Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

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Darwinism proven by Bible Code methods

November 10, 2007

Some years ago, actually, but I just caught up with it. We have Noam Elkies, number theory maven at Harvard, to thank for the discovery.

If God weren’t an evolutionist, he would never have allowed “Ape’s son, IMHO” to be an anagram for homo sapiens.

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Mammon and Moloch

July 2, 2007

One of these days, I promise, I’m going to update my Link Column to show at least all of the sites I visit every week. But for tonight, I just want to welcome to the nicteis blogroll a fledgling enterprise called mammonandmoloch. The proprietors are friends of mine who are as active locally and as thoughtful globally as anyone I know. I expect some quirky, serious, occasionally playful commentary that takes several steps back from the usual fare of the left wing noise machine that I myself love perhaps too dearly.

Mammon and Moloch, for the non-biblical among my readers, are the deities in whom the Bushian brand of Christianity (perhaps unwittingly) places its trust, and to whom it consequently devotes its service. Mammon is the well-known god of wealth, of whom Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters… you cannot serve God and Mammon.” Down through the centuries, that has not stopped myriads who sincerely believed themselves to be Christian from trying. The best advice is not always the most tempting.

Moloch was the Canaanite god who attracted more of Jehovah’s spleen than any other. The cult’s distinctive feature (which some scholars take cum grano salis) was Moloch’s demand for a fire sacrifice of his devotee’s children. He is to be pictured as a great, roaring, fiery maw into which innocents are cast, in hopes of obtaining his favor and protection. In our own time, naturally, Moloch springs full-grown from the brow of Rambo and John Wayne, incarnated as the American faith in the redemptive power of violence. As our touching, every-renewed childlike trust that if only we kill all the bad guys fast enough, without bothering our pretty little heads too much over how many innocent bystanders, or how many of our own brave youths, die in the crossfire, then the holy power of high explosives and manliness will keep us secure in our counting-houses and safe in our beds. Or all of us, at any rate, rich enough not to have to die on a battlefield.

The new link is tucked under “Friends and Company” to the right.

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Twelve gates into the city

May 19, 2007

Beliefnet had an interesting piece on the microdemographics of religion in America, and its effect on politics. They identify 12 major religio-political groups, which they call “the twelve tribes”, and order them from most conservative to most liberal. In particular, they find that evangelicals are far from being monolithic, and that the religious right and religious left are nearly the same size. The right has had more impact because of their superior electoral organization.

For each group, their size is given both as a percent of the electorate, and as a percent of 2004 voters. Composition by ideology and political party, basic religious views, church attendance record, motivating political issues, and trend lines, fill out the picture for each bloc. Here I’ll just pick out several of the more prominent or interesting.

  • Religious Right: 12.6% of electorate and 15% of 2004 voters. Highly orthodox white evangelical Protestants, 87% of whom attend church at least weekly. 44% of them are located in the South.
  • Heartland Culture Warriors: 11.4% and 14%. Regular churchgoers, conservative theologies, Catholic or mainline Protestant or smaller groups like LDS. Vote primarily, like the RRs, on social issues, but also on foreign policy. (The rest of Bush’s base.)
  • Moderate Evangelicals: 10.8% and 9%. 35% of them attend worship at least weekly. 61% want to increase taxes on the rich to fund antipoverty programs. Side with RR on social issues, but less central to their voting decisions. Went for Clinton, then for Bush.
  • The religious left: 12.6% and 14%. Theologically liberal Catholics, mainline and evangelical Protestants. Less church-bound (less than one-quarter report weekly worship attendance) and pluralistic in their beliefs (two-thirds agree that “all the world’s great religions are equally true and good”.) Growing and trending more Democratic. Voted mainly on foreign policy in 2004.
  • Seculars: 10.7% and 11%. Non-religious, atheists and agnostics. Not surprisingly, the most liberal on social issues. Steadily growing, and 2:1 Democratic.
  • Black Protestants: 9.6% and 8%. Quite conservative on social issues, but they’re trumped by economic concerns.

I seem to fall between (theologically) the “Moderate Evangelical” and (politically) the “Religious Left”. It’s a pleasant surprise to learn how much company I have.

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Gonzales downfall predicted in the Bible

April 25, 2007

Unspared Rod
The blogosphere in its terseness has taken lately to referring to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as AGAG. It had been tickling something in the back of my brain, something which finally surfaced this afternoon.

No doubt the reason it took so long is the exceeding cuddliness of the man. Yes, he stood at Dubya’s side, ruthlessly railroading God knows how many Texas innocents into the death chamber; yes, he strove manfully to help maximize the number of shattered souls driven to madness in Cheney’s secret oubliettes around the world; and yes, he has dedicated himself more single-mindedly than any AG in history to replacing the rule of law throughout the precincts of Justice with the rule of lackies. But, hey. Not for nothing has he been the runner-up for three years straight in the national Pillsbury Doughboy Lookalike Contest.

But his doom has been prefigured in holy writ. There, in I Samuel 15, we learn of another government official (a king of the Amalekites, in this instance) whose merciless and lawless ways deeply offended God. And his name was AGAG. The chief executive of the country (King Saul) wanted to shield this AGAG because of his royal blood – basically on grounds of executive privilege. Saul’s instinct cut no ice with God, who directed His prophet to deal with the matter:

I Samuel 15:32 Then said Samuel, bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.
15:33 And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord.

Last week Gonzales came delicately (both mincingly and carefully) unto the Judiciary Committee. And God had no need to raise a prophet, because Alberto proceeded to hew himself to pieces before the committee more effectively than anyone else could have.

Nothing now remains to be done except to gather up the hacked limbs and give them a decent burial. As fine as they’ve been diced up, though, collecting and identifying them all will probably require some months of intensive labor.

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That wasn’t so hard, now, was it?

March 12, 2007

“Who would Jesus torture?”

The answer has always been obvious. But over the last five years, it has grown more and more difficult to hold one’s head erect while admitting to being both an American and a Christian. Through those years, virtually all the self-proclaimed patriots and “Christian leaders” in the national public arena have insinuated that there is no more perfect exemplar of the imitatio Christi than the delightfully manly, almost George-Bushlike, Jack Bauer. A robust approval of torture, and a loyal defense of the torturers, have sometimes seemed at least as central to the catechism of The Faith, American style, as the Incarnation or the Resurrection.

Now, finally, the Christians without the megaphones in hand have spoken. The National Association of Evangelicals has forthrightly condemned the use of torture in the war against terror. Bolder than the United States congress, it has made it clear that it is unacceptable to weasel our way into the practice of torture by passing the buck with renditions; or by excusing some of its forms as merely “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment”, and therefore morally permissible. Unlike every sitting Republican senator, and a third of the Democrats, they have also reached deep into their souls, and found the gumption to take exception to indefinite detentions without charges or trials.

See the LA Times summary here, or the endorsed document itselfhere.

For too many years, the evangelical churches in America have been largely in a state of rank apostasy. Bush regularly placed his whole trust in Mammon and Moloch, and when he did, theologically conservative churches either fell to their knees at his side, or held their silence. It is an inexpressible relief to watch this frail green shoot of spiritual health poking up through the long-scorched earth.

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I used to be Cleopatra after all

January 27, 2007

A couple of weeks back, I was walking down the street, basking in the afterglow of a day of celebrations raucous and quiet, attendant on my daughter in law’s baby shower. I kept breaking into retrospective grins over the sheer giggling quantity of infants and toddlers our kids’ friends and relations had brought to weave in amongst the proceedings.

What could be grander than mellowing out into another grandparenting gig? What, except the spectacle of the whole next generation stepping capably and for the most part happily into our old roles, with all that angst and joy and hubbub ahead of them? And I found myself wishing that, once I shuffle off this mortal coil, I could turn around, start right in again, and go through the whole cycle one more time. Not that I have any overwhelming objection to disappearing from the scene, but the game has been such a hoot, why not have another whack at it?

As Pope George Ringo used to say, “When I get to the bottom, I go back to the top of the slide, where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride…”

It was an oddly disinterested, depersonalized sort of wish. I felt no envy toward all these fine young folks who are still near the top of the helter skelter. The feeling was more one of, how delightful it is that this game is going on and is going to go on; and wouldn’t it be a kick if I were to get another turn.

I’ve never seen the payoff in reincarnation. What’s the point of returning, be it as pauper or prince, if the future me has no memory of the present me? But in the peculiar mindset I was in, this burst of detached lust for life, my usual objection lost its force.

And thereupon I realized something odd. If I stop caring about continuity of memory, then something indistinguishable from reincarnation just about certainly takes place. Billions of babies will be born in the few years after the angel of death kicks my bucket of life. Now, consider how very differently I – that is to say, someone with exactly my innate talents and predispositions – could have turned out if I had been born to a different station, a different continent, or a different gender. It is then obvious that thousands of those babies will be at least as much like “me” as I am like many of those alternate possible selves. Any one of them is therefore the moral equivalent of a reincarnation of “me”.

But it goes further. Because there are thousands of other babies with enough innate similarity to any one of those (say that Kabrala Singh who pops into the world the fourth week of 2078), to be the moral equivalent of a reincarnation of Kabrala. And, time being merely so much illusory Maya anyway, there’s nothing except our illogical human love for orderly sequential narrative to prevent any reincarnation from appearing earlier than its “previous” life rather than later.

And so, stone-hopping from one moral equivalent of reincarnation to the next, each in sufficient continuity to hang onto its me-ness, I can pretty well count on reincarnating sooner or later as everyone who ever has lived or will live. Literally? Maybe not. But I can derive all the (admittedly utterly intangible) benefits I would have derived if each reincarnation had been literal. So it comes to the same thing.

I would still prefer to retain the sense of personhood that’s bound up with memory. And even if it weren’t so, as a practicing Christian, I mean to hang on to the hope of resurrection and “saecula saeculorum”. But I can’t say I mind having in my back pocket this small and bemused consolation prize.

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Gimme that nickled and dimed religion

November 29, 2006

An idle thought.

Among first world nations, the USA stands out as being, by far, the most religious; and as having, by far, the lousiest set of welfare state bennies, which has by design been getting steadily lousier for the last thirty years. Could the first be a consequence of the second?

Imagine, if you will, a state whose populace is subjected to perpetual and rising free-floating anxiety, due to the knowledge that John or Jane QP and the family of JOJ QP are one serious illness or one pink slip away from living out of a shopping cart. Imagine that in this same state, every adult in the household has to work fifty plus hours a week just to keep marginally ahead of the loan sharks who happen to own Congress, leaving no time to cultivate any interdependent social network, or the sort of thing their foreparents knew under the now-quaint term “friends”.

How is such a free-floating anxiety to be assuaged? One avenue might be to throw yourself into political activism, to try to alter the economic conditions that created the anxiety in the first place. But that takes time, up-front sacrifice, as well as information not easily found. A second avenue is to seek assurances that someone is already taking care of you. Just as there’s a Big Daddy in Washington who is keeping you safe from those perpetual and (if Big Daddy has anything to say about it) perpetually rising anxieties about chemical attacks and bioweaponry and mushroom clouds, there is a Big Daddy in the clouds who will ensure that your home will always be encompassed by four walls rather than four wheels. And there’s also a ready-made social network down at the church house, which won’t except in some rare best cases lift a finger if that year of chemo or that lateral transfer to the unemployment office come along, but which can sure make you feel less alone up until then.

There is a lot more to genuine religion than a prosperity gospel, of course, or the comfort of familiar faces in the pews. But just because the USA has a lot more religion than its peers doesn’t mean it has any more genuine religion at all, does it?

If I’ve fingered a real connection here, the synergy of the GOP strategy becomes clear: the more they demolish the social safety net, the more they swell the ranks of their fundamentalist base. The good news is, that anything which serves to rebuild the safety net will build synergy in the opposite direction.