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Blog Archive/October 2006

October 31, 2006

Gospel of the Living Dead

In George Romero's 1968 film, "Night of the Living Dead," a wave of zombies attacks seven people barricaded in a farmhouse. The zombies are slow but determined. Previously dead, these human creatures, or at least their brain stems, have somehow been revived, and they stagger around blank-eyed, searching clumsily for human flesh to eat. The only way to stop them is to blow their brains out.

The graphic brutality aside, the true horror of the film is how depraved, violent, and predatory the people become in their desperation to survive. Fighting among themselves, the humans often have more to fear from each other than from the mindless ghouls pursuing them.

Romero has continued to explore this dark view of human nature in a series of horror classics, from "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) and "Day of the Dead" (1985) to a remake of "Dawn" (2004) and "Land of the Dead" (2005). Because he probes the ways in which we degrade and dehumanize ourselves, Romero's films are ripe for theological analysis. In his highly readable new book, Gospel of the Living Dead, author Kim Paffenroth, an associate professor of religious studies at Iona College, urges readers to consider Romero's films in terms of the concepts of sin and redemption, arguing that the fillmaker offers a "real, if extreme, diagnosis of what ails us."

I recently spoke with Paffenroth about his book, the disturbing familiarity of the undead, the dangers of shopping malls, and why zombie movies may well represent our society's greatest hope...

Continue reading "The Zombie Gospel," my interview with Kim Paffenroth, here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 30, 2006

Haunted by Halloween

This year, I went on the most embarrassing spending spree of my life. I haunted—excuse the expression—Halloween U.S.A., Target, K-Mart, and all the dollar stores in town. I filled carts full of the weirdest, rudest, kitschiest crap you can imagine. The damage came to over $400, but I didn’t care. I was determined to live it up.

Why? I guess because I turned 55 this year and it hit me hard.

This was the year I went to MacDonald’s for breakfast and the kid behind the counter didn’t charge me for coffee. When I asked her why, she replied, “Oh, seniors get it free.”

Seniors? You talkin’ to me? But I don’t feel a day over 25. OK, 40. Shit. My mother says the same thing, and she’s 86. And we all thought she was full of it...

From Mary Beth Crain’s “Night of the Laughing Dead.” Continue reading here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 28, 2006

Blogger Wanted

Jewcy Media—“a soon-to-launch online magazine covering religion and culture through a Jewish lens”—is looking for a paid religion blogger who can post 2-3 times a day. Says “Sort of like the Jewish version of, our blog will offer real-world, practical advice for those who would like to find more meaning in their lives but don't know where to look. We're searching for a funny, compassionate writer who can cover spirituality honestly and with an open mind.” For more info, click here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 27, 2006

Women of Faith

Though I was not raised to believe in God, I never questioned that God existed, only how I should relate to him. My immediate family's religious life was non-existent, save for the occasional attendance at a nearby evangelical church when my father's parents were visiting and the annual “Christmas-Hanukkah” and "East-over" festivities were populated by my Jewish mother's extended family. These hyphenated celebrations would have appalled my father's Christian parents, the Treece clan, particularly my Grandma Clara. Grandma Clara was a woman of tremendous faith who reminded me often—with my bedroom door closed, my mother out of earshot, and a New Testament in hand—that both Jesus and I were members of something she called "the Chosen People."

Continue reading Many Treece’s essay, The Ironic Legacy of Grandma Clara.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 25, 2006

Religion Joke of the Week

A CNN journalist in Jerusalem heard about an old Jewish man who had been praying at the Wailing Wall twice a day, everyday, for a long, long time.

So when she visited the Wall for a story, she had a colleague point the man out. She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached the man for an interview.

ýI'm Rebecca Smith from CNN," she said. "Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wall and praying?"

"For about 60 years," he replied.

ýSixty years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"

"I pray for peace between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and friendship."

"How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?" she asked.

"Like I've been talking to a fuckin' wall.ý

ýSubmitted by K.C.

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

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 20, 2006

Religion Blogging

In late 1999,, a then-soon-to-launch religion and spirituality site, approached me to write a humor column. The offer was, in many respects, a freelance religion writer's dream job. They'd pay me to write about whatever religious oddities struck my fancy, and I'd get to work with great editors they'd lured away from magazines like Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.

I jumped at the opportunity, of course, but not without reservations. Then, online journalism was considered inferior to print, and the Internet just seemed so . . . ethereal. What would happen to my work, I worried, if Beliefnet suddenly failed? Would someone simply pull the plug on the site, causing my articles to vanish and leaving me with nothing to show for my efforts but a folder of crappy printouts? I'd written for magazines that had tanked before, but at least when they went under, I had a stack of glossy clips.

Oh, how naïve was I. Not only did Beliefnet succeed, becoming the web's largest religion site, with more than 2.5 million unique monthly visitors, but Internet journalism soon earned the respect it deserved…

Continue reading my essay, “Testifying Across the Blogosphere,” in the autumn issue of Harvard Divinity Bulletin.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 19, 2006

Humanity: Evolving, Yes. But Improving?

Given that we humans were once apes, itýs fun to speculate what weýre evolving into. My own theory is that within a dozen or so generations the average human, thanks to fast food and laziness, will weigh 900 pounds and have developed powers of telepathy for the sole purpose of changing television channels, thus rendering the remote control extinct.

You laugh. But if British evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry is right, my prediction isnýt totally nuts. Curry, who's at the London School of Economics, says human beings will reach their biological apex by the year 3000 before declining sharply due to dependence on technology. ýSpoiled by gadgets designed to meet their every need, they could come to resemble domesticated animals,ý Curry tells BBC News. ýSocial skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect. People would become less able to care for others, or perform in teams.ý

That, Curry says, is what humanity may be like by the year 10,000. But Iým not sure weýre not already there. Maybe Curry has never seen ýThe Jerry Springer Show,ý or spent time in affluent, amoral New York suburbs like Westchester and Fairfield County.

Eventually, Curry says, as people become more selective about their sex partners, humanity may split into two-subspeciesýa genetic upper class and a dunderheaded underclass. ýThe descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the ýunderclassý humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures,ý the report says.

Just as H.G. Wells predicted in his 1895 novel, ýThe Time Machine.ý

But over the next 1,000 years, Curry says, the human race will improve physicallyýgetting taller (the average person will be between 6 and 7 feet tall) and living longer (to 120). And people will shape up in all the right places:

ýPhysical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improveý while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.

ýWomen, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds. Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people.ý

But after the year 3000, Curry says, itýs all downhill for the human race. One day, we may all be like those numbskulls Jay Leno interviews on ýJay Walking.ý

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 16, 2006

A Sisterhood of Faith

Meet the Faith Club. We’re three mothers from three faiths—Islam, Christianity, and Judaism—who got together to write a picture book for our children that would highlight the connections between our religions. But no sooner had we started talking about our beliefs and how to explain them to our children than our differences led to misunderstandings.

Our project nearly fell apart.
We realized that before we could talk about what united us we had to confront what divided us in matters of faith, God, and religion. We had to reveal our own worst fears, prejudices, and stereotypes.

So we made a commitment to meet regularly. We talked in our living rooms over cups of jasmine tea and bars of dark chocolate. No question was deemed inappropriate, no matter how rude or politically incorrect. We taped our conversations and kept journals as we discussed everything from jihad to Jesus, heaven to holy texts. Somewhere along the way, our moments of conflict, frustration, and anger gave way to new understanding and great respect…

Continue reading The Faith Club.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 12, 2006

Piety & Politics

I had been working for Americans United for Separation of Church and State for just a few days and was still packing up things from a job in Hanover, N.H., when my wife handed me an ad from USA Today that nearly made me spill my coffee.

It was October of 1992, and the presidential election was less than a month away. The ad in question was headlined “Christian Beware: Do Not Put the Economy Ahead of the Ten Commandments.” It went on to attack then Arkansas governor Bill Clinton for his stands on social issues and concluded with this question: “How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?” Specifically, it included positions that Clinton took on various social issues and then challenged them with scriptural references that allegedly denoted that Clinton stood for the “sinful” position. It ended authoritatively with yet another biblical “proof text” that voting for a “sinner” made you one as well...

Continue reading the Rev. Barry W. Lynn's Finding the Right Balance. And for more, visit the rev's author website here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 6, 2006

SoMA Goes to Church!

If you're in the Hartford, CT, area this Sunday morning and you're looking for a good time, stop by Old Saint Andrewýs Episcopal Church in Bloomfield, where I'll be giving a talk entitled "Science, Religion and the Media." It's part of the church's 7-week adult education forum focusing on "the complex relationship between religion and science in the modern world." The program begins promptly at 11:15 and ends when they cut my microphone and ask me politely to leave (just kidding).

For more on the series, check out this article in the Hartford Courant.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 6, 2006

Religion Joke of the Week

What's the difference between a Methodist and a Jesuit?

The Methodist knows he's not Catholic.

--Submitted by a publishing professional who works with Catholic authors and likes his job so much he asked to remain anonymous. 

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

October 2, 2006

Hebrew Illuminations

I knew I’d be getting a book called “Hebrew Illuminations” in the mail. I knew it would be a book of Jewish art, and I thought, “Ah. Illuminated art—Jews—gonna probably be something like Arthur Szyk, probably minus the politics. Or maybe more like the old medieval things. Maybe a post-modern interpretation of the Sarajevo Haggadah.”

So I had only a very vague idea of what to expect from Adam Rhine’s “Hebrew Illuminations,” a handsome quarto volume published by Sounds True. And when it arrived, it was not even remotely what I’d expected...

Continue reading Eva Geertz’s review, Illuminating Letters.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

October 2, 2006

The Day of Atonement

Today, of course, is Yom Kippur, and for those of you who are fasting, here’s a treat from our archives you can fill up on: Yum—Kippers!—Mary Beth Crain’s reflections on the holiday spent with God, sin, and an empty stomach.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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