Jesus weptWhen I heard Bill O’Reilly, Fox News’s screaming, tantrum-throwing prime-time gadlfy, was writing a book about the life and death of Jesus Christ, I groaned inside. Lots of people over the years have attempted to write about the historicity of Jesus, so it’s not as though the topic has never been handled. I’ve read a lot of those books, and most of them are poor attempts at historiography. Based upon reviews of Billy’s book I’ve seen, by scholars like Candida Moss, the Fox News host’s effort is no exception.

O’Reilly’s contention is that Jesus was killed, because … <drumroll please> … he objected to Roman taxation.

That’s right, folks. Billy-boy’s Jesus was a first-century tax protester, ergo he was killed.

Think about that for a moment. Just stop, and think about it. For a moment.

There’s a very simple and very obvious problem with this claim. It shouldn’t take most Americans long to come up with it.

Go ahead. Stop. Think. I’m sure it will come to you.

In case you haven’t got it by now, I’ll explain: According to the gospels (well, three of them anyway!), Jesus was clearly, explicitly, and specifically not a tax protester! Allow me to quote from the Billster’s own Catholic Bible:

Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away. (Mt 22:15-22)

They sent some Pharisees and Herodians to him to ensnare him in his speech. They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?” Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” They brought one to him and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They replied to him, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’ They were utterly amazed at him. (Mk 12:13-17)

They watched him closely and sent agents pretending to be righteous who were to trap him in speech, in order to hand him over to the authority and power of the governor. They posed this question to him, “Teacher, we know that what you say and teach is correct, and you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful for us to pay tribute to Caesar or not?” Recognizing their craftiness he said to them, “Show me a denarius; whose image and name does it bear?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” So he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were unable to trap him by something he might say before the people, and so amazed were they at his reply that they fell silent. (Lk 20:20-26)

Given that Jesus was reported by three gospels to have said this, how can anyone rationally conclude that Jesus objected to the Romans’ taxation? Clearly, he did not! The Billster’s effort to turn Jesus Christ into a classical-era prototype teabagger is laughable, transparent, absurd, and — perhaps most importantly — directly contradicts what Christian legend tells us about Jesus.

Before anyone asks … no, I haven’t read O’Reilly’s book. And no, I have no plans ever to read it. (The same goes for Reza Aslan’s book that I blogged about back in July.) I’ve long since soured on books that claim to dig into the life of Jesus as a historical topic. Almost invariably those books have nothing to do with “history”; truthfully, most of their authors are not interested in “history” in the first place. All they’re doing is selling their own ideas about Jesus by cloaking them behind the claim of being “historical.” Unfortunately, the actual historicity of Jesus is more elusive than most people, including scholars, will admit. Barring some kind of discovery that sheds new light on the matter, that’s the way it’s going to stay. Centuries of Christian legends, history revision, myth-making, and trampling of the historical record, have made sure of it.

P.S. If you really feel the need to read about books that examine the historicity of Jesus, I suggest starting at the beginning of that contemporary effort, and read The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer (yes, that Albert Schweitzer, the famous philanthropist-physician … he’d been an accomplished theologian before embarking on a career in medicine). Although I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, nor do most other scholars, his book got the ball rolling, and that alone makes it seminal. For a more recent work on the subject, I suggest Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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St Paul Cathedral 2012Once again, the R.C. Church comports itself as it always has, with regard to allegations of child abuse against its clergy. They repeatedly delay, deny, and obfuscate, often to the point of absurdity (as when lawyers for the archdiocese of Hartford actually argued in open court that the minor victims of a priest “liked it,” so no crime was committed, in direct contradiction of the law). They’ve been playing this game so long, it’s become a habit for them … one they refuse to break. Even when direct, unassailable evidence is slammed down in front of them.

The latest example is reported by the (MN) Star Tribune, and involves an archdiocesan official who was forced to quit (WebCite cached article):

A top lieutenant of Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned suddenly Thursday, saying his departure was necessary following an explosive court development that suggested the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis may have covered up a priest’s possession of child pornography.

The Rev. Peter Laird had served as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese, making him junior only to Nienstedt in the hierarchy.

His resignation came shortly after allegations emerged in a St. Paul court that church officials knew a priest had been in possession of child pornography but continued to assign him to parish duties that brought him into contact with children. The allegations were contained in a St. Paul police report made public Thursday in Ramsey County District Court.

What happened here is hard to discern, and the story takes a couple of turns. But the bottom line is, the archdiocese destroyed a computer that might have held evidence of child pornography. What was available to police, by the time they investigated, were some “discs” (I have no idea if these were hard drives, or optical media such as CDs or DVDs); the computers in question had, by the archdiocese’s own admission, been “destroyed.”

Police chose to do nothing about this destruction of evidence; I can only assume this is because, as in so many other places, they simply deferred to the Church, because it’s the Church, after all. If you or I, Dear Reader, had dared destroy a computer belonging to a suspected child-porn collector, we’d have been thrown in jail, for sure. But the normal rules, you see, just don’t apply to God’s Holy Church. Archdiocesan officials are free to get away with crap like that.

In any event, the archdiocese denies Laird’s resignation had anything to do with this revelation (cached). Riiiiiight. As though anyone could possibly be stupid enough to believe that. What idiot truly believes the archdiocese when it says Laird’s resignation, immediately after this revelation, was merely a coincidence?

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Torches and pitchforks (from 1931 Frankenstein) / Courtesy of Word SpyNot just one, but two very outspoken representatives of “the Religion of Love” have overtly called for revolution and/or a coup d’etat against the United States President. In the first example, as the Raw Story reports based on Right Wing Watch, a televangelist requested a military coup (locally-cached article):

A Christian TV host this week called on God to consider a “military takeover” of President Barack Obama’s government because it could be the only way to save the country from tyranny.

On his Monday Internet broadcast, Morning Star TV’s Rick Joyner predicted that democracy was “doomed” unless the Lord imposed martial law.

“The balance of powers in the legislative and judicial branches were supposed to balance and keep in check, hold in check, the potential tyranny from the executive branch overstepping their bounds,” Joyner explained. “The people are not always right, it depends on what people they are. And another thing the founders warned about is this thing will only work for a moral and a religious people. You remove morality, you remove the religious influence, and it cannot work.”

“We’re headed for serious tyranny, a terrible tyranny right now,” he continued. “But guess what? The kingdom is coming, the Kingdom of God is coming. And America is not the Kingdom of God. I think we have been used in some wonderful and powerful ways by God, we’ve been one of the most generous nations in history. We’ve done so much good.”

Right Wing Watch had provided video of this creep calling for tyranny to be imposed in the name of ending tyranny, but Morning Star saw fit to have it taken down. Hopefully it’ll be restored, and if it is, I’ll put it right here for you.

Update: Here you are! Enjoy it while it lasts:

In the second example, another Christofascist, Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch, has announced the date of the coming revolution against the President (locally-cached article):

On November 19, 2013, a day that will hopefully live on in the history of our once great republic, I call upon millions of Americans who have been appalled and disgusted by Obama’s criminality — his Muslim, socialist, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-white, pro-illegal immigrant, pro-radical gay and lesbian agenda — among other outrages, to descend on Washington, D.C., en masse, and demand that he leave town and resign from office if he does not want to face prison time.

His laughable, juvenile screed is one of the most ridiculous collections of insipid whining and outright lies I’ve ever seen — including calling the Obama administration a “reign of terror,” and pronouncing him guilty of some crime based upon a putative indictment by a supposed “citizen grand jury.” (Sounds a lot like pseudolaw to me.)

These shining examples of Christian “love” would be hilarious, if not for the fact that there are lots of people in the country, i.e. the Religious Right, who agree with these guys. Millions of them. If that doesn’t frighten you, you’re not paying attention.

Photo credit: Word Spy.

Hat tip: First: Rick Alan Ross, via Twitter; second: Right Wing Watch.

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Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statueI’ve blogged previously about the foibles of journalism and the mass media. Mostly I’ve complained that they take things like pseudoscience and pseudomedicine too seriously; follow a “duellistic” approach to reporting (i.e. telling two opposing, and usually wrong, sides of something, expecting the truth will magically pop out of them — somehow); think regurgitating press releases actually helps readers understand things; and treat anyone with a book to sell or documentary to promote like a credentialed expert on a topic, even if they’ve got their heads up their asses.

Most of these horrible trends have come about because of the long decline of journalism in the advent of the Internet; it’s hard for them to make money in an era where most news is free to anyone with an Internet-connected device (which have become ubiquitous). This means newsrooms have very little staff any more, and those who remain in them have little time for serious investigation of anything. Everyone connected with the media have offered endless excuses for this, but the bottom line is, journalism is now pretty fucking bad and only getting worse.

But lo! Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, CT has got it all figured out. The problem, he claims, is not with the economics of journalism in the World Wide Web age, but rather, because there are too many single-parent households (locally-cached article):

Even in a supposedly prosperous and well-educated state like Connecticut, how strong can demand for those things be now that half the children are being raised without two parents at home and thus acquiring developmental handicaps; 70 percent of community college and state university freshmen have not mastered what used to be considered basic high school skills; poverty has risen steadily even as government appropriations in the name of remediating poverty have risen steadily; and democracy has sunk so much that half the eligible population isn’t voting in presidential elections, 65 percent isn’t voting in state elections, and 85 percent isn’t voting in municipal elections?

This social disintegration and decline in civic engagement coincide with the decline of traditional journalism just as much as the rise of the Internet does.

If you thought Powell blaming the demise of journalism on the existence of single-parent households, and accusing single parents of giving their children “developmental handicaps” isn’t bad enough, hold on to your seats, because he digs in even harder and insults single-parent households even more:

Indeed, newspapers still can sell themselves to traditional households — two-parent families involved with their children, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and such. But newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they’re living in, and couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read. And such households constitute a rising share of the population.

This is such a vile verbal assault, I hardly know where to begin critiquing it. I’m truly astonished that anyone in 21st century Connecticut can be saying that single mothers all live on welfare, are illiterate, move often in order “to cheat their landlords,” are ignorant of their whereabouts, and can’t afford newspapers. Where did he get these ideas? I suspect he would answer that by saying he knows of a single mother or two that have done these things, which (in the cavernous, echoing void which is his brain) constitutes irrefutable “proof” that all of them are like that. His complaint is probably more appropriate to the 1980s and early 90s, before welfare reform, because welfare benefits have an expiration date, now; no one can viably “live on” them. I wonder if he’d planned to mention Ronald Reagan’s legendary “welfare queen” but, for some reason, left it out.

I know folks raised by single mothers who are very educated (including several who’ve graduated from college, one a CPA, another a lawyer even), very literate, and who read and buy newspapers. So I can’t really imagine what Mr Powell’s problem is with these folks.

Moreover, Powell’s historiography is off. Single-parent households have been on a long rise since the 50s, yet the decline of journalism was more precipitous, and didn’t begin until the late 90s and early 00s. That alone shows he’s blaming the wrong bogeyman.

I suggest that, instead of childishly and petulantly railing against and outright insulting single mothers and their children, Mr Powell should grow the hell up, pull on his “big boy” pants, and actually work as the managing editor of his paper. It may be difficult to do, and I imagine he’d much rather blame his industry’s problems on someone or something else … but too fucking bad. It’s his job. He picked it. He needs to fucking do it … or resign.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Hypervocal.

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Pope John Paul II at Madame Tussaud's in New YorkThe canonization of Pope John Paul II has zoomed along at record speed. He was formally beatified in 2011, a mere — and record-setting — six years after his death. It’s a campaign begun by his successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Just this past summer, a second miracle attributed to him was approved by the current Pope Francis; at that point, John Paul’s canonization was virtually a “done deal.” As CBS News reports, he will be canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2014, along with the reformer Pope John XXIII (WebCite cached article):

Two of the most-loved leaders of the Catholic Church, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, will be raised to sainthood together in a joint canonization ceremony — the first such ceremony in the church’s history.

At a consistory in the Vatican, Pope Francis announced Monday that the joint canonization will be held on April 27, the day on which the Catholics celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, marking the feast day of Divine Mercy.

Not only have the rules been bent in order to speed up John Paul II’s canonization, so too have they been bent in favor of John XXIII:

Normally two miracles are required for someone to become a saint, but in a rare (though not unprecedented) break with the rules for canonization, Pope Francis waived the requirement of a second miracle for John XXIII. This means that the man who led the church from 1958 to 1963 and convened the Second Vatican Council, will be declared a saint despite having had only one official miracle attributed to his intercession.

The plan to canonize John Paul on Divine Mercy Sunday is no coincidence. This solemnity is based on the “visions” and writings of John Paul’s fellow Pole St Faustina. John Paul canonized her in 2000, and at the same time put her Divine Mercy solemnity on the Catholic calendar, the Sunday after Easter. Moreover, as it turns out, John Paul died on Divine Mercy Eve (i.e. April 2, 2005).

At any rate, that Pope Francis wants to canonize both these men on the very same day … one in exceptionally-little time (an unprecedented 9 years after his death), the other in exceptional fashion (without the required second miracle), suggests he’s sending a very intentional message. Vatican-watchers interpret it as Francis’ affirmation of the two tracks that Catholicism followed during the latter half of the 20th century: a reform effort, championed and personified by John XXIII, who’d convened II Vatican; and a reactionary effort, championed and personified by John Paul II, a fierce ecclesiastical conservative.

While this sounds reasonable on the surface, I’m forced to ask what the point of that would be? Is he trying to say he supports both enacting reforms and rolling them back? How does that make any sense? I can’t figure out what the hell the new Pope is doing.

Photo credit: mharrsch, via Flickr.

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Saudi Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaydan said driving 'could have a reverse physiological impact' on women. (Al Arabiya)Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are forbidden to drive. Even other Islamic countries, which repress women remorselessly, don’t have this sort of prohibition. Because this policy is unique, it gets a lot of attention. Recently, as al-Arabiya reported, a Saudi judicial official declared the ban is necessary because — get this! — driving injures women (WebCite cached article):

Saudi women seeking to challenge a de facto ban on driving should realize that this could affect their ovaries and pelvises, Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan, a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association, told Saudi news website sabq.org.

Driving “could have a reverse physiological impact. Physiological science and functional medicine studied this side [and found] that it automatically affects ovaries and rolls up the pelvis. This is why we find for women who continuously drive cars their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees,” Sheikh al-Luhaydan said.

Yes, you read that right. This moron seriously thinks that driving injures women! (Yes, even though riding in a car with a man driving doesn’t harm them. I guess. Somehow. I have no idea how that works, but what could a cold-hearted cynical godless agnostic heathen like myself possibly know about such things?)

I haven’t been able to locate these studies cited by al-Luhaydan, nor could anyone else (that I know of, yet). There are no medical findings — again, that I could discover — which demonstrate that any child’s disorder was definitively attributed to his/her mother driving. He offered no documentation or support of any kind for what he said. I can only conclude, therefore, that he fabricated this “scientific” claim, and is therefore a liar.

While al-Arabiya characterizes al-Luhaydan as merely “a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association,” that diminishes his authority and significance. The truth is that he’s much more powerful and influential than just being a “consultant.” He is, first of all, an Islamic cleric by profession, and in Saudi Arabia, that matters a great deal, all by itself. Moreover, he also is a member of the Ulema Commission (cached), and had been head of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Judicial Council. So he’s not merely a “consultant”: He is, in truth, an influential part of the Saudi judiciary. So, as much as some would like us to think so, it’s not possible just to dismiss this statement as being merely one man’s idiotic opinion. Al-Luhaydan carries weight in the Saudi government.

In any event, this misogynist cretin’s lie forces me to create a new “lying liars for al-Lah” club, and make him its inaugural member. I’m sure he’ll be joined by others of his ilk, who will approve of his vile hatred, howling barbarism, and outright lies.

Any Religious Rightists out there, especially of the Neocrusading sort, who read this and snicker at this kind of medieval thinking on the part of a Muslim scholar, don’t pat yourselves on your backs for being more advanced than he is. People from your own ranks have been known to lie about female physiology in order to promote their own militant religiofascism. Among them are Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin, Congressman Joe Walsh, and Congressman Trent Franks, among many others, including supporters who insisted — in spite of the facts — that they were correct. This is no time for you to get on your high horses over a Muslim cleric’s ignorance and lies. There are way too many ignoramuses and liars among your own kind, for you to get away with that!

Photo credit: Al-Arabiya English.

Hat tip: Richard Dawkins, via Twitter.

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SiegeOfAcre1291Earlier this month I blogged about some Fox News hosts who said that non-believers should leave the U.S. if they prefer not to be forced to say “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. One of them was Bob Beckel, who — as Politico reports — has since advocated that the religious freedoms of Muslims in this country be taken away (WebCite cached article):

Fox News co-host Bob Beckel went off on American Muslims on Monday, demanding that no more mosques be built until moderate Muslims “denounce” the recent mall attack in Kenya.

Islam is “not the religion of peace,” Beckel, the show’s relatively progressive co-host said. “They are the religion of Islamic [fundamentalism].”

“I will repeat what I said before: No Muslim students coming here with visas. No more mosques being built here until you stand up and denounce what’s happened in the name of your prophet,” Beckel continued.

Politico offers video of Beckel’s spew:

As I see it there are a couple of problems with Beckel’s position: First, and most importantly, it’s unconstitutional. Muslims have freedom of worship in this country, guaranteed by the First Amendment. Unless an individual Muslim, or group of them, is breaking the law, there are no grounds for preventing them from building any mosques. None. I’m sure Beckel would agree with a lot of Neocrusaders who think there is no freeedom of religion for Muslims, because (they argue) Islam is not a “religion” per se, but a “political philosophy” which (they further argue) can be banned. (Not that this distinction even matters very much, either: Political parties and organizations of all sorts are allowed to exist, and they have rights, too.)

Second, Beckel thinks “denunciations” by American Muslims will somehow do something about al-Shabab and other Islamofascist terror groups. I’m not convinced that mere words even matter much. What does matter, is action. Ultimately, it is up to Muslims to police their own religion and stamp out extremism within it. And mouthing denunciations isn’t going to do that. Even so, I’m not sure precisely what actions American Muslims can take to rein in al-Shabab. They’re half a world away and difficult to contact — it’s true they use Twitter (cached), but they keep changing their handle, so using it to reach them won’t work. Traveling there to confront them personally is difficult at best, and dangerously foolish at worst. What American Muslims can do, is to stop joining al-Shabab (cached), and not give them any money … but it goes without saying that the vast majority of American Muslims already are not doing either of those things.

So Beckel’s demand is not only unconstitutional, it’s useless. I’ll have to add him to the ranks of the unthinking, fierce Neocrusaders who actually believe that one form of irrational religionism (i.e. theirs) is superior to another (i.e. Muslims’). I’m not convinced this is the case. Rather, they’re two sides of the same coin … and therefore have no right to hurl stones (whether real or rhetorical) at each other.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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