Archive for the 'god' Category

Johnny Hart Slams Islam. Or Not.

Saturday, November 22nd, 2003

One truth I hold pretty dear is the notion that as somone gains expertise in a particular domain, he (or she) begins to be able to draw confident conclusions from increasingly subtle data. At its extreme, this gives you phenomena like Sherlock Holmes, who despite being a fictional character rings true to me in those scenes where he astounds Watson by examining a few indistinct marks on the ground and from them reconstructing an accurate description of past events.

Now, on some level I think everybody would like to believe he (or she) is Holmes, rather than Watson. And that’s a dangerous desire, because another aspect of the Holmes stories that rings true to me is the way Watson repeatedly tries to mimic Holmes’ deductive leaps, only to arrive at conclusions that are completely, ludicrously wrong. It’s not enough to want to be like Holmes. Holmes got to be as good as he was only by combining a lot of native intelligence and energy with many years of diligent effort aimed at honing his talent. It required a brutal self-analysis, the holding of himself to an impossibly high standard of perfection as he sought to identify and eliminate the sources of error that drive all of us to conclusions that are comfortable rather than correct.

I’m aware that I’m closer to Watson than Holmes in a lot of ways. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to shift myself further along in the Holmesian direction. I think that’s why I’m so fascinated by ambiguity, by stories that can’t seem to decide if they mean one thing or some other very different thing, and that challenge me to figure out which one it is.

All of which leads me to Johnny Hart, the creator of the B.C. comic strip. He’s gotten himself into some hot water lately over his November 10 strip. According to an article in the Washington Post, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is up in arms because they say the strip amounts to an anti-Islamic slur: Cartoon raises a stink.

Hart denies the charge.

Asked about the outhouse strip this week, Hart denied that it was about Islam at all. He said that interpretation stunned him.

“My goodness. That’s incredible. That’s unbelievable!”

He said it was just a “silly” bathroom joke, wrapped around the cliche “Is it just me, or . . . ?” According to Hart, the joke was about the ambiguous authorship of a bad smell. The SLAM, Hart said, was simply there to show that the caveman had walked into the outhouse. The crescent moons were there to indicate it was nighttime, and because outhouses have crescent moons.

“This comic was in no way intended to be a message against Islam — subliminal or otherwise,” he said. “It would be contradictory to my own faith as a Christian to insult other people’s beliefs. If you should have any further silly notions about malicious intent from this quarter, you can save yourself a phone call.”

So, there are at least two possibilities here: Hart really intended no slur against Islam, at least consciously, when he created the strip. Or he did intend the slur, and he’s lying now. Which explanation is correct?

The Post article’s authors actually went to considerable effort trying to answer that question, soliciting the opinions of an expert in semiotics (the study of signs and symbols), along with 6 cartoonists who are admirers of Hart’s work. All but one of them, after looking carefully at the strip, concluded that the Islamic-slur interpretation was the only one that made sense. The lone holdout was Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, who said, “We cartoonists are simple folk. We don’t write on that cryptic a level. Leave Johnny alone.”

I’m inclined to say that the slur was, on some level, intentional. But am I being Holmes or Watson when I say that? I honestly don’t know.

Homeless-Children Folklore

Wednesday, November 19th, 2003

The story itself is more than six years old, which I guess means that most of the believers it quotes have moved on to other beliefs. But I still found this Miami Times feature on the religious folklore told by children in homeless shelters fascinating: Myths over Miami. Thanks to Yian, again, for the link.

Boy and His Computer’s Church Signs

Saturday, November 15th, 2003

A little spirituality to bring meaning to your humdrum existence: Church signs.

Time to quit?

Friday, October 24th, 2003

The actor playing Christ in Mel Gibson’s upcoming “The Passion of Christ” has been hit by lightning the second time on the set. So is God testing him or does He realize that no one wants to see this damn thing anyway?

(Update by jbc: Actually, it appears it was the film’s assistant director who got zapped for the second time. So far the actor playing Jesus has only been hit once.)

Doolittle on the WaPo on Bush on the Malaysian Prime Minister on God

Tuesday, October 21st, 2003

Here’s an interesting comment by Jerome Doolittle, who points to a Washington Post editorial that points out the double standard inherent in Bush sharply criticizing the religious bigotry of Malayasian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, while letting pass without comment the religious bigotry of General Jerry Boykin: God works in really, really mysterious ways.

As an aside, I can’t write anything about the Malaysian prime minister without having that brainwashing sequence from Zoolander flash through my head, with Will Ferrell repeatedly exhorting me to “kill the Malaysian prime minister! Kill the Malaysian prime minister!” Thank you, Ben Stiller.

With God on Our Side

Thursday, October 16th, 2003

Interesting story from the LA Times about Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence: General casts war in religious terms. It seems the 13-year Delta Force veteran is an evangelical Christian prone to public remarks that feed into Islamic fears that the US is waging a War on Evil in which Muslims are the bad guys by virtue of their non-Judeo-Christian faith. The article is the straight-news version of an opinion piece by military affairs analyst William Arkin that is also running in today’s LA Times: The Pentagon unleashes a holy warrior.

Franken on Religion

Wednesday, September 17th, 2003

The good people at have an interview with Al Franken, as he does the buy-my-book circuit. In this case the interview focuses on God and spirituality. Good stuff: Why would the anti-Christ write Chorus Line?

Kynn on the Ten Commandments

Thursday, August 14th, 2003

The new-and-improved Shock and Awe has a nice piece on the wacky judge in Alabama who’s refusing to give up his Ten Commandments statue: The Ten Commandments.

Mary Magdalene’s Secret

Friday, August 8th, 2003

I must have been one of the last people on earth to finally get around to reading The Da Vinci Code. Anyway, I finally did, and besides being deeply envious of its Amazon sales rank, I found myself enjoying (as everyone else has, apparently) the fun conspiracy theory about how the early Church arranged to rub out the truth about how Mary Magdalene was actually Jesus’ wife and his intended spiritual successor. Anyway, for those uncomfortable with getting their conspiracy theories from bestselling potboilers, Time has an article on the subject that, while it doesn’t go as far in its claims, at least includes them among the list of positions taken by modern-day Magdalene obsessives: Mary Magdalene: Saint or Sinner?

So, I wonder how Mel handles this issue in his new movie? Something tells me he probably hews pretty close to traditional Church dogma. If so, and if traditional Church dogma about Magdalene actually was the product of a 6th-century hatchet job, there’d be a certain irony in his having worked so hard to shore up the false version of Magdalene’s role in the name of staying “true” to Christianity’s “oldest” traditions.

Well, if we’re going to drag out the “god” category…

Tuesday, July 15th, 2003

We can only hope that Mel Gibson’s upcoming work will keep in mind that Jesus had short hair! Who knows what sartorial sins today’s youngsters might go on to commit without appropriate guidance?

And in further… news [ahem]: a supposed recent bout of tornados in America is apparently Hashem’s idea of a communique that the US should not facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state. Maybe his email server is down.

Mel’s Cinematic “Passion”

Monday, July 14th, 2003

In a story referred to earlier by John, Mel Gibson’s upcoming film project on the last hours of Jesus Christ’s life on earth has started to receive some advance screenings, and a few more details are coming out about it. Any kind of play or movie that has a central focus on Christ has always been a lightening rod for scrutiny and criticism among the Jewish and Christian faiths. It’s apparent already from this story and this one that some serious trepidation is surfacing, especially within some Jewish and Catholic groups. As a Christian, I certainly hope that Mel Gibson is true to his word of a faithful and authentic-feeling presentation of, what I feel, is the most important event in mankind’s history (although the dialogue will be entirely in Aramaic and Latin, it now appears that a limited amount of subtitles will be included). It’s an impossible job to fully pull off however, since Mel is relying on some Gospels that sometimes differ with each other in the details of those final hours. So what do you include or leave out in a biblically accurate retelling of the Passion Story? Hence, part of the inevitable disapproval. There is also an indication that some non-biblical sources (the writings of several centuries-old nuns) may find some influence within the story. The more problematic issue will be the reaction of the Jewish religious leaders and the Defamation League at any connection of the Jews of that time being involved in Christ’s arrest and death. Now, I certainly would be dismayed if the film painted the Jews in some ugly stereotypes and/or suggested that they were either wholly and collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. But I don’t believe that will be Mel’s intent. However, the fact that a number of the Jewish population and leadership of that time were threatened and angered by Christ’s presence, and had a hand in shaping the events of those final hours (along with the Romans) is undeniable.

Does this make all those of Jewish heritage permanently stained by the actions of some predecessors? Of course not. But the hatred and persecution endured by Jews over time has made many of them understandably hyper-sensitive (to a fault) to their depiction in this part of world history (an example of such thinking and a more moderate voice). I hope that the likely predictible uproar that some in both the Jewish and Christian communities will create will not distract people ( both believers and non-believers) from viewing the film without pre-judging its validity, sincerity, and its faithfulness to the scriptures. From all I have now heard about it, the film seems to deserve that chance.

Danish Priest Denies Existence of God

Friday, June 6th, 2003

Here’s an interesting one. From the BBC comes the staid AP version of the story: Doubting Danish priest suspended. Thorkild Grosboel, a Lutheran priest, has given an interview in which he said, “there is no heavenly God” (among other brow-raising statements).

For a slightly more-fun version of the story, see Christianity Today: Danish pastor suspended after denying God, eternal life, and resurrection.

Marines Asked to Pray for President

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

I saw this story on The Agonist: US soldiers in Iraq asked to pray for Bush. It’s really just too weird. According to an embedded journalist, marines have been given a prayer book from a group called In Touch Ministries; the book contains a form to be torn out and mailed to the White House, indicating that the marine in question has indeed been praying for the president. The book provides helpful suggestions on what sort of prayer for the president would be suitable on any given day; today’s suggestion, for example, is: “Pray that the President and his advisers will seek God and his wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding.”

Hm. That particular prayer actually makes a lot of sense to me. But I confess that the whole idea is confusing. Aren’t the marines already giving enough, what with that whole thing about sacrificing their freedom, their health, and in many cases, their lives? Now they’re supposed to pray for the president, too?

I’m obviously missing something here.

Mel Gibson’s Got Religion

Friday, March 14th, 2003

You’ve probably seen this already, but if not, you’ll need to check it out. Mel Gibson, it seems, is making a movie about the last few hours of Christ’s life, which is nothing particularly new, but he’s going to present it in Latin and Aramaic, without subtitles. Hollywood says he’s crazy, but he’s paying for it himself, so more power to him. Apparently this is related to Mel’s close involvement with an ultra-conservative brand of Catholicism that believes the Vatican II reforms were a mistake; see the linked story for more wacky details.

Ebert on Private vs. Public Prayer

Monday, March 10th, 2003

Roger Ebert has written a great piece on the scary theocratic elements of the Bush/Aschroft “faith-based” approach to government: Public prayer fanatics borrow page from enemy’s script. Please, God, help us to elect leaders who understand what he’s talking about. Amen.

Kristof: News Media Overwhelmingly Out of Touch with Born-Agains

Tuesday, March 4th, 2003

From Janus comes word of this interesting Op-Ed piece at the New York Times: God, Satan and the Media. The author, Nicholas D. Kristof, has some interesting statistics on the percentage of people in the U.S. who are evangelical Christians (like Dubya), and the gulf that separates such folks from virtually everyone in the news media.

Christian Sects Battle Over Jerusalem Church

Wednesday, July 31st, 2002

from the onward-Christian-soldiers dept.

I think we’ve fallen somewhat away from the core of Christ’s original message.

Jury: ‘God Told Me To’ No Excuse for Starving Child

Sunday, June 16th, 2002

from the with-a-God-like-that,-who-needs-Satan? dept.

Coward writes “According to the website, jurors have convicted Jacques Robidoux of murder in the first degree in the death of his son. The method of the crime? Deliberately withholding solid food from his child on orders from God. Observant readers will notice that the evidence bringing the case to trial was received from another couple with a dead baby that received immunity for testimony (was one baby more valuable than the other?). For more information on the religious sect that Robidoux belongs to, check out this entry in the excellent (albeit slightly Christian biased) Apologetics Index.”

Falwell Denounces ABC’s Bleeping of ‘Jesus’

Friday, June 7th, 2002

from the Jesus,-what-next? dept.

On a recent episode of ABC’s “The View” (a daytime chat show), one of the on-air personalities, Joy Behar, said of her having ended televised weigh-ins as part of an ongoing diet feature, “Yes, and thank you, thank you, Jesus, is all I have to say.” ABC ran the statement uncut in the show’s live broadcast, but when us poor relations on the West Coast saw the tape-delayed version, the word “Jesus” had been bleeped out. Which would be a perfectly good story in and of itself, but then it gets an extra layer: televangelist Jeffy Falwell has apparently objected to the bleeping, though I’m not sure why. According to the AP story on the incident, “Falwell, in a newspaper column, said he believed ABC’s action was wrong. What makes it worse, he said, is that many cable television networks are habitually blasphemous.” Huh? But see, they bleeped the word precisely because they were worried that its use as a casual exclamation would offend peckerheads like him. I tried to track down the column in which he made the statement, but after several minutes of plowing through his words of wisdom at (plus an entertaining detour through I gave up. If any of you happen to come across it, would you let me know? Thanks. Update: Lucy tracked it down for me. Here’s Falwell’s column, where he (of course) intentionally misconstrues ABC’s action as being part of a blanket erasing of the word “Jesus” from all broadcasts, ignoring that the network uses it all the time to actually refer to Jesus, and only has a policy of bleeping its use as an irreligious exclamation. That guy is such a pud whack.

5-year-old Expelled From Church-Run Kindergarten Over Mom’s Lap-Dancing

Tuesday, May 28th, 2002

from the never-too-early-to-teach-hypocrisy dept.

The Telegraph has the story of Christina Silvas, a 24-year-old single mother, who has been forced to quit her job as a lap-dancer in order to allow her daughter to continue attending a kindergarten in Sacramento, California, that is run by the Assemblies of God, a fundamentalist Christian church. Despite her doing so, however, the school has announced that the child will not be allowed back in the school in the fall, due to her mom’s former occupation. Note the interesting factoid late in the article: Attorney General John Ashcroft’s father is a senior minister in the Assemblies of God.