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Blog Archive/February 2008

February 29, 2008

It's "The End of the Word as We Know It"

SoMA proudly welcomes a new voice--Timothy Beal, who'll be writing a regular column called "The End of the Word as We Know It." Beal is a professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University, and is the author of several books, including "Roadside Religion," "Religion and Its Monsters," and "Religion in America: A Very Short Introduction." He's written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. At SoMA he'll explore topics related to his current project, a book about the Bible and consumer culture bearing the same title as his column.  

Of his latest work, due out from Harcourt later this year, Beal says, "It's a 'story of The Book' that goes back to earliest Christianity to see how a batch of scrolls became the literal Word of God, and forward to see how an evangelical consumer culture is spending down the 'sacred capital' of the Bible." Can I hear an "Amen," anybody?

Read Beal's first column, Adding God to Your Shopping Cart.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 26, 2008

Sure, Ralph Nader Cares About Corporate Greed. But What About Celebrities and Shark Attacks?

Ralph Nader says his presidential bid isn't about winning--it's about airing views on issues the leading candidates aren't addressing. Like what? "Well, the country is being brought down by a combination of big business controlling big government," he told Anderson Cooper last night. Ho-hum.

As he did when he ran for president in 2000 and 2004, Nader also blasted corporate news outlets for distracting us from serious matters with trivial entertainment: "I think the Hollywood Oscars are getting more publicity than 300,000 preventable American deaths a year, occupational safety and disease, auto deaths on the highway, pollution deaths from the environment, hospital malpractice, hospital-induced infections. "

Unfortunately, Mr. Third-Party Pooper doesn't realize how out of touch he is. Just because he thinks Pentagon waste, environmental destruction, and our horrendous health-care system are more newsworthy than, say, Lindsay Lohan's latest crisis, doesn't mean most Americans agree with him. My advice to Nader: if he wants the ear of the nation he has to forget about consumer rights and start discussing Britney Spears' visitation rights. Which is still major news, though the controversial whistleblower ought to keep an eye on this breaking headline at Fox News: Naomi Campbell Infection Scare. (Apparently, the supermodel was in Brazil to celebrate carnivale and has landed in a Sao Paulo hospital, surrounded by--are you writing this down, Ralph?--the country's "top infection specialists and a gynecologist.")

To give Nader a better idea of what matters most to Americans, I visited CNN's homepage this morning and copied a list of bonafide news headlines for him. If he replaces his talking points with any of these items, I guarantee he will be the talk of all the cable news and late-night shows for, oh, at least a week:

* Too pretty to fly? Teens claim discrimination

* German police dogs get booties

* Serial bandit leaves ID at crime scene

* Is Angelina showing off a baby bump?

* Diver in chummed waters dies after shark bite

* Valerie Bertinelli comes clean

* Psychic: I know location of kids  

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 21, 2008

Bart Ehrman on Why We Suffer

The question is as old as the Bible itself: If there's an all-powerful and loving God, why do human beings suffer? The Bible provides lots of answers, most of which are unsatisfying, says Bart Ehrman. In his latest book, God's Problem Ehrman explores the Good Book's competing explanations, such as suffering is:

*A punishment for sin (the prophets).

*A test beyond our comprehension; but if we pass it, we will be rewarded later on (the Book of Job).
* The nature of things, so just accept it--and eat, drink, and be merry because life is short and that's all there is (Ecclesiastes).

* The result of a sinful world that God will eventually remedy through a terrifying, complicated process involving sealed scrolls, churches, trumpets, cosmic plagues, and the number seven (Book of Revelation).

Part biblical scholarship and part memoir, Ehrman's book explores how the Bible attempts to deal with theodicy and explains how the problem of suffering led Ehrman first to become a Christian and later to reject the faith.

This week, he discussed "God's Problem" with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air." Listen to Ehrman explain why, though he doesn't believe suffering is necessarily redemptive, he's grateful he contracted hepatitis at age 16.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 17, 2008

When Religious Leaders Lose Their Faith

To be a clergyman struggling with God in 2008 is to reside at the center of a great battle. At a time when the tension between faith and doubt arguably defines the distance between people more than does gender or race or even politics, the Doubting Priest bears witness for the defense and the prosecution.

Read Psychology Today's An Atheist in the Pulpit.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 14, 2008

Babes in Bible Land

Caesarea Maritima--Herod built it, Pontius Pilate governed in its palace, and the apostle Paul languished in its prison. Now, in Sports Illustrated's 2008 swimsuit issue, see the ruins of the ancient city as you've never seen them before:

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 13, 2008

Religion Joke of the Week

Did you hear that the Vatican has developed a new fat-free Host? It's
called "I Can't Believe It's Not Jesus."

Submitted by Timothy K. Beal, who recently signed on as a SoMA columnist. Check back for his first piece soon.

Heard a joke you'd like to share? Does it have to do with religion? Send it to editor(at)

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 11, 2008

Biblical Figures--the More Flawed, the Better

One of my favorite characters in the Bible is also one of the most human and flawed. Jacob, the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham, is a quintessential late bloomer, conniver, and egoist. The Bible calls him "clay footed" and yet, through foibles and false starts, God's beloved. He tricks his brother out of his inheritance. He later falls in with another trickster, his future father-in-law, who cons him into marrying the sister of the woman he loves. He works slavishly, marries both sisters finally, and becomes a successful man. In midlife, full of both pride and regret, Jacob heads home to face his demons and past mistakes...

Read Krista Tippett's Nobody's Perfect.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 10, 2008

Kosher Chinese Food

With U.S. importers crying foul over tainted food products, China has decided to go Kosher. Listen to Scott Simon's "Weekend Edition" report about Mordechai Grunberg, a rabbi who inspects Chinese factories for the Orthodox Union to make sure they meet, yes, Jewish dietary laws.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 8, 2008

Religious Satire, or Unintentional Self-Parody?

I must say that in all my years in the writing, editing, and publishing field, I have never encountered an author so unabashedly amazed by her own brilliance that she spends most of her book telling us about it. Until, that is, I read--or made a valiant attempt to read--Becky Garrison's "The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail."

Read more.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 1, 2008

Religion Joke of the Week

668--the neighbor of the beast.

Heard a joke you'd like to share? Does it have to do with religion? Send it to editor(at)

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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