Archive for the “Religion” Category

Posts concerned specifically with religion

Has the Discovery Channel become the Religion Channel?

Tonight I saw listed as airing on Discovery Channel a show called Noah’s Ark: The True Story. Folks, there is absolutely nothing “true” about Noah’s Ark. There never was a global flood, there was no ark that contained two of every species on earth, humanity was not saved and preserved by 8 people led by the righteous Noah. It never happened. Nothing about the story is true. Not one speck. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nichts. Nijako.

Of course, the Hebrew scribes who wrote about “Noah” in the 6th or 5th century BCE did not really make the story up, as might be claimed given the story’s ahistorical nature. They actually had a source, that being a story that had been told in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) for perhaps millennia already. The best-attested prior version of this story is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh; we know it from 7th century BCE tablets which in turn were based on legends dating back as far as the 14th century BCE, and were written in Akkadian, the language of Babylon (once ruled by the famous Hammurabi). The flood tale in Gilgamesh is a story-within-a-story, told by the man who survived the flood, named Utnapishtim. But even the ancient Babylonians didn’t make up their flood story … they, too, had a source, which we know from a few fragments in the Sumerian language, as well as mentions of the tale from Greek authors who heard it in classical times. Its hero is Ziusudra, priest-king of the city of Shuruppak.

Nothing about the Noah-Flood story as found in Genesis is a “historical” record. It was, rather, a very old legend even in the Hebrews’ time, which their priesthood used for its metaphorical value — and we have every reason to suppose that previous versions of the story, as told among the Babylonians and Sumerians before them, also had been used for its metaphorical value.

Humanity desperately needs to get over its compulsion to confuse these morality-tales with actual history — because they are not history, they never were intended to be history, and they never will become history, no matter how ardently anyone looks for the Ark. It’s a story, nothing more. Just a story.

We certainly do not need the Discovery Channel — known for its science content, including the excellent show Mythbusters — to provide us with documentaries pretending to tell us “the True Story” about something that never fucking happened!

If you wish to believe that Noah existed, that YHVH saved him and his family from ruin; that he, his wife, his sons, and all their wives gathered aboard an ark, along with two of every animal on earth; and together they all survived a global flood lasting 40 days — well, you go right ahead. Just don’t expect me to accept it as true, and for cryin’ out loud, stop telling everyone else that they should, too, just because you do! Your belief, no matter how deep or sincere, does not equate with veracity. It just doesn’t.

And we sure as hell don’t need television channels usually dedicated to scientific content, to be peddling religion, of all things!

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Things were looking pretty dark for the Anglican Church (known here in the ’States as the Episcopal Church) after the elevation of the openly-gay Gene Robinson to Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 (he took office in 2004). A number of congregations have left the Anglican Union over this, including one not far from me here in Connecticut, about a year ago. Fortunately, aside from some rogue priests, congregations, and (in the Third World) even a couple of bishops, the Anglican Union managed to stay together.

But recently the Anglican church made yet another controversial decision that might cause even more departures:

The Church of England’s move to accept women bishops further roiled an already troubled Anglican communion Tuesday, infuriating conservatives and complicating efforts to promote unity with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church of England’s ruling body on Monday night voted to back women becoming bishops without giving traditionalist supporters of male-only bishops the concessions they had sought.

Yes, folks, that’s right, the Anglican Union — which has ordained women as priests for some years now — is still having trouble with the idea that men and women are equal.

Or should I say, a conservative wing of the Anglican Union is having difficulty with the concept. This conservative wing, along with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as some Protestant denominations, are still afflicted with Neanderthal thinking about women.

In reality there is no clear, logical, rational basis for not allowing women to be ordained, to whatever office. There is nothing about one gender or the other that makes one better as clergy, or precludes being clergy.

As for why and how the Roman Catholic Church believes it has any authority to tell the Anglican Church what it can or cannot do, your guess is as good as mine.

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I blogged earlier about Texans who want to proselytize to public-school kids in science classrooms, cloaking their religiosity behind a (false) veil of science. Well, the battle is heating up:

A former state science curriculum director on Wednesday sued the Texas Education Agency and Education Commissioner Robert Scott, alleging she was illegally fired for forwarding an e-mail about a lecture critical of the movement to promote intelligent design in science classes.

Christina Comer, who lost her job at the TEA last fall, said in a suit filed in federal court in Austin that she was terminated for contravening an “unconstitutional” policy at the agency. The policy required employees to be neutral on the subject of creationism — the biblical interpretation of the origin of humans, she said.

The policy was in force, according to the suit, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal.

“The agency’s ‘neutrality’ policy has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion, and thus violates the Establishment Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit said.

Hopefully this lawsuit will rein in the avalanche of hyperreligiosity which is rapidly overtaking Texas … you know, the state where it’s now lawful to hurt people so long as you do it for “religious” reasons. Then again, this is Texas we’re talking about, arguably “the Buckle of the Bible Belt” (or should I call it, as they do, “the Bobble Bay-Elt”? Dis is da state where we dun go bah what ahr preacherman dun tol’ us ’cause he’s in touch widda Lorduh! Hal-lay-loo-yah ’n’ puh-rayz Gawduh!

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The New York Times recently reported on the mild controversy surrounding a tablet (known as “Gabriel’s Revelation”) containing Hebrew text from the pre-Christian period which suggests the Jesus story had an earlier Judaic ancestor. While I’m certainly amenable to the idea that the messianic story of Jesus was not original to the gospels — there are, after all, antecedents to gospel events in Hellenistic literature and tradition going back centuries — I hesitate to place too much faith in this discovery. The reason for my reservations and skepticism (aside from being a generally-skeptical person in the first place!) can be found here:

[The “Gabriel’s Revelation” tablet] was found about a decade ago and bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home.

In archaeology, one must be wary of objects whose origins are not documented. We do not know where this tablet was when it was found, its position, location, what was found with it, or anything else. It was hanging around in a collector’s home for an unknown amount of time, as well, which means its patina (the coating of dust, corrosion, debris, etc. which generally collects on ancient objects) may have been compromised, as well.

Therefore I urge a great deal of caution when it comes to claiming that “Gabriel’s Revelation” is “proof” of anything about Christianity’s origins. Until we know more about this tablet we cannot take it at face value.

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Britain’s highest jurist believes Islamic law, known as Shari’a, should be allowed in the UK:

The most senior judge in England tonight gave his blessing to the use of sharia law to resolve disputes among Muslims.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips said that Islamic legal principles could be employed to deal with family and marital arguments and to regulate finance.

He declared: ‘It is possible in this country for those who are entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall be governed by a law other than English law.’

This is truly a bizarre pronouncement, on many levels. First, the idea that people can enter into a contract which operates according to some other law than the prevailing law of the land, is freakish and nonsensical … this means that, basically, any two people can enter into any kind of agreement they want, based on anything they want to base it on; they could even agree to violate the prevailing law of the land, but so long as it’s acceptable in terms of their own personal law (whatever that might be), it’s enforeable!

Second, under shari’a women have virtually no rights; they cannot initiate a divorce, for example, even if they are being abused, and they count as only one-half of a person as eyewitnesses in shari’a courts — which means essentially that a crime against a lone woman cannot ever be prosecuted under shari’a (since there has to be at least one whole person as a witness to the crime).

Third, if one can pick and choose from law codes under which to conduct one’s affairs, how will anyone ever be held accountable for anything? If I enter into a contract with a British Muslim and we have a dispute over it, would he be able to force me into a shari’a court rather than a civil British court? Who would have that power, and under whose law would the question be resolved?

That a judge who came from the noble tradition of British law — the ancestor of the law of the United States, Canada and every other Commonwealth nation — could possibly come out with something like this, is truly horrifying. Lord Phillips’s pronouncement betrays the rule of law which has served much of the western world so well for the last several centuries. It’s unfathomable!

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As has happened a number of times this campaign season, the Left is openly appealing to religiosity. I suppose this is inevitable, since the vast majority of Americans are religious. But Barack Obama today went far beyond what’s usual for the Left, treading overtly into Religious Right™ territory:

Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush’s program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support some ability to hire and fire based on faith. …

Obama does not support requiring religious tests for recipients of aid nor using federal money to proselytize, according to a campaign fact sheet. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxypayer funded portions of their activities, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy. …

Obama proposes to elevate the program to a “moral center” of his administration, by renaming it the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and changing training from occasional huge conferences to empowering larger religious charities to mentor smaller ones in their communities.

Senator Obama is being purposely naïve if he thinks religious charities are going to segregate their money and maintain separate operations in order to comply with this. He’s also wrong if he thinks they will never use their status as hired social-service operators for the government, in order to proselytize — of course they will! They can hardly avoid doing so!

And the idea that renaming this agency can prevent abuses of this kind, is beyond stupid! Names don’t matter, money does. And once these religious outfits start scooping up government cash, the name of the agency that’s paying them won’t matter one bit.

What this country needs less of, not more of, is religion gaining authority over people via governmental relationships. While I do not object per se to religious groups contracting with the government to perform services (just like any other entity), the fact is that I do not trust them to do so in a way that does not end up propagating the religion — and that is precisely what the First Amendment “establishment clause” forbids.

If Obama really wants to “change” the country, he will need to jettison the appeals to religiosity of the Religious Right™, and actually engage in different political behavior than what we’ve been getting.

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Earlier I blogged about what I suspected to be an effort, in Texas anyway, to establish “religious exceptions” to child-abuse laws. Sadly, it turns out not to have been paranoid “slippery-slope” thinking, after all. The Texas Supreme Court has, in fact, ruled that there is indeed a right to harm others in the course of religious practices (WebCite cached article):

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters.

The Court’s logic is bizarre:

Justice David Medina wrote that finding the church liable “would have an unconstitutional ‘chilling effect’ by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs.”

Yes folks, this Texas justice actually believes it’s wrong to expect that religious folk shouldn’t harm others! This principle boggles the mind, and leads to all sorts of horrible results … what if my religion calls upon me to kill heretics? Do I then have permission to do so? According to Justice Medina, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” A sure defense to any crime in Texas would be, “My religion told me to do it!” and they would have to let you go.

Way to go, Texans, just add to the pile of reasons I should never set foot in your state.

At any rate, my earlier supposition is vindicated, and things are every bit as bad as I’d feared.

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