John Bloom

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John Bloom


Christ, That Hurt

07.21.2008 | Comments(38)

Okay, obviously nobody can resist a video of uber-atheist Christopher Hitchens being waterboarded. Vanity Fair has apparently resorted to making bad YouTube videos in order to promote itself–in this case, the Hitchens article “Believe Me, It’s Torture.” But I have questions for Christopher, starting with: Do you always get waterboarded by guys dressed up like cat burglars? Hitchens ShowerAnd couldn’t you just climb onto the board? Why do you have to be bound like a paralysis victim and then lifted on and off it? Did you get waterboarded while drunk or something? Come to think of it, maybe you could have lasted more than 10 seconds if they’d used vodka instead of water when they were sprinkling you out of that Clorox bottle. And that’s another thing: it looked like they sprinkled about, oh, two fingers of a shot glass worth of Evian water through a towel. Is that really all it takes? Maybe I’m in favor of waterboarding after all. You think you’re drowning but there’s no way in hell you could even get wet. Those who’ve watched the video know that Hitchens was given a safety word if he wanted to abort the demonstration, but contrary to rumors on the blogosphere, that word was not “Jesusislord.”

Anglican Steel Cage Death Match Might Be Postponed

GAFCON

They won’t be singing Kumbayah this week at the Lambeth Conference, the every-ten-year meeting of the entire Anglican communion, especially since 200 bishops will be boycotting the event, including my recent dinner companion, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who used the word “apostates” to describe some of his fellow clerics at the recent Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem. The conservatives all but admitted they held GAFCON to intentionally upstage Lambeth, declaring themselves a “church within the church” that was tired of complaining about liberal doctrine that the church leaders are obviously loathe to change. But N.T. Wright, the respected Bishop of Durham who’s on the short list to be the future Archibishop of Canterbury and who once made the mistake of giving an interview to the Door’s own Becky Garrison, called the GAFCON movement “strange in form and uncertain in destination,” and encouraged the renegade bishops to reconsider and bring their “rich experience and gospel-driven exuberance to the larger party where the rest of us are working day and night for the same gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.” Some of the conservatives will indeed show up at Lambeth, but they don’t wanna sit next to the gay guy. And the Archbishop of Canterbury appears to be floating a last-ditch effort to make the theocons happy: he’s creating a cadre of “superbishops” to supervise churches that object to being led by a female–because, oh yeah, there’s that problem, too, the fact that 14 years ago the Anglicans started ordaining women and now they’re about to have the first female bishops. No wonder several of the Anglican dissidents were recently seen darting in and out of offices at the Vatican. In 1994, 500 Anglican priests became, overnight, Catholic priests. Benedict is hoping for a new harvest. And, by the way, the first superbishop was created in the 1970s, by Monty Python.

Barack Loves Jesus Again

Obama Glory

Uh oh, Barack Obama was using the phrase “personal commitment to Christ” last week, and we know what happens when the Obamameister starts getting all evangelical on us–he ends up interpreting scripture. Fortunately, he hasn’t given us any more exegesis lately, but he did come out for expansion of the Bush administration’s faith-based programs. Would that be the same programs that, uh, were roundly condemned as failures after special assistant to the President Doug Wead was drummed out of the White House for making secret tapes of the Prez? Yes, they would be, but that had nothing to do with the original vision of the programs, as Jim Wallis of Sojourners explained in a virtual endorsement of Obama during the same week that Obama’s handlers explicitly stated that they were seeking the support of the “religious left.” They were seeking it, by the way, in Zanesville, Ohio, hometown of Zane Grey, holder of the all-time record for novels made into movies (over 200), and not a member of the religious left. If this goes on much longer, Obama will be in danger of saying something akin to Howard Dean’s comment in 2004, when asked what his favorite New Testament book was. If you’ll recall, the answer was Job. There wasn’t much spin for his handlers to put on that one.

Last Time the Romans Showed Up, the Trojans Lost

The Popemobile is in Australia this week for World Youth Day, and our sources in the Anglican church tell us that there’s an organized effort to drop condoms on the Pope’s head. So far there have been no papal condom showers, but if they do go through with it, I hope they’re not ribbed condoms. After all, he’s an elderly man.

No Shocking Glimpses of Stocking in This Couture Line

07.09.2008 | Comments(25)

The world’s most famous polygamists have started a new cottage industry–selling “modest” handmade children’s clothing, popularized during the epic battle between the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and baby-snatching agents of the state of Texas. Shortly after the seizure of the 440 children at the church’s ranch in El Dorado, Texas, their mothers spent night and day at their sewing machines, trying to provide clothing that Texas Child Protective Services needed for day-to-day use of the imprisoned children. This caused a lot of inquiries from parents across the country seeking dresses, overalls, shirts, pants, sleepwear and “ankle-to-wrist underwear” for their loved ones. The polygamist wives, many of whom are afraid to return to the ranch until the state investigation is complete, told all callers that they would be happy to sell their handiwork. There’s a bigger market for this stuff than you might think. Wholesome WearIt’s always been a major problem for Orthodox Jewish girls trying to socialize at swimming pools, but, believe it or not, neck-to-knee one-piece swimsuits can actually be cute and stylish. And we now have this late-breaking development: Marc Jacobs has announced that his spring 2009 collection, to be unveiled at September Fashion Week in New York, will be Prairie Style Unisex. (Incidentally, I was making the Marc Jacobs joke even before Tim Gunn debuted his YouTube interview on polygamist style, during which he gives the wives some advice on how to “redefine the Prairie Dress”–he would put “a big wide patent leather belt” on most of them, and switch their footwear to “a cute little ballet flat”–but he was actually impressed by some of the “innovations” the wives have already come up with, including intricate “piping detail” on their collars.)

Okay, Let’s Sing the Solstice Song

Muslim Protest

The Oprah View of Salvation–“There are many ways to God, and my way may not be your way, but kumbayah”–has now been verified by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (is it my imagination or is the Pew Forum becoming the pollster of choice for every media outlet in America?), which reports that 70 percent of religious Americans agree with the statement, “Many religions can lead to eternal life.” For evangelicals, the figure falls to 57 percent. Since everyone seems determined to talk about this–it’s one of those Won’t Go Away discussions–here’s the important theological distinction. For you, the believer, the injunction is One Way, and the way is narrow. The way is Christ. You don’t get to go to the salad bar. However, there’s a paradox: For you, the believing citizen of the greater world, the injunction is, Say not even in your heart who shall ascend into heaven. Two different things. You. Them. You = The Cross. Them = Love Them and Never Judge Them. The narrow way is for You, no one else. Don’t make me have to explain this again.

Shadrach Was Spared, But the Money Got Burned Up

Shadrach

The Three Hebrew Boys swept through small black churches and military bases in the Carolinas, signing up investors in “secret foreign currency exchanges” that earned anywhere from 200 to 500 percent daily interest. Since an investment like that could quickly become worth millions of dollars, it was a good way to erase your credit card debt, mortgage or car loan–or so the spiel went. You think you know where this is going, right? You only know part of it. Tony Pough, Timothy McQueen and Joseph Brunson, who called themselves the Three Hebrew Boys in homage to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were cast into the fiery furnace of the federal grand jury system, which indicted them on 35 counts of mail fraud last week, alleging that they collected $80 million and invested only $40,000 of it, using the rest for the usual assortment of personal luxury items. But here’s the twist: more than a hundred of their investors, including ministers and retired generals, rallied outside the South Carolina Statehouse, calling on investigators to leave them alone, proclaiming their innocence. The feds have seized $17 million and frozen it until trial, which should be good news for the defense bar of South Carolina, not to mention any Old Testament scholars who might be called for expert testimony as to exactly how much Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were supposed to get paid.

Vile Filmmaker, You Are Free to Go

How upside down has the world become when it’s considered enlightened and tolerant for a government to decide not to prosecute someone for making a movie? That was the position of Geert Wilders last week when Dutch prosecutors said his short film I, which maintains that the Koran is full of incitements to violence, is merely “hurtful and painful,” but not egregious enough to be prosecuted as hate speech. The Muslims in the Netherlands were not mollified, by the way, and intend to ask a judge to prosecute Wilders anyway, and possibly extradite him to Jordan, where he’s wanted on hate-speech charges. Seize that man’s digital camcorder before it’s too late.

The Vatican Chooses the Messy Communion

07.08.2008 | Comments(11)

Should the communion wafer be placed directly in your mouth by the priest, or should the priest just hand it to you and let you chomp it? After decades of debate and millions of pages of theological discourse, the Pope has decided to risk cooties by sticking it directly in your mouth. Don’t make us adjudicate this a second time.

Frothing at the Mouth Protected by the First Amendment

Exorcism

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that exorcisms, no matter how gnarly they get, constitute protected First Amendment speech and you can’t circle back later and say you were battered or abused by the demon-casting process, even if your head spun around several times and caused spinal damage. The test case involved a 17-year-old girl named Laura Schubert who was freed of demonic influence during a marathon session in 1996 at Pleasant Glade Assembly of God in Colleyville, Texas, but later claimed false imprisonment and mental distress leading to the need for professional psychiatric help. The Supreme Court held in a 6-3 decision that, if a church could be sued every time someone gets driven insane by doctrine or practice, then it would have a chilling effect on the willingness of ministers to beat people up for Biblical reasons.

Shifty Shiflett

Jail

The Reverend Charles Shiflett, destined to be known as Shifty Shiflett, was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Culpeper, Virginia, from 1988 to 2005, but that started to unravel when he got charged with cruelty to children, including six (!) assault and battery convictions, at his church-operated school. Last week he was back in court, pleading guilty to 20 fresh felony counts involving his checkbook, including obtaining money by false pretenses from the church, filing a fake workers compensation claim (says he hurt his back “unloading a pony”), insurance fraud and tax fraud, all of which could add up to 310 years in prison and $50,000 in fines, if the district judge is not inclined to mercy. He has until October 8th to round up some character witnesses willing to say his sticky fingers didn’t interfere with his ministry. One of the charges involved his failing to report proceeds from the sale of livestock as income, but the livestock apparently consisted of camels that were maimed by attempts to thrust them through sewing utensils.

Let the Preacherman Preach

10 Commandments

The Alliance Defense Fund, the original religious right legal outfit founded by James Dobson and the religious broadcasters in 1993, is searching for a church that’s willing to endorse political candidates from the pulpit so they can get arrested and fined, then challenge the constitutionality of the Internal Revenue code that prohibits churches from getting involved in politics. I support this effort, and predict victory, mainly because free speech should be universal and unrestricted, and you shouldn’t be denied the chance to speak just because you’re a pastor speaking on Sunday morning. Americans United for Separation of Church and State disagrees, saying that charitable contributions should not be used for politics, but that’s more the French model–no religion in the public square–as opposed to the American model of equal access for religion and non-religion in the public square. I know that when my father ran for the school board, he visited virtually every black Baptist church in Pulaski County, Arkansas, most of them during a religious service, to speak specifically about politics, and nobody much cared. They considered voting part of doing the right thing, and doing the right thing part of their religion, and that’s their right. If AUSCS truly believes in mere separation, and not anti-clericalism, then they’ll enforce the rights of the church side just as ardently as they do the rights of the state side.

Don We Now Our Homosexual Apparel

07.07.2008 | Comments(12)

OneNewsNow is the daily news feed of Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association in Tupelo, Mississippi, but since they’re so afraid of the pagan elitist liberal media infecting their news site with anti-Christian thought, they put word filters on the incoming Associated Press stories, so that offensive ones are automatically changed or removed. One of those words is “gay,” which the AFA objects to as promoting homosexuality. But that can result in some strange news reports when the fastest human in the world runs the 100 meters:

News Story - Tyson

That would be the man known to his friends as Tyson Gay.

Jesus Is a No-Show in Florida

Todd Bentley

Todd Bentley, our favorite biker-dude preacher, currently holding the Revival That Refuses to End in a Lakeland, Florida, RV park, told his audience that Jesus would come down in his chariot in clouds of glory and walk on Todd’s stage on June 8th. But apparently Jesus promised and then didn’t show up, which seems very un-Jesus-like to us. I would imagine that on June 9th Todd was upset, which would explain why he had to kick a man in the stomach to get rid of his stage IV colon cancer.

Mama, Stop Writin’ ‘Bout Us

Britney and Jamie

Apparently that parenting book by Britney Spears’ mom is back on again. Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, couldn’t wait to get back to the office last week, so he sent out an instant message on his Blackberry: “The Lynne Spears manuscript is totally compelling. I can’t put it down–and I’m not even the market!” What? The head of Thomas Nelson is not the market for white-trash confessionals? I’m stunned.

500 Christians in Jersey Can’t Be Wrong

Democratic Jesus

Of all the things I’ve blogged about these past eight months, my (admittedly snarky) item on the “Envision ‘08" conference at Princeton last month engendered some of the most outraged responses, many of them suggesting I’m an arrogant judgmental Neanderthal. Now the 500 Christian leaders at Princeton have emerged from this convocation with a “Declaration on the Common Good,” in which they talk about this “critical moment in the history of the United States” (without being too specific about why it’s critical), then calling for “the way of Jesus” and defining that way as “struggling for peace, social, economic, and racial justice, and a flourishing creation.” (I thought the way of Jesus meant picking up the Cross, but let’s not quibble.) For this Princeton group, the “new vision of the common good” involves ethnic diversity, elimination of poverty, and saving-the-planet eco stuff, but acknowledges that “we do not have all the answers.” In other words, another position paper that nobody will read, that manages to be even more boring than a United Nations position paper, and has the added disadvantage of being disingenuous. This entire conference was set up as a rebuke of the religious right. Rather than saying that out loud, they pussy-footed around the topic, denied that they represent the religious left, and cut off fellowship with those who also follow “the way of Jesus” but do it as conservatives. Leave it to a summer intern at the Institute on Religion and Democracy to write the most dead-on analysis of the whole event. Nobody who simply transfers the culture wars from the political arena to the religious is helping us find the one way, which, should we need to be reminded, is narrow.

My Breakfast with the Archbishop (and Lunch, and Dinner)

07.01.2008 | Comments(22)

The Archbishop of Canterbury was not pleased when several Anglican bishops convened in Jerusalem without him, then announced that they would create a “church within a church” that will do their own training of ministers, because they don’t think that the wimpy leaders in Europe and America are theologically rigorous enough. This is just an extension of the simmering feud between the Gay Priest Faction–which hates it when you call them the Gay Priest Faction–and those who don’t trust any Church of England theologian born after the year 1832. One of the first people to condemn the conservative bishops was Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the United States, who called the statements out of Jerusalem an “emission” from an elite who consider themselves “the only true believers.” I really don’t think that can be the case, though, having recently met one of the ringleaders, Peter J. Akinola, who was seated next to me for three–count ‘em, three!–heavy Austrian meals during a conference in Vienna. And it takes a long time to eat an Austrian meal. Akinola Akinola is Archbishop of Nigeria and chairman of the Global South Anglican Communion, and he’s obviously a working-class guy, earthy and direct, really the opposite of elitist. (The formalistic pronouncements of Jefferts Schori, come to think of it, sound elitist in a prep school sort of way.) But anyway, I had several conversations with the archbishop during the Vienna Forum, which was held in a cool white tent on the manicured grounds of Castle Neuwaldegg. And this is gonna be hard to explain, but the conference was held under the protection of what are called “Chatham House rules,” meaning that no one is allowed to be quoted, in the hope that this will engender vigorous uncensored debate. So there was vigorous debate, and it was uncensored, and so I can’t quote anything Archbishop Akinola said to me. However, I do think I can quote what he repeated every time he would get excited. He would tell the story of something he didn’t like, and at the end of each story, his voice would rise and he would say, with exasperation, “Where was the church?” Sometimes he would say it twice: “Where was the church? WHERE WAS THE CHURCH?” These conservative bishops don’t think they’re taking over a denomination. They think the captains abandoned the ships long ago.

Adam to God: She Just Won’t Listen!

Domestic Violence

Okay, I’m gonna drop some bloody red meat into shark-infested waters here. I’ll just give you people the headline and you can take it from there: “Southern Baptist Scholar Links Spouse Abuse to Wives’ Refusal to Submit to Their Husbands.” The original comments are from Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, who gave this sermon at the notoriously fundamentalist Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas, where pastor Tom Nelson has been relentlessly assembling a literalist rulebook for years. The above headline is on an article by Bob Allen, Managing Editor at EthicsDaily.com. But here’s the best part: Bruce, Bob and Tom are all basically in agreement that if the broads would just shut up and do as they’re told, they wouldn’t get beaten up so often. (Biblical citations are plentiful.) And, after all, who can argue with that?

What a Country!

Cross Flag

This Friday night, direct from the pentecostal heartland (Springfield, Missouri), comes the “I Love America Celebration,” which has been claiming upwards of 100,000 attendees in recent years after starting out as a small gathering of James River Assembly of God Church in Ozark, Missouri, in 1997. Something called GOD TV (we’re not making that up) will be broadcasting over the Internet this super-patriotic blending of America and Christ that will feature an orchestra outfitted with 76 trombones (uh, wasn’t that a lie told by Robert Preston in The Music Man?), then an air show, a salute to the military, and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, who’s always sniffing after that pentecostal voting bloc. We were planning to stop by, but how can you be that close to Branson, Missouri, and not stop in to see the newest sold-out act, The Twelve Irish Tenors, eclipsing the records set last year by Noah the Musical?--although those statistics are a little bit like apples and oranges, since our all-time favorite Branson performer, Yakov Smirnoff, is taking the week off.

Sanjay Gupta Is Too Damn Cheerful

Sanjay Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta–and, by the way, is he on every television news show on every network, at least seven times a day?–Dr. Sanjay Gupta says that religious faith can cut down on heart disease and infections, but the verdict is still out on cancer. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here, though. Are religious people healthier because they believe? Or are healthier people more likely to be religious? Dr. Gupta thinks that maybe religious people are healthier because they’re “more optimistic,” and optimistic people take better care of themselves. What about us Negative Christians, though? What if you’re religious, but really really grumpy, like everyone at the Door? What if you’re so grumpy that you get mad when people say you’re religious? What if you occasionally use the f-word in the middle of Bible study? Do you have more heart attacks? And what about the Christian Scientists? Shouldn’t they be living to at least 300 years old by now? Just wondering.

What If He’s Really a Mormon?

06.30.2008 | Comments(13)

The Faith of Barack Obama, supposedly a spiritual biography of the candidate, will be released by Thomas Nelson in August and looks to be a quickie cut-and-paste job by Stephen Mansfield, who also wrote The Faith of George W. Bush. The real test of the book’s accuracy will be whether he is able to give a nuanced description of Jeremiah Wright’s theology, which, thus far, the world has been deprived of. Barack Obama is not a Muslim, by the way. The New York Times reminds us of this at least once a week, thereby prolonging the life of the rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim. There’s been a lot of talk recently about just exactly what Obama does believe, but one thing we know is that the candidate himself should never try to interpret the Bible. Obama Cross Every time it’s happened–see his version of the Sermon on the Mount in “Blessed Are the Swishy”–he’s just bolstered his image as, in the words of James Dobson, a “fruitcake.” The contretemps with Dobson came last week, and was full of scriptural duelling between the religious right and the religious left, with both sides claiming to be apolitical, and with Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine invoking his superior knowledge of Obama theology because he was physically present at the Obama speech that irritated Dobson, then Baptist Press editor Will Hall weighing in against “former Marxist” Wallis by pointing out–fairly accurately–the ways in which Obama’s scriptural interpretations don’t pass muster. Obama himself offered yet another venture into Sermon on the Mount hermeneutics, but at the end of the day, you can’t hammer the religious right for using the Bible as a rulebook . . . by using it as a rulebook. Barack, you’re a smart guy, read some Karl Barth.

We Told You

Brain Glow

Katherine Rankin, a neurophysiologist at the University of California-San Francisco, has recently proven that our sarcasm here at The Door is a result of our finely developed parahippocampal gyrus in the right brain and benefits all mankind, and that Kenneth Copeland, among others, probably has a damaged parahippocampal gyrus so he probably won’t get it when we say we enjoy all his cowboy movies.

One More Nominee for the Flock-Fleecing Hall of Fame

Mundell Preaching

When you’ve watched as many Prosperity Gospel preachers as we have, there are certain code words that you recognize, and certain ways of preaching, and certain mannerisms and rhythms that are common to all of them, but my nominee for the Elmer Gantry Home Study Course would be Daniel S. Mundell, who preaches the purest form of it since Robert Tilton, and who has filed for bankruptcy twice after running through millions in donations, building then abandoning churches, and centering most of his efforts on South Florida, although he evangelizes all across the country, summoning God to create millionaires everywhere he goes. He’s a classic nickel-and-dimer, specializing in the $20 donation and the $300 credit-card pledge, and his latest reinvention of himself is in a Hallandale Beach, Florida, strip mall, where he made the mistake of drawing the attention of investigative reporter Sally Kestin, who works for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and got his ex-wife (and ex-co-pastor) to talk. Kimberly Mundell basically outlined the whole financial structure and how it works (with tips from our old friend and ex-con W.V. Grant of Dallas). Get down to the strip mall quickly, because Dan will probably be leaving town pretty soon now.

Deputized Baby-Snatcher Needed

Followers of Christ

Clackamas County, Oregon, has become the controversial hub of faith-healing practices in recent years after several children have died there, testing the limits of Oregon laws designed to force parents to seek medical help for minors even if their religious beliefs forbid it. The Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, which had at least three infant deaths in the nineties, was back in the news in April when two parents were charged with manslaughter and criminal mistreatment after their 15-month-old daughter died of pneumonia and a blood infection when they tried to cure her with prayer alone. Now the D.A. is considering charges in another case out of the same church–a 16-year-old boy who died of uremic heart failure caused by a urinary tract infection which could have been fixed, according to the state medical examiner, with a simple catheter. In this case, the boy himself refused medical treatment. (In Judaism and most Christian churches, the boy would have been considered an adult, allowed to make his own decisions, at age 13 or 14, but in this case state law specifies 18 as the age of consent.) Local police also say they have long been frustrated by the practice of area Christians involved in car accidents who refuse to be taken to hospitals. My suggestion is that we send recently rehabbed born-again Dog the Bounty Hunter to Clackamas County, and every time they get one of these reports, send Dog over to the house to say, “I’m taking that baby, and on the way to the hospital we’ll all pray together.” Sometimes you need a bridge between the legal and the religious that’s not too much of either one.

Watch Out for That New Tim LaHaye Thrill Ride

06.29.2008 | Comments(7)

In this year of declining theme park revenues, there are two–count ‘em, two!–Biblical theme parks vying for space around Nashville, hoping to cash in on the evangelical equivalent of ecotourism. Just in case you’re behind on your Biblical theme park history, it all started in 1960 when Gerald L.K. Smith vowed to build the biggest Christian amusement park in the world in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, but managed only to build that Christ-of-the-Ozarks statue that looks just like the one in Brazil, only creepier, and ever since then they’ve been producing The Great Passion Play more or less continuously.Jesus of the Ozarks Twenty years later, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker cashed in on Christian theme-park hunger with Heritage USA in Fort Mill, South Carolina, whose revenues shot up until Jessica Hahn was discovered to have gone down, and by the end of the eighties it was a weed-infested ruin being vacuumed by caretaker Jerry Falwell. Next into the breach was The Holy Land Experience, which called itself “a living Bible museum” at its opening in Orlando in 2001, but struggled from day one (what! You kids would rather see Goofy dancing through the park than a bloody Jesus stumbling through the park carrying his cross and crying out in agony?) and was eventually bought in 2007 by Trinity Broadcasting Network, home of all things Excessively Christian. Now TBN is thinking of expanding the Orlando park by sending some of its more popular exhibits to the Nashville suburb of Hendersonville, Tennessee, where it owns Trinity Music City, the former home of Conway Twitty, whose personal theme park was called Twitty City. (Aren’t you glad you asked?) But wait! A group of private Nashville developers are already planning another Christian theme park (what are the odds?) called Bible Park USA. Unfortunately, they’ve already been shot down once by the citizens of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who didn’t want a $200 million theme park in their backyard (I’m shocked! Murfreesboro is the home of the newspaper Sword of the Lord, with its giant red sword twinkling through the night), so now they’re wining and dining the politicos in Lebanon, Tennessee (another Nashville suburb, and the only Biblically named one) for the right to bring a Faux Middle East to a Frowning Middle Tennessee. So far no one has pointed out the irony of trying to shoehorn two more theme parks into the only major American city that had to shutter its theme park–Opryland USA, which closed in 1997 and is slowly reverting to bramble and bush, the way it looked when Andrew Jackson owned it. Andy was a Presbyterian who converted late in life and once said to a Nashville lawyer, “I thank God that there is such a place of torment as hell.” The lawyer replied, “Why, General Jackson, what do you want with such a place of torment as hell?” Said Jackson, “To put such damned rascals as you are in, that oppose and vilify the Christian religion.”

I Never Promised You a Thorn Garden

Thomas and Juanita

Awwwww, Juanita Bynum and Thomas Weeks, the Ike and Tina Turner of evangelism couples, won’t be getting back together after all. The settlement agreement is 14 pages long, and apparently Juanita’s appearance on Divorce Court just pushed things to a level that was beyond kissy kissy. Or maybe not. There was an awkward moment at the final divorce hearing when the judge asked about a post-separation booty call, causing the litigants at the first available break in the proceedings to furiously text-message each other. (May we see those Blackberries, please?) After they got that all straightened out, characterizing it as a temporary night of passion that may or may not have been before or after this or that or the other, Bynum headed off for her new role on the ABC series Lincoln Heights and Weeks went to update his Facebook profile and return to the wilds of evangelical dating. I don’t think this story is over. Neither one of them hit delete on those address books.

Half Naked Atheists on the Beach

Atheist Days

And the atheists will gather at the river–actually at Half Moon Beach in Strasburg, Virginia, this August, for three days of deity-denying party heat. Bring the RV, booze it up on the water by day, and while away your evenings being entertained by atheist rockers like Gonzo’s Nose and comics like Comedy Jesus and our friend Pastor Deacon Fred. It’s called “Atheist Days 2008,” subtitled “An Unbelievably Good Time” (get it? it took me a minute, but I’m slow), and among their hopes are some killer paintball games because, after all, rednecks can be atheists, too.

http://atheistdays.com/

But If We Let Him Have One, Pontius Pilate Might Want One, Too

Golden Electric Chair

It didn’t take long–less than a week?–for the litigation to get started in South Carolina over the “I Believe” personalized Christian license plate. A Washington lobbying group got a sensitive Methodist, a concerned rabbi, and an outraged Hindu, among others, to join the list of plaintiffs. Meanwhile, we’ve been studying the design of the plate, and if we could make a suggestion: To indicate that you’re a member of a contemporary Christian congregation, you should really switch from a gilded cross to a gilded electric chair, since South Carolina is one of the remaining states where condemned prisoners are allowed to choose between lethal injection and electrocution, and if Jesus were to be killed there today, it wouldn’t make sense to make him just carry his needle up to Calvary, but it would make sense to strap an electric chair on his back and haul that thing until he broke down and we got some wranglers to pick it up and carry it the remaining few hundred yards. Plus an electric chair with those wicked straps hanging off the side would look much gnarlier on the back of your truck.

George, Lenny and Me

06.25.2008 | Comments(29)

It pisses me off that the media is calling George Carlin the Seven Dirty Words Comic, as though his career ended in the 1970s. I’m honor-bound to defend him now because I once penned a critical piece for the San Francisco Chronicle alleging that Carlin seemed a little bit too fond of mere wordplay, unlike Lenny Bruce, who was all about the power of words but never about puns. Carlin was so incensed by my comments that he went to considerable lengths to find my home phone number and, when he finally found me, said, "I read the article and I want to explain to you what I do." I knew by then he was going to call, so I said, "George, I’m a big fan, you don’t have to do this." And he said, "No, we’re not gonna do the big fan bullshit," but he said it so breezily–he was really a shy and gentle man, despite his reputation–that I started laughing.

George Carlin

We then talked about New York, Texas, California, and several other chit-chat topics until I felt bold enough to say, "Okay, I know what got you. The reference to Lenny Bruce. I don’t have any right to say that. I didn’t know Lenny Bruce and you did." And then we talked about Lenny Bruce, and Carlin eventually said, "I just want your address really, so I can send you this new show of mine, I want you to see the kind of stuff I’m doing now." And he sent me an HBO special he’d just finished, the one where he spends the last twenty minutes talking about the environment, the one that nobody talks about today because it’s so anti-environmentalist.

That was not the only Carlin position that was profoundly conservative. He was no kneejerk liberal. He was a contrarian. He didn’t like pro forma liberal positions any more than pro forma conservative positions. He was also not above going for the cheap f-word laugh. And he was also, many times, I’m sorry, George, but it’s true, a little bit too fond of mere wordplay. But he was funnier than Lenny Bruce, whom many admired but few loved. People loved George Carlin. He was a teddy bear. I wish I’d talked to him about God that day, too, because he was under the mistaken impression that he was an atheist.



There’s Something To Be Said for the Distant Judaic God

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I’m all for inspiring youth ministries like the Children’s Christian Coalition in Southern California, but their "Christ Within Us All" T-shirt, designed to show an angry Jesus bursting out of your chest like the mutant in Alien, is just TOO INCREDIBLY CREEPY. Stop it! Or is it just me?


I’m With Stupid

Atheists are crowing about research by University of Ulster psychology professor Richard Lynn showing that the higher the IQ a person has, the less likely that person will believe in God.

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For example, only 7 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in God, and only 3.3 percent of the members of the Royal Society. Primary school children believe in God at extremely high levels, but that belief declines as they get older. Of course, we didn’t really need an article in the journal Intelligence to tell us this. After Jesus predicted the destruction of the great cities that failed to notice him, he thanked God, "because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." And then there was Paul, who did his own research into the matter and discovered "that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence." Or, if I could just sum up here, it’s the stupid people, stupid.


The Other Madonna

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Alma Manera will star in the all-singing, all-dancing version of the Virgin Mary story, which sounds like something they’d do in Greenwich Village but is actually having its world premiere at the Paul VI Auditorium in Vatican City. Mary of Nazareth, A Story That Goes On has the full blessing of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, even though the score was written by Stelvio Cipriani, whom we all remember best for his work on Piranha 2: The Spawning, not to mention Black Orgasm. The libretto is by Maria Pia Liotta, artistic director of a regional theater company in Reggio Calabria, and the title role is played by her daughter, a former Miss Italy contestant who lucked into the only female role in history that makes pregnancy cool.

Those Slain in the Spirit Must Be Borne Up By the Beefy

06.19.2008 | Comments(9)

You know those beefy guys who stand on the stage at healing services and catch people who fall backwards after Benny Hinn blows on them or they get caught up in a paroxysm of Holy Spirit Fever and lapse into a coma? At Mike Sexton’s Lakewind Fellowship Church in Knoxville, they’re called “assigned catchers,” and they have periodic meetings to discuss catching strategy.

slain in the spirit

Alas, this wasn’t enough to help the luckless Matthew Lincoln, who was seized by the spirit on June 6, 2007, after being lightly touched on the forehead by visiting minister Robert Lavala, causing him to fall backward sans catcher, striking his head and back on a “carpet-covered cement floor.” Lincoln, age 57, was well known to church elders, having regularly received the spirit and fallen backwards since 1995, but since he had a pre-existing degenerative disc disease caused by a 1994 fall resulting in surgical fusion of two vertebrae, his 2007 tumble proved permanently disabling and disastrous for his music production company and recording studio, which had, among other things, been previously struck by lightning. Lincoln is asking the church for $2.5 million to make up for its catcher negligence, and yet his wife Shirley Lincoln wants only $75,000 for “loss of consortium” with her husband, indicating that the recording studio was not the only thing previously struck by lightning.


Balance It Out With an “I Don’t Give a Flip” License Plate

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South Carolina went where Florida feared to tread and approved an “I Believe” personalized Christian license plate that looks exactly like the design that died in committee in Florida. What, they can’t do their own self-righteous plate in South Carolina? They have to call up Florida and ask them to email the PDF file? Anyway, the ACLU is experiencing the usual paroxysms of anti-clerical rage, and this augurs to be one of the top ten time-wasters of the next year. While they were at it, the legislators authorized some Ten Commandments monuments in the public square, just to make sure the litigation goes on into the next century.


Noggins Askew

Turkey seems hellbent on ripping apart the entire society over the issue of whether adult women are allowed to wrap a scarf around their heads while attending university classes. And they say we have culture wars.


The Anemic Commish

Apropos of the hand-wringing at the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, am I a bad person if I don’t particularly care how many Southern Baptists there are (16.3 million), how many of them go to church every week (6.15 million), and whose fault it is that the numbers are declining every year? As we’ve pointed out many times, it only takes 12. When the numbers go below 12, call me, okay?


No Demons Allowed in D.C.

Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, is once again being raked over the coals for the story he told 14 years ago about participating in the casting out of a demon from a girl he knew in college, and this time the rationale is that, since he’s being considered as John McCain’s running mate, the public has a Right To Know whether he’s an exorcist or not. Obviously he’s not an exorcist. He witnessed an event that can be seen routinely at pentecostal churches everywhere.

exorcism

He considers it an authentic event, part of “spiritual warfare” that has touched his own life. Unfortunately, to read his 1994 account of the group exorcism, you have to pay $1.50, so I’ll just sum it up: a girl he met through University Christian Fellowship at either Brown University or Oxford (he’s not clear on where it happened, perhaps to protect her identity) started sobbing uncontrollably, partly because she’d been diagnosed with skin cancer and a friend of hers had recently committed suicide. She then collapsed, having an apparent seizure, and was surrounded by her fellow Christians who started trying to cast out what they naturally assumed to be a demon. (If you’ve ever seen one of these prayer circles, then you’re so not amazed that they didn’t call for medical help.)

The hours-long group exorcism was full of ups and downs, profanity and prayer, commands to Satan, intercessory appeals to God, and it eventually was deemed a success when the girl smiled, said “Jesus is Lord,” and then professed not to remember anything that had happened. She was also apparently cured of her cancer. Jindal wrote the article for New Oxford Review, the conservative Catholic journal, although it reads like the sort of evangelical story you tell right before an altar call. It wouldn’t seem to be at all out of place in Louisiana, where there are far stranger wars among principalities and powers along the bayous than Jindal ever witnessed in the ecstatic churches of the Ivy League. Once again, what happened to the Mitt Romney Rule of leaving this stuff out of politics entirely? Were you guys just kidding?

This Is Better Than Cryogenics

06.19.2008 | Comments(12)

For only $40 a year, you can store the email addresses of all your heathen family members and friends, and they’ll receive messages and documents from you exactly six days after you’re taken up in the Rapture.

raptureThere are no real guidelines for what you should say to those who are Left Behind, but here at The Door we would advise against being excessively snarky. I know it’s tempting, but “nyah nyah nyah” is never attractive in a Christian, even a recently raptured one.


Would God Do That?

Everybody knows that something happened to the Philistines when they captured the Ark of the Covenant and placed it in the temple of their own god, Dagon.

Indiana JonesTraditionally the affliction suffered by the Philistines is called hemorrhoids. Everywhere the Philistines took the Ark, in fact, the people would be stricken with ’opalim, which is translated in the King James as “emerods” and in more modern translations as “tumors.” It’s been assumed that the word denotes some kind of swelling, but that doesn’t explain why there was an injunction against ’opalim being pronounced aloud when the scriptures are read. Now archeologist Aren M. Maeir of Bar-Ilan University in Israel says he’s figured out what the word means. The Philistines, he says, were afflicted with erectile dysfunction. In a fascinating article based on excavations at the Philistine cities of Ashkelon and Tell es-Safi, Maeir concludes that the curse on the Philistines “involved penises rather than hemorrhoids,” although he doesn’t go so far as to say definitely that they were given flaccid members. The meaning could also have been “penile pain.” Let’s ask Harrison Ford. Better yet, let’s ask his wife.


Go to the Light! No, Go Away from the Light!

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Spirituality For Kids is the children’s auxiliary of the celebrity-ridden Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles, which now apparently has branches in New York and London--where did you expect? Lawrence, Kansas?--and some people are starting to get a little queasy about children’s spirituality classes taught by Donna Karan, Demi Moore and the Material Girl. Supposedly kids in the New York schools, for example, are taught how to identify the Good Guy voice inside them, and use that instead of the Opponent voice, which will lead them into error, crime and confusion. (This is elementary school we’re talking about. Good angel/bad angel--isn’t that, uh, Manichaean?) Once you’ve identified the Good Guy voice, you can go to the light, and then share the light. Isn’t this what happened in Poltergeist when the little girl got trapped in the demonic dimension? Just asking.


This Caliph Is a Pussycat

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The Ahmadi Muslims, who believe among other things that Jesus survived the “attempted crucifixion” and is buried in Kashmir--hey, who has the movie rights for that?--just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the revival of the Caliphate, which is supposed to be the organization run by the guy who’s both the spiritual and temporal leader of all the Muslims in the world but, as it turned out, has just been the leader of the Ahmadi Muslims ever since the first one, in 1908, claimed to be the Messiah and then fell short on special effects. The Ahmadi Muslims are kind of the Seventh-Day Adventists of Islam, prophesying about the end times and then dying and then prophesying some more. They think jihad means “freeing oneself of impurities,” so let’s give a big thumbs up to any denomination that rules out killing infidels.

Footprints in the Muck

06.17.2008 | Comments(17)

“Footprints in the Sand,” the hands-down favorite for Most Nauseating Christian Poem Ever Written, is headed for federal court as three different authors make claims to be “Anonymous” and, therefore, entitled to copyright protection every time the words of the poem are engraved on a Neon Jesus Ashtray.

nameContenders for authorship include Margaret Fishback Powers, an itinerant Canadian evangelist who claims to have written it in 1964 at a youth camp in Ontario; Carolyn Joyce Carty of North Carolina, who has claimed at various times that her grandmother wrote the poem in 1922 and that she wrote it herself in 1963 (when she was six years old) and that she also wrote the lyrics to the Beatles song “In My Life”; Burrell Webb, an Oregon landscape artist who says a polygraph test has proven that he wrote the poem in 1958 after his girlfriend dumped him; the late Mary Stevenson, a former showgirl and nurse, whose descendants say she composed the poem as a teenager in 1936 after the deaths of her mother and brother; and at least 12 other people who seem to genuinely believe that they wrote it. Unfortunately for all of them, Rachel Aviv of the Poetry Foundation has found the basic idea of the poem in a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Baptist preacher whose writings were widely disseminated well into the late 20th century. The date of that sermon: 1880. This doesn’t matter, though, because I wrote it.

Some Grey Bloke Turns Spiritual

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Mike Booth, the British animator who writes, voices, draws and produces a series of hysterical vlogs starring himself as “Graham,” better known as Some Grey Bloke, who experiences life entirely through the Internet, has created the ultimate video on Religion Shopping, in which Graham sorts through all the religions of the world and decides on the one that’s best for him. We win (I think). One of the first things Graham has to deal with as a convert is the possibility that he will burn in hell, but the Calvinist nature of his choice is still being worked out.

An Alternative to Strangling the Youth Minister

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Bono Fatigue: A Place for Bono Vox Detox is one of those websites you can’t stop reading, even if you’re not personally involved in Bono recovery. My favorite post comes from Jami-dog of Grand Island, Michigan: “I have found that listening to the Tijuana Brass helps because their music is so unlike anything U2 has ever done. It’s a sort of antivenin.” Keep this URL handy, because It Could Happen to U2.

Designing Ben Stein

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Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the Ben Stein movie about intelligent design that caused a minor stir when released last month, is fourwalling theaters this summer for any church group that can muster 300 guaranteed admissions. You just call up our old buddy Tripp Thornton in Dacula, Georgia, and two to three weeks later he’ll have a screening set up in your neighborhood theater. We recommend rounding up some atheist pickets to maximize attendance. Trippht@bellsouth.net or 678-546-5580 for the details.

Don’t Encourage These People

06.17.2008 | Comments(5)

obama cross

Okay, I’m now officially bored with Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s the theological equivalent of a Drama Queen. Maybe that’s what Barack Obama thought, too, when he said farewell to his spiritual home of 20 years because, after all, what’s more American than church-shopping? They no longer met his needs.


Take Obama Off the List

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I’ve only been doing this Online Door thing for eight months, but I can already tell that anytime anybody sends out statistics on who’s a Christian and who’s not, they’re either gonna show “religion is booming” or “religion is dying.” You never get a late-breaking poll report that says, “Church attendance and faith statements are flat-lining over the past three years.” That’s why I take with a grain of salt all the op-ed attention that Christine Wicker is getting for her new book, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, which purports to prove, among other things, that the Southern Baptist Convention will close half its churches by the year 2030. Wicker’s argument is that the “Christian Right resurgence” trumpeted by the media in recent years was a lot of hot air, and that all evangelical churches have been declining since 1900. Of course, she makes the same mistake that church leaders do--she judges the faith according to its numbers. Let me point out something that Jesus taught us about numbers: it only takes 12 to do anything.


Filthy Farm Lucre

howard Porter

Howard Douglas Porter, pastor of the Christian Church in Hickman, California, and coach of the high school wrestling team, was driving the car that rolled into an irrigation canal and killed local millionaire Frank Craig in April 2004. Craig was crippled so he couldn’t swim away, although Porter survived. What made Stanislaus County officials suspicious was that the reason Craig was crippled is that he had been in a previous accident in which the passenger side of the car was slammed up against a tree--and Porter was driving that day, too. Oh yeah, one more thing: Porter had apparently been embezzling money from the old man for years, telling him he would help him realize his dream of building an antique farm machinery museum in Hickman (population 450). Porter is currently on trial in Fresno, looking at life without parole, presumably meditating on the agricultural maxims of the Lord, like the parable of the seed that fell among thorns.


Going Back to Catholicism 101

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Various Roman Catholics around the world periodically attempt to ordain women, and are then surprised when they’re excommunicated from the church. The latest criminals were two Americans and one South African who participated in women’s ordinations in the St. Louis diocese. I can understand how somebody might give this a shot immediately after Vatican II in the sixties, or perhaps even during the long reign of John Paul II, who was sometimes perceived as a liberal although he was not. But who would try this when Benedict XVI is Pope? I mean, do we really need to send that memo again?

Speaking in Fists

06.16.2008 | Comments(8)

bentley

Todd Bentley, the bald, pierced, tattooed ex-addict evangelist from British Columbia who looks like a biker and likes to talk about how many tumors he’s healed at revival meetings (he’s a little less adept with crippled legs), has been camped out in Lakeland, Florida, for a while now (what is it about Central Florida that brings out the lunacy caravans?) and he’s taken to explaining from the pulpit just exactly how he gets messages from God to physically assault worshippers in order to heal them. So far he’s kicked a woman in the face, grabbed a woman and banged her legs up and down on the platform “like baseball bats,” jumped on top of a man (“I got into a full mount”) in order to “ground and pound,” choked a man until a devil popped out of him, hit a Chinese guy so hard it drove him back several feet and caused a tooth to pop out of his mouth, and leg-dropped one of his fellow pastors. It’s all worth it, though. In one case, a woman’s tumor “exploded out of her right leg, slid down her leg, onto the floor.” Let’s hope they preserved the tumor, because Bentley’s current venue–the Sun ‘n’ Fun RV Park–is just 37 miles from Gibsonton, Florida, winter home of the circus sideshow operators, many of whom would give him a good price for a genuine tumor in a jar.


Get Thee Behind Me, Chuck

Prince Charles

Somehow I missed the whole “Prince Charles Is the Anti-Christ” conspiracy theory, which apparently flourished in the eighties and now has new life on the Internet, especially since the Prince recently gave a speech at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi by sending a hologram. This impressively lifelike speech has been examined and re-examined by end-times prognosticators who leave online comments such as “Get thee behind me, Satan” and “Wake up! We are being manipulated! Don’t be one of the sheep!” The fact that the hologram was used in the Middle East, in front of so-called “eco-nazis,” somehow made it possible to be linked to the previous most popular Prince Charles conspiracy video, a performance of Carmina Burana by the BBC National Orchestra on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his investiture. Carmina Burana has a final chorus with supposedly satanic overtones and was written by Nazi-era composer Carl Orff. (Okay, nobody said these were simple connections.) Note, though, the “vampiric teeth” of the conductor. Apparently the anti-Christ is also a bloodsucker, which, as far as I know, is a new twist on the old story.


Freecreditreport.com Won’t Help Her

Cheryl Lean Granger, previously mentioned in these columns as one of the most brazenly aggressive church-bookkeeper embezzlers in history, has received six years in the hoosegow, after which she’s expected to pay back the $333,000 she stole from Newport Harbor Lutheran Church in Newport Beach, California, which she attended with her professor husband until the two of them absconded to New Hampshire, where they were tracked down by dogged Orange County investigators. Hopefully she’ll be sent to one of those prisons where she can earn 10 cents a day sewing underwear or something.

But the Door Staff Won’t Do Nudity Unless It’s In Good Taste

06.11.2008 | Comments(14)

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The American Bible Society went ape when the New York Times reported that its website operations were being run by Internet porn king Richard J. Gordon, and they quickly moved to sever all connections with Gordon and put the Society’s two top officers on administrative leave.

Meanwhile, the description of Gordon’s success running e-commerce operations over the past 20 years made us envious. I’ve been looking for his phone number so I can have Door publisher John Bojo call him up and make a deal. We can use some web traffic, and we’re not squeamish.

God Delusion Royalties Aren’t That Good

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We were joking about the atheists driving up the price of that 1954 Einstein letter (the one calling the Bible “childish”) when it was auctioned off in London last week–only to be blindsided by the actuality. Instead of bringing $15,000 at auction, it sold for $404,000. The winning bid came from a fan of theoretical physics, but here’s the best part: Richard Dawkins did put in a bid on it! Richard, you cheapskate! You could have brought it for show-and-tell at next year’s atheist convention.


We Got It From Those Crusades Guys

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From the “What Were They Thinking?” Department: Johnson & Johnson, the big health care company, went down in flames last week in the courtroom of New York federal judge Jed S. Rakoff after he said their decision to sue the American Red Cross over who has the right to use the red cross . . . ahem . . . was basically a big waste of time and money. Johnson & Johnson had an 1895 agreement with the ARC--which, of course, is just a branch of the Red Cross organization that originated in Switzerland--to use the red cross symbol on its Band-Aids and other products. In 2004 the ARC started doing some licensing of the symbol to raise money, so that products could say “A portion of your purchase will go the ARC”--and, at that point, Johnson & Johnson thought, “Hey! You can’t just let anybody use the red cross!” Lawsuit filed. Ninety-five percent of it thrown out of court by Judge Rakoff, who referred to the case as “ironic.” That pretty much says it all.


How Many Lobsters Were Consumed at the Business Meeting?

A T.D. Jakes talk show produced by Dr. Phil? Ego, thou art loosed!

When Ahmadinejad Speaks, Everyone Says Shut Up

06.10.2008 | Comments(3)

The ayatollahs told Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop talking theology because he’s not qualified for ijtihad, which is the independent reasoning necessary for intepreting Islam for the people. ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad stepped over the line when he started receiving direct messages from the Imam Mahdi, or Hidden Imam, who appeared to die in the 8th century but actually went into “occultation” in the spiritual realm, with his body waiting in a cave somewhere (the location varies, but Ahmadinejad says it’s near Qum) so that he can return as the Islamic messiah, reigning with Jesus to fight the anti-Christ and seeking vengeance for the massacre of Husayn’s army at Karbala in 680. (Islamic end times theology is almost as bizarre as Tim LaHaye’s.) At any rate, the Hidden Imam has been sending messages lately, according to Ahmadinejad, directing the policies of the current Iranian government. This went far beyond Ahmadinejad’s previous remarks about wanting to “hasten the emergence” of the Imam and made all the ayatollahs pucker as one in their hidden places.


We Got Your Lotus Position Right Here

Dalai_Lama

The Dalai Lama is getting dissed everywhere he goes now. He had a big rally at the Brandenburg Gate, but the Germans were obviously not pleased that he was in the country. When he spent 11 days traipsing around England, nobody answered the door at 10 Downing Street. Meanwhile, those inscrutable Chinese cut off access to Mount Kailash in the Himalayas, where thousands of Hindus journey every summer to get close to Lord Shiva. Somebody should brief the Politburo: he’s a Buddhist, not a Hindu. Don’t be mean when you tell them, though. China demanded an apology from CNN when a commentator said after the Tibet riots that China’s leadership is “basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.” Here’s the punch line, though: CNN apologized! Here’s the better punch line: when China said the apology was insufficient, CNN apologized again with a better apology! CNN’s president is named Jim Walton, and Jim apparently didn’t play enough dodgeball in junior high.


Stepping Up

Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade, the superstar guard for the Miami Heat, bought his mother a church in Chicago–well, bought her a building for her existing church in Chicago–to climax the journey of Jolinda Wade from drug user to drug dealer to felony fugitive to state prison inmate to minister of the gospel at what has been christened the Temple of Praise. Reverend Wade was brought to Christ by her daughter Tragil, who raised Dwyane while their mother was strung out on drugs. Tragil had urged her mom to turn herself in on an old felony warrant, serve her time, and start fresh. She agreed. And she did what Miami Heat coach Pat Riley calls “stepping up.”

Gucci Set Her Free

06.10.2008 | Comments(7)

Tamra Nashman is a Florida-based motivational speaker and Broadway-show-tune singer whose new book, Shoes for the Spirit, uses a single spiked high heel as its logo. (Actually the cover of the book shows a barefoot Tamra trying on shoes from a closet that would be envied by Imelda Marcos.) The book, the companion CD (Songs for the Soul), and her Shoes for the Spirit blog (God deals with insomnia, God deals with psoriasis, God deals with parenting challenges) are the sorts of things we would normally cast into the Door "Lake of Fire" plastic mail bin, to be sold at the next yard sale. What makes Tamra different is that she's promoting her book with a tale of how she escaped from "a fundamentalist religious sect." In case you haven't noticed, "sect " has replaced "cult" as the media buzzword du jour ever since the various denominations practicing polygamy have been in the news. "The particular religious sect I belonged to throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood had a mind-set of control and total manipulation," she says, apparently for the benefit of the media and seminar audiences.

spirit shoes"They abused scripture in order to control and exploit members of their organization. It was particularly calculated against women, as the male leaders felt they would have less issues with lust if the women dressed in an extremely modest way --long skirts, long sleeves, high necks, no pants, no make-up, no jewelry. We couldn't cut or trim our hair. It was a sin to go to movies, no televisions were allowed in the home, and we were required to be at every service the organization planned for its members. Often times revival meetings would go every night of the week for months. We were constantly in fear of going to hell for any and every infraction that didn't line up with the strict by-laws of the church. I didn't see the manipulation until I left that organization at the age of 19, and it took me many years to shake free of the misconceptions and fear. My view of God was skewed and I had no real knowledge of benevolence, or grace."

All right, let's see what we have here: interpreting scripture in ways she didn't agree with, enforcing a dress code, banning some elements of popular culture, and having too many revivals. Could be Amish, could be Bruderhof, could be Orthodox, could be Holiness Church, could be several varieties of Pentecostal. I might even think it was Orthodox Judaism except for the references to"church" and "revival." What I'm wondering is how she managed to "escape" this prison at age 19 and live to blog about her deliriously happy 26-year marriage, her adorable children, her killer wardrobe, her singing career, her dream home in South Florida, and, of course, the ultimate victory over the fundamentalist dress code: her shoe collection. Isn't she afraid the mind-control patriarchs will come back and kidnap her? Doesn't she tremble at night over the possible fate of her Manolo Blahniks?

Chastity Belts Would Be Much Easier

nameFather-Daughter Purity Balls are increasingly popular evangelical events in which teenage girls (and even younger) put on prom gowns and go dancing with their dads, and then the dads make "purity pledges" to protect their daughters' virginity until they're married. Besides the usual dangers of any kind of vow--teenagers who make "abstinence" vows are more likely to have unprotected pre-marital sex than those who do not--this tradition, if carried to its logical conclusion, should lead to a revival of another American tradition: the shotgun wedding.

Lightning Rod Parsley

nameLast week there was a flurry of articles about how you shouldn't vote for McCain because he's too close to Rod Parsley. Although we would never recommend standing close to Rod Parsley, is there really any difference between the 2008 Rod Parsley and the 2006, 2004, 2002, and 2000 Rod Parsley? We're not opposed to making him toxic, but we'd be interested to know which anti-Islamic speech put him over the top this year but failed to move the needle in past elections. In fact, isn't he the guy who supposedly stole Ohio for Bush, or at least collaborated, in 2004? He's always been a meddler in every political race. Meanwhile, John Hagee is becoming increasingly pathetic as he announces that he's anti-Hitler. This endless video-mining and McCain-linking by the Democrats seems a little mean-spirited. So now you have to reject endorsements and money if the endorser or the guy giving you money has at any time in the past said something stupid? When McCain got that Parsley endorsement, he proudly thanked "Ralph Parsley," as is obvious from the ABC News report on this topic, but the gaffe is ignored by the reporter. Don't they listen to things in the booth before they air them? The fact that he didn't know Parsley's name might have some bearing as an indicator of how close they were.

Please Poke My Eye Out with a Stick

05.30.2008 | Comments(24)

All the hotel rooms in Princeton are booked up for the big Envision ‘08 conference next week, right? DARN! I guess we can’t go. Shoot, how did we forget to register? How often do you have in one place every Emergent Church guy with fuzz under his lower lip and a Jossey-Bass book contract generating pop-up ads on his website, plus the holy hipsters of the Ivy League tossing off witty exegetical bon mots? What? It didn’t fill up? You’re kidding me! They’re offering lower and lower prices as the event approaches? Unbelievable! What happened to the enormous uprising against the Religious Right? Later this month, the Sojourners-sponsored Pentecost 2008 is similarly anemic in pre-registration. What’s going on here? Last year we had every Democratic candidate and a couple of Republicans begging Jim Wallis for a microphone at that convocation. Envision ‘08 shouldn’t be tanking two months after Jeremiah Wright, one month after John Hagee, and one week after Rod Parsley! Maybe it was the Omen-inspired brochure featuring what appears to be three Peruvian sheepherders in Raccoon Lodge hats contemplating suicide. Maybe it was the early rumors that Bono would be showing up, rumors that fizzled just as the weather forecasters predicted balmy skies that weekend at the Jersey Shore. Attendees will have to settle instead for Doug “I Don’t Believe in Christianity Anymore” Pagitt, who, incidentally, will be joining Tony Jones, still hoping that his voice will change before his hairline fully recedes, on an RV evangelism tour this summer that promises to set new standards in the sweepstakes of affected attempts to be cool and relevant. Bowie Snodgrass, of the “Transmissioning” community in New York City, will also be in Princeton, bearing tales of her recent wedding in India, no doubt releasing all kinds of New Age evangelical energy into the ozone. (Inspired by a visit to the site where St. Thomas landed in India in 52 AD, she recently preached on “not knowing the way.”) EV08Also parachuting in from the Apple will be Lisa Sharon Harper, currently ending poverty as head of New York Faith & Justice, and she’ll be explaining how we have to keep religion and politics separate, the way she does on her Faithful Democrats blog. Whoops! Lisa actually wrote a book called Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican or Democrat but must have started shortening the title by two words for rhetorical purposes. Notably absent from the lineup, though, is Marc Driscoll, who was too busy preaching on masturbation and, besides, Marc thinks Doug Pagitt is a jerk now. Marc has moved beyond Emergent, he’s Post-Emergent, if not Divergent (and certainly Masturbergent). I’m really sorry we didn’t get that hotel room. Gosh, I guess we could go down there and bask in non-Christian Christianity, but, you know, there’s that New Jersey Transit train fare. And I think the trains might be all booked up.

It’s Not a Library, IT’S A THINK TANK!

Bush Library

A few dead-enders in the Methodist Church are still trying to stop the building of the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and I feel like I’d be doing less than my journalistic duty if I didn’t point out the arguments of the Rev. Andrew Weaver of Brooklyn, who’s leading the opposition, and who besieged me with information the last time I wrote about this. Weaver says the problem with the project is not the library but the think tank that goes with the library. That think tank would promote the policies of the Bush administration, and many of those policies are unChristian and, more to the point, unMethodist. He’s particularly exercised about the torture issue. But since Webber has only raised $10,000 at this point to fight a decision that the church and the university say is irreversible, it would probably be a better use of resources to focus on making sure the think tank is intellectually honest and hires genuine scholars. Hint: Don’t give Doug Wead a job.

He Just Keeps Coming Back

Karmapa

An army of private security guards descended on Woodstock, New York, last week when Trinley Thaye Dorje, the 17th reincarnation of the Karmapa, visited the Tibetan Buddhist monastery there. (The official name of the place is the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Center, best known for being used as the set in the Martin Scorsese movie Kundun.) The Karmapa was born in 1110 and then reborn for the 16th time in 1983, so why does he need security? You have to assume that, if assassinated, he’d pop right back up in a heartbeat. The Karmapa became a Buddhist rock star in 1999 when, at the age of 14, he slipped out of the Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet in the middle of the night, donned civilian garb and took a few attendants with him as he traveled for seven days by car, foot, horseback, helicopter, train and taxi, crossing the Himalayas to seek asylum in India, where it was possible to formally receive the “transmissions” that go with his position as leader of the Kagyu, or Black Hat, sect. Ever since then the Chinese authorities have regarded him as one more Tibetan troublemaker to deal with. The Karmapa seems blissed out in his pictures, but his biggest problem these days is a Fake Karmapa who’s been gathering devotees in Europe. It’s hard to fake being 898 years old, though. Nobody likes a lame lama..

Which C-word Do You Mean?

Southpark Scientology

A 15-year-old boy in London is being hauled into court for calling Scientology a cult. Police on the scene during a demonstration at the $45.4 million Scientology Center on Queen Victoria Street first gave the kid a warning about his placard, which read, “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.” He was told that the word “cult” was not allowed under section five of the Public Order Act, which forbids words on signs that are “threatening, abusive or insulting.” When he refused to stand down, the sign was seized and he was issued a summons for criminal prosecution. Since the Church of Scientology has been known to grease the palms of City of London police, the protesters were outraged for more than one reason and have continued to bash the authorities on various Internet sites. This controversy, by the way, should not be confused with the other controversy in which another Christian publicly used a four-letter word beginning in “c” and ending in “t.”

Pollution Helps the Poor

05.27.2008 | Comments(29)

My eyes are starting to glaze over from the Christian manifestos and position papers and wonk statements that are being pasted up all over Washington lately. First we had the “Evangelical Manifesto,” which seemed to be some kind of attempt to cast off the right wing, spearheaded by Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary and David Neff of Christianity Today. Since nobody read the document except people who had to for their jobs, it was mostly just a lightning rod for people like Richard Land and James Dobson to explain why they refused to sign it (too inclusive) and people like Jim Wallis to explain why he did sign it (inclusive). Then last Thursday Land, Dobson and company struck back with a D.C. news conference announcing their “We Get It!” campaign, calling for–I’m not making this up–less spending on alternative energy. Despite thirty years of scientific research, after which 98 percent of the scientific community says global warming is a) real and b) man-caused, the “We Get It!” initiative is an attempt to get a million signatures on a petition that would purport to defend the interests of the world’s poor by keeping the cost of energy low–hence, more oil, more nuclear, but less “green” stuff. (This position might be a surprise to the residents of Kivalina, Alaska, whose village is about to vanish entirely because of global warming.) Green EvangelicalsIf you had trouble following the reporting on this, it could be because you tried to puzzle through the article in the Christian Post. Rather than simply report on what was announced at the press conference, reporter Michelle A. Vu led off with five paragraphs from the opposing viewpoint, that of the Rev. Richard Cizik, head of the Office of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Why put forth his “green evangelical movement” at the beginning of the article, before revealing that a news conference by the black-gold evangelical movement took place? It could have something to do with Cizik’s role as a “Senior Editorial Advisor” to the Christian Post itself. Tomorrow The Door will issue its own manifesto: “Jesus don’t lie. Men do.” I think it’s the shortest Christian document in the history of the world.

Baby-Snatchers Circle the Wagons

Polygamist Retreat

After the Third Court of Appeals told the Texas child welfare department to stop seizing children without evidence, there was a scramble to see who could grab the mike and justify their actions first–the law enforcement authorities of Eldorado, Texas, the state Child Protective Services agency, or the various professional “ex-cult-members” who have been giving periodic interviews to the press. Evidence that children were abused at the ranch: zero! About all they could produce in the filings to overturn the ruling was, “This one girl said Uncle Merrill decides on the marriages.” No last name. Have these people ever watched an episode of Forensic Files? Have they ever heard of reasonable cause? Has an entire state gone insane?

So Many Wives, So Little Time

Tony Alamo

A few weeks back I was writing about how Tony Alamo had apparently gone completely bonkers over the past decade (“Tony, Should I Be Worried?”), and that assessment is now backed up by Maria Luisa Tucker of the Village Voice, who has been monitoring Alamo’s daily radio rants, defending the sanctity of polygamy from his pulpit in Fort Smith, Arkansas, which is where the trouble with all his child-sex-abuse prosecutions started all those many years ago, and where he may be living with as many as eight wives himself. More recently Tony has been sued by Posturepedic–I hope someone is doing a book-length version of this stuff–for hijacking and reselling mattresses that were meant for Katrina victims. It’s just the latest in what several ex-members have identified as moneymaking scams of a shockingly vast level for a 73-year-old man whose ability to draw a crowd is pathetically low. The most amusing nugget in Tucker’s expose was Alamo’s implied threats against Nancy Grace, CNN’s self-appointed defender of polygamy victims and perhaps the only person on television who is even more self-righteous than Tony himself. Please keep the two of them separated or there will be blood on Third Avenue.

Mugged by Mugabe

Mugabe

As Robert Mugabe descends into madness, becoming a monstrous caricature of an African dictator, he’s been able to use thuggish gangs to exert control over all but two of Zimbabwe’s institutions–the court system and the Anglican church. The courts are hanging in there–they recently released a New York Times reporter from jail in spite of Mugabe’s exertions–but now church services in Harare are being invaded by riot police who bang on the pews with batons, terrorize the congregants, and beat those who refuse to leave. It’s an attempt to close down all churches that don’t follow the lead of Mugabe crony Nolbert Kunonga, a former bishop who left the Anglican communion over the homosexuality issue (he says) but then was given a farm and a house and the prospect of all the church lands if he agreed to, in essence, execute a clerical coup d’etat against the real bishop, Sebastian Bakare. Kunonga still walks, talks, acts and dresses as though he were an Anglican bishop, although the Archbishop of Canterbury first made it clear that he was stripped of his office, then, when that didn’t work, excommunicated him. Up to now the churches–which remained neutral in all elections--were the only sanctuaries from violence and political thuggery, but that seems to be over, and soon a puppet bishop will dangle a puppet Christ in front of the priests, some of whom will worship the puppet in order to save their lives, but most of whom will hope that jail is the worse that happens. Do you know just how crazy heretical you have to be to get excommunicated by the Anglicans?

God Sent Us This Hormone-Induced Miracle

05.22.2008 | Comments(35)

Why does this creep me out? A church in Southlake, Texas, called eleven7 is raffling off $10,000 worth of fertility treatments in a contest called “Gift of Life” that, according to their website, will make the miracle of childbirth possible for a couple chosen at random in a drawing (provided you pass the screening process, that is–no lesbos allowed). The winning barren womb will receive services from the slick Center for Assisted Reproduction (to give you some idea, their website is embryo.net) and from North DFW Urology Associates, both of which are donating the services in return for . . . well, I think you can see what it’s in return for: the chance to sell $10,000 worth of fertility treatments to any number of frustrated copulating-but-childless couples in one of the fastest-growing suburban areas in Texas, smack dab between Dallas and Fort Worth. Ten years ago Southlake was best known for the ranch where Bunker Hunt kept his racehorses, but now it’s full of gated communities where the miles and miles of picturesque three-rail horse fencing is in inverse proportion to the number of horses needing to be corraled. eleven7 Pastor Keith Luttrell, better known simply as “Pastor Keith” because he’s one of those laidback guys who puts cinnamon sprinkles on his latte, says “At eleven7 we cherish life.” Apparently he also cherishes the 7Eleven trademark, because he turned it around, right down to the spelling, in order to brand his enterprise with a labored reference to Hebrews 11:7, which is a verse about Noah acting by faith. There’s no reason to single out that one verse, though, since the entirety of chapter 11 is about various figures from the Bible acting by faith. Verse 4 is about the faith of Abel, verse 5 the faith of Enoch, and verse 8 and following, in fact most of the chapter, about the faith of Abraham. So the only reason you would choose verse 7 is so you could create the brand name “eleven7.” It’s a congregation that is not only not embarrassed by preferring $10,000 in genetic engineering to $10,000 for rescuing orphans (and ten grand would rescue a lot of orphans), but a church that takes its identity from the world’s largest convenience store chain. Oh, wait, that does go together, doesn’t it? Hormone injections are more convenient. As Martin Mull would say, get your son at the Bun ‘n’ Run.

West Texas Smells Bad in the Summer

Texas Justice

The Texas officials who answered a false report in Eldorado, Texas, and seized 465 children in a raid on the ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have never fully explained why they took the boys as well as the girls. The girls were supposedly endangered by the practice of underage marriage, but the boys were not. None of the five judges hearing the custody cases in Tom Green County were willing to address this apparent anomaly, so somebody had to go to Austin and find a Texas jurist with common sense. The Third Court of Appeals said the grounds for removing the children were “legally and factually insufficient.” All the focus of the media is now on “When will the children be returned to their parents?” but in my opinion the bigger issue is “Who started the witch hunt in the first place?” Parents keep showing up in the San Angelo kangaroo courts, trying to prove that their children were not abused. This is precisely backwards: it should be the burden of the state to prove that the children were abused. Another thing that’s never been explained is why the child welfare system has separated siblings, sometimes by as much as nine hours by car, and housed children so far from their parents that visitation is practically impossible. When lawyers show up in the San Angelo courtrooms, pointing out that particular families were either a) not resident at the ranch where the alleged abuses occurred, or b) had no children exposed to underage marriage, their exceptions are being routinely overruled–and their clients’ children remain in state foster care. This is starting to look like a rigged game.

Lakewood Church Sprayed for Cooties

Jay Bakker

Jay Bakker, the son of ex-convict evangelist Jim Bakker and late celebrity talk-show hostess Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, flew to Houston last week to force a debate with current reigning megachurch king Joel Osteen over whether homosexuality is a sin. At last report, they still hadn’t settled the issue. Bakker said he had been trying to get in touch with Osteen for six months to get his support for an organization called The American Family Outing, but he had to crash Osteen’s weekly Lakewood Church meet-and-greet to finally get his attention. Once inside, Bakker said Osteen and his family were very gracious, and that they both like Elton John.

How Many American Jews Building Mosques in Cambodia? Uh, 1?

Mosque

Alan Lightman, the MIT professor who wrote the best-selling Einstein’s Dreams, has been working through his new Harpswell Foundation to help women and children in developing countries. One of his first projects was to build a four-room concrete school in the Cambodian village of Tramoung Chrum, a gesture that so amazed the populace of 600 that Lightman, his wife Jean, and his daughter Elyse came to be regarded as miracle workers. So in 2006 the village as a whole approached the Lightmans, saying that what they really needed was a new health center (according to the women) and a new mosque (according to the men). Lightman told them he could give them one or the other, but not both. What he didn’t tell them is that, because the project fell outside the guidelines of the Harpswell Foundation, he would have to use his own savings to build it. Since the men rule the village, the mosque won out. So the Lightman family became the first Jews to be honored (with an inscription above the door of the new mosque) by the Islamic sect Imam-San, which incorporates Buddhism, Hinduism and animism along with traditional Mohammedan teachings. Five hundred Imam-San followers from all over Cambodia came for the dedication of the mosque on May 9. That’s got to be a mitzvah in any religion.

If I Find a Coffee Ring on that Scroll, You're in Trouble

05.20.2008 | Comments(6)

No sooner had I sung the praises of the Jewish Miami Boys Choir singing “Hinei Ma Tov” than the Israeli government put a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display, with special emphasis on the fragment displaying Psalm 133, from which “Hinei Ma Tov” is taken: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Dead Sea ScrollsThe Dead Sea Scrolls are normally kept in a dark temperature-controlled room because the calfskin parchment has been deteriorating, but the government decided to bring out the Book of Isaiah for the first time in 41 years, putting it in a glass case in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum as part of the nation’s 60th anniversary celebration. My question: how come the calfskin parchment was just fine for 2,060 years in a cave jar, but Chosen People scientists can’t keep it from wasting away?

Icons to Make You Feel at Home in East Dallas

Bless Your Meat

Of course you can buy a Bobble Head Jesus, who said you can’t? But my favorite religious icon from the Archie McPhee catalogue is actually the vinyl desktop-sized “Bless Your Meat” model of St. Adrian, patron saint of butchers, arms dealers and prison guards (knife not included).

Graven Images Out the Wazoo

Soupy as Moses

All those super-Christians who are constantly trying to get Ten Commandments statues put up on courthouse squares should just pony up the $60,000 for the actual tablets carried down from Sinai by Charlton Heston when they’re auctioned off this summer in New York. That seems a little steep for props from a 52-year-old movie that, let’s face it, wasn’t that great. I would pay that, however, for the Fifteen Commandments tablets that Mel Brooks carried down from Sinai in The History of the World, Part 1, and I would probably pay half that for the tablets carried by the greatest movie Moses of them all. I speak, of course, of Soupy Sales, in the 1993 mockumentary The Making of ‘. . . and God Spoke’.

The Vatican Should Publish Its Own Version of People

Vatican  Observatory at Castel Gandolfo

There must be somebody at the wire services who combs through L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, every day, looking for Something Wacky, Weird or Wonderful to write about. The latest interview to make the Internet rounds is with the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the director of the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo (the pope’s country house), who says that we can’t rule out the possibility of life on other planets. Funes also answers the inevitable questions about Galileo, who was prosecuted as a heretic for believing in the theories of the Polish Catholic cleric Copernicus, whose books on the heavens were banned by the church. But the most interesting part of the story was nowhere commented on: the Vatican also operates an observatory (and no doubt one that can see much further into the heavens) at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I wonder how many of the priests have Wildcats t-shirts under those cassocks, or, given the new openness to alien life, Star Trek hairshirts.

This Guy Calls Himself a Texan?

05.19.2008 | Comments(8)

When John Hagee put out that full-bore apology to the Catholics, it made me wonder what this country is coming to when even Texans can’t flame the Pope anymore. As a youth in West Texas I could hear the anti-Catholic rhetoric raining down like dirt storms from the pulpits, carpeting the sawdust-prairie Masonic halls like serpents at the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, sweeping through high school gymnasia like tumbleweeds choked with dried-up cotton from the parched Cross Timbers. The Pope brought Death, and the Catholic Church was a conspiracy of black-robed marauders excreted from a debauched Europe. HageeDid Hagee really say he doesn’t want to be “hurtful”? That the “Great Whore” remark was wrong? Perhaps he needs to rehire Doug Wead, the defrocked Bush religious advisor, currently toiling for billionaire cowpoke evangelist Kenneth Copeland, who, as our colleague Sarah Posner points out, was the ghost-writer for Hagee’s 1997 Chicken-Little epic Day of Deception. Let’s get somebody in there who knows how to Kick Vatican Hiney.

Albert, You Cad!

The Einsteins

Why is it that anyone who writes about Albert Einstein, the scientist par excellence of the 20th century, ends up talking about God? Einstein didn’t talk about God, and his few pronouncements on the subject are conflicting, some of them apocryphal. The most often-cited Einstein quote was, “I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe,” but the context of that sentence was his rejection of randomness in quantum mechanics. You could take that sentence and just as easily paraphrase it as, “It doesn’t make sense to me that the organizing principles of the universe are random.” Nevertheless it’s been seized on by Christian fundamentalists as an Einsteinian defense of religion. Why would they need Einstein to defend religion? At any rate, that’s part of the reason a 1954 Einstein letter calling belief in God “childish superstition” is expected to bring up to $16,000 when it’s sold at auction this month in London. Had the fundies not made such a big deal about the “dice with the universe” quote, then this one wouldn’t matter either. While we’re on the subject, though, if you really wanna piss off an Einsteinian, no matter whether he’s religious or atheist, just mention the feminist claim that the Theory of Relativity was actually discovered by Einstein’s first wife and fellow student at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School, Mileva Maric. Although this sounds ludicrous at first, quite a few letters have been produced in which Einstein refers to “our research,” and when he received the Nobel Prize in 1921, he gave all the money to Maric, even though they’d just gone through a bitter divorce two years earlier. Most of the evidence, it seems, is tending toward turning Einstein into a chauvinist atheist plagiarist, but then it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Know Your Polygamists

House of Yahweh

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Now we have degrees of cultishness among various polygamy sects, with the current contender for the champeenship being the House of Yahweh in Clyde, Texas, where, to give you some idea, the leader is a defrocked Abilene cop who changed his name to Yisrayl Hawkins, but was born with the name Buffalo Bill Hawkins. Among the allegations compiled by the Callahan County Sheriff’s Office are child labor, sexual abuse, bigamy, welfare fraud, injury to a child, and forcing people to change their last name to Hawkins. Actually that last one is not a crime, even in Callahan County, but in general these people sound like deluded End Times primitivists more akin to Holiness Pentecostals than to the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints they’re being compared to. And once again we have paranoid law enforcement. When the Sheriff got a warrant for Yisrayl Hawkins, he held it for three months, because he was afraid of a “Branch Davidian-style” confrontation that would lead to a firefight. Instead, they nabbed Hawkins when he was driving through town, and then a judge who was apparently just as paranoid as the cops set Hawkins’ bail at $10 million because Hawkins had used the following sentence in a sermon: “I’m not asking much out of you–I’m just asking that you be willing to die rather than leave this house.” The willingness to die for faith is–ahem, I’m surprised I have to explain this to any West Texas jurist–so basic to Christianity that no cleric in Christendom would disagree with it. It hardly constitutes grounds for a $10 million bail, and another judge later agreed, reducing the amount to $100,000. That would be a 10,000 percent reduction. These cases tend to turn on wild swings like that, akin to the wildness of their doctrine, which we won’t even go into here, except to mention the part about spraying the feet and hands with disinfectant before worship. That would line up with the Holiness Pentecostal diagnosis, but perhaps they’ve taken it to a new level: Purell Pentecostals?

Christian Love Puppy Seeks Petite Praise Bunny

05.19.2008 | Comments(8)

From the same people who brought you adultfriendfinder.com (for swingers) and bondage.com (for kinky swingers), we now have bigchurch.com, which would presumably be for kinky swinging churchgoers but which, no, is simply a “Christian dating site” that is one of the biggest around because the company behind it, Penthouse Media Group Inc. (yes, that Penthouse), is one of the largest social-networking conglomerates in the business. Big ChurchWhat’s truly ironic about this story is that bigchurch.com tries to disguise the fact that its owners are pornographers, whereas eharmony.com tries to disguise the fact that its owners are fundamentalist Christian disciples of James Dobson. It’s so confusing. Where’s Heather Veitch? Heather, you’re a stripper and a Christian, where can we find a date?

150 Chinese Serenade Pope, But He’s Unimpressed

Pope Sad

First we sent the New York Philharmonic to play for the dictator in North Korea. Now the Chinese have sent the China Philharmonic to play for the Pope at the Vatican. I’m not sure why. Maybe as an answer to that confusing encyclical on Chinese Catholics that Benedict wrote last fall? This Pope could out-talk the entire Politburo if he had to, but that wasn’t even his toughest assignment the day of the concert. Also visiting the Vatican was Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church, who’s still mad about something that happened in the 11th century.

Killing Nuns Is Not Cool

Moura

There’s already a guy serving a 28-year prison term for the 2005 killing of Sister Dorothy Stang, the American nun who was trying to preserve a piece of the Amazon rainforest when she was gunned down while visiting an encampment near the Trans-Amazon Highway in Para, Brazil. But the reason everyone was outraged by the acquittal of Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura last week is that it’s assumed the guy in prison is just a stooge and that the true culprits–loggers and cattle ranchers–have evaded prosecution. Moura, who was accused of providing the murder weapon, would have been the first step working up the chain, but now he’s free and the code of silence is intact. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as Massive Environmentally-Conscious Nun Retaliation.

Who Would Jesus Endorse?

Wright

The sideshow in the Jeremiah Wright drama is the mumbledymouth whining of the United Church of Christ leadership in Cleveland, notably denomination president John H. Thomas, who first posted a series of “Why is the media persecuting our largest church?” articles, then did a 180 after Barack Obama threw Wright overboard. “While there is high regard for Reverend Wright’s ministry and leadership at Trinity U.C.C. in Chicago during the past 36 years,” wrote Thomas, “many of us today are troubled by some of his controversial comments and the substance and manner in which they have been communicated, both by him and as characterized by the media.” Because, as we all know, Jesus was temperate and non-controversial. Why didn’t you just go ahead and follow the lead of Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist, who said of “the histrionics of a loony preacher from the South Side of Chicago” that they are both “tragic and absurd”? Further evidence that the media got the story all wrong: white voters turned out to be indifferent to the Wright Affair, while black voters were even more motivated to vote for Obama after it happened, leading to the landslide in North Carolina. In other words, Jeremiah Wright helped Obama, the opposite of the effect predicted by pundits.

High on Jesus, or Just High?

05.15.2008 | Comments(30)

"High on Jesus," the evangelical cliche that originally meant "I don't do drugs," now means the opposite when expressed through the ministry of nutjob Emergent Churcher John Crowder, based in Griffin, Georgia, who's been stirring up the neo-hippies with tales of miracles, healings, signs, wonders, "bi-locating" (that's when John appears in two places at the same time, compliments of the Holy Spirit), but mostly marijuana-induced raving. I first saw the guy in a YouTube video called "Tokin' the Ghost" (puffing on a joint of "Jehovahuana" as a way of accessing the Spirit) and assumed he was an atheist busting on Christians.

wasted_on_jesus

It turns out, though, that he's got an active ministry that claims to be building an orphanage in India, and he has a whole raft of speaking engagements at storefront-style pentecostal churches where he thunders about being "wasted on Jesus" and talks about "the heavy drunken glory." Since a lot of pentecostal preaching uses metaphors about being "drunk in the spirit," you don't really know whether he's talking about drugs, alcohol or God when he says things like "Get whacked, stay whacked, never go back!" "We're huffin' olive wood from the garden of Gethsemane," he tells an interviewer in Israel. "And we been snortin' some dust from the tomb of our Lord and Savior. We been smokin' Baby Jesus."

crowder_cow

But apparently "Tokin' the Ghost" is not even his most famous YouTube moment. That would be the time he entered the pulpit totally wasted on something and started talking about his own inability to speak, followed by a series of "oing oing oing" noises that presumably indicate speaking in tongues, followed by listing a bunch of miracles that can't be verified. When Crowder first started getting popular with his "New Mystics" ministry, he stirred up a hornet's nest of criticism, mostly from his fellow Emergent Churchers who wanted people to know that, although he wears the uniform (including the goatee), he is not on the team.

Unfortunately, the Internet being the global community that it is, people started sending in videos of similar preachers doing similar drug-induced schtick all over the English-speaking world. (Check out the rooster-crowing of John Scotland of Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, where the mass-psychosis "Toronto Blessing" occurred in the late nineties, and the ravings of Chris Harvey of Australia.) Apparently this is a trend that harkens back to the Jesus Freaks, like our own veteran Door reporter Bob Gerzstyn, who was dropping acid when he found God but quickly sobered up. These new guys went in the reverse direction, and some of them seem to be actively leading people to drug usage.

By saying that's wrong, I'm identifying myself with the non-emergent Old Fart church. But on the day of Pentecost, it was the non-believers who thought the apostles were drunk. The apostles knew they were not drunk, and that being seized by the Spirit appears like drunkenness to those who have no eyes to see. Crowing like a chicken, squinting your eyes like a man with a massive migraine, jerking like an epileptic, these are the signs of self-deluded men who, if they have the slightest fear of God, should be terrified that they'll lead even one child toward junkiedom, which is not the sort of thing you can clear up by quoting verses on "freedom.".


30 Days Interest on That Would Fund The Door Through 2117

A London hedge fund injected $30 million into GodTube, the sanitized Christian version of YouTube based in Plano, Texas, after only nine months in business. Maybe that will be enough money to ask the Holy Spirit for some better lighting and art direction.

Just Paint a Target on Obama's Back

Here's one to keep the next Secretary of State awake at night. Edward N. Luttwak, a fellow at the huge Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, points out that, if we do end up with a President Barack Obama, he will be limited in his ability to influence Muslim countries because they will regard him as an apostate. By abandoning the religion of his father (Islam) and converting to Christianity, he is eligible for the death penalty in some Islamic countries and is guilty of the ultimate sin in all of them. This is relevant, not just when he talks to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--because he did say he would talk to him--but when he visits any nation in the Middle East, since the security forces charged with guarding him will be full of devout Muslims who will be certain of his sin. That could in turn lead to international incidents, since any attempt to kill him would not be punishable under Muslim law: punishment is prohibited for anyone who kills, or attempts to kill, an apostate.


Polygamists Are People, Too

Arizona and Utah members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were in a panic the last few weeks, wondering whether police would be raiding their homes and spiriting away their children in a replay of what happened to their brethren in Eldorado, Texas, where 464 children have been seized without legal review. So to allay their fears, law enforcement officials in St. George, Utah, held a town hall meeting, making it clear that, in the words of Utah Attorney General Mark L. Shurtleff, "We do not plan a raid to end polygamy. . . . We don't believe that's the answer."

polygamists

Both states have had various encounters with the sect ever since 1953--the year of a famous Colorado City, Arizona, raid now regarded as a disaster for both sides--and both attorneys general have offered to lend assistance to Texas. (Texas officials said thanks but no thanks, and turned down an invitation to attend the town meeting, saying they were too busy. One thing they were busy doing, according to the FCJCL lawyer, is classifying grown pregnant women as minors so they can hold them in custody until the child is born.) Since it would seem to be in everyone's interest to separate the two issues here–underage sex on the one hand, polygamy on the other–wouldn't it be wise to get together with the male elders and suggest some ways they could guarantee the virginity of their women up until age 16 (the legal age in the states involved), without the state's getting involved in their polygamy practices? This would seem to follow the course of family law precedent for the past hundred years, which has been moving toward staying out of the bedroom when consenting adults are involved, but aggressively breaking up families where underage sex is practiced. Unfortunately, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has suggested doing the opposite: toughened enforcement of polygamy laws, even to the point of bringing in the Department of Justice as supercops. At this point many of the church members are afraid to answer their doors, so what might be appropriate is a) a few soothing words (like the town meeting), and b) forcing the cases of the 464 children into a courthouse, where they belong, so that parents have a fighting chance of getting their kids back. Of course, that would involve treating the church members like denizens of our own planet.

Just Don’t Hold Hands in Church, Okay?

05.13.2008 | Comments(19)

More Episcopalian hijinks: Gene Robinson, who will spend the rest of his life with "first openly gay Bishop" prefixed to his name, is pumping up the volume this summer by getting married to his homosexual live-in partner, Mark Andrew, right before the Lambeth Conference in July. Questions from the cheap seats:

robinson_and_partner

• Why doesn’t anyone ever interview Mark Andrew, the "wife" in this drama? He must have all kinds of stories at this point.

• Was he born with the name Mark Andrew, or did they specifically christen him with two apostle names for this epic union?

• Could this inspire a new History Channel special on Mark and Andrew–"Were They the Gay Apostles"?

• Since Mark was just a boy at the time of Christ, does that make Andrew a pedophile?

• Do we really have to read Gene Robinson’s new book, In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God? Can someone just give us the Cliff’s Notes version?

How did this happen in New Hampshire? Isn’t that where the Manchester Union-Leader pops up every four years and tells us what "hearty stock" Americans are made of? I keep thinking it’s Vermont. Now that would make sense. Ben and Jerry may not be gay, but they would be gay-friendly. In New Hampshire, they still wear plaid shirts.

Gene, we love you. That’s the corporate metaphorical body-of-Christ "we," by the way.

You, too, Mark Andrew.


Soon They’ll Discover Elvis

Dr_Who

Doddering vicars in the Anglican church, seeking relevance, have fastened on Doctor Who, the science fiction series beloved by Brits and tolerated by the rest of the world. Concerned about statistics showing that young people no longer find the church even remotely meaningful to their lives, church leaders showed clips from the series at a conference of ministers, encouraging them to "engage with popular culture" by, for example, understanding the episode in which Doctor Who saves a family of Pompeians as "a reference to Genesis and Abraham’s bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah." One thing you can always count on the English to do is march boldly into the future using references to the very latest 45-year-old tv series.


Mein Gefiltefish

matzoh_swastika

Norman Lee Toler won a major victory in federal court, with Judge Jean C. Hamilton of St. Louis ruling that he was entitled to kosher meals while serving his ten-year sentence for statutory rape in the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green, Missouri. State prison officials had challenged Toler’s request, saying that his 2002 conversion to Judaism was specious, that he had grown up in a Pentecostal home, that he has a jailhouse tattoo celebrating Hitler’s SS, and that he was caught with a cell full of white supremacist literature during a previous sentence for robbery. Here at the Door we believe it is not only humane, but essential, that every Jewish white-supremacist convicted rapist in this country be allowed to keep kosher.


Help from Unexpected Quarters

wright

Just when I thought we were the only Christian publication supporting Jeremiah Wright forthrightly and without apology--his right to speak, his right to prophesy, his right to explain himself, and the nature of his Jesus-centric theology--along comes Jason Byassee with a spirited, reasoned and well-written reminder to evangelicals that Wright is family and we have to deal with him. There have been lots of "defenses" of Wright that implied "he’s a crazy man, but let’s give him a break," but Byassee is having none of that, just as we’ll have none of it. And Byassee has about 9,000 times more readers than we do because he’s an editor at Christianity Today. I guess we’re more mainstream than we realized.

Love the Sackcloth, Sweetheart, Very Outre

05.13.2008 | Comments(4)

Don't you think it was about time the Catholic church cracked down on drag queens playing female saints in religious street processions? virginmary_parade Apparently it's been going on for years in the Philippines, but we didn't find out until now, because the guy doing St. Helena this year failed to stuff his boobs properly. I mean, come on, people, it's not all about makeup! And while we're on the subject of critical Catholic doctrinal matters, let's get that potty-mouth Gordon Ramsay, of Hell's Kitchen reality show fame, banned from Australian television.

He Heard This One

miami_choir

My definition of "joy" is the kids in the Jewish Miami Boys Choir, in their red vests and white shirts, many of them sporting Coke-bottle glasses, standing on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, singing an upbeat version of "Hinei Ma Tov" while doing semi-awkward Phil Collins dance moves. It's in Hebrew, of course, but the lyrics, repeated endlessly, are: "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Near the end of the video, bursting in for harmonic counterpoint, is Yerachmiel Begun, founder of the troupe, which began in Miami in 1977 but has been Brooklyn-based for most of the past three decades, turning out Orthodox singing stars by the dozens, much like the two soloists in the video, who appear in the section right before the entire choir, in its inimitable over-the-top style, ascends into the clouds of heaven.

Rope Them Sinners

cowboy_lee

Cowboy Lee's Cowboy Adventure Camp is an intensive dude ranch with equally intensive Bible study based in the unlikely city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the 71-year-old S. Lee Homoki--the Cowboy Lee of the title, who grew up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona but has been in Grand Rapids since 1981, ever since a controversy over dispensationalism at Gospel Lighthouse Church of Tipp City, Ohio, caused him to resign as pastor and saddle up--holds forth on the literal promises to Israel, the literal authority of scripture, and the literal difficulties of trick roping during exotic trail rides all over the country. But before you sign up for bullwhip artistry in the tradition of Cowboy Camp graduate and world champion trick roper Andy Rotz, you might want to check out Cowboy Lee's bimonthly Truth Aflame magazine, which is billed as "unashamedly dispensational." We're not sure what that means, but we would imagine it's the circa 1840 version. Do not hold fast to the saddlehorn in case of the Rapture. Yeehaw Yahweh.

Did You Hear the One About the Imam and the Penguin?

The Archbishop of Canterbury went to the Vatican to talk to the Pope about the Muslims. Both men are experienced at making speeches about Islam which create international chaos, so they spent the first 20 minutes comparing jihad puns.

High Colonics for the Soul

Hay_House

Hay House, the New Age publishing empire established by the 81-year-old Louise Hay two decades ago, earned $8 million last year on revenues of $100 million, with sales of 6.3 million products, including books by Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, the psychic Sylvia Browne, "angel therapist" Doreen Virtue, and personal finance guru Suze Orman. Of course, that's not surprising, since, if you think it, you can do it. If you see it, you can realize it. If you give it power, it will give you power. If you write it, they will buy it. Free your mind and Oprah will follow.

Some People Do Worship the O.C.

spiritual_water

The irony of Spiritual Water, the bottled water sold by Sunrise, Florida, distributor Elicko Taieb as a way to get closer to God, is that it's all about the packaging. You can choose from 11 different bottles, featuring Jesus, St. Michael, or the Virgin Mary on one side, and various prayers on the other (Fatima prayer, Serenity prayer, Guardian Angel prayer, Apostles Creed), in either English or Spanish, and meanwhile that 16.9 ounces of liquid refreshment comes from "a municipal source in Santa Ana, California." Since there's only one municipal source of water in Santa Ana, California, that means you're drinking Orange County tap water. Couldn't they at least have gone up to Lake Arrowhead and tried to make it sound like water that's not sucked out from under an asphalt parking lot?

God Banned from Car Asses

The Florida Legislature put the kibosh on the "I Believe" personalized license plate, failing to include it in the final bill reported out of committee. Opponents and proponents both made a lot of noise about church-state issues, to the point that, if I lived in Florida, I would have asked for an "I Heave" license plate.

Let's Go Ahead and Put Them Asunder

05.12.2008 | Comments(7)

"She Wanted to Be Oprah At Any Cost" is the most entertaining chapter title among many candidates in What Love Taught Me, the new book by Thomas Weeks III giving his version of the tabloid marital breakup of Atlanta's favorite televangelist couple. uanita_BynumHis soon-to-be-ex Juanita Bynum was bored with preaching, looking for a secular career, and constantly goading him into altercations so that she could become a poster child for domestic violence and go on to greater fame, according to the book. In the infamous hotel-parking-lot altercation for which Weeks was sentenced to three years probation, he says she swung at his head with a cell phone and he shoved her to avoid the blow, then immediately regretted it because "I have never pushed her that hard." (Ouch!) If you look back over the publishing history of this couple in just this one decade, it started with Bynum's No More Sheets: The Truth About Sex, which details her victory over promiscuity, then--after their televised 2002 wedding--a joint effort called Teach Me How to Love You: The Beginnings, and now Weeks' ironic solo riff on that same theme, What Love Taught Me. Bynum hasn't released her own book yet--she been too busy with her appearances on Divorce Court--but a suggested title would be What's Love Got to Do With It?


Jack Chick Skewers the Atheists

chick_atheists

The 84-year-old Jack Chick can never be accused of not being up on the latest breaking heresy, so of course he had to take on Richard Dawkins and the Darwinists in his brand new Chick Tract, "Moving On Up," the story of a confirmed Darwinian named Tyler who becomes god-like and ends up being cast into . . . well, I don't wanna give away the ending.


The Prosperity Gospel Is Not for Amateurs

pyramid_scheme

Let us count the ways that the latest fleece-the-flock scam should have been detected by its smell: 1. Jon G. Irvin of Mission Viejo, California, architect of the Safevest LLC Christian investment scheme, was paying a 10 percent "referral fee" to anyone who brought friends into the investment, at minimum levels of $5,000 for pastors and $25,000 for laymen. Classic pyramid stuff. 2. The whole thing was based on commodity futures day trading, which is the riskiest kind of market play you can make. It's unclear why he cited this market instead of something safer, since he didn't intend to invest a single dollar in commodities futures anyway. 3. The only way you could check returns is by going to Irvin's own password-protected website. 4. Irvin guaranteed a 1 percent per day return, which would be 200 percent per year, which would be better than any investment in the world with the possible exceptions of African dictators stealing diamonds. At any rate, the guy doesn't sound that sharp. Today Irvin sits in a federal jail on wire-fraud charges, investors are out $25 million, and he apparently spent most of the money on trips, expensive restaurants, shopping, golf and an SUV. Can anyone say "redneck"? Once again, brethren, remember the first postmodern commandment: Never trust anybody with a fish on his business card.


All Hail the Garbage People

samaan

When I first saw what has come to be known as the Garbage People Video, I honestly thought it was a Monty Pythonesque mockumentary. (Part of the reason is that, working at The Door, almost nothing you receive on video is for real.) But it turns out that the producers, Media Village Productions of Cape Town, South Africa, are deadly serious in telling the story of the Garbage People who live in Garbage City and have to be coaxed out of their Garbage Lives by a Christian holy man, with white beard and sandals, who walks with a shepherd's staff. The arch-Brit narrator relates it much more dramatically than I can, with the kind of elevated faux-poetic script favored by Las Vegas "international co-productions." (Lines like "One step follows another, and each step leads us into the future" have absolutely no meaning, *unless* spoken by a velvet-throated British announcer.) But the gist of the video it is that there's this filthy mountainous area outside Cairo, called Garbage City, and every morning at dawn 7,000 "rubbish collectors" leave for Cairo on horse carts, where they collect 13,000 tons of garbage from 17 million residents, then return to Garbage City, "bringing the refuse into their homes." (Yes, that's what I said.) Once they get it inside, they sort it into organic and inorganic piles and use some of it to raise pigs, who also live in their homes. Wading into Garbage City in the early nineties was Father Samaan, who tells the story of going into a slum of tin huts with cardboard floors, devoid of roads, electricity and running water, the whole of it engulfed in "stench from the dead animals," and the people "hiding in the pig sties" because they didn't want to talk to him. He was determined, however, to "wade through pigpens and pull them through the muck and mire and present them with God's love," so he learned that his two greatest evangelistic tools were a good sturdy pair of hip boots and a flashlight. (He tells this with intense seriousness.) Once he got into the pig stys, he would kiss the people and give them shoes to convert them. Fast-forward ten years and Garbage City suddenly has clinics, recycling centers, schools where young boys are taught to build coffins, and, most important, a 20,000-seat church dynamited out of a stone quarry. Father Samaan is regularly carrying out miracles and healings, and the 7,000 rubbish collectors still go into Cairo every morning and collect the garbage, but now they're evangelists for Jesus, hoping they'll find million-dollar diamond necklaces in the garbage so they can take the diamonds back to the owner and tell them that Jesus made them be honest. The stench today is worse, by the way, because in addition to garbage and dead animals and pig pens, they now have "the strong stench of burning plastic" from the recycling center. Meanwhile, the children of Garbage City continue to frolic and play amid piles of jagged, rusty, foul, stinking trash, and Jesus hasn't yet seen fit to send money for Latex gloves or protective facegear, so the garbage is still collected, sorted and processed with bare hands. Father Samaan has more important things to look after, however, as he's looking to build a new church, this time with only 5,000 seats, for the Zaballeen, or Garbage People. Cue the mystical Egyptian desert music. "It has been said that life is a journey . . ." I pronounce The Garbage People Video a post-modern classic.

Lesbyterianism Almost Legal

05.08.2008 | Comments(33)

A few years back, when I was told by the Standards & Practices Department of Turner Networks that I could no longer use the affectionate term “lesbo” on television, I started using the term “lesbyterian,” unaware at the time of how theologically prescient I was, since the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) would spend much of the past decade adjudicating the rightness or wrongness, legality or illegality, of lesbian coupling within the church. The centerpiece of this battle was one Jane Spahr, an ordained Presbyterian minister who is also a practicing lesbian in Marin County, California, and who had performed quite a few gay marriage ceremonies over the years, until she was put on trial in March 2006–not a real trial, one of those ecclesiastical play-trials–at the Church of the Roses in Santa Rosa, where she was formally charged with violating church rules by marrying two lesbian couples, including one happy pair who had traveled all the way from Rochester, New York, for the occasion. Lesbian WeddingAfter two days of testimony, the court found her innocent, but the local Presbytery (not to be confused with the local Lesbytery) appealed to a regional body (apparently in church play-court, the prosecution can appeal even when the verdict is not guilty), and the regional court voted to censure Spahr–to, in essence, give her the lightest possible punishment, but to make it clear that gay marriage was verboten. Then Spahr appealed to the national ultimate Presbyterian Lesbyterian High-Hat Court of the Last Resort, which only meets once a year in Louisville, Kentucky–the real name of it is the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission–and that august body of clerics decided that Spahr was innocent of charges that she performed same-sex marriages, because if the people are of the same sex, it could not be a marriage. Since no marriage occurred, Spahr didn’t officiate at a marriage. This is really what they decided. I’m not making it up. I think they had a party in Marin County, but at some point during the party they probably went “Huh? We should celebrate, right? Read that again.”

Then Again, Pharaoh Doesn’t Care What the Jews Think, Does He?

Wright

Was anybody listening to Jeremiah Wright’s actual speeches during that weekend when he pulled off the Trifecta of appearing on Bill Moyers’ show, keynoting the NAACP convention, and appearing at the National Press Club? He took every opportunity to point out that his theology was not Black Liberation Theology. And yet here we have a massive New York Times piece by Michael Powell describing Wright as a disciple of James H. Cone, the professor at Union Theological Seminary who did invent Black Liberation Theology in the sixties. When Wright describes his church tradition at all, he calls it “prophetic,” and by that he means the Old Testament call away from the world’s ways, away from complacency, away from comfort, and he adds to that that we must harken to the poor. The poor will lead us out of Egypt. And in order to get that message across, the preacher occasionally has to identify Egypt. And when he identifies Egypt, it turns up on YouTube.

The Sisters Looked Like Ballot Stuffers

There’s nothing like turning away 12 nuns from the polls in Indiana, telling them they can’t vote because they don’t have proper ID (in fact, some of them may never vote again because they’re too elderly to go to the motor vehicle office) to make the recent Supreme Court decision look especially ugly and unnecessary. Remind me again: why did we do this?

L’Chaim

Torah

Last week the Central Synagogue in New York rededicated a Torah that had been buried at Auschwitz for more than 60 years before being found with a metal detector in 2004. The four Torah panels that were actually used for services inside the concentration camp had to then be retrieved from a Catholic priest who had been keeping them all these years, unaware of where the rest of the Torah was. The whole remarkable story is told by James Barron in the New York Times, but apparently the name of the sexton who placed the Torah in a metal box and buried it three days before the Germans marched into the Polish city of Oswiecim (later renamed Auschwitz) is lost to history. Whoever he was, he did such a good job of hiding the Torah from the Nazis that it took four years of efforts by Rabbi Menachem Youlus of Wheaton, Maryland, before he finally unearthed the lost Torah. I’m not a superstitious man, but there’s something about these Found Torah stories that, every time I hear them, make me think something powerful and restorative has been released into the world.

Hot Amish Babes

05.06.2008 | Comments(19)

Denise Grollmus, the reporter for the alternative weekly Cleveland Scene who did the ultimate Rex Humbard obituary, found a couple of teenage Amish party girls exploring alcohol and rock-and-roll at Twister’s Bar in Middlefield, Ohio, during their rumspringa years, and the result is “Amish Girls Gone Wild,” which details the perils of buggy-driving while drunk, not to mention what happens when your mother catches you wearing jeans and hiding a cell phone in your purse. Fortunately the parents never hear the Eminem lyrics the girls know by heart.

Don’t Call Him the Voodoo Pope

Voodoo Guide

We’re not supposed to refer to Max G. Beauvoir as the Voodoo Pope, even though who can resist that title now that the voodooists of Haiti have finally organized and elected Beauvoir as their “supreme master”? Among Beauvoir’s skills, practiced at his Peristyle de Mariani Temple of Yehwe on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, are goat sacrifice, totem-dancing, spirit-summoning, casting of spells, healing, herbal remedies, and biochemistry (thanks to his degrees from the Sorbonne and City College of New York). And zombies, of course. Beauvoir is the source for much of the research conducted by Harvard anthropologist Wade Davis for his book The Serpent and the Rainbow, best known in its movie form as rendered by Wes Craven, who took a Hollywood crew to Haiti and barely escaped with his life after a riot, a sit-in, a siege, and evil spells resulting in the sickness of crew members. (Those last scenes are actually filmed in the Dominican Republic. The entire crew fled Haiti in the dead of night.) At any rate, Beauvoir says he’s determined to clean up the image of voodoo, and that its reputation for secrecy, sinister motives, spirit possession, violent ritual and animal mutilation is an invention of Hollywood and the media, and that anyone who takes a good hard look at the houngans and mambos who practice the religion day by day will be able to see that voodoo is a great benefit to Haiti and to mankind, and if you don’t believe that, then you’ll probably have a rat’s eye placed under your pillow tonight and it will cause you to dream of your intestines being devoured by jaguars.

34 Years Is All You Can Do? Jesus Says You’re So Fired

Kent Gramm, a popular English professor at Wheaton College for 20 years, just got fired because he and his wife of 34 years are divorcing, which is against Wheaton rules, unless you have a “Biblical reason.” Gramm decided he didn’t want to give the reason, so university officials cited Matthew 19 and the letters of Paul (without stating which one) as they gave him the heave ho, because, as we all know, the New Testament is a list of rules to hit people over the head with when they screw up.

Yeah, Like That Verse About Free Enterprise

Bible and Flag

A Vatican poll recently found that the United States was the “most Bible-literate” nation, but as soon as you read into the fine print, you see that a) they only conducted the poll in nine countries, all of them in Europe, and b) they weren’t sophisticated enough to realize that most people who claim to be recalling something from the Bible are actually recalling something from Ben Franklin (“Cleanliness is next to godliness”) or their crotchety grandfather (“Charity begins at home”).The crime is not that people don’t know what’s in the Bible, it’s that they load it up with new stuff. It’s already long enough, people.

Dude Rabbis Battling for Surf Rights

Surfing Rabbi

All right, how can there be two surfing rabbis? No sooner had I sung the praises of Yom Tov Glaser, the singing skateboarding surfing rabbi from Jerusalem who recites the Kabbalah while playing Bob Marley covers, than a rabbi named Nachum Shifren turns up in Los Angeles, also billing himself as the surfing rabbi as he promotes his new book, Kill Your Teacher: Corruption and Racism in Los Angeles City Schools. It’s a narrative of his 18 years as a secondary school teacher in the barrio, an experience that included the day when he showed up at Dorsey High School to find his classroom burned to the ground. Shifren claims he was eventually run out of the school system by youth gangs who resented his authoritarian ways and a series of administrators who pled with him to relax standards so students would “like him” more. The “Surfing Rabbi” tag came from his days as a professional surfer–same as Yom Tov Glaser, the Hasidic Party Rabbi–but his book sounds like a totally bogus, if not meshugenah, slacker wave to me.

Chinese to Tibet Supporters:WTF?

Chinese Wheelchair Athlete

So, class, what have we learned? Don’t be seen on YouTube abusing a wheelchair athlete. That’s the image that enraged the Chinese after the Olympic torch was besieged by protesters in Paris, one of whom was fended off by a brave Chinese wheelchair athlete who is now a national hero for protecting the torch from froth-mouth western Lama-lovers. The benefit for the U.S. is that the Chinese are now focused almost exclusively on boycotting French products, especially the Carrefour supermarket chain, to the point that President Sarkozy had to send a special envoy to apologize to the Politburo. McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and CNN are also on their radar, however. And once again the question must be asked: why are so many people in the west so anxious to demand independence for a people who say they don’t want independence? At least the two sides are talking, although at this point it amounts to little more than “You’re violent!” “No, you’re violent!” Can’t the Buddhists and the Communists settle this in a Christian manner?

Does Jesus Have an Aspen Condo?

05.06.2008 | Comments(8)

Jesus signed his name twice on a petition to get an anti-affirmative-action initiative on the ballot in Colorado. At least that’s what Michelle Dally, spokesperson for “Vote No on 46,” told the media when she announced a legal challenge of 65,000 signatures, more than half of the total submitted by Ward Connerly, the anti-affirmative-action crusader from California who files these propositions wherever he can. Aside from the question of whether Jesus would choose the state of Colorado as his permanent place of residence, the signer is obviously an imposter. Jesus would have to sign his name thrice.

This Can’t End Well

Mary

Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director best known for Robocop and Basic Instinct, is apparently peeved that he can’t be as controversial as Geert Wilders in his own country, so he’s written a book called Jesus of Nazareth: A Realistic Portrait in which Jesus is portrayed as the bastard child of Mary, conceived after she’s raped by a Roman soldier. This is actually a famous second-century libel by the same anti-Christian forces who portrayed believers as cultists who ate the flesh of babies, so I’m surprised Verhoeven didn’t go for the more cinematic libel. But then again, he’s the driving force behind Showgirls, which set an all-time record, never to be equalled, for use of the f-word in a single script. Roman soldier to Mary: “You are a whore, darlin’.” Mary to Roman soldier: “I am not! I’m a dancer!” Roman soldier to Mary: “Why’d you stop hooking?” Mary to Roman soldier: “I’m a dancer, goddammit!”

Would a Padre Pio Bobble Head Doll Be in Bad Taste?

Padre Pio

They really did dig up Padre Pio and put him on display at the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, in order to revive tourism in the region. As previously reported in this space, Padre Pio died in 1968 and was known for 50 years for bearing the actual bleeding wounds of Christ on his hands, feet and side. Although we’re not sure how that worked as far as sanitation concerns might be involved, nevertheless he’s supposedly more venerated in Italy than even the Virgin Mary. He was looking pretty good when they unveiled his carcass in late April, but that was because they’d had a cosmetic surgeon, a biochemist and a wax museum work him over, especially his face, because putrefaction is just not sexy.

I Dare You Guys to Infiltrate a Madrassa

Hagee

Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi joined John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio so he could study Christian Zionism from the inside out, but once he got immersed in the whole thing, he ended up going on one of those military-style Encounter Weekends, run by an ex-Green Beret paratrooper named Philip Fortenberry. Taibbi describes the whole thing in his article “Jesus Made Me Puke,” which is a reference to the final day of the three-day weekend when they have an extended casting-out-demons session that involves a lot of writhing around on the floor, speaking in tongues, and, yes, puking. Isn’t this about the fourth journalist this year to “go undercover” in some kind of Christian organization? This one is an excerpt from Taibbi’s book The Great Derangement, which comes out later this year and which, if this is any indication, will be heavy on snark.

Which One is the Blackmail Psalm?

At the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, you’ve got to really know your cantoring to be chosen to cantor, and the King Cantor there for the past 27 years has been Naftali Herstik. Apparently anyone chosen to guest-cantor has to get past Herstik, and singing phenomenon Israel Rand, chief cantor at the Great Synagogue of Ramat Gan in Tel Aviv, was never able to break through the screening process for the most prestigious synagogue job in the world, even though Rand had his own music school, performed for symphonies (as did Herstik), and cantored at two big temples in New York, the New York Synagogue and the Hampton Synagogue. Rand apparently became bitter three years ago when he lost both his New York jobs and was replaced, not by Herstik, but by Herstik’s son, Netanel. Then, according to court documents, Rand concocted a scheme to sexually blackmail the elder Herstik, hiring a female private detective to pose as a “musicology student” and lure Herstik to a hotel room, hoping to get compromising pictures he could send to the Great Synagogue board. Herstik almost fell for it. He did show up at the hotel room, but saw the cameras and fled. He was briefly suspended by his synagogue, then reinstated, and now he’s suing Rand, not just for the blackmail scheme, but because–this is where it gets really complicated–he thinks Rand was in league with the chairman and the vice chairman of the Great Synagogue, who want to force him into retirement. Their motive? They have an interest in Rand’s singing school and want to promote it. Guys, please, all I can say is, make a joyful noise, okay?

Egan Wins the Pennant

05.04.2008 | Comments(0)

The overwhelming success of the Benedict XVI papal visit was a personal victory for New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who invested more personal capital into that event than the Chinese government has invested into the Beijing Olympics. Before he became pope, Joseph Ratzinger had been actively booed and heckled by New Yorkers, especially Jews, but the reception in April bordered on universal adulation, without even the suggestion of any serious protest. Egan and PopeAnd don’t think the Pope didn’t know who to thank for the sea change. That guy riding next to him in the Popemobile was Egan. The two of them are soulmates. If there’s such a thing as a more doctrinaire hardass than Joseph Ratzinger, it’s Edward Egan. The good news is that Egan wants to retire now. He put the Pope in Yankee Stadium during the Yankees season. Now we’ll have to call it The House That the Other Ruth Built. How could he ever top that?

Let My People Bray

License Plate

The “I Believe” license plate, with a cross and a stained glass window on it, is being proposed by Christians in the Florida legislature, and opposed by the state’s Civil Liberties Union, but what was lost in the media’s “culture wars” coverage is that this would be only one of about 100 specialty plates that are already in existence. Most of them say stuff like “Gators Rule” and “Army Proud” and “Choose Life” and other equally annoying statements of egotistical brand identification, the purpose of which is to gain an additional $25 a year in revenue for the state. I strongly endorse the efforts of Christians—specifically Faith in Teaching, Inc., of Orlando, which came up with the design and got Representative Edward Bullard to propose it—to advertise their heartfelt pharisaism on the rear ends of their ozone-depleting automobiles like every other Floridian.

Church-State Fusion

Lugo

When a priest was elected president of Paraguay last month, he was technically not a priest. Fernando Lugo resigned from the priesthood as well as his bishopric to get around the constitutional ban on church officials running for the office that held by the original Latin American strongman, Alfredo Stroessner, for 35 years, and more recently has been passed down to the legatees of Stroessner’s Colorado Party. Lugo is the kind of ruler likely to instill fear into both the defeated Coloradans and the Pope. Even though the Vatican has refused to accept Lugo’s resignation, he’s the kind of Liberation Theologian that the current Pope crusaded against and cited for heresy all through the 1980s, along with his designated Latin American hitman, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of Colombia. Lugo, instead of being recruited by the Vatican like Trujillo, lived for 11 years among the peasants of San Pedro, the poorest region in the poorest South American country. He speaks Guarani, the most common indigenous language of Paraguay. He keeps a picture of Che Guevara in his office. When he makes speeches, he’s fond of bringing a white dove with him, and releasing it into the air. And he wears open-toed sandals. Memo to the State Department: don’t send Dick Cheney to any meetings with this guy.

Now We’re Leaking Faith Documents?

Manifesto

The Associated Press was reporting over the weekend that “conservative Christian leaders” will release a “manifesto” (strange choice of words for a faith document) on Wednesday that amounts to a mea culpa for getting too involved in culture-war politics. Somebody leaked a draft of it to the AP writers, who were sufficiently impressed by its source and called the document “starkly self-critical.” The best line in the draft: “Faith loses its independence when Christians become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology.” Supposedly 80 evangelicals signed it, but a few quick phone calls revealed that the high-profile ones did not. Don’t look for Dobson or Land on the press release that will be handed out in Washington on the day after we know how much damage to Obama’s campaign was caused by press coverage of a liberal Christian leader. What am I missing here?