations dangerously claim to "rid the world of evil" but often do enormous harm in their self-appointed vocation to do so....

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Research Details Bush's Use of Religion to Help Sell War on Terror, Iraq
Newswise — A skillful mixing of religion and politics helped President Bush silence critics and sell his policies on terrorism and Iraq to the nation, according to a new book that analyzes hundreds of public communications and news reports.

As Bush makes his case for a second term, the research by David Domke documents how during his first term the president effectively linked religious terminology with political goals in the turbulent months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In all but one of Bush’s 15 national addresses between 9/11 and the end of major combat in Iraq, for example, he cast the campaign against terrorism as a simple struggle of good (America) vs. evil, according to Domke's book. And in four of the speeches, Bush issued explicit declarations that administration policies and goals were in line with divine powers.

Yet only two of the 326 post-speech editorials in 20 leading newspapers challenged the religiously derived notion of good vs. evil, and none questioned the president’s statements about God’s will.

"In a time of crisis, the certainty conveyed by what I call 'political fundamentalism' put forward by the administration silenced the Democrats and had great appeal to the press," said Domke, a UW associate professor of communication and adjunct professor of political science. "And yet with so many around the globe expressing a different view, the press failed its readers by uncritically echoing these fundamentalist messages."

The findings appear in Domke’s book, "God Willing?: Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the 'War on Terror,' and the Echoing Press," just released by Pluto Press (London and Ann Arbor), a detailed portrait of how the administration grounded its war on terrorism in religion and how a deferential mainstream press helped pave the way....

Churches See an Election Role and Spread the Word on Bush
ST. LOUIS, Aug. 8 - Susanne Jacobsmeyer, a member of the West County Assembly of God in a St. Louis suburb, voted for George W. Bush four years ago, but mostly out of loyalty as a Republican and not with much passion.

This year, Ms. Jacobsmeyer is a "team leader" in the Bush campaign's effort to turn out conservative Christian voters. "This year I am voting for him as a man of faith," she said over breakfast after an early morning service. "He has proven that he will do what is right, and he will look to God first."

Jan Klarich, her friend and another team leader, agreed. "Don't you feel it is a spiritual battle?" she asked to nods around the table.

The Bush campaign is seeking to rally conservative churches and their members to help turn out sympathetic voters this fall, and West County Assembly of God, a 600-member evangelical congregation in a Republican district of a pivotal swing state, is on the front lines of the effort.

The church's pastor, John A. Wilson, has led a prayer for the president every Sunday for 10 years....

Thursday, August 05, 2004

A Decisive Turn to Paganism
... On July 8, 2003, the United States Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3 (in Lawrence v. Texas) did not merely forget God: It turned the nation into a pagan state-not the people, of course, not all the lesser structures and institutions such as churches, schools, and businesses great and small, but the nation. The Supreme Court, in declaring all sodomy laws unconstitutional, has in effect declared the nation pagan-not in so many words, of course, but in terms that explicitly repudiate historic Christianity, the Bible, the Torah, and the principles of natural law that guided us so long.

The Court did not, of course, declare the legislature (i.e. Congress, the administration, the President, and his cabinet) pagan. It could not do so. Congress has Christian members, Catholics and Protestants, and Jewish members, some even observant and orthodox. The President and some members of his administration are Christians, some outspokenly so. But the nation, which has been slowly losing its Christianity, has now been in essence declared pagan, and all its institutions, agencies, and departments will follow, gradually or speedily.

Lawrence passed by a two-thirds majority. What were those justices thinking? The man who wrote the majority opinion is a Roman Catholic. Does he not know that his church, his spiritual leader the pope, the Bible, and all of the church fathers up to the present, consider the behavior that he now protects an abominable sin, an act against nature? Was it a trivial matter to award the highest court's protection to activities against nature and the laws of God and the church? Do the two Jewish justices not know that their Torah rejects sodomy as an abomination? And the two women on the Court: By what perverted logic do they mock the role that God and nature have given to their sex in conjunction with the male-to bring children into the world in a matrimonial union-to support this perverse caricature of the purpose of sex and with it the negation of the irreplaceable role of their sex in the survival of our human race? The logic of Lawrence implicitly steers towards the dying off of the human race, or at least of such parts of it as are guided by our high court.

By this tortured reasoning, if we can call it that, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has been banned from the scene in the nation whose endeavors he has so often blessed. In his place we have, if anything, the gods of Sodom and Gomorrah. The justices, in their sovereign bliss, with the exception of the dissenters, do not seem to know what they have done. Or do they know and not care? Or know and want to do exactly what they have done?

Those of us who do see and know what has been done must not wait until all of the organs of government are brought under the gods of Sodom: We must look, see, and speak. We cannot change the Court's decision, not now and perhaps not ever, but we can and must say with the Israelites of the past, regarding a crime they had not committed, "Our hands have not done this thing [orig. "shed this blood"], nor did our eyes see it . . . and do not place the guilt . . . in the midst of thy people Israel" (Deut. 21:7-8).

These two Court decisions-Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas-are catastrophic symbols of what has been happening to the country at large....

Monday, August 02, 2004

Fire-Eating Cleric Amazes Congregations
A Devon clergyman is proving to be hot stuff in the pulpit.

The Rev Colin Davis regularly lights up flaming brands during sermons.

The 39-year-old’s inflammatory approach to preaching has astonished congregations at his three country churches.

The ex-banker, who joined the Church of England five years ago, said he learnt fire-eating when he was studying for the ministry at St John’s College in Nottingham.

He added: “I thought it would be a good way to illustrate faith in God.

“So I eventually decided to use it in my sermon,” said the father of three.

He went on: “It is a great visual aid – people can remember more of what they see than what they hear, so it is something to hang their attention on.”

The Rev Davis has used his fire-eating trick at churches in Chittlehampton, Umberleigh and Filleigh in Devon.

One of his parishioners, 67-year-old Shirley Wood, said: “It was amazing.”

When George Meets John
Presidential debates always put more importance on projecting character than on being right. George W. Bush and John Kerry can both boast of never having lost a debate, though the two candidates rely on strikingly dissimilar sets of skills. A viewer's guide to this fall's version of "asymmetric warfare"...

Alcohol sharpens your brain, say researchers
It is news guaranteed to raise a cheer among those who enjoy a glass or two: drinking half a bottle of wine a day can make your brain work better, especially if you are a woman.

Research to be published tomorrow by academics at University College London has found that those who even drink only one glass of wine a week have significantly sharper thought processes than teetotallers.

Sir Michael Marmot of UCL led the study

The benefits of alcohol, which are thought to be linked to its effect on the flow of blood to the brain, can be detected when a person drinks up to 30 units of alcohol - about four to five bottles of wine - per week....