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Blog Archive/January 2005

January 26, 2005

God's Plan for America

If you believe that God constructed the earth geologically so that Christianity would spread west toward America, rather than south or east to less divinely favored nations, then here’s a book right up your alley: America’s Providential History, by Mark A. Beliles and Stephen K. McDowell, published by the Providence Foundation.

An excerpt appears in the February issue of Harper’s magazine, which notes that the authors’ seminars based on the book drew more than 25,000 attendees last year. Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt:

“You cannot understand history without understanding Divine Providence. The whole of history can be looked at from a Biblical philosophy, because there is an overall purpose that unifies all the specific events of history. From a humanistic standpoint, there is no purpose in history and hence no unifying theme that ties the events of history together. Many modern educators deny the Providential view of history and would have us believe that their promotion of one of several ‘secular’ views of history is simply the recounting of brute facts.

“God’s plan for the nations has been unfolding in a specific geographic direction. This geographical march of history is called the Chain of Christianity or the Chain of Liberty. It seems as if God’s direction is westward. ‘Christian’ geography (which is true geography) is the view that the earth’s origin, end, purposes, and physiography are for Christ and His glory. Like individuals, nations have a unique purpose. We will see throughout this book how God has raised up and put down nations of the world for His purposes.

“Arnold Guyot, a nineteenth-century scientist and professor of geology at Princeton University, noted that God had arranged the structure of the earth to assure that the Chain of Christianity would move not south into Africa or east into Asia but westward into Europe. That which originated in Asian and developed in Europe has had its greatest fulfillment in America. Now, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, travel and climatic barriers are being conquered by air travel and air-conditioning. It appears that the internal preparation is taking place so that the Chain of Liberty and all its external blessings might continue their westward march from America around the globe.”

In sum:

“The goal of America’s Providential History is to equip Christians to be able to introduce biblical principles into the public affairs of America, and every nation in the world, and in so doing bring Godly change throughout the world. As we learn to operate nations on Biblical principles, we will be bringing liberty to the nations of the world and hence fulfilling part of God’s plan.”

SoMA discussion question: In God's geographically based Chain of Liberty, did the Big Dude make Nevada a bleak desert so everyone passing through would have to stop in Vegas for a cold drink and a little entertainment to break the monotony?

Send your thoughts to, and we’ll try to post them. Just write "God's Plan" in the subject field.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 24, 2005

Seeing Satan at the Inauguration

During the inaugural festivities last week, President Bush and his family repeatedly threw up their hands, index and pinky fingers raised to form horns—the ancient sign of the devil that’s been domesticated into utter silliness by heavy metal bands, Beavis and Butthead, and mall Goths.

But it’s apparently also the “Hook ’em, horns” salute, a sign of devotion to the University of Texas Longhorns. Some people around the world who watched the inauguration on television did not know that.

“Shock greeting from Bush daughter,” a Norwegian newspaper headline said above a photograph of Bush’s daughter Jenna, smiling and making horns at the Texas State Society's "Black Tie and Boots Ball" last Wednesday.

Bush and his family also used the gesture to greet the Longhorn marching band as it passed during the inaugural parade on Thursday.

For more pictures of the Bushes giving the salute—as well as folks like Tom Ridge, Tommy Franks, the Beatles, Silvio Berlusconi, Amy Grant, and Metallica—click here.

Thanks to Steve Healey for sending a URL about this story.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 21, 2005

Did Conservative Christians Goof in Gay Warning Over SpongeBob Video?

Nile Rodgers, founder and chairman of the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation, appeared on the Today Show this morning to defend a children’s video his foundation created to encourage tolerance and diversity. This week, conservative Christian groups issued a “gay warning” over the video, which stars SpongeBob SquarePants, Barney, and other cartoon characters.

During his interview with Matt Lauer, Rodgers had a hard time controlling his laughter—and for good reason. As difficult as it may be to believe, Focus on the Family and the American Family Association seem to have made a mistake in their rush to judgment. On Wednesday, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family denounced the cartoon as a “pro-homosexual video.” Earlier this month, the AFA characterized the video as "an effort to indoctrinate children to accept homosexuality,"

“The objective [of the video],” said the AFA’s Ed Vitagliano, is to lure children, using cartoon characters as bait, to the foundation’s website “and there they’re given the full pitch about homosexuality.”

Rodgers said the AFA must have gone to the wrong website. His foundation’s site is, where you won’t find anything resembling a gay “pitch.” More likely the AFA visited the site for We Are Family—a nonprofit “dedicated to providing counseling and support services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth from 16 to 23 years of age.”

Their address is

Nevertheless, Focus on the Family stands by it’s accusation, the New York Times reported yesterday.

“We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids,” Paul Batura, Dobson’s assistant at Focus on the Family, told the Times. “It’s a classic bait and switch.”

Mark Barondess, a lawyer for the We Are the Family Foundation, said the video’s critics “need medication.”

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 17, 2005

Christian Whipping Tool Off the Market—For Now

Two years ago, Clyde Bullock created “The Rod,” a 22-inch whipping stick, for Christian parents who want to discipline their children according to Scripture. A Southern Baptist, Bullock advertised the flexible nylon rod as the “ideal tool for child training,” and he sold hundreds. Bullock said that many customers returned for more rods, quoting the Bible when they placed their orders.

But he has now stopped manufacturing the device, at least temporarily, in part because of pressure from protesters, the Boston Globe reported last week.

Susan Lawrence, a Lutheran mother who home schools her children, started a national campaign against The Rod after reading an advertisement for it in Home School Digest magazine. ''Spoons are for cooking, belts are for holding up pants, hands are for loving, and rods are for chastening," read the ad, citing a passage from the Book of Proverbs that instructs parents not to withhold the ''rod of correction."

Lawrence was horrified by what she considered a misuse of the Bible to justify striking children, which she believes violates the Golden Rule Jesus preached in the Gospel of Matthew: ''In everything do to others as you would have them do to you." (Didn’t Jesus once bitch-slap a hanger-on? Oh, wait. That was Rick James on “Chappelle’s Show.”)

Bullock stands behind his product and corporal punishment, and he believes God does, too. “I'm one of these simple people," he told the Globe. ''The Bible is what it is—I'm not trying to change it. God is right. We have to have faith in that."

The Globe said that Lawrence plans to continue her crusade in an effort to stop sales of The Rod for good. She wants to see Bullock's manufacturing operation legally shut down.

If she succeeds, “simple people” everywhere will just have to resort to paddles, yardsticks, cricket bats, frying pans, and whatever other makeshift spanking tools they can lay their hands on in the heat of punishing their young.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 14, 2005

Poppers in the Pentagon?

While editing today’s new essay—“Gay Leaders in the Church,” by Puck Purnell—I stumbled across a completely unrelated news item that’s so bizarre I just had to share it. New Scientist magazine reports that recently declassified documents reveal that the Pentagon considered developing an “aphrodisiac” chemical weapon that would render enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other.

It seems the idea was to instigate a massive gay orgy behind enemy lines, or at least to instill a widespread desire to get one started, causing a “distasteful but completely non-lethal” blow to morale, the proposal said. The Pentagon received the proposal from the U.S. Air Force Wright Laboratory, in Dayton, OH, where apparently someone in a lab coat took the 60s’ anti-war slogan, “Make Love, Not War,” very seriously.

Imagine that: Turning battlegrounds into bathhouses. What would the military call such a weapon—a doomsgay device? (I see a new TV show here: “Queer Eye for the Enlisted Guy.”)

Ah, the comic possibilities are endless—and mostly tasteless.

Another proposal in the document was to develop a chemical that causes “severe and lasting halitosis.” The idea here being that guerrillas with sewer breath would have more difficulty blending in with the locals. (Yes, but even terrorists can buy Tic-Tacs.)

The Sunshine Project, an organization that exposes research into chemical and biological weapons, acquired the Pentagon document, dated 1994, via the Freedom of Information Act and posted it online. You can see it by clicking here and scrolling down until you reach the headline, “Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals.”

The Sunshine Project says it isn’t known whether the Pentagon ever pursued the proposed $7.5 million, six-year project.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 11, 2005

The Sin of Consumerism

I was shopping, of all things, when I first heard about the Reverend Billy. Standing at the new nonfiction table at Micawber Books in Princeton, N.J., several years ago, I somehow got into a long conversation with another customer. At some point he asked what kind of writing I did, and, offering a recent example, I described a piece for which I posed as a street preacher in Times Square, damning passing strangers to hell. “Oh,” he said, “you should meet the Reverend Billy, an old friend of mine. He’s your kind of guy.”

I looked up the Reverend Billy on the Internet when I got home, and I’ve been a fan ever since. The real name of the man with the blond pompadour and clerical collar is Bill Talen, an actor and writer who took on the role of Reverend Billy in 1997. Accompanied by members of his Church of Stop Shopping, Talen preaches against the evils of consumerism and chain stores, which force out local businesses and disrupt communities. He stages “shopping interventions” at places like the Disney Store in Times Square and Starbucks. He also gets arrested frequently, and last April he received a court order forbidding him to step within 750 feet of any Starbucks in California—which, if you consider the number of Starbucks nationwide, is an order anyone could easily violate unintentionally in most cities anywhere.

I’ve wanted to publish something by or about the good Reverend for some time, and a recent submission to SoMA finally provided an occasion. Chris Thron, a writer in Austin, Tex., sent me an essay that criticizes American churches for adopting a retail store model for growth and management, which emphasizes cutting costs, views parishioners as customers to be served and satisfied, and treats the message of Christianity like it’s a commodity to be marketed. These churches are hurting communities in ways that chain stores do.

Thron’s essay and the Reverend Billy’s manifesto are nice companion pieces, though vastly different in tone.There’s much more to be said about both the sin of consumption and the ills of the retail church—subjects I’d like to see explored further at SoMA. Can I have an amen, brothers and sisters?

Note: On January 30, at 8 p.m., the Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping choir will be at St. Mark’s Church, at 10th and 2nd Avenue in NYC, to honor the memory of the Esperanza Garden, a Manhattan community garden bulldozed for development five years ago.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 3, 2005

God and the Disaster

Last week, Richard Dawkins, award-winning author and Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, wrote to the Guardian responding to letters to the editor that weighed religious and scientific explanations for the Asian disaster. One correspondent wrote: "science provides an explanation of the mechanism of the tsunami but it cannot say why this occurred any more than religion can."

To which Dawkins replied: “There, in one sentence, we have the religious mind displayed before us in all its absurdity. In what sense of the word ‘why,’ does plate tectonics not provide the answer?”

“Not only does science know why the tsunami happened, it can give precious hours of warning. If a small fraction of the tax breaks handed out to churches, mosques and synagogues had been diverted into an early warning system, tens of thousands of people, now dead, would have been moved to safety.”

“Let's get up off our knees," he concluded, "stop cringing before bogeymen and virtual fathers, face reality, and help science to do something constructive about human suffering.”

As usual, Dawkins presents a serious challenge to outdated theistic thinking. But how much more serious is his challenge than the disaster itself?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 1, 2005

Wild Animals Escaped the Tsunami

“Did you know that no wild animals were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami?” my wife asked me this morning, without looking up from her laptop. “I just read a story about it,” she added. What was she reading, I wondered, The Onion? It seems hard to believe that giant waves that killed tens of thousands of people and caused so much destruction over such a vast area didn’t also claim at least some wildlife.

Turns out my wife was reading a report at in which wildlife officials said there have been no recorded animal deaths in the Asian disaster. "No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit,” the deputy director of Sri Lanka's Wildlife Department told Reuters. “I think animals can sense disaster. They have a sixth sense. They know when things are happening."

Hundreds of wild elephants, as well as deer, crocodiles, jackals, and leopards live at Sri Lanka's Yala National Park, the country’s largest wildlife reserve. Somehow they all headed for the hills before ocean water surged inland up to two miles at the park, which is now closed after floods damaged buildings and killed tourists and park employees.

"There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence about dogs barking or birds migrating before volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. But it has not been proven," an animal behavior specialist at the Johannesburg Zoo told Reuters. "There have been no specific studies because you can't really test it in a lab or field setting.”

What to make of it all? My wife observed that we humans have survived by learning to control the environment, unlike animals, which survive by adapting to it. Perhaps as we evolved we lost a certain fundamental connection to the environment, a sensitivity that animals have retained.

If so, it’s frightening to think that we, the creatures with the most control over the planet, are in certain crucial respects the creatures least in touch with it.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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