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31 March 2004

Terrorism -what is it good for?

It turns out that the answer is the same as the answer for war: It's good for business. Loretta Napoleoni is an Italian journalist who specialises in researching the economics of terrorism and in her article Ten Things You Don't Know About Terrorism she blows the lid off of the complicity of Western capitalism in sustaining terror networks. This link was found at American Samizdat.

30 March 2004

The Great American Man-Dog Marriage Panic

Put your coffee cup on the other side of the room and read this bit in The Village Voice by Richard Goldstein. Link found on Earl Bockenfeld's Radio Weblog.

Sir Peter Ustinov (1921 - 2004) and Alistair Cooke (1908 - 2004)

Obituaries come in pairs today, and both were really nice people known for their story-telling abilities: Sir Peter Ustinov at the age of 82 and Alistair Cooke at the age of 95.

Will not compute! Help! Hair on fire!

The incomparable Zoe Williams has a Guardian daily comment article today called "In pursuit of the pink". This is all about the Tories and New Labour falling all over each other trying to woo the "homosexual vote". She has a really ingenious explanation of why "family values" politicians cannot come out (as it were) in support of gay marriages:
"My personal theory is that, if they did bring in gay marriage, there would de facto be gay divorcees, and the upholders of "family values" would become irretrievably confused over whether these were destroying the very fabric of society. (Divorce: bad! Homosexual partnerships: unnatural! Divorcing homosexuals... emergency! Will not compute! Help, hair on fire!)"

I kid you not

This link was found on the blog MyIrony.com; from The Morning News, The Passion of the Christ: Blooper Reel. Providing much needed comic relief from all the uptight feelings engendered by this inflammatory film.

28 March 2004

Uh-oh. Ralph Nader had better watch it.

The youth of America is aroused!

Asides to the Death of Christendom

Natalie has seen the Passion of the Christ and gives her reponse to it here. And if you are enjoying this series of sermons, you may also be interested in Natalie's graphic series "Augustine Interviews God". Or you may enjoy Real Live Preacher, Noli Irritare Leones or Correction, amongst other blogs with a religious focus. More of these can be found in the links column of Deborama's Fund of Knowledge. Also, since The Passion of the Christ has come to the United Kingdom, there has been a new spate of reviews: The Observer, the Guardian, The Times, the Belfast Telegraph, The Mirror, and This is Local London, a web compilation of 28 London newspapers, whose critic says you should read the book instead.

The Death of Christendom - part IV

If I take it slow and spin this out, I can make the unbroken colt story come out on Palm Sunday and wrap the whole thing up at Easter. Let's see how that works.

When I was a vegetarian, I began to question the image of the "Good Shepherd". It occurred to me, as inevitably it must to those who are trying to live a life of non-harming, that a shepherd is not really a model of compassionate care. The shepherd only tends the flocks so that they don't succumb to weather or natural causes or other predators, like wolves. But the shepherd himself is in the relationship of a predator to his sheep, so his care is rather suspect. (Never mind that sheep do not make the best metaphor for human followers, since they are used as a metaphor of foolish trust, which is understandable, or of following the wrong cause due to intellectual torpor, which is hardly fair to sheep, who were made as they are by God.) That was why I re-wrote the 23rd Psalm, which always was and still is one of my favourite parts of the Bible. Unfortunately, I have lost track of it over the years. It is probably in one of my 20-odd randomly kept "journals" (the quotes are there because I rarely "kept" a journal for more than a few days running, and then would go back and reuse the book for an isolated essay or personal minutes of a fraught political meeting. There is no index, no pattern, no hope of finding what you're looking for in those books.) But I was not totally happy with it; the language of the original King James Bible is so sublime that all attempts I have made to rewrite it have not pleased me any more than any of the other latter-day translations. I have just had to learn to overlook the shepherd thing.

It used to be very important to me to believe that Jesus was a vegetarian. But this belief in turn led me to re-examine the whole issue of sacrifice for atonement. And gradually, I began to feel that Jesus's "lifestyle" was not so important, the important thing was his prophetic message, and what he was calling me personally to do. That may be to be a vegetarian (in which case I have failed, but I may repent and be saved yet) or to be a preacher (there was a period when I thought so, maybe, but am now sure that my vocation is . . . something else) or it may be just to live a certain way, to model compassion (not saintliness), reasonable self-control (not asceticism), faithfulness "to" more than faith "in" (and remain a rational skeptic about all except God and his love for me.) In other words, Jesus was not calling his followers to some impossible standard of perfection, nor was he offering himself as a human sacrifice so that people who perform certain pre-approved rituals can be "saved" no matter what they do thereafter. As in all wisdom, the wisdom of true Christianity is the middle path, doing the best you can, and harming as little as you can, and understanding that you are forgiven your trespasses; after all that is what we pray every week or every day, and it is one of the few things we can be absolutely sure that Jesus actually did say.

Another Bible story that is very central to my belief system is the one about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-27). In searching the web for others' commentary about this story, I was struck by the wide range of Christian types that it appeals to and all the rich and varied messages that come from it. Milliennialists see a prophecy about the last days. Radical Christians focus on the fact that a Jew, who does not speak to women in public (especially true for a rabbi), is not only speaking to this woman, but teaching her and discussing religious history with her, and that she is not only a woman, but a woman of Samaria, a country whose religion was rejected by the Jews of Judea, and whose people were considered unclean. Those with an evangelical focus see this as a key story about witnessing and faith. In all, I think this commentary best sums up how I feel about this story. And the other thing, which ties into my message about caring and fairness and humility as opposed to sacrifices required for the forgiveness of sins, is this: Jesus never puts a condition on the love and acceptance he extends to the outcasts, like the woman of Samaria. When he forgives the woman of ill-repute who washes his feet, Jesus does not say "Your sins are forgiven because I am going to die for you". He says "Your sins are forgiven because of your love and faith". Unlike his Pharisee host, who has not (at least in his own opinion) sinned very much, the woman who comes in off the street is spontaneously humble and nurturing to Jesus ("from the time I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet .") She does what God requires, and her sins are forgiven. And similarly, the woman of Samaria is offered everlasting life, and all she has to do is ask for it. Jesus has told her all the circumstances of her life - five husbands, living with one now who is not her husband, worships in the wrong place, even her fellow Samaritans seem to reject her - but he does not say go and sacrifice three goats and you can have the living water, nor does he say, I will make all the sacrifices for you and give you living water, but you must abase yourself before me. Jesus can see that she walks humbly before God. When he confronts her with her own weaknesses, she does not beg for forgiveness or try to squirm out of it, she simply says "You must be a prophet" and asks him a subtle question to determine if he is the Messiah. Assured that he is, her first and only question is how to worship God correctly, and when this is answered, she is so overwhelmed and overjoyed that she leaves her water jar at the well and goes to the town to witness for Christ. There are some Biblical scholars who see this as a key moment in the founding of the early church, since the church of James and Peter was centred in Samaria, and yet this woman who presumably started it all is not even named in the Bible!

What I am working up to here is Jesus's new angle on the prophetic message that had been offered time and again to the Jewish people ever since the return from exile. This was when the prophets like Micah and Hosea and Isaiah began to preach that God did not want their sacrifices, but only wanted them to live a certain way. And yet the world was constantly going the other way, and the Jews, to a certain extent, going along with it. God wanted humility, but arrogance and power was a survival tactic. God wanted caring and compassion, but wars and conquests made that a scarce commodity. God wanted justice and fairness, but the very religious system that was meant to serve God had entrenched injustice into Jewish society (not so much with its laws, which were meant for fairness, but with the interpretation of the laws, the power of the priests, and the compromises with the conquering Greeks and Romans.) In many ways, Jesus was another of those prophets; that is how the Muslims of today see him, and how most of his followers before his death saw him. But in the fifth part of "the Death of Christendom", I intend to explore the extra dimension in Jesus's message that carried it far beyond those of Micah and other prophets - the elemental idea of freedom. This is what is meant by the gospel - the Good News.

27 March 2004

Typical Englishness

Poor old Yorkshire Soul had not one but two really bad English supermarket experiences in a single day, apparently. I find almost all supermarket experiences in England are dreadful; going shopping for food makes me so homesick for the Seward Co-op that I can barely stand it.


This blog is one year old today.
I have added comments to Deborama's Kitchen.
The fourth and penultimate part of the Death of Christendom post will appear tomorrow on this page. (There, I have committed myself!)
I have just signed up to Book Crossing, where I was astonished to find that over 100 books had been released into the wild in Nottingham in the past month. Why did I not find any of them? More about that soon at Deborama's Book Reviews and Store. By the way, I added comments there some time ago at the request of one faithful reader, but no one has left any comments. As they are constantly saying on British TV drama: "How do you think that makes me feel?"

26 March 2004

And now we are one!

This blog will be one year old tomorrow. Leave a tag and wish it happy birthday.

Homosexuality Alert Colour Coding System

Current level of homosexuality

Go to the site called The Little President and click on the "Homosexuality Alert system" link to see the full colour coding system.

24 March 2004

Well, that's one way to deal with it . . .

Benton County in Oregon bans all marriages, in order to be certain that they are not discriminating against anyone by following the judicial ban on same-sex marriages. Don't you love to see courageous local officials in action?

Low hanging fruit

George Monbiot: Superstores mop up the last pockets of resistance is a sad story of shrinking biodiversity and shrinking market diversity. Monbiot visits J. C. Allgrove's, the last supplier of rare English fruit trees, which is soon to go out of business. How's this for bitter irony:
"He gave a one-word answer when I asked him what had happened to the business. "Supermarkets". Today the apples they buy are landing three miles from JC Allgrove's. Heathrow's first runway was built on strawberry farms and orchards. From the air, you can still see derelict greenhouses and the parallel lines on the land where fruit trees once grew. Richard Cox, the man who bred the world's favourite apple, is buried beside St Mary's Church in Harmondsworth, which will be flattened if a third runway is built at Heathrow."

Remember Archbishop Oscar Romero

Who was Oscar Romero? is a website detailing the life and death of Monsenor Oscar Romero of El Salvador. There is also this page sponsored by St. Peter's RC church in Nottingham (where I am off to in just a few minutes, for work.) Today is the 24th anniversary of his death by assassination.

23 March 2004

The Head Heeb: A killing in Gaza

I expected Jonathan, the Head Heeb, to have something rational to say about the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and so he does.

22 March 2004

Bush calls for unity and the world responds

In a blog called Hoffmania, a splendid gallery of photos of anti-war demos around the world makes a fitting rejoinder to Bush and his cynical call for "unity".

21 March 2004

Methodist pastor found not guilty

Body and Soul covers the story of Rev. Karen Dammann, a Methodist pastor who was subjected to a church trial after revealing to her bishop that she was in a committed relationship with another woman. This is so Methodist; all the forms are observed, the political get to be political and the pious get to be pious and in the end they reach the obvious conclusion - this woman has done nothing wrong and she's a good minister and let her get on with it. And bad feelings? Are you kidding? Even the pastor who served as prosecutor and the bishop who filed the complaint expressed themselves "pleased with the verdict".

The death of Christendom - part III

The problem with the history of Christianity is that there are so many factions, so many paths, so many heresies, that there is not a theological word left that is not freighted with the negativities of the past. There is no word of which this is more true than "gnostic". A comment that you can read in the part II post below brought to my mind all the strange twists of thought (some of them quite repellent, some of them such wild "heresy" that you wonder if they were really serious) that have existed under the rubric of gnosticism. Reading the Catholic Encyclopaedia version was especially enlightening - you can see how even today the Holy Mother Church loathes and fears the gnostics. But I think all that syncretism and angelology and eschatology are side-issues. You know how I said that the "orthodox" (i.e., Catholics and fundamentalists) are the "Philip K. Dicks of theology"? Well the fact is that Philip K. Dick is a gnostic writer, and his Valis trilogy is often cited in the hermeneutics of modern gnostic thought. Because the thing is, that when you make the decision that inner knowledge of God is possible, there really is no safety net. Answering "yes" to the question "Does God talk to you?" on the MMPI is enough to get you a diagnosis of psychosis, because the question always remains - how do you know? So, I am beginning to wish I hadn't even brought up gnosticism. Let's just say that what a protestant fundamentalist is, and what a pre-Vatican Roman Catholic is, I am as opposite of as you can get within the framework of Christian.

Maybe it's safer to talk about Methodism. I am on secure ground there. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley modified (although that was probably not his intention) the Protestant fundamentalism about scriptural authority. He taught that there were four tools, rather than one book, for the mind to use in discerning God's truth. The four are Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason. Although I was not taught this in so many words as a Methodist child (and a horribly pious one at times, too) in my Sunday school and youth group, I somehow absorbed it. The "experience" part is the "gnostic" element in Methodism. I have always read the Bible, always prayed, always tried to apply reason to religious questions, and always listened, in various ways, for the voice of God. Quakerism, another flavour of Christianity that speaks to me and draws me on and enlightens me, puts most of its faith in this element. But again, personal experience will not tell you how to be good, in the sense of obedient to God, unless you contain within you some Godlike elements. You cannot sit and meditate, or go into your closet and pray in secret, as Jesus himself told his followers, if you believe that you are wholly corrupt and sinful. If you are to be "saved" (if, indeed, you have something you need to be saved from) by "faith alone" then you had better be very sure you are reciting the right creed, worshipping in the right temple, and being ministered to by the right priest. And you need to be prepared to give up your freedom. In this theology, God says you have free will, but only a single choice in which to exercise it - to obey Him through His earthly lieutenants, or not, in which case you are "lost and damned".

And yet, millions do make this choice. Why is that? My own opinion is that it is superstition. Superstition is very ingrained in the human mind. The earliest religions were all about angry gods and painful sacrifice. There is a view of the "progress" of religions (in the fertile crescent, where all "Western" religions began) that says that Judaism's huge leap forward was not monotheism, but a banning of human sacrifice, and a rationalisation of animal sacrifice. You still had an angry God, but He would be nice to you and your people. In return he only required obedience and praise and worship in the correct manner. The sacrifice was not central even in the earliest texts of Judaism - it was more important to know what not to sacrifice. And since people ate what they sacrificed (after part was burned for God and part was eaten by the priest) the kosher laws and the whole doctrine of purity and cleanness arose from the tightening up of Temple practice. Like many of Judaism's truths, this is esoterically told in the story of the "sacrifice of Isaac." In Islam, the celebration of this event, where the human son was not sacrificed, but a goat was substituted instead, is one of the two holiest days of the Islamic year. However, the son that was saved is a different one - it is not Isaac but Ishmael, the true eldest son, the ancestor of the Arabs and the patriarch of Islam. I know no more about this fascinating controversy, not being a theologian of any kind and certainly not of Judaism or Islam. But I think it is interesting to look at how the three major religions of the book play with this idea of the Father sacrificing his Only, or Eldest, or Favourite Son. ("For God so loved the world ...")

Which brings me a bit closer to my point. Sorry it is so rambling, but it took me years to get here.

I never liked that Isaac story. I was fascinated by but also disturbed by the laws and strictures of the Pentateuch. Also, in a seemingly unrelated thread of the story, I was disturbed by eating meat. I didn't know any vegetarians when I was a child, and didn't know it was a possibility. But on at least one occasion, I woke up crying and woke my mother up to tell her that it wasn't right that all those animals were killed for us to eat. She told me to stop being silly, and that was the end of it. As an adult, I converted to vegetarianism several times and remained so for years, but ended up lapsing back to eating fish and other dead animals. I still cannot eat certain meats - lamb, pork and beef - not when I see them out in the fields every day on my way to work. But I digress again. All I want to say is that all this worked on my mind; I tried to apply reason, I wondered if God was telling me something. I read a lot. One very esoteric book I read that nudged my thought in certain strange directions was The Forgotten Beginnings of Creation and Christianity by Carl Anders Skriver. I will quote the synopsis from the compassionatespirit website:
"Carl Anders Skriver (1903-1983) has the distinction of being the first modern scholar to argue that Jesus was a vegetarian on historical grounds. Carl Skriver was an Evangelical Lutheran minister and a pioneer in the area of Christian vegetarianism. In this book, his last major work, he goes back to the "forgotten beginnings" of the world -- the original vegetarian creation of the world, free from violence and killing. His reinterpretations of the first chapters of Genesis show how the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah and the Flood can be understood in a vegetarian way. A scholar of Vedic literature, Skriver shows parallels between both the Genesis stories and the prophecies of a world-redeemer in other cultures throughout the ancient East. Skriver also fundamentally revises conventional ideas about the mission of Jesus -- as Jesus, also, sought to return the religion of his day to these forgotten beginnings."

But I didn't want to talk about vegetarianism, really. I wanted to talk about sacrifice. I mentioned in part II about "the major message of all true religion". This is one of those things where the Wesleyan four pillars worked exactly the way it should. I heard this passage from the Tao read in my Methodist church in Minneapolis, where a reading from the Tao is part of every service:
"These possessions of a simpleton being the three I choose
And cherish:
To care,
To be fair,
To be humble, . . . "
It struck a chord of memory; I was sure I had read those very words, or something close to them, in the Bible. I didn't really search for them, but I found them all the same, in the Book of Micah:
"Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
Notice, as I did, that the second verse, which tells us that all God ever wants of us is that we care, we be fair and we be humble, is contrasted to the first verse, in which the primitive and superstitious Man, who cannot imagine how to "appease" God, is concerned with pleasing the Lord with sacrifice. As I say, it took some years, but I read (scripture), I meditated and prayed (experience), I synthesised what I had read (reason) and I observed the history of religions (traditions) and I came up with a little nugget of theology all on my own. And it was this: that there is a fundamental contradiction between sacrifice and superstition on the one hand, and kindliness, justice and humility on the other. And that it was the second that was "pleasing to the Lord". And further, that the message of Jesus was - sacrifice is not necessary. So does it make sense that God would spend centuries saying "sacrifice is not necessary" and then send a Prophet whose purpose was to reinforce that message - and then be a human sacrifice himself? I have to say no, or exclude the voice of Reason.

In part IV, I will explain more about the idea of sacrifice, and how I put Jesus's willingness to suffer and die in a context of freedom and responsibility, rather than one of ritual atonement for Man's sinful nature. This will lead into a discussion of what parts of the Nicene creed and traditional Christian observance I have abandoned, in obedience to God as I understand Him, and how I can still say that Jesus is my Saviour if I no longer believe that he "died for my sins". And hopefully, my exegesis of the story of the unbroken colt will shed some light on this as well. And if I can find it, I will share the kinder and gentler version of the 23rd Psalm.

20 March 2004

Church may end up as sect, warns bishop

Now, this is very interesting. I wonder if the Anglican church has been reading my blog.
"Even if there is no further decline, by the turn of the next century, there will still be thousands of churches and ministers, but they will have no Christians to minister to.
"The waning interest in organised Christianity contrasts with the findings of the 2001 census, which included a voluntary question about religion for the first time. In response, 72% of the population said they were Christians. The Handbook acknowledges a "yawning gap" between what people say and church attendance."

18 March 2004

Blogging survey about privacy and liability issues

In January, I took part in this survey. Today I received the Summary of Findings link in my e-mail. It's worth a look if you're interested in blogging as a social phenomenon.

How do you spell God?

At the Left Hand of God, by Anna Quindlen writing in Newsweek magazine, points up the false dichotomy between conservative religious and liberal secular "package deals" in American political discourse. "From same-sex marriage to Mel Gibson's gory take on the Crucifixion, the new wedge issue is religiosity, not to be confused with faith."

15 March 2004


Agency initiates steps for selective draft. Would you believe the US Army has trouble "attracting and retaining language experts, especially people knowledgeable about Arabic and various Afghan dialects." I find that so hard to believe, especially knowing how respectful they are of ordinary speakers of Arabic and various Afghan dialects. Thankfully, the Congress has to put forth legislation for a draft before any of this can take effect, and they have "shown no interest in taking such a step".

14 March 2004

Death of Christendom - part II

The primary topic of this essay is not "is Christianity dying?" but "should Christianity die?" You must understand from the outset that this is not an atheist, agnostic, or neo-pagan proposition, but the proposition of a woman who is a Christian. I am not going to wimp out and say "considers herself a Christian". I do have a "personal saviour" and he was a man named Jesus who was born approximately two millennia ago somewhere in the middle east. I love Him and I love His message. But I am in serious opposition to almost everything that has been done in His name for the last 1700 years or so, and especially (since there's not much I can do about the Crusades or the witch-burnings) what is being done now in His name. How can that be? Let me try to explain. . .

Even today, Christians can be divided into two "flavours". I'll bet you think I'm going to say Catholic and Protestant, don't you? Well, I'm not. The two divisions I am thinking of are far more unequal. The battle between them was fought centuries ago, and it was bloodier than the Crusades, more unfair than the witch-burnings; and it was won, according to my beliefs, by the "bad guys". I don't mean that they were really bad people, but I know positively that Jesus, if he ever meant to found a religion at all, would have wanted the other side to win. The two types of Christianity we will call Gnostic and Orthodox. (It was the Orthodox that won.) Now let's not get confused with terminology here. The denominations officially called Orthodox - such as Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox and the like - are more Gnostic than the Roman Catholics, who are the ultimate orthodoctrinaires. Well, maybe; Calvinists are pretty orthodox, and Baptists. Who are the modern-day Gnostics? Well, there are some "neo-gnostics" in the sense that modern scholars and religionists have re-created what they thought the early gnostic churches may have been. The Quakers are quite gnostic. The Unitarians are pretty gnostic, but they are barely Christian. (I could write a whole essay about that , but others have done it better.)
What is the essence of the difference between gnosticism and orthodoxy? "Gnosis" is the Greek for "knowledge" or "knowing". "Ortho-dox" is Latin for "correct-belief". The key difference is in the way that the two theologies say that humans may apprehend the Truth. Gnostics say it is within you, for God is within you and will answer your prayer for knowledge and guidance by revealing the Truth to you personally. The orthodox, otoh, are the Philip K. Dicks of theology - how can you know, they would counter, that it isn't Satan talking to you? Or maybe you're on drugs? Or maybe the human mind is just too sinful and feeble to apprehend the Truth in this way, even if God would deign to talk to you personally. For the orthodox, God is defined as wholly Other Than You. An outside authority must stand as intermediary between you and God, and interpret Truth and offer up your prayers, and tell you your sins are forgiven.
Obviously, the problem with the orthodox solution for gnostics (and freedom-loving people everywhere) is that one of these weak and feeble humans gets an awful lot of power over you, and on some very shaky philosophical ground. This is where politics enters into the religion equation. The Protestant Revolution was originally a partly gnostic movement. Some protestant denominations have the lovely phrase "the priesthood of all the converted". Power must be taken from the priests. Some came to being simply by objecting to the awesome power of the Pope and Vatican. But the need for social control is a deep and pathological hunger in the human soul, often more powerful than the hunger for Truth. So Protestantism developed its own abuses of power, and none more offensive to the philosophical intellect than the insistence on the truth of Scripture. Once you study the history of the church and understand the ugly political processes through which the Canon was edited and selected, it is hard to understand how you could still "believe" in it. And then of course each little doomsday cult of Protestantism has its own "orthodox" interpretation of the Holy Writ, all proclaiming loudly that it is no interpretation at all, but just "Written".
And now, here's another interesting thing about the Gnostic/Orthodox split: it is older than Christianity. In fact there were similar cults and schisms in Judaism almost from its origins. It is possible, and I believe, that Jesus Himself was a Gnostic Jew; some say he was a Nazorean and some say an Essene, or possibly both, i.e., a young man from a Nazorean family and community who joined an Essene monastery for training and purification before beginning his Mission. And, there are Gnostic Muslims as well - the Sufis and others less well known.
So, you have probably figured out by now that I am a gnostic Christian. I do not belong to a Gnostic congregation (well, I do in a way, but it is officially Methodist, who are, by the way, the most gnostic of the mainstream denominations.) So, do I think that Christendom must die because it has gone astray to the horrible wastelands of orthodoxy and social control? Well, yes and no. I mean I do believe that Christianity has gone astray, but it is more than just the gnostic thing.
I realize that I am going to have to make this a multi-part essay. There's a lot more to say before I wrap up with my conclusion, and it's late and I need to sleep. So, in part two, whenever that comes, I really will tell: 1) the story of my own personal conversion, 2) what the word "sacrifice" means to me, and 3) a description of my own imaginings, based upon study, meditation and prayer, of what Jesus's message and mission really were. This will explain why I re-wrote the 23rd Psalm, my own interpretation of the story of the colt on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and the major message of all true religions, which can be found in the Old Testament and the Tao Teh Ching in almost exactly the same words.
Note: I am also going to do something which is considered a major no-no in blogging. I am going to come back to this post and edit it by adding links to some of the words and phrases. I know it's bad, but honestly I am just too tired to do it right now, and I don't like to save drafts because I never seem to finish them. So, I hope I have piqued your interest, and stay tuned.

Irony is officially dead

Mothninja in this great post, "Nailed it. Or not." is but one of the several bloggers who find it hard to accept with a straight face some of the many icky little factoids about Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Such as the souvenir nails being sold as jewellry and key pendants on the official merchandise site. Such as the fact that the actor and the assistant director were struck by lightning while filming. Sheesh. Some people just don't get it.

13 March 2004

Scotland and Wales 'bullied' over GM crop veto

From the Independent on Sunday: Ministers are threatening to take unprecedented steps under the devolution agreements with Scotland and Wales to ensure that they accept GM crops. The Welsh and Scottish administrations have to be "brought on board" because by law no GM crop can be grown anywhere in the UK unless there is a joint agreement by all the governments of the United Kingdom. The so-called devolved administrations are much more firmly opposed to GM crops (as are the general public across Britain, but who cares about them?) than are the MPs in Westminster. Environmental groups and the devolved assemblies are crying foul.

Guantanamo captives tell of torture and humiliation

The Independent is just one of the UK major broadsheets carrying the horrifying tales from Guantanamo. One of the captives came out of the camp minus an arm, which was amputated by the US Army in what he claims was a botched treatment. But the story of Tareq Dergoul's amputation comes second-hand, because he is still being kept in a secret location due to his extreme ill-health, both mental and physical. His solicitor, Louise Christian, issued a statement describing what he had been able to relate, and asking the media to respect his privacy.
One other released detainee, Jamal al-Harith, sold his story to the Mirror for an undisclosed amount. He told of beatings and psychological torture, forced feedings when 70% of the detainees attempted a hunger strike, and interrogations at gunpoint. He claims he was in Afghanistan by accident, believing he had paid a truck driver to take him to Turkey.

Riverbend on spring in Iraq

As ever, Riverbend's post at Baghdad Burning is haunting, wistful, a little sad and angry and still somehow very positive. She discusses the Transitional Law and tells another horror story of random arrests and corruption in today's Iraq.
"These last few days have brought back memories of the same dates, last year. What were we doing in early March? We were preparing for the war… digging wells, taping up windows, stocking up on candles, matches, kerosene, rice, flour, bandages, and medicine… and what are we doing now? Using them."


Blogging has been sparse due to work commitments and also that I just kicked off the new Bloggers Parliament group blog. It's Bloggers Parliament House of Commons and I am the administrator, which is a big job as I am finding out.
Meanwhile - at Deborama's Fund of Knowledge (the links page) I have changed the Politics category to be Politics and Economics and I have added the New Economics Foundation. At Deborama's Kitchen I added a link to a US-based fast-food calorie and fat counter. (The only one of these I ever eat at is Subway, and that about twice a year. And I can see why.)
I still haven't done that post on my Christian faith and I still haven't got at all caught up with the book reviews. And the Wordkeeper blog is seriously neglected.

12 March 2004

Tom Hayden tells it

A very powerful article by Tom Hayden in the Nation, concerning the myths of the Vietnam War and why now is the time to examine them and refute them.
"If I were George W. Bush, I would be terrorized by the eyes of those scruffy-looking veterans, the so-called band of brothers, volunteering for duty with the Kerry campaign. They look like men with scores to settle, with a palpable intolerance toward the types who sent them to war for a lie, then ignored their Agent Orange illness, cut their GI benefits, treated them like losers and still haven't explained what that war was about. They know Jane Fonda is a diversion from a larger battlefield. They are the sort who will keep a cerebral United States senator grounded, who have finally figured out who their real enemies are and who are determined that this generation hear their story anew. They are gearing up for one last battle. Chickenhawks better duck."
Thanks once again to non-blogging friend Joani for this link.

Mel Gibson's hellish beliefs

Jeanne of Body and Soul has picked up on the various ironies of Mel Gibson's strict pre-Vatican II Catholic theology, including the fact that his wife, whom he calls a "saint" is, in his belief system, destined for hell.

Who's to blame?

In reference to the Madrid bombings, Back to Iraq 3.0 has an authoritative answer to an idea that I had with no real information to back it up. I wondered how much collaboration was likely between, say, Eta and Islamist terrorist groups seeking to "punish" Spain for its role in Iraq. The answer is that collaboration between such groups is common and long-standing.

11 March 2004

Guantanamo detainees free at last

The other big story for the past couple of days in the UK has been the release of the five prisoners from Guantanamo. Originally detained by British authorities for further questioning, they have now all been freed and re-united with their families, as the Times reports.

However, Moazzam Begg, from Birmingham, Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar, all from London, remain incarcerated at Camp Delta.

Mayhem in Madrid

The top story everywhere; as ever the Guardian has lots of depth and breadth to the story and the BBC is providing continuous coverage on their satellite channel, BBC News24. Even the US media are covering it, although it is not given the prominence there. It is beginning to look as if this attack may have been by one or more Muslim terrorist groups, rather than the Basque group Eta, as first thought. Not only have letters claiming responsibility in Arabic been sent, but also major Eta affiliates are disclaiming involvement. From the BBC:
'The leader of the banned Basque political party Batasuna, Arnaldo Otegi, blamed "Arab resistance".
'"Eta has always issued a warning whenever it left a bomb to explode," he said, adding: "Spain maintains occupation forces in Iraq and we should not forget that it had a responsibility for the war in Iraq." '

Archive of images of the US mining industry

I found this exciting site courtesy of a blog called Bird on the Moon. The picture above, "little miners", is from the archive of images of the US mining industry.

09 March 2004

An education programme built to fail

City Pages of Minneapolis features a good expose of the cynical initiative that is bold-facedly called "No Child Left Behind". By a fantastic coincidence, this is just a sort of worst-case scenario version of what the New Labourites are accused of doing with their obsession with targets and tests and league tables.

08 March 2004

Today is

Today is International Women's Day. Today is also Shushan Purim. (Yesterday was Purim; Shushan Purim is the day as celebrated in Jerusalem and walled cities.) This link will tell you all about Purim, including the minor Purims celebrated at different times and places.

07 March 2004

Haiti: union-busting under the guise of regime change

I received a letter from Eric of the UK organisation LabourStart. I will quote most of it:

Haiti has been all over the news for the last couple of weeks, but I can almost guarantee that you haven't heard this story yet.
On Monday this week, 34 textile workers in northeast Haiti, members of a union, were fired. The next day, as fellow workers moved to take action in their defense, armed "rebel" forces arrived at the factory -- invited there by management. Some workers were handcuffed. Others were beaten up. The remaining workers were terrorized into returning to work.
In all the news coverage of the rebellion, of President Jean Bertrand Aristide's departure from the country and the controversy surrounding
it, little attention has been paid to this brazen attempt at union-busting.

Here is a web-page where you can send a protest letter to the company involved and their major customer, Levi-Strauss.


In addition to and as a follow-up to the Death of Christendom post below, I am going to do a post, probably tomorrow, about Why I am not going to see the Passion of the Christ. Since you have already read about a half-dozen such stories, I will tell you up front that my reasons are not like anybody else's reasons. This post will also attempt to explain my personal relationship with Jesus, and why I can no longer in conscience recite the Nicene Creed, although the Lord's Prayer/Our Father gives me no problems whatever. And also why I had to rewrite the 23rd Psalm.

Meanwhile, in other blogging news, I have just posted a heroic long post about hash-browns over at Deborama's Kitchen. Also, I mentioned that I finally read Jennifer Government. I am going to do my own review of it in the Book Reviews blog, alongside a review of two other SF novels Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling and Kipper's Game by Barbara Ehrenreich. Look for that later tomorrow.

The death of Christendom

Last Sunday, I went to church, or perhaps to "Meeting". In the coffee chat afterwards, a man, I will call him Jim, whom I have met and talked to before a few times, came up to me and asked me if I had seen this show on the telly about what people believe in different countries, and how the church is doing in the UK. I hadn't seen the show, but I had read about it. I don't remember the statistics, but I have heard such things before: Britain is almost an atheist country now. The Church of England, especially, is losing members to old age and death and not replacing them. As are the Unitarians (this being the church I attended) and the Methodists and presumably the Quakers and all the other denominations, both Protestant and Catholic. Jim asked me - what can we do to bring people into the church? Should we use the internet? To paraphrase my answer (for some reason, this blog, I guess, Jim thought I might be an expert): sure, you can use the internet, but for what?
It is very clear to me why the church is withering away in Britain. I have been to a few church services and one funeral (no weddings yet, and we got married in the registry office.) The C of E does not offer anything. British people do not know how to sing hymns with vigour and heart. Few churches are anything more than a social club, and as soon as they fail even a little at that, people, especially young people, are out the door, because there are better alternatives. And this is what I told Jim. I told him about what I was used to in the US, where Christianity, for better or worse (see a yet-to-be-posted post about why I am not going to see the Passion of the Christ) is growing and well. Mission, That is what church leaders tallk about in their charge conferences and ad board meetings. What is the mission? What are we offering people? Especially, what are we offering that they can't get anywhere else?
Jim said I should blog about it. So I am.
The same thing was clear to William Blake over 200 years ago. It's not that the people aren't spiritual. The more secular Britain becomes, the more the descendants of its Christian ancestors turn hither and yon looking for something to believe in. (The one exception to the dearth of young people in churches is the Alpha course. But more about that later.) But spiritual hunger that can be satisfied by strict rules and a theology of fear is a warped psyche, not a true spiritual questing. And the spiritual hunger that can be satisfied with warbled 300 year old hymns and a draughty building and a pious but unintelligible sermon does not exist. That sort of thing doesn't satisfy anyone; it's just part of the cussedness of the British that they like to keep on doing things in an inefficient and pointless way "for tradition". That's why all these restless, unsatisfied atheists still get their children baptised, and they marry and bury with a C of E vicar and they go to the church fete if they live in the country or a small town. But these are just the thrashings of a dying engine. In another generation they won't even do that.

06 March 2004

The Martyrdom series

Joel of Pax Nortona sent me an e-mail announcing part 5 of his martyrdom series. The last time I read his blog beyond just glancing through and thinking "Gee, I wish I had time to read this" was when I read pretty thoroughly through part 1. (I did not even then have time to follow all the links.) But I managed to pick up that the series was inspired by a BeliefNet article by John Dominic Crossan (radical theologian, author of books on the historical Jesus, in case you don't know him) which made a distinction between victimhood and martyrdom. And that article was, of course, a review of The Passion of the Christ. Now here's the thing. I still haven't read Joel's stuff straight through (it's a lot of stuff) and followed all the links. (And here I am blogging about it; how arrogant is that? Well, I don't mean to be; I'm just trying to be efficient.) But I am going to. Mainly because my impression is that I don't wholly agree with him, but I see where he is going (I think) and I want to get his whole case in my mind before maybe responding. So watch this space, or his space, because if I do a further blog on this, I will also comment there to link them together.

05 March 2004

Shi'ites Refuse to Sign Iraq Constitution

AP via Yahoo News reports a last-minute hitch in what was meant to be a historic ceremony to sign the draft of the new interim constitution for Iraq. After agreeing to the terms, several Shi'ite parties withdrew support at the last minute.

04 March 2004

Baghdad Burning on the Ashoura bombings

If Riverbend is right, the terrorists likely aim of fomenting religious civil war in Iraq will not work. That is surely a light shining in the darkness.

I am back from London Town

I just got home about a half hour ago. While in London I met Natalie d'Arbeloff of Blaugustine and Bloggers Parliament fame, attended the March Speakeasy of the group I just joined, Democrats Abroad, and visited the British Library, where I viewed the Chinese printmakers exhibit and purchased two books in the bookstore. Apart from that, I spent a few hours lying on the bed in a hotel room with a massive backache and finished reading Jennifer Government.

02 March 2004

Going away for a day

I will be away from my computer for about 24 hours. I am going to London tomorrow. I am a little apprehensive because I am going on my own. It may be fun; I will probably post about it when I get back.

"I'd Leave the Country, But My Wife Won't Let Me" by Laura Conaway

An article in The Village Voice tells of the heartache of inequality and the fears of gay couples and their families in the face of the threatened "Marriage Amendment".

Metafilter: The political prisoner you've never heard of

Mordechai Vanunu? Excuse me, but I certainly have heard of him.

One of modern slavery's many strange guises

The Guardian reports on a "crackdown" on traffickers of immigrant children. This is a truly bizarre and loathsome form of exploitation, where children are smuggled into the UK and then "rotated around" through the homes of adult asylum seekers as a way of increasing their benefit entitlements.

Decadent west to Middle East : Hold fast against the onslaught

Arab Big Brother pulled amid protests, says the headline in the Guardian. And I say, good on ya, Arabs. I wish we could get rid of our Big Brothers and similar LCD, crapola TV shows. You can call it morality, and I suppose it is, but I mainly call it dignity, and over here, we don't have much of that left.
God, I'm getting old and crotchety.

Blasts Kill 143 at Iraq Shiite Shrines

An AP story via Yahoo News. This, if it were not so unspeakable, would be highly ironic: the US invades and occupies Iraq, ostensibly because, among other spurious reasons, they harbour al-Qaeda type terrorists. After months of occupation, a civil war looms between the majority Shi'ites of Iraq and al-Qaeda type extremist Sunnis. Alternative scenario, if Iraq somehow evades civil war (no thanks to the American occupation) they will elect to have an Iranian style Shi'ite theocracy and then what? Will the US invade again? And what happens to the Kurds this time, used and discarded by the US once more? This is so insane.

01 March 2004

Dayton attacks proposed ban on gay marriage

Good old Minnesota and the good old DFL. And the good old Strib to report about it. Political blogging doesn't get much better than this.

Riverbend on Ashoura

Baghdad Burning's Riverbend has a beautiful post about . . . well, just read it, it's good.

Blogkeeping - big announcement

I have changed comments to Haloscan. I had signed up for Haloscan originally but for some reasons, I could not get their comments to work. As you may know, I have had lots of problems with the comments I had before. Recently I added Haloscan comments to my Book Review blog (which no one has used, by the way) and they worked OK. At the time I noticed that Haloscan now offer Trackback as well. So after about a month of deliberation, I made the switch. Sadly, it meant "losing" all the old comments. They're still "out there" somewhere, of course, but you can't read them on this blog. So now, my friends and relations, fill up my new comments and use that trackback thing. Thank you for your support.

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