"Of all the questions you might want to ask / about angels, the only one you ever hear / is how many can dance on the head of a pin." -- Billy Collins, bio {Others' quotes}


What Would They Call The Sequel?

We called them "movies" wherein we told fanciful stories:
This week saw the release of the Blu-Ray edition of Cecil B DeMille's "Ten Comandments." Yet, in many ways, the animated "Prince of Egypt" was a much better film.

A quiz asks how much you know about the "Ten Commandments" ... the movie, not the Biblical laws.
SOURCE: on Belief.net


There'd Be Less Outrage If They Called It "Jacob's Ladder Dancing"

Not only do some people think their faith is about not having fun, they think it's about no one else having fun either.
The Pole Dancing For Jesus exercise class was the news "brightener" for a day and the news video went viral:

But the feedback has been profound:
The coverage on MyFoxHouston has raised some confused and very critical eyebrows, with commenters comparing her to Satan and calling pole dancing "a vehicle for sins of the flesh," but Dean doesn't mind and defends herself with her faith.
"It's a good thing. It reminds me that we're all human," she said. "I think most of the people who criticize it are ignorant about the history of the pole."
Like many Christians, she will tell you that God reigns over every area of her life and that everything in this world can be used to his glory, including activities we don't usually think of as religious.
"It is the center of my life and everything I do, it all is centered in Christ," said Deans, a mother of three whose family has attended Houston Northwest Church for six years. "My business would not be possible without God. I know people don't get it or think it's a gimmick, but it's an opportunity for me. I have people's attention."
SOURCE: from the Houston Chronicle's Belief column by Kate Shellnutt
Be sure to read the comments. This is a highlight:

I like watching pole dancing and like Jesus, so it sounds like a great combination to me!
My next venture may be the evangelical tractor pull for Jesus!
And if pole dancing isn't too secular to be Christianized -- this might to be (use any definition of "tea-bagging" you want)
jpg via ebroodle.typepad.com

Coffee Cups In Hell

Who ever gets the odious task of wading through the detritus of our culture after we destroy it will be a little confused to discover that atheists don't really hate people of faith-- unless they are in large groups, chasing them down the street.
NYTimes columnist Maureen Dowd offers her review of the "Book of Mormon" by the trio of creators responsible for "South Park and "Avenue Q":
The Mormons in the musical are depicted just as Mormons on “South Park” were — naïve but nice.
There is one song called “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” featuring Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Johnnie Cochran and a couple of Starbucks coffee cups in hell. (Mormons can’t have caffeine.)
The raunchiness is offset by traditional tropes. There’s an odd-couple pairing of two 19-year-old missionaries, Elder Price, a golden goody-goody, and Elder Cunningham, a schlubby boy with a penchant for lying; and a cultural collision between white-bread missionaries and Ugandans plagued by AIDS, warlords, maggots and female genital mutilation.
“Africa is nothing like ‘The Lion King,’ ” a befuddled Price says. “I think that movie took a lot of artistic license.”
In the end, she's positive on it:
In the end, the message is not against Mormonism but literalism: that whatever our different myths, metaphors and rituals, the real purpose of religion is to give us a higher purpose and a sense of compassion in the universe.
“The moral,” the writer Andrew Sullivan observed on opening night, “is that religion is both insane and necessary at the same time.”
Previously: (Book By Joseph Smith) SOURCE


"Either God Is Responsible, Or He Isn't In Control"

In light of the post-quake poll (Smitten By God) saying most Americans don't blame God for natural disasters (though most Evangelicals do) I dug out this TED Talk from Rev. Tom Honey, who for that Technology-Entertainment-Design conference repurposed the sermon he gave after the '04 Southeast Asia tsunami. (Link to video)
I am a vicar in the Church of England. I've been a priest in the Church for 20 years. For most of that time, I've been struggling and grappling with questions about the nature of God.
the people most affected by the devastation and loss of life do not want intellectual theories about how God let this happen. He wrote, "If some religious genius did come up with an explanation of exactly why all these deaths made sense, would we feel happier, or safer, or more confident in God?"
So the first big question is about control. Does God have a plan for each of us? Is God in control? Does God order each moment? Does the wind and the waves obey him? From time to time, one hears Christians telling the story of how God organized things for them, so that everything worked out all right. Some difficulty overcome, some illness cured, some trouble averted, a parking space found at a crucial time. I can remember someone saying this to me, with her eyes shining with enthusiasm at this wonderful confirmation of her faith and the goodness of God.

But if God can or will do these things -- intervene to change the flow of events -- then surely he could have stopped the tsunami. Do we have a local God who can do little things like parking spaces, but not big things like 500 mile-per-hour waves?

Mr. Anonymous Sure Talks A Lot

It seems as if a quote has come from an unknown source, it renounces the supernatural. I find irony in that.
God is innocent. Noah built in a flood plain. ~Author Unknown

Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day; give him a religion, and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish. ~Author Unknown

Geology shows that fossils are of different ages. Paleontology shows a fossil sequence, the list of species represented changes through time. Taxonomy shows biological relationships among species. Evolution is the explanation that threads it all together. Creationism is the practice of squeezing one's eyes shut and wailing "Does not!" ~Author Unknown

I believe in God; I just don't trust anyone who works for him. ~Author unknown, from a stand-up comedy routine on television

There are three religious truths: 1) Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. 2) Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith. 3) Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or at Hooters. ~Author Unknown

Not all religion is to be found in the church, any more than all knowledge is found in the classroom. ~Author Unknown

Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned. ~Author Unknown

There are ten church members by inheritance for every one by conviction. ~Author Unknown


Smitten By God

No, really, they say he's a loving God. Really. They're not kidding.
jpg via CTV.ca
Most Americans don't blame God for natural disasters according to a poll taken since the disaster in Japan.
The one exception to this pattern is found among white evangelical Protestants. 
Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white evangelicals also believe that natural disasters are a sign from God. Only about one-third of Catholics (31%) and white mainline Protestants (34%) believe natural disasters are a sign from God.
A majority (53%) of white evangelicals believe that God punishes nations for the sins of its citizens--a view held by just 1-in-5 white mainline Protestants and Catholics.
67% of Evangelicals and 52% of Republicans see catastrophic events as a sign of the Biblical "End of Days."
SOURCE: PublicReligion.org More at Religion News Service


One Nation, Under Canada

You might ask, "who is stronger willed, the one who defies facts or the one who accepts them?"
When asked if humans evolved through natural selection, 58% of surveyed Canadians answered affirmatively compared to only 16% of Americans.

When asked if humans evolved with help from divine guidance, 19% of Canadians agreed compared to 38% of Americans.

Finally, when asked if humans were created by God in the last 10,000 years, 14% of Canadians agreed while 40% of Americans said yes.

This is according to a recent poll conducted by EKOS that gauged attitudes of Canadians toward politics, science and religion. The data is compared to a survey conducted by Gallup in the U.S. last December in which similar questions were asked. (Story in the Toronto Globe & Mail)
SOURCE: Yahoo! News Canada


Why This Man Is Scary To Islamophobes

... because he's not frightening. He's an American-born Orthodox Muslim cleric whose AlMaghrib Institute has classes, seminars and video presentations.
He is confident to a fault, often trailing a sentence with “God protect me from arrogance.” In class, he can be staid and professorial, with flashes of frivolity. He once implored students to “make love, not jihad.” 
Qadhi said he fell down a slippery slope where criticism of Israel gave way to attacks on Jews. Beneath the vitriol, he said, was a sense of victimization — that non-Muslims were to blame for the afflictions of the Muslim world. “When you’re young and naïve, it’s easier to fall prey to such things,” said Qadhi, who publicly recanted years later. Last August, he joined a delegation of American imams and rabbis on a visit to the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, which he said left him “sick” and more embarrassed by his Hitler remarks.
In August 2006, at a meeting for Muslim leaders in Houston, he walked up to Daniel W. Sutherland, a Homeland Security official. “Hi, I’m a pacifist Salafi,” Qadhi said to him. Looking stunned, Sutherland sat and talked with Qadhi for more than an hour.
Qadhi rose before a crowd of thousands in Elizabeth, N.J., to finally speak about Awlaki. “I am against this preacher when he tells our youth to become militant against this country while being citizens to this country,” 
While he unequivocally denounces violence against civilians, he believes Muslims have the right to defend themselves from attack. But he says “offensive jihad”— the spread of the Islamic state by force — is permissible only when ordered by a legitimate caliph, or global Muslim ruler, which is nonexistent in today’s world.

Yasir Qadhi's blog: MuslimMatters.org; his site on issues of jihad: The JWord.org
SOURCE: By Andrea Elliot in the NYTimes Magazine; see her Pulitzer Prize-winning 3-part series from 2006


Book by Joseph Smith

"The Book of Mormon" (NYT advance story on musical that opened Thursday) is the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the duo behind "South Park,"and Robert Lopez of "Avenue Q," is a critical success based on a round-up of reviews, including from the Hollywood Reporter:
the team has "created one of the freshest original musicals in recent memory." The show "packs plenty of blissful profanity, sacrilege and politically incorrect mischief," but its "defining quality ... is its sweetness."
SOURCE: LATimes Culture Monster blog


Burn, Bury or Bestow

It may seem that only people who love a book are allowed to burn it. It's hard to argue against that presumption.

How to dispose of a Bible, with specifics for Catholics, Lutherans and Jews.
Christians treat the Bible with respect and ask that non-Christians do the same. The basic guideline for handling a Bible is reverence. For example, don't leave it on the floor. If you follow the same principle when you dispose of a Bible, you will cause no offense.

SOURCE: eHow.com, the compendium of how-to everything except how-to dispose of a Q'uran.


Closer To God

I always suspected this Indigo Girls song (as catchy as any song about angst and despair could hope to be) was, at its roots, religious. Commenters at SongMeanings.net think it's about coming out of the closet (both bandmembers are gay), among other things. Many apply their own messages to this metaphor-rich passage:

"Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear"

The writer Emily Saliers (a "PK"*) says on SongFacts.com that it's a little less specific:
"... about not beating yourself up too hard to get your answer from one place. There's no panacea, that in order to be balanced or feel closer to fine it's okay to draw from this or to draw from that, to draw from a bunch of different sources. So it's about being confused but looking for the answers, and in the end knowing that you're going to be fine. No seeking just one definitive answer."
Saliers and Amy Ray's song won the Best Contemporary Folk Grammy in '89 and the Indigo Girls were nominated for Best New Artist Grammy as was Milli Vanilli, which didn't work out for either group.

*Pastor's Kid


Is Comet A Cleanser?

There's a comet coming; so of course there's goofy assertions about it.
A dizzying collection of doomsday predictions have been linked to comet Elenin. The hysteria was inevitable as anxiety grows over the approach of 2012 -- that is supposedly a game-changing year for life on Earth. At least according to some interpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar.
If you believe the gobbledygook on numerous websites and YouTube videos, this is a "renegade comet" that just couldn't wait for 2012 to mess with the Earth.
Though it's now over twice as far away from Earth than the sun is, comet Elenin has already been blamed for triggering earthquakes and shifting Earth's rotation axis. The comet has also been accused of melting ice on Mars and stirring up a storm on Saturn. It's predicted to flip Earth's magnetic field.
Story compares the impact an astrally tiny aggregation of rocks and ice could have upon the Earth with the impact of a mosquito upon a supertanker. But YouTubers are dubious: It's a Dwarf Star; The magnetic poles will shift. One is mocked at the GodlikeProductions.com forum
 SOURCE: by Ray Villard in Discovery News


Pretty Big Love

Some species in the distant future discovering our society might well ask if faith were really so important why doesn't our art reflect it, except in these fringe examples:

The End Of Days Show (25mins of summary and recap)
Forgive them their soap opera melodramatics, their hyperbolic angst and their self-righteousness, but the just-ended "Big Love" was the only show on TV where lead characters wrestled with issues of faith in the face adversity and recrimination. The show never really got into the "why" of polygamy (besides "because") but that gap allowed group marriage to serve as a metaphor for any niche belief trying to endure under the tyranny of majority. Thus, the dramatic arc of having multiple wives could serve as a stand-in for Universalism, Baha'i or Voodoo.

The last program to do anything like that was "Kings" on NBC (videos available til mid-Oct) -- a modern allegorical retelling of the King David saga -- and that never found much of an audience despite Christian advocacy pundits demanding that television represent people of faith in a positive light; see a trailer via Belief.net

There is "Sister Wives" on TLC,  an unscripted program showing plural marriage lifestyle, but I haven't seen much on faith.

Mayor Gives Open Door To Religious Leaders

Art Madrid, mayor of La Mesa, Calif., in San Diego County, met with an interdenominational group that included Wesleyans, Mormons, and Roman Catholics to discuss fair trade, homelessness and disaster preparedness -- providing an example that fairness, compassion and preparedness are values government can share. SOURCE: by Karen Pearlman in the Union Tribune

Animism As A Narrative Device, But Inverted For Movie Plot

Amid this essay about a cinematic trend of animals as metaphor, it's not just cute animals acting like humans.
“Rango,” so thoroughly saturated in references to well-known, non-beast-centered stories, practices a kind of reverse animism. Animism is a set of beliefs emphasizing the power of local spirits: creatures, plants, rock formations and other objects of nature. In “Rango,” though, the “spirit of the West” turns out to reside not in a mesa, a cactus or a coyote but rather in a person, a ghostly cowboy rendered by computers (and the voice of Timothy Olyphant) into the spectral likeness of Clint Eastwood.
SOURCE: By A.O. Scott in the NY Times


Cults Of Many Flavors

5-part video series (aprox. 50 minutes) published at the blog The Macho Response looks at some women ensnared by groups purported to be cults: W0RD Center Ministries which is a Bible-based group in Nebraska, a Jehovah Witness-based group in Colorado,  Freedom Foundation in Alabama, and others-- originally aired on the WE: Women's Entertainment TV's "Secret Lives of Women" documentary series.

Praying They Stop Violating The Constitution

From the Associated Press, a Minnesota lawmaker is asking State Senate leaders to allow only nondenominational prayers to open sessions, after feeling uncomfortable when a Baptist pastor repeatedly mentioned Jesus and Christianity in one of the invocations. Terri Bonoff, a Jewish Democrat from Minnetonka, said:
“We honor God in public and our political discourse, and that’s proper. But in doing a nondenominational prayer, we are honoring him without violating the separation of church and state.”
Story goes on to note that the Amy Koch, the Republican Senate majority leader (apparently a Roman Catholic) rejected the requirement and will not follow the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
SOURCE: New York Times


5 Things About The Bible

If you weren't paying attention, or were paying attention to something else, the writer pegs five vitally relevant if arguably unimportant specifics that people ought to know about the Bible, believe it or not.
1. Every Bible is actually a collection of books. The word itself means something like "little library." Many of the Bible's books developed over a long period of time and include the input of a lot of people (ancient Israelites, Babylonian Jews and Greek pastors, to name a few), reflecting particular places (urban Jerusalem, the northern Galilee, rural Judah and ancient Persia, for example) and times (spanning as much as 1,000 years for the Old Testament and a couple of centuries for the New Testament). Plus, the collection as a whole developed over centuries. This helps to explain the tremendous variety of theological perspectives, literary style, and sometimes perplexing preoccupations (which animal parts go to which parties in which categories of sacrifices, e.g.), as well as why some texts disagree with others.

There are four more, by Kristin Swenson, PhD, and author via Huffington Post


Forcing Sectarianism Onto All Americans

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) pushes the idea that only monotheists deserve to be franchised in America.
Congress voted in 1956 to make “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto. A year earlier, Congress passed a law that mandated the phrase be on all coins and currency. President Eisenhower signed the currency bill into law in 1956, and since then all American paper money and coins have the motto on them.
“This is not just about Christians. This is about a number of different religions across the country,” said Forbes.
Of course, none of those religions include Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists, Wiccans, any number of Native American faiths, Animists, ... or any wrinkle of non-believers.
 SOURCE: By Emily Miller on Human Events -- by way of RightwingWatch.org


"The Unbelievers" -- A Book Review

"The Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern Atheism," by S.T. Joshi
When the priest asks him why, with his days numbered, he still has not turned to God, Meursault, the death row inmate in Albert Camus’s “L’Étranger,” exclaims, “I just didn’t have the time to interest myself in what didn’t interest me.” By contrast, a new book introduces us to an array of individuals who, while sharing Meursault’s religious nonbelief, most certainly do not share in his insouciance. ...

Joshi’s book is structured in 14 chapters, each focusing on an individual whom he credits with advancing contemporary atheism (a term to which one must affix countless definitional footnotes; for Joshi’s purposes, and ours here, it is used loosely to include “agnostics,” “freethinkers,” “brights,” “de factos,” and others). He begins, appropriately, with the British scientist Thomas Henry Huxley, who could fairly be described as Charles Darwin’s self-appointed publicist in the later half of the 19th century, and culminates with another Briton, today’s well known “anti-theist” journalist and essayist, Christopher Hitchens.
Author also includes Leslie Stephen, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mark Twain, Clarence Darrow, H. L. Mencken, Bertrand Russell, H. P. Lovecraft, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Gore Vidal, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris.
SOURCE: By Stuart Whatley in The Christian Science Monitor


Religion's Impact On Governance

A number of essayists address the issues of private belief  overlapping into public policy, in the context of the House of Representatives' vote to defund Panned Parenthood -- including Valerie Elverton Dixon's (bio) salient piece stating that an unborn child has the rights that its mother gives it:

... the right of women to exercise choices remains under attack. This is done in the name of an unborn child. Let us be clear: there is no right to be born. Birth is a gift. A coerced gift is no gift at all. Thank God and your mother for your life.
The state's primary purpose is to protect the rights of individuals once they are born. So, in the collision of concerns--the rights of women to control her own body and the concern for an unborn fetus--the duty of the law is to protect the rights of the woman. Therefore, we must necessarily leave the protection of the fetus to the judgment of the woman. Here religion may play a part in persuading her one way or another. However the coercive force of law in this instance is unjust.

SOURCE: Washington Post