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Blog Archive/August 2005

August 31, 2005

Pastors Have Fun, Too

Ever ask a minister his or her favorite pastime, and get this as a reply: “Sex”?  Didn’t think so. But if they happen to keep a blog, and you happen to stumble upon it, you just might discover they get their biggest kicks in the sack.

I’m thinking of a certain South Florida Presbyterian pastor who’s been in the ministry for more than 30 years and who blogs as “Apostle John.” I discovered him here at SoMA, of all places, after he’d posted a comment regarding my recent article about MILFs—or “Ministers I’d Like to Frisk.” He writes: “I'm a clergy, and after my post on my blog about how sex is my favorite hobby, some of my emails were more interesting than the comments that were posted.”

It’s quite a post. “Candid” is one word to describe it. “Wise” is another. Read it in full, below (and check out the original, plus comments, here.)

Sex—It’s One of My Favorite Hobbies

Whenever I’m asked to list my hobbies, I think about listing sex.
Of course, I don't.

Ministers aren't supposed to have sex.

Well guess what—we do! Ministers having sex have produced a world full of those holy terrors called "preacher's kids." And sex is not just for procreation—it's for recreation.

I like Song of Solomon. Some people say it is a story of Christ's relationship and the church. Bull. It's sex! I love the part in chapter 7:

Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.
How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, "I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit." (NIV)

Occasionally I see my wife standing there. Maybe she is getting ready for bed. Maybe she's getting out of the shower. Suddenly I think like Solomon, "I'm climbing that tree and grabbing those tits."

I've heard people say one of the reasons for divorce is that people tire of sex with the same person after so many years.

I don't buy it.

I have been married for 30 years. Man, where did the time go? I feel like I just got married. Whenever young people come to my office looking to get married, I show them my wedding picture.

Lately they've started laughing.

I know the lapels on my tux are a bit wide, and I suppose the bow tie looks like it could turn into wings and fly me away—but thank goodness it's Confederate Gray and not that red or purple that was so popular back in 1975.

I've never had sex with anyone but my wife. I never really wanted to. Of all the temptations I face, adultery has never been one of them. My wife and I know all the sweet spots, and all the favorite moves. We feel comfortable trying something new from time to time.

When I look at her, I think of Shakespeare. He has a sonnet—number 130—that describes my wife perfectly.

"I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;"

I understand that Will was writing a parody about one of his lovers referred to as the "Dark Lady." I'm not sure this is a parody. I think it is real love.

At age 51 my wife's breasts are not the firm and perky wonders they were when we were in our 20's. Actually, they aim more and more to the floor with each passing year.

So what. At my age I have parts that are also pointing more down than up.

My wife has a bit of a pot belly. There are scars from a cesarean delivery of our son. Her hips are a bit wider than they ought to be.

But hey, you should see me when I'm naked—on second thought, it's best not to be frightened. Take my word for it. I looked a lot better at age 18.

Heck, I looked better at age 48.

I remember when I was with my Dad in the hospital a few weeks ago. A nurse came by to bathe him. Dad was always very modest about his body, and had a strict moral code–but when she left this 84 year old man said, "Ah, to be 70 again." Well, that has nothing to do with what I'm talking about, it's just a good story.

Back to sex.

I think that is why a lot of people have affairs. They are trying to get something of their youth back. Pity -- they put their future at such risk.
"Young people today" is a phrase every generation uses when they become old farts. Well, at age 51 I'm now an old fart. So let me say, "Young people today are too sexually promiscuous."

And they are!

There is another wonderful verse in the Bible. It comes from Proverbs 5:15-19:

"Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love."

It is a poetic way of saying "Keep your pants zipped and be happy with your wife."

Not a bad thought centuries ago.

Not a bad thought for these young people today. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 26, 2005

Dissing Darwin

True, a startling proportion of Americans don’t believe in evolution, one of the foundations of modern science—including perhaps our president, who says it’s “an open question.” Yes, there’s a major effort underway to combat the teaching of evolution in our science classes. And yes, there are many among us who truly believe that the Earth was created less than 10,000 years ago, in six days; that humans and dinosaurs coexisted; and that Noah’s flood is literally true.

That’s just the bad news, writes Michael Ruse in the Sept/Oct issue of Science & Spirit magazine. The really bad news is that “the situation is going to get worse before it gets better, if it indeed does get better.”

In August, President Bush endorsed the teaching of Intelligent Design, telling reporters “part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought.” And if Bush reshapes the Supreme Court, as he’s begun to do, Ruse writes, “we shall see old-fashioned religion taught as part of the science curriculum.”

Really—“old-fashioned religion,” in science curricula?

“At the moment, the creationists are being stealthy,” writes Ruse, a professor of philosophy at Florida State University and the author of several books on evolution, most recently “The Evolution-Creation Struggle.” “ID is purposefully distinguished from broad biblical literalism. But its supporters are candid about the fact that they have what they call a ‘wedge’ strategy. One bit at a time. First a few miracles, then a few more, and finally all of Genesis absolutely as it is written.”

It’s not so far-fetched. Ruse’s comments bring to mind a prediction creationists made 20 years ago. The late Langdon Gilkey, a theologian who taught for decades at the University of Chicago, used to debate regularly with the “scientific” representatives of creationism. After a 1985 debate with Duane Gish, one of their leading spokespersons, Gish told Gilkey: “I must admit that you represent the academic world. But remember, I have the White House. And by 1995 we plan to have captured and therefore to run the Republican Party. After that, you can be sure, creation science will be taught in all our schools.” (For fastidious SoMA readers, this quote comes from page xv of Gilkey’s “Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock,” reprinted by the University of Virginia Press in 1998.)

Gilkey goes on to say that Gish may have been a tad optimistic. Gilkey also notes that “although [the fundamentalist] movement is at present on the whole careful to minimize much of its agenda (‘For which,’ as Pat Robertson said, ‘the country is not yet ready’), we may be sure that prominent on that agenda is, first, a reassessment through the courts of the First Amendment and then, second, the establishment in the country’s school system not only of Christian prayer but also of creation science and, in the end, the ‘biblical’ history of human beginnings and of the ancient world.”

Were Gilkey alive today I’d try to ask him what it’s like to see Gish’s dream coming true.

In his article, Michael Ruse tells us what it’s like for him. “As one who has children in American schools,” he writes, “I am deeply saddened. I hate to see this dark side of the nation, the side that burned witches in New England, that persecuted its own citizens during the Cold War, and that is now doing dreadful things to Muslims in too many parts of the world. I see the movement against evolution to be part and parcel of the religious and chauvinistic bigotry that stains a country in which too many people believe they are living in God’s chosen land.”

Ruse’s full article appears in the Sept/Oct print issue of Science & Spirit, and will presumably be posted on their online edition soon here.

The Salty Vicar

Be sure to treat yourself regularly with a visit to the Salty Vicar—the blog of an Episcopal priest “in contemporary suburban Babylon” who “reflects upon politics, theology and salsa.”

It’s great stuff.

The Good Reverend recently posted an interesting blog regarding Preaching the Bad News, Kristina Robb-Dobb’s SoMA essay about her experiences with the ordination process in the Episcopal Church. He’s got a lively discussion going on there about the Church’s psychotherapeutic model of ministry as we do here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 24, 2005

Expecting an Email You Never Received?

Marcia Thompson Eldreth, creator of the U.S. Christian National Flag, has sent me an email, but I can’t figure out for whom it’s intended. The subject line reads “you still do not ‘get it.’” Sound like it may be for you or someone you know?

Here’s the story. Some five weeks ago I published an article about Eldreth's flag entitled Super-Powered Jesus Flutters in the Wind, by Will Braun, our friend over at Geez Magazine. The piece went up, we received some lovely email about it, and then later that morning we moved on to other things.

So then yesterday, totally out of the blue, I get this email from Eldreth that was clearly written with someone in mind other than me or Will. It’s speaking to a person who is in the process of trying, but failing, to understand what her U.S. Christian National Flag is all about. It might be intended for a Canadian, because Canada is mentioned in the text. Or it could be meant for Satan, who is also named in the email. I don’t know.

Anyway, here, below, is Eldreth’s epistle. If you believe she was trying to send this to you, please claim it.

You still are not getting the intent of this flag. We are the army of God; the USA regiment. Canada has a regiment. Make a flag. While you are at it, try to keep men from marrying men there and teaching your little children it is OK. We have a fight on our hands to preserve the soul of our nation and improve upon the wrongs and rights. This is NOT A POLITICAL PARTY FLAG. You must have something better to do as a Christian than slam the brethren continuously...Satan is an accuser of the brethren. Slander seems to be your fun thing to do. Beware, lest you fall.
If saying we are the army of God is offensive, then be offended at the Bible. By we, it is all Christians.

Our weapons are not carnal but mighty through God for the pulling down of strongholds. Emailing replies was not amongst the list of weapontry. I took the liberty.

Marcia Thompson Eldreth

Spirituality in America

Beliefnet is running an interesting series of articles this week on spirituality in America—the subject of Newsweek’s current cover story. The Newsweek article features poll results from a joint Newsweek/Beliefnet poll, and each day Beliefnet is posting a new lead story analyzing the results of specific polls, such as:

* whether people of other faiths can attain salvation (68% of Evangelicals and 91% of Catholics say yes).

* how religion in families changes (20% say the religion they practice today is mostly different or completely different from what they were raised with).

* whether God created the universe (80% say yes).

And as long as we're talking about creationism, literal-minded anti-evolutionists must be cheering The Onion’s recent report, Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 21, 2005

The Therapeutic Gospel

“Once upon a time,” writes SoMA contributor Kristina Robb-Dover, “I was a Gospel-inspired idealist who naively assumed that if you wanted to become a minister, your church would naturally be right there beside you, with the wisest, most effective guidance possible to help you reach your goal…. Ha!”

Full of the high hopes of one who’d found her calling in life, Kristina, a Yale graduate, pursued ordination as an Episcopal priest. “I was chomping at the bit to serve God and God’s church,” she writes. “The only thing standing in the way, it turned out, was…God’s church.”

Or, more specifically, the extensive psychological scrutiny “God’s church” required of her as part of the ordination process. Everything went fine, more or less, until Kristina told her church-appointed psychologist that as a child she and her brother played a game of “Captain Hook,” in which her father pretended to be the infamous pirate in search of small victims to be tickled.

The diagnosis? “Slightly repressed anger and sexuality issues.” The treatment? A couple years in psychotherapy with a “seasoned male therapist.”

It didn’t take Kristina long to say “adios” to the Episcopal Church, and she is now preparing for ordination as a Presbyterian minister. [Read her story here.]

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 17, 2005

MILFs—"Ministers I'd Like to Frisk"

Despite a growing celibacy trend among lay people, it seems the clergy may be a lot more randy than I thought. Carmen Renee Berry’s new book, “The Unauthorized Guide to Sex and the Church,” offers some eye-opening statistics about the sex lives of ministers. Did you know that, according to a 2000 Christianity Today report, 33 percent of the clergy surveyed said they’d visited sexually explicit web sites, and that 53 percent of them visited these sites more than once? Berry cites another survey of 300 Protestant clergy in which 38 percent admitted to inappropriate sexual contact with parishioners, and 12 percent admitted to sexual intercourse with them. Similarly, a survey sponsored by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth in 1991 revealed that 37 percent of pastors confessed to having been involved in “inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church.”

These numbers struck me as high, but the more I thought about it the more I saw how ministers, those irresistible and all-too-human charmers, could easily find themselves in compromising situations. They’re smart and sensitive, and they speak with authority on life’s ultimate mysteries. They’re the good and caring listener every desperate housewife wishes her husband could be. And they proclaim the Word of God, often before large crowds and sometimes on TV, and some are even bestselling inspirational authors. How sexy is that? Indeed, some ministers, and not just the big names, are like rock stars, complete with diehard fans and groupies.

And let’s face it, sex sells everything, even religion, and there are a lot of successful pastors out there today. For example, I just Googled “Joel Olsteen” and “handsome” in the same search, and the first hit I got was a chat room in which one woman describes the lean, tousle-haired Houston televangelist as “handsome and so sweet and precious.” To which another woman replied: “I love ‘Joel Osteen.’ If I am flipping through the channels, and I come across him, he just ‘inspires’ me [her quotes, not mine].” Yet another woman replied: “I saw Joel Olsteen’s service too last night—well some of it. It touched me—even as a stay at home mom.”

To explore the appeal of ministers further, I’d like to conduct my own informal survey among SoMA readers. How many of you find yourselves sexually attracted to a member of the clergy? Or, to put it another way, how many of you have a favorite MILF—a “Minister I’d Like to Frisk”? (MILF is an acronym I learned, and adapted, from “How Tough Could It Be?,” Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy’s memoir as a stay-at-home dad. Murphy said that MILF stands for, as best he could tell from the contexts in which he heard men use it, “Mothers I’d Like to Frisk” or “Mothers Indisputably Looking Fine” or possibly even “Mothers with whom I’d Like to Discuss the Federalist Papers.”)

So be honest, reader, is there a minister you’d like to frisk? Are you hot for, say, James Dobson? Does his comb-over make your pulse race and your knees weak? Or are you more of a sucker for the boyish (some might say Boy Scoutish) good looks of Ted Haggard?

Then again, if you perpetually feel naughty and in need of firm discipline, perhaps you find yourself attracted to Pope Benedict XVI, aka “The Enforcer.” And I bet there are some old-timers out there who still hold a torch for Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, the sexy, superstar evangelist who disappeared while swimming at Venice Beach one day in the ’20s only to reappear a month later in Mexico with a cockamamy story about being kidnapped.

Or maybe you simply long for your own pastor, hoping he or she will soon drop by your house on visitation rounds and minister to your real needs.

In any case, if you have a MILF—a “Minister I’d Like to Frisk”—we at SoMA would like to hear about it. Please use decency and discretion, however, and don’t say anything explicit that we’ll have to delete.

To tell us about a minister you’d like to frisk, or to respond this story, click here or go to the comments feature below.  Both link to the same place.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 15, 2005

Moron—I Mean, More on—Tithing

Remember the Gospel story in which Jesus boots out followers who fail to tithe? Me neither. But it must be in the Bible used at the Living Word Tabernacle in Waverly, OH, which revoked the membership of Loretta Davis last month after her tithing tree stopped bearing fruit. According to a report by WCMH-TV in Columbus, and picked up by Chuck Shepherd’s “News of the Weird,” the 65-year-old wheelchair-bound woman stopped contributing in January after she was hospitalized the first of 15 times this year for congestive heart failure.

The Rev. Paul McClurg, the church’s founder, said Davis is still welcome to attend church but is not allowed to be a member.

Prior to suffering complications after open-heart surgery, Davis had dutifully fulfilled her agreement to give the church 10 percent of her income, which was $60 each month from her $592 monthly Social Security check.

"In the time of [Davis’] need, they should be caring, supporting, asking what she needs—help her if she needed help," said Teresa Meeks, Davis’ daughter. “I was so hurt [by] what they did to her.”

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 12, 2005

On Tithing and Writhing

“Give till it hurts,” pastors like to say about tithing. “Then give till it doesn’t hurt anymore. And then give till it feels good.” But I never felt good giving on these terms, motivated by pressure and the reward that I'd eventually enjoy giving under pressure. Of course, supporting good causes, freely and responsibly, can be a virtue and a duty of sorts. I give to organizations, even churches, that have programs I respect. But in many congregations I’ve been, giving involves mostly pain and discomfort.

In “Tithing for Dummies,” writer and former Assemblies of God pastor Dan Barker offers his take on “giving back to God.” When he got his first job as a pastor, he was  startled to learn he was expected to return 10 percent of his paycheck—gross, not take home—to the church. And he was expected to give regularly to other causes. This didn’t sit well with him. “The church hired me to do a job,” he writes. “Why should they decide how to manage my giving?” But he tithed anyway.

Then one day he was asked to preach on a special Tithing Sunday. Working on his sermon he discovered something interesting: how few places tithing is mentioned in the Old Testament except in passing, and in the five passages it’s discussed in any detail, they’re conflicting. And the New Testament? Let’s just say the NT is pretty much against tithing—neither Jesus nor Paul asked the faithful to give 10 percent to their churches, and in Matthew 23:23, Jesus even mocked the scribes and Pharisees who tithed.

But what may have really changed Barker’s views on tithing was what he read in Acts 5: 1-11, where a man and wife are struck dead for failing to give Peter all their earnings. [Read Barker’s story here.]

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 8, 2005

The Most Famous Christian of the 20th Century?

Here's a little trivia question for you. Who was the most famous Christian of the 20th century?

Mother Teresa? Nope. Billy Graham? Nope. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Guess again. Albert Schweitzer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, any and all popes, any and all U.S. presidents? Nah, throw 'em out.

The most famous Christian of the 20th century was Adolf Hitler.

Sure, we call Hitler infamous today. But before he started gobbling up European countries like they were little bratwurst sausages, Hitler was famous as a world leader with high moral values and a distinctly Christian vision.

In fact, no present politician has more blatantly declared his Christianity than Hitler, or has had his faith so widely accepted. Millions of Christians around the world admired the savvy tyrant; a couple of his more recognizable fans included Britainýs Lloyd George and that all-American idol of idols, Charles Lindbergh. The most appealing of Hitler's "Christian" attributes included:

* His morality. He did not smoke or drink and he abhorred pornography and homosexuality.

* His call for his nation to repent. "Providence withdrew its protection and our people fell... And in this hour we sink to our knees and beseech our almighty God that He may bless us, that He may give us the strength to carry on the struggle for the freedom, the future, the honor, and the peace of our people. So help us God." (March 1936)

*His stand against secularism: "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith..."

*His war on atheism: "We were convinced that the people need and require [the Christian] faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out." (October 1933)

Read entire article here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 6, 2005

Bret Easton Ellis, Doing Penance?

Literary bad boy Bret Easton Ellis says he recently read the entire Bible, 5 to 15 pages a day. Asked which version he’d read, Ellis told the Sunday New York Times he wasn’t sure. “Well, was it the King James Version or one of the easier ones?” reporter Edward Wyatt asked.

“I think I read both,” Ellis replied.

“Did you read the Old or New Testament?”

“The one that starts out, you know, with four chapters of different stories,” Ellis replied.

“Were the stories about Moses or Jesus?” Wyatt asked.

“Jesus,” he said. “I think.”

The man sure likes to have fun. And he has to be a little slippery in interviews these days, because he’s pushing his new novel, “Lunar Park,” a mix of truth and fiction he describes as “my quote-unquote autobiography.” Naturally, he won’t reveal what’s real and what’s imagined. His book leaves readers wondering whether he really: crashed a Ferrari while driving naked in Southampton; was married; has a son; was George W. Bush’s dinner guest at the White House; has dated both Christy Turlington and George Michael.

In any case, the main character of “Lunar Park” (release date: Aug. 16) is a controversial author named Bret Easton Ellis who hails from Los Angeles and later moves to New York City. He does a lot of drugs. He’s got a writer friend and rival named Jay McInerney. Eventually, he gets married and moves to the burbs, where his past, sordid and otherwise, catches up with him via his, ahem, haunted house. A spirit tells him: "I want you to reflect on your life. I want you to be aware of all the terrible things you have done. I want you to face the disaster that is Bret Easton Ellis."

Publishers Weekly's review calls “Lunar Park” a “bizarre type of celebrity penance.” And Wyatt of the Times says the book is, among other things, “an elegy, a description of the anguish inflicted by an uncaring father, a testament to the pain of lost love and an account of the frustration of unexpressed admiration and remorse…an exorcism, a re-examination of Mr. Ellis’s life and work.”

I’m hooked. I look forward to Ellis’ reflections (or mock reflections?) on “American Psycho” some 14 years after its publication caused such an uproar. Despite the book's graphic violence, which is hard to take, I’ve defended "American Psycho" as one of the best satires of Wall Street and grotesque materialism, and I still think it is.

I also look forward to what Ellis does with life in suburbia. It's hard to picture him standing behind a white picket fence. Or, for that matter, reading the Bible, cover to cover, 5 to 15 pages a day.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 4, 2005

Christian Goat Breeders

Say you’re a Christian and you want to breed your dairy goat. You go to your local breeder, but something’s not quite right about him. He has that certain je ne sais quoi—maybe it’s the look in his eye, the way he stands, or the pentagram tattooed on his forehead—that tells you he may not be saved. Question: If simply walking out isn’t an option, do you ask the man if he knows Jesus as his personal savior, or do you just trust the Lord that your precious Nubian will be bred with his Nigerian Dwarf in a godly manner?

Well, you’ll face no such dilemma if you take your doe to Patricia Fountain at Heart’s Delight, a Christian goat breeder in upstate New York. At the Heart’s Delight website, Patricia gives her testimony about how she accepted Jesus at vacation Bible school 45 years ago. Then she lists several verses from Romans, followed by instructions on how to get saved by reciting the “sinner’s prayer.” Finally, she encourages new Christians to find a good church and read the Bible daily. Now, I don’t know if goats have souls, but if they do you’ll sure be glad yours got knocked up at Heart’s Delight, which takes its name from Psalm 37: 4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

I discovered Heart’s Delight reading “Verily, I sell unto you,” Lynn Harris’ Salon article about the increasing number of evangelical business owners who wear their faiths on their sleeves and put the word “Christian” in their business names. For example, there’s the Christian Faith Driving School in Caroline County, Md. It’s run by Mark Gadow, a former law enforcement officer who has been a devout born-again Christian ever since prayer healed his hip and joint pain. “He does not ‘witness’ about his faith until the last session of the program,” Harris writes, “but he does preach the ‘moral values’ of ‘courtesy and consideration to other drivers,’ he says.”

Interestingly, the Motor Vehicle Administration advised Gadow against putting “Christian” in the school’s name because it might narrow his market. Au contraire. Four years later, Gadow’s business is booming. In fact, he has to turn students away.

And there’s Christian Brothers Automotive in Houston. Their mission statement reads: "To glorify God by providing ethical and excellent automotive repair service for our customers, according to Colossians 3:17, 'And whatever you do in word and deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.'"

The article also provides links to Christian real estate agencies, cellular and long-distance companies, financial planners, computer repair services, furniture stores, bed-and-breakfast associations, diets, yoga and karate instructors, and of course, last but not least, goat breeders.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 3, 2005

The SoMA Idolatry Quiz

The theologian Paul Tillich said we commit idolatry whenever we ascribe infinite significance to anything finite. Because there’s nothing infinite but God, it’s easy to do, especially for religious people who often mistake their beliefs, traditions, rituals, and sacred texts with the reality (note: lowercase r) to which they’re supposed to point.

However wrong it may be to confuse, say, the word “God” for the entity “God,” it can also provide a lot of comfort; imagine, something that we cannot by definition possibly comprehend—God—nevertheless contained not only in the word God, but in a 66-book tome that every American either owns or can find in any hotel nightstand! That’s why people who blur the distinction between religious words and their referents freak out when someone exclaims, “God damn it.” Such an outburst could easily cause a sudden lightning storm on a clear-blue day—indoors, no less.

That’s also why some people get upset when you’re critical of religion or, God forbid, irreverent towards it. I know. I started writing about religion back in college, and over the years I’ve accumulated a veritable Mount Sinai of angry and benighted mail and email.

I received more last week after I ran Bill Maher’s “New Rules for Religion.” One reader informed me that “Bill Maher will surely burn in hell for making fun of God,” adding that I might join the comedian in eternal flames for having published him (good company for me, at least). I was tempted to ask the idol-obsessed reader how Maher could have possibly made fun of God, but I already knew his reasoning: He has arrogantly equated God with his own personal religious views, so when he perceived Bill Maher making light of something he believes, he felt God was under attack.

Since there’s a growing confusion in America between idolatry and true faith, I’ve created a quiz to help us better distinguish them. Each question comes with two answers, A and B. Simply pick the choice that better expresses your views, and don’t worry—Zeus won’t strike you dead. I’ve got a statue of him on my desk, and I made him promise not to throw a hissy fit if he doesn’t like your answers. [Take the quiz here.]

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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