May 30, 2012
Recently I went off on a rant about the number of Christians who don’t even really know what their own religious text actually says, citing the lack of awareness/understanding of Peter’s vision in Acts as my prime example. I thought of that when reading Fred Clark, who has way more cred than I do on the subject, and so I wanted to point to him and say, “Look! See! This is what I was talking about!”
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
A little bit later, Peter draws this conclusion about the vision: “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Fred Clark expounds on the different interpretations of that passage (i.e. the one that sees the story as just a rationale for why Christians don’t have to keep kosher, versus the one that reflects what the story actually says) here. A sampling:
Consider, for example, the purpose of Peter’s vision. It wasn’t sent because Red Lobster was about to bring back “endless shrimp,” but because of the people who were about to knock on Peter’s door. The author of Acts makes sure we don’t miss that point, writing: “While Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the [impure, uncircumcised, bacon-loving Gentile] men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.”
I suppose it could be argued that stating that there’s only One True Way that Acts 10 can be interpreted, I’m no better than those against whom I would argue: I’m still using a particular religious text as a mere tool to argue for my particular point of view. At the same time, though… I dunno, it seems to me that if you’re going to go around calling yourself a biblical literalist and that kind of thing, it might be worth looking at what the bible actually says. And furthermore, the stories we tell one another mean things, things that have resonance beyond the literal words on the page or images on the screen. Dracula was about more than just a dude who consumed blood to survive. Dystopian novels aren’t just purely imaginatory exercises; they offer commentary on our world as it currently exists.
What we have here is not just a failure to communicate; it’s a failure of imagination. And as always, while I respect the rights of people with whom I disagree to believe whatever it is they believe, in the privacy of their own homes, in their places of worship, etc.—when they start bringing it into the public sphere and trying to create public policy based on who they believe is clean and who is unclean, well, I’m going to have something to say about that.
August 27, 2010
[My hope is to ease my way back into blogging by pointing to someone else's writing first. We'll see how it goes. ]
Everyone and their pet lemur is talking these days about the so-called Ground Zero mosque. I’m inclined to think that a lot of pundits are being deliberately disingenuous: they know full well that it’s a community center, not just a mosque, and they know full well that it’s not on the actual Ground Zero site. However, plenty of people out there hear discussion of a Ground Zero mosque and believe that’s exactly what’s being proposed: a mosque built on the spot where the Twin Towers used to be. I can understand why people would be opposed to that particular proposition; I wouldn’t be terribly fond of it myself, not because of any hard feelings toward Muslims, but because I wouldn’t be particularly keen on seeing any sort of place of formalized religious worship built there. (I quite like Roger Ebert’s proposal of a green field, discussed toward the end of this post.)
My point, then, is that I appreciate the various attempts being made at clarifying the discussion, at discussing the issue as it actually is. In particular, I liked what Jill Filipovic had to say on the subject close to a week ago (emphasis added):
Alvy Singer was probably right when he said that the rest of the country looks at New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers – that’s why a lot of us transplants moved here in the first place. But Republicans have made it clear that they don’t find that characterization nearly as charming as many of us do. When election time rolls around, New York is the GOP’s favorite punching bag: We’re not “real America;” we’re elitists; we’re latte-drinking arugula-eaters. For 364 days a year, Republicans are happy to characterize us as Sodom to San Francisco’s Gomorrah.
And then there’s September 11th. Any mention of that day and all of a sudden we’re a city so important, and of such hallowed ground, that local zoning laws and the decisions of our community boards should be issues of national debate.
The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque, was catapulted into the national spotlight by anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller as evidence of the supposed “Islamicization” of America. . . .
Go read the rest here (it’s the second post on the page–and for the record, I understand and appreciate what Karol Markowicz is saying in the first post on that page; I just don’t agree).
February 16, 2010
I was fairly young when I first learned the phrase “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” but it’s stuck with me. It seems like maybe I learned it in the context of making friends (“If you’re nice, it won’t be a problem! Well, unless you’re an introvert, and/or socially awkward, in which case you might kind of be on your own…”), but when it echoes in my head these days it seems to be more in the context of advertising, of sales pitches, of evangelism (in both the literal and figurative senses). As a consumer, I’m more interested in what FedEx can do for me than what UPS can’t, you know? I appreciate that that’s mostly a personal preference, of course, and that negative advertising isn’t going anywhere soon.
That sort of mindset did lead to a fairly unpleasant interaction this afternoon, however. I came across a display promoting The H2O Project, and decided to stop and take a look; I need to drink more water anyway, I’ve been toying with the idea of abandoning my slavish devotion to diet soda (So fizzy! So caffeinated! So wonderful!), and I had vague memories of the project from last year. I asked the student manning the booth what the deal was, and he went into a fairly rambling sales pitch involving donating money to groups that dig wells in Africa and pointing to a picture of a guinea worm emerging from a child’s leg, then saying “don’t look at that if you’re about to go eat lunch” (too late!). I stuck around and listened, because I myself was once an undergrad fumbling through a pitch explaining why a passerby should get involved in my organization or activity of choice, and I knew he’d get to the heart of the project sooner or later. I couldn’t help noticing that the project was sponsored by a religious group, and that the student wore numerous outward displays of his faith, but I didn’t expect that would be a problem. Making sure people in developing countries have potable water is something people of any or no faith can get behind, right? Read the rest of this entry »
December 10, 2009
Well, color me surprised: “Reverend Rick Warren released a video letter to clergy in Uganda today, speaking out against proposed legislation in that country that punishes homosexual activity with death.” You can view the video at the link, or if you’d rather not watch the message, I’ve transcribed Warren’s message below the fold. While I’m grateful that Warren finally spoke out on the subject, his message leaves much to be desired, and I think it comes off as defensive at some points and painfully self-congratulatory at others. All the same, is this the best we can hope for from evangelical leaders — a statement that essentially boils down to the notion that LGBTQ folks deserve respect and dignity, and should not be imprisoned or put to death simply for being who they are? I mean, I guess that’s a place to start, but — is it really so naive or foolish of me to expect more? Read the rest of this entry »
April 12, 2009
I’ve fallen behind again, so there will be a handful of poems today. This is a re-post, as it’s a poem my thoughts return to from time to time when I consider issues concerning the separation of church & state.
Cotton & Turnip
I freely confess my particular indisposition to be moved by [vegetables] . . . often accounted Prodigies.
When Heaven spoke through nature any cabbage
might show a rupture in the Human sphere.
That stalk whose puny root should not have held it
Was an omen for the rot of souls, a Prodigy of sin
& Divination–& Still you say the blood is on us!
Friends, it was not Salem’s first ominous Turnip,
Nor the first trespass He answered with excess–
Did you think all dead in the flood had equally sinned?
Goody Parker, Becky Nurse & Wilmott Reed.
Martha hanged & Giles stoned for standing mute,
Sarah Wilds, Sarah Good. As the powers of air
Leave barren the world, the righteous will perish,
Some few, among the wicked. Though good wheat’s lost
When pestilence descends, you burn the field.
—Amy Beeder, 2006
February 19, 2009
There has already been good coverage of Aasiya Hassan’s muder at the hands of her husband at various sites, namely Shakesville and Feministing, but I wanted to post a couple of things I was sent today via Facebook. First, there’s an article up at The Guardian’s Comment is free site that reiterates that this case illustrates not one particular group’s propensity toward violence, but the problem of domestic violence in America as a whole:
The entire world reacted with shock and outrage as Muzzammil Hassan, a Pakistani-American businessman and co-founder of Bridges TV, was arrested for the gruesome murder of his estranged wife. Aasiya Hassan, an architect and MBA student, had recently filed for divorce and received a restraining order against Muzzammil as of 6 February 2009.
Contrary to some spurious reporting, this was not an “honour killing”, a barbaric practice that has its own unique motivations and historical culture, rather it personifies the all too common phenomenon of domestic abuse. Asma Firfirey, the sister of the deceased, stated Aasiya suffered last year from injuries that required nearly $3,000 of medical bills – allegedly the result of spousal abuse. . . .
This horrific tale is one example from the epidemic of violence against women that has been intentionally ignored by all communities – not just Muslim and Pakistani. For example, in the United States, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44.
Sadly, despite the universality of the problem, the antiquated tropes of “the savage Muslim” have emerged to crudely tar all Muslims and South Asians with the same brush.
Kneejerk reactions like this ignore the millions of Muslim, Pakistani and immigrant couples who share the same joys and burdens of marriage like any other, yet never resort to violence, abuse or murder.
The whole piece is well worth reading, and reacting to, and remembering. Next, here is an excerpt from a press release entitled American Muslims Call for Swift Action Against Domestic Violence: Read the rest of this entry »
September 30, 2008
To those marking Rosh Hashanah today, may your new year be sweet and full of joys!
January 15, 2008
Not much more to say than that:
“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”
December 17, 2007
A couple of weeks ago, this video was going around the web:
A brief synopsis is that a group of 700 Club-approved evangelicals believe that I-35 is the highway mentioned in Isaiah, and are using it as a focal point in the fight to increase the overall “holiness” of the United States. The idea bothered me in general. You have seventeen 24-hour prayer rooms set up; might that energy better spent, say, oh, I don’t know, helping the poor? Visiting sick people in hospitals?
Then came the part that bothered me most: At about the 2-minute mark in the video we’re told of one particular “purity siege” in Dallas, at which a young man named James Stabile was converted. The voice-over in the video says that Stabile “felt God moving in him then, saving him and taking away his homosexuality.” Two things struck me as problematic in this section: first, I’m sure it’s possible that Stabile was bar-hopping without a shirt on, but the fact that he wasn’t wearing a shirt in the video footage of his conversion made me suspect that what happened was not actually as simple as Stabile and the voice-over suggest (Stabile walks by, pastor asks if he’s ever felt the spirit, Stabile says no but expresses curiosity, pastor touches him & says fire, Stabile feels the spirit). Second, this kid is 19 years old (i.e. barely an adult), barhopping specifically to get drunk and probably is either currently or has a history of doing recreational drugs (he refers to tripping on acid as if he knows what that’s like, though it’s possible he was coached to do so in order to make it sound like he was even more “fallen”), identifying as homosexual in spite of a reference to a fiancée (who is presumably a woman given that this is in Texas) — in short, even without knowing more about him, he strikes me as an easy and obvious target for evangelicals, or indeed for any group looking to recruit members by promising them The Answers.
December 10, 2007
This story (hat tip to Pharyngula) caught my eye, because its setting is a town in which I used to live. It’s kind of a messy issue: the town allows any religious group (perhaps any group, period?) to place, with a permit, a display relating to their winter holiday of choice on the town green. Here’s what happened this year:
Town officials issued a permit to the [Connecticut Valley Atheists] to place the sign in the park, effective Dec. 1, to mark the winter solstice. They also issued permits to a group of churches that plan to place a creche in the park, and to a local synagogue, which applied to place a menorah there. The atheists have been the only ones to show up so far.
The atheists’ display is three-sided, and on one of the sides there’s an image of the Twin Towers with the words Imagine No Religion. Read the rest of this entry »