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Blog Archive/November 2006

November 29, 2006

O.J., John Wilkes Booth, and the Trash Heap of Our Culture

On July 7, 1865, barely three months after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, four of the eight conspirators convicted in the plot to murder him were hung by the neck until dead, in a speedy prison yard execution. Outrage over the President's murder was so intense that the overwhelming desire of the American public was for the accused to be tried, convicted and dispensed with as quickly as possible.

The conspirators were arraigned before a military commission on May 10, less than a month after the assassination. The verdicts were declared on June 30, the sentences handed down on July 6, and the executions carried out the next day, barely giving the condemned time to comprehend their fate. As soon as George Atzerodt, Lewis Paine, David Herold and Mary Surratt were pronounced dead, their bodies were placed in the pine ammunition cases that doubled as makeshift coffins, and unceremoniously dumped into four freshly dug graves near the gallows. That night, a newspaper editorial proclaimed, "In the bright sunlight of this summer day ... the wretched criminals have been hurried into eternity, and tonight will be hidden in despised graves, loaded with the execrations of mankind. We want to know their names no more."

And so, the conspirators faded into quick oblivion. No lengthy appeals. No big movie deals, no "If I'd Plotted to Kill Lincoln" mega-buck confessions. In fact, if you referred to the villains in polite society, you would likely be censured and shunned. The mere mention of their names was giving them too much posthumous publicity.

So, it's just too darn bad that O.J. Simpson didn't live 140 years ago...

Continue reading Mary Beth Crain's Oh Gee, O.J.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 28, 2006

Just in Time for Christmas: "Left Behind," the Video Game!

Do you believe if your child has been a good little Christian all year that, come Christmas, he or she has earned the right to kick some serious unsaved ass? If so, then here's just the stocking stuffer for your household: "Left Behind: Eternal Forces," a war video game by Tyndale House based on the end-times bestselling "Left Behind" series by biblical literalists Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

"Wage a war of apocalyptic proportions," urges Left Behind Games' promotional copy. "Join the ultimate fight of Good against Evil, commanding Tribulation Forces or the Global Community Peacekeepers, and uncover the truth about the worldwide disappearances." Born-again Billy and Bonnie can wreak all sorts of holy havoc with this game, which allows them to, among other things:

* "Conduct physical & spiritual warfare: using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world."

* "Command your forces through intense battles across a breathtaking, authentic depiction of New York City."

* "Control more than 30 unit types--from Prayer Warrior and Hell Raiser, to Spies, Special Forces and Battle Tanks!"

Understandably, not all Christians think it's very Christ-like for kids to, as the game's literature says, "enjoy a robust single player experience ... fighting in China Town, SoHo, Uptown and more!" The sensible folks at Christian Alliance for Progress, for instance, issued this action alert today:

The Christian Alliance for Progress deplores the release of the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces in which the game's object is to convert or kill any who stand in opposition to the ideology that the game and its companion book series seek to promote. We urge the game's sponsor, Tyndale House, a Christian publishing business which used to be concerned with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, to recall its values and withdraw its support for such an un-Christian enterprise as this.

The game, which comes with a copy of one of the books in the series, represents a relatively novel way of interpreting the book of Revelation and the biblical passages that treat the end of history and the coming kingdom of God, whose origin is less than 200 years old. It thus rejects the historic ways of reading Revelation and the coming of God's kingdom that have sustained followers of Christianity for two thousand years. It also rejects the insights of biblical scholarship and deliberately misreads Revelation as a book of prophecy, rather than the kind of literature it actually is, which is apocalyptic.

Worse, rather than seeking to close the gap between neighbors, as Jesus did in his ministry, the game's purpose is to drive a wedge between people, teaching teenagers that what God intends is for them to slaughter those who do not share their beliefs. Because of the predominance of Christian fundamentalists on television and radio in the past generation, the American people have been left with the false impression that this strange way of interpreting the Bible is what Christians have always believed and taught. We are here today to challenge that view and to name it for the error that it is.

What You Can Do:

Go to the CrossWalk America site to sign the petition demanding that Tyndale House recall the video game.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 27, 2006

Ted Haggard's Lesson

Are we really surprised anymore by reports that religious leaders have been charged with sexual or financial misconduct? From the good old days of Jim and Tammy Faye to the ongoing scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, such shenanigans have become so commonplace that news about clerics who live by what they preach is actually far more startling.

And yet, the news of Ted Haggard being outed by a gay male prostitute did come as something of a surprise. That the pastor of a Colorado Springs megachurch, president of National Association of Evangelicals, friend of powerful politicians, and one of the leading voices against gay marriage in America might himself be gay, or at least bi-sexual, raises questions that most of us in the religious world would just as soon not deal with. With few exceptions, even mainline Protestant denominations have embraced the "don't ask, don't tell" policies of the American military.

Continue reading Bob Cornwall's It's Time to Talk.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 17, 2006

Party Girl

You can find any excuse to entertain. This past summer, for example, my husband and I threw a party to celebrate my becoming unemployed. But the official entertaining season is upon us now, and it's far less fun than a barrel of pink slips. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's--that time of the year when people start tramping through your house, eating your food, scaring the cat, sitting on the dog, and vomiting in undesirable places...

Read Eva Geertz's review of Amy Sedaris' book, "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence."

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 15, 2006

What to Do With 4,000 Talking Jesus Dolls? I Have an Idea...

Did you notice that, practically the day after Halloween, all the spooky crap was gone from the stores and all the Christmas crap was in? Maybe I just never paid attention in years past, but I walked into my local Walgreens today and was stunned to see miles of snowmen and stockings and tinsel and candy canes and fake snow--all before Thanksgiving. Happy holidays, I thought. And that's when it hit me: "Oh great. Pretty soon we'll be hearing about nothing but the stupid 'war on Christmas' all over again."

Well, it didn't take long, indeed. The wire services reported today that the Marine Reserves' Toys for Tots program turned down a Christian toy company's offer to donate 4,000 talking Jesus dolls. Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson must have wet themselves with excitement.

Manufactured by a company called one2believe, the 1-foot-tall Jesus doll quotes Bible verses like John 3:5: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." One2believe is a toy company with a mission--and a Passion. "Our Passion is to confront children with the Gospel of Jesus Christ," their website says. "We know that if a child has a foundational understanding of the Bible and its stories, they will be tender toward developing a relationship with Jesus." Their goal? To "see that 10 million children are effectively taught 50 Bible stories by the end of year 2007."

A government entity, Toys for Tots refused the overtly religious dolls because they are, well, overtly religious. The charity donates to kids based solely on their financial needs. "We don't know anything about their background, their religious affiliations," a spokesman for the program told the Associated Press. Marines "don't profess one religion over another. We can't take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family."

Michael La Roe, one2believe's business director, was baffled by this concern. "I believe as a churchgoing person, anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the Bible," he said.

Well, of course he thinks that. But how would he, as a churchgoing person, react if the government started handing out Muhammad dolls that spout the Qur'an?

Update: I just checked the Toys for Tots' website and, perhaps fearing the wrath of Bill O'Reilly, they've done an about face: "The Talking Jesus doll issue has been resolved. Toys for Tots has found appropriate places for these items. We have notified the donor of our willingness to handle this transaction."

I, for one, think there's plenty the Marines could do with 4,000 talking Jesus dolls. Like, haul them out to the rifle range, press the "Talk" buttons, and get to work on their marksmanship.

Mind you, I'd love to have one of these dolls. It'd be a fine addition to my collection of Jesus kitsch. Maybe I'll ask Santa for one.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 15, 2006

Breeding for Jesus

Fundamentalist Christianity has added a new weapon to its arsenal--children.  Or "arrows," as members of Quiverfull, a pro-patriarchy fundie movement, call their offspring. Quiverfull families, and there are thousands of them, believe in bearing as many children "as God gives them" in order to wage a more effective spiritual war for Jesus by out-breeding the sinful opposition.
Why, you ask, do they call their children "arrows"? It's biblical, silly. "Behold, children are a gift of the Lord... Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127). Think of the Quiverfull strategy to use procreation to win the culture war as a kind of arms race. "If just 8 million American Christian couples began supplying more 'arrows for the war' by having six children or more the Christian-right ranks could rise to 550 million within a century," according to one of the movement's founding documents.

In the latest issue of The Nation, Kathryn Joyce takes an in-depth look at Quiverfull. About their goal to rule the world through numbers, Joyce writes: "Lest that seem alarmist, Quiverfull ideals have attracted the attention not just of far-right politicians such as Sen. Sam Brownback, but also of policy-writers and demographers working on the issue for centrist Democrats who consider 'the return to patriarchy a political inevitability."

Read Joyce's "Arrows for the War" here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 13, 2006

A Bit of Borat

Alas, I've not yet been to see "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," but I did get a Sacha Baron Cohen fix this weekend over at You Tube. The site features several favorite Borat bits from "Da Ali G Show," like the episodes in which the clueless Kazakhstan television reporter checks out American dating services, visits a hunting ranch in Texas, and tries to buy a slave at a plantation museum in the South.

Another hilarious Cohen clip: when Bruno--the flaming gay Austrian fashion reporter, another Ali G persona--interviews the Rev. Lance Quinn--a deadly earnest Little Rock pastor and "gay converter." Bruno asks "So why is being gay so out zis season?" and learns, among other godly teachings, that watching "Will & Grace" is a "nicht nicht," or, as Pastor Quinn puts it, a "nish nish." Check it out here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 10, 2006

Diane Arbus in "Fur"

Could there be a more heavily anticipated movie for the cultural elite than "Fur"? Mired in the all-too-common creative and logistical struggles of the film business, Diane (that's Dee-An, people) Arbus' story has taken two decades to be realized.

The desire to dramatize her life is understandable, as its basic elements provide the much-sought "fish out of water" conceptual hook. Born to a wealthy Jewish family, Arbus married young and, with her husband Allan, became successful in New York fashion photography. But a fascination with "outsiders"--people with physical oddities and alternative sexual lifestyles--eventually overtook Arbus' psyche...

Continue reading "Snapshots and Lies," Billy Frolick's review of "Fur," here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 9, 2006


Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, which means one thing in the world of American religious studies -- that the annual AAR/SBL meeting starts next Saturday. I'll be in D.C. for three of the four days. Are any other religion bloggers going this year? Perhaps we could meet, compare notes, share war stories... Drop me a line at editor (at)

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 6, 2006

Hussein Faces Death By Hanging in this Life...

...But what punishment awaits him in the next? In an updated version of her classic SoMA parable, Mary Beth Crain imagines the big surprise the tyrant has got coming in the Great Beyond.

Click here to read Saddam in Heaven.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 4, 2006

Church Board: Haggard guilty of "Sexually Immoral Conduct"

Just posted at MSNBC:

The Rev. Ted Haggard agreed to resign Saturday from his New Life Church after its independent investigative board recommended removal, saying he was guilty "of sexually immoral conduct."

"We, the Overseer Board of New Life Church, have concluded our deliberations concerning the moral failings of Pastor Ted Haggard," a statement from the church said. "Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct..." Read more.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

November 4, 2006

Ted Haggard and the Truth

Ted Haggard, one of Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals,” admitted yesterday that he bought crystal methamphetamine and received a massage from a gay prostitute. Haggard was less forthcoming on Wednesday, however, when 49-year-old Mick Jones announced he’d been having paid sex and snorting meth with Haggard in Denver nearly every month for three years.

On Wednesday, Haggard told Channel 9 news in Colorado, "I did not have a homosexual relationship with a man in Denver. I am steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife." Haggard suggested he didn’t know where the allegations were coming from, saying, "I don't know if this is election year politics or if this has to do with the [gay] marriage amendment or what it is.” Haggard denied knowing Jones.

The next day, Haggard temporarily stepped down as senior pastor of Colorado Spring’s 14,000-member New Life Church and resigned as president of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals. On Friday, he admitted that, yeah, OK, he did buy the meth—but he didn’t use it—and that he had been with the gay escort—but didn’t have sex with him. He just let the man give him a friendly rubdown.

Who cares, you ask, what Ted Haggard is and is not willing to do with a gay man in a Denver hotel room? Whether he draws the line at tickling and pillow fights or rides the meth-fueled express all the way to Pleasure Town, it’s none of our damn business, right? Except, of course, that Haggard makes other people’s sex lives his business.

A weekly advisor to President Bush on faith matters, Haggard condemns homosexuality as a sin worthy of eternal punishment and is an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage. In 2004, he began organizing state-by-state efforts to ban gay marriage, and next week Coloradoans will vote on a Haggard-backed measure specifying that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Considering Haggard’s preoccupation with what others do in the bedroom, paticularly homosexuals, Pastor Ted should come clean publicly about his relationship with the gay escort—give us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God. And to resolve this sordid business quickly, Ted should take a lie detector test, as his accuser, Jones, did yesterday.

Though Jones’ test didn’t prove or disprove anything, Haggard supporters point out that Jones’ score indicated “deception.” But, really, who cares what Jones told the lie detector? Let’s cut to the chase and strap Haggard to the machine. Here are some questions I think we’d all like Pastor Ted to answer:

Have you ever seen gay porn—either in a magazine or on the Internet? (Jones believes Haggard found his services listed in a local gay publication or at an escort website).

Have you ever used crystal meth?

Have you ever had sex with a man?

Have you ever paid to have sex with a man?

Have you ever had sex with Mick Jones?

Have you ever had sex with a man other than Mick Jones?

Depending on previous answers:

Have you had sex with Mick Jones more than five times?

More than 10 times?

More than 20 times?

More than 30 times?


Are you a hypocritical closet case?

For more on Ted’s views on homosexuality—“We don’t have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity, it’s written in the Bible”—check out this strange clip of Haggard from the movie, “Jesus Camp.”

At the end, Haggard looks into the camera and jokes: "I think I know what you did last night. If you send me a thousand dollars, I won't tell your wife." The crowd laughs, and then Haggard says to the camera, "If you use any of this, I'll sue you!" Click here

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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