The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'christianity'
Most educated people know that Christmas started out as a pagan festival, and was appropriated by the Christian church to better reach the masses. Chances are that the pagans the Christians stole it from had, in turn, stolen it from an earlier bunch of pagans, and so on, all the way back to a group of early humans huddling around a fire somewhere, seeing in the midwinter. Perhaps they exchanged some kinds of tokens, perhaps they imbibed fermented fluids our modern palates would find disgusting, perhaps they made propitiatory sacrifices to the gods of winter to encourage them to go away, though it's not unlikely that a burning log was involved.
So we had people marking midwinter and anthropomorphising the cosmic forces responsible for the season. Then more complicated religious systems came along and said, no, that's not the winter god, that's Zarathustra or Mithras or Sol Invictus. Then, around the fourth century, Christianity came along and decided that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. (Aside: according to some claims, the most likely date for the birth of Jesus would have been in August or September, assuming the thing about the shepherds being out in the fields was accurate.) Then along came secularism and the Enlightenment and Christianity receded somewhat to the background, though not quite disappearing; instead, becoming the default traditional-religious-meaning-of-Christmas which people complain nobody pays much attention to as they go gift-shopping.
So what we have today is a salmagundi of several different stories which don't quite fit together. We have, in particular, the Biblical story of the son of God being born in a manger in the Middle East, visited by wise men bearing gifts and so on. And beneath that we have a completely incongruous Arctic mythology of a fat man in a red suit who lives at the North Pole, rides flying reindeer and delivers presents. In some mythologies, he has armies of elves (an element of northern European mythology) helping him make and deliver the toys (presumably Apple and Nintendo have kindly signed some kinds of intellectual-property licensing agreements with them, allowing them to make iPhones and Wiis in their Polar chip fabs). In the Netherlands, he is accompanied by six to eight black men, whose job it is to thrash naughty children; in Switzerland and Austria, that task is performed by a demonic creature named Krampus. The man is known in English as Santa Claus or Father Christmas, though is generally identified as Saint Nicholas, a bishop from fourth-century Greece who is unlikely to have ever seen a reindeer. Similarities between Santa Claus and St. Nicholas of Myra are largely coincidental; some say that the bearded Arctic-dwelling man is derived from the Norse god Odin. Meanwhile, in Russia, he is known as Grandfather Frost, and in Finland, his place is taken by Joulupukki, the Yule Goat (which is actually a goatlike creature; the Finns are nothing if not metal)..
It would be complicated enough with just these two very different mythologies, awkwardly joined at the hip. But in the 20th century, as Christmas became an ever-greater secular and commercial milestone, even more elements were added. The general rule seems to be that anything goes, as long as it's vaguely wintery or snow-related. We got supernaturally animated snowmen (Frosty the Snowman, of the popular Christmas song, and Raymond Briggs' snowman), which have nothing to do with either Christianity or the old Nordic pagan mythologies. And more recently, other remotely polar elements have been appearing on Christmas cards, such as penguins. These, of course, live in the Southern Hemisphere, but if a fourth-century Greek bishop can travel the globe by flying reindeer, surely he can have a few penguins in his entourage. And I wouldn't be too surprised if, one of these years, someone threw in a polar bear or two for the more ecologically minded.
Some anonymous person entered the phrase "why are religion so" into Google, and plotted the completions it suggested (based on past searches) in a Venn diagram, coming up with this map of stereotypes:
It's interesting to note that no trait is popularly attributed to all three of the Abrahamic religions. (Perhaps the average web user can't spell "monotheistic"?)
Meanwhile, typing "why are atheists so" suggests the words "stupid", "smart", "intolerant", "mean", "annoying", "angry", "hateful", "hated" and "awesome".
Skeptic PZ Myers recounts how, when he was a child, a crazy Christian lady converted him, unwittingly, to atheism:
And then she told us to kneel down in the gravel by the side of the road and put our hands on her Bible, which we did, because at this point I was afraid if I didn't our Mommy and Daddy would find our little corpses with our throats slit and a mad woman dancing in our blood. Then she recited some lengthy vow with lots of Jesus in it, looked at us expectently with another mad-eyed grin, and we mumble-whispered "yes, ma'am" and she let us go, throats uncut, hearts still in our chests, heads still attached to our necks, while she capered off triumphantly, having secured two more souls for her lord and master. She thought. But, as you can know now, all she actually managed to do was make me aware that people who believe in Heaven and Hell are freakin' nutbag insane.Myers goes on to tear apart the ideas of an eternal afterlife, using the power of reason, starting with Hell in its various guises, from the absurdly corporeal (lakes of fire, with the damned being magically suspended for eternity in the state of a very physical death-agony; i.e., the stuff designed to scare the less sophisticated thinkers), and then working up to more subtle variations:
Other visions of Hell are a bit more sophisticated — it's a place of psychological torture, unending despair and futility, where you feel regret and sorrow for all time, or suffer because you are deprived of the presence of God. That's a bit more plausible for a disembodied self, I suppose, but still…throw a mob of people in a Slough of Despond for a long, long time, and at some point someone is going to get together with someone else and form a Glee Club, and there will be singing in Hell. And then a rugby match will break out, and there will be cheering and betting, and thespians will be pestering Shakespeare for some new plays, and before you know it, culture will emerge and it won't be Hell so much anymore.
But all right, let's assume God has figured out ways to permanently suppress the human spirit among all those deceased spirits, and actually has contrived a truly painful Hell, one that I can not imagine but that he can, being God and all. Now we've got the problem that the loving God we're all supposed to worship is an imaginative, creative death camp commandant, one who also maintains a luxury spa on the side.Heaven, alas, doesn't fare any better. The visions of the blissful eternal reward awaiting the virtuous (or, in more liberal theologies, everyone) all fall down on closer examination. Some seem, frankly, hellish (an eternity of singing praises to God, surrounded by puritans?), and others are either inconsistent with human nature or have the nihilistic qualities of an eternal crack cocaine binge:
A paradise is also inhuman (I know, one can get around this by arguing that after death you can't be human anymore, by definition; but then that requires throwing away the idea of life after death, which is what most people find appealing). Think about what defines you now: it's how you think, your personality, your desires and how you achieve them — by what you strive for. Finish one project, and what do you do (after a little celebration, of course)? You look for something else to strive for, a new goal to keep you interested and occupied. But now you're in heaven. All wishes are fulfilled, all desires achieved, we're done with everything we've ever dreamed of, making Heaven a kind of retirement home where everyone is waiting to die. Waiting forever.Of course, one could imagine ways around this. Perhaps there would be entire legions of angels whose job would be to lay on the entertainment, distracting the saved souls from eternal boredom in the way that one amuses a housecat (which, remember, is a territorial predator with no prey and nothing to defend its territory against) with a laser pointer. Actually, the idea of one of the newly-dead exploring and pushing against the logical constraints of a heaven, and discovering the infinite layers of distracting angels required to keep it heavenly and keep God's side of the contract to His faithful departed, and coming up against an infinitely sophisticated machinery moulded to the logical necessities (however odd) of keeping humans entertained for eternity, could be a good premise for a sci-fi (or, more accurately, phil-fi) story.
As problematic as the common Western idea of heaven is, the alternative involves the annihilation of the self as we know it in a supernova of infinite, mindless ecstasy, like a heroin overdose that goes on forever. (Blessed are the junkies?) And while that may be plausible, it doesn't sit well with the Abrahamic religions or most people's idea of heaven:
There are some religions that embrace this sublime vision of an ultimate end that does not include the mundane humanity of its believers — the Buddhist afterlife does seem to be a kind of selfless oblivion — but that does not include the Abrahamic religions. They've still got the cartoonish anthropocentric version of an afterlife, where you've got a body with limbs and tongues and penises and vaginas, and you get to indulge in the senses within certain confining rules. You get to meet Grandma and Grandpa again, and they aren't all subsumed in the godhead — they're there to give you hugs and a plate of cookies. And that's just silly. I can't believe a word of it.
Cultural critic Mark Dery has written a series of articles recounting growing up in the 1970s "Jesus Freak" movement (i.e., hippie-influenced grass-roots Christianity), finding it subsumed by the more authoritarian grown-ups' churches and then drifting away from Christianity altogether and finding a new messiah in David Bowie. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). As one can expect from Dery, it's full of substance, from Bowie's explorations in mysticism to similarities between Ziggy Stardust and resurrected messiah figures in religion and mythology.
An unusual study has examined paintings of the Biblical scene of the Last Supper made over the past 1,000 years, and noticed that serving sizes in the paintings have increased over the millennium; with each painting, thanks to gradual improvements in agriculture, the artist (and their audience) were used to larger meals than previously, which coloured the artist's creative decisions:
There is scant evidence that the body mass index of people in developed societies soared into unhealthy ranges for most of the 1,000 years studied, Young said. But there is little doubt, she added, that that changed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s -- coincidentally, when portion sizes began a dramatic run-up.
The Wansinks, however, suggest that portion growth may have a provenance far older than industrial farming and the economics of takeout food.Instead, they suggest, it's a natural consequence of "dramatic socio-historic increases in the production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability of food" over the millennium that started in the year 1000 A.D.
In the US, a group "conservatives" have decided that the Bible, for all it's worth, has too much of a liberal bias, and thus taken it upon themselves to rewrite it in a more acceptable form. This includes the obvious things (i.e., eliminating any namby-pamby politically-correct language or phrases that make Jesus look like a goddamn hippie, and peppering it with "free market parables"; I wonder how that'll change the story about Jesus and the moneylenders), as well as other principles such as "Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness".
The project page is here. Note that it is hosted by Conservapedia, previously noted for its somewhat obsessive focus on the mechanics and perils of homosexual sex.
However, there is nothing new under the sun; in the MetaFilter thread, a former seminary student revealed how he and a friend created, as a joke, a conservative reading of the Gospel of Luke by simply inverting the sayings. Behold, the National Gospel of Liberty:
8 "And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges the poor and the outcast will be acknowledged as an outcast; 9 but whoever denies the poor and the outcast will live in peace, because they are odorous and live in fields. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the poor will be forgiven, for this is right; but whoever speaks out for the poor and the oppressed will not be forgiven. 11 When they bring you before the magistrate, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12 for you are wealthy and the wealthy need have no fear of the courts."
27 Consider the lilies! They neither toil nor spin, and so I tell you, their life is but a season, and they have no wives. Solomon had many wives, and in his glory was arrayed in garments finer than any lily of the field! 28 They are but meager grasses, fit only to be thrown into the oven, but you are precious to your Father in Heaven and your prayers have brought you great wealth.
As bushfires swept across south-eastern Australia, wiping out towns and killing hundreds, people asked why. Some pointed to climate change, the lack of backburning in recent years or flawed town planning. One man, however, has a different theory. According to Pastor Danny Nalliah, former Family First political candidate and friend of the former Howard government, the bushfires were God's wrath for Victoria having recently decriminalised abortion:
The evangelical church's leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah, claimed he had a dream about raging fires on October 21 last year and that he woke with "a flash from the Spirit of God: that His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb".
He quoted a headline describing the fires as "The Darkest hour for Victoria". "A few months ago the news media should have reported 'the darkest hour for the unborn', but unfortunately the 'Decriminalisation of Abortion bill' went through parliament and was passed, thus making many people call Victoria 'the baby killing state of Australia,' " Mr Nalliah said.Had Victoria not passed the bill, the bushfires would presumably have been God's wrath for something else, such as permitting divorce, suffering homosexuals to live or wearing clothes of mixed fibres.
Of course, Pastor Nalliah doesn't speak for all Christians or theists; far from it. The Age's religious editor, Barney Zwartz, points out that, actually, that's not what God is about, citing Bible verse to back up his point. Needless to say, he cites different Bible verses to the ones the Pastor does. That's the marvellous thing about scripture; it's so ambiguous that one find things in it to back up wildly divergent positions.
God, meanwhile, could not be reached for comment.
A church in West Sussex has removed a large crucifix on the grounds that it was "a horrifying depiction of pain and suffering" which was also "putting people off". St. John's Church in Broadbridge Heath will replace the sculpture of a suffering Christ on the cross with an appropriately sanitised and inoffensive depiction of the ancient Roman torture/execution implement rendered in stainless steel, much like an Ikea saucepan.
The Independent looks at how traditional the various Christmas traditions actually are:
The celebration of the birth of Christ on 25 December dates back to the fifth century, when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The date was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice and the Roman festivals associated with the shortest day of the year, which falls between 22 December and 25 December. This was seen as the day when the Romans celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – "the birthday of the unconquered sun". It was also Jupiter's birthday and, further back, the birthday of his Greek equivalent, Zeus. In Eastern Europe, the various Orthodox churches – the Russian, Greek, Armenian, Serbian et al, follow the old Gregorian calendar, and in which Christmas Day is 7 JanuaryI've seen it claimed that Jesus Christ's actual birthday would have most probably occurred in the autumn, around August or so, if the shepherds were in the fields at the time.
There is no Santa Claus in the Gospels.(Really? What about Frosty the Snowman?)
Santa Claus, it seems, is a Dutch import via colonial New York (even the name comes from the Dutch "Sinterklaas", or St. Nicholas). They got rid of the six to eight black men he is invariably accompanied by in the Dutch tradition, though, and who are tasked with the thrashing of naughty children.
In 1863, the cartoonist Thomas Nast began a series of drawings in Harper's Weekly, based on "The Night Before Christmas", in which Santa Claus, as he had now become known, could be seen with flowing beard and fur garments. Around 1869, he turned up for the first time in a bright red suit, with a white belt, but he was not invariably dressed in red until the mighty Coca Cola corporation appropriated him for an advertising campaign that began in 1931, and ran every Christmas for 35 years. That is also when the reindeer became full size. In Britain, this American import merged with an older folk hero called Old Christmas, or Old Father Christmas, a fun-loving heavy drinker who seems to have arisen in reaction to the Puritans.
The reindeer, it seems, are a wholly American invention (despite their German-as-stollen names); not only that, but Rudolph is a non-canon reindeer:
On 23 December 1823, the Troy Sentinel, in New York State, published an anonymous 56-line poem variously known as "A Visit from St Nicholas" or "The Night Before Christmas." which fused the feast of St Nicholas with Christmas, and had the St Nicholas that Irving created arrive on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. The author was probably a Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature named Clement Clarke Moore, who did not want to sully his fine academic reputation by putting his name to some nonsense he wrote to amuse his children. The reindeer had names, but none was called Rudolf. He of the Red Nose was created by an advertising copy writer in 1939.
Now that he no longer needs the votes of the faith-based voters, outgoing president George W. Bush pretty much admits to not believing that religious stuff he earlier expounded:
Here's the précis: he does not believe in the literal truth of the Bible, did not invade Iraq because of his Christianity and does not believe his faith is incompatible with evolution. Bush will not even assert that the Almighty – who, he believes, is much the same one as is worshipped by other religions – chose him to become president.Remember that Jesus Camp documentary, in which kids from the red states were indoctrinated in Taliban-style facilities to believe that Bush is the instrument of God's will? Well, I'll bet there will be a lot of disillusionment there.
Boing Boing Gadgets' John Brownlee has an interesting account of playing a robot in an evangelical Christian school play as a child. An evangelical Christian robot, of course:
The play centered around Colby, a sentient Christian super-computer who — for some reason — had set up a secret neighborhood enclave for the Christian kids in the neighborhood. It was called Colby's Clubhouse, and inside, it was a Jim Jones phantasmagoria, in which a dancing, singing Christian robot led a gaggle of Bible-thumping kids in elaborate dance numbers, pausing only occasionally to recite scriptures. The main dramatic arc of the play concerned the arrival of new kid Eddie in the neighborhood: he cracked wise about Jesus, never read the Gospel, and was dismissive not only of the Colby Gang's impromptu hymnals but openly professed an admiration and affinity for that year's hot R&B supergroup, the New Kids on the Block. Eventually, Eddie is shown the error of his ways through the tireless proselytizing of the Colby Gang... as well as the direct intervention of Colby himself, who bluntly informs Eddie that he's going to hell if he doesn't mend his ways. Eventually, Eddie breaks down, falls to his knees, and welcomes Jesus into his heart as his Lord and Savior. At that point, Eddie is welcomed into the Colby Gang as an honorary member, presented with his very own pastel-colored, self-identifying t-shirt, and takes part in the exiting performance of the play's title song, "God Uses Kids." Curtain and applause.Of course, in retrospect, the play looks a lot more disturbing:
At the beginning of the play, Eddie moves into a new neighborhood. He's alone, depressed and friendless. Worse, he quickly discovers that none of the kids in the neighborhood like to play video games or watch movies or listen to records or play with action figures or throw the football around — you know, normal kid stuff. All they ever want to do is sing about Jesus. Raised non-secularly, poor Eddie finds himself ostracized from his newfound peers from the very start, and understandably compensates by adapting the defense mechanism of a smart aleck personality. He acts out. He differentiates himself through cynical non-conformity, but is soundly hated for it.
That's all bad enough, right? Poor Eddie. But consider what happens next. Eddie is invited to the neighborhood clubhouse. Hoping for the acceptance and friendship of the neighborhood's unseen but popular alpha dog — the mysterious but charismatic Colby — he goes, but instead of meeting another kid, the door is locked behind him and a giant metal monster lumbers out of the shadows. Its eyes spit sparks; its servos gnash like rusty teeth. It grabs Eddie by the arms and in a shrill falsetto scream that reverberates with metallic soullessness and the sounds of gears grinding, it inexorably begins to paint Eddie a picture of hell straight out of Bosch. Mewling, fleshless bird things with scissors for beaks. Oceans of boiling feces in which billions bob and drown. Bodies crawling with insects and scabs that never heal. Forced sodomy by impossible geometric shapes. The sound of infants screaming forever and ever and ever and ever. Eddie's mind breaks... as, in fact, had the mind of each and every member of the Colby Gang's under the same nightmarish duress. It is the initiation. He's been accepted. One of us. One of us.And then, of course, there is the theological question of whether an evangelical Christian robot would have a soul, which John's teacher couldn't quite satisfactorily answer.
(via Boing Boing)
The charts of Clarence Larkin; fantastic diagrams explaining arcane points of Christian theology and eschatology by analogy to hydraulics, produced between 1914 and 1919. If you ever wondered where the Church of the SubGenius' artists got some of their inspiration, look no further.
It's interesting that Larkin, a man of the 19th and early 20th centuries, used hydraulics (a commonly understood technology of his day) as a metaphor for salvation, damnation and the afterlife. I wonder whether his equivalents today use more contemporary technological metaphors. What would today's equivalents be? The scriptures as a computer bus diagram? UML charts of salvation and damnation? The Lake of Fire as /dev/null?
(via Boing Boing)
Top 100 quotes from Christian Fundamentalists on the web. Pure comedy gold:
Atheists have the greatest "cover" of all, they insist they believe in no god yet most polls done and the latest research indicates that they are actually a different sect of Muslims.
Gravity: Doesn't exist. If items of mass had any impact of others, then mountains should have people orbiting them. Or the space shuttle in space should have the astronauts orbiting it. Of course, that's just the tip of the gravity myth. Think about it. Scientists want us to believe that the sun has a gravitation pull strong enough to keep a planet like neptune or pluto in orbit, but then it's not strong enough to keep the moon in orbit? Why is that? What I believe is going on here is this: These objects in space have yet to receive mans touch, and thus have no sin to weigh them down. This isn't the case for earth, where we see the impact of transfered sin to material objects. The more sin, the heavier something is.
I am a bit troubled. I believe my son has a girlfriend, because she left a dirty magazine with men in it under his bed. My son is only 16 and I really don't think he's ready to date yet. What's worse is that he's sneaking some girl to his room behind my back. I need help, God! I want my son to stop being so secretive!
I can sum it all up in three words: Evolution is a lie
Apes are just creatures twisted by Satan to mock Jesus by giving EVILolition credibility. Further more they are naturally lust crazed for human women. Since they are not natural creatures they should be exterminated forthwith as the tools of evil they are.
The word of God has been in heaven forever. The KJV has always been there. The so called Hebrew words like Alleluia are English words. The English did not borrow them from the Hebrew but rather the Hebrew borrowed them from the English. If the KJV has always been there and is the original word of God then there is no other conclusion. The same can be said for any so called Greek words that were borrowed from the Greek or transliterated. It is a matter of what bias you approach this particular subject.
Jesus is not a Jew. Jesus was Jewish.
Do you know what medical students are exposed to as they are learning about medicine? In one college course, students were required to "examine" other stripped down students! This is abominable. Is it worth it to go through that kind of education and ignore God's Word? Looking on nakedness is a shameful and intolerable thing. And most employment for doctors and nurses requires looking on other people's nakedness (bathing patients, giving shots, operating, examining, etc.) What will we do as people who have been bought at the very high price of the blood of God? What will be most important to us? Our careers... or our integrity as priests of God?Of course, it's not all champagne comedy; there is some tragedy in there, such as the story of the woman whose gay son committed suicide, calls to exterminate homosexuals or evolutionists and re-enslave black people, or the MySpace user claiming that rape victims are, "in Gods eyes", married to their rapists, and concluding that "it sucks for the girl but what can we do lol".
(via Charlie's Diary)
Hacker turned theologian Simon Cozens puts forward an argument that the belief system known as "Christianity" in America is not Christianity. By which he means not that is a weird form of Christianity, or even that it is heretical or flawed, but, quite literally, that it is a completely different, unrelated, belief system that happens to have the same name:
The situation only makes sense if you consider a separate entity called "American Christianity" which is an entirely separate religion to Christianity. Not a branch of Christianity, not a form of Christianity, but something with absolutely no connection to Christianity at all. It's a separate religion. And what is the goal of this religion?
look at it phenomenologically, look at it sociologically, and what do you see? Basically a syncretic folk religion, based primarily on American nationalism, an expression of the "pervasive religious dimension of American political life". (Bellah; see also "Civil Religion in America") Its purposes are basically civil and political. Its morality is taken from a highly selective and individualistic reading of the Old Testament, and it mixes in bits of consumerism, Zionism, Republican political values, and corporatism for good measure. Add to this an almost romantic sentimentality concerning the person of Jesus, much like the contribution of Catholicism to Vodou religions, and suddenly it all makes sense.
American Christianity may have fallen behind fundamentalist Islam in the fanaticism stakes, but it's now making an effort to catch up. Witness the Jesus Camps, America's own madrassas, which serve to indoctrinate 9-10-year-olds in a severe form of fundamentalist Christianity, linked to all manner of conservative ideologies, from veneration of George W. Bush to denial of global warming:
Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Tears of release and joy, they would claim -- the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an "army" to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie. (This last one is a puzzle -- how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?)
at one point Pastor Fischer instructs the little ones that they should be willing to die for Christ, and the little ones obediently agree. She may even use the word martyr, which has a shocking echo in the Middle East. I can see future suicide bombers for Jesus -- the next step will be learning to fly planes into buildings. Of course, the grownups would say, "Oh no, we're not like them" -- but they admit that the principal difference is simply that "We're right."
In another scene a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, with his trademark smirking smile, is brought out and the children are urged to identify -- many of the little ones come forward and reverently touch his cardboard hands.
(via Boing Boing)
An Essex insurance company has cancelled what may have been the most bizarre insurance policy in Britain. In the policy, three sisters in the Scottish highlands, who apparently were members of a "Christian group" of some sort, had insured their virginity for £1 million, against the event of any of them immaculately conceiving the second coming of Jesus Christ:
Mr Burgess said: "The people were concerned about having sufficient funds if they immaculately conceived. It was for caring and bringing up the Christ. "We sometimes get weird requests and this is the weirdest we have had."
The burden of proof that it was Christ had rested with the women and any premium on the insurance was donated to charity, said Mr Burgess.
The siblings had paid £100 annually since 2000. If they had secured a payout, they stood to receive £1m.The policy was apparently cancelled partly because of complaints from the Catholic Church, which doesn't look kindly on unauthorised immaculate conceptions.
A new video game is in the works in which the player plays a paramilitary soldier in New York whose job is to convert or exterminate nonbelievers and apostates. It's not the latest piece of viral jihadist propaganda from al-Qaeda, but the latest tie-in to the Left Behind movies, bound for a Wal-Mart near you in time for the Christmas shopping season:
Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.I wonder whether some Qaedistas will end up hacking this into a jihad-themed game and distributing it to potential recruits. After all, it sounds like it'd only need cosmetic changes, such as replacing "the dominion of Christ" with "the Caliphate" and Muslims with Israelis or somesuch, and changing some dialogue.
(via Boing Boing)
The latest rebranding of Jesus Christ makes him a black revolutionary in Africa:
Instead of robes and homilies about turning the other cheek, this Jesus wears jeans and T-shirts and urges supporters to resist - peacefully - a tyrannical regime in an unnamed southern African country which resembles Zimbabwe. A collaboration between Spier films and the Dimpho Di Kopane, a theatre and film ensemble, the feature, made in South Africa, was shot in rural Eastern Cape and in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town plagued by poverty and crime.
Son of Man, directed by Mark Dornford-May, depicts Jesus as a divine being who performs miracles. But it may prove contentious for switching the story from Roman-occupied first-century Palestine to misruled 21st-century Africa. "He gathers people around him to fight against poverty and political oppression," said Pauline Malefane, who plays Mary. "It feels a bit like apartheid, people living in fear that soldiers could come into the house at any time and kill children."Compare and contrast with the hip Jesus-as-Che/Mao icons that evangelical groups around the world have been using in recent years.
A church in Cambridge has started holding a church service for Goths:
The associate vicar at St Edward King and Martyr church in Cambridge, himself a goth, holds a 45-minute service complete with candles and a specially written liturgy for members of the goth community. There are no hymns but goth music is played instead, including artists such as Depeche Mode, Joy Division and the Sisters of Mercy, said Mr Ramshaw, 34.
After the service, most of the congregation go to a goth evening at the nearby Kambar nightclub called, appropriately enough, the Calling.Of course, if you assume that Goth is intrinsically a manifestation of Judaeo-Christianity (see also: heavy metal, Satanism, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave), this isn't quite as weird as it sounds.
Seen at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park this afternoon:
He didn't speak, though did spend some time staking out a corner with his eclectic collection of signs and printed materials. For some reason, nobody seems to have gone up to him and asked about the finer points of Christian Atheism.
One of his signs:
A bit further on, a chap in a baseball hat was either waving or threatening to burn an American flag; a crowd had gathered around him and were remonstrating vigorously with him. Not far from there, Cory Doctorow and his posse of copyright-policy troublemakers had set up and addressed the crowd on the evils of the broadcast flag and WIPO treaties.
Controversy has erupted after a Christian school in North Carolina introduced into its classes a booklet defending slavery in the South. The booklet, titled Southern Slavery, As It Was, attempts to provide a Biblical justification for the institution of slavery, asserting that the Confederate South was the last true Christian civilisation, and claims that the life of slaves was one of plenty and simple pleasures, with nearly every slave enjoying a higher standard of living than the poor whites:
"Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence." (page 24)
"There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world." (page 24)
The school insists that the booklet merely provides a balanced view of the institution of slavery; critics argue that it goes beyond that, and provides a theological justification for the neo-Confederate movement. (via bOING bOING)
Psychoceramic site of the day: Molatar, the dragon, "dedicated to spreading the Gospel in the werewolf and furry communities". As well as the usual stuff about homosexuality being wrong and evolution having been debunked, it has an essay on why he abhors role-playing games (and it has little to do with Jack Chick-esque theology, but more to do with role-players being cruel and unimaginative), and a promise that God can help the faithful shapeshift, if that's what they desire (even giving a prayer for doing so, as well as advice to get a good vet and tailor, and stock up on dog toothpaste and medieval swords). And check out his "Were card", where he talks about his likes and dislikes, speculates on whether Duran Duran were werewolves and describes his "berserker states". (via gjw)
The Invisible Pink Unicorn. Because atheism, like all other religious orientations, needed a logo. And there are two other logos to choose from. Two of the three logos there look a bit like the Star Trek logo, which may or may not say something about the sorts of people who would wear an official atheist logo.
Meanwhile, evangelical Christianity has punk rock merchandise. (via MeFi.) How long until someone starts making "hardcore atheist skate-punk" T-shirts?
George W. Bush, many US leftists and secularists say, is a religious fundamentalist zealot determined to turn America into a theocracy and/or use his presidency to bring about, and be at the front of, the Battle of Armageddon. Not so, according to this sociological analysis of US Evangelical Christianity. For one, the two aims are rooted in two incompatible Christian Fundamentalist doctrines (reconstructionism and premillenialism). Secondly, Bush belongs to the same religious denomination as Hillary Clinton. (via MeFi)
The connection between Christian commitment and politics has always been pretty strange in this country. Ronald Reagan became beloved of the "religious right" while rarely darkening the door of a church and articulating only vague belief in a vague God, while the church-going, Bible-toting Bill Clinton was despised by them. If there has been a recent American president whose policies were derived relatively consistently from evangelical Christian theology, it would be Jimmy Carter, that Baptist Sunday-school teacher from Plains, Ga. But that's a story for another day.
Mind you, Bush still noisily attempts to tear down the wall between Church and State, ostracises secularists and throws bones to the Religious Right (such as his appointment of bona-fide Fundamentalist nutter John Ashcroft to the Department of Justice and railing against the threat to Truth, Justice and the American Way that gay marriage is), in between mouthing religious catchphrases at the right moments, though chances are, that has more to do with electoral opportunism than religious zeal.
Now that a Christian snuff film is dominating the multiplexes, here is a timely look at the Christian porn industry, which releases films with titles like "Debbie Does Sodom", "Mr. and Mrs. Christ", and "The Last Schtupper". The films vary from moralising sin-and-redemption sagas, which dwell rather lasciviously on the sin, to explorations of "the Son of God's lust for life", and shameless Jesus-themed porn with token moralising endings tacked onto it.
Reverend Flenky, a self-described witnessing evangelist, sees himself as a practicing Christian. I'm spreading the Good Word, he claims. The Word of God. There is redemption for all sinners. The fact that we depict the sins adds to the flavor of the message. In the same way that the anti-abortionist forces display photographs of aborted fetuses, we show the actual carnal acts of the offending sinners. Why not? We display the redemptions, too.
The debauchery goes on for nearly an hour, as Felipe Marlowe, the prodigiously endowed actor who portrays Jesus, copulates with Mary [Magdalene], played by Anita Storm, in dozens of convoluted positions straight out of the Kama Sutra. The films denouement comes three minutes before its end, as Jesus hears the voice of Jehovah commanding Him to fulfill His destiny, then leaves sexuality behind as He goes to Golgotha. The final scene features Jesus on the cross, a weeping Mary Magdalene at its base. Was it good for you, baby? she asks in a quavering voice, tears running down her cheeks. The earth moved, Jesus answers, a smile on His bearded, bloody face.
And what message would that be? That there is an animal, primitive aspect to our Christian faith that needs to be recognized, perhaps emphasized, in order to more fully appreciate the state of grace that is possible when we give ourselves over to the will of God, asserts Monesto.
I wonder who actually buys this stuff. Hipsters with apartments full of ironically-acquired Mexican religious statuettes and the like? Black-clad satanists/nihilists who are into all things sacrilegious? Actual Christian hypocrites who convince themselves that they're taking a hard line against the sins of the flesh by sitting through the token "redemption" parts of the films? Or is there some memetic cross between Californian touchy-feely hot-tub spirituality and born-again Christianity with whose adherents these films strike a chord?
Satirical Christian webzine (yes, there is such a thing) Ship of Fools has a feature titled the 12 Days of Kitschmas, bringing a choice selection of tacky Christian-themed consumer goods; from unrealistically fair-skinned holy figurines of several varieties to flashing cross mobile-phone covers (I bet everyone in the cool cliques in Bible-belt high schools has one of these) to this artfully deceptive Lord of the Kings jigsaw puzzle, seemingly designed to nudge its young recipient into permature teenage Satanism; and who can go past a nail in a cardboard box:
COMING SOON! A 7-inch screw in a cardboard box, to remind you of what George Bush and Tony Blair are doing to the Middle East! Meanwhile, get your nail in a cardboard box for just $8.99
(via bOING bOING)
This is not the Onion: A born-again Christian who turned his porn shop into a Christian bookstore has found that business has declined steeply since he burned his entire stock of vibrators, bondage gear and porn and replaced it with Bibles and Christian materials. It seems that the trenchcoat brigade aren't lining up to hear the Word of the Lord, whilst much of the Christian community is still wary of the sincerity of his intentions:
``The problem is that some of the Christians are still waiting to see if my walk with the Lord is real or not,'' he said Wednesday, yet another slow day at Mike's Place (formerly known as Love World).
``I tried to go bankrupt a couple of months ago, but I couldn't afford it,'' Braithwaite said. ``I didn't have the $800 that the attorney wanted to start the process.''
Braithwaite, the owner of the bookshop, had his road-to-Damascus experience after almost being harrassed out of business by conservative religious groups.
Queensland is a sort of Australian equivalent of Texas or Arkansas or Mississippi or some such place; a state renowned for its rednecks, corrupt police and religious sects too far gone for any other state. And this story brings together the last two elements.
A "devious and perverted" police officer has been gaoled for conning members of a Christian sect into bizarre sexual acts. After telling the group that they would become undercover operatives, he instructed them to cut off their pubic hair and take photographs of themselves naked, saying that such actions were mandatory before becoming police informants. (He also attempted to extort $5000 from a young couple with a false confession of underaged sex, though that may well be standard Queensland police operating procedure). (via Anthony)
Scary al-Jazeera piece on Christian Zionism in America:
According to Hal Lindsey, a prominent American Christian Zionist, the valley from Galilee to Eilat (a town in southern Israel) will flow with blood and 144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved. The rest of Jewry, millions of them, and presumably all non-Christians, would perish in "the mother of all holocausts".
In 1970, Dr Roy Eckhardt, an American Methodist minister and professor of Religion, told a group of clergy gathering in Houston, Texas, that "the proper place to give Christian witness today is in an Israeli munitions factory".
And these people include among their number many influential figures, including Jerry Falwell. (Hang on: wasn't he the guy who blamed 9/11 on America's tolerance of homosexuals, feminists and abortionists?)
The Harry Potter books might not be a Christian or Libertarian allegory; they may just be gay (or even just queer):
The interplay between the world of magic and the world of Muggles in the Potter books is identical to how queer historians and sociologists describe the interplay between the closeted gay world and the mainstream world, particularly in the days before the gay-liberation movement. Homosexuals were everywhere, yet heterosexuals usually could not see them. Gay bars looked just like straight bars from the outside. Gay people invented elaborate codes, often in language, dress, and deportment, so they could recognize one another but not be seen as abnormal by the heterosexual Muggle world. In his book Gay New York, historian George Chauncey writes of the "invisible map" that exists in all cities that enables queers to find fellow travelers and assembling places: people and places usually invisible to the unknowing heterosexual. This is precisely the situation in the Potter books, where Hogwarts, Diagon Alley (where the magic shops are), 12 Grimmauld Place (the meeting place of Order of the Phoenix), Azkaban Fortress, and even magical buses and trains that run out of major terminals exist in the middle of large cosmopolitan cities and yet remain invisible to Muggles who simply cannot see them.
Even if the gay thing is a bit far-fetched (and I'd put it on a par with the Lockhart-is-Philip-Pullman rumour or the alleged Objectivist government-interference subtext), the article makes a very valid point: the reason the God-botherers don't like these books have less to do with sorcery and witchcraft and more to do with their message against social control and indoctrination:
Children, before they are completely socialized, have vibrant imaginations and often a very finely tuned sense of alternative possibilities. They are, in a very real sense, queer. They have to be taught how to become "civilized." Socialization involves mastering table manners and politeness, but it also concerns learning how to conform to the worlds most terrible ways. Children have to learn racism to hate or fear certain people because of how they look; they have to be taught that work is far more important than play and that pleasure is always suspect; they have to be taught that there is only one correct way to worship God and everyone else is going to hell; they have to learn that heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of sexual behavior, and that some forms of sexual pleasure are wrong. They are taught to be normal whatever that may mean within the terms of the prevailing culture. They are taught to be Muggles. Is it any wonder evangelical Christians find the Harry Potter books threatening?
(via Largehearted Boy)
A book titled The Hidden Key to Harry Potter claims that the Potter books are Christian literature in the Inkling tradition of Tolkien and C.S.Lewis, written to "baptise the imagination", and not the anti-Christian propaganda various religiots have been claiming them to be. The article points to a lot of Christian symbolism in the books (though how much of that is deliberate is another question; after all, the abovementioned religiots pointed to "symbols of evil" throughout the books). Interesting that it claims that Gilderoy Lockhart, the villainous charlatan, is modelled on the atheist author Philip Pullman; I wonder whether that was Rowling's intention or the interpretation of the author of the book. (via FmH)
WASHINGTON, DC--With the nation safely distracted by the NBA playoffs, Congress passed the terrifying Citizenship Redefinition And Income-Based Relocation Act of 2003 with little opposition Monday.
Andy Guthridge of Savannah, GA, is among the estimated 240 million Americans unaware of the sweeping package of civil-liberties curtailments, voting-privilege re-qualifications, and mandatory relocation of the working poor to the Dakotas. "Man, I was so glad to see the Lakers finally get knocked off," said Guthridge, who was glued to TNT while the bill's passage aired on C-SPAN. "Shaq and Kobe and the rest of those dicks have had it coming for a long time."
Meanwhile, in the same issue of The Onion, Bassist Unaware Rock Band Christian:
"Jack's amazing," Rolen said. "He writes all these super-heavy, Metallica-influenced tunes like 'My Master' and 'Blood Of My Father,' but then he'll turn around and write a killer love song like 'Thank You (For Saving Me).'" "Actually, Jack writes a lot of songs about chicks," Rolen continued. "'Your Love,' 'When You Return,' 'I Confess'... I don't know if they're all about the same girl or lots of different ones, but one thing's for sure: Jack loves the pussy."
"At the audition, [drummer] Greg [Roberts] said Pillar Of Salt was going for a Believer-meets-Living Sacrifice sound," Rolen said. "I didn't know jack about either of those bands, but I knew I could play bass like a motherfucker, and that's what got me the gig. Afterwards, I asked Greg what Living Sacrifice sounded like, and at the first practice, he gave me a tape. It's not Slayer, but it rocks. He's given me some other stuff by Whitecross, Third Day, and Stigmata. I've always prided myself on knowing metal, but these guys put me to shame. They must really have their ears to the ground to know all this music I've never heard before."
A survey of Anarchist and Libertarian Societies in Science Fiction; encompassing everything from Stateless to Libertaria to Port Watson, including pirate anarchist utopias, Randian-Heinleinian gun-toting anarcho-propertarianisms, the psychedelic milieus of Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, H.G. Wells' Fabian socialism and the "fascist-socialist" utopias of H.P. Lovecraft's alien races.
I found this on this page of essays, which is a few links away from Ken MacLeod's blog. The page has a number of other intriguing essays, including one on Christian symbolism in Blade Runner and Iain M. Banks' notes on the Culture, his post-Singularity anarchosocialist utopia.
A good interview with Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials books, in a Christian magazine named Third Way, going into Pullman's views on religion, atheism and morality in a secular belief system.
The kingdom of heaven promised us certain things: it promised us happiness and a sense of purpose and a sense of having a place in the universe, of having a role and a destiny that were noble and splendid; and so we were connected to things. We were not alienated. But now that, for me anyway, the King is dead, I find that I still need these things that heaven promised, and I'm not willing to live without them. I dont think I will continue to live after I'm dead, so if I am to achieve these things I must try to bring them about and encourage other people to bring them about on earth, in a republic in which we are all free and equal and responsible citizens.
I'm amazed by the gall of Christians. You think that nobody can possibly be decent unless they've got the idea from God or something. Absolute bloody rubbish! Isn't it your experience that there are plenty of people in the world who don't believe who are very good, decent people?
(via Stumblings in the Dark)
A Salon article looking into the bizarre parallel universe of Christian apocalypse movies, with B-list actors and plots lifted from Hollywood blockbusters, only infused with an odd mix of fundamentalist separatism, end-times paranoia and smug digs at liberals, atheists, evolutionists, new-agers and others.
it's set in a deserted observatory (erroneously referred to in the movie as a "space station") where everyone's worst sin emerges. Then a weary-looking Judd Nelson realizes what's going on: SETI@Home, the distributed-computing project for analyzing signals from space, is functioning as no less than Satan's own peer-to-peer AudioGalaxy network.
When a signal arrives with a suspicious duration of 6.66 seconds, the usual archetypal characters from rapture movies have their own plans for it. Louis Gossett Jr., as a power-mad general, wants to control it. A crackpot New Age radio host -- the kind of comic-relief character only found in Christian entertainment -- begins raving about how the signal will "evolve" humans to a "higher consciousness" (evolution frequently appears in these movies in conjunction with madness.) The eyebrow-cocking "dot-com billionaire" wants to sell it, exclaiming: "It'll be the biggest webcast in history!" And the lusty TV reporter, naturally, wants to corrupt Judd.
Sounds like it could make for quality bulldada. (via Plastic)
Faith-based government: Florida, the state which gave George W. Bush the presidency, is leading the U.S. in its march towards theocracy. Case in point: the new Bush-appointed head of Florida's child welfare agency and his outspokenly fundamentalist views; among other things, he believes that ''biblical spanking'' that leads to ``temporary and superficial bruises or welts do not constitute child abuse'', that women should not work, and that husbands have ``final say in any family dispute.''
The essay also said Christians should not marry non-Christians, that divorce is acceptable only when there is adultery or desertion and that wives should view working outside the home as ''bondage.'' The ''radical feminist movement,'' the essay adds, ``has damaged the morale of many women and convinced men to relinquish their biblical authority in the home.''
(Notice the use of the word "biblical" there, seemingly to mean "atavistically brutal". Barbarism begins at home, folks.)
In other faith-based-government news, a woman in Nigeria has lost an appeal against a death sentence for bearing a child out of wedlock, and is sentenced to die by stoning (a slow and uncommonly unpleasant method of execution) as soon as her child is weaned. Her boyfriend was discharged.
So a woman who didn't harm anyone is sentenced to be tortured to death in a spectacle of bestial sadism, all in the name of an infinitely merciful God.
A look at the parallel universe of Christian apocalyptic fiction, comparing and contrasting it with science fiction and techno-thrillers. (via bOING bOING)
While mainstream society moves away from the formal courtship rituals of their ancestors, a subculture of conservative Christians in the US is going the other way, throwing out the concept of "dating" and replacing it with betrothal, in which couples swear vows of commitment to each other, and then get to know each other.
two years ago, when Kara was 14 and Casey was 20 and heading off to medical school, they pledged their lives to each other in an improvised ceremony at their church that they called a betrothal. They exchanged matching signet rings, promised to be faithful and considered their vows as binding as a marriage. Only then did they set about getting to know each other and thinking of themselves as a couple. Last month, with their parents' permission, they decided they could start holding hands.
Leading someone on is prohibited in the Bible, he said, citing a passage from First Thessalonians that warns against "defrauding." His first book opens with a bride's nightmare in which her groom stands at the altar, holding hands with the phantoms of all his previous girlfriends.
Never mind premarital sex, this is saying no to premarital romance, or as they say, "preparation for divorce". Though it makes one wonder whether mutant strains of the subculture will arise in which casual premarital sex is considered to "not count" if you don't exchange names (much like the way that oral sex doesn't count among some fast kids in the Bible Belt).
An old yet most interesting interview with Greg Egan, the Australian hard-scifi author.
Music is just as important to me, on a personal level, as literature, but any influence it has on my writing is usually pretty tangential. I did write a story called "Worthless" for In Dreams - a recent anthology on "the culture of the 7-inch single". I'm a big fan of The Smiths, so the first idea that occurred to me when I heard about the anthology was to try to write a kind of SF equivalent of a Smiths song - a story with the same ambivalent attitude to the whole idea of worthlessness, half-embracing it as a positive thing. That was a one-off, though. The only other story where music played a major role was "Beyond the Whistle Test", in which scientists use neural maps to design advertising jingles which you literally can't forget.
I don't want to write motherhood statements - feel-good stories that cave in at the end and do nothing but confirm everything you ever wanted to believe; I've done that in the past, and it's insidious. Stories like that should be burned. If I'm certain of anything, it's that understanding how the real world works - how human brains actually function, how morality and emotions and decisions actually arise - is essential to any kind of ethical stance which will make sense in the long term.
As Paul Davies has said, most Christian theologians have retreated from all the things that their religion supposedly asserts; they take a much more "modern" view than the average believer. But by the time you've "modernised" something like Christianity - starting off with "Genesis was all just poetry" and ending up with "Well, of course there's no such thing as a personal God" - there's not much point pretending that there's anything religious left. You might as well come clean and admit that you're an atheist with certain values, which are historical, cultural, biological, and personal in origin, and have nothing to do with anything called God.
Australia possesses thousands of subcultures, quite apart from any question of ethnicity. One of those subcultures consists of people who consider their nationality a vital part of their self-image; that's their right, but they should stop deluding themselves that everyone else thinks the same way. Nothing's more ridiculous than talking about the "unique Australian character" - unless it's talking about the "mystical qualities of the Australian landscape".
Abortion clinic sniper arrested in France; he went into hiding in Ireland, doing "clerical work" (would that involve proselytising his religion and recruiting converts?), but fled there after Irish police started closing in. How much do you want to bet that he's just a disposable soldier, and that the organisation that trained him, provided him with papers and kept him hidden still exists and has others willing to take his place. (That anti-abortion hitlist website was updated awfully quickly.)
Christian tomato growers quit -- over feng shui tomatoes, denouncing the technique as a "godless creed". (Telegraph)
Only in America: The War In Heaven, an ultra-violent Christian-themed first-person shooting game about killing demons. (Slashdot, replete with slightly bozotic Katz commentary)