Archive for September, 2010

I’m beginning to feel like Alice…


…what with this Mad Tea Party thing going on.  Mad Glenn Beck is the obvious choice for the Hatter (Hater?) and maddening Sarah Palin is the March Hare. But who’s the Dormouse?

I know – that’s the American public, most of whom are sound asleep while these shenanigans are taking place.  It’s getting curioser and curioser

`I don’t know what you mean by “patriotism,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

`But “patriotism” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `who is to be master – – that’s all.’


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Glen Beck’s 9 principles and 12 values: decoded

I wandered over to Glenn Beck’s website and found that its name (“The 9.12 Project –We the People Demand Answers”) is a clever reference to not only   the day after 9/11 but also about the 9 principles and 12 values he deems necessary for America to return to its past glory days.

I don’t know why but for some reason this list seemed a little  fishy, especially when read in the light of recent  words and actions coming from the Right. Fortunately for me I still had my old Ovaltine decoder and was able to decipher the real meaning behind Beck’s stated principles and values.  Here goes:

Glenn Beck’s 9 Principles and 12 Values for restoring American

The 9 Principles

1. America Is Good. (and what’s good for America is good for the world)
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life. (Not just God, but specifically, Jesus. But his teaching is optional, in fact it can be counter-productive)
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday. (Unless it helps the higher cause, which is, obviously, the one I am championing)
4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government. (Unless we are gay. Otherwise, spare the rod, spoil the child. And If we want to deprive our children of a proper education that’s our right as well.)
5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it. (Unless the justices are Clinton and Obama appointees. Oh, and corporate America can make its own laws, because what’s good for business is good for America and what’s good for America…)
6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results. (Especially when some people are born more privileged than others. Get over it and put a good shine on those shoes, boy.)
7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable. (We don’t like welfare but military spending and corporate tax subsidies are cool, especially if we can itemize deductions)
8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion. (But it is un-American for you to disagree with us. Just wait until we become authority.)
9 The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me. (Until WE become the government then everyone will answer to ME.)

The 12 Values

* Honesty (unless it helps the cause, then the bigger the false rumor, the better)

* Reverence (but only for the Christian god – we don’t really mean that Judeo part, but they still run all the banks)

* Hope (that WASPS will take back the power)

* Thrift (except for those who make buckets of money on television and on the lecture circuit)

* Humility (can’t even touch that one)

* Charity (for the people we like)

* Sincerity (see? I’m crying, can’t you see my pain?)

* Moderation (outside of Right Wing speech)

* Hard Work (to support our cause -you call what I’m doing work?)

* Courage (to recognize that everyone is against us and we must organize to survive)

* Personal Responsibility (outside of admitting the rumors we’ve spread were false)

* Gratitude (for the unfortunate chain of events that has led me to fame, fortune and…dare I say it?…power )

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Let’s be honest: the proposed Quran burning is no longer about free speech, if it ever was.

I think that most people, most of the time, are pretty reasonable. That’s why they tend not to get all excited about what those other people, the unreasonable ones, are saying. Because these kooks are usually just doing a lot of talking and not much walking. A lot of posing but no closing.

Most of history’s political tragedies started out as a lot of hot air blowing in from the fringe. The tendency of the majority is to wait and see; things will just blow over. The crackpots will come to their senses when they realize they are being ignored.

But the current pack of crackpots aren’t dispersing in the wind, they are growing larger and stronger. And their rhetoric is about as bigoted and hateful as one ever hears. Not from their leaders per se – they are much too politically astute to really speak their minds. But their followers are not compelled towards any such moderation, and yet their leaders never chastise them or redirect them towards a more polite line of debate. Where, for instance, is the Christian Right Wing’s voice condemning this planned book burning in Florida? They may not be openly lauding them, but their followers certainly are. The tip of the iceberg merely hints at the danger below.

I normally don’t like to give these folks too much attention, but If you haven’t had the pleasure of the uncensored vitriol of today’s Islamophobes, then I suggest you check out the comments thread on this article posted on Atlas Shrugs. The author, Pamela Geller, takes the President to task for restricting the speech of the gun-toting pastor and his little church down in Florida.

Of course, all Obama did was strongly urge the ‘church’ to change their plans, as it will likely spark a powder keg of violence. It’s not like he ordered them to cease and desist, or threaten any of the church members with prosecution. But he might.

Taking lead of past chief executives, from Adams to the last Bush, if the president is convinced that someone’s actions pose a significant risk to the security of Americans then he could, and most likely should, take action. The broad, open-ended mandate given the president by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 may even make it easier for him.

But whatever your opinion on this is, it is impossible to justify the kind of rhetoric found on websites like Atlas Shrugs. It is not reasoned. It is not thoughtful. It’s not even, strictly speaking, political. It is no different than the types of words that bigots have used for years. Though I am hesitant to say it; it is nothing more than ‘hate speech’. As repugnant as these words are, I do believe that they have every right to use them. They are protected by the Constitution.

But this is a right that the vast majority of the world’s population does not enjoy. Most of the Muslims who are visibly angry over the proposed book burning do not understand why it is that our government, if it is serious about forging friendships with them, won’t just order the Dove Outreach Center to cancel their plans. They certainly don’t understand why our leaders can’t do this.

So then the burning question is this: is this ‘church’, by destroying these Qurans, attempting to engage in free political speech (the speech the nation’s founders were thinking of) or are they now deliberately inciting people to riot?

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The best way to burn your Quran (and your Bible)

What with all this sacred book burning going on, I got to wondering: What burns better? The Bible or the Quran? So with the help of Google I did a little web sleuthing.

And found out nothing. No one seems to know which of these books will burn the fastest, the longest, the hottest or the brightest. For the sake of scientific purposes, I hope these religious whack-jobs will film the burnings, for later comparative purposes. Maybe keep the ashes for electron scanning, see if there is any residue of the supernatural left.

I did find this out: apparently both the Bible and the Quran can provide you with a lifetime of satisfactory rolling papers. There are dozens of stoners on the web who will attest to this. Now, if someone is compelled to burn a sacred book, that’s the right way to go about it. Might take the edge off of all that anger, dude. (But…no matter what grade of weed you use, you just can’t get high smoking the Book of Mormon)

Another thing I learned: it is a sin to read the Bible or the Quran in the bathroom. Just as I figured. (Now I’ll never get to finish Leviticus)

All kidding aside, I do not think that these book burnings, of  either the Quran or the Bible, should be taken lightly. But it is obvious that many religious people, particularly fundamentalists. place way too much importance in the physical presence of their sacred texts. Take the absurd hoopla over Senator Ellison, a Muslim, wanting to be sworn into office with his hand on a Quran instead of a Bible? Why would anyone expect a Muslim to swear an oath on a book that is not the Quran? For that matter, how ridiculous is it for anyone to swear on the Bible – does it have some sort of ju-ju that ensures honesty? If someone lies while doing so with the earth open up and swallow him?

Typically book burnings are not purely symbolic, as these current incidents are meant to be. When the early church ‘fathers’ (or the Reformers or the Nazis) burned books it was to destroy all the reading material dangerous to their causes.  Not what is happening in the Carolinas, Florida or Afghanistan. (Which is also why book burnings can never be more than symbolic, with TV, radio and especially the Internet replacing the printed media as the primary vessel of ideas)

These book burning are big deals because the people who ‘own’ those books, Christian and Muslim Fundamentalists, allow themselves to be offended, as if the offenders were somehow actually burning Jesus or Mohammed. They have become idolaters and the books are their idols. They have allowed religious fervor to replace common sense along with, at times,  common decency.

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It’s time for Christians to declare jihad on Christian Fundamentalism

I’ve finally realized (as some have suggested here) that for years I have been dishonest.  In order to help rectify this I’ve decided to change my tag line. Though it’s always said “Sharp Iron: testing the mettle of conventional religion”, my focus has really been on questioning the validity and the intentions of Christian Fundamentalists. I never seriously wanted to take Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists to task (enough Christians were already doing that) but did so occasionally to throw the odd bone to my Fundamentalist critics.  I wanted to be perceived as being fair. But I have dropped the charade and my new tag line now reads: “testing the mettle of Christian Fundamentalism” (which if you think about it, is a much simpler task than the previous one).

Over the years my opponents often accused me of being just as intolerant as those I accused of intolerance. I no longer waste my breath trying to point out the fallacy inherent in this argument. But I am not going to pay lip service anymore to the idea that there is value, perhaps hidden, in the theology and politics of the Christian Fundamentalists. I strongly feel that Fundamentalist of all stripes are allowed, by the Constitution and just plain civility, to voice their skewed opinions but there is no reason for me to pretend that they might edify  me or anyone else.

I know this because I used to be one of them. I believed all that they believe. I was once a Right Wing Christian Fundamentalist and believed that all those outside of that particularly narrow interpretation of the faith were destined for eternal damnation, that other religions were evil, and that all people needed to convert to Christianity before they died. I shared their paranoia: that there was a great conspiracy of non-Christians (the media, the United Nations, homosexuals, Muslims, Liberals, socialists, communists, the Supreme Court, New Agers, environmentalists, feminists, secular humanists etc.) out to destroy America and the ‘true’ Church. I believed that God uniquely favored America and that only the ‘right’ Christians were his means of recovering the country from perdition. I believed that everything and all one needed to know was in the Bible. I believed that the End Times were near (or hoped that they were) and was proud of the fact that I was among those who would avoid the promised violence and suffering. I was a utopian longing for a return to a strong (and mythical) Christian Nation: a Christian Dominionist.

So, I know what they believe. I also know their character. They are not bad or evil people.  On the contrary, most of them  are good people, well-meaning yet led astray by ‘false prophets’.  Up until recently, I never took them as a serious threat to America (and consequently, the world).

But in these recent difficult times Christian Fundamentalists have developed an ever stronger voice and this voice is angry. Their words are divisive and at times violent. They leave no room for dissent. Insulting and ridiculing those who disagree with them is the order of the day. They make broad political statements that are not grounded in facts but in their theology. And they are influencing large segments of the voting population: they are putting like-minded people in office and on the bench and exerting political pressure on our leaders.

Just as I could no longer tolerate my own fundamentalism, I will no longer pretend to tolerate theirs. Because they are always controversial and frequently entertaining, the media (including bloggers like me) gives them extraordinary exposure, helping them  grab hold of the insecure populist mindset of America. They have essentially become the face of Christianity to the non-Christian world.  If we are in any way concerned about this, if we can imagine any danger from this, then we need to drop the tolerance card and confront them wherever and whenever opportunities arise.

In the same way that they demand all Muslims denounce Islamism, it’s time for  all Christians  to rigorously denounce the Fundamentalists (and their version of Islamism: Dominionism) who claim to represent our faith. We need to be intolerant of the intolerant. It’s time to declare jihad on Fundamentalist Christianity.

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Stop the spread of nature centers: They are teaching our children to be anti-American terrorists

Just kidding.  What an absurd thing for me to  say.  However, just yesterday, in Silver Spring Maryland, an act of ecco-terrorism took place.  OK, so this  guy was a lone pathetic wack-job but we have had  those wing-nuts spiking trees out in California and occasionally Greenpeace steps a little over the line.  So do we have cause to label all environmentalists potentially dangerous? Do they all belong to a violent, hateful and anti-American cause?  Should the Audubon Society, World Wildlife Foundation and the Cousteau Society condemn the actions of this lunatic who attacked the Discovery Channel?

No more so than we should expect the Muslim community to be held accountable for the actions of Islamist terrorists.  If we are afraid to allow mosques into our community because of the violent actions of a very minute element of fringe Muslim radicals, then why not the same fear of nature centers? I’ll bet James J. Lee spent some considerable time in one or two when he was a child. Is this where the seeds of violence were planted?

Of course, you can bet some loon will try seriously try  to connect the Discovery Channel incident with environmentalists at large (which would include me).  Just as you can bet that a few misanthropic ecco-nuts will applaud this poor fool’s “courageous martyrdom”.  You will find misguided people everywhere.  But the exception does not, in these cases, prove the rule.

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All this country needs is for some of those good old-time religious people to take charge

What is our purpose in life? It is to restore the fallen culture to the glory of God. It’s to take command and dominion over every aspect of life, whether it’s music, science, law, politics, communities, families, to bring Christianity to bear in every single area of life” – Charles Colson

“As soon as Jesus sits on his throne he’s gonna rule the world with a rod of iron. That means he’s gonna make the ACLU do what he wants them to. That means you’re not gonna have to ask if you can pray in public school. We will live by the law of God and no other law.”— John Hagee

“Lord, give us righteous judges who will not try to legislate and dominate this society. Take control, Lord! We ask for additional vacancies on the court.” –Pat Robertson

“We’re not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.” -Franklin Graham

“Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.” – Sarah Palin

“There are some who would accuse us of trying to Christianize America. Am I trying to Christianize America? You bet your boots I am!” – D. James Kennedy

“The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be ‘What the hell you mean we’re out of missiles?”-Glenn Beck

There is a memorable behind–the-scenes moment in one of Frank Peretti’s books where a little  demon perched on the shoulder of an addict is swirling his hand around inside the man’s skull.  (For those of you who don’t know of him, Frank Peretti writes “Christian” horror tales.  This book, if I remember correctly, was “Piercing the Darkness”. It may just as well have been called “Piercing my Eyeball” for all the pleasure I got from reading it.)

Anyway, this supernatural premise is one that many conservative Christians (Fundamentalists, Neo-Evangelicals, Moral Majoritarians, reactionary Catholics –you get the picture) do not take lightly.  There is no doubt in their minds that the minds of others, especially those who suffer from mental and emotional disorders, are in demonic clutches.  Many of these Christians consider psychologists and psychiatrists to be quacks, or even worse, in the employ of Satan (though perhaps unconsciously). People with chronic depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, OCD –  these people  don’t need medical attention, and they certainly don’t need any drugs. All they need is to turn to Jesus. Or maybe endure a good exorcism. (In their contempt for the psychiatric profession they have a lot in common with Scientologists).

The funny (and sad) thing is that most of these people are not complete idiots.  I know, because I was once one of them, and I am no idiot. (depending on who you ask)  Now, I didn’t completely right-off the mental health profession. But I didn’t put much stock in mental health practitioners, unless he or she was an overt Christian.  Because if therapists didn’t believe that Satan could mess with people’s minds, then it was tantamount to them working for Satan.  There was really no hope for healing.  I guess a Jewish doctor who believed in Satan would be OK except that he would not recognize the healing power of Jesus.  So, no, it would have to be a Christian and a neo-Evangelical, God fearing, born-again Christian to boot. And this is a wide spread conviction among Christian fundamentalists.

Nowadays a belief in Satan would immediately disqualify that professional from my consideration. I couldn’t care less if my mechanic or my post-man or my butcher believed in Satan or Santa. But when it comes to helping people deal with issues that challenge their sanity, well, I just don’t think the supernatural is something worth pursuing.  At least not at $150 an hour.

What I am trying to get at here is that there are quite a lot of Americans (some estimates say around 100 million) who believe that Old Scratch is a legitimate threat to our personal, local and national security.  Heck, our last president thought this way.  Right now there is a lot of angry talk going around about how Muslim people actually belong to a satanic religion and that the Prophet was under satanic influence.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty scary. Not the idea that Islam is satanic – that’s not scary, it’s just plain ignorant. No, what’s scary is that maybe over 100 million Americans have their heads in the Dark Ages. Quite a few readily say that most non-Christians are doing Satan’s work and all are destined for hell. That the world’s problems won’t be solved until America’s problems are solved which won’t happen until America is a Christian nation run by Christians. My God, what if they ever organized?

Which is what they have been, for the last 40 years or so. Though you won’t hear them say it officially, the Christian Right has dominionism on their minds.  Dominionism according to Wikipedia, is:

the tendency among some conservative politically-active Christians, especially in the United States, to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action. The goal is either a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.

I don’t think the leaders of the Christian Right would disagree too much with that assessment. And I guess that if you are a conservative Christian you probably don’t have much of a problem with it. But, as a fairly moderate man who struggles with keeping the teachings of Jesus close to heart ( I am hesitant to call myself a “Christian” these days) I am, frankly, fairly frightened. I can’t imagine what a Hindu or a Buddhist or (particularly at this time) a Muslim, thinks of this. (Though I have spoken with some Muslims and they don’t appear to be too worried) Apparently a lot of Jews are willing to overlook the rhetoric of the Christian Right as long as they continue to fervently support Israel.  I guess they, like so many others, don’t take them too seriously. And that’s a mistake.

Considering their stated goals and their political successes (they helped elect a lot of governors and a lot of people to Congress and the last administration was very much under their influence) I think they need to be taken very seriously.  Though they only crow about it to the choir inside churches and those listening to their radio and TV programs, their ultimate agenda is for all elected officials be fundamentalist Christians, all government policies be based upon Biblical law and that eventually all citizens convert to Christianity. Which would mean only Christians would be capable of effective leadership, or even citizenship.  Now, what is that starting to sound like?

Before you think I’m crazy remember that not too long ago I used to be in their camp. And if that’s not enough, go check out their websites:  the American Family Association, Focus on the FamilyCoral Ridge MinistriesAnswers In Genesis, Center for Moral Clarity, Christian Broadcasting Network, John Hagee Ministeries etc.  And follow the links on these sites; you might be surprised what you find there.  Of course most of what you find will sound relatively harmless, maybe even noble.  I mean, what’s wrong with family values?  Patriotism is a good thing, usually.  And it’s kind of hard to object to the Gospel of Jesus. .

So there’s nothing to worry about, right? This is America, after all.  Couldn’t happen here. Well, the Tea Party is growing stronger and some influential people are actually talking about a possible  Beck/Palin presidential bid (in recent Gallup polls Beck was the fourth most admired man alive, right below Nelson Mandela and just above the Pope, while Palin was the number one Republican presidential contender)  So interesting things could happen. We might be surprised. Perhaps unpleasantly.

An old Baptist  preacher once warned me about  ‘false teachings’:  “Remember, rat poison is 95% sugar. It’s the other 5% that’ll kill ya.”

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