Blog Archive/December 2004
December 30, 2004
Legislating Religion and Morality
For the January 3 issue of The New Yorker, Dan Greenburg wrote a wry—as if there were any other kind—“Shouts & Murmurs” piece called “Expected Legislation from the President.” Needless to say, religion and morality are the subjects of several executive acts. Here are some samples:
“The Gay Rights Act: All persons of the same sex, including family members, will have the right to hug, provided that there be at least two inches of air between their bodies during said hug and provided that both parties continue slapping each other’s back for the duration of the hug.”
“The Prayer in Everyday Life Act: In public schools, there will be compulsory prayers before classes, before lunch, and before recess, and a brief fifty-minute worship service will precede dismissal, at which time baskets will be circulated for offerings to the education fund and the ‘Jeb in 2008’ fund. Prayers will also be instituted in restaurants after the check is presented."
“The Separation of Church and State Act: There will be no separation of church and state.”
But my favorite is “The Endangered Species Preservation Act”:
“All endangered species will immediately be preserved by a national corps of expert taxidermists.”
December 27, 2004
Italian Police Produce a Mug Shot of Baby Jesus
“Here it is, the real face of the baby Jesus.” So declared the Italian newspaper Il Giornale last Thursday. The editors at Corriere della Sera hedged it a bit more in their headline: “Here Is Jesus at Age 12 (According to a Computer).”
Prompted by TV reporters working on a news special about Jesus, the scientific division of Rome’s police force, clearly lacking a no-nonsense boss like Gil Grissom, used computers to subtract 20 years (and a beard) from an image of the Shroud of Turin, believed by millions to be the burial cloth of Jesus. “The angelic face is reminiscent of the prayer cards sold in Vatican souvenir shops and of the New Age portraits displayed at Venice Beach,” reported yesterday’s New York Times. “The image shows a 12-year-old boy with fair, smooth skin, glassy blue eyes, fleshy lips and waves of dirty blond hair streaked with just enough purple and pink to suggest a sprinkling of cosmic dust.” (The light skin and blond hair must be welcome news to those who believe that the House of David has a Norwegian bloodline.)
“It came to us as an illumination, maybe it was inspiration, What was his face like?” the Times quoted Elena Guarnieri, the show’s host, as saying. “If that is the face on the shroud, then this is the face of Jesus as a child.”
In 1988, scientists at the University of Arizona dated the shroud between 1260 and 1390, and ruled that it was a forgery.
December 18, 2004
A John Waters Christmas
In I’m Dreaming of a Blue Christmas, I wrote that the key to enjoying the holidays is to lower your expectations so you won’t be disappointed. But once you see that your glass of holiday cheer is half-empty, not half-full, then it’s time for a refill. I mean, why refill a half-full glass?
And there’s no better person to top off your yuletide spirit than film director and humorist John Waters, whose obsession with Christmas, he confesses, borders on psychosis. On NPR’s Weekend Edition today, Scott Simon toured Waters’ Baltimore home as Waters and friends prepared for his big annual Christmas party, a tradition he's kept since 1966.
Listen here to learn how Waters makes Christmas tree balls from pictures of his heroes (Don Knotts, for example), how he decorates the electric chair in his front hall, what gets guests crossed off his party list, and why he thinks “It’s a Wonderful Life” should have been made into a… well, let’s just say he thinks it should have been a lot more naughty than nice.
At NPR’s site you can also order Waters’ new holiday music compilation, “A John Waters Christmas,” and listen to him read from his hilarious essay, “Why I Love Christmas.” Here’s his favorite childhood holiday memory:
“Dashing through the snow, laughing all the way (ha-ha-ha) to Grandma’s house to find that the fully decorated tree has fallen over and pinned her underneath. My candy-colored memories have run through the projector of my mind so many times they are almost in 3-D. That awful pause before my parents rushed to free her, my own stunned silence as I dared not ask if Granny’s gifts to us had been damaged, and the wondrous, glorious sight of the now semi-crooked tree, with balls broken, being begrudgingly hoisted back to its proper position of adoration. ‘O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!’ I started shrieking at the top of my lungs in an insane fit of childhood hyperventilation before being silenced by a glare from my parents that could have stopped a train.”
December 17, 2004
Chuck Wyatt, SoMA’s web guru, sent me a curious slide show made in the late '70s by the Daughters of St. Paul, a Catholic ministry in Boston that strives to “announce the Word of God in the most effective ways possible.” The sisters distributed the slide show to Catholic schools and bookstores around the world.
Called “Golden Pennies,” it features Chuck’s pal, William Burdette, as a kld. Now a full-grown media services guy, Burdette made the slide show into a flash movie, which he jokingly refers to as “child exploitation.” But we like it because it’s so retro, weird, and sweet—in a David Lynch or John Waters way.
Watch "Golden Pennies" here, and don't forget to turn on your sound.
Thanks to William Burdette for sharing.
December 16, 2004
Alabama Judge's Ten Commandments Robe
Alabama may fall a little short when it comes to taking care of its own. For example, the state has the lowest rate of support for foster children, the lowest Medicaid coverage, and the lowest budget per prison inmate in the nation. Alabama also ranks among the five worst states for education. That’s the bad news about the Yellowhammer State.
The good news is that Alabama judges really love the Ten Commandments, and I don’t mean the Charlton Heston movie.
This week, a rural Alabama judge started showing up at his courtroom wearing the Ten Commandments embroidered in gold letters on the chest of his black robe. (Last night I had a link to a photo of the judge's robe in an Alabama paper, but the image was gone in today's edition.) Covington County Presiding Circuit Judge M. Ashley McKathan, an avowed Christian who attends a local Baptist church, said that he was standing up for his personal religious convictions.
“Truth is an absolute value,” McKathan said, “and you can’t divorce the law from the truth. I feel we must resist the modern attempts to discount the truth. ... The Ten Commandments can help a judge know the difference between right and wrong.''
I find it hard to imagine how a judge wearing the Ten Commandments in no way sends a message to a jury, but McKathan insisted his religious robe does not. “I had a choice of several sizes of letters,” he said, “I purposely chose a size that would not be in anybody's face.”
So I guess McKathan is telling jurors: These are my religious beliefs, but don’t let them signal how your own beliefs ought to relate to the case. Don’t ask yourself whether the defendant may have violated one of the Ten Commandments, the “moral basis of our law,” by, say, dishonoring his parents, or failing to keep the Sabbath, or bowing down before any graven image, except, of course, for a graven image of the Ten Commandments. That’s all irrelevant here. By the way, isn’t this gold stitching snappy?
Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore lost his job last year for refusing a federal order to remove a 5,280-pound monument of the Ten Commandments he secretly installed in the rotunda of the state Supreme Court building. (For a related parody, click here.) McKathan supported Moore’s stand then, and Moore returned the favor, saying Tuesday that he supports McKathan's decision to wear the Ten Commandments robe.
“The recognition of the God who gave us the Ten Commandments is fundamental to an understanding of the first Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Moore said. “I applaud Judge McKathan. It is time for our judiciary to recognize the moral basis of our law.”
December 13, 2004
Ole's Take on the Scarborough Debacle
This morning, Ole Anthony sent me an email explaining how the “Scarborough Country” segment on televangelism last Tuesday turned into a disaster:
“The problem is that the show as told to me by the producer was nothing like what really happened. Let me explain. When the senior producer for “Scarborough Country” first contacted me, I was to be the only guest. He called because of the [profile of Anthony] in The New Yorker Magazine.
“Then he called and asked if I would be okay with having J.C. Joyce [televangelist Robert Tilton’s former attorney] on with me also. I thought that would be a good idea because he had deposed me for a total of 28 days because of numerous lawsuits he had filed against me on behalf of his Clients. I knew him and what he would say very thoroughly. We had been trying to have a public debate with him for a long time. That was what I expected right up to the point we went on the air. I knew that Joe Scarborough was ill and that Pat Buchanan was hosting; but I didn't know that Pat's own producer had invited two other guests. To make it worse, I was in tremendous pain during the show.
“It was a total mess with the two others whom I had never heard of. There was not enough time to discuss the issues with any clarity. I obviously couldn't see the show; but even with only the audio it was crazy. My instinct tells me that Joe Scarborough's senior producer will be very angry. That "republican strategist" sounded like an idiot. However, from it all maybe a seed was planted for something else. By the way, we have never contacted any media. We were totally silent for many years just trying to meet the needs at hand. We received hundreds of positive e-mails and phone calls so maybe a little Truth made it through the chaos.”
December 11, 2004
In Defense of Ole
On Tuesday night I watched MSNBC's “Scarborough Country,” a talk show I usually avoid unless I need an emetic and don’t have any ipecac or powdered mustard lying around. But that night’s guest was Ole Anthony, the founder and president of the Trinity Foundation, a nonprofit religious community in East Dallas that’s dedicated to helping the needy—the homeless and the poor, the sick and the elderly, the addicted and the abused.
Trinity also publishes The Door Magazine, “The World’s Pretty Much Only Religious Satire Magazine” (which, incidentally, has a six-page interview with me in the November/December issue), and investigates and exposes corruption in televangelism—an untaxed, unregulated multi-billion dollar industry that’s gotten rich by promising viewers that if they dig deep into their pockets and give till it hurts, God will reward their faith with health and wealth.
Pat Buchanan was Joe Scarborough’s guest host, and in his intro he said that Anthony was on to explore whether these “prophets of profits” are spreading a “gospel of greed.” But as it turned out, Anthony seemed to be invited on the air to be criticized and dismissed by Buchanan and his guests— J.C. Joyce, former attorney for televangelist Robert Tilton, Jennifer Giroux of Women Influencing the Nation, and Jack Burkman, a Republican strategist. It was surreal: Anthony, the only guest willing to question televangelism, was forced to defend himself for finding fault in those who sell God. Some of the panelists’ comments and objections were so idiotic that I might have tossed a shoe at my screen if I hadn’t been paralyzed with disbelief.
December 8, 2004
Bill O'Reilly's Holiday Spirit
If Santa ever dies, I know the perfect person to fill his big red suit—radio and television talk show host Bill O’Reilly—the very living spirit of generosity, love, and joy. Few give so much to so many as does merry old soul Bill O’Reilly. The man is a walking act of random kindness, and he’ll be bigger than Santa because he represents not just what’s best about Christmas, but what's best about all the December holidays.
Oh, except maybe Hanukkah.
Discussing Christmas on his show recently, O'Reilly had this to say to a Jewish caller concerned about Christmas celebrations in public schools:
"You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on, [caller]–if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then. I mean because we live in a country founded on Judeo—and that's your guys'—Christian, that's my guys' philosophy. But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So, you don't wanna hear about it? Impossible."
The caller said that as a result of the emphasis on Christmas in his school, he "grew up with a resentment because I felt that people were trying to convert me to Christianity."
O'Reilly characterized the caller's concerns as "an affront to the majority," and he also mistakenly referred to “the seven candles” of Hanukkah.
December 6, 2004
Ghost for Sale
I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about any more wacky eBay sale items for a while, and then yesterday someone told me about the woman who is auctioning her father’s ghost. Well, it’s a good thing I’m not a Promise Keeper, or else one of my Christian buddies would be calling me up tonight to hold me accountable for breaking my word.
Here’s the deal: An Indiana woman is selling her father’s ghost on eBay to prevent his spirit from returning to her home. Mary Anderson said that her father died there last year, and that her six-year-old son, Collin, has been afraid to go by himself anywhere in the house since.
Talk about a stocking stuffer.
Explaining that this wasn’t a joke, Anderson described her son’s fears on eBay: “He told me ‘Grandpa died here, and he was mean. His ghost is still around here!” Nevertheless, Anderson tried to reassure bidders. “My dad was the sweetest most caring man you’d ever meet.”
Anderson will send her father’s metal cane to the winning bidder, so the person will actually receive a physical object with his or her purchase. At the time of the AP report posted at CNN.com, the spook had drawn more than 34 bids. The top offer was $78, and the bidding closes today.
December 3, 2004
For Crying Out Loud
It’s already been almost two weeks since the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich was auctioned off at eBay, and I have not yet replied to the kind souls who sent me related (and sort-of-related) news stories. There was the image of Jesus that appeared in a dental X-ray in Arizona, and the portrait of Jesus in Robstown, Tex., that cries. There was the fiberglass Virgin Mary statue in an Australian church that wept rose-scented olive oil continuously for five months until it was finally removed, presumably because it was making a mess of the sanctuary.
I was even informed of a web page devoted to weeping religious statues and icons. Thank you, my friends, for all these tips, and forgive my delayed response.
Anyone who knows about my Socrates knows that I have a soft spot for emotional statuary. On the bookcase across from my desk sits a little alabaster statue of Socrates that I bought in Athens on a trip after college. Most of the time Socrates just gazes at me, chin on fist, stoically. (Well, maybe not stoically. Zeno, who established Stoicism, hadn’t even been born when Socrates swilled his hemlock in 399 B.C.) But every once in a while, I look up from my computer and notice a tear on Socrates’ cheek. Which, of course, puts a tear on my cheek, and before you know it we’re both bawling like babies.
Other times, he scrunches his little nose and gives me the finger. Those are the days Mr. Socrates gets sent to my desk drawer for a little time-out.
December 2, 2004
Liberal Media Rejects Church Ad Welcoming Gays
In a 30-second ad sponsored by the United Church of Christ, two beefy bouncers stand at the entrance of a church, deciding who may and who may not attend a worship service. The first people they refuse are two men who might be a gay couple. A text then appears saying, “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”
It’s true that Jesus didn’t turn people away, but then Jesus wasn’t an executive at CBS, ABC, or NBC—the three networks that refused to air the ad, which presents the UCC as a church that welcomes and offers hospitality to all people—a message too controversial for network television.
The UCC quoted CBS as saying they rejected the ad “because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples…and the fact that the executive branch proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast.”
So, in other words, if we’d elected a president who wasn’t against gay marriage, then CBS might have found the ad acceptable.
CBS wouldn't comment to CNN on the UCC’s characterization of their reasoning, but they did say that the ad “was against our policy of accepting advocacy advertising.”
Huh. They don’t accept advocacy advertising, like what—political campaign ads, anti-smoking ads, anti-drug ads?
See the ad for yourself at the UCC's website.
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