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March 8, 2005

Cult vs. church: a proposed rule of thumb
Posted by Teresa at 12:09 PM * 444 comments

If, on appropriate occasions, the members tell, enjoy, trade, and/or devise transgressively funny jokes about their denomination, it’s a church.

If such jokes reliably meet with stifling social disapproval, it’s a cult.

Comments on Cult vs. church: a proposed rule of thumb:
#1 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 01:07 PM:

This strikes me as an appropriate opportunity to link to Isaac Bonewits's cult danger evaluation checklist.

#2 ::: Karen T. ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 01:25 PM:

In my mind, it was always about secrecy - if things happen within the confines of the "church" that you are not allowed to mention to someone who is not a part of the faith (or even not a part of the ceremony in which said thing happened), then you belong to a cult.

#3 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 01:37 PM:

Gee, in that case, Neo-Paganism isn't a cult, and hasn't been for at least 20 years, in my experience.

But, then, I'm the author of "The Charge of Ma Bell" (Also known as "The Charge of the Phone Goddess" after Ma Bell was broken up.) That was written in 1980, satirized the closest thing to sacred writing Pagans have, and has been well received ever since, to the best of my knowlege. Maybe some people think it's blasphemy, but no one gave me the message.

#4 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 01:49 PM:

Does "Anybody who doesn't believe exactly the same things we believe is going to burn in hell" denote a cult?

#5 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 01:51 PM:

Karen T.:
In my mind, it was always about secrecy - if things happen within the confines of the "church" that you are not allowed to mention to someone who is not a part of the faith (or even not a part of the ceremony in which said thing happened), then you belong to a cult.

My company must be a cult, then. In a strict sense, any publicly traded company is required by law to be a cult.

My family's a cult too, by this definition. I know things about my family that I wouldn't tell other people. Likewise for most of my friendships.

Secrets? Everybody has secrets. It's easy to be pithy about this stuff, but I don't think there's one simple standard. Of complex standards, I think that Bonewits link presents a start (but only a start). It presents guidelines about control, honesty, and identity; however, it doesn't try to define whether something's a cult. It sort of assumes everything is. The question it tries to answer is: "Relative to other cults, how dangerous is this one?"

(Teresa's razor is in there too, BTW: line 16, "Grimness.")

#6 ::: Randy D Girdner ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 02:06 PM:

Hmmm...Do you actually have to be a member to make the jokes? By that, I mean, if I'm not a member of the church, can I still make jokes about it? What about the cult? If I'm not a member of the cult and make jokes about it which are met with disapproval, does that mean I'm a member of the cult?

This seems to exclude a whole group of people like myself, who belong to nothing.

#7 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 02:17 PM:

A church is a cult that's more than fifty years old.

#8 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 02:26 PM:

I think what are lovely hostess is saying is more about what you can and can't joke about. Not secrecy in the sense of privacy, but in the sense of taboo.

For example, I know lots of Lutherans (I live in Minnesota) who know many, many Lutheran jokes, some about Martin Luther himself. It's okay to poke fun at their denomination because they are secure that they are a "real" church". I don't know any Moonies, but from what I know about the group, I doubt they can make fun of Rev. Moon.

Some religions have particular secrets that only the members are supposed to know. If they can make jokes about everything else, but not about those particular things, I'd say that's not a cult. It's the difference between an initiatory tradition, like Witchcraft, like the Mormons, like Christianity was originally, and a non-inititory tradition, like most Protestant groups

#9 ::: Tiellan ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 02:47 PM:

This seems like a good rule of thumb but there are always going to be people in any church or organization who can't stand to poke fun at themselves.

#10 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 02:52 PM:

The Christians Brother's is an Australian play that's a bit of a minor classic. One man in religious habit teaches an imaginary class of boys, and becomes increasingly vioent, absurd and pathetic. It's very funny, alarming and in the end approaches tragic; any number of the leitmotifs of Irish–Australian Catholic lore of the 50s and 60s is put on irreverent display. One of the first reviews, clearly by a non-Catholic, described it as full of anti-Catholic jokes. The writer, director and actor were all Catholic; on a special preview night the theatre (a smallish one) was filled with Christian Brothers, whose lauighter by all accounts was more wholehearted than any subsequent audience's. I saw it with a friend who, like me, had been a member of the Marist Brothers, and we came out with aching ribs. None of us thought there was anything the slightest anti-Catholic in the play. I guess I'm trying to say that by Teresa's rule of thumb, the Catholic Church is a church.

#11 ::: Lisa Nichols ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 02:58 PM:

Does "Anybody who doesn't believe exactly the same things we believe is going to burn in hell" denote a cult?

Nah, just a fundamentalist. ;)

#12 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 03:04 PM:

Tiellan: This seems like a good rule of thumb but there are always going to be people in any church or organization who can't stand to poke fun at themselves.

Of course. That's why the rule doesn't require that everyone in the group approve; only that the jokes don't meet with "stifling social disapproval."

#13 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 03:04 PM:

Every religion begins as a cult. Not every cult becomes a religion.

My understanding of the distinction (viz. theophylact's Half Century Rule) is that cults, by definition, can only grow through recruitment/conversion, while people can be born into a religion that their parents practice.

As to the Half Century Rule, there is some basis in historicolegal fact for that in the USA, based on the chronology of Mormon, Christian Science, and Scientology.

Back in the 1960s I actually met with a lawyer over the notion of founding the First Computer Church, wherein interacting with a computer is an act of worship, and thus computers should be tax exempt for parishioners. The lawyer discussed it quite learnedly, and then asked if I wanted to be paying him for the rest of my life, which is what would likely come to pass, due to the IRS alone.

Somewhere I have my 1968 draft of the Binary Bible, beginning with the Book of Genesys...

But then Bender spake it better, including that great parable in which: "The Iron shall lie down with the Lamp."

#14 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 03:23 PM:

Karen T: In my mind, it was always about secrecy - if things happen within the confines of the "church" that you are not allowed to mention to someone who is not a part of the faith (or even not a part of the ceremony in which said thing happened), then you belong to a cult.

I object to this. It may be true that "whoever doeth evil hateth the light," but it doesn't follow that whoever hateth the light doeth evil. By your formulation the early Christians in Rome were a cult - if you ratted out people as being Christians they could be killed, so they kept it secret.

In my tradition of Wicca we have a rule - in fact it's a clause of our oath - that coven confidentiality must not be broken. This is so you can't go ratting people out as Witches, and so that people who come to us for help, Wiccan or not, can do so with no fear that we'll embarrass or even endanger them by saying "Yeah, we did a spell for so-and-so."

In short, the "secrecy rule" assumes that the dominant culture or legal system (currently the Bush Administration and their lackeys) is automatically right, and that anything you don't want them to know about qualifies you as a cult.

Bad Idea, IMO. But then I'm a Cult Leader by your formulation.

I don't mean to be snippy. This is a hot button for me. No offense taken or meant; just want to point out the flaw in that particular test.

#15 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 03:25 PM:

Also,
Q: How many Witches does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None. We don't change the light bulb, we heal the old one!

A: None. Witches aren't afraid of the dark!

A (Garnerians only): I'm sorry, that's a Third Degree Mystery.

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 03:26 PM:

Argh. sb Gardnerians.

#17 ::: shana ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 03:29 PM:

This sign from the Saint Nazaire Basilica is peculiarly appropriate!

#18 ::: M. Merriam ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 03:33 PM:

As a general rule it seems that churches encourage you to go home after the service. Cults not so much.

#19 ::: JimT ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 03:35 PM:

Jonathan Vos Post:My understanding of the distinction (viz. theophylact's Half Century Rule) is that cults, by definition, can only grow through recruitment/conversion, while people can be born into a religion that their parents practice.
Hmm....so cults turn into religions the same way pidgins turn into creoles?

#20 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:09 PM:

I suppose this makes Judaism the chuchiest of churches. Rabbi Jeremiah being thrown out of the house of study, and all that.

#21 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:14 PM:

The rule-of-thumb we were taught was that cults were run by individual charismatic leaders, sects were run by the a cabal of the close companions of the deceased charismatic leader, and denominations were run by committees.

#22 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:20 PM:

I don't know where Witchcraft would be in that list - we're an anarchy!

I don't belong to an organized religion, I belong to a disorganized religion.

#23 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:25 PM:

Xopher -

How many Druids does it take to change a lightbulb? Seven, 1 to hold the bulb, and 6 to drink until the room spins.

How many Fam Trads does it take to change a light bulb? None, it was good enough for Granny so it's good enough for me.

How many Alexandrians does it take to change a light bulb? The same number as the Gardnerians.

And my favorite, how many Witches does it take to change a lightbulb? It depends on what you want it to change into.

#24 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:28 PM:

For me, the point of cult identification has always been the attempt to restrict members from interacting with non-members.

The Southern Baptist Convention distributed some rather blatant materials, aimed at the youth Sunday School classes, to that end in the early/mid-70s.

#25 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:38 PM:

This really throws a wrench in my plan to start up the First Reformed Church of the Humorless Prawn.

#26 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:45 PM:

By the above rule, can certain congregations of a church be a cult? I've been to a couple of Catholic churches (using the word here to mean the building) the congregants of which would happily have beaten me senseless for making jokes about The Church (the institution). This is not the attitude held by the majority of Catholics I've known, but it was the dominant attitude in those churches.

#27 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:53 PM:

OG, the oddity of the SBC is that the Convention itself comes very close to being cultish while individual churches do not, not necessarily. Individual churches are wholly autonomous (not that you'd necessarily know). Course most of the non-cultish ones have dropped out of the convention at this point, but that's a minor detail.

A few for your enjoyment:

Ask a two Baptists the same question, you're likely to get three answers.

Why don't Baptists have premarital sex? It might lead to dancing.

What's the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist? The Methodist will say hello to you in the liquor store.

#28 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 04:53 PM:

OG: For me, the point of cult identification has always been the attempt to restrict members from interacting with non-members. The Southern Baptist Convention distributed some rather blatant materials, aimed at the youth Sunday School classes, to that end in the early/mid-70s.

Back around that time, before my mother converted to Catholicism, she sent us kids to the Sunday School of some church that came around one afternoon and talked her into letting them pick us up in a bus. I still don't know what denomination it was, but remembering some of the lyrics to the songs they had us sing on the bus makes my hair on end. Anyway, the Sunday School teacher once asked the class, "Should you ever marry someone outside the faith?" and called on me to answer. I started to say, "Well, if you love someone, what does something like that matter?" I only got as far as "Well, if you love someone--" when she cut me off with, "Oh, you must never marry hoping they'll convert--because what if they don't?!"

This affected my view of Christianity for a long time.

#29 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 05:17 PM:

From "Craft Corner Deathmatch":

"In two days of open casting, more than 300 applicants showed up for the show's 26 spots, many of them, Ms. Honig said, were "these cool hipsters from the East Village and Williamsburg who are completely into knitting and craft things you'd never expect."

How odd. We don't know anyone like that. Nosirree.

#30 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 05:25 PM:

My Unitarian-Universalist jokes have always been heartily accepted at church, fortunately. So regardless of what various fundamentalist websites claim, UU is not a cult.

Some favorites:
UU Bible Study will be held after church today. Please bring your own Bible and a pair of scissors.

Q. What do UUs have in common with Dracula?
A. Both originated in Transylvania, and both shy away from the cross.

Q. Have you heard about the new UU evangelists?
A. They knock on your door and say, "Would you like to tell me about your religion?"

Q. What do you call the corpse at a Unitarian funeral?
A. All dressed up with no place to go.

Q. What happens when you get the UUs really mad at you?
A. They show up and burn a question mark on your lawn.

Q. Why do UUs make such lousy congregational singers?
A. Everyone is reading ahead to see whether they agree with the next line. (Note: this one is SO true that it hardly qualifies as a joke.)

You can tell you're in a UU church if the only time the minister says "Jesus Christ" is when she spills her coffee.

#31 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 05:29 PM:

Magenta, I forgot that last one. A couple of trad-specific ones:

How many Proteans...? Who knows? We never do it the same way twice!

How many Mycotans (my trad)...? None, we just sit in the dark and scream.

(We have a very intense Dark Moon ritual.)

#32 ::: Elizabeth Genco ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 05:57 PM:

Roll call: another Protean in the hizzouse!!

(Um. That'd be me. *grin*)

#33 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 06:02 PM:

A religion is just a cult that has enough influence and money to force non-members to respect it's dogmas.

#34 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 06:03 PM:

Christopher:

I find it a source of endless amusement that the same jokes we used to tell about the Church of Christ, back when I was a SB, now fit the SB like a glove, while the Church of Christ has become *shudder* liberal. ;)

I also smile whenever I recall that my big schism with that church came when we received materials with a list of "cult identifiers" similar to the one by Bonewits, suitably altered to convince the readers that the LDS are a cult. I was old enough by then to know to keep my mouth shut when I started putting that list and that church's behaviors together.

And I find it very sad that I grew up among the SB, had family who worked for the Convention (yes, I'm from Nashville), and never heard the phrase "priesthood of believers" until two decades after I walked away.

Tracina:

I'd really like to know the songs you're thinking of. I've found that the one thing I can't seem to move past is the panic attacks associated with the music.

There was a definite undertone of "once saved always saved is a lie" in my childhood church, and there were always worries that someone who married outside the faith would be corrupted away and lose their salvation.

#35 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 06:22 PM:

OG:

It varies from church to church. The phrase "Priesthood of every believer" can be found in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. "Preisthood of believers" is actually a new, watered-down phrase in the nasty 2000 revision.

#36 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 06:38 PM:

(Heinlein in 'The Happy Days Ahead'):
'Cult vs. religion—I am indebted to L. Sprague de Camp for this definition of the difference. A "religion" is a faith one is born into; a "cult" is a faith an adult joins voluntarily.

Which rather reminds me of the distinction between a pidgin and a creole.

#37 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 06:43 PM:

Elizabeth: I'm not actually Protean, but Proteus is our sister coven by adoption. We get along ideologically (like we got the no-force-no-tell-no-charge stuff from them originally) but our ritual styles are massively incompatible, alas. (We've had whole circles where no one talks at all, just as one example.)

#38 ::: Darkhawk ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 06:56 PM:

In my mind, it was always about secrecy - if things happen within the confines of the "church" that you are not allowed to mention to someone who is not a part of the faith (or even not a part of the ceremony in which said thing happened), then you belong to a cult.

One of my friends is basically having to go through cult-recovery therapy; she was in one, and she's trying to get herself fixed from where it broke her.

There were no secrets. The things that the organisation in question does are all pretty much public knowledge in our religious community. It is even known that there are a lot of ex-members with significant personal issues with the organisation. The organisation publically dismisses these ex-members as malcontents and rabble-rousers, as a general rule.

The feuding is all public. And was, in fact, stuff she knew about before she joined the organisation, though she acquired more specifics once there. This did not prevent her from having cult-indoctrination problems that she now recognises, or from taking the SAN damage she took.

#39 ::: Lisa Nichols ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 07:11 PM:

Whoa, the Church of Christ is the liberal one now? When did THAT happen? Somebody better tell my relatives, I don't think they got the memo. ;)

#40 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 07:17 PM:

OG: I'd really like to know the songs you're thinking of. I've found that the one thing I can't seem to move past is the panic attacks associated with the music.

I have to breathe slowly and put my back against something when I think about those songs. I don't know any of the titles, and I don't know that I ever did. The one that sticks out most (probably because it creeped me out so much even then) is the one that went, in part, "No, you can't get to heaven in an electric chair/'Cause the Lord don't want no french fries there/All my sins are washed away/I've been redeemed/I've been redeemed in the blood of the Lamb/Safe from sin, and I know I am/All my sins are washed away/ I've been redeemed." All accompanied by cheerful hand clapping.

#41 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 07:18 PM:

It occurrs to me that I should probably say in advance that - in general - no offence is intended by anything I might say in this thread; if it sounds nasty, then I've worded it badly and I apologise.

Xopher: By your formulation the early Christians in Rome were a cult - if you ratted out people as being Christians they could be killed, so they kept it secret.

Sounds accurate to me. What's the problem? As long as you accept that some things can migrate from a cult to a church (and potentially back again), you're fine.

In my tradition of Wicca we have a rule - in fact it's a clause of our oath - that coven confidentiality must not be broken. This is so you can't go ratting people out as Witches

I hate to break it to you, but (these days at least) nobody actually cares whether you're a witch or not. ;-)

For what little it's worth, I would actually - personally - put Wicca somewhere in the cult category. But then I'd do that with pretty much all religion, so I'm probably not actually that discriminatory. (And I've been drinking. Probably not a good plan before posting to ML.)

#42 ::: Gluon ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 07:23 PM:

No, you can't get to heaven in an electric chair/'Cause the Lord don't want no french fries there

O_O
____


I remember that one myself, but it was always "in a rocking chair/cause the rocking chair don't go nowhere."

Oy. No wonder you're traumatized.

#43 ::: Kimberly ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 07:23 PM:

I hate to break it to you, but (these days at least) nobody actually cares whether you're a witch or not. ;-)

Would that it were so. That's not my experience, though.

#44 ::: Gluon ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 07:30 PM:

Laura: Does "Anybody who doesn't believe exactly the same things we believe is going to burn in hell" denote a cult?

Either that, or you're at my mom's house.

I'm assuming here that you mean the statement as coming from the cult. The Catholic church and many denominations would be then included, of course, but certain evangelical churches I've hopped through back when I was often invited to them thought that Catholicism was indeed a Great Big Cult. I seem to recall books that were passed around to help us innocent teens understand that if we ran across a Mormon we were to turn tail and race home, then bury our faces in the King James.

Great. Now I'm having flashbacks.

#45 ::: Tiellan ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 07:31 PM:

Paul said: I hate to break it to you, but (these days at least) nobody actually cares whether you're a witch or not. ;-)

Not entirely true. I have a dear friend in the 'burbs of Houston whose biggest fear is being outed. It depends on the community, some are more open-minded than others.

#46 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 07:48 PM:

I always figure a religion is anything I find laughable, and a cult is anything I find laughable and dangerous. Neither term really applies to the stuff I believe in, since I only believe in common sense objective truths.

I've found that this is what people often MEAN when they start arguing whether a certain set of beliefs is a religion, a cult, or the truth-- so that as a descriptivist rather than a prescriptivist student of language, I should go ahead and adopt the majority usage.

(Slightly) less cynically, the proposed rule of thumb founders on the "appropriate occasions" clause. When I organize my cult-- pardon me, "school of philosophy"-- there will be an appropriate time for members to trade jokes about it: as they're transferring the last of their funds to my bank account. There will be two jokes on the list: "Boy, it's too bad I don't have twice the money to give; I could be twice as saved!" and "Why did the chicken cross the road? To become a zombie in service of the Great One!" (Oh, sure, you don't think these count as "transgressively funny." But after what the initiates have to go through before they're considered worthy of the Final Enlightment, they'll laugh at any damn thing I tell them to. In fact, some won't be able to stop laughing-- since my school of philosophy will save those most at risk of damnnation through a combination of prayer and intracranial injections of the kuru prion.)

#47 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:02 PM:

Okay, it would appear I'm wrong on the part about being a witch. I still don't get it, but I'll take your word for it.

Tiellan: why is your friend afraid of being revealed? Does she think the neighbours are going to burn her at the stake or something...?

#48 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:07 PM:

Rivka: I'm not UU, myself, but the evangelist joke had me -howling-.

Meanwhile, I try to find some Buddhism jokes that are worth sharing...

#49 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:09 PM:

Lisa Nichols & OG - The United Church of Christ (a/k/a Congregationalist) is the liberal one. As far as I know, the Church of Christ is still strongly evangelical, in the hellfire and brimstone kind of way. They may sound almost the same, but they are astoundingly different and pity the poor adherent who accidentally mistakes one for the other in a strange city!

By the way, as most people here know, The Unitarian-Universalist Association is not the same thing as Unification Church. I once told some friends of mine that I had started going to a Unitarian church and they launched into a full-scale panic. Then again, they're Jewish and have as much sense of the breadth of Chrisitan practices (not that the UUA is all that Christian) as most Christians do about the breadth of Jewish observance.

Nonetheless, Oy! What an experience that was.

#50 ::: M. Uli Kusterer ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:21 PM:

Hi. Thought I'd supply a Catholic joke, just to get the funny stuff outta the way ;-)

In a small, rural church, a cardinal comes to visit and is shocked to see that the priest and his house-maid are sleeping in the same bed, only separated by a narrow board of wood.
Cardinal: But what if carnal pleasures overcome you?!
Priest: Then we just remove the board.

#51 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:23 PM:

Jason wrote:

> Meanwhile, I try to find some Buddhism jokes that are worth sharing...

buddha/burger bar/"make me one with everything"?

#52 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:33 PM:

Ah, yeah. I should've said "aside from the one pretty much everyone's likely to have heard before."

I just found this one, which had me laughing a lot:

Q: What do you call a schizophrenic Zen Buddhist?
A: A man who is at two with the universe.

I'm also a fan of the hypothetical conversation between Descartes and the Buddha:

Descarte said "I think, therefore I am."
The Buddha replied "Think again."

#53 ::: M. Uli Kusterer ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:40 PM:

Re: that ancient Christianity was a cult because they had to hide: I think the definition should be that the secrecy is actually chosen by the members and not put upon them by society. Otherwise, you'd have any congregation that's been prosecuted in their "lifetime" pop in and out of cult status, making that distinction pretty pointless.

There are other, more valid reasons for seeing Christianity as a cult, IMHO.

Re: nobody caring about people being a witch
I have a gut feeling that is just a "communications knot". When people hear witch, they think of witches as in Grimm's fables or B-Movies, where they're set up to be evil antagonists. I guess that's why the term Wiccan is so much more popular these days. It makes it harder to mix up, and has more the image of someone in sync with nature (and other things, but that was the one that stayed with me as my main appreciation of them).

So, I'd say: Many people probably still care about *witches* simply because what that word exemplifies to them, but that doesn't extend to *Wiccans*, and thus not to any of the practicing people that care about it today.

The only people I've met who claimed they were witches seemed to be out more for shock value and attention than practicing a religion, while what few Wiccans I've met seemed pretty okay people. I'd doubt anybody would object to having them in the neighborhood.

#54 ::: M. Uli Kusterer ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:42 PM:

Is this a good moment for the Descartes joke?

"I think not." said Descartes and disappeared in a puff of logic.

#55 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:42 PM:
The phrase "Priesthood of every believer" can be found in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. "Preisthood of believers" is actually a new, watered-down phrase in the nasty 2000 revision.

Hmm. I think that phrase, or something very like it, goes back at least to the English Civil War, and quite possibly back to the Protestant Reformation itself.

At least, I've recently read something which mentions factions in the English Civil War (radical Puritans?) who were saying something like that. Gotta see if I can dig that up.


Thinking about the whole humor/humorlessness thing, I think it could be boiled down to: humor about one's religion arises when the group has sufficient confidence to both give and take mockery. Humorlessness correlates strongly to feeling threatened. "Feeling threatened" can be tricky to measure, but I would suggest that radical fundamentalists of any major religion can feel threatened by the suggestion that their beliefs are in some way funny, and so too can members of a small cult feel threatened by that suggestion.

So I don't think humorlessness is useful in distinguishing church from cult. It's just a marker that whatever religious group it is, they are scared of looking silly.

#56 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 08:57 PM:

Stephen Z This only relates to the subject of this thread tangentially, but I've been wanting to tell you what an impact your book had on me. When my husband recently suggested we get some rest and recreation, and most importantly, sun, but running down to San Diego for a couple of days, my first thought was, "Oh, no. We can't do THAT!" I love San Diego and may never be able to go there again. You bastard.

Someone just told me a UU joke this weekend. It went: A UU dies and discovers that there IS a heaven. But as he approaches heaven the path suddenly forks and the sign says Heaven This Way and Discussion of Heaven That Way. Whereupon everyone else laughed and I objected that to a UU a Discussion about Heaven WOULD be Heaven.

This weekend Elise had a new necklace entitled "Sinner in the Hands of a Mildly Startled Buddha" It featured a lotus and and a spider.

MKK

#57 ::: Tiellan ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 09:07 PM:

Paul,
You asked what my Wiccan friend is afraid of. Not a literal burning at the stake of course, but a social one. She's afraid that she would not be allowed to be a girl scout troop leader anymore, that her kids would be ostracized, that kind of thing.

#58 ::: Elizabeth Genco ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 09:15 PM:

Xopher: yep, I know a snidge about Mycotans and the group's relation to Proteus. I wasn't in Proteus' current round of students but the one before, and have since hived off to practice with Entelechy.

I don't have to much worry about the repercussions of being public, living in New York and all, but for other areas of the country, it's still a very big deal. I feel it when I go to certain parts of the US. Could be my invisible New York freak flag, though. Being a New Yorker is often as bad as being Wiccan, and is somehow more identifiable (though I haven't quite figured that one out).

Anyways. My New Yorker-ness is usually mitigated by my Maine-ness (I grew up there), when confronted with distrustful-of-NYC-ish folks.

#59 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 09:27 PM:
Hmm. I think that phrase, or something very like it, goes back at least to the English Civil War, and quite possibly back to the Protestant Reformation itself.

Oh, the phrase "Priesthood of believers" isn't new... I meant that it was new to the Baptist Faith and Message. The BF&M isn't a credal statement per se, it's more a collection of beliefs that Baptists agree they mostly agree on. But the phrase "Priesthood of Every Believer" was the way it was phrased in the 1963 (and I think the earlier) version of the document. It was changed to "Priesthood of believers" in 2000, which some of us saw as a cynical attempt by the SBC to de-emphasize the individual in the church.

The SBC isn't particularly Baptist in a historical sense these days.

#60 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 10:10 PM:

Teresa, I think your distinction is close to the mark; at least it's a reliable way to distinguish an authoritarian organization from a fairly liberal one. I think Michael Foucault may have something to say about this, in a sideways way: Foucault said that the difference between a real science and a pseudoscience is that a real science is not afraid of its history; he points out that chemists are willing to discuss the emergence of chemistry from alchemy, but that he caused a perfect storm of controversy in analyzing the historical origins of psychiatry. It seems to me that this applies accurately to churches and cults, and perhaps individual members as well.

Perhaps history is god's joke on us.

#61 ::: Darkhawk ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 11:23 PM:

I guess that's why the term Wiccan is so much more popular these days. It makes it harder to mix up, and has more the image of someone in sync with nature (and other things, but that was the one that stayed with me as my main appreciation of them).

It's also worth noting that "witch" is not intrinsically a religious term -- there are many people who consider it a term for a particular type of craftsman, and also that Wicca is not the only religious witchcraft religion, just the best known.

#62 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2005, 11:53 PM:

MMerriam: yah, no kidding. The non-cult religious leaders I know just want you to go away and think for yourself for awhile and let them read a book or drink a beer or whatever in peace. If you volunteered to live with them and do whatever they said, they would get an unlisted number.

Just another data point: the phrase "priesthood of all believers" is pretty important in my own traditions (Haugean, or in more organized and looser-on-my-part affiliation Lutheran). I also have been known to mutter "prophet, priest, and king" really fast when someone is being particularly Luther-y. (My equivalent for my Calvinist in-laws and out-laws is "filthy rags, filthy rags.")

Apparently there was a musical in the (Twin Cities) area last summer that contained the song, "Hotdish's one foundation is cream of mushroom sooooooup." It's to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation" and managed, I am told, to poke fun at both ethnic and religious idiosyncracies. I wish I knew the rest of the words, but the person who told me about it had only heard it once. Sigh.

#63 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 03:06 AM:

Larry:

They may sound almost the same, but they are astoundingly different and pity the poor adherent who accidentally mistakes one for the other in a strange city!

No kidding. I think that slipped under my radar the same way the "United" on Methodist church signs does. It never occurred to me there might be two sects.

Paul:

People still lose jobs for being the "wrong" religion. I currently live in an area where the company chaplain is a benefit trumpeted from job fair booths.

Tracina:

That's more, um, dramatic than the songs I remember, but I can't say I'm surprised.

Christopher:

I'm still mildly surprised that I can't recall ever encountering the concept, if not the exact phrase, while I was an active member in the 70s. Then again, I discover ever more entertaining holes in my religious training all the time.

#64 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 03:09 AM:

Looks like I was remembering the sentiment of "Priesthood of every believer" rather than that phrase itself. The text says:


Voices rose from the army calling not only for political democracy but also for a kind of religious democracy as well. Sects emerged among the soldiers that rejected any authority beyond the individual. In January 1646, Presbyterian ministers traveled to the outskirts of Oxford to visit Cromwell's soldiers, where they got an unwelcome surprise. As they later reported, "The multitude of soldiers in a violent manner called upon us to prove our calling ... whether those that are called ministers had any more authority to preach in public than private Christians which were gifted."

(This is from Carl Zimmer's The Soul Made Flesh, and the description of the religious ferment of the era is sort of tangental to his depiction of the history of the conception of the soul in light of progress in understanding of human anatomy & neurology. I don't know what he is citing above, since he does not footnote the quote)

Mris wrote:


I also have been known to mutter "prophet, priest, and king" really fast when someone is being particularly Luther-y.

It's interesting to see that. Did Luther in fact say that? Directly before the paragraph I quoted, Zimmer mentions the Levellers, and cites the following:


-- every man by nature being a king, priest and prophet in his own natural circuit and compass, whereof no second may partake but by deputation, commission, and free consent from him whose natural right and freedom it is.

I had greater luck discovering more about the Levellers, since Wikipedia has an article about them (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leveller
), which in turn points to this page about them:
http://www.constitution.org/lev/levellers.htm
.

The quote is from the fifth article down, "Richard Overton, An arrow against all tyrants. 12 October 1646"

#65 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 05:09 AM:

I could well be confused here but I reckon the idea of a universal priesthood goes back to Exodus. Then again, like some people mentioned in the thread I'm a Jewish person who is fairly ignorant about the breadth of Christian practices.

#66 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 06:14 AM:

Mary Kay wrote: I love San Diego and may never be able to go there again. You bastard.

Just don't do anything mind-expanding in the area and you'll be fine. Probably. But if you do see a zombie or anything else obviously occult, hotfoot it to San Francisco before anything truly dangerous notices you noticing. (Take I-5 and drive in shifts-- stay within sight of the freeway and don't sleep.)

#67 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 07:05 AM:

Steve wrote:
Jason wrote:
>> Meanwhile, I try to find some Buddhism jokes that are worth sharing...
>buddha/burger bar/"make me one with everything"?

Buddha: "Hey, I gave you a twenty. Where's my change?"
Cashier: "Change must come from within."

#68 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 07:58 AM:

M. Uli Kustever: The only people I've met who claimed they were witches seemed to be out more for shock value and attention than practicing a religion, while what few Wiccans I've met seemed pretty okay people. I'd doubt anybody would object to having them in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, lots and lots of people don't care about the distinction. Witch or Wiccan, you're going to hell, and/or are brainwashed, and/or are dangerous, and Something Should Be Done. Sigh.

#69 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 08:51 AM:

Here is West Michigan, there are a lot of Christian fundamentalists, many of the Dutch Reformed variety. Judging by local controversies over things like Harry Potter books in school libraries, Halloween, etc., I would not think it prudent to be publicly identified as a witch or Wiccan hereabouts.

Heck, in certain neighborhoods around here, it's a bad idea to mow your lawn on Sunday, let alone join a coven.

What amazes me is how many of these people are true believers in magic and withchraft. They don't approve of it, but they most certainly beleive it is real, just as much as the people of 17th Century Salem. Watch out when they start muttering darkly about how "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live . . ."

#70 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 09:03 AM:

Doesn't work for the church I was born into. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is definitely not a cult, but I never heard its members (as distinct from their variously disgruntled offspring) tell jokes about it.

So why am I sure it's not a cult? I don't know.

#71 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 09:12 AM:

There's the Buddhist who refuses Novocaine because he's trying to transcend dental medication....

ducking and covering

#72 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 09:13 AM:

An acquaintance of mine has been fighting an ongoing child-custody battle precisely because she is Wiccan (or, at least, non-denominational Pagan). It doesn't seem to help her case that she owns a successful small business which she runs from out of her home, or that her ex-husband has actually hurt the child. All the judge seems to care about "Get the witch away from the kid!"

Some people do care far too much about whether you're the wrong religion.

On a lighter note, the way I always heard it was,

Q: How many Gardnerians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Shut up! That's a craft secret!

Q: How many Alexandrians...?
A: Dunno. Let me look that up in the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.

#73 ::: Elizabeth Genco ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 10:15 AM:

What amazes me is how many of these people are true believers in magic and withchraft. They don't approve of it, but they most certainly beleive it is real, just as much as the people of 17th Century Salem. Watch out when they start muttering darkly about how "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live . . ."

Indeed. A similar tribe: the folks who will lambast me for my study/use of Tarot cards, then, once they're done raving about the devil, will turn right around and ask for a reading.

I just don't get it.

#74 ::: Elizabeth Genco ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 10:18 AM:

Oh, and! Nicole, where's that case located?

(No problem if you don't want to answer that, of course; I was just curious. That's whack, needless to say...)

#75 ::: Tempest ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 10:24 AM:

Many people probably still care about *witches* simply because what that word exemplifies to them, but that doesn't extend to *Wiccans*, and thus not to any of the practicing people that care about it today.

...I'd doubt anybody would object to having them in the neighborhood.

In my experience, many people DO still object to having wiccans or witches or whatever in their neighborhoods. Granted, I live in the Bible belt (in Texas, but not Houston) which is a major shift from, say, NYC where I used to live. Down here we still have people who shun others because they don't attend the right church. Not because they aren't Christian or even not good Christians, but because they don't go to the right church. Pagans are right out.

There isn't much danger of being burned at the stake, of course, but there is always the chance that you'll get a lot of nasty notes on your door/car (as we did once, but not for being Pagan), or of being ostracized by neighbors, or people telling their children not to play with your child, or even having mud, eggs, or other more solid things thrown at your house. This all depends on how out you are, how vehement your neighbors are, and other factors. However, none of these things is out of the realm of possibility.

This isn't just a southern thing, either. I wouldn't necessarily out myself as pagan to my neighbors if I lived in my hometown of Cincinnati (or anywhere else in Ohio) and certainly not to any of my family. The latter wouldn't be dangerous, necessarily, but would not result in pleasentness.

This kind of reminds me of the conversation I always end up having with people who seem to think racism isn't prevelant in America anymore.

#76 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 10:33 AM:
Indeed. A similar tribe: the folks who will lambast me for my study/use of Tarot cards, then, once they're done raving about the devil, will turn right around and ask for a reading.

I just don't get it.

Well there is a long tradition of that kind of silliness, going back to the Old Testament. King Saul consulted a seer to contact the spirit of Samuel in order to predict the outcome of a battle against the Philistines... despite the fact that Mosaic law sort of expressly forbids such things.

(Samuel eventually appears to Saul in a dream and says "nice job dimwit, your next battle is going to go very badly." Which it does: Saul's sons are killed and he commits suicide to avoid capture.)

So there's a long history of folks who are ostensibly *opposed* to such things being eager to dabble in them at the same time. It's not very different from the "Jimmy Swaggart Syndrome" -- folks who rant and rail against the same sexual practices they secretly indulge in when they think no-one is looking...

Wouldn't be humanity without a liberal dose of hypocrisy thrown in the mix...

#77 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 10:38 AM:

The most apt commentary on nasty Christian songs may be the Austin Lounge Lizard's "Jesus Loves Me (But He Can't Stand You)".

BTW, Buddhist doctrine sounds quite kindly, yet there must have been some repressive regimes of believers along the way. Can somebody offer this near-ignoramus about Oriental history a little info? (Not meaning to divert the thread.)

#78 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 11:09 AM:

Here's another proposed rule-of-thumb: a church will only accept you if you're good, but a cult will take anybody.

Oh, no, sorry, I'm thinking about publishing versus vanity publishing.

#79 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 11:20 AM:

Hah!

Since most vanity publishers seem to lack a sense of humor, perhaps they qualify as a cult after all.

#80 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 11:27 AM:

Copyediting notes: Names of religions should be capitalized. Wicca is the name of a religion. When Witchcraft is used as the name of a religion, or Witch as a practitioner of it, they should be capitalized as well. The women in Updike's reprehensible The Witches of Eastwick are witches; I am a Witch and a Wiccan.

(BTW I once wrote a detailed "notes for copyeditors" letter to Entertainment Weekly after one of their reviewers referred to that book as "John Updike's wiccan tome," which is inaccurate to the point of being insulting.)

There are many other kinds of witches (and even Witches) than Wiccans.

For those who claim that the capitalization is based on the proper noun quality (from the founder's name) of such examples as 'Christian', 'Lutheran', etc, I will reply with such examples as 'Presbyterian', 'Methodist', and 'Quaker', none of which are based on founder's names, but all of which are proper nouns based on being the names of religions.

On the topic of secrecy: There was a man in the Midwest somewhere not fifteen years ago who was found hanging in his garage a week before he was scheduled to give a talk on Wicca at the local library. The police quickly ruled it a suicide and ended their investigation despite the fact that he was found with his hands tied behind his back.

Another couple around the same time was fire-bombed out of their home. They weren't hurt, except that they lost everything they owned.

Margot Adler, whose voice you hear on NPR frequently, was up for a co-host position on All Things Considered some years ago. She didn't get it, and was told that the then-current climate (Jesse Helms was trying to deny bulk mailing permits to organizations that "promote witchcraft [sic]") made it impossible for NPR to give that position to someone who was openly Wiccan.

I myself have lost at least one job in part because I revealed that I was Wiccan.

So no, no burnings at the stake. That didn't even happen in Salem. But I don't want to be lynched or crushed to death with stones, either. I'm lucky enough to live where that's unlikely; many, many Wiccans have no such good fortune.

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 11:31 AM:

Alex: I know you were making a vanity publishing joke, but the very best churches I know of do take anybody. They point out that the mission of the Church is, and must be, primarily to sinners; otherwise it's just standing around singing Kumbaya.

Wicca doesn't have that as a value. We don't take just anybody. This is because covens have to work together closely and intimately, and trust is critical. Also because anybody can get some books and start a coven, or practice alone. Wicca isn't for everybody; it isn't even for everybody who wants to join. Nobody goes to hell in Wicca, not even for not being Wiccan!

#82 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 11:45 AM:

Faren Miller (almost equal ignoramity, but ...) I remember seeing someone quoting some buddhist or historical piece where a battle was going to happen, and someone who was going to fight in it was asking his buddhist spiritual advisor how could he reconcile his faith with this.

The priest/advisor said, more or less, "well, they aren't [real] buddhists, so it's OK to kill them", thus sounding very much like a range of christian, islamic, hindu, etc, spiritual advisors down the centuries.

I can't remember whether the two sides were buddhist/non-buddhist (cf christian/animist; christian/muslim) or two slightly differing variants (cf protestant/catholic), hence the [real].

In fact, only within the last few years, I heard of a couple of groups of asian buddhist monks fighting each other, enough that some were killed. You might be able to [search engine] for news articles.

#83 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 12:11 PM:

One thing, Xopher: While your positive generalizations of Wiccan practices jibe pretty well with my own experiences, I think it's important to point out that you are generalizing. No single characterization of "Wiccan values" can be applied to all of its self-identified practitioners. It's just as flawed as trying to generalize all Christians under a single characterization.

Wiccans span the gamut from middle school kids who've read Cunningham's books and burn candles in their bedrooms at night to try to attract that boy who sits in front of them in math class, to small groups of friends who meet as close to the full moon as they can agree on so long as it's not a Friday night, to local initiatory hierarchies led by a strong personality or two, to full-blown elaborate traditions with international networks of leadership. Most Wiccans are pretty cool about differences with other Wiccans. Some are assholes. And yes, there are Wiccans who believe that they have the One True Way, and that everyone who disagrees with them is going -- well, not to Hell as far as I've heard it, but it wouldn't surprise me if somebody somewhere believed that.

Given its diversity in structure and values, and given exactly what you said -- that anybody can practice alone and call themselves a Wiccan -- it does sound like "Wicca" as a philosophical label does take "just anybody." Perhaps your group doesn't, but those you won't take can find (or found) another that will.

All this is a rather long picking of a smallish nit. Of your description of your own group, I've got no beef. It sounds pretty cool. I'm just skeptical of anyone who claims to be offer any sort of description of Wicca as a whole, because I don't believe there is a whole.

#84 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 12:15 PM:

Since most vanity publishers seem to lack a sense of humor, perhaps they qualify as a cult after all.

Actually, I suspect that this is what was in our hostess's mind to begin with. PublishAmerica has a great deal of cult-like behavior. No questioning allowed. Irrational discarding of evidence contrary to the worldview of the leaders. You send a lot of money to the organization. It really is a cult, other than it's not particularly about religion.

#85 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 12:29 PM:

I have been accused of being in "The Cult of Feynman."

This is hard to refute, as he was my mentor at Caltech. I am mourning this week's loss of one of Feynman's mentors, Hans Bethe, who recruited Feynman to Cornell.

One can find graffiti at Caltech declaring "Feynman is God." Further, there is a beautiful bas relief in the courtyard of Dabney House at Caltech which shows Galileo, Archimedes, Newton, and Kepler assembled in iconic poses, with an oversized figure in the center from which rays are emitted, said central figure labelled "Feynman."

This month we should see Basic Books' "Selected Letters of Richard P. Feynman.

From "The remarkable Dr. Feynman", Lawrence Grobel, Los Angeles Times Magazine, 20 April 1986:

"His friend, Albert Hibbs... likes to give costume parties. At one April Fool's party, the theme was famous characters in history--king, queen, knave or fool. Feynman came as Queen Elizabeth. At another party, the theme was Myths and Legends. Feynman came dressed in a long white robe and a long gray beard. Someone approached him, asking if he was Moses. "No," answered Feynman. "I'm God."

"Yeah," Hibbs said. "We've known it all along."

#86 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 12:32 PM:

I'd be willing to argue that PublishAmerica *is* a religion, albeit a materialistic one. At the very least it bills itself as a "revolutionary movement" -- much like MP3.com did back in the early days -- and those kinds of things tend to inspire cultish religious fervor among the true believers, no matter how rational they may be otherwise.

I was an mp3.com "true believer" at one point in time. Once bitten...

#87 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 12:42 PM:

Steve Eley - you're absolutely right, of course. What I ought to have said is that no one coven is likely to feel pressure to take just anyone. There might be omnibus covens somewhere, as a matter of fact, but I'd rely on natural selection to keep their lives short and numbers small (i.e. I believe that a coven with such a policy would tear itself to bits in short order).

And there ARE people who don't ever find a coven.

BTW, if you believe Wicca is a religion, it has "priesthood of all believers," though I'd change 'believers' to 'practitioners' in our case. These days there's a wider NeoPagan community who believe what Wiccans believe, want a Wiccan priest/ess for their wedding etc., but aren't members of a coven and don't practice on a regular basis. The Wicca are the priesthood of that community, in my view.

On another topic: PublishAmerica and the Church of Scientology. Compare and contrast.

#88 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 12:47 PM:

King Saul consulted a seer to contact the spirit of Samuel in order to predict the outcome of a battle against the Philistines... despite the fact that Mosaic law sort of expressly forbids such things.

Now, now, Christopher. Weren't you taught the truth of that encounter? The spirit was obviously an agent of Satan pretending to be Samuel, because he rose up through the floor instead of descending from above.

*forcibly breaks channeling connection with childhood teacher*

#89 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 01:05 PM:

The Cult of Mac department:

"Linux creator Linus Torvalds said this afternoon that he's now running an Apple Macintosh as his main desktop, mainly for work reasons, although partly simply because he's a self-described 'technology whore.'"
ZDNet Australia: Linux creator Torvalds switches to an Apple Mac

Written by Wired News journalist Leander Kahney, "The Cult of Mac" has spawned lots of stuff in the blogosphere, such as:
blog.wired.com/cultofmac/

Questions: if Mac is a cult, is the PC a religion? If Linux is a cult, is Microsoft a religion? Or is it really the other way around in both cases, per Teresa's Disambiguator.

SFnal phrase of the day for googling:

"Tweak Space."


#90 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 01:08 PM:

All I know is, there's nothing an Agnostic can't accomplish if he really doesn't know whether he believes in it or not.

(There are probably more Agnostic jokes than that, but I'm not sure whether they're any funnier.)

#91 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 01:13 PM:
If Linux is a cult, is Microsoft a religion? Or is it really the other way around in both cases, per Teresa's Disambiguator.

Using Teresa's definition of a cult, my experience lends me to believe that Microsoft is the religion, Linux is the cult -- for the most part, Linux users find it very difficult to find humor where Linux is concerned. Microsoft users aren't as likely to have the same problem.

#92 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 01:31 PM:

Heh. Thanks for the jokes. I'd heard Bill's before (usually as a follow up to the "make me one with everything" riff), but Sarah's was new to me. Funny either way.

Faren, not sure what sort of history you're looking for, or how detailed but Buddhism does have a lot of schools of thought that disagree with each other (Pure Land Buddhism versus, say, either of the Zen schools is a sort of "saved by faith alone versus good works" split. Sort of. And that's just within Japan).

Buddhism has been used, as Epacris says, as an excuse to... erm... smack down the non-believers. This was in the early days of Buddhism coming to Japan, when it was trying to establish a place for itself over and above the not-actually-organized indigenous religion. The doctrinal conflicts in China are, quite literally, the subject of legend. And martial arts movies. I'm pretty sure there were some early conflicts with the Therevada and Mahayana traditions in India, but I can't speak with authority there.

The worst is probably the accusation, in the past decade or so, that Japanese Buddhism has justified the oppression of minorities and propogated a sense of Japanese superiority. I'm not sure I agree, but the details of the debate are probably getting a bit off-topic, so I'll just cut off.

#94 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 02:28 PM:

I can't find the reference, but Umberto Eco once wrote a little piece about Microsoft being Protestant, Mac being Catholic

#95 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 02:32 PM:

Individ-ewe-al: Nope, you are quite correct, as can be seen in Exodus 19:3-8 (JPS electronic edition)

And Moses went up unto G-d, and HaShem called unto him out of the mountain, saying: 'Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.' And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which HaShem commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said: 'All that HaShem hath spoken we will do.'
#96 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 02:40 PM:

Jonathan:
"Linux creator Linus Torvalds said this afternoon that he's now running an Apple Macintosh as his main desktop, mainly for work reasons, although partly simply because he's a self-described 'technology whore.'"

Let's be clear here. Linus has said that he's running Linux on a dual G5 PowerMac. It's a hardware platform, nothing more; he didn't suddenly forsake his creation.

(And if he ever did, he certainly wouldn't forsake it for OSX, after calling the Mach kernel "a piece of shit" in his autobiography.)

But just to bring things back to subject, here's one off the cuff:

Q: How many Apple users does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None; Apple pulled all the bulbs out of its stores last week. But iBulb '05 is due out any day now, or no later than 2007 for sure, and everyone says it's going to be great...

#97 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 02:53 PM:

Chris - please don't conflate "Microsoft users" with "Microsoft believers" - there are a lot more of the former, willing or unwilling, than the latter, and my impression is the latter have no sense of humor about it at all.

#98 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 03:08 PM:
Chris - please don't conflate "Microsoft users" with "Microsoft believers" - there are a lot more of the former, willing or unwilling, than the latter, and my impression is the latter have no sense of humor about it at all.

I don't think I'm conflating. I've met a fair number of Microsoft fans that have a healthy sense of humor where Microsoft is concerned. I've encountered some in the Linux world as well, but it's been my experience that if you poke fun at something specific in the Linux community it's as likely to be taken as a blanket condemnation of Linux as a whole than it is as a specific jibe about a specific thing. A fair amount of this is understandible given the way Linux is often mischaracterized by the press, but it still gets annoying from time to time. For that matter, the same criticism can be made about OS/2 users and Apple users... in general terms, of course. There are always exceptions.

This observation comes from 9 years of writing a tech-themed web cartoon.

#99 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 03:15 PM:

(delurking) *waves a hand* Non-denom Pagan just adding MVHO.

Xopher: These days there's a wider NeoPagan community who believe what Wiccans believe, want a Wiccan priest/ess for their wedding etc., but aren't members of a coven and don't practice on a regular basis. The Wicca are the priesthood of that community, in my view.

Me: Undoubtedly true for many, but I'd also say that there are a growing number of non-Wiccan NeoPagan groups forming. At least, that's been my experience in the DC Metro region, where there are several groups of non-Wiccan NeoPagan circles that meet regularly, and are forming their own, very eclectic traditions. While my beliefs share, at root, some of the same values of my Wiccan friends, I don't know that I'd consider any of them my priesthood. :)

I also have to unfortunately add to the stories of religious intolerance. I'm currently living in south-central Pennsylvania, but even when living in Baltimore, MD, or other more 'progressive' parts of the region, I can list plenty of examples of harrassment, upto and including vandalism and the traditional "Go to hell" speeches.

(Sidenote: Since the UCC was mentioned above, and since I'm a proud daughter of my UCC minister father, I have to cheer the Still Speaking ad up top. UCC--very much NOT the Church of Christ :)

#100 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 03:32 PM:

chrs - not to derail, but that's exactly what I mean. I'm a Microsoft user, but not a Microsoft fan. Bit of a sore point, actually.

#101 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Heatherly reminds me -- I may be the only capital-A Agnostic here (not counting UU), but a while ago I stumbled on the website of a group that's set up a neo-Epicurean community, where they live in accordance with Epicurean ideals and have some basic rituals like weddings, funerals, etc. It's Agnostic and neo-pagan at the same time.

#102 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 04:54 PM:

HP:
I may be the only capital-A Agnostic here (not counting UU),

What's the difference between capital-A and lower-a agnostics? Does it mean you're absolutely certain of what you don't know?

#103 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 05:01 PM:

Heatherly, that's why I was careful to specify WHICH subgroup of NeoPagans I was talking about. Certainly there are the Asatru, for example, and many others who don't follow the Wiccan belief system. I define my subgroup of NeoPagans as "the ones who consider the Wicca their priesthood." Circular, but perfectly practical.

There are massive disagreements on many points even within Wicca. My partner priestess does not believe in reincarnation. I do (on a good day).

One thing though: Some British Traditionals (Gardnerians, Alexandrians, a very few others) think the term "Wicca" should be reserved only for British Traditionals. (Some BTs. Not all, thank the gods.) They are simply wrong. I'm as Wiccan as they are (is there an emoticon for thumbing one's nose?).

HP: it's perfectly possible to be both an Agnostic and a Wiccan. I have some tendencies in that direction myself. That's because Wicca is about praxis, not theology. The beliefs support the praxis, not the other way around; my beliefs-about-the-world change when I enter Circle, and again when I leave it.

Most Agnostics behave as if they were Atheists. It's perfectly possible, and in my view equally valid, for an Agnostic to behave as if s/he were a religious believer. (If there are no gods, what's the harm? If there are, why not cover the bases?)

#104 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 05:10 PM:

Not exactly jokes, but Bertrand Russell has said some funny things on the overlapping subjects of religion, evidence, and math; as well as (implicitly) that every religion began as a cult and every science began as magic:

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves."

"Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric."

"Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones."

"God is a reality of spirit... He cannot... be conceived as an object, not even as the very highest object. God is not to be found in the world of objects."

"I like mathematics because it is not human and has nothing particular to do with this planet or with the whole accidental universe - because, like Spinoza's God, it won't love us in return."

"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."

"I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong."

It is said (I can't find the citation) that Bertrand Russell moved from small a atheism to Magiscule A Atheism. At that point, someone asked him what he would say to God if he, Bertie, found himself past the gates of heaven and at the throne of the Creator.

"That's easy," he replied. "Insufficient evidence!"

#105 ::: Ian Osmond ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 05:40 PM:

My favorite Buddhist joke (and, in my experience, Buddhists are among the folks most happy to laugh at their religion, which is why I trust them) is, "Why can't the Buddha vacuum under his sofa?"
"Because he has no attachments."

#106 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 05:45 PM:

Thinking about the whole humor/humorlessness thing, I think it could be boiled down to: humor about one's religion arises when the group has sufficient confidence to both give and take mockery. Humorlessness correlates strongly to feeling threatened.

Counterexample: Judaism.

A story is told of a Jewish man during World War II who was reading the Nazi newspaper. A friend of his noticed this strange phenomenon. Very upset, he asked: "Moshe, have you lost your mind? Why are you reading a Nazi newspaper?"

Moshe replied: "I used to read the Jewish newspaper, but what did I find? Jews being persecuted, Jews disappearing, Jews living in poverty. So I switched to the Nazi newspaper. Now what do I find? Jews own all the banks, Jews control the media, Jews are all rich and powerful, Jews rule the world. The news is so much better!"

In fact, so much of Jewish humor is centered around persecution that when the Dali Lama asked Jews for advice in maintaining community thru exile, one of the people he sought to talk to was Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, compiler of Jewish Humor books.

#107 ::: Jonathan Lennox ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 05:54 PM:

BTW, Buddhist doctrine sounds quite kindly, yet there must have been some repressive regimes of believers along the way. Can somebody offer this near-ignoramus about Oriental history a little info? (Not meaning to divert the thread.)

I haven't read this book, only reviews of it, but Brian Victoria's Zen At War apparently goes into some detail about Japanese Buddhism's complicity in Imperial Japan's militarism and wartime activities.

#108 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 06:48 PM:

Xopher: Apologies for misunderstanding and thanks for the clarification. And absolute agreement re: Brit Trads. :)

HP: In addition to easily being an Agnostic Wiccan, I also have a friend who's a Jewitch--not Wiccan, specifically, though, but a Jewish Pagan.

Oh, yes, and a small contribution to the humor, since I have no specific tradition to draw upon:

How many Pagans does it take to change a Light bulb?

Six. One to change it, five to sit around complaining that light bulbs
never burned out before Christians came along.

#109 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 06:48 PM:

Chris - also bear in mind that the type of people who write emails to cartoonists about stuff which upsets them are going to be fairly highly strung to start with (I'm thinking "comic guy" from the Simpson's here). And Ubersoft is going to attract people who aren't that keen on MS, by its nature.

For my experience, I've found that Mac people tend to have the least sense of humour if you criticise something Apple- or Mac-y. Most of the people who actually do the work on Linux stuff have a good sense of humour about it; the group of 'l33t' people who write lots of comments on Slashdot don't, but then I get the impression a lot of them only use Linux in order to be able to say they use it. (If that makes any sense.)

It's hard to find anybody passionate in any way about MS products, in my experience. That probably says more about Microsoft than I could, in a number of different ways.

#110 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 07:22 PM:

I know there must be an answer to this question - I just can't remember it.

How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?

And - for the oddities of fundamentalists who fervently believe in spells and magic -

i worked with a fundementalist once who said he didn't want me using pictures of his wife and child for the basis of a painting because I was (according to him - according to me, I'm an Episcopalian) a witch and it would contaminate them with magic. (For the record, I do not know why he confused paganism with Episcopalianism.)

The corker was a couple of years later when he wanted me to count the kid's warts.

#111 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 07:43 PM:

Margaret:

10. One to actually change the bulb and 9 to say how much they like the old one.

Though I'm sure there are many variations. :)

#112 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 08:08 PM:

"Buddhist doctrine sounds quite kindly, yet there must have been some repressive regimes of believers along the way. Can somebody offer this near-ignoramus about Oriental history a little info?"

Here are some suggestions on where to look; mostly for the serious enquirer.

For Buddhism in India in a period of crisis, see the very recent book by Ronald M. Davidson, "Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement" (2002). Some nasty sectarian struggles (mainly between Hindus and Buddhists, but also intra-Hindu) are part of the story. I reviewed this on Amazon, where I pointed out that some acquaintance with the general histories of India and of Buddhism is pretty much required. I’m going to let someone else suggest a political history that is neither too partisan nor too technical.

For the latter, Wright on Buddhism in China (below) is actually a reasonable introduction. For a more advanced view of Buddhism in India, Edward Conze, "Buddhist Thought in India" (1962) is helpful, if rather hard going.

For a general introduction to Buddhism in China, including its utility to military leaders whose soldiers needed reassurance about the afterlife, see the old standby, Arthur F. Wright, "Buddhism in Chinese History" (1959). This has remained in print, with some bibliographic updating through about 1970. This is a charming book, and deceptively simple in its exposition.

For inner–Buddhist disputes in China, and the emergence of fiercely competing schools of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, see the elaborate presentation in Philip B. Yampolsky, "The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch: The Text of the Tun-Huang Manuscript, with Translation, Introduction, and Notes" (1966). If you aren’t familiar with either Buddhism or Chinese history, and especially both, Wright will be an essential introduction. Never mind what you may have read about Zen elsewhere.

I'll take a look at what I can suggest for Tibet and Japan.

#113 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 08:13 PM:

A fundamentalist agnostic is someone who says "I don't know and you don't either."

Maybe that's what he meant by a majuscule Agnostic?

Another agnostic who moves occasionally into belief systems. BTW, I would not class Buddhism as a religion in the same way as I'd class (e.g.) Catholicism -- it's much more a set of practices, with a "try this and see if it works for you" approach than I've seen in most of what I'd call religions. The closest in Christian terms would be UUs -- and many of them do not consider UU a Christian sect.

#114 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 08:23 PM:

A fundamentalist agnostic is someone who says "I don't know and you don't either."

I thought that was a militant agnostic.

--Mary Aileen

#115 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 08:29 PM:

Tom Whitmore:
A fundamentalist agnostic is someone who says "I don't know and you don't either."
Maybe that's what he meant by a majuscule Agnostic?

I would call that an evangelical agnostic.

#116 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 08:35 PM:

I know a man who describes himself as a "militant Christian agnostic"--"I don't know and you don't either," but having faith in spite of being absolutely certain that there is no way to know, and considering praxis rather than faith to be the point.

That strikes me as a very reasonable way to go about things.

#117 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 08:39 PM:

Hmmm...Do you actually have to be a member to make the jokes? By that, I mean, if I'm not a member of the church, can I still make jokes about it? What about the cult? If I'm not a member of the cult and make jokes about it which are met with disapproval, does that mean I'm a member of the cult?

This seems to exclude a whole group of people like myself, who belong to nothing.

Me too. I feel we should form a cult--er, religion of Those With Nothing Better to Do. Main form of worship will be telling jokes about other religions. Jokes about the TWNBTD will be, of course, frowned upon.

#118 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 08:40 PM:

More on the kindness of Buddhists.

For the general problem of power and conflict in Buddhist thought, with specific reference to the use of violence in protecting and preserving the Dharma, see Jan Nattier, “Once Upon a Future Time: Studies in A Buddhist Prophecy of Decline,” Nanzan Studies In Asian Religion, 1, Asian Humanities Press, Berkeley, California (1991). Nattier shows that the paradox is fully acknowledged, if not resolved very clearly. The book discusses a theme very prominent in Japanese developments of Buddhism (the Decline of the Dharma), but deals most extensively with older, less familiar, literature from India and Central Asia, including Tibet.

For the historical role of Buddhism in “pacifying” the warlike Tibetans, see the somewhat controversial, but well-presented, book by Geoffrey Samuel, “Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies” (1993). Whether or not one agrees that Buddhism reflects a shamanistic background in India, Samuel's careful periodization of Tibetan history avoids too-all-encompassing generalizations, which are easily refuted by counter-examples. The transfer of effective power from the royal and noble dynasties to the monastic orders, and its relation to Mongol, Ming, and Manchu policies, is very much included.

For the “surprisingly” violent resistance of some Buddhists monks to modernizing Tibet’s military forces, see Melvyn C. Goldstein, “A History of Modern Tibet, 1913–1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State” (1989). You can make up your own mind whether modern weapons were rejected mainly because they were horrible, or mostly because they required knowledge that was not a monastic monopoly.

For Buddhism in Japanese politics, see the increasingly dated, but lucid and comprehensive, work by Joseph M. Kitagawa, “Religion in Japanese History” (1966). Kitagawa, a Christian and a refugee from the Imperial “Thought Police,” seems to me remarkably objective about the social forces at work on Buddhism in Japan, and the vulnerability of its clergy to political pressure. I would welcome the suggestion of something equally comprehensive but more modern. (Kitagawa added important reconsiderations in 1990.)

Ichiro Hori [1910–1974] delivered a series of Haskell Lectures on History of Religions, published by the University of Chicago Press as “Folk Religion in Japan: Continuity and Change.” edited by Joseph M. Kitagawa and Alan L. Miller (1968). There have been a number of paperback editions, including one in 1994. This is less systematic than Kitagawa, but fills out many details, and is very good on how Japan and Buddhism adapted to each other.

Once one is familiar with the general religious history, Bernard Faure, “Visions of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism” (1996) is helpful for examples of competing schools of Zen, and how they fit into the medieval political scene. (For anyone who thinks this is a specifically Japanese development, see, again, Yampolsky on Ch’an in China.) The book concerns the “mental universe” of the revered Buddhist Soto Zen master Keizan Jokin (1268-1325), and is at times as difficult as Conze on Buddhist thought, although for different reasons.

#119 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 10:03 PM:

(For the record, I do not know why he confused paganism with Episcopalianism.)

From a certain angle, all those incense-and-chanting religions look alike.

#120 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 10:10 PM:

Margaret: "You can't change that light bulb! My grandmother gave that light bulb!"

Which segues nicely into a story that my dad tells for true. One of his professors was vocally disapproving of the Episcopalian habit of putting little acknowledgement plaques on everything ("This lightbulb given to the glory of God and in loving memory of Wilmer Frognose III.") His partner waited for him to pause, and said, "Well, Harold, at least they let God go first."

And the definition of "apocryphal" is "something that should have happened but didn't."

#121 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 11:24 PM:

Debra Doyle:

(For the record, I do not know why he confused paganism with Episcopalianism.)

From a certain angle, all those incense-and-chanting religions look alike.

She said Episcopalian, not Oxford Movement (says I, remembering a concert at the local OM church where we had to leave the doors open for an hour, in November, to make the building occupiable).

#122 ::: Tiellan ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2005, 11:26 PM:

I've got to admit I don't hear a lot of "light bulb" jokes at church, but I found this one:

Q: How many Mormons does it take to change a light bulb?

A: If it's Relief Society, it takes four. One to fix refreshments, one to bring the tablecloth, one to design the centerpiece, and one to screw in the light bulb.

If it's the Bishopric, forget it, they don’t do light bulbs. They call a Priesthood Executive Council and delegate it to the Elders.

If it's the Elders, it takes four. Three that don’t show up, and one to change the bulb.

If it's the High Priests, it takes four. Two to push the wheel chairs, one to handle the oxygen tank, and one to screw in the light bulb.

If it's the Home Teachers, it only takes two, but you have to wait until the end of the month.

#123 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 12:09 AM:

Q: How many Zen [or Ch'an] masters does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One.

#124 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 12:45 AM:

To add on to Ian Myles Slater's excellent exposition of Buddhism's seamier side, I also recommend reading about the various clashes of Buddhism in Southeast Asia, especially the Bama/Ayutthaya wars of the 16th century, I believe it was. Most of the really exciting Buddhist wars that I know of happened in that area, usually over Buddha relics. I can't offer many scholarly references, I'm afraid, except to pimp the book my dad just edited on SE Asia.

#125 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 01:08 AM:

Matt, the version I heard was:
Two. One to change the lightbulb and one to not change the lightbulb.

#126 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 01:18 AM:

The same sort of rule seems to work for religious orders (in my case, Roman Catholic) as well. The best example is the contrast between the Society of Jesus, formerly known as the church's marines, with the prelature of Opus Dei, which some consider the church's new marines. Jesuits have a rich sense of humor about themselves, but I can only find jokes about Opus Dei.

For example:

One day a local priest was visiting the home of some parishioners who had a teenage son. The parents were worried about what career their son would choose, but the pastor said he had a simple test that could predict what would become of him.

He would put three objects on a table and let the young man choose whichever one he wanted to have: a Bible, a wallet, and a bottle of scotch. If the boy chose the Bible, he would probably become a priest; if he chose the wallet, he'd be a banker, and if he chose the bottle, he'd become a worthless bum.
So the parents called their son into the room, and the pastor told him he could have whichever object he wished. When the boy promptly picked up all three, the pastor cried out, "Heaven forbid! He's going to be a Jesuit!"

You get jokes comparing orders:

The Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits were having a big meeting that went well into the middle of the night. Suddenly all the lights went out in the meeting room. The Franciscans immediately took out guitars and sang songs, and the Dominicans began preaching. But the Jesuits went to the basement, found the fuse box and reset the breaker.

Both of these are from a list maintained by Felix Just, S.J. of Loyola Marymount University

In regard to Opus Dei (and Jesuits), there is the joke I recently heard from Vatican correspondent John Allen Jr., talking about how this group is often seen in the church today:

A terrorist kidnapped a hundred members of Opus Dei. The next morning he called the Jesuit General and threatened that if his groups demands were not met, they would take one Opus Dei hostage each hour and release them.
#127 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 01:20 AM:

I would mutate the joke this way:

Q: How many Zen masters does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None, for it is not the light bulb that changes, but your mind. And the mind does not exist.

Or maybe as a koan:

Long ago, a light bulb was just a light bulb, and the darkness was just darkness. Once I became Enlightened, a light bulb was the darkness, and darkness was the lighbulb. Now that I am an old man, a light bulb is just a light bulb, and the darkness is just darkness. So change it yourself. Then cook the rice. Then clean the toilets. Maybe tomorrow or next week I'll talk to you again, grasshopper.

#128 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 02:17 AM:

"[E]xposition of Buddhism's seamier side "

I wouldn't say that I was describing a seamier side of Buddhism: just books dealing with the realities of a religion practiced by real people in a real world. Always less lovely than descriptions of "True," or "Authentic," Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc. etc. (Which are usually contrasted with whatever aspect of some other culture can be held up as "typical" or "inevitable" outcomes of the wrong belief or way of acting.)

The books by Davidson and Nattier are largely (although not entirely) concerned with persecutions of, rather than by, Buddhists, including, almost incidentally, the destruction of whole Buddhist cultures and kingdoms in Northern India and Central Asia by Muslim conquerors.

For early Christian collisions with Buddhists, an older, but very engaging, work, currently in print, is Maurice Collis, "The Land of the Great Image, being experiences of Friar Manrique in Arakan" (1943; with additional illustrations, 1985). It is formally the story of a Portuguese friar in seventeenth-century India and Burma, based on his own reports and other contemporary documents. I wouldn't trust it to be up to current standards of research, but the clash of cultures is interesting; and yes, relics of the Buddha figure largely in the intrigues and wars. We see that the European Catholics are quick to take advantage of the "superstitions" of the "idolaters" -- with whom their Protestant contemporaries would probably have gladly classed them!

#129 ::: Mikael Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 03:28 AM:

Faren Miller: I don't have solid references to it, but my old GM / polymath always told me with a certain amount of glee about one japanese buddhist cult focusing on going out and killing people and conquering land in order to gather land and gold for Buddha!

On a similar note of unexpected (more or less) commandments, I was recently invited to join the Purim celebration of a Jewish coursemate, and had the point of the holiday explained to me as "You dress up and drink yourself senseless because God wants you to be drunk."

#130 ::: Kimberly ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 07:07 AM:

He would put three objects on a table and let the young man choose whichever one he wanted to have: a Bible, a wallet, and a bottle of scotch.

I was raised Polish Roman Catholic. On my first birthday, my parents did this! They placed a shot glass, a dollar, and a rosary on my high-chair tray and waited to see what I would go for. Ever wanting it all, I used both hands and grabbed the dollar and the shot glass. And, well, there you have it.

We then did the same thing with D. on his first birthday (which just happened to be my 25th), and he also grabbed the dollar and the shot glass. At least now we're prepared for his teen years.

My dad used to send me all sorts of Pope jokes, but when I passed the bar he started sending lawyer jokes instead. Are lawyers a cult? I have to say that I've not had much success with my lawyer jokes around the office.

#131 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 09:24 AM:

I used to attend circle with a clan of nondenominational Pagans in Savannah, GA and we hardly ever had any problems with the Christian community. None come to mind, any way. I chalked this up to the fact that Savannah is home to a large Art School, so the locals had gotten used to seeing freaky people everywhere. Other than the Baptists pitching a fit once a year about Halloween, and the old Jehovis Witness Ladies handing out copies of The Watchtower in the park, there wasn't much of an evangelical scene there.

Once, a severed Goat head and a bunch of candles were found in the Colonial Cemetery downtown. This would have been prime material for ranting about Satanists under every bed but instead, the local news brought in one of the wacky crystal-wearing New Agers to explain on TV that Voodoo isn't bad, really. The matter was soon forgotten.

It always struck me as odd that the local churches didn't raise more of a public fuss, considering Savannah is home to the original Methodist congregation, they can get their panties in a twist over some pretty benign events. But nothing about the Voodoo practitioners.

#132 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 09:34 AM:

I guess I'll throw in here with the one about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac...he lies awake all night wondering if there's a dog.

#133 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 10:11 AM:

Keith wrote:
I used to attend circle with a clan of nondenominational Pagans in Savannah, GA and we hardly ever had any problems with the Christian community. None come to mind, any way. I chalked this up to the fact that Savannah is home to a large Art School, so the locals had gotten used to seeing freaky people everywhere.

That's an aberration. Savannah's been a weirdness magnet for its entire history. It's the closest you can get to New Orleans this side of, well, New Orleans.

That said, there are some very visible Pagan groups here in Atlanta. And I founded the Student Pagan Community at Georgia Tech and never got worse than sarcasm for it. I think the extent to which you can find tolerance for alternative lifestyles depends on the size of your local population. The bigger the environment, the easier it is to decide which bits and pieces you'll interact with.

#134 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 10:12 AM:

Ian (and others) -- thanks for all the info about non-pacifist Buddhism. Too much for me to look into at the moment, but it's good to get some general idea how things went. Human nature....

As for evangelists, I was astonished (rightly or not) by this piece in the Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/10/national/10evangelical.html. Evangelicals vs. Global Warming? Maybe these *aren't* the fabled Last Days! :)

#135 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 10:44 AM:

Maybe an agnostic is a person who doesn't know there is a god, and an Agnostic is a person who doesn't know there is a God.

#136 ::: Trent Goulding ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 10:51 AM:

Tiellan: I loved it! So true, especially about the bishopric and Elders' quorum....

#137 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 11:06 AM:

A Solipsist Atheist is sure that he/she created the universe. After all, who else could have? But he/she is paralyzed with existential anxiety, and comes to doubt his/her own existence. Take that, Descartes!

#138 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 11:19 AM:

Matt, the version I heard was:
Two. One to change the lightbulb and one to not change the lightbulb.

I heard four. One to change the lightbulb, one NOT to change the lightbulb, one to do both, and one to do neither.

I actually invented this next one. It works best in person, but I'm going to tell it anyway.

Q. How many Jesuits does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. (holding up three fingers) ONE!

#139 ::: PinkDreamPoppies ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 11:30 AM:

BTW, I would not class Buddhism as a religion in the same way as I'd class (e.g.) Catholicism -- it's much more a set of practices, with a "try this and see if it works for you" approach than I've seen in most of what I'd call religions. The closest in Christian terms would be UUs -- and many of them do not consider UU a Christian sect.

This depends largely on the type of Buddhism. Some traditions have a clear mythology and prescriptions for behavior largely descended from Hinduism. These forms of Buddhism don't seem to have become particularly popular in the West, I think largely because many people view Buddhism as a go-with-what-works alternative to highly prescriptive forms of Christianity.

An unrelated question: am I the only one who has a difficult time not becoming angry when faced with people referring to the Buddha as "that fat guy in the Chinese restaurants"? I try to view the mix-up as something of a cosmic joke---when I know that my reaction should be to not worry about it---but it bothers me in a very Americans-talking-too-loud kind of way.

#140 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 11:31 AM:

Xopher, you owe me a new keyboard.

#141 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 12:03 PM:

PinkDreamPoppies:

Buddha as "that fat guy in the Chinese restaurants"? With his faithful companion, Kitty (google the term in the put-money-in sense). Not to be confused with Hello Kitty. Sometimes confused with the big fat dude at Bob's Big Boy (the one at Toluca Lake is one of the last extant in Southern California). This raises the question: does Hello Kitty have the Buddha Nature? Or is Hello Kitty a cult, or a religion?

I am of the True Faith that knows that the cheeseburger was invented in Eagle Rock, just over the Pasadena border. Yet heretics in other states claim the divine sandwich. They shall be smote with spears. Pickle spears, of course.

#142 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 12:05 PM:

How many Luddites does it take to change a candle?

#143 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 12:15 PM:

Well, to be fair, most sects of Buddhism -do- have a "go with what works" approach built right into their belief structure. It's called "upaya" (in Sanskrit) and most commonly gets translated into English as "skillful means." It means that, limited by the bounds of compassion, you can use whatever means are going to be most effective to help any given person reach enlightenment. This explicitly includes, in at least two texts (Lotus Sutra and Queen Sri Mala's True Lion's Roar), lying.

Which doesn't make Buddhism not a religion. It doesn't (generally, leaving aside some sects) have a God, but it has a fairly specific (though ever-changing) view of what enlightenment/salvation/soteriology is and the practice, whatever it is, is geared towards helping you hit that mark. That's religion enough in my book.

#144 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 12:46 PM:

And then there's the joke about Episcopalians being seen as a man was on a tour of hell...

(And yes, the Episcopalian lightbulb answer I've heard is indeed "Change? My grandmother gave the church that lightbulb")

#145 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 01:50 PM:

Hunh. A least a third of the Jesuit jokes linked above I've seen as Jewish jokes (in by-jews-for-jews compendiums, mostly), and at least one I've seen as a lawyer joke.

#146 ::: Gigi Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 02:00 PM:

To address Heresiarch who said " I feel we should form a cult--er, religion of Those With Nothing Better to Do."

Actually there are those who say that Unitarian Universalists are just that, TWNBTD. My husband is an Atheist and I am a Christian Agnostic and we are both UU's and are raising our kids in that religion. Of course both of us attend the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) group because everyone knows that pagans have better parties. I believe the main purposes of religions in our modern society are for socializing or to create sense of belonging in a community. With that in mind however I often tell folks that Science Fiction is my religion. As a matter of fact I have given sermons at two different UU churches with that very theme. My biggest argument with the UU religion is that they are a big secret. If you don't believe in proselytizing how do you get the word out? I wonder if there is a greater percentage of UU's among SF Fans or a greater percentage of SF readers among UU parishioners and I wonder if anyone besides me even cares.

#147 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 02:21 PM:

A fundamentalist agnostic is someone who says "I don't know and you don't either."

Well, yeah, that's pretty much me in a nutshell! I just wrote essentially that same thing over on my blog yesterday, so I gotta laugh. It's funny because it's true.

I tend to be an atheistic agnostic, because I don't have any practice. But I do think that most religions have a agnostic elements. "If you meet the Buddha in the road..." is one of my favorites. Certainly, though, the story of the stoning of the adulteress and the Sermon on the Mount ought to give Christians pause about their own certainty.

To answer the big-A/little-a question: I've heard it described as the difference between strong and weak agnosticism. When most people say agnostic, they have in mind a kind of personally noncommital spirituality. The kind of person who grazes at the spiritual smorgasbord without choosing a favorite. That's what I'd call weak agnosticism. I, on the other hand, believe that some things are unknowable by their very nature, that "revealed" truth is always suspect, and that experience cannot be trusted. "I don't know, and you don't either," is a pretty handy summation. I usually don't get in people's faces about it, though, unless they get in mine first.

Maintaining a continuous state of doubt is at least a philosophical discipline if not a spiritual discipline. I find that as I get older I get better and better at it, and it feels more natural to me.

#148 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 03:11 PM:

JVP: Buddha as "that fat guy in the Chinese restaurants"? With his faithful companion, Kitty (google the term in the put-money-in sense). Not to be confused with Hello Kitty. Sometimes confused with the big fat dude at Bob's Big Boy (the one at Toluca Lake is one of the last extant in Southern California). This raises the question: does Hello Kitty have the Buddha Nature? Or is Hello Kitty a cult, or a religion?

Of course Hello Kitty has Buddha Nature. The maneki neko on the shelf has been around longer than Sanrio's cat, but my favorite is the surfer version with the Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, flashing a shaka sign.

The fat guy in the restaurant may have started out as one of the Seven Lucky Gods, but I think he's been incorporated into Buddhism at least as a boddhisatva, the way a lot of the pagan European gods became Catholic saints.

#149 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 03:26 PM:

Gigi Rose wrote:
Actually there are those who say that Unitarian Universalists are just that, TWNBTD. My husband is an Atheist and I am a Christian Agnostic and we are both UU's and are raising our kids in that religion. Of course both of us attend the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) group because everyone knows that pagans have better parties. I believe the main purposes of religions in our modern society are for socializing or to create sense of belonging in a community.

That sounds very similar to the reasons my wife and I started attending our local UU church. The main reason was that my wife missed having the benefits and warmth of a church community, but was not about to go back to the Catholic church. Now, with a baby on the way, we're finding that community even more valuable, and we're thankful for a religious education program that can, several years from now, teach our son about a diversity of religions without forcing him to reject his own thoughts and ideas.


With that in mind however I often tell folks that Science Fiction is my religion. As a matter of fact I have given sermons at two different UU churches with that very theme.

Interesting. I've delivered one sermon at our church so far, talking about the history of science and speculating on why it is that our greatest scientists used to be deep religious thinkers as well, up through the time of Descartes/Newton/Leibniz, but lately there's been an ever-widening and potentially very dangerous gulf between science and religion. My own view is that both sides are at fault.


My biggest argument with the UU religion is that they are a big secret. If you don't believe in proselytizing how do you get the word out?

There's a difference between proselytizing and advertising. Proselytizing is trying to convert someone to your point of view. Advertising is simply saying "Hey, we're here; if you're looking for something like us, come check us out."

I think advertising is totally compatible with UU principles. Whether it's compatible with UU budgets is another question, of course. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, the answer appears to be "no."

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 03:28 PM:

The fat guy in the restaurant may have started out as one of the Seven Lucky Gods, but I think he's been incorporated into Buddhism at least as a boddhisatva, the way a lot of the pagan European gods became Catholic saints.

And later Pagan African gods did the same thing.

#151 ::: PinkDreamPoppies ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 04:20 PM:

The fat guy in the restaurant may have started out as one of the Seven Lucky Gods, but I think he's been incorporated into Buddhism at least as a boddhisatva, the way a lot of the pagan European gods became Catholic saints.

However, I don't recall any of those pagan European gods being sold in Barnes & Noble as Jesus...

[shrug] Maybe it's just me.

#152 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 04:28 PM:

"that fat guy in the Chinese restaurants"

This is probably Mi-le fo (or Mi-li, or Mi-lo), a Chinese version of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. The Maitreya Boddhisattva was once the basis of a popular revolutionary movement (like apocalyptic sects in medieval Europe), and a corpulent, smiling, form, often surrounded by children, may have been intended to deflect official suspicion. In recent centuries it seems to have been used in the first hall of Buddhist temples, where it was seen by all visitors. There is a short article in Wolfram Eberhard's excellent "A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols," under "Fat-belly Buddha."

The current “restaurant” form apparently reflects Chinese folk-religion, with its (rather Vulcan) hope for prosperity and longevity, expressed in a host of Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, and less readily distinguishable, variants.

Formal Buddhist iconography contributed the "rosary in the right hand and the attenuated ear lobes," according to Wright, who includes a wooden version as the last of a series of Chinese Buddhist images, in a variety of styles, all of the rest recognizably "spiritual," in “Buddhism in Chinese History.”

Whether one regards the Fat-belly Buddha image simply as a vulgarization, as a reflection of the intellectual decline of a religion under persecution, or a response to the long-term deprivation experienced by most Chinese, is a matter of emphasis.

The usual versions seem to have little to do with specifically Buddhist teachings or iconography. However, there are interesting variations between lean and ascetic, and *relatively* corpulent Buddhas in several traditions, and some of the intended symbolism seems to have been omitted in popular copies. I would not be surprised to see a plausible symbolic interpretation of some more complete treatments of the theme; certainly not of the temple versions.

#153 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 04:39 PM:

PinkDreamPoppies: However, I don't recall any of those pagan European gods being sold in Barnes & Noble as Jesus...

One key difference here is that Buddha is a title, not a person. There are loads of Buddhas, the original Gautama Buddha being just one. So the fat guy in the restaurant is a Buddha, but not the Buddha. As opposed to Jesus Christ, of which there is only one.

#154 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 04:46 PM:

Eric Sadoyama:
One key difference here is that Buddha is a title, not a person. There are loads of Buddhas, the original Gautama Buddha being just one. So the fat guy in the restaurant is a Buddha, but not the Buddha. As opposed to Jesus Christ, of which there is only one.

Although, to be absolutely technical about it, "the Christ" is a title, too.

#155 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 05:10 PM:

"pagan European gods being sold in Barnes & Noble as Jesus"

Some people would consider the pale-skinned, fair-haired, blue-eyed Jesus, surrounded by rosy-cheeked Northern European children, to be a similar adaptation to local aesthetics and iconography.

(Actually, there are very good examples among the saints, going back to late antiquity. And there is now considerable evidence for Jewish precedents, including portrayals of David with borrowings from depictions of Orpheus -- although this may reveal hired artists doing variations on their customary designs to suit the customer, and amateurs trying to follow existing models, rather than a well-developed tradition. The excavation of the Dura Europos synagogue has produced a very large literature.)

The multiplication of savior-figures in several forms of Buddhism (innumerable Buddhas and Boddhisattvas) apparently tends to confuse Christians accustomed to THE SAVIOR. The basic idea seems to be intrinsic to early Buddhism, although subject to considerable elaboration over time. Conze's "Buddhist Thought in India: Three Phases of Buddhist Philosophy" has some interesting discussions of the tendency to downplay the personal characteristics of particular Buddhas: "When the Buddha is called a 'Tathagtha' his individual personality is treated as of no account. Tathagathas are 'types' who at certain predistined times appear..." (page 172).

#156 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 05:23 PM:

Although, to be absolutely technical about it, "the Christ" is a title, too.

Ah, but she said "Jesus." That's like "Gautama" (or his first name, Siddhartha, if I have that right). And I'm not aware of any Christians who believe in a multiplicity of Christs.

But yes, 'christos' and 'moshiach' (in English, 'messiah') both mean 'the annointed'. I correct people when they translate my first name as 'bearer of Christ'. That's like translating 'hippodrome' as 'horse drome'.

'Christopher' means 'bearer of the annointed'. Kings are annointed too, of course, and 'annointed' means 'dressed with oil'. I've been known to invite people to "oil up and ride!" when I'm in a particularly irreverent mood -- or want to irritate people who try to claim that I can't possibly continue to be named Christopher if I'm Pagan (I get this mostly from the anti-Christian Pagan subset).

#157 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 07:02 PM:

Kimberly: My dad used to send me all sorts of Pope jokes, but when I passed the bar he started sending lawyer jokes instead. Are lawyers a cult? I have to say that I've not had much success with my lawyer jokes around the office.

Possibly you need a better class of colleagues. My wife's brother-in-law is a lawyer; he told us of a convention where a speaker had people RotFL just by reciting rapid-fire punchlines: "Take your foot off his neck. Professional courtesy. Skid marks in front of the skunk. Not enough sand. The rest are true stories."... Does it depend on how lawyer-specific they are? Most of the above are adaptable -- IIRC, all but the last were used against the notorious Metropole Hotel manager -- where a sufficiently specific joke might cut too deep.

Ian Myles Slater: "that fat guy in the Chinese restaurants" This is probably Mi-le fo (or Mi-li, or Mi-lo),

Especially with your added iconography (long earlobes), I would have guessed Ho Tei (or Ho Toy) (who I've seen referred to as the Chinese Santa Claus) but I'm \not/ an expert. Is that another name, or someone else completely?

#158 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 07:17 PM:

No, you can't get to heaven in an electric chair/'Cause the Lord don't want no french fries there

I guess Jesus didn't get the memo, since the only person he promised a spot in heaven to was a criminal who was in the process of being executed.

Of course, at the time, Jesus was also a criminal in the process of being executed.

This word "heaven" - I do not think it means what they think it means.

Which is probably just as well, because if they go where they think they're going, no matter where I go I'll never see them again.

#159 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 08:33 PM:

"(long earlobes)"

Wright says "attenuated," which usually means reduced, and one would expect them to be short or missing. It is hard to tell from the photograph of the image he is describing, so I have to take his word for it. Although still long by most standards, they *do* seem to be shorter, and tending to merge with the cheeks, as compared to the very, very long, freely descending, earlobes of a rather athletic-looking gilded bronze Mi-lo (Maitreya) from the fourth or fifth century A.D., which Wright also includes. (There is a lovely color plate of the same figure, with many other long-lobed Buddhas in black-and-white, in William Watson's 1995 "The Arts of China to AD 900.")

Really extended earlobes are fairly common in Chinese art, apparently as a sign of wisdom -- often connected with Lao Tzu (Laozi), whose supposed personal name of Li Erh was interpreted as "erh" in the sense of "ear" (which I report on the authority of Wing-Tsit Chan's 1963 volume, "The Way of Lao Tzu").

Presumably, outside this specific hagiographic context, large ears = great knowledge. I would assume that this meaning would carry over to Buddhist images as well, but this may be a guess on my part, as I can't locate a source in the portion of my library which I have available. Or anything from India to clarify matters; for example, if long earlobes are classed among the "thirty-two signs" indicating Buddha-hood.

With Ho Tei, whom I haven't been able to identify, we *may* be dealing with a separate and distinct type, although, if so, I have no idea how consistently popular tradition keeps them apart. Assuming that the figure is Buddhist, and not, say, a popular Taoist, or just a popular, creation.

As a general rule, it is well to remember that China is a VERY big country, and statements such as "the Chinese believe / do X" often amount only to "the Chinese in this province / district / village ...," with no guarantee of accuracy outside that context. (Eberhard is very good on specifying region, class, or ethnic backgrounds for his statements.)

For a perhaps excessively detailed account of this state of affairs, see C.K. Yang's old (1961) "Religion in Chinese Society: A Study of Contemporary Social Functions of Religion and Some of Their Historical Factors." Much shorter, and rather less concrete, is "Chinese Religion: An Introduction," by Laurence G. Thompson, now it its fifth edition (1995). Michael Saso's "Blue Dragon White Tiger: Taoist Rites of Passage" (1990) is more comprehensive that the title suggests, and demonstrates the considerable interpenetration of China's traditional religions in actual practice.

I would appreciate it if someone at home in Chinese culture, or Buddhism, would pick this up. As should be evident, I'm much more comfortable supplying bibliographic references than with interpretations!

#160 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 10:16 PM:

I have described myself as a "lapsed agnostic", to which one response was "What do 'lapsed agnostics' believe in? Or do they just become UU's?"

My reply: Lapsed agnostics not only don't know, they don't spend any time thinking about not knowing.

#161 ::: Magenta ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 10:55 PM:

CHip, my favorite punch line is, "do you have a brass lawyer?"

And the way I heard the choosing joke is, you put a prayerbook, a gold coin, and a bottle in front of the child, to see whether he will be a rabbi, a businessman or a bum. The kid chooses all three, and the father says, oh no, he's going to be a Lubaviche rebbe. (apologies if there are any Hassids reading this.)

#162 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 11:19 PM:

More on Ho Tei

Sorting through a lot of commercial sites (offering images, hotel reservations, miniature gardens, etc.) turned up by Google eventually allowed me to identify Ho Tei as the *Japanese* form of Pu-tai (Pinyin Budai). Pu-tai is regarded as a Chinese monk and / or a pre-incarnation (a sort of early avatar) of Maitreya, and is portrayed as "The Laughing Buddha." Also fat, and presumably with overlapping attributes with the "Fat-bellied Buddha" form of Maitreya proper -- although Pu-tai seems in some instances to carry a (Chinese) wine-bottle, indicating the specific source of his jollity.

I suppose either would be appropriate for a restaurant. (I used to live where a Chinese restaurant was for many years the only eating place with a liquor license, so Pu-tai should have had the edge....)

#163 ::: Keri ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 12:25 AM:

Gigi, I'm with you - I wrote my first year Interfaith Seminary term paper about my Spiritual Journey through Science Fiction & Fantasy.
I'm the only person I know (although I'd love to meet some others) who has an Emperor Palpatine action figure on my altar.

#164 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 04:03 AM:

This word "heaven" - I do not think it means what they think it means.

I always think of the Flannery O'Connor story Revelation when I hear people listing who doesn't get into heaven in their private pseudo-Christian mythology.

In the story, the main character, a woman who thanks God every day for making her neither black nor white trash (it's set in the 1950's Amsrican South) has a vision of a procession into heaven. To her horror, people like her, the only ones whose white robes are properly ironed and whose hosannas are on key, are the last to get in.

I also like the fact that even they do, in the end, get in.

#165 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 08:00 AM:

"Doesn't work for the church I was born into. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is definitely not a cult, but I never heard its members (as distinct from their variously disgruntled offspring) tell jokes about it." - Ken.

But they don't tell jokes about anything...

"I don't know and you don't either." The last person I heard say that was an Anglican priest. He didn't know, he believed.

#166 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:01 AM:

"What do 'lapsed agnostics' believe in? Or do they just become UU's?"

I usually describe myself as a lapsed UU: I still don't believe in anything, but now I'm bored with talking about it.

#167 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:49 AM:

Lapsed agnosticism. Is that a recursive epistemological descent?

(1) I don't know if there is a God.

(2) I don't know if I don't know if there is a God.

(3) I don't know if I don't know if I don't know if there is a God.

Some of the earlier jokes on Descartes stem from his being in emotional agony. His mother died when he was an infant. His father never cared for the baby, and handed him off to an uncle who cared less. Then he went to a strict religious school, where he was beaten. Hence, little Rene, motherless, unloved, punished for his doubts on dogma, escaped this torture by creating a philosophy based on doubt, rather than on faith. The one thing that he could not doubt was that he thought. "Cogito ergo sum." He also had to invent (or deepen) the mind-body duality, to distance himself from his pain.

Hence modern science, math, and philosphy was a psychiatric response to an abused child.

I suggest to my Math classes that, looking in this new light at the crucifixes in school, and disregarding the tortured Jesus, he saw the cross as a pair of perpendicular number lines, and so invented Cartesian Geometry.

Mathematicians make many jokes about their profession, a new set now published by the American Mathematical Society. Does that not make Mathematics a religion?

But who says there's only one Christ? One of the Monty Python records has a routine on the artist explaining that "I thought that the two skinny Christs balanced the one fat Christ in the composition..."

#168 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 11:27 AM:

Mathematicians make many jokes about their profession, a new set now published by the American Mathematical Society. Does that not make Mathematics a religion?

Subscribe to the Foundations of Mathematics email list and you'll see the truth in that statement.

#169 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 11:34 AM:

Magenta: Being raised lapsed-Catholic, I'm not the authority on Chassidism you're looking for, but as a Brooklyn native I can assert that Lubavitchers are not by a longshot the only Chassidim around, and in fact most other Chassidic sects I'm aware of are kinda disdainful of Chabad Lubavitch. (The only Chassid I've been well-acquainted with was from another sect, and he once said, "If Schneerson's [the late Lubavitcher rebbe] the Messiah, I'm not going.") So no apologies needed. A lot of Chassids probably tell that joke themselves.

#170 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 12:34 PM:

Tracina, if you want religious songs with creepy lyrics, I'll nominate:

There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Immanuel's veins;
and sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
lose all their guilty stains.
and:
By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, thy bleeding feet we track,
toiling up new Calvaries ever
with the cross that turns not back ...

#171 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 12:40 PM:

Teresa:

The first is somewhat vampiratical, but I find the second creepier. "By the light of burning martyrs" has a "By the dawn's early light" flavor, and "Christ, thy bleeding feet we track" comes from CSI: Touched by an Angel. On the other stigmatic hand, "with the cross that turns not back" has a geometric flair that might have appealed to Descartes. Is it to the tune of: "Humbly, the cross-eyed bear...?"

#173 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 12:51 PM:

Creepy poetic religious imagery?

G. K. Chesterton rather comes to mind. This wasn't set to music, so far as I know, though Chesterton called it a ballad -


This is the story of Gibeon fight—
Where we smote the lords of the Amorite;
Where the banners of princes with slaughter were sodden.
And the beards of seers in the rank grass trodden;
Where the trees were wrecked by the wreck of cars,
And the reek of the red field blotted the stars;
Where the dead heads dropped from the swords that sever,
Because His mercy endureth for ever.

#174 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 01:06 PM:

Gluon said:

I'm assuming here that you mean the statement as coming from the cult. The Catholic church and many denominations would be then included, of course, but certain evangelical churches I've hopped through back when I was often invited to them thought that Catholicism was indeed a Great Big Cult. I seem to recall books that were passed around to help us innocent teens understand that if we ran across a Mormon we were to turn tail and race home, then bury our faces in the King James.
Okay, I'm fascinated. Did they tell you anything more specific about the dangers posed by Mormons?

When I was a little Mormon kid, the denomination that came in for the most abuse was Catholicism, on the grounds that they thought that you could do whatever you wanted, as long as you either confessed it to a priest, or paid money to have it forgiven. When I got older, I was taught that Catholics were responsible for deliberately rewriting scripture and falsifying religious practices in order to disguise the fact that primordial Christianity was indistinguishable from Mormonism.

The reasons for avoiding Southern Baptists and other low Protestant denominations were less specific. I mostly got the impression that they were (a.) loud, (b.) tacky (that went double for their approach to faith healing), and (c.) out to get us.

Xopher said:

I actually invented this next one. It works best in person, but I'm going to tell it anyway.

Q. How many Jesuits does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. (holding up three fingers) ONE!

I went and told that one to Claire Eddy, who laughed, then held up her index finger and said "THREE!"

#175 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 01:37 PM:

I haven't been able to get all the way through this, so I've no idea if it all works, but:

http://www.hello-cthulhu.com/?date=2003-11-30

#176 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 01:38 PM:

Sorry I don't know how to make the above actually a link; I'm totally without html skills.

#177 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 01:48 PM:

I went and told that one to Claire Eddy, who laughed, then held up her index finger and said "THREE!"

I'm delighted--as long as it was her index finger...

#178 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 02:21 PM:

Here's Melissa's link:

Hello Cthulhu

And guess what's back on the internets, cease & desist order notwithstanding? (shhh, don't tell Jack): Who Will Be Eaten First? (Geocities mirror site).

Melissa, here's how your link looks in html:

<a href="http://www.hello-cthulhu.com/?date=2003-11-30">Hello Cthulhu</a>

#179 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 02:38 PM:

Southern Baptists can be legitimately criticized for being loud and tacky, but faith healing really isn't a Baptist thing. It's more a Pentacostal thing.

#180 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 03:03 PM:

Melissa, if you assume that the curly brackets I'm about to use are actually pointy brackets (shift + comma, shift + period), the cantrip for making a URL into a link is: {a href="FullURL"}TextOfLink{/a}.

Text formats include {i}italics{/i}, {b}boldface{/b}, and {u}underline{/u}.

The excerpted quote format is called a blockquote. You run in the text around the starting and ending codes, because{blockquote}the blockquote format automatically adds a hard return and extra vertical space.{/blockquote}If you throw in extra line returns before or after blockquoted text, you'll come out with too much vertical space.

You can blockquote within blockquotes, as long as you keep your "open blockquote" and "close blockquotes" codes symmetrical. It's like parentheses.

That paragraph above would come out looking like this:

The excerpted quote format is called a blockquote. You run in the text around the starting and ending codes, because
the blockquote format automatically adds a hard return and extra vertical space.
If you throw in extra line returns before or after blockquoted text, you'll come out with too much vertical space.
Remember, those are all properly pointy brackets, not curly ones as typed.

#181 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 03:08 PM:

If you type &lt; and &gt; you can <use> the <angle> <brackets> in your <text>.

#182 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 03:09 PM:

Oh, that's right.

You know the one about the preacher who gets sold a Baptist dog?

#183 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 03:18 PM:

faith healing really isn't a Baptist thing. It's more a Pentacostal thing.

Oral Roberts wasn't a Southern Baptist? My grandmother would be shocked--shocked!--to learn that.

#184 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 04:47 PM:

Teresa: Your lyrics win, for whatever value of "win" there is in that situation. Yech.

Did they make you clap your hands to those, too?

#185 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 05:14 PM:

Oral Roberts was/is "officially" interdenominational, but comes from the Pentacostal side of the fence.

#186 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 05:16 PM:

It's embarrassing to have to admit it, but I've never been able to sort out all the Protestant denominations -- you know, the Advent Christian Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, African Orthodox Church, African Union Church, African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church, Inc., African Union First Colored Methodist, Amana Church Society, America Open Bible Standard Churches, American Baptist Association, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., American Bible Churches, American Evangelical Christian Church, American Evangelical Churches, American Evangelical Lutheran Church, American Lutheran Church, Anglican Church of North America, Anglican Orthodox Church, Anti-mission Baptists, Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarean), Apostolic Christian Church of America, Apostolic Church, Apostolic Faith Church, Apostolic Faith, Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God, Assemblies of God, Associate Presbyterian Church of North America, Association of Evangelical Friends, Association of Lutheran Congregations, Association Reformed Presbyterian Church, Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, Baptist Churches of Christ, Baptist General Conference, Baptist Missionary Association of America, Baptists, Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches, Berean Church Council, Inc., Berean Fellowship, Berean Fundamental Church, Bethel Baptist Assembly, Bethel Ministerial Association, Bible Fellowship Church, Bible Presbyterian Church, Bible Protestant Church, Black Baptists, Brethren Church, Brethren in Christ Church, Brethren in Christ, Brethren of Christ, Brinsers, Brotherhood by the River, Brotherhood of St. Andrew, Calvary Pentecostal Church, Inc., Central Baptist Association, Children of Light, Children of Truth, Christadelphians, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Brethren, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Church, Christian Congregation, Christian Endeavor, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Missionary Churches, Christian Nation Church, Christian Reformed Church, Christian Union, Christian Unity Baptist Association, Christ's Sanctified Holy Church, Church Equality Baptists, Church of Christ (Holiness), Church of Christ in Christian Union, Church of Christ Scientist, Church of Christ, Church of God (Adventist), Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), Church of God (Apostolic), Church of God (Seventh Day), Church of God and Saints of Christ, Church of God by Faith, Inc., Church of God in Christ (International), Church of God in Christ (Mennonite), Church of God in Christ Jesus, Church of God in Christ, Church of God of Prophecy, Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith, Church of God, Church of Illumination, Church of Jesus Christ, Church of Laestadius, Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., Church of the Brethren, Church of the Living God, Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America, Church of the Lutheran Confession, Church of the Nazarene, Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Churches of Christ in Christian Union, Churches of Christ, Churches of God (Holiness), Churches of God, Churches of the Living God, Congregational Bible Holiness Church, Congregational Christian Churches, Congregational Christian Fellowship, Congregational Church, Congregational Holiness Church, Congregational Methodist Church, Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, Conservative Baptist Association of America, Conservative Congregation Christian Conference, Conservative Mennonite Conference, Continuing Presbyterian Church, Cumberland Methodist Church, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Defenseless Mennonite Church, Disciples of Christ Christian Church of North America, Duck River Associations of Baptists, Dunkard Brethren Church, Dutch Reformed Church, Elim Fellowship Pentecostal Church, Elim Fellowship, Elim Ministerial Fellowship, Emmanuel Holiness Church (Pentecostal), Emmanuel Holiness Church, Ephrata Community, Episcopal Church, Episcopal Reformed Zion Union, Ethiopian Overcoming Holy Church of God, Evangelical Adventists, Evangelical and Reformed Church, Evangelical Christian Churches, Evangelical Church of North America, Evangelical Congregational Church, Evangelical Covenant Church of America, Evangelical Free Baptist Church, Evangelical Free Church of America, Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church, Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Conference, Evangelical Mennonite Church General Conference, Evangelical Mennonite Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical United Brethren Church, Federated Churches, Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fire Baptized Holiness Church (Wesley), Fire Baptized Holiness Church, First Christian Church, First Church of the Fundamentals, First Congregational Methodist Church of the U.S.A., Free Baptists, Free Christian Zion Church of Christ, Free Methodist Church of North America, Free Will Baptists, Friends General Conference, Friends of God, Friends of Truth, Friends United Meeting Religious Society of Friends, Fundamental Fellowship, Fundamental Methodist Church, Inc., General Association of Regular Baptist Church, General Baptists, General Conference Mennonite Church, General Conference of the Evangelical Baptist, General Conference of the Swedenborgian, Grace Gospel Fellowship, Hard Shell Baptists, Holiness Church of Christ, Holiness Church, Holiness Methodist Church, Hungarian Reformed Church in America, Hutterian Brethren, Immersion Baptists, Independent African Methodist Episcopal Church, Independent Assemblies of God-International, Independent Christian Church, Independent Churches, Independent Fundamental Churches, Independent Holiness Church, International Baptist Bible Fellowship, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, International Pentecostal Assemblies, International Pentecostal Church of Christ, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, International Pillar of Fire Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Kodesh Church of Immanuel, Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, Landmark Baptists, Liberal Christian Church, Life and Advent Union, Light of the Way Open Door Church, Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Church in the U.S.A., Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Lutheran Free Church, Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, Mennonite Brethren in Christ, Mennonite Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Protestant Church, Metropolitan Church Associations, Missionary Baptist, Missionary Church, Missouri Synod Protestant Conference (Lutheran), Moravian Church, National Baptist, National David Spiritual Temple of Christ Church Union, Inc., National Spiritual Alliance of the U.S.A, National Spiritualist Association of Churches, Netherland Reformed Congregations, New Apostolic Church of North America, New Congregational Methodist Church, New Lights (Separates), New School (Presbyterian), North American Baptist Conference, Northern Presbyterians, Old German Baptist Brethren, Old Order (Wisler) Mennonite Church, Old Order Amish Mennonite Church, Old Order Amish, Old Order Brethren, Old Order Dunkers, Old Order of Yorker Brethren, Open Bible Standard Churches, Inc., Original Church of God, Inc., Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Pentecostal Church of Christ, Pentecostal Church of God, Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostal Church, Inc., Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, Pentecostal Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, Pentecostal Free-Will Baptist Church, Pentecostal Holiness Church, People's Methodist Church, Pilgrim Holiness Church, Pillar of Fire, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterian Church in America, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Presbyterian Church, Primitive Advent Christian Church, Primitive Baptist Convention of the USA, Primitive Baptists, Primitive Methodist Church, U.S.A., Protestant Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Protestant Episcopal Church, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, Quakers, Reformed Baptists, Reformed Church in America, Reformed Church in the United States, Reformed Church, Reformed Ecumenical Synod, Reformed Episcopal Church, Reformed Mennonite Church, Reformed Methodist Union Episcopal Church, Reformed Methodist Union, Reformed Presbyterian Church (New Light), Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, Reformed Presbyterian Church, Reformed Zion Union Apostolic Church, Regular Baptists, Salvation Army, Schwenkfelder Church, Second Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Separate Baptists in Christ, Separate Baptists, Seventh Day Baptist General Conference, Seventh Day Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, Social Brethren, Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptists, Southern Methodist Church, Swedenborgian, Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ, Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists, Unaffiliated Mennonites, Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, Union of Brethren, Unitarians, Unitarian Universalists, United Baptists, United Brethren in Christ, United Brethren, United Christian Church, United Church of Christ, United Evangelical Church, United Evangelical Lutheran Church, United Free Will Baptist Church, United Holy Church of America, Inc., United Lutheran Church, United Methodist Church, United Missionary Church, United Pentecostal Church, United Presbyterian Church, United Zion Church, Unity of the Brethren, USA Free Methodist Church of North America, Wee Free Kirk, Wesleyan Methodist Church, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Worldwide Bible Way Church, and Zion Union Apostolic Church.

I'm likewise imperfectly sure how to sort out the Albanian Orthodox, American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, Armenian Churches, Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Holy Orthodox Churches in America, Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, Russian Orthodox Church in the USA, Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church in the USA, Syrian Eastern Orthodox Church, and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches -- but I'm fairly sure they don't go into the same bin as the Baptists, Adventists, Methodies, Piskies, et cetera.

I am even less certain of the status of the American Catholic Church, American Catholic Church (Syro-Antiochian), Catholic American Holy Orthodox, Catholic Apostolic Eastern Church, Christian Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church, Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church, Mariavite Old Catholic Church, North American Old Roman Catholic Church, Old Roman Catholic Church, and Polish National Catholic Church of America.

I'm clear on the Roman Catholic Church.

And I can discuss in fine detail the distinctions between (on the one hand) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and (on the other hand) the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonites), and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Strangites).

I figure it's like knowing the local sports teams.

#187 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 05:24 PM:

Yowtch, Teresa. That list is...that list is...good golly. I'm speechless.

#188 ::: squrfle ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 05:52 PM:

Delurking to say

My favorite religious joke at present is here
[evil finder]

Just to warn you, my number is 666.

Xopher- is there an emoticon for thumbing one's nose?
Ummm I don't know the whole cannon of emoticons but how about 8-;) .....though I suppose this might be picking your nose instead.

Quickly relurking

#189 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 05:55 PM:

I figure it's like knowing the local sports teams.

How 'bout them Gawds!

#190 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 05:57 PM:

Hey -- I know about the Strangites!!! They were the followers of James Strang, who migrated to Beaver Island, Michigan. Strang was an opponent of polygamy, for everyone but himself. He had a hanging iron cage that he displayed his enemies in.

Eventually his own men killed him, and the Strangites were driven out of Michigan (or at any rate out of Beaver Island, which was then mostly populated by French- and Irish-descended people, mostly named LaFreniere or MacDonough). Where they ended up I have no idea.

My family used to vacation on Beaver Island. Last I saw the iron cage was still there.

#191 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:03 PM:

I'm reasonably familiar with Southern Baptists, North American Baptists, the Christian Baptist Fellowship, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the American Baptist Churches, and the American Baptist Association.

I have some knowledge of Pentacostals, Assemblys of God, Churches that practice snake dancing (they are fascinating), Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Jehovah's Witnesses -- enough knowledge to carry on some kind of a conversation with them.

Episcopaleans and Lutherans are very confusing to me (I just put them in the "it's high church -- it's supposed to be confusing" category and move on.)

And I confess Catholicism stumps me quite a bit. The culture of it trips me up every time...

As to the rest of that truly impressive list... I may have heard something somewhere about some of them at some time.

#192 ::: Valerie Emanuel ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:08 PM:

Ooooh, anybody wanna see some Scientology cartoons?

(All right, I'm very late to the discussion and this is a shameless promotion of my website--but every hit on my site makes David Miscavige's mouth foam just a teensy bit more...)

Ooooh, anybody wanna see some Scientology cartoons?

http://www.scientology-kills.org/laugh.htm

#193 ::: Gluon ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:22 PM:

Variously, as my time is limited:

"Why can't the Buddha vacuum under his sofa?"
"Because he has no attachments."

I told this to my Buddhist roommate. While he nitpicked some of the other jokes, this one got a snort and a "that's kind of clever." He takes his practice seriously, but he has a great sense of humor generally.

Theresa: Did they tell you anything more specific about the dangers posed by Mormons?

Mormons were (if I'm remembering correctly; it's been many years) not actually followers of Christ and would happily entice you away with stories that they were. They believed in some complicated universe where you followed the rules and if you were really really good you got to take your favorite wife and pick a planet, upon which you would become Adam and Eve. This is what I remember of a particularly funny movie I saw at church camp.

They gave us books, too. The only book I remember with any clarity is one of Josh McDowell's. Of course, this book is also mistake-ridden (Buddhism is a sect of Hinduism??). Not that I understood this until I actually went to college and studied some of the religions.

McDowell's book on religions and others he's written on cults and "how to defend your faith" were passed around in my small non-denom Christian school by teachers hoping to pour the precious words into the vulnerable minds of kids who needed their "protection" from the evils of The World.

I look back at it and think how much more effective it would have been to take a serious look at the things they were labeling evil. I think the fear they put into us about those other religions/cults was what turned me sour on the whole notion of the organized church(es), more than anything else. It's what annoys me most about a certain political figure -- the answers are black and white, the only morality is my morality, the only way is my way, and the only protection is in getting everyone else to believe the same way. If I had been presented with accurate information and invited to exercise that "free will" they kept telling me about, I might have a different attitude toward Christianity today.

When I was a little Mormon kid, the denomination that came in for the most abuse was Catholicism, on the grounds that they thought that you could do whatever you wanted, as long as you either confessed it to a priest, or paid money to have it forgiven. When I got older, I was taught that Catholics were responsible for deliberately rewriting scripture and falsifying religious practices in order to disguise the fact that primordial Christianity was indistinguishable from Mormonism.

I remember when an aunt joined a 7th Day church - my honestly-seeking cousin had all this material her mom gave her, plus the Book of Mormon and literature from other "denominations" or "cults" (depended on whose glasses you were wearing at the time). The aunt had jumped on the bandwagon with a group of 7th Dayers who thought the Catholic Church was the Antichrist.

I have relatives in most major religions and denominations - Mormon, Jehovahs Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, and fundie/evangelical free/Baptist (which I lump together as Christian, however diverse and judgemental of each other they really are). It was fun discovering the tracts left behind at grandma's house and comparing them.

The reasons for avoiding Southern Baptists and other low Protestant denominations were less specific. I mostly got the impression that they were (a.) loud, (b.) tacky (that went double for their approach to faith healing), and (c.) out to get us.

The Out to Get Us part seems universal. A common cause will unite people. Or, it's "proof" that "we're on the right track - evil Others are oppressing us!"

#194 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:33 PM:

There was also (at least when I went to such places) the Conservative Baptist Mission Society, which came in both Home Mission and Foreign Mission flavors. They were . . . well, you can probably guess. They were one of the numerous Protestant sects that insisted they were not, in historical fact, Protestants (since that would mean they must have at some time been Catholics), but folks who got the Word straight from Jesus and then . . . well, went off somewhere by themselves for the next coupla thousand years.

And just to be orthographically difficult, it's Pentecost, and therefore Pentecostals.

#195 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:40 PM:

Teresa --

Why, no, I have not heard the one about the preacher who gets sold a Baptist dog.

#196 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:43 PM:

And you all heard about the atheist who was about to be eaten by a bear? He prayed "God, God, please save me." To which He replies: "Save you? You've denied my existence for 40 years, you've ridiculed my followers, now you want my help?"
The man thought about this a moment and said, "Your right. But, hey, if you don't want to save me, how about making the bear a Christian?" God liked this idea. A brief flash of light and viola, the bear calmly dropped to his knees, folded his front paws in prayer, bowed his head and said: "Thank you Lord, for this meal I am about to eat."

#197 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 07:51 PM:

We once went to a Fellowship of Independent Baptists church. And to a lot of non-chain churches.

I have a friend who was raised in charismatic fundamentalism, which held that Catholics were Satan-worshippers. Even as an intelligent adult, she would startle first, then remember that was wrong.

#198 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 08:23 PM:

Teresa - Unitarian-Universalism is not a Protestant sect, so that's one less for you to worry about sorting out.

(There are UU Christians, yes, and I'm one of them. But it's a creedless faith in which individuals choose to believe what they like, and the number of UUs who choose to believe in (for example) the Resurrection is quite small.)

#199 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 08:25 PM:
A brief flash of light and viola

And here I'd have thought trumpets would be more traditional.

#200 ::: Leslie ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 08:27 PM:

On Baptists and inter-denominational invective:

I once attended a GARB church--General Association of Regular Baptists. I'm not sure who were supposed to be the irregular ones, but the GARB folk were definitely on the conservative end of the spectrum, and anyone who wasn't a self-proclaimed born-again evangelical was suspect. If you were a mainline denomination Christian, then you might or might not be saved; if you were much of anything else, you were definitely headed for hellfire.

Catholics and Mormons came in for particular abuse--Catholics for idolatry and basing things on "tradition" instead of The Word of God, and Mormons for, well, being a Really Dangerous Cult. Two key elements of the danger: a) they used the same words (God, Jesus, etc.) as "real" Christians, but didn't mean the same things by them (for example, the Mormon God is a glorified man rather than a transcendent always-existent spirit; Jesus was conceived by the-man-who-had-become-God having physical sex with Mary rather, than through the IC; Jesus and Satan are brothers); b) they believed in salvation by works rather than faith, so every Mormon was absolutely, unavoidably damned.

As Gluon says, Mormons were said to believe that everyone--that is, every man--could achieve godhood through obedience to the Mormon life, and would be rewarded with a celestial planet upon death. The version I heard was that polygamy was A-ok in the afterlife, and that Mormon men got to spend eternity impregnating their unlimited number of wives, who got to spend eternity being pregnant and giving birth to spirit babies, who would eventually receive bodies and people the earth. The perpetual pregnancy part was what made me sure I would never want to be a Mormon, no offense intended to any and all LDS folk here.

I also have to agree with Gluon's description of the fear-based indoctrination. Very toxic stuff.

#201 ::: Leslie ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 08:30 PM:

Grr. Misplaced comma, should be after Mary. Apologies.

#202 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 08:33 PM:

My preferred version of the Zen bulb joke is:

Q: How many Zen masters does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: A tree in a golden forest.

#203 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 08:49 PM:

Teresa, allow me to confuse the issue for you.

The Amana Church Society, if they are the same as the Amana settlements in Iowa, are a group of German origin, part of the great Anabaptist tradition that also produced the Amish and Mennonites. The Amana Corporation sprang from their refrigeration plant, BTW; their settlement in Iowa is on record as one of the most successful American communes. Those here who have attended such colleges as Grinnell or the University of Iowa may remember trips to the Amana Colonies to dine at the Oxyoke Inn on smoked pork chops and other delicacies.

As for all Methodist groups--they spring from the Wesleyan movement [see John and Charles]; there was a major split in the US after the Revolution over the issue of slavery [the Methodists were originally anti-slavery]when Francis Asbury, first Methodist bishop in America, decided to drop this in order to be able to prosetylize more freely in the Southern States, and his regular travelling companion and evangelizer, Richard Allen [a man so persuasive a preacher that when he "saw the light" of Christianity and began preaching was able to convince his owner to free all his slaves, as it was unfitting to hold one's brothers and sisters in Christ in bondage], broke with him and founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church [the Methodist Church was originally the Methodist Episcopal Church, John Welsey feeling that he was still an Anglican, even if a slightly more, um, Methodical one.] I'm pretty sure all the AME churches spring from Bishop Allen's foundation. In the 1960s, the Methodists merged with the Church of the Brethren to become the United Methodist Church; like many mainstream Protestant churches, they had splits in the 19th Century over slavery and secession. I'm not sure they're all joined up now, but I think they mostly are. Methodists, like Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, have an episcopal organization.

The Episcopalians like to split over which edition of the Book of Common Prayer to use, and whether or not it's Nice to ordain women [count on a split soon over whether or not it's Nice to ordain homosexuals who admit to the fact.] I think they also had a sort of Split over the Civil War, although they may have just Stopped Speaking for a while; splitting's such a Baptist thing to do, and should be saved for real emergencies, as noted above.

The Baptists and the Presbyterians are both Calvinists, orginally, although many Baptists have no idea who Jean Calvin was, and don't care. They are all Congregational, which means no bishop will tell them what to do--they do have Conventions and such that try to agree on doctrine, with [very, for the Baptists] mixed success. I believe the Congregationalist Churches are also Calvinist in origin; they are the American children of the English Puritans.
My maternal grandmother was a Southern Baptist, albeit one who would take her family to a Methodist, Presbyterian, or Catholic church on Sunday, if that's all there was in the town they lived in at the time [my grandfather was a highway contractor--they moved all over Missouri and western Illinois]. Her explanation of the various flavors, fractions, fragments, units and segments of Baptistdom is that Baptists are much like cats; you may think from the noise they are fighting to the death, but they are in fact multiplying.
A Baptist acquaintance once told my aunt, a life-long Methodist that the Methodist Church was too full of ritual for her taste; my aunt, after questioning, determined that this meant they read a version of the Creed at every Sunday service, and regularly used responsive readings.
The Baptists date back to at least the English Civil War; they may be largely responsible for the fragmentational tendencies in American churches as their emphasis on the priesthood of the believer [which became more and more to mean 'male believers'; many Baptist Churches still will not accept a woman as their principal pastor] means a tendency to schism was built in from the first, as people disagreed about interpreations of doctrine.

The Disciples of Christ, which include the Church of Christ, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church, and some others, probably, sprang from the effort of a man named Alexander Campbell, who was a Baptist preacher in Nashville Tennessee in the early 19th century. One of the things that divides this group is the use of instrumental music in the service; the Church of Christ feels that since this isn't mentioned in the New Testament as being used by the first Christians, it's a Bad Thing. The Christian Church feels othrwise; some call this the split between the Campbellites and the Fiddleites. Many members of the Church of Christ do not find this reference amusing; I have known a Church of Christ minister to be expelled from the church for permitting instrumental music in a service in his church. They are a lot like Baptists in many ways, but aren't likely to admit it.

It's hard to say much about all the flavors of Pentacostal churches; they place great emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and are sort of pre-Charismatic Charismatics.

Many of the doctrinal differences inside the larger groups are desperately important to the members, and nearly invisible to outsiders.

In looking over the history of American Protestantism, it's important never to forget how much the issues of slavery, secession, and racial equality and integration played a part in dividing denominations. It's also noteworthy how many denominations broke down into white churches and black churches, which often moved farther apart doctrinally and in observances over the years.
I had a professor who claimed that one reason for the rise of the Baptist Churches and thier offshoots was that the Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, like the Catholics, thought you really needed to send ministers to seminary, so they'd learn a few things, while the Baptists and those who came after were willing to settle for a Calling ["vocation" for any confused Catholics in the audience] and some knowledge of the Bible. On the frontier, this tended to lead to a multiplication of Baptist ministers, and a dearth from the other denominations. I don't know if he's right about that or not.

Is everyone stupefied with confusion yet?

#204 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 09:07 PM:
The Baptists and the Presbyterians are both Calvinists, orginally, although many Baptists have no idea who Jean Calvin was, and don't care.

To confuse the issue even more... Baptists are not Calvinist. Not all of them, anyway.

Baptists are an unholy fusion of Calvinism and Arminian ideas. Some denomations fall more solidly on the side of predestination, others more solidly on the side of free will, and some are a gleeful frankenstein mismatch of both. Most Baptists aren't familiar with either John Calvin or Joseph Arminus, but they are familiar with the ideas, and they generally pick a side. That said, almost all Baptists, Calvinist or Arminian, tend to lean toward the idea of the persistence of salvation (that is, once you are saved you cannot fall, and if you fall you were never truly saved) which is a solidly Calvinist idea.

But that said, there are actually both Calvinist and Arminian traditions in the Baptist denominations.

#205 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 09:44 PM:

"needed to send ministers to seminary, so they'd learn a few things, while the Baptists and those who came after were willing to settle for a Calling"

Richard Hofstadter's old "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" (1963) includes a well-documented account of the role of actual opposition to a trained clergy in American denominationalism. Not always entirely fair in presentation, but very clear about how class and sectional interests intersected with sectarian differences. And how necessity was declared a virtue.

New England Congregationalism can be traced back to a demand among English Reformers for an educated, preaching, clergy, which certainly gave it a relatively sophisticated background. (As an English major, I encountered the literary results of Oxford and Cambridge turning out more students than there were clerical livings or government jobs available.)

Later, with Presbyterians and Congregationalists fighting over parishes during the Commonwealth, the Baptists seem to have decided that the Preaching part was sufficient -- and when you have a preacher like Bunyan (see "Pilgrim's Progress," "Life and Death of Mr. Badman," etc.), it is easy to understand why the formal education part didn't seem so important. Even if it subjected them to ridicule (not mention persecution) after the Restoration.

Of course, Bunyan and many of his colleagues were impressively self-educated, able to cite not only Scripture but a formidable body of commentary (including the Geneva Bible) and controversial literature, and hold their own in disputations with not only the Anglican establishment but more "orthodox" Calvinists, and Arminians, Quakers, etc. They were most obviously "uneducated" in regards to Latin and Greek. (That was Lord Chesterfield's definition of an "illiterate man" a few decades later.)

None of this "I read the King James Bible, what more do I need to know?" argument.

#206 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:11 PM:

It just occurred to me, as we're discussing this, that Baptists were in fact considered a cult by the State of New York way back before the Constitution.

It's reasonably fair to say that Baptists are suspicious of clergy. I believe that Baptist churches have the highest turnover rate for pastors compared to any other Protestant denomination... mostly because the churches fire them.

#207 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:19 PM:

What did the buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?

Make me one with everything.

#208 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:36 PM:

Ian Myles Slater:

"None of this 'I read the King James Bible, what more do I need to know?' argument."

My second-hand understanding is that this argument is the reason that Scotland was the first nation to have compulsory public universal education, and thus became the most literate nation in Europe.

That is, if everyone can read, and think for themselves about what the Bible says, then we shall be free of a hierarchy of priests who want us ignorant and subservient to their interpretations.

Although I am paternally descended from an illustrious rabbi, the argument makes good sense to me. Said rabbi, Aharon Eliakum Wertheimer, born circa 1600, was a leader of the "Freethinkers" movement which brought the Enlightenment into Eastern European Jewish thought, by counseling skepticism of ALL dogma, religious and secular.

Educated as a secular humanist by my parents, who became that prior to being New York Book Editors, and then as a scientist, I was further immersed in that worldview by Richard P. Feynman. He was considered unusually bright -- and unusually skeptical -- by even other Nobel Laureates in Physics. He tolerated my ignorance and stupidity, so long as I showed good physical intuition, demonstrated proper skepticism of academic authority, made him laugh, and had pretty girlfriends.

Honestly -- I didn't mean this to be so autobiographical, but it is from my experience, that of my parents, that of my teachers, and that of my wife that I rather support the argument about reading the Bible. And all other books.

#209 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 11:36 PM:

Sometimes the lyrics to the song don't seem so outrageous without the tune. When I was in high school I wound up playing guitar and singing at a local Catholic church (at this remove I don't remember how this happened, as one of the other girls who was singing was my arch-High School-nemesis. Perhaps they drugged me?) and there was one particular song which fascinated and boggled my pre-UU brain. It had the tempo and sound of a jingle for household detergent (ie., it was perky) and lyrics of casual bloodthirstiness. Even in High School I had some clue about the tenets of Catholicism; I wasn't troubled by the vampiric quality of the words, but the perkiness got to me...

Sons of God, hear His holy word
Gather 'round the table of the lord.
Eat his body, drink his blood
And we'll live forever...

#210 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 12:15 AM:

I come from a very secularized Jewish background myself, which has somehow produced a constant curiosity about religious traditions in general. I certainly wasn't disparaging reading the Bible -- just the notion that it is sufficient, in and of itself, to instill some sort of divine wisdom into the otherwise ignorant, while reading (let alone studying) anything else is a wicked waste of time. And the continuing preference in some circles for a very difficult early-seventeenth-century translation.

It is sort of a weird paradox that New England Congregationalists became the schoolteachers to a good deal of the Baptist frontier. I think Hofstadter alludes to the issue, which I have seen explored mostly in other contexts, such as the standardization of American English. There may be an investigation of the religious aspects with which I’m not familiar.

#211 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 01:59 AM:

To the person who asked where my acquaintance's child custody case is located: I do not know. She is an online acquaintance. And I probably would decline to say anyway, for reasons you're probably anticipating and totally understanding.

(To anyone who wonders why the hell I took so long get back over here and answer: I dunno. For the same reason I haven't managed to get around to anything else in the past couple days, I guess.)

#212 ::: Geri Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 02:36 AM:

Thanks, Madeleine; thanks a lot. I hadn't thought of that song in decades.

I'm going to go listen to The Llama Song now.

#213 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 07:55 AM:

Teresa,

Impressive list. If you're clear on the Roman Catholic Church, though, you're ahead of pretty much everyone else. We simply hide our complexity under one coverlet.

The classic joke in that area varies depending on whom you hang out with in the church. The version I heard, flavored by the parishes we spent time in when I was a teenager, goes like this.

There are three things that even God does not know.

  1. What a Francscan is doing,
  2. What a Carmelite is thinking, and
  3. How many orders of nuns there are.
#214 ::: Mikael Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 09:17 AM:

Teresa,

I just love your list. Makes me feel almost bored to live in a country with Old religion (as opposed to OLD religion) -- we converted in the 1500s to some flavour of Lutherianism to enable our dear king to take the church bells and church silvers to the war effort. OK, we've had our bouts of pentecostals and weird laplandic christian cults in the 1800s, but nothing like the avalanche you sketched.

Unless it'd offend anyone, I'd note that I'm atheistic/agnostic, but borrowed rites to Ganesha and several others from this blog for my last apartment move; seriously consider building a private altar to Pallas Athena (after the exposition in Cryptonomicon); and read the Book of Mormon for the high fantasy story in it...

#215 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 09:38 AM:

Chris says, re Free Presbyterians, 'But they don't tell jokes about anything.' But they do. A general humourlessness is not one of their faults.

#216 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 09:40 AM:

A brief flash of light and viola

And here I'd have thought trumpets would be more traditional.

He was stringing you along.

#217 ::: liz ditz ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 10:02 AM:

Oh...well, book of joe reminded me of rick ross:

book of joe: http://www.bookofjoe.com

Rick Ross, Cult News, Cult News


Disclaimer--This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively.

#218 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 10:19 AM:

AMD Causing Gene Found
Insurance Digest

"A satanic gene plays its evil role in the age-related macular degeneration or AMD. A report of US researchers’ study that appeared in the Science journal dubbed AMD as a leading cause of old age blindness. ..."

Ummmm, and it is normally used to grow horns? It makes a protein with sulfur cross-linking? This story is not likely to win the Temple Prize for unifyinmg Science and Religion.

#219 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 10:27 AM:

Teresa: I don't know if you've ever read much about the little exploitation films that toured the country (The best known include Cocaine Fiends, Reefer Madness, and Sex Madness) years ago, but when the topic turns to Mormonism I've got a film rental catalog somewhere in storage that includes a film where, during the climax, the hero catches the evil Mormon trying to add the heroine to his string of wives, hauls him out in the street, and horsewhips him. And that wasn't the worst anti-Mormon film they made...

As far as cults go, I was lucky enough to take sociology from Rodney Stark at the University of Washington, one of the experts on the subject. (He testified at Vatican II while a grad student, and when we hit the chapter on cults in the textbook he gave us the ten minute lecture that added up to "This was the best textbook on the subject I could find, and despite the assertions of the authors I do *not* walk on water.")

He was an ex-newspaper reporter, and when Jonestown took place during Sociology 101 all the reporters looking for a sociologist to comment called him all weekend. He showed up on Monday looking exhausted, slumped on the podium, looked at us, and said "For those of us unfortunate enough to have specialized in certain areas of Sociology it's been a hell of a weekend." He then spent most of the next hour telling us what he thought had taken place and why, and the impressive thing is when the Jonestown tapes became available it was clear he'd been over 95% correct.

I'll have to keep an eye out for my old class notes: his Cults classes were too packed for me to get into but he covered some of the mechanics of indoctrination into cults in the general class. I was delighted to read the Time cover article on Mormonism a couple of years ago and see they quoted him by the third paragraph, so with luck he's still alive.

#220 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 10:52 AM:

By Teresa's Disambiguator, Creationism is a Cult. Yet it pretends to be a Religion, and attacks Darwinism as a Cult.

Some such language creeps into this fine paragraph, for debunking purposes:

"Books, Naturally
[review by Susan Lumpkin]
The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. Richard Dawkins. 2004. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York. 673 pp., hardbound. $28.

"Dawkins writes with great clarity and wit, most evident when at his opinionated best he skewers the ideas of those he disagrees with. I can't help quoting my favorite such passage at length: 'Creationists love the Cambrian Explosion [a time from which huge numbers of fossils of very diverse forms occur compared to before] because it seems, to their carefully impoverished imaginations, to conjure a sort of paleontological orphanage inhabited by parentless phyla: animals without antecedents, as if they had suddenly materialized overnight from nothing, complete with holes in their socks. At the other extreme, romantically overheated zoologists love the Cambrian Explosion for its aura of Arcadian Dreamtime, a zoological age of innocence in which life danced to a frenzied and radically different evolutionary tempo: a prelapsarian bacchanalia of leaping improvisation before a fall into the earnest utilitarianism that has prevailed since.' More succinctly, referring to one theory about this same explosion, he writes, 'This third school of thought is, in my opinion, bonkers.'"

Need I point out that Biologists are perfectly able to make jokes about themselves? I've never heard an "Intelligent Design" fanatic do so. My son tells me about a magazine cartoon he saw, where a snake with an apple in its mouth is at the entrance to a cave, and is saying to a caveman (around the apple?) in a word balloon "Is the lady of the cave at home?" The cartoon is captioned "most likely to offend everyone."

#221 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 11:48 AM:

Teresa, some of the denominations you list have since merged. A denominational merger is a process whereby two religious organizations become three or four.

#222 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 11:51 AM:

Q: How many Amish does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Two -- one to screw in the new bulb and one to paint it black.

#223 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 12:37 PM:

My favourite Quaker joke is visual, not verbal. Cartoon of a slightly-older girl reading out of a storybook to two younger children: "Now there was one poor jailer who didn't have a Quaker..."

AFAIK, the difference between the Religious Society of Friends and all other Christian churches (except for Unitarians? I'm not sure now...) is that Friends don't do church communion: all life is sacramental, so every meal is an opportunity for communion.

The other difference Friends share with a few other faiths: if you ask a Quaker "but what do Friends believe?" if there are two Quakers present you will get three opinions: what one Quaker thinks, what the other Quaker thinks, and what the two of them can agree on together.

I found a list of 35 questions you need to ask yourself (apparently) if you want to be into Gardnerian Wicca, and did a variant on it for So You Want To Be A... Quaker?.

(Then, mildly hysterical, I did another one on So You Want To Be A... Blake's 7 Fan?)

#224 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 01:20 PM:
AFAIK, the difference between the Religious Society of Friends and all other Christian churches (except for Unitarians? I'm not sure now...) is that Friends don't do church communion: all life is sacramental, so every meal is an opportunity for communion.

Actually, Baptists don't really do Communion either.

Baptists do "the Lord's Supper," which is essentially the same thing, anywhere from once a month or once every three months or only on Easter (it depends). The thing about it is, though, it's not considered a sacrament. Baptists by and large don't actually have any sacraments. Some Baptist churches come awfully close when it comes to baptism by immersion, but by and large baptists see nothing inherently mystical in the few (very, very few) rituals we have.

#225 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 04:02 PM:

My second-hand understanding is that this argument is the reason that Scotland was the first nation to have compulsory public universal education, and thus became the most literate nation in Europe.

Something of the same logic was applied by the CCP during the 30s, 40s and early 50s: a compulsory public universal education allowed the peasantry to read the Little Red Book (and other Communist literature), thus freeing them from the shackles of their feudal lords. They apparently omitted the part about forging new shackles, however.

#226 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 07:56 PM:

Anarch's comments have interested me. I'd like to hear more from someone in Scotland who knows a lot of the History of Communism...

My son comments on my joke about the enumeration of Zen Buddhists in a lightbulbular context. He notes the Matrix element, and suggests that I more explicitly say "It is not the lightbulb that is unscrewed or screwed, but your mind that is screwing around with itself."

Is Judaism the most religious of all religions, because of the number of Jewish comedians?

Should cults fund crash courses to train cultists as comedians, in hopes of swifter elevation vis a vis the half-century rule? I'd be tempted to go to a Cult Comedy Club, so long as I could pay by cash and not be tracked down later...

"But I Digress."

#227 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 12:00 AM:

I admire the Friends extravagantly, and I'd love to be able to send my daughter to one of their schools. Unfortunately, that would cost $23k a year in New York.

I have to say, that does make me wonder how diverse the diversity of their program can possibly be. It seems to me that there has to be a certain amount of similitude amongst families that have $23k/yr to spend on fourth grade.

#228 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 12:47 AM:

Abi, I remember the slightly more cynical version of that joke:

There are three things that even God does not know about the Church:
  • How many congregations of religious women there are!
  • How much money the Franciscans have stashed away!
  • What the Jesuits are going to do next!
#229 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 09:58 AM:

Julia - yeah, I was excited about the availability of a Friends school in Baltimore for about five minutes. Until I checked the annual tuition.

#230 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 12:28 PM:

Anarch and Jonathan: I've too often drawn the analogy between Communist and Calvinist literacy programmes, and their longer-term consequences. New shackles, hah. Once people can read something, they can read anything.

So instead, an anarchist-told joke.

Child to anarchist parent: 'Mummy, do anarchists have to sell books?'

#231 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 01:19 PM:

yeah, I was excited about the availability of a Friends school in Baltimore for about five minutes. Until I checked the annual tuition.

Yeah. There are a couple of Quaker private schools in England, too, and they're reliably expensive like any other form of private education. (None in Scotland, AFAIK.)

#232 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 03:12 PM:

Ken, for my birthday I get to go to the Anarchist Book Fair in San Francisco, an annual ritual with my family -- father, stepmother, brother, nice fellow, children & now the daughter's boy friend -- all kinds of books, not all anarchist though some of the best are (the Biotic Baking Brigade's Pie Any Means Necessary, about throwing pies at the bad guys, for example): and also baked goods ranging from the hemp seed cookie monstrosity to genuinely gorgeous stuff. And we always run into old friends and acquaintances. If I buy anything by check, it always turns out the person I'm writing a check to knows my father or my brother.

So the answer Mummy should give her child is: "No, they don't have to, but it makes them a lot more fun to be around." or: "but it beats selling newspapers."

(I'm giving my brother Newton's Wake and something by Charlie Stross for his birthday)

#233 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 04:29 PM:

Teresa:

If, on appropriate occasions, the members tell, enjoy, trade, and/or devise transgressively funny jokes about their denomination, it’s a church.
If such jokes reliably meet with stifling social disapproval, it’s a cult.

It seems as though your postulate has been anticipated, and by Chesterton, no less:

"It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it."
                                     
#234 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 05:19 PM:

"Q: How many Apple users does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None; Apple pulled all the bulbs out of its stores last week. ..."

There is an older version of this (as revealed by reference to corporate turnover).

How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
They don't. Burning out is a feature, not a bug, because Darkness will soon be the Industry Standard.

How many Apple engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
They don't, either. A third-party-supplier changes the bulb, while an engineer designs a new, more energy-efficient, much longer-lasting, but slightly non-standard bulb and socket, incompatible with existing hardware. A second engineer designs a socket-adapter to make the bulb backward-compatible. Then ninety-seven executives come up with separate and contradictory plans for selling the new products, all of which are cancelled by a new CEO when they don't meet sales projections for the first quarter.

#235 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 06:47 PM:

My father is an ordained minister, ordained by the Southern Baptists. He is seminary trained, has a B.A. in history, and a Ph.D. in sociology.

There aren't a lot of Baptists in New Hampshire. I mostly went to, and he mostly served, in Congregationalist churches.

Textual scholarship, and ready access to my father's library, pretty much ruined me for mainstream Christianity.

When people ask me what my religion is, I either tell them I'm a dyslexic diagnostic (tell me about your dog and I'll tell you what's wrong with him/her/them) or, if they want a serious answer, I say scholarship.

And now, here's a joke about my cult of choice:

Three Apple engineers and three Microsoft engineers are traveling by train to a conference. At the station, the three Microsoft engineers each buy tickets and watch as the three Apple engineers buy only a single ticket. "How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?" asks a Microsoft engineer. "Watch and you'll see," answers the Apple engineer.

They all board the train. The Microsoft engineers take their respective seats but all three Apple engineers cram into a rest room and close the door behind them. Shortly after the train has departed, the conductor comes around collecting tickets. He knocks on the rest room door and says, "Ticket, please." The door opens just a crack and a single arm emerges with a ticket in hand. The conductor takes it and moves on. The Microsoft engineers saw this and agreed it was quite a clever idea. So after the conference, the Microsoft engineers decide to copy the Apple engineers (as they always do) on the return trip and save some money.

When they get to the station, they buy a single ticket for the return trip. To their astonishment, the Apple engineers don't buy a ticket at all. "How are you going to travel without a ticket?" asks one perplexed Microsoft engineer. "Watch and you'll see," answers an Apple engineer. When they board the train the three Microsoft engineers cram into a rest room and the three Apple engineers cram into another one nearby. The train departs. Shortly afterward, one of the Apple engineers leaves his rest room and walks over to the rest room where the Microsoft employees are hiding. He knocks on the door and says, "Ticket, please..."

Anonymous (I found it here).

#236 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 09:00 PM:

Anarch and Jonathan: I've too often drawn the analogy between Communist and Calvinist literacy programmes, and their longer-term consequences. New shackles, hah. Once people can read something, they can read anything.

Ostensibly true, but I'd wager that those who lived in China 1949-1976 might have something to say about new shackles for old.

#237 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 12:06 AM:

The Holy Father once was trying to sort out the precedence of the various orders. The Franciscans said they should come first because they were the humblest, and the Dominicans said they should because they were the most obedient, and they wouldn't listen to him if he said they weren't, and the Jesuits said they should because they were trusted with the deepest secrets of the Faith, and they'd tell if they couldn't go first.

The Holy Father couldn't decide between these conflicting claims, so he ordained a night of prayer and fasting. The next morning he goes into the private chapel at St Peter's with the usual four hundred other people and a huge rock falls through the ceiling. The Holy Father realises that God has provided the answer. He rushes up to the mighty, smoking boulder, and on the top, glowing letters appear: ALL ORDERS ARE EQUAL IN MY SIGHT (signed) GOD, SJ.

#238 ::: Elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 11:09 AM:

Teresa, I heard that song as:

By the light of burning martyrs,
Jesus' bleeding feet we track,
toiling up new Calvaries ever
with the cross that turns not back

...and it has the best second half of any hymn I know:

New occasions teach new duties
Time makes ancient good uncouth
He must ever up and onward
Who would'st keep abreast of truth

I learned it at the house of a friend whom I still miss, especially at this time of year. He snorted at the first half, but very much liked the second.

#239 ::: Greg Horn ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 12:35 PM:

Oh my, what a wonderful hour spent ignoring my studies. Thank you all, especially JVP.

I was raised areligously, so I have a certain fascination for what makes people believe, or not, in religions.

Along similar lines...
What do you get when you put two anarchists in a room?

Three splinter groups.

#240 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 01:52 PM:

I have heard a story which is supposedly told by members of the International Krishna Consciousness Movement, which I'll try to recall as best I can:

In a certain town, an International Krishna Consciousness Movement reading room was set up next to the shop of a prosperous businessman. There, Krishna's devotees would gather to play harmonium and finger cymbals and vina and sing the names and titles of Lord Krishna. This was very good for Krishna, but bad for the businessman. "Oh, these Hare Krishnas -- driving away all my business. Krisha this, Krishna that, hare hare Rama Rama! Soon I'll be broke!" On and on it went for weeks, and the businessman grew angrier and angrier, until it was all he could think about. One day, he walked out of his shop into the street, thinking nothing but, "I hate Krishna! I hate Rama! Hate hate! Rama Rama! Bad bad! Krishna Krishna!," when he was struck by a bus and killed instantly.

Feeling no pain, he opened his eyes to find himself bathed in bright light, looking up at a beautiful boy with bright blue skin, surrounded by beautiful female cowherds. "Lord Krishna!," he cried. "I hate you! Why am I here?"

"Don't you see," answered the beatific god, "At the moment of death, you had driven all material thoughts from your mind, and focused on me to the expense of all else. Therefore, you have broken the wheel of karma and earned a place at my right hand."

----

Maybe not knee-slappingly funny, but it's kind of a joke.

Seems to me that Krisna Consciousness is a cult in the original pagan sense of the word, and quite possibly also in the modern sense of the word as well.

#241 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 01:56 PM:

I wouldn't really call that a joke. It's a teaching story, and it's ironic, but not a joke. It's like the one about a woman who dreamt she was a cat dreaming she was a woman, and couldn't remember which she was when she woke up.

#242 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 02:26 PM:

Greg Horn:

You're welcome!

The acting head of the MBA program at Woodbury University, who also teaches Comparative Religion, told me both the old and new versions of a Zen Buddhist joke.

The venerable head monk is dying. He has been on his deathbed for some time. People whose lives he has influenced have been coming to pay their last respects to him, as a pilgrimmage from afar. The presumption is that the last words of a great teacher have special powers to help you reach enlightenment. One pilgrim recalls stories that the monk told of his childhood village. The pilgrim undertakes an extra long journey, and arrives on the very day that the monk is about to die.

The pilgrim waits until his place in line, bows, and hands the cake to an acolyte who hands it to the monk. The monk smiles, and, for the first time in weeks, actually manages to sit up in his bed. He eats the cake, and smiles broadly.

"What is the secret of enlightenment?" asks the pilgrim? "How can sum up all your teaching for us, who so love and venerate you?"

The monk lies back down, smiles one last time, and speaks his final sutra, and then dies:

"The cake was delicious!"

[the newer version of this story is identical, except with the punch line:

"Got milk?"]

#243 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 02:37 PM:

Rivka: Having worked with the staff of that particular Friends school during the formation of a new innercity high school, let me just say that I was not impressed with their grasp on the fundamentals of diversity. It is exceedingly difficult to find quality education in B-more, but aside from the cost, I wouldn't recommend it to any parents I know.

And regarding the huge list Teresa posted--I'm just waiting for it to grow larger in the next few years. My father is UCC, and they are already losing congregations to a 'new' denomination called the Evangelical Association b/c of the UCC's position on homosexuality. I know they won't be the only ones. I just have to wonder how much that issue and others will splinter denominations.

#244 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 02:40 PM:

Xopher:
It's like the one about a woman who dreamt she was a cat dreaming she was a woman, and couldn't remember which she was when she woke up.

Easy. Did she want to write fantasy novels? Or did she want to be fed by someone who wrote fantasy novels?

#245 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 02:43 PM:

True story: When the Dalai Lama came to Sydney, a friend of mine, a relatively low-ranking member of the state premier's staff, wangled her way to be included at a small reception for him. People were introduced to the guest by their titles — Head of Cabinet, Undersecretary of X Department, and so on. Caroline was described simply as a public servant. On shaking her hand, the Dalai Lama paused, moved close, looked her in the eye, and said, "Caroline, would you get me a glass of water?"

#246 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 03:24 PM:

Steve Eley - LOL, but I didn't say she couldn't figure it out - I'm sure she could hack the physics, you know? :-) I said she couldn't remember.

I can figure out where I left my keys - sometimes by logic ("I did this, then I did that, so they're probably under the couch/in the refrigerator/in my sock drawer") and sometimes by simple exhaustive search (looking every place they could possibly be until I find them). That doesn't mean I have any memory of setting them down.

#247 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 03:24 PM:

Oh, drat.

Note to self: Don't post when migrained.

Rivka: Er. Ignore me. The school of which I spoke was not the school of which I thought I was speaking, but was in fact, another school irrelevant to the conversation except to note that it is, in fact, darn difficult to find good schools in B-more.

That said, I shall wander off in embarrasment now. :)

#248 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 04:33 PM:

The answer to the dream koan is simple, Gracehopper, or as the Buddha called it, an "Aha! What's this stuff in my bowl?" problem.

In the morning, you count the mice.

#249 ::: Ron Henry ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 04:47 PM:
Really extended earlobes are fairly common in Chinese art, apparently as a sign of wisdom -- often connected with Lao Tzu (Laozi), whose supposed personal name of Li Erh was interpreted as "erh" in the sense of "ear" (which I report on the authority of Wing-Tsit Chan's 1963 volume, "The Way of Lao Tzu").

Actually, the extended earlobe in Buddha images goes back to Indian representations of the historical Buddha. They reflect Siddharta's royal origins, and the jewelry he would have worn that stretched his earlobes before he renounced worldly possessions. I suspect the "longevity" and "wisdom" connotations of long earlobes in Chinese and Japanese figures and portraits derive from their association with these traits attributed to the historical Buddha.

#250 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 07:55 PM:

"[T]he extended earlobe in Buddha images"

Thanks. Most of my collection of reference works is in storage, and what is accessible turned out to be (a) weighted toward China, and (b) lacking the critical details I was looking for.

#251 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 10:32 PM:

Xopher, in Thief of Time, someone told the philosopher dreaming he was a butterfly dreaming he was a philosopher story and DEATH's daughter asked if he flew around the room making information-rich patterns relating to the location of the flowers, and if he didn't, he was probably a philosopher.

#252 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 11:06 PM:

Elise:

Thank you for posting the second stanza of the hymn! I recognized it. It's by James Russell Lowell (Harvard professor, 1st editor of the Atlantic Monthly, diplomat, abolitionist). My old Methodist hymnal doesn't give the title, but here are the stanzas:

1. Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of good with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
'Twixt that darkness and that light.

2. Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And 'tis properous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.

3. By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

4. Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above His own.

Three and a half excellent stanzas.

#253 ::: Cathy ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 11:35 AM:

Buddhist joke:

Q: How many zen buddhists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Two. One to change the lightbulb and one not to change the lightbulb.

#255 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 06:25 PM:

Matt told the lightbulb koan.

Barbara gave a different answer to the lightbulb koan.

Xopher gave yet another answer to the lightbulb koan.

Later, Cathy wandered by and gave her answer to the lightbulb koan, and Xopher said that that answer had already been given.

The sixth patriarch, Eno, happened to wander by, and placed a lightbulb in his mouth, then tugged on his earlobe.

At that moment, all the disciples were enlightened.

#256 ::: Steve Burnett ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 11:59 PM:

Owlmirror, I thought the sixth patriarch was Fester. Perhaps I was confused.

#257 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 12:55 AM:

Brenda, the final verse of that hymn always gives me the shivers. If I were given to singing things in front of government buildings as protests, I think I'd sing that one, because, well, there it is.

I miss John Brantner. He's who I learned that one from.

#258 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 05:33 AM:

I suspect that the question of how many Unitarians it would take to change a lightbulb remains unresolved, because one faction wants to buy a case of bulbs from Costco, another insists on compact fluorescents, one visionary is holding out for an LED version that will be on the market Any Day Now, a few point out that, since services are held during the day, sunlight will suffice... and so forth.

Someone wrote that Unitarians believe in at most one god. So, what do I get if I belive in a third of a god? Occasional rain?

#259 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 06:48 AM:

Somewhere or other, probably in an ancient rationalist text, I read that Gautama appears in Christian mythology as a saint, and that Jesus appears in Buddhist mythology as a bodhisattva.

Does anyone know if this is true? If it isn't it should be.

#260 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 08:03 AM:

Ken, I read (in This Immortal, by Roger Zelazny, as it happens) that Gautama Buddha was "accidentally canonised" in the 16th century and became Saint Jehosephat.

Zelazny is no longer around to ask where he got this from, but I googled and found no evidence that Jehosephat is a saint.

Given the back-and-forth of trade between China and Europe, it's entirely possible that Siddartha could have been canonised at some point: I have seen pictures on 16th century Chinese scrolls of foreigners being presented at court, which included a Korean, a Japanese, and a European Jesuit priest. Canonisation is traditionally one of the Catholic methods of absorbing other gods into Christianity.

#261 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 08:28 AM:

Xopher wrote:
"I can figure out where I left my keys - sometimes by logic ("I did this, then I did that, so they're probably under the couch/in the refrigerator/in my sock drawer") and sometimes by simple exhaustive search (looking every place they could possibly be until I find them). That doesn't mean I have any memory of setting them down."

Finding stuff is a four-step process:

1) Look where it should be.

2) Look where it might be.

3) Look everywhere.

4) Repeat as necessary.

This in turn gives rise to The Two-Hour Rule: "Finding something takes two hours." (Some stuff gets found within seconds; searching for other stuff takes weeks or months. But on average, finding something seems to take about two hours.)


(Off topic, but when the "O" on one's keyboard is only intermittently working, it's remarkable how many words there are that can lose an "o" and still be a proper word: four/fur, found/fund, about/abut. "Remarkable", in this case is synonymous with "annying".)

#262 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 10:47 AM:

Bruce: searching for other stuff takes weeks or months

Or even years. Witness the bag of Christmas presents my aunt bought one October, which we carefully put away. We finally found it by accident about five years later, in the top of a closet we had searched several times (along with *everywhere* else in the house!).

--Mary Aileen

#263 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 12:12 PM:

"St. Jehosaphat"

The story of Gautama entered Christian tradition as "Barlaam and Josaphat," the latter name being a form of Jehosaphat -- the older Greek version apparently has Ioasaph, and other variants. It became extremely popular in Europe during the Middle Ages, in a variety of Latin and vernacular versions.

Zelazny's information was offered out of context. Medieval canonization was a *very* informal process, and formerly recognized Saints whose very existence is dubious have been phased out or radically de-emphasized over the centuries. (I recall Catholic friends expressing considerable annoyance over the dropping of St. Christopher from the regular Calendar a couple of decades ago.)

There is a decent summary of the situation from the old "Catholic Encyclopedia" available on-line, and a great many later more recent discussions, which I have not taken the time to check; perhaps someone will have an informed recommendation.

The identity of the story was worked out in detail by W. Max Mueller in the mid-nineteenth century, but had been recognized long before. And Marco Polo had already observed that the story of the Buddha reminded him of the life of a saint. Unfortunately, the very complicated manuscript tradition doesn't seem to indicate if he has a particular "Life" in mind, or just a pattern of Christian virtues and renouncing the world.

For this last, and bibliography on the whole matter through the end of the nineteenth-century, see Yule and Cordier "The Travels of Marco Polo," Volume II, notes to Book III, Chapter XV, pages 322-328, and Supplement, pages 111-112 (Dover Publications reprint, three volumes in two, volume two). Yule and Cordier between them included a substantial number of intervening forms of the names, as the story migrated across Asia, picking up the idea St. Thomas in India as a frame to validate it as Christian.

#264 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 12:54 PM:

Medieval canonization was a *very* informal process

There was a Welsh monk who fell down a well and died. A year later they had a feast in his honor, and the Bishop happened to be attending; that was enough to make him a saint at the time. (I can't remember the name of the saint, and the whole story may be apocryphal.)

and formerly recognized Saints whose very existence is dubious have been phased out or radically de-emphasized over the centuries. (I recall Catholic friends expressing considerable annoyance over the dropping of St. Christopher from the regular Calendar a couple of decades ago.)

Catholics weren't the only ones! Though why that should annoy me just because my name is Christopher is not clear, even to me.

#265 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 01:35 PM:

The best current work on the process of canonization is the 1996 Making Saints : How The Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn't, And Why by Kenneth Woodward (of Newsweek). He concentrates mostly on the process and politics involved, and a bit less on the theology of devotion to the saints, while covering the current hot buttons, such as should any more popes be canonized (some think not).

The book has some problems. Woodward makes a big deal over Cardinal O'Connor not promoting Dorothy Day's cause for sainthood. What he did not know is that O'Connor was actually working on it at the time, but could or would not discuss it as the preparatory work had not been done. Day has the problem that a number of modern figures have -- she wrote a lot, and all of it has to collated and reviewed as part of the preliminary process. Her cause for beatification is a active.

#266 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 02:36 PM:

A friend -- like myself, a secularized Jew -- was surprised at the dropping of St. Christopher from the standard observances. Why should the Catholic Church go to the trouble, and upset people who found it comforting, given that the idea of saints didn't seem all that rational to begin with?

I directed him to an available reference, Omer Englebert's “The Lives of the Saints” (translated by Christopher and Anne Fremantle; David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951), pages 285-286. The entry for July 25: St. Christopher, begins:

"ACCORDING to the Greek legend, Christopher was a barbarous cannibal; he suffered martyrdom in Lycia during the persecution of Decius which is known to have lasted only eighteen months but which was of incredible severity and extended to the whole Empire.
According to the Latin legend, Christopher was a giant. He measured twelve cubits, and when he walked he carried a tree as a staff. ..."

And so on, as the giant looks for the strongest person to serve, through employment by a king, then Satan, and, finally, the discovery that there was Someone more powerful than Satan. A nice parable, but not really a satisfactory biography.

#267 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 05:18 PM:

Gosh. The way I heard it Christopher is waiting by the entrance to the Land of the Dead when along comes a new god.

"Howdy. And who might you be?" he asks.

"I'm Jesus Christ. I'm coming to harrow hell - you know, take all the good people away to heaven," comes the reply.

Christopher things about this. The population is getting mighty thick down there, what with everybody knowing the Spell of Not Allowing the Heart to Speak the Truth and whatnot. Plus he knows this new guy will never find his way down without help. Not to mention that it will take forever, even with sound feet, which - he takes a look - the new guy does not have. His hands are messed up, too, which never helps.

"Hop on," sez he, "I'll give you a lift."

So he carries Jesus pickaback down, on the Road That Runs Along a Serpent's Back (Jesus holding on to Christopher's ears for dear life - some of those hairpin turns are murder!), and they get down to where the blessed dead - the ones Eater of Souls didn't get - are living. Or not living, but you know what I mean.

Jesus frees them, and everybody trucks back out. With Christopher's help, they only spend three days on the whole operation (jackals are FAST critters).

Naw, that can't be it. But I like it better than the giant story. And I'm the only Pagan I know with a St. Christopher medal (two, actually).

#268 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 06:43 PM:

On the whole, the Latin and Greek versions of Christopher seem to belong with the various traditions of The Wonders of the East, specifically the Cynocephali, and including the Anthropophagi (dog-heads and man-eaters -- as well as "the men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders").

See, for examples, Richard Stoneman's translations from the Alexander legends, for Penguin Classics and Everyman, and Andy Orchard, "Pride and Prodigies: The Monsters of the Beowulf Manuscript."

There is a theory that the idea of cannibals somewhere north of the Black Sea (which also shows up in the St. Andrew traditions) arose from an overly literal translation of one of the ethnic names in the region -- the Mordvins, if I recall correctly (it has been a long time since I studied the matter). Whatever the origin, it was long since irrelevant before the Anglo-Saxons became acquainted with Christopher (and Andrew -- see the prose and verse versions of "Andreas").

But I prefer Xopher's Anubis-jackal version.

#269 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 06:54 PM:

"Pride and Prodigies: The Monsters of the Beowulf Manuscript."

Y-knowen that when a muckle Warriour be holden an a Monsters Arme, be he in want of some Critics. An see afar, in an Hole nigh the Oxen Forde there dwelt an Professor of the Olden Tongue . . .

#270 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 07:50 PM:

Mr. Ford --

I will be sending you the repair bills for my brain.

Sincerely,

Ow.

#271 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 03:44 AM:

As for whether Jesus became a bodhisattva, I know this: that there is a bodhisattva who is known in Japan as "Jizo". He is a patron of children and travellers, and according to one book of Japanese folktales that I read, he was known for rescuing souls out of hell.

Other than the similar-sounding names and this last, somewhat dubiously-attested point, I have no basis for identifying Jizo with Jesus. Please don't mistake me for an expert!

(I've also long thought that the concepts of the Pure Land and the coming Maitreya were influenced by Christian eschatology. But again, I have nothing with which to support this.)

#272 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 05:34 AM:

Something about Jizo; there are some interesting comparisons.

#273 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 11:36 AM:

Thanks, Ian. I like that one a lot...since Anubis is on my worship-list. BTW I've been told that the Irish version of the story of Saint Christopher begins with "Now you have to remember that Christopher came from the race of Sidhe known as the Dogheads..."

Dogs were highly regarded in ancient Ireland. 'Concheann' (doghead) is a warrior accolade. Cú Chulainn's name means 'the hound of Culan'. In Irish afterlife belief, one can only reincarnate into one's descendants; therefore true heroes have no descendants, so that instead of incarnating they protect their clans as spirits; Cú Chulainn is said to appear as a huge dog with glowing red eyes. Death to the Baskervilles! :-)

My SCA name was Criostóir Concheann. If you take my view of St. Christopher, it's redundant, though a 10C Irishman (like my persona) probably wouldn't think so.

#274 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 01:48 PM:

Jizo, and other Buddhist Redeemers

Rescuing souls from Hell (or a Purgatorial state) is a well-attested occupation in East Asia. Stephen F. Teiser's "The Ghost Festival in Medieval China" (1988) is excellent on the Chinese Buddhist versions. (It was co-winner of the American Council of Learned Societies prize for the best first book in the history of religions.) However, Ronald M. Davidson's "Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement" (2002) points out (in passing) that Teiser attributes to the Chinese concerns that are also found in India, and argues that the material was "pre-adapted" to Chinese culture.

Whichever is right (and I tend to think that Davidson is), the Chinese ran with the idea of intervening with the Celestial and Infernal Bureaucracies; and the idea passed to Japan as part and parcel of Buddhist thought.

There is a school of thought, most elequoently expounded by G.R.S. Mead that Christianity is really "Buddhism misunderstood" -- an idea which I don't think has any real foundation, although it *does* apply to some elements of Manichean belief (Mani announced himself as the Final Prophet, the successor of Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus -- allowing one religion to be three different heresies!)

Mead's "Fragments of a Faith Forgotten" (1900) makes it quite clear that he was taking Gnostics -- interpreted to suit his own views -- as the "real" Christians, and the Orthodox Churches as a blunder.

I would point to typological parallels between Gnostic and Tantric thought (including Hindu as well as Buddhist developments) as more helpful to understanding either set than an origins dispute. And if one wants to insist on an Indian origin, I think Vaisnava and Saiva disparagements of Brahma are even better sources than Buddhist mockery of Vishnu and Shiva for Gnostic hostility to the Creator God. But Mead preferred Buddhism, as much as he understood it, for reasons probably having to do with nineteenth-century British culture as much as anything else.

#275 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 03:48 PM:

Xopher said:

In Irish afterlife belief, one can only reincarnate into one's descendants; therefore true heroes have no descendants, so that instead of incarnating they protect their clans as spirits . . .

While there is something cool about that idea, Cú Chulainn had at least one descendant, that I can remember.

But he killed him, so maybe that cancels it out. ("Oops! I didn't mean to make that child.")

#276 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 04:18 PM:

Xopher: I'm missing a link there. Why would reincarnating only into one's descendants cause a hero to have no descendants?

#277 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 05:26 PM:

Laura, I should have said no SURVIVING descendants. So yeah, the fact that he killed his son does mean he's qualified. He would rather not have been a true hero, of course.

CHip, no, that's not what I meant. True heros stick around as spirits. No one can do that if they reincarnate, so the True Hero in Celtic Myth dies without (surviving) issue. It's a myth structure, not a cause-and-effect.

#278 ::: liz ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 09:40 PM:

Speaking of religions, Julie Leung has a debate with herself if blogging is a religion:

http://www.julieleung.com/archives/001733.html

I liked it.

#279 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 01:28 PM:

"Religion, it must be understood, is not faith. Religion is the story of faith. It is an institutionalized system of symbols and metaphors (read: rituals and myths) that provides a common language with which members of a community of faith can share with each other their numinous encounter with the Divine Presence. Religion is concerned not with genuine history but with sacred history, which does not course through time like a river. Rather, sacred history is like a hallowed tree whose roots dig deep into primordial time and whose branches weave in and out of genuine history with little concern for the boundaries of space and time. Indeed, it is precisely at those moments when sacred and genuine history collide that religions are born."


From Islam, Pluralist Democracies Will Surely Grow
By REZA ASLAN

From the issue dated March 11, 2005
http://chronicle.com
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 51, Issue 27, Page B6

#280 ::: Kathi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2005, 12:59 AM:

I hate to break it to you, but (these days at least) nobody actually cares whether you're a witch or not. ;-)

Actually, Paul, there was a Wiccan down here in Texas who was forced out of a small town and nearly burnt (her house, not herself) out of another one, thanks to constant rabble-rousing by one minister. Her sin, other than being a pagan? She was teaching yoga and aromatherapy classes.

It would be funny, except she really was in danger. Fortunately the local police (of the second town) told her they didn't hold with driving citizens out of town, and to come to them if she felt threatened. I never "out" anyone who is a pagan. If they decide to tell a group of people this, fine, but I am very careful about my pagan friends.

#281 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2005, 02:23 PM:

Yonmei, Ian, David - thanks for the information about St Jehosaphat.

Francis Mulhearn, a Marxist of Catholic origin, told me about the revised calendar of saints. 'The Church,' he said, 'has a great term for those that didn't exist: "customary saints". Like St Christopher.'

'St Christopher didn't exist?'

'He was a water-sprite.'

In another conversation we discovered one difference between Catholic atheists and Protestant atheists: Francis thought determinism was obviously false, and I thought it was obviously true.

#282 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2005, 06:05 PM:

bad Jim said:

Someone wrote that Unitarians believe in at most one god. So, what do I get if I belive in a third of a god? Occasional rain?

Yes. You also get you, me, oysters under the sea, wind, chilli con carne, sparkling champagne... and, of course, love.

#283 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2005, 10:52 PM:

Well, I don't think anybody's told my absolute favorite Unitarian Universalist light bulb joke yet.

Here:

How many UUs does it take to change a light bulb?

"We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that a light bulb works for you, that's fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb (or light source, or non-dark resource), and present it next month at our annual light-bulb Sunday service, in which we explore a number of light-bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life, and halogen --all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence."

#284 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2005, 12:39 AM:

It may say something about the way that my mind works that this is where I choose to ask this question. Or it may just be that my current circle of in-town friends includes only one person who is, or was, anything like a regular churchgoer. And he was a Lutheran. The next nearest is a Moslem, IIRC.

After a long wander through from a Roman Cotholic background, through agnosticism, through to belief in a deity but with no great certainty on which way to worship, or what form it took , I seem to be coming back to Christianity. This culminated in my taking an Alpha course based out of my Fiance's parent's Church. The course helped clarify some things (In spite of the fact that Every. Single. Speaker. managed to make one bad analogy in their talk, no matter how good the rest of their speech was -- or having to stare at the Kid's Series posters with two missing apostrophes and the rather big typo "Moses and the Buring Bush").

However, I decided the particular church is not for me. Their approach is to do a "modern flavoured" service (Pop music and more casualness on the part of the speakers), which is a slight turn-off for me (The pop music part mostly, but I was trained to favour a little more ritual to my ritual, athough orthodox excess would probably also wear me out). More significantly, the conservative Mennonite background underlying the surface "openness" crept through at odd moments. Some questions were welcomed, others seemed to get rote answers and a push to simply accept and conform. Some comments made me uncomfortable.

I decided it's time to look for another church. The problem is, I'm altogether ignorant of denomination.

There are things I know I want that are not denominational based, but church particular (A pastor with a sense of humour and an ability to speak, a church that doesn't look/feel like a bingo-hall with a few oddly modernish sacred decorations).

I also know that within every denomination there are churches that flex or tighten the rules to suit their particular congregation.

But it's those that are mostly/more denominational I'm concerned with. I need some narrowing down criteria.

Besides my parentheticals above, these are some of the criteria I suspect are more denominational than individual church particular. Can anyone suggest places to go, or places to cut off the list, right off the bat? (The first one alone should be a good narrowing factor).


- A church which does not condemn people for:

* A healthy monogamous relationship with someone they care for - be that between two people of the same gender, two people of different races, two people of different faiths.

* Secular political views, be they more conservative or more liberal than the main church's own. This includes abortion, although abortion is less of a hot-button for me than for many, and euthanasia. (Not that the church cannot have their clear view on these issues, or that they have to exactly share mine, but I shouldn't feel like I have to crawl under a rock if the pastor/preacher/priest expresses a view I oppose from the pulpit.)

* Any past sins sincerely repented. (I have heard personal anecdotes about churches, or at least members of their congregation, which suggest a person who did certain things before is *never* going to be clean, even if they repent and are ostensibly forgiven.)

* Laughter. Dancing. Joy in this world. Modern technology and medicine.


- NO premillenial dispensationalism.

- Belief that faith is best expressed through works, not declarations of faith.

- More emphasis on God and Jesus and their relationship with us than on Satan and Hell.

- Tolerance for other faiths. Conversion, if any, by example rather than by evangelism. Religious debate and discussion, when it does arise, emphasising courtesy and reason over attack, even when the disagreement is fundamental.

- An understanding of the difference between fantasy as a form of storytelling, and the Satanic Supernatural. (This would seem to be a "well, duh!" for a fantasy writer...)

- A willingness to explain why a ritual is enacted, rather than simply demanding the following of ritual. (Elaboration: One girl I know pointed out that in all her time in the Roman Catholic Church, including in Sunday School as a child, she was never actually told that the Lamb of God was an epitaph for Jesus. The priest just said it, and all were expected to Know. Likewise with *why* some moments involved kneeling, others standing. It occurred to me after she said this that it marched with my experience as a child... I don't think I even fully understood my Baptism when it happened -- I was 5 or 6).

- A general understanding that the Bible was not written in English, and that one translation alone may not be comprehensive. An attempt at historical accuracy (This is based on an Alpha speaker who seemed to think that The Book of John was written by an apostle, and went on to make several mistaken declarations about slavery, the purposes behind other religions, etc. The saddest part is that when he stuck to a direct reading from the bible, its context in its particular chapter, and his interpretation of it, he did much better.)

#285 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2005, 12:43 PM:

Lenora,

I like your list.

I myself, no longer a practicing Catholic, am looking at Quaker Meetings and UCC churches. And praying to God that She will put me where She wants me, and when.

#286 ::: Lenore Jean Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2005, 07:06 PM:

Lenora, I like your list too (and your name!). I am delurking to say that I've attended two churches in the NYC area that might qualify. The first is Judson Memorial Church on South Washington Square in Manhattan. It is American Baptist and UCC. The other is All Saints Episcopal Parish in Hoboken, NJ. My friend Xopher, the gay Wiccan priest known and loved (I hope) on this blog, sings in the choir at All Saints with me, my husband, and another friend who is an agnostic. (We all love music.) Both churches are more concerned about working to make the world a better place than they are about exactly what you believe. Their styles differ - Judson is more arty, more national in their political scope, and of course more New York. All Saints is into more ritual trimmings (fancy robes and such), and tends to concentrate more on relatively local social justice issues. Both have strong gay presences without it being an issue in particular - neither has been able to sustain much interest in a gay caucus, for instance.

That's probably going on too long about two individual churches. I just wanted to say that, though I believe them to be unusual, they are definitely out there. I also think the individual churches matter more than the denominations. There are lots and lots of Episcopal and Baptist churches I would be uncomfortable in!

#287 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2005, 07:53 PM:

Lenora Rose - Lenore is quite right about diversity of congregations. If your focus is really Christian, you might not like any UU church. Most have some equivalent of a Christian interest group, but you'll be hard pressed to find any mention of Christ during a service. FWIW, I liked the UU church in Montclair, NJ but felt unwelcome at the one in San Francisco. I'm just now warming up to the Unversity Unitarian Church in Seattle.

The UCC/Congregationalist church might be more to your liking as it's exclusively Christian. I attended services with my Grandmother in Florida and really enjoyed them. (She started out Episcopal, converted to Catholicism, did some searching and landed at the UCC. She said she liked their hopeful attitude.) There are also quite a few liberal United Methodist churches out there, but caution is advised. (I have good friends who love their UM church in Wappinger's Falls, NY, but won't set foot in the one in Poughkeepsie which is much closer to their home.)

#288 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2005, 08:17 PM:

Belief that faith is best expressed through works, not declarations of faith.

But move through us in deeds that spell
Your Name as Love and Light,
For faithful actions far excel
Beliefs that we recite.
Let naming You through how we live
Become our public creed;
The clearest witness we can give
Is meeting human need.
That's part of a hymn commissioned for the 25th anniversary of the rector of All Saints Hoboken, Geoff Curtiss, based on an interview conducted with him about his ideas and beliefs.

In other words, I can vouch for All Saints on a lot of good stuff.

#289 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 01:33 AM:

I had thought about commenting about this on my weblog, but realized that if I brought it up here I'd have a much larger audience to make a crank of myself in front of...

My wife and her family are devout Episcopalians. This means I attend holiday services with them. In almost all instances the churches hand out printed programs so that folks can tell what's going to be happening when and which prayers and hymns will be sung.

JUST ONCE I'd like the information in these to be both correct and complete. If you include all the hymns in the program except for one from the hymnal it leads to much book juggling. If you print most of a prayer but leave out the lines you've heard ten thousand times it's about as confusing as if I hit the thing without a guide in the first place...

#290 ::: Lenore Jean Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 09:14 AM:

Bruce, I'm afraid our church is as guilty as most. Every week we laugh at errors and typos in the program. The rector (head priest) does it himself, apparently, and he ain't that good at typing! He does do a good liturgy, though, and he picks good stuff to put in there, so we forgive him. I do feel sorry for visitors, though. I know exactly what you mean.

#291 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 10:12 AM:

I keep thinking I'm on basic cable, somewhere between Episcopalian Eye for the Non-Converted Guy and Spot the Looney. Typos I can deal with, but when entire phrase-and-response sections are missing I start to wish Tom Lehrer was still actively songwriting.

Also, I have bad knees and the church last weekend had fold down kneeboards for prayer that I swear were designed to pop the cartilage straight off of the knee joint. I had visions of her entire clan carrying me back up the aisle...

#292 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 10:27 AM:

Lenora, I like your list too! My Episcopal parish fits most of your points, especially the part about the rector who laughs at himself. (My best friend leaned over to me Sunday and said, "Fancy looking forward to a sermon!")

Bruce: it's time you learned the Episcopal Squat. That's when you perch your behind on the edge of the pew without actually putting any weight on your knees. If that's too much, just sit as far forward as you possibly can. The rector mentioned above always says, "And now, standing or kneeling as you are able, let us confess our sins" (or whatever).

#293 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 10:43 AM:

One of the things the Rector of All Saints Hoboken did when he came is rip out the pews and put in chairs. This enables the setup to be modified at will; for example, we're usually "in the round" during Lent. One side effect of this is that there are no kneelers; the only people who I've ever seen kneel at All Saints have been ordinands and confirmees (if that's the right word).

I expect the Rector kneels when he washes people's feet on Maundy Thursday, but I don't attend that service.

#294 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 11:58 AM:

Xopher: the word you're looking for is "confirmand." But persons to be baptized are "persons to be baptized."

#295 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 12:53 PM:

TexAnne: you'd think I'd have thought of that right after using the word 'ordinand', wouldn't you? But you would be wrong. Thanks.

Really? Not 'baptizees' or 'baptees' or 'baptizands'? Wow, looking at those makes it absolutely clear why they're 'persons to be baptized', doesn't it? (Though I must say I like 'baptees'. And if they get ready to baptize you and then don't, is that a baptease?)

#296 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 04:55 PM:

Thanks, all!

All Saints in Hoboken does sound wonderful, but a mite of a long commute.

I can imagine the customs officers' puzzlement when I turn up on Thursday:
"Where are you from?"
"Winnipeg."
Where are you headed?"
"New York"
"What is the purpose of your visit?"
"I have to get to Church on Sunday morning..."

UCC sounds like a good overall direction. Dumb question - are churches that just say "United" without an obvious secondary (IE, United Baaptist, United Evangelical Lutheran) safe to ID as UCC, or are there other just "United" churches. (NB. I mean in the little text where they identify their denomination, not in the church NAME, where anything goes.)

There are also several friendly-seeming Episcopal churches in the area I live, too - it seems like every one I pass regularly is some form of United or Anglican, though that isn't the city-wide trend.

(Winnipeg is in the centre of the Mennonite belt. The funnier Baptist jokes abut dancing and drinking can be and are told about more traditional Mennonites, although Mennos are NOT fire-and-brimstone, but feed-the-poor.)

We ended up in a Roman Catholic Church for Easter, because Colin had never been. For me it was childhood memory all back (Granted, the koala was new). For him, more befuddlement and when to do what.

#297 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2005, 09:30 PM:

I'm still annoyed that they went and changed from the perfectly reasonable Book of Common Prayer to the wretchedly modern and pedantic language of the Book of Alternative Services. Bah!

#298 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2005, 12:50 AM:

Leonora - You might want to email the UCC (warning - site has sound). I think the Canadian analogue of the UCC (United Church of Christ) is the United Church of Canada (mercifully silent site), confusingly also the UCC.

#299 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2005, 12:56 AM:

Oh, to be clear, I was suggestion that Leonora mail the US UCC to verify that the Canadian UCC (totally different org) is the nearest thing easily found in Canada.

#300 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2005, 05:58 PM:

Laorry ;)

I've begun looking into that. It looks like it is similar of mind, but I do think I need to nudge an e-mail off to one or the other of the two.

#301 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2005, 06:03 PM:

Speaking of programs, the local Captain D's fast food seafood restaurant gives 10% off your tab if you bring a church program in with you on Sunday. They were just acquired by another big company and I sent email asking if they were going to continue the religious discrimination. No answer so far.

#302 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2005, 06:13 PM:

Sounds like a challenge to me, Marilee.

You could have a lot of fun making up programs for very strange denominations.

#303 ::: Lenore Jean Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2005, 12:19 AM:

The United Church of Canada is not the same as the UCC, but might be comparable. I believe it is a merger of a number of Protestant denominations, most of which are separate in the United States. The U.S. seems to be prone to schism.

Xopher, everyone who participates in the foot-washing kneels to wash the feet of the previous washer. It's a circular affair, with the first washee (if that's a word) becoming the final washer.

We have been known to use individual cushions for kneeling during Lent, but not recently. I can't cope with regular kneeling either - I end up thinking more about my aching knees than the prayer. Not a happy thing. At All Saints we typically stand for such things, which I'm much happier with.

Marilee, good luck with the discrimination claim. Speaking of discrimination, have you been paying attention to the cries of NYC politicians asking for the end of Sunday parking meter enforcement, on the grounds that we shouldn't make people pay to pray? So what about people who pray on other days, or don't pray at all?

I'm sorry that I don't seem able to comment about anything but church!

#304 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2005, 01:01 AM:

Lenore: Speaking of discrimination, have you been paying attention to the cries of NYC politicians asking for the end of Sunday parking meter enforcement, on the grounds that we shouldn't make people pay to pray? So what about people who pray on other days, or don't pray at all?

Wow! New York routinely suspends alternate side of the street parking (but not meters) for many, many religious holidays, lots of which are non-Christian. The list includes things like Lunar New Year, Idul-Adha, Sukkot and the Feast of the Assumption.

Just googled the thing - it looks more like Fernando Ferrar looking to create an issue to use against Bloomberg than anything else. Manhattan has had night and Sunday meters for years.

#305 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2005, 06:57 AM:

The notion that all, or even a large percentage, of the people who park on Sunday in NYC are attending religious services strains either credulity or the definition of "religious services."

#306 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2005, 10:53 AM:

Sacred Time: a NYC Couplet

Now I know that secular time has ended:
alternate side of the street parking is suspended

#307 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2005, 01:30 PM:

While polls here indicate that the majority of people think all the Sunday parking stuff is election-year politicking, the _only_ editorial I saw pointing out the basic silliness of the whole idea ran in one of the free weekly papers in Queens.

http://www.queenstribune.com/not4pub/ASadAprilFoolsJokeFreePark.html

Scroll past the foo about the budget.

#308 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Larry, the occasional holiday isn't the same as a weekly exception. They'd have to do Friday (for Moslems, who actually pray 5 times EVERY day) and Saturday (for Jews, many of whom can't move their cars after sunset Friday).

I think we should be able to get - free - parking signs to put in the front window that say "Attending religious service - do not ticket" and the police should honor them. I predict a recruiting bonanza for the alcohol-worshippers, clothing-worshippers, and even grocery-worshippers. Bibliolatry will rise as book-shopping hits an all-time high!

#309 ::: Lenore Jean Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2005, 09:59 PM:

Melissa - good article. I've been reading about this in Newsday, and they have completely failed to make that point. Grumble.

#310 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2005, 11:05 AM:

Lenore:

It's really surprising to me that Newsday hasn't been more on the spot on the parking thing; they are usually fairly level-headed.

#311 ::: Tayah ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2005, 06:10 PM:

Individ-ewe-al: I could well be confused here but I reckon the idea of a universal priesthood goes back to Exodus. Then again, like some people mentioned in the thread I'm a Jewish person who is fairly ignorant about the breadth of Christian practices.


Just in case anyone was interested anymore now, Martin Luther dragged that (priesthood of all believers idea)from the depths of the Bible to 'call out' the Catholic church in explaining why only the clergy were allowed to read the bible, commune regularly, etc. So, reformation roots it is, then, yes?

:)
Tay
(a quasi-Lutheran)

#312 ::: Teleka ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 07:41 AM:

to Lenora Rose: Your list is very thoughtful. However, it seems that it is based on aspects you want to see in a Christian church, rather than on what the Bible dictates. And the Bible will conflict with what we want. If church doesn't change us, then what's the point? Hopefully you know that the Bible does not support a homosexual lifestyle (i.e., Gen. 19:4-7; Romans 1:24-27). Just like the Bible doesn't support stealing, lying, or other sins. But today's Christians would rather change God, the church, and the Bible to fit their preferences.
P.S.- faith and works- Ephesians 2:8-10- "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them." We are saved by grace through faith, and then we should walk in good works. Then there's that unequivocal statement by James: FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD! (James 2:17)

#313 ::: "As You Know" Bob ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 12:25 PM:

(Oh, boy! A religious flame-war! I'll bat first...)

Umm, Teleka:
most people don't think that a "homosexual lifestyle" equates to "stealing, lying, or other sins."

Perhaps you're thinking of "eating shellfish", or "shaving" (if male), or "wearing poly/cotton blends", or "suffering a witch to live".

All of which, of course, ARE explicitly prohibited.

It's kind of pathetic how the fundies have cheerfully discarded 99% of the precepts in the Bible, but cling tightly to it when it can be used to justifiy their bigotry.

"If church doesn't change us, then what's the point? "
Yes, exactly. And one hopes that a church changes us by making us more accepting of others, and not simply reinforces us in our narrow-mindedness.
#314 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 05:43 PM:

Behold, the Pharisaical drive-by.

Teleka, where in the Bible does it say that it's all right for you to take that kind of snotty, self-satisfied tone with your fellows? What you just did there was the modern equivalent of praying by standing on a streetcorner and thanking God at the top of your lungs that you're not a miserable sinner like certain other parties you could name.

If you're not familiar with the original denunciation of that practice, I can give you the citation.

Lenora Rose has been an interesting and thoughtful participant in the conversations here. You've contributed next to nothing, and your remark to her was mind-bogglingly rude:

"Your list is very thoughtful. However, it seems that it is based on aspects you want to see in a Christian church, rather than on what the Bible dictates."
That is, you've dismissed all the points where her beliefs differ from yours as being grounded in pure wishful thinking on her part, giving her no credit for thought or study; but you identify your own opinions, not as beliefs or propositions, but simply as "what the Bible dictates."

("Vell la-dee-dah," said Eorache.)

But did you then try to help Lenora Rose? Did you bother to explain where (in your opinion) she'd fallen into error? You did not. You did your little dance of superiority, then split. If you actually cared about the doctrinal points involved, you'd have stuck around to discuss them. And if you actually cared about Christian behavior, you'd have been kinder and humbler, and done your best to give good counsel. Instead, you indulged in a bout of self-righteous pride.

(Sins thus far: 1. Failing to help a fellow Christian who has inadvertently fallen into error. 2. Pridefulness. 3. Lack of charity. 4. Making dishonest use of religion for ungodly purposes. 5. Bringing religion into disrepute through your discreditable public behavior.)

Your next bit was equally obnoxious:

"Hopefully you know that the Bible does not support a homosexual lifestyle (i.e., Gen. 19:4-7; Romans 1:24-27). Just like the Bible doesn't support stealing, lying, or other sins."
Hopefully you're familiar with SS. Sergius and Bacchus: martyred c. CE 303, and venerated by early Christian communities that would have known not only who Sergius and Bacchus were, but what they were to each other.

I have to ask: do you ever actually read that book you keep quoting? The Bible's extremely clear about stealing and lying, but it never once mentions "homosexual lifestyles." Furthermore, the passages you cite don't mean what you think they do.

Let's start with Genesis 19:4-7:

4: But before they lay down, the men of the city, [even] the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter.

5. And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where [are] the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

6. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,

7. And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

What sin is being threatened here? We know it's rape. We know it's mob violence. We know it's oppressing the stranger that is within thy gates. The nature of the rape is necessarily homosexual, but that aspect of it is not emphasized.

Fortunately for our understanding, we have a parallel incident in Judges, ch. 19-20. A Levite and his concubine are traveling, and stay overnight in Gibeah. As in the incident in Sodom, some local malfeasants come to the house where the traveler is staying, and demand that he be brought out "that we may know him."

The story ends differently this time. The mob winds up gang-raping the concubine all night, and she's found dead on the doorstep next morning. The Levite cuts her up into twelve pieces, and sends a piece to each of the tribes of Israel by way of informing them of the crime.

It's taken very seriously. All the tribes of Israel (except for the people living in Jabeshgilead, who later have cause to regret the omission) gather in Mizpah to discuss it. Here's the basic charge, in Chapter 20:

3. Then said the children of Israel, Tell [us], how was this wickedness?

4 And the Levite, the husband of the woman that was slain, answered and said, I came into Gibeah that [belongeth] to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to lodge.

5. And the men of Gibeah rose against me, and beset the house round about upon me by night, [and] thought to have slain me: and my concubine have they forced, that she is dead.

6. And I took my concubine, and cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel: for they have committed lewdness and folly in Israel.

Note that the Levite doesn't say "the men of Gibeah thought to have buggered me bowlegged," though that aspect is every bit as implicit in this situation as it was in Sodom. The Levite says, "They thought to have slain me."

Now, the book of Judges is familiar with the book of Genesis. Judges has to be aware that its story of the Levite and his concubine strongly parallels the story of Sodom. If homosexuality was understood to be the pertinent sin in the story in Genesis, why, then, in the book of Judges, does the Levite characterize the men of Gibeon as intending murder?

You could almost get the idea that the actual sins in question were rape, mob violence, public lewdness, and the mistreatment of guests.

If you don't believe me, you can take Ezekiel's word for it. This is from Ezekiel 16, where he's railing against the iniquities of Israel:

49: Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

50: And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw [good].

If that's the sin of Sodom, then George Bush must be accounted a notorious Sodomite.

And while we're on the subject: English may use "sodomite" to mean both "person from Sodom" and "homosexual," but Hebrew doesn't. When the KJV speaks of "sodomites" in 1 Kings 15:12 and 2 Kings 23:7, the word is being used to translate the Hebrew qadesh. I'm out of my depth here, but as far as I can tell, qadesh means "idolator" or "devotee of the Canaanite goddess Asherah" or (at most) "male temple prostitute." Which makes sense, because those verses in Kings are about idolatry.

One way to look at it is that if you were a member of the priesthood in Israel, qadesh meant "employee of a competing firm." Translating that word as "sodomite" falsely implied a connection to the Sodom episode in Genesis, and helped shore up the common misreading of the story of Sodom as a cautionary tale about homosexuality. That mistranslation and misreading is the fault of the KJV's translators. It's not inherent in the text.

We can leave Romans 1:24-27 for another time. It's a prime gardening day, and I'm starting to resent having to spend so much more thought on your message than you did. In the meantime, that book you say you cherish makes some very clear statements about things you should be doing: feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, consoling the sick and needy, ministering to those in prison, et cetera and so forth. Since you posted that "faith without works is dead," I have reason to hope you're already doing all that. But if you aren't, let me recommend it as a great place to start.

#315 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 07:33 PM:

Teresa: you spent far more time on that response than the original post deserved, but I, for one, thank you.

#316 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 07:40 PM:

I'm starting to resent having to spend so much more thought on your message than you did.

Nothing's wasted, Teresa. The rest of us now have more ammo for next time. These people always quote the same verses.

#317 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 09:34 PM:

The greatest cause of Atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. - Brennan Manning

Teleka, nowhere in your post do I see any kind of Christian charity, or a welcome back to the fold. What was it that Jesus said about the shepherd who would rejoice more at the return of one straying sheep...?


Teresa, thank you for spending your time on that response -- I'm sure I will find occasion to use it. Unfortunately.

#318 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 09:47 PM:

I agree with Andy (almost always, actually). This is the virtue of preaching to the converted: they become "preachers" in turn. I knew that in vague outline, most of it, but I'd never heard of the story of the Levite's concubine. That's going to be useful.

I'm pretty sure there's no more candy in Teleka, at least right now.

#319 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 11:07 PM:

I'm just idly trying to finger Teleka. The comment was posted by tpatrick21@yahoo.com.

That's at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, CA. It's a Seventh-Day Adventist institution (there's lots of SDA stuff in Loma Linda); and sure enough, there's a young Seventh-Day Adventist (Southern Union) named Teleka Patrick. She attended Oakwood College, a small but well-regarded Adventist liberal-arts college, largely black, in Huntsville AL.

While there, she participated in Oakwood's Miss UNCF 2004 competition. I don't know whether she was a contestant, but she did play the violin. I think it was sometime around 2002 that she sang with the Voices of Triumph choir. She's probably in these photos somewhere.

Over Thanksgiving break, 2002--you can read about it in .pdf on page 19 of the February 03 issue of Southern Tidings magazine, or get it as HTML here--she was one of the twenty-odd Oakwood students who went to Atlanta to work with NAPS, the National Association for the Prevention of Starvation. I'd say that definitely settles the question of corporeal acts of mercy: she does.

I don't know whether the Teleka Patrick who posted here, tpatrick21@yahoo.com, is the same Teleka Patrick who graduated with the Bronx Science class of 2000. Neither do I know whether she's the same Teleka Patrick who's credited as one of the authors of DNA Repair Defects Channel Interstrand DNA Cross-links into Alternate Recombinational and Error-prone Repair Pathways, J. Biol. Chem., Vol. 279, Issue 35, 36462-36469, August 27, 2004, orig. published as doi:10.1074/jbc.M402323200, June 22, 2004. It seems possible, but I can't establish that they're linked.

I should cut her some slack.

#320 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2005, 11:22 PM:

You know, we're going to be forever indebted to John Scalzi for that line.

#321 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 02:52 AM:

Jeez, this is a fascinating blog and a wonderful community. I wish I had more time to spend reading here.

Not that I don't read all the threads. I just steal the time away from less useful things like sleeping and making meals.

#322 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 08:28 AM:

Thanks, Harry. I suspect we all do that.

#323 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2005, 05:44 PM:

Teleka: However, it seems that it is based on aspects you want to see in a Christian church, rather than on what the Bible dictates. And the Bible will conflict with what we want. If church doesn't change us, then what's the point? Hopefully you know that the Bible does not support a homosexual lifestyle (i.e., Gen. 19:4-7; Romans 1:24-27). Just like the Bible doesn't support stealing, lying, or other sins. But today's Christians would rather change God, the church, and the Bible to fit their preferences.

Teleka, I challenge you to answer the following questions with unflinching honesty, in the privacy of your own mind and heart:

1) Did I, or did I not, choose my current church based on its alignment with my values and what I believe Christianity should be? If I did so, do I have the right to castigate another for doing the same because her values and beliefs do not match mine?

2) Do I, or do I not, read the Bible without preconceptions, in order to discover what the Bible really has to say on the issues that matter to me, or do I read it with agendas in mind, searching for passages that support my already-formed opinions and beliefs?

#324 ::: Vanessa Crum ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 01:33 AM:

Anybody heard of the "Church of the True Vine?" There are two branches here, one in Ann Arbor proper and a smaller one in Ypsilanti.
"Latter Rain Ministries." They just erected a mansion like building on one of our main roads. It has an imposing and easily defendable look to it.
There is also a Unity Church, which is not affiliated with UU at all. What is it?

Further, I wanted to have clarified for once and for all:
Is the line “Suffer not a witch to live,” really what it says in the Bible, or did it originally say,“Suffer not a well-poisoner to live”? There is a lovely little legend in Pagandom
that states King James made this alteration to win a political battle against witches in Scotland. I’d look at my Oxford student bible, but it’s in boxes right now and I don’t see that changing for another couple of months.
It slaps at my disbelief suspenders because I find it hard to believe that there were any politically motivated witches in Scotland that late.
Please note this proverbial witch would most likely be a Christian witch, (or a Catholic!) like many who were hung in the bad old days. Since I doubt even this un-named witch would be Pagan, I don’t capitalize it. “Witch” in this case refers to a series of folk practices used before modern medicine came and “made it all better.” I’m using this pithy statement because early doctors were as dubious as quacks and used draconian methods to get customers, not as a statement dismissing the whole of modern medicine.
Pagan is capitalized since it refers to a state of religion, rather than a reference to social station and living conditions.

Also I seem to remember that the King James, while the unquestioned standard in most American churches today, is considered one of the poorer translations of the text.
Is this also true?

#325 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 04:17 AM:

My Oxford Companion to the Bible gives considerable space to a description of what the Hebrew word translated as "witch" in Exodus 22:18 might have meant. It seems to apply generally to those who claimed to be able to practice necromancy and divination, and to work magic spells. The OCB article by Drorah O'Donnell Setel states that the word might also be translated "sorcerer" (and -ess) "medium", and "necromancer", but that there simply is not enough known about "ritual specialists" in the Hebrew/Canaanite world to be sure. The word seems to be generally but not invariably associated with the feminine, as in Leviticus 20:27 and 2 Kings 9:22, and in 1 Samuel 28:7 a woman is specifically meant.

It would appear, then, that the KJV version "witch" is as good as any one-word translation that could be made. My Revised English Bible gives the same reading; I doubt that the translators there were much concerned with King Jim's religio/political problems.

The KJV is one of the great achievements of the English language, and in most places stands up quite well, I think. But there's no doubt that its translators were trying for poetry and beauty, and they frequently had recourse to usages obsolete even then. For beauty, the KJV, then, but if you want an exact, if bald, rendition of what good scholars think is the most likely meaning of a particular passage, try the Revised English Version.

#326 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 11:13 AM:

Hem, I looked this up and found this page, which says among other things that the KJV did not work from original sources:

This "translation to end all translations" (for a while at least) was the result of the combined effort of about fifty scholars. They took into consideration: The Tyndale New Testament, The Coverdale Bible, The Matthews Bible, The Great Bible, The Geneva Bible, and even the Rheims New Testament.
I've read that the word in the Hebrew bible actually means someone who uses magic to corrupt nature and cause harm. Also that in the Greek translation of the "Old Testament" (the only one Christian scholars looked at for centuries) that line is translated essentially as "don't patronize apothecaries."

One thing everyone with ANY damn sense knows is that it does NOT mean "kill modern neo-Pagan nature worshippers"!

#327 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 11:17 AM:

Vanessa, translating rare words is a problem when you're working with a language for which there are very few still-extant texts. If we had twenty other contemporary sources that used the same word that gets translated as "witch," we'd be much more certain of its meaning. As it is, Dave Luckett's response is as much certainty as you're likely to see.

This is one of the big reasons why verse-by-verse dead-literal readings of the Bible can yield such strange results, even if you're working with a plain clean modern translation. No language translates perfectly into any other language under the best of circumstances, which these aren't. Barring major archaeological finds of superior source documents, some passages in the Bible are always going to be obscure.

The other big problem with that approach is that the books of the Bible weren't written to be read that way. It's a diverse anthology of religious writings, not a user's manual.

#328 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 12:50 PM:

Teresa:

"Bible... a diverse anthology of religious writings."

Blurb: This astonishing anthology of prose, verse, history, geneology, and legal writings has several central themes. One is the transition from hunter-gatherer culture ("Garden of Eden") to the concurrent development circa 10,000 years ago of settled agriculture, cities, kings, armies, war, money, and prostitution. Thus the most frequent source of metaphors are those associated with planting, harvesting, and animal domestication. Close on the heels of the farming similes are those dealing with poverty, and the responsibility of the wealthy to alleviate it. Third is the chaos of battles, adulteries, rapes, geopolitics, court intrigue, and dueling cosmologies. Packed with stories (many adapted to motion pictures), turbulent with life, both in celestial glory and noir depravity, this book, despite an awkward break between the older stories and the more recent, deserves to be the #1 best-seller of all time. We eagerly await another anthology by the same authors.

#329 ::: Connie ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 02:04 PM:

At one point, the MITSFS Library database had the Bible classified as a 'shared world anthology.' I was very proud of coming up with that....

#330 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 02:09 PM:

Okay, I made my first (and probably last) Pope joke this weekend.

Someone I was talking to said, "Is the Pope Catholic?"

And I said, "Not right now . . . "

Several people at the table did spit-takes. I was so proud!

#331 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 02:22 PM:

And then there is the Song of Songs, which is "religious" by allegory, allegorical by association, associated by fiat, and bylined for no good reason at all.

#332 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 02:44 PM:

What, Mike? Don't you believe that it's about Christ's relationship with the Church?!?!?!? Of course, the Church's breasts are like two young roes that are twins. And it's very dark, but comely, o daughters of Jerusalem.

Actually Trinity Wall Street was very dark, but comely, until they sandblasted it. Hmm.

#333 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 03:05 PM:

So, I'm reading "When God was a Woman" for the first time. It seems to be implying that much of the Old Testament's harshness to women was politically motivated suppresion of the conquered tribes female religion. (And that Levites were the conquering tribe and pretty much top dogs). I'm not well-read in women's studies -- is this regarded as a credible reading?

#334 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 03:13 PM:

Negative proofs are notoriously difficult.

Many -- most? -- cultures and religions that have been around for a while have said harsh things about women, whether or not local history made that an advantageous viewpoint.

#335 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 03:14 PM:

That's right, Xopher. And the Malleus Maleficarum is by Mickey Spillane. If I went in for that kind of thing, I could probably connect it textually to One Lonely Night, especially the Commie coven scene at the end.

No, wait, I do go in for that sort of thing. Just not now.

#336 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 03:17 PM:

I wish I could remember the author/name of the book I read that pointed out a long list of anachronisms in the Bible.

The only one I can remember right now is that it refers to the use of coinage (ie, shekels) at a time when coined money would not have been invented yet.

And it generally went on about how there is very little independent historical verification for pretty much everything described in the Bible (the Israelites held as slaves in Egypt? didn't happen)

#337 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 03:19 PM:

I thought it interesting because of my own background. In Philippine folklore, there's a lot of stories of evil bruhas (brujas), yet when the Spaniards first arrived, in the middle islands only women or transvestites were shamans (called baylan). It seems clear that the whole bruha thing was a way of demonizing the baylans.

#338 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 03:20 PM:

Funny thing is, a more sophisticated reading protocol might weather the discovery of errors and anachronisms that would break a literalist faith in the book.

#339 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 04:16 PM:

Teresa: Should you feel like expanding that initial reply by doing the analysis of the additional citation, I'd love to publish it. Why, yes, I am trying to do a fanzine. I hope to have the first issue out for worldcon.

MKK aka Sister Flaming Sword of Moderation

#340 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 04:53 PM:

Mayakda, this is where comparanda come into play. There are stories, legends, and folk beliefs about malevolent female magicians and necromancers throughout the broader Malay world, whether colonized by the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, or British; whether they were Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Sunni, Wahabi, animist, or what have you; whether harshly patriarchal or laissez-faire matrilineal; whether they have shopping malls and cell phones, or kris knives and nipa huts (or both).

While the friars had some... interesting ideas about proselytization, in this case Occam's razor suggests they merely tagged a local belief with a Spanish name. As was often the case in the Philippines.

This to me seems separate from the issue of transvestite and female shamanism in the Visayas.

#341 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 05:53 PM:

mayakda, I'd just like to say that I don't consider WGWAW credible any more. It's based on too many Dominator assumptions - if the men weren't in charge, the women must have been, right? Well, wrong; there's evidence that societies were much less stratified, less based on someone being "in charge" than is now the case. That's not the same thing.

Read The Chalice and the Blade for a more modern view.

#342 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 06:31 PM:

Read The Chalice and the Blade for a more modern view.

This is the one by Riane Eisler, right? Amazon is popping up two, but the other one appears to be fiction. I wouldn't want to, you know, pick the wrong Chalice.

#343 ::: Teleka ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 08:13 PM:

to Lenora Rose (and others): I was not meaning to condemn or sound as if I was better than anyone else. I am a sinner just like anyone else. It is unfortunate that so many churches are not loving towards homosexuals. I believe that God accepts homosexuals just like God accepts everyone else. But God also requires them to become like Godself, just like God requires everyone else to do so. Also, please note that my faith versus works stuff I put up there was in response to the comment in your list regarding faith and works. It wasn't intended to address homosexuality.

to Teresa: I would appreciate if you would remove the links that you have up there to my personal information. Thanks. I do admit that Genesis 19:4-7 can be interpreted in more than one way. (However, Romans 1:26, 27 is a little more plain.) Your exegesis is really good! Are you a theologian or a pastor?

to Aconite: #1- I chose my current church because I believe it tries to align itself with the Bible's teachings. When it comes to church, I submit my preferences to what God requires of me. And I guess I'm being kind of biased, because I do believe that God's will is revealed in the Bible. So I start from the Bible, and if there's anything that the Bible says I should change, then I submit it to God and ask Him to work in me to change it. (I have good reasons for believing that the Bible is God's revealed will. If you wish to know more, just put a post up.) #2- I try not to read the Bible with preconceived ideas. It is so hard because I am already part of a religious tradition. But I really try and put them aside when I read. For example, though it's not an official doctrine, most people in my church believe that speaking in tongues as defined by 1 Corinthians 14 is demonic. Also, we tend to be very conservative worshippers. As a result of reading 1 Corinthians 14 and other passages on speaking in tongues, not to mention the Holy Spirit actually conferring that gift, I now speak in tongues and believe that it represents the empowering of the Holy Spirit. I am also a very vibrant worshipper and refuse to attend any "dead" churches. (Anybody who has ever read the Psalms can't possibly be silent in church! Okay, that's just my opinion:)) In addition, I attend other churches (outside of my denomination) from time to time that believe in speaking in tongues and worship differently from those in my denomination. So, I do try to be unbiased, but I'm only human. Please forgive me.

#344 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2005, 11:48 PM:

Um, Xopher,

The KJV translators did go back to the original Greek and Hebrew texts - many of them collected and compiled by the great humanist scholar Erasmus - to make their translation, but some of these documents were corrupt to some extent, and later better texts came to light. There were many variant readings which later translations often incorporated or noted but which the KJV translators treated by preferring one only - often on good grounds which still stand. They also, of course, considered earlier English translations - they could hardly not - and translations into other languages (notably, Luther's translation into German) but the translation they made was from the original languages.

Is the Greek translation of the Old Testament to which you refer the Septuagint translation? Because that was known to be faulty, even in Erasmus's time, and scholars had been going back to the original Hebrew texts for centuries, even then.

I have, as you might have guessed, a good deal of respect for the KJV, but not to the extent that I think it faultless, or even preferable for some qualities. I understand - though I can barely believe that anyone is so foolish as to think this - that some fundamentalist churches regard it as directly divinely inspired in itself, and therefore infallible, and to be preferred to the original texts where there is a clash!

#345 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 12:58 AM:

Hmm. Go away for a weekend and what happens? I don't expect to be controversy on Teresa's site. Especially not when she's starting to get better and should be surrounded by happy supportive friends.

Teresa, thank you for the compliment, and the support. I'd like to think I contribute to something other than the general noise levels, but some days, I think I just ramble on your topics because I don't have a blog.

But I might agree with Teleka that the degree of personal information revealed on her might be a bit much for a matter this small.

Teleka:

I wasn't offended by your questions, although your tone was more confrontational than I'm accustomed to from strangers.

I figure that if my beliefs can't bear up to a few questions, they can be discarded. I've experimented with some darned odd theories over the years. One stood up to a decidedly thorough grilling by someone much more traditionally-bound than me. One, sadly aired in public, collapsed almost before I had it all out, as I saw a HUGE logical gap I'd missed. And all the range in between.

I admit I have not read the Bible as thoroughly as I ought, having previously picked individual sections recommended by particular people for illustrating a certain point, or, and yes I'm not kidding, needed for one of my Art history classes (Revelations, mostly, though Matthew made it due to a particular image).

This is something I mean to remedy pretty much immediately. (I only say pretty much because I'm obviously not going to do so tonight when I want to be abed by midnight, and it's 11:21 local time.) I meant to start with the New Testament, as several people have suggested to me that it's easier to go that way then go back instead of starting at the beginning.

Re: Homosexuality:

I had heard something similar to, but not as detailed as Teresa's dissection above. (The bit about mailing a girl's parts around seems to stick in peoples' minds more than the point.)

My belief that God accepts healthy relationships between people of the same gender as well as otherwise is based on a personal attitude, and personal experience. I admit it.

I have also noted that those things the many writers of the Bible most sincerely desire to promote or condemn come up a great deal more often, and in much plainer language, than the handful of words devoted to what we now call homosexuality, or interpreted as discussing homosexuality, so I am often surprised this is such a hot-button topic.

I could say a good deal more, but I should read up before I do, as most of it is personal anecdote, not religious doctrine.

On the other matter, my comment on Faith and Works was not intended to dismiss the clear cornerstone that is faith. It was intended to dismiss specifically churches where nobody has to do anything but say they believe exactly as their church says to be counted acceptable. The exact relationship between the two items is much fuzzier than my words - as your doubled quotes suggest.

I am NOT a good example yet of showing my faith through my works. This is the aspect of me I desire to change the most right now, and the one I am most likely to pray for.

Meantime, Colin and I visited one of the Canadian United churches last Sunday (The one the week after Easter - this week, we were slightly lost while driving in North Dakota about the time the service would have been going. oops.) Physically, it's a lovely little place, with the pleasant start to a choir. I did like the sermon and the attitude with which it was given, but Colin was the one, when we left that day, who said more firmly, "They don't have enough members. We should help that."

One day and one sermon does not make a decision, but we might have found a home.

#346 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 10:00 AM:

Teleka said: I believe that God accepts homosexuals just like God accepts everyone else. But God also requires them to become like Godself . . .

So, God is heterosexual? Or what?

I agree that posting so many personal details about Teleka was somewhat impolite.

On When God was a Woman - the things I still remember from reading that many years ago are:

a) the Old Testament is a story about one tribe (the Israelites) coming into another tribe's territory (Canaan), killing all the people who lived there and taking their land. This is described as being a righteous thing for the Israelites to do, because God "gave" that land to them. (I've read since then that this is probably not what really happened - but still. It is presented in the Bible as a Good Thing.)

b) the Canaanites worshipped both goddesses and gods. The revelation for me here was that it was possible to worship a goddess and take Her seriously.

Growing up in Christian land, this was a totally foreign concept. On two levels: first, the idea that other religions are valid is anathema to fundamentalist Christianity.

Second, "female" is the opposite of "divine." The first time I read the words "When God was a Woman," I was shocked. It was the equivalent of saying, "When God was a Xylophone." "When God was a Piece of S**t." It made no sense to me at all. I was extremely happy when it did start to make sense.

Even if the book itself is no longer accepted as "accurate," I think you could argue, that, like the Bible, it doesn't necessarily need to be taken literally.

Final note - yes, that is The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler.

#347 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 10:48 AM:

I figure that if my beliefs can't bear up to a few questions, they can be discarded.

Big "me too".

Thanks for the rec for Chalice & the Blade (Eisler) (to all). I will try to get a hold of it.
Someone also suggested The Language of The Goddess (Marija Gimbuta) to me -- any comments on that book? *hopeful*

Carlos, that's a good point. But the evil witch figure is pretty widespread, not just in SE Asia. (I'm thinking of Baba Yaga, frex) Doesn't that just support the idea of that there's a period in prehistory where women are seen as figures of supernatural power?

The Catholic joke I first recall laughing at is this:
A man falls out of a plane and prays desperately "St Francis, St Francis, save me!"
A giant hand plucks him out of the sky and a huge voice booms out "Which St Francis?"
The man, uncertainly, "Assisi?"
Giant voice: "Wrong" and the hand lets go.

I used to think that was hilarious. :)

#348 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 11:10 AM:

Andy, I realize you were just making a pun (hey, better than picking up the wrong Blade, eh? Those half-vampires are hot in bed but a drag in a relationship), but yes, as Laura Roberts has pointed out, it's the Eislerian work I was referring to.

Dave Luckett, thanks for that correction. Yes, I meant the Septuagint. I just heard someone on the radio on Sunday (?I think?) saying that that translation was the only one Christian scholars looked at for most of the history of Christianity. I'm going to try to find out if he actually said that or if I'm misremembering.

Teresa, now that it's clear that Teleka is engaging the discussion and not just a driveby, and since you even said you should cut her some slack, it might be friendly to honor her request to take down her personal information...even though you obtained it from public sources. Just my opinion. You don't appear to have posted since she made her request.

Teleka, I don't actually care about the Bible except as it influences others, because I don't think it was written for me or for my ancestors, and it has no direct relevance to my life (well, except that I set bits of it to music now and then).

But I was interested in your belief that God requires individuals to become more like Godself. Why exactly would a homosexual (like me) be less Godlike than a heterosexual? (I assume this is something other than the hypocritical sex-outside-marriage-is-bad-no-you-can't-get-married double bind.) More interestingly, you also say that God accepts homosexuals just as God accepts every person: does the requirement to become more Godlike not apply to that acceptance? In other words, don't Christians have an obligation to be accepting of homosexuals?

#349 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 11:25 AM:

Playing catch-up as usual -- MKK, sounds like you read the recent Jon Carroll column featuring the "mildly militant" Unitarians:
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/04/08/DDG27BCFLG1.DTL

I recommend it to everyone!

#350 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 11:54 AM:

One day and one sermon does not make a decision, but we might have found a home.

I'm a member of the United Church of Canada--sadly, I no longer live in Canada, but I'm so attached to the church that I can't convince myself to formally change my membership. I can only speak from my own experience, but--yes, there is a home there.

#351 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 12:14 PM:
Carlos, that's a good point. But the evil witch figure is pretty widespread, not just in SE Asia. (I'm thinking of Baba Yaga, frex) Doesn't that just support the idea of that there's a period in prehistory where women are seen as figures of supernatural power?

Um. That's kind of a non sequitur. You don't want to make the assumption that all prehistoric cultures were alike. The Baba Yaga figure may (probably does) have extremely deep roots in the folklore of western Eurasia. But Gimbutas's Indo-Europeans, with their male-centered, nearly male-exclusive religion -- reconstructed to general agreement -- likely came from the same region of what's now Russia and Ukraine.

This suggests to me a variety of beliefs among a variety of peoples, sparse in population but diverse by modern standards, much like what anthropologists have documented and reconstructed in the Americas.

I myself would not recommend When God was a Woman or The Chalice and the Blade as works of scholarship. I don't want to step on any religious toes here. On the other hand, Gimbutas's scholarship has held up better than other archaeologists of her generation (Mellaart, for instance).

#352 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 12:27 PM:

mayakda: Doesn't that just support the idea of that there's a period in prehistory where women are seen as figures of supernatural power?

I haven't read Margaret Murray, but isn't that what she was arguing? Various internet sources (who may not be independent) claim that she's been discredited because she went well beyond her evidence. I'm not sure if this kind of quasi-demi-hemi-datum will be of any use to the discussion, but I'll toss it out anyhow.

Xopher: Thanks for the (re-)confirmation. (That was actually meant as an Indiana Jones/Danny Kaye reference, not a pun, but given that I've been on a pun-rampage this week, you are forgiven. I've actually never seen a Buffy episode, mainly because I don't have a TV. What was I inadvertently punning on?)

#353 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 12:32 PM:

Andy: I thought you were just making an Episcopal joke about the wrong chalice (like the wrong fork). The Last Crusade ref slipped right past me. [kicks self]

No Buffy was involved in this case. The Blade I refer to was the movie in which Wesley Snipes plays a half-vampire (a stupid concept IMO, but there it is) with all KINDA issues, as you might expect.

#354 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 12:49 PM:

You don't want to make the assumption that all prehistoric cultures were alike.

I agree. The thing is, I (as a layperson, in what I run across), don't really get to read /see much of what prehistoric society might really have been like, in all it's variety. For the most part, I'm left to my default image of male-dominant tribal heirarchies. That's where it helps to read things like "When God Was A Woman" -- not as archeology, but as a way to imagine the past, and look at my own assumptions. I don't know if that makes sense. It makes me wonder about tangential things, like how much is the concept of romantic love simply an outgrowth of social custom?

It's like reading Chariots of the Gods as a kid -- sure it's hogwash, but it's imaginative hogwash, and rather liberating. If there's things about the past that we don't have evidence on yet, while Occam's razor might be the sensible way to go, wild imaginings are much more fun. Nobody's proven yet that the world isn't an experiment run by lab mice right? :)

#355 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 01:12 PM:

Funny thing is, a more sophisticated reading protocol might weather the discovery of errors and anachronisms that would break a literalist faith in the book.

Nothing might about it, Teresa, as I am sure you already know.

#356 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 02:06 PM:

mayakda said: Doesn't that just support the idea of that there's a period in prehistory where women are seen as figures of supernatural power?

Then Andy said: I haven't read Margaret Murray, but isn't that what she was arguing?

I can't remember if I've read any of Murray's books or not, but the usual summary of her theme is "People who were burned as witches were practicing an ancient pagan religion." I don't recall her getting all matriarchal about it. (She was writing c. 100 years ago, before the Goddess thing really got underway.)

BTW, women are still seen as figures of supernatural power. A friend of mine told me this joke, told to her by a teenage boy:

Q: Why do women have all the power in the world?
A: Because they have all the vaginas.

#357 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 02:17 PM:

Xopher:

I quite enjoy the Blade graphic novels and films. They seem at first to be Urban Fantasy (half-vampire, and the like) but are in fact Science Fiction. The vampires have massive computer systems, manipulate human organizations (police, blood banks, governments), can be harmed by strong ultraviolet sources, and by such clever weapons as bullets containing a mix of silver nitrate and garlic juice. Their culture predates ours, but is misunderstood, needing computer analysis to decrypt the Vampires' Bible (itself a cool concept). 5th Degree black belts I know say that the martial arts in the Blade films are outstanding.

mayakda et al.:

Margaret Murray, When God was a Woman, and the like. The best support I've seen for this hypothesis was a brilliant paper (M.S. thesis?) by Emily Socolov (U.Mass, U. Chicago?) analyzing Greek mythic geneologies by Anthropological protocols. The farther back in time one goes, for those myths that are dated, the closer the kindship of Jove to the goddesses with whom he mated. This is the pattern one would expect if the pre-Greek culture conquered a Goddess culture, and absorbed their Goddesses into the new mythos as consorts of the new Male Hierarchical construct. Not proof, but, to me, mathematically suggestive.

#358 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 03:25 PM:

Q: Why do women have all the power in the world?
A: Because they have all the vaginas.

Does that mean they're holier-than-thou?

#359 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 03:51 PM:

Andy: good one.

#360 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 04:01 PM:

Apologies for how quick this has to be:

Teleka, Lenora, I've seen a lot of comment drive-bys in religious discussions. What's rarer is to see someone come back and engage with the discussion. I'm glad to see that happening.

Why all the personal info? Because people who do drive-by comments tend to think of themselves as being safely wrapped in anonymity. If you'll look at the south end of the comment thread following my piece about rating the dubiousness of saints, you'll find me doing the same thing to a guy who showed up there and lit into me.

But Teleka's here now, and part of the conversation, so I'll break the links in my earlier post. I wish I had time for more substantive comments, but I really do have to run now.

#361 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 04:19 PM:

The Blade I refer to was the movie in which Wesley Snipes plays a half-vampire (a stupid concept IMO, but there it is)

I will try not to carry this too far off-topic, but in Marv Wolfman's original concept of the character, Blade's mother was bitten while (conventionally) pregnant, and as this is the vampirism-as-communicable-disease model, some aspects of the condition -- strength, night vision, and a natural immunity -- were transferred. He was also much more of a quietly intense avenger than an Action Hero. I have always been much fonder of that version than the film incarnation, but Marv seems pleased by the movies, so there you go.

#362 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 04:44 PM:

Mike: that makes a LOT more sense.

#363 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 06:11 PM:

wrt common visions of females as powerful/demonic: Asimov once suggested (crude explanation) that this was because women were more likely to live to an age where they looked radically different from typical adults. IIRC, he didn't discuss how much ]wiser[ (knowing more history/leechcraft/diplomacy/...) such a person could be and whether that would seem supernatural.

There's also the old chestnut of ]primitive[ males not understanding where babies come from; does this still have any anthropologic support?

#364 ::: Mary Root ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 08:49 PM:

mayakda - The truth is, we know little of what actually went on in pre-historical societies. The Venus of Willendorf is as likely a prehistoric version of Playboy as a venerated goddess. We just don't know. Pre-christian Ireland had laws which granted Irish women rights unknown in the Mediterranean region, but they were still definately a notch or two below the men in status.

There were probably societies where women had more rights than others, but as to any subsistance society being a feminist paradise, well, I have serious doubts.

The whole notion of a lost matriarchal past, where women were worshipped and powerful, is to me a dangerous fantasy. It implies that the world we live in now is a wrong one, and that some grave injustice, which we had no part in and are the victims of, destroyed every chance of happiness for women. It absolves us of responsibility for the current world we live in, and the dulls the necessity of political action.

Guess that's why I read noir fiction, not fantasy, eh? Sorry for the bit of a rant, but I have had new agey friends who really turned me off of the whole goddess scene.

#365 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 11:02 PM:

Mary Root: Sorry for the bit of a rant, but I have had new agey friends who really turned me off of the whole goddess scene.

Certain of the "newagey" folks are their own worst enemy. We discussed the case of $ilver Ravenwolf some time back, for example. (I think you were Mary R then?) There are many rational Neopagans, some of them local to this blog, who are crack shots at evaluating historical evidence and drawing reasonable conclusions.

#366 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 11:19 PM:

There is one thing this blog does for me: it enlarges my world.

I said I found it difficult to understand how anyone could be so foolish as to insist that the KGV translation was divinely inspired and hence infallible in its own right, but getting interested, I googled ' "King James Version" + infallible ', and was again astonished how thickly inhabited the world is with extreme fruitloops.

#367 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2005, 11:36 PM:

... so foolish as to insist that the KGV translation was divinely inspired ...

The King George Version? Now that's a spooky thought.

"God is a large pink sheep who prowls the streets of Saxe-Coburg by night, looking for an honest strudel. A ducky sits on his right hand, and his horsie drinks beer. Meep. Meep. Does this war make me look fat? Meep."

#368 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 12:11 AM:

Oops. KJV. KGV was a ship my father almost sailed on.

"14 And he saith unto them, lo, this is not the Cherry Tree class, for verily it was not cut down by Washington, but even so it hath dinky little guns.
15 And they laughed him to scorn, saying, who is this man that shall call these babes dinky?
16 For behold! there be only eight of them anyway, for the Navy of the King alloweth only the twin turrets thereof, triples being an abomination unto the Lord.
16 And he saith unto them, the heathen that abide in the uttermost parts of the earth, even unto the Navy of the Americans, hath a standard nine sixteens.
17 Therefore I say unto you, woe unto us in the day of battle, for verily we have cheapened our sacrifice, buying it in the store that is called Woolworths."

Here endeth the reading.

#369 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 01:49 AM:

Xopher and Andy: Here's how old I am, both those reference escaped me. I went straight to the chalice with the palace and the flagon with the dragon. And no, you sure wouldn't want the wrong one there.

MKK

#370 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 05:22 AM:

Dave --

KGV and all her brethren had a pair of quads and a single double, and lo! the quads were indeed abominations unto the Lord.

They were also the products of good-faith attempts to actually meet the Washington naval treaty.

#371 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 06:38 AM:

18 And they said unto one another, surely he hath spoken a mouthful there.
19 Therefore they plucked out three of the twin turrets, and set up in their place two quads and a piece of decking of which no man knew the purpose
20 The which they fashioned from gomer wood and sheet metal,
21 Saying unto each other, the Lord hath said nothing about four at a time, and Washington, he is surely dead.
22 But the Lord saw the wickedness of their hearts and smote them from afar, even with the fifteen inch SAP.

#372 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 08:16 AM:

Mike Ford: Isn't Blade's mom bit in the opening scene of the first movie, too (or, well, dying from being bit, as well as about to give birth)? It's been ages since I watched it, so I don't recall if they go into that facet any deeper in it, though.

#373 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 10:36 AM:

It absolves us of responsibility for the current world we live in, and the dulls the necessity of political action.

This bit seems wierd, I mean, based on my experience. When I learned more about my country's history of colonization, servitude, and oppression, it made me more political, not less. Before learning the history, there was the sense of apathy -- well, things have always sucked here, it's hopeless, it must be a moral/psychological flaw in Filipinos that keep us poor" -- but learning the history gives the sense of -- "no, actually, it all makes sense now. So that's past, and it sucks, now let's work on a better today".

I mean, does it make women more political to think that men have always held the reins of political and economic power?

Does it make women more political to believe that Eve was created from Adam's rib, instead of Malakas (Strength) and Maganda (Beauty) being born at the same time from two halves of a bamboo?

I think there are definitely people who like to think of themselves as helpless victims, but I think it's more them than the whatever it is they're complaining about. So it seems a shame to discount actual injustice just because some people use that injustice as cloaks for their own issues.

Sorry for the bit of a rant, but I have had new agey friends who really turned me off of the whole goddess scene.

I'll admit I've run into a few totally annoying new agey types as well; I can sympathize. Almost as annoying as some born-again types. Same kind of fuzzy "I want to believe it, therefore it's true" kind of thing. As opposed to "That's a cool theory, so I'll keep an open mind."

Isn't Blade's mom bit in the opening scene of the first movie, too
Yeah, his mom was in the opening scene in the ER, bitten, gives birth, dies. She shows up again toward the end.

#374 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 10:51 AM:

Maybe I'm not capable of responding to this coherently, but why should I let that stop me?

Mary Root said:
There were probably societies where women had more rights than others, but as to any subsistance society being a feminist paradise, well, I have serious doubts.

Why do you say that about "subsistence societies" in particular?

The whole notion of a lost matriarchal past, where women were worshipped and powerful, is to me a dangerous fantasy. It implies that the world we live in now is a wrong one. . .

Are you saying that the world we live in now is not a wrong one? Do you feel that women typically receive fair and equitable treatment?

and that some grave injustice, which we had no part in and are the victims of, destroyed every chance of happiness for women.

I guess some people do enjoy thinking of themselves as victims. And certainly, women in the early stages of feminism tend to go through an awful lot of anger and agonizing. But I don't believe that patriarchy (if I may call it that) destroyed every chance of happiness for women.

I find it difficult to see how anyone could argue that images of/belief in powerful, divine, female figures do not empower women.

It absolves us of responsibility for the current world we live in, and the dulls the necessity of political action.

It's true that there does seem to be a split between those who believe in spiritual action (which may not look, to the skeptical, like "action" of any kind) and those who believe in political action.

OTOH, suppose a hypothetical Goddess-worshipper felt it was her duty to bring about a revolution that would result in women being honored and empowered, the way she believes it was in the past. That seems like a pretty political and inspiring belief.

My personal beliefs have evolved to the point where I don't consider terms like "matriarchy" to be useful. And I've encountered my share of annoying new agers. But I feel that by dismissing Goddess theories (yes, I acknowedge it is all theory) as "New Age Foolishness," you're slapping a label on it that it doesn't deserve.

#375 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 10:52 AM:

what mayakda said, too.

#376 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 11:00 AM:

Mary Kay: I was thinking of the dragon with the flagon (which has the brew that is true) too. See above ref to Danny Kaye.

#377 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 11:10 AM:

Sort of appropriate to this thread, if not to the most recent discussions: Does anyone want to comment on the movement to canonize the late Pope John Paul II, or is the whole thing too trivial and pointless to merit attention? As a non-Catholic, I find it creepy -- Hall of Fame-style idolization that comes very close to idolatry, the behavior that gave *so-called* "paganism" a bad name. (No insult to genuine pagans intended.)

#378 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 11:15 AM:

I find it difficult to see how anyone could argue that images of/belief in powerful, divine, female figures do not empower women.

Depends on the values of 'divine' and 'powerful'; it is all very well to be Queen of Heaven, but if what being Queen of Heaven means is an existence entirely for the benefit of God, it's not an empowering image or belief.

The great general trap of religion is time-shifting; this material distress shall be corrected in some other atemporal realm.

Even an it shall, it were not now mended, and it doesn't take many of those to constrict somebody's choice space into relative powerlessness.

#379 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 11:27 AM:

Graydon said: . . . it is all very well to be Queen of Heaven, but if what being Queen of Heaven means is an existence entirely for the benefit of God, it's not an empowering image or belief.

Yeah, but, like, if it doesn't mean that, if it means that no one outranks the Queen of Heaven, then it is empowering, right? I feel silly even trying to make this point.

Would you be referring to the Christian concept of Mary as Queen of Heaven? It doesn't seem appropriate to take an explicitly patriarchal religion as an example.

#380 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 11:41 AM:

Faren--there's a practical reason that both the Catholic Church and the sports halls of fame have a waiting period--when someone has just died, or otherwise left the picture, it's very easy for people, under the influence of their emotions, to rush forward to exalt that person. After a few years, the immediate influence of their personality, as opposed to their achievements, fades a little, and we can evaluate their contributions a little more rationally.

The Baseball Hall of Fame's only recent waiver of their waiting period that I can recall was for Roberto Clemente--and the circumstances of his death played a large part in that decision. I think it's better to wait a bit--to continue the baseball comparison, would it have been wise to put Barry Bonds in the Hall of Fame the year he broke Mark McGure's home-run record? Or McGuire as soon as he'd broken Maris's? Or Roger Maris as soon as he'd broken Babe Ruth's? I think that in every one of these but the last one, we'd be worrying now if the right choice had been made.

I'll add, although I think most of the Making Light regulars understand without my saying so, that I'm not trying to make sports and religion out as equivalents. However, in this case they do both provide examples of why rushing to set someone up on a pedestal they can't be easily removed from could be a bad idea. It's possible for someone to get really good press that doesn't tell the whole story, and it can take a while to develop a full picture of the person and what they did.

#381 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 11:53 AM:

There are no non-Patriarchal religions of any historical significance in written history. There are significant goddess cults, from Ishtar to Kali to the Pythia, but very little territorial control by any of them. (Thus minimal influence on child rearing, which is for the social face of religion what matters in the end.)

The role of Queen of Heaven was one that Mary was forcibly stuffed into once Christianity became the Imperial Cult, post-Constantine; it was already there, rather than invented for her. I suspect that the pre-Imperial understanding of Mary was much more interesting.

Pretty much all religion has historically been heavily tied into the legitimacy of land holding and kingly authority; that is, in a very real sense, what the stuff is for on a social scale. (Buddhism went through contortions over this as it spread.)

On a personal scale (and effectively all of the modern neo-pagan movements are on a personal scale; tottering on the brink of social scale in some places, but not there yet) it's different; one can decide almost anything one likes, and derive good or ill from that.

Trying to get a notion of empowerment from an authoritarian hierarchy strikes me as probably ineffective, though; you can go to a huge amount of trouble to rebuild a resistant hierarchy and get effectively nowhere because the changes have to last for three or four generations before the elasticity of the hierarchy -- people wanting things to be the way they were when they were children -- won't revert your work.

It seems, historically, to work much better to produce an alternate system that people choose to join. Subverting the dominant hierarchy is vastly more work.

#382 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 12:26 PM:

Graydon: your definition of "religion" seems to be different from mine. I'm not sure what my definition of religion is, so I can't really go there, but I would like to comment on one thing:

There are no non-Patriarchal religions of any historical significance in written history. There are significant goddess cults . . .

Using the word "cult" to refer to "goddess worship" and the word "religion" to refer to "Patriarchal religions" is insulting. I understand that it is common usage for many writers, so I'm not directing this at you personally. But it is the equivalent of referring to Buddhism (or any non-Christian religion) as a "cult", and only allowing Christianity the status of "religion," which I believe some Christians do.

I also find your use of capitalization very interesting. "Patriarchal" gets capitalized, but "goddess" does not?

I agree with you that throughout written history, Pretty much all religion has historically been heavily tied into the legitimacy of land holding and kingly authority . . . but I don't believe that is the only thing religion is "for."

What is your take on indigenous Native American religions? Supposedly they were not much into the concepts of land ownership and kingly authority.

#383 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 12:41 PM:

I'll admit I've run into a few totally annoying new agey types as well; I can sympathize. Almost as annoying as some born-again types. Same kind of fuzzy "I want to believe it, therefore it's true" kind of thing. As opposed to "That's a cool theory, so I'll keep an open mind."

You've run into what I call Newage (pronounced to rhyme with sewage). The ability to separate religious stories from actual history is something responsible Neo-Pagans acquire as early as they can. So in my coven, we might refer to the Burning Times in ritual, but we know they didn't really happen (at least in the way and on the scale depicted in the myths we all learned back in the 70s).

More importantly, it seems there was never a society in which women dominated the way men dominate today. In fact there has never been a society in which all men dominated all women; only a society in which a few men dominate all other men, and all women, and in which in most given cases the men dominate (other things being equal). THAT we never mistell even in ritual, because it teaches the wrong lesson. (Actually we use the BT lesson to teach caution, but no longer blame The Church as the totally evil villainous murdering infection some people tried to paint it as back then...it was really horrible, you'd be amazed.)

The right lesson, I am persuaded, is that Dominator societies (chiefly but not only the Indo-Europeans) conquered what Eisler calls Partnership societies, where there was relatively little domination of one person over another, period, let alone distribution of that power by gender. Newer evidence may persuade me otherwise, because I believe that accurate science is of high spiritual value to anyone who professes to worship Nature, as I do.

Note, however, that such change in my belief about prehistory will not necessarily change my beliefs about the present day, or the situation of the world. I look for the resurrection (or new creation, who cares which) of Partnership societies, replacing the Dominator societies in which we now live. And I practice that in my personal social life, and consider it when making political decisions.

#384 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 01:30 PM:

Xopher: did you ever happen to read The Rebirth of the Goddess by Carol Christ? I liked that book quite a bit.

#385 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Graydon,

You said, "There are no non-Patriarchal religions of any historical significance in written history."

Well there's always classical Athens. Athena had quite the role there in various incarnations (Parthenos, Nike, etc), as did Hera and Demeter and Aphrodite and let's not forget good old Artemis. Sure, there was also Dionysos and Zeus, but the temple of Athena Parthenos is pretty much the best and the Eleusynian mysteries (Demeter related) aren't anything to sneeze at either.

#386 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 01:58 PM:

Pretty much all religion has historically been heavily tied into the legitimacy of land holding and kingly authority; that is, in a very real sense, what the stuff is for on a social scale.

Are you saying that politics drives religion? Because if you are, I completely agree.

#387 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 02:10 PM:

Mayakda -
Yes. Starting with the exaltation of Marduk at the earliest.

ElizabethVomMarlowe -
I agree that Athena Parthenos was very important to the Athenians. I don't think that anything the classical Athenians did in the way of social organization can possibly be called anything other than patriarchal, though. (Nor the classical Greeks as a whole.)

#388 ::: dolloch ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 02:12 PM:

I think Xopher hit on a main point here. In the "Newage" (love the word, btw), what he refers to as Dominator societies are inevitably equated with patriarchies while Partnership societies are assumed to be matriarchal, or at least feminine. To me it seems that it's an analysis of history with some pretty thick and biased modern lenses. Assuming that a partnership can only be feminine and a domination can only be masculine is insulting to me. To lighten the mood, insert smart-ass comment about dominating ex-girlfriends or hen-pecked husbands here. Junior high girls seem to weaken the idea of a partnership society too.

Now I may be speaking out of my rump (i.e. I don't have any hard citations), but I've heard that Ancient South American societies were matriarchal. They also sacrificed an astonishing amount of people each year (200,000?), even waging war to keep up the sacrificial stock.. Some of those sacrifices were decidedly from a feminine tilt (e.g. – menstruation=fertility, therefore blood=fertility, therefore sacrificial blood on the fields = fertile fields, therefore kill a bunch of humans and mix their blood into the soil of the field).

In the same way, worshipping a goddess doesn't make it a matriarchal religion. In the Greek pantheon, Zeus still rules, even if individuals choose to focus on the feminine aspects of the pantheon.

The more I'm writing it down, the more it seems that the assumptions of what is feminine and what is masculine are coloring any interpretations of what a patriarchy and a matriarchy are or would look like. I mean, wasn't the rule of Catherine the Great and Elizabeth I technically matriarchies? They were running the show after all.

Hmmm. Y'know, I think I'm getting out of my depth here. I would like to ask Graydon where I could look for the contortions that Buddhism went through. I wasn't aware that there could be anything regarding material holdings as the precepts seem to pretty much be about letting go of material stuff. Help?

God I love reading these threads!

#389 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 02:23 PM:

Dolloch --

That's the problem. How does a king convert to Buddhism? How does he give god gifts in return for good luck and success? (Insular monastic Christianity invented private ownership of land by mistake this way...)

Stuppas are big piles of bricks with nice gardens around them; this is the sort of compromise between the Buddhist precepts and royal objectives that tended to happen. The monks didn't want money and the king was determined to give them some.

#390 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 02:34 PM:

Xopher, your coven sounds pretty cool. Um, any online presence that will let me read more?

Xopher: did you ever happen to read The Rebirth of the Goddess by Carol Christ? I liked that book quite a bit.
Aha! Another one to put on my to-read list.

#391 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 02:58 PM:

mayakda: I couldn't remember if you had asked for recommendations or not. Otherwise I would have specifically recommended the Carol Christ book to you.

It was written after the first wave of books about "Goddess-worshipping matriarchies" had died down, and IMO she takes a more reasoned view of the subject.

Actually I want to re-read the book now.

#392 ::: dolloch ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 04:56 PM:

Graydon,

I assume a king would convert to Buddhism about as easily as a warrior (the Zen Samurai being the most interesting, um, conflict of interests). Seeing as it can be either a religion or a philosophy (no deity worship, per se) there shouldn't be that much of a problem. I've wondered if supporting the caste system in India isn't based off of a perversion of reincarnation.
If you're in a good caste, you must have done something good in a past life to earn it while if you're untouchable not only do you deserve it from past lives, but if you work hard the next life will be better. Very convenient.

Re: Insular monasticism & private land - do you mean that kings gave the land to the Church, and in turn the Church gave the land to the people?

I'll have to add Carol Christ to my growing list of "needtoreads".

#393 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 06:39 PM:

Laura: Does the Carol Christ book discuss modern female spirituality? A friend from Tanzania related some fascinating stories about the 'women's worship' there that still occurs today, and I've been trying to find more sources.

Also, regarding NA power structures (specifically American Indian and First Nations, I'm not very familiar with South and Central), in many tribes female power structures were/are overlooked because they were more subtle, indirect, or otherwise invisible to outsiders. (Without even touching the whole sexuality issue--two-spirit, berdache, etc, as some have been termed) There were certainly NA tribes that were more male dominated, but I think there was a fairly diverse mix of semi-egalitarian, female-leaning, male-leaning, other variations. NA cultures in general (religion isn't technically appropriate, because not all tribes had similiar stances on spirituality and religion) were and are so diverse they can't be classified into one system.

Of course, most NA cultures didn't have written history. :(

Threads like this make me want to go back for an Anthro doc. :)

#394 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 08:37 PM:

From the Scholarly Books archive
[The Chronicle of Higher Education]
6/27/2003
God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions

God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions, edited by Jacob Neusner (Georgetown University Press; 281 pages; $29.95). Essays on how political power, and religion's relationship to it, are constructed in Buddhism, Hinduism, ...

See also today's New York Times, p.B1, "Scholar of Judaism, Professional Provocateur", by Dinitia Smith. "Jacob Neusner, a mild-seeming grandfatherly man relaxing in his easy chair, might have published more books than anyone alive. "As of this morning, 905," he said recently.... Hold it! ... [he] just called to say that there are 924. And, no, he doesn't count revisions or translations...."

"... The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him probably the most prolific scholar in the nation.... Mr. Neusner said that it was impossible to know the total sales figures for all 924 books, though he does receive annual royalties for them ranging "between the high four and low five figures."

Teresa, any comments on the full article, as you probably take The Times? And how slenderly does this type of academic publishing separate from vanity press augmented by major self-promotion? Some of his critics say nasty things, and some very carefully say nothing when asked. And has anyone here read any of those 924 books and care to enlighten us?


#395 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 08:59 PM:

Dolloch --

How does a king derive increased legitimacy as a ruler from converting to Buddhism? This is tricky; Islam and Christianity have good answers for this ('serve the ruler of the universe') from inside their own belief system, but if the world is suffering and illusion, the increased legitimacy as a ruler part is very tricky.

As far as the insular monasticism goes, no, I mean that there was, prior to the church foundations, no legal concept of the private ownership of land. But you couldn't give a transitory gift (landholding was per-lifetime, not hereditary, and all the land was the king's in the early Septarchy) to an immortal god, so the monasteries invented holding land by charter in perpetuity to solve that problem and the next three or four hundred years involved attempts to solve the problems inventing private landholding caused, like needing to invent a rationale for monetary taxation.

As far as the NA cultures go -- I'd like to note that everything for which we actually have decent contact records happened after a truly monumental disease-driven die off. Pretty much everything Europeans saw in NorAm were cultures that grew out of that, rather than whatever precursor cultures may have been in place.j

Plus the mound-builders up the Mississippi pretty much had to have had what Xopher has been describing as Dominator cultures. That's a lot of labour directed to ostentatious ends.

Laura -

There are no non-Patriarchal religions of any historical significance in written history. There are significant goddess cults . . . Using the word "cult" to refer to "goddess worship" and the word "religion" to refer to "Patriarchal religions" is insulting. I understand that it is common usage for many writers, so I'm not directing this at you personally. But it is the equivalent of referring to Buddhism (or any non-Christian religion) as a "cult", and only allowing Christianity the status of "religion," which I believe some Christians do.

The words have reasonably precise technical meanings, and that's how I'm using them. "Classical Paganism" is a religion; the worship of Diana of the Ephesians at Ephesus was a cult.

Tons of Christian saints have cults, as do a variety of figures in Islam.

I also find your use of capitalization very interesting. "Patriarchal" gets capitalized, but "goddess" does not?

That was attempting to placate the spell checker, recognizing that capitalization didn't work, and not changing it back after actually invoking the thing.

Fundamentally, every form of social organization faces what I usually call the Quaker dilemma -- Quakers are ideal neighbours until the steppe nomads show up. Complex cosmopolitan cultures incur significant social and political overhead that barbarian us-or-slaves cultures simply don't.

The complex cultures have to be able to defeat the barbarians to get into the future. (This is easy if the complex culture avoids stupidity, which it generally does not, considered across the historical record.)

#396 ::: Ted Trainor ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 09:22 PM:

Quoth Xopher:
Actually we use the BT lesson to teach caution, but no longer blame The Church as the totally evil villainous murdering infection some people tried to paint it as back then...it was really horrible, you'd be amazed.

Would you mind continuing? Or referring elsewhere?

I once e-mailed Ms. Hayden to ask why the door-to-door Mormons used to scoot off my family's doorstep when I was a kid, once we told them we're Catholic.

(By the way, thanks again- it was a great reply. Still don't know why the Witnesses did. It's not like we slaughtered the goat at home or anything...)

Since then, I thought it's at least good policy, to see how others view "your stuff". Sometimes it's educational, and sometimes it's humbling.

(Of course, in the case of someone like Chick, it's a trip to the funhouse, but that's neither here nor there...)

#397 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 03:35 AM:

Old math: if we're going to reference old Christian dates, and dates of publication of varion editions of the Bible, shouldn't we use:

The numbers from 1 to 3999 expressed as Roman numerals
Gerard Schildberger (gerard(AT)prairietech.net)
Hankinson, North Dakota
Apr 04 2001
Corrections from Frank.Ellermann(AT)t-online.de, Jun 12 2001

#398 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 12:06 PM:

Graydon said: The words have reasonably precise technical meanings, and that's how I'm using them. "Classical Paganism" is a religion; the worship of Diana of the Ephesians at Ephesus was a cult.

I don't know what the precise technical definition of "religion" and "cult" are - could you clarify?

It's interesting that you should mention Diana of the Ephesians, because this conversation reminded me of this quote from the New Testament (Acts 19:27):

And there is danger not only that this trade of ours [creating silver statues of Artemis] may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Ar'temis may count for nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.

How does a goddess whom "all the world" worships not qualify as a "religious" figure, as opposed to a "cult" figure? How does this fit with your earlier statement that There are significant goddess cults . . . but very little territorial control by any of them.?

You also mentioned that:

As far as the NA cultures go -- I'd like to note that everything for which we actually have decent contact records happened after a truly monumental disease-driven die off.

This illustrates a problem with "written history" (which Heatherly also referred to.) Written history is not complete. It excludes large areas of human experience. If you do not belong to the dominant class, if you are the wrong gender or ethnic group, you do not get accurately represented in the historical record. This has always been true in the past, and continues to be more true than it should be in the present. Also - IIRC, Riane Eisler points out in The Chalice and the Blade that human history extends much further back in time than "written history" per se.

"History" is a construct, an extrapolation from what sources we have. It's not universally agreed upon, and it's not unchangeable.

The statement "There is nothing in written history to support the idea of a Goddess religion" is literally true. The statement "Therefore, there have never been any Goddess religions" is not true.

Those of us who have been excluded from written history have the right to question the accuracy and value of a historical record that does not include us. We have the right to attempt to create our own history - which is exactly what those who control "written history" have been doing all along.

#399 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 12:14 PM:

Heatherly asked me: Does the Carol Christ book discuss modern female spirituality? A friend from Tanzania related some fascinating stories about the 'women's worship' there that still occurs today, and I've been trying to find more sources.

Modern female spirituality in what part of the world? I haven't read the book in a while, but Carol Christ (as you may know) is a major figure in the American feminist spirituality movement. What I recall is that she talks some about that, and some about Goddess worship in her "adopted country" of Greece. And covers other areas of the topic as well.

As for modern female spirituality in Africa . . . I found Oya: In Praise of an African Goddess by Judith Gleason to be very interesting, but I don't remember if she says anything specifically about how women interact with Oya.

#400 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 12:48 PM:

Ted Trainor: which? The way it was painted back then or the way we view it now?

The way it was painted back then was that there were these nice peaceful Pagans living in villages in Europe, Christianity only having really gotten a foothold in the cities. Then the Church of Rome and its evil minions rode through, putting to the sword anyone who wouldn't convert.

The priestesses of these nice Pagan folk were the witches, who were all women and revered by all who knew them. Remarkably, they did ritual just as we do today, with bits borrowed from much later sources (time means nothing Between the Worlds). In the fourteenth century the Church decided enough was enough, and rampaged through the countryside and burned nine million women at the stake, then covered it up, erasing them from history.

When the outright nonsense is removed from this not much is left.

There WAS a witchcraze in the fourteenth century, but it killed only between 100,000 and 400,000 people, of whom 80% were women. Since the Christianization of Europe (largely peaceful if, from a Pagan POV, insidious) had been pretty much complete for a long time, they were also mostly Christian. And while a few of them were burned, they were mostly hanged. Burning at the stake was done mostly to public heretics, especially heresiarchs like Hus.

Gerald Gardner got the nine million figure by simply multiplying the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust by 1.5. ("See how much more oppressed we are? Why, we're half again as oppressed!") The sneaky deceitful underhanded callousness of this is difficult to credit, and proves that creating something great doesn't make you a good person, nor does being a scumbag keep you from doing great things.

I've heard that the 14C witchcraze was mostly a Church-backed assertion of monopoly power by the medical profession, but I haven't heard the evidence on that, so I don't know.

Is that the sort of thing you were looking for?

#401 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 12:49 PM:

And btw one may call Christianity the cult of Jesus of Nazareth. Techically that's accurate even though it's the most widespread "cult" in the world.

#402 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 01:08 PM:

And btw one may call Christianity the cult of Jesus of Nazareth. Techically that's accurate even though it's the most widespread "cult" in the world.

I was going to say something about that, but decided to use the bandwidth for other things.

Re: Gerald Gardner. I like Doreen Valiente's books. She worked with Gardner to create the "new" witchcraft, and seems to have respected him, but not more than he deserved. She also mentions that he was not entirely truthful.

#403 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 01:27 PM:

From http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_burn.htm

The total number of victims was probably between 50,000 and 100,000.
the vast majority were tried from 1550 to 1650.
mark

#404 ::: dolloch ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 01:36 PM:

Graydon,

How does a king derive increased legitimacy as a ruler from converting to Buddhism? This is tricky; Islam and Christianity have good answers for this ('serve the ruler of the universe') from inside their own belief system, but if the world is suffering and illusion, the increased legitimacy as a ruler part is very tricky.

My offhand guess is that it gives the impression of solidarity. "See, I'm just like you. I'm one of the people. I understand suffering and I'm dedicated to running the state to eliminate yours..." Well, that's a little more campaign trail stump speech than a monarchy would use, but you get the idea.

There is no ideal so perfect as not to be interpreted for selfish means (e.g. Bush). Heh. My Cheap Shot for the day.

#405 ::: 'As you Know' Bob ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 01:52 PM:

Regardless of the exact number of witches killed, my orginal point was to point out that there were times and places when the Biblical injunction 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' was THE most important injunction for believers to observe.

And that people who claim to believe in the literal truth of the Bible tend to be extremely selective about the injunctions they consider to be important.

For example, our new friend Teleka finds parts of I Corinthians 14 to be personally very important; and yet she doesn't seem to place a lot of importance in Paul's injunction - in the very same passage! - about women speaking in church (I Corinthians 14:33-39).

#406 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 02:06 PM:

Hey Bob,

This isn't church. Maybe she DOESN'T speak in church. Just a thought.

Laura Roberts: One of the things GG did was "discover" new "ancient" texts to try to disempower Doreen. That's where the "because of her youth and beauty" nonsense came from, for example. He just wanted a young trophy-priestess.

#407 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 02:17 PM:

Laura, the problem I see here is that there are two different uses of the term "cult" when we talk about religion.

The one here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult
is the definition that is most common in general usage, and you are right to sense derogatory implications in its use; the bit about "beliefs and goals which are not held by the majority of society, often religious in nature. Its marginal status may come about either due to its novel belief system or due to idiosyncratic practices that cause the surrounding culture to regard it as far outside the mainstream." isn't automatically negative, but certainly leaves the door open for a whole lot of unfriendliness. Recent cults, in this sense, would include the Heaven's Gate people, among others.

This one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_%28religion%29 is probably the usage Graydon was employing [and I do hope he'll forgive me if I have misinterpreted him]. To quote again "In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings ("scriptures"), its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult is literally the "care" owed to the god and the shrine.
By extension, "cult" has come to connote the total cultural aspects of a religion, as they are distinguished from others through change and individualization."

In this sense, "the cult of Diana at Ephesus" just means the rituals and practices common to those who specifically worshipped Diana in the great temple at Ephesus, without judgmental flavoring. The practices there were different from some of the other places where Diana/Artemis was worshipped in the ancient world [think Delphi, the Brauronia festival of Athens, the festival of Artemis Orthia at Sparta, or the cult of the Grove of Nemi...], just as they differed from the cult of Demeter celebrated in the Eleusinian Mysteries practiced at Athens, the official cult of Athene at Athens.

When I was studying Greek and Roman religion, I found that I had to make a consistent effort to keep two things in mind: one was that religious practices were extremely local, with particular practices and stories associated with a deity in a fairly small area; another was that religious devotion was extremely personal--just as many Catholics now have a special veneration for a specific saint, the Greeks and Romans tended to feel a particular connection to a specific deity--Socrates pointed out at his trial that he wasn't impious, as he had a particular devotion to Apollo, and there are other examples. This personal devotion is not the same thing as the civic cults, like that of Athene at Athens--as the city's patroness, she got special formal attention from the government. [Of course, over the years the Athenians added other offical festivals, which were subsidized--the Dionysia and Lenaia were the festivals of Dionysus where plays were performed; the taxpayers were hit up to subsidize the expenses of the theatrics.] Certainly one's personal devotions, or status as an initiate into one of the mystery cults, didn't prevent participation in the civic cults--these were almost a patriotic duty, as you didn't want the gods mad at your town.
Some of these devotions were considered age-appropriate--young girls were a focus of the Brauronia at Athens, but as they married and became mothers they were more likely to devote their attentions to Hera, as the patroness of married women and motherhood. In other cases they were tied to what you were doing--travellers might have special reason to seek help from Hermes, and those with sea travel to deal with would want to placate Poseidon. They might also arise from personal crises, like severe illness or desperate love affairs.
Given the fact that most people in those days didn't travel extensively, it's interesting how much travel was done for religious reasons--the great temples at Delphi, Olympia, Ephesus, and other places weren't dependent on local support, and the mystery cults [Eleusis, Samothrace, and others] attracted initiates from all over the Greco-Roman world.

#408 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 02:48 PM:

Teleka:

First, let me say that it's a pleasure to have a discussion like this with you; as Teresa and others mentioned, it's too common for people to drive by, post something along the lines of "You're wrong!" and never show up again. Who learns anything that way? An actual exchange of ideas is much more interesting.

The questions I posted for you to answer really were for you to answer in the privacy of your own heart and mind; I don't consider the answers or the specifics of your worship my business at all, though I thank you for offering to explain them further. Instead, I'm going to try to be clearer about what I meant by the asking, and what I hoped to make clear.


I believe that God accepts homosexuals just like God accepts everyone else. But God also requires them to become like Godself, just like God requires everyone else to do so.

I have to take issue with this. Perhaps I'm reading it wrong--like everyone, I have my button issues, and it can be hard to get past what I think is being said to discover what is actually being said--but that seems to boil down to, "I don't have a problem with homosexuality; God does." Where I live, that's an statement I hear a lot. "I don't have a problem with X; God does" is a comfortable way for a bigot to justify bigotry and avoid the uncomfortable process of examining beliefs about right and wrong and the bases of those beliefs. One person I know has (for over 70 years) avoided facing his blatant racism by holding fast to the supposedly Biblically-supported belief that God believes mixed-race children are abominations. As good Christians, we should love and pity them, of course, but we must never forget they are, after all, monsters, and we must never stop condemning them and the actions that lead to such abominations. That such condemnation hurts the people affected by it is unfortunate but unavoidable--it's God's will, after all, not ours.

This attitude was more common years ago than it is today. In some churches, 50 years ago, it wouldn't even have been questioned, but accepted as self-evident truth. And they would have believed they had Biblical evidence to support this attitude, based on certain interpretations of certain passages. "I don't have a problem with X; God does. The Bible says so." I often wonder if in another 50 years, people will look at the passages quoted to condemn homosexuality now and roll their eyes at how people could ever have gotten so weird about them.


I do admit that Genesis 19:4-7 can be interpreted in more than one way. (However, Romans 1:26, 27 is a little more plain.)

Sure, if you start from the assumption that homosexuality is wrong and deviant and look for passages to support that assumption. If you don't, you can make a good case for those verses being about the specific practices of those specific people.

Many of the people on this blog are writers. We know how words you meant to be taken one way can be taken in several others; we know the delights and pitfalls of interpretation. Text does not live on its own. It comes to life in the space between writer and reader.


I chose my current church because I believe it tries to align itself with the Bible's teachings. When it comes to church, I submit my preferences to what God requires of me.

Okay, so if I understand you correctly, you did choose your church based on its alignment with your values and what you believe a Christain church should be. Lenora is doing the same thing; so do most people, I think, although few are so clear that they're doing so as Lenora is. Again, where I live, it's very popular to imply that if someone chooses a church with different interpretations of the Bible and how Christians should live than is followed in your church, it's because they don't want to have to live up to the more authentically Christian standards of your church.

My take on this is: for heaven's sake, people, look around you. Do you see how many different species of beetles there are? How many types of grass, never mind other kinds of plants? How many different climates? Does it look like we live in a world created by a being who insists there's only one correct way to be? Good grief.


For example, though it's not an official doctrine, most people in my church believe that speaking in tongues as defined by 1 Corinthians 14 is demonic. Also, we tend to be very conservative worshippers. As a result of reading 1 Corinthians 14 and other passages on speaking in tongues, not to mention the Holy Spirit actually conferring that gift, I now speak in tongues and believe that it represents the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Okay, so there's recognition that different people can interpret the same passage in different, equally valid (from each perspective) ways. Based on that, can you understand how Lenora can believe that it's validly Christian to believe a church should accept homosexuality? I'm not asking you to change your own belief, only to see how someone could legitimately come to that conclusion.


I am also a very vibrant worshipper and refuse to attend any "dead" churches.

Well, heck, if you're not celebrating, you may as well stay home and mow the lawn. :)


So, I do try to be unbiased, but I'm only human. Please forgive me.

As far as I can tell, you haven't tresspassed against me, so what do I have to forgive?

I've actually been mulling over what you said for a few days, getting clear in my own head what I have to say and how to say it. One of the things that kept coming back to me was your comment about how too many Christians try to change the church to suit their preferences, instead of trying to change themselves to become what God requires. Now, on this, I happen to agree with you--to a degree. Too many people do use churches and religions to prop up their own prejudices and preferences rather than doing the work of changing themselves. But allow me to tell you a story--I'll try to keep it short :) --about a much-loved friend of mine, and changing the church.

My friend came from a conservative religious family. Her father was a minister, and she and her sister passionately loved God. She tried to live as she felt God wanted her to, asked for His help when she fell short, and sought to know His will for her. So she was horrified to get to adolescence and discover she was lesbian, which her church held was ungodly. She prayed for God to change her, and she wrestled with this situation for years, afraid to tell anyone, afraid that she was wicked, afraid that her lesbianism was a sign that God had turned his back on her.

Much to her surprise, it gradually became clear that, contrary to abandoning her, God was calling her to become a minister. The signs were unmistakable. Moreover, He was calling her to become a lesbian minister, which her church dismissed as a contradiction in terms. To be homosexual was ungodly; it was simply not possible that God would call a homosexual to minister. And yet it was happening.

So, I ask you, what was my friend to do at this point: deny God's will, made clear to her through fervent prayer and rigorous examination, or attempt to change the church to align with what she knew to be God's will?

So, you see, I believe that God sometimes acts through the minds and hearts of His worshippers to change churches when they need to change. I don't believe that seeking to change the precepts of a church is a necessarily self-willful act.

I'm all out of brain now. I hope this makes sense, and that I haven't made too many typos, because at this point I'm not sure I could see them to correct them.

#409 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 03:41 PM:

Xopher said: One of the things GG did was "discover" new "ancient" texts to try to disempower Doreen. That's where the "because of her youth and beauty" nonsense came from, for example. He just wanted a young trophy-priestess.

Oh yes. I've read her description of that event in her memoir. And yet they did seem to become friendly again, eventually.

fidelio, on the two definitions of "cult": thanks for the info. It seems like we are still on the original topic of this thread : )

Speaking of which, there were several examples given upthread of a cult which gets promoted into a religion. It seems to me now that obsolete religions can also degrade back into cult status.

While waiting for Graydon to comment, I'll just say that his original statement was:

There are no non-Patriarchal religions of any historical significance in written history. There are significant goddess cults . . .

My question is, why is it apparently impossible to have a Goddess religion, as opposed to a goddess cult?

#410 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 04:18 PM:

Graydon:
There are no non-Patriarchal religions of any historical significance in written history. There are significant goddess cults . . .

Laura:
My question is, why is it apparently impossible to have a Goddess religion, as opposed to a goddess cult?

I have no idea why it didn't happen that way, but I can't think of examples of Goddess religions in written history, and let me emphasize that last part, as well as the "I can't think of" bit.

When discussing the Greco-Roman religious system, I find it useful to note that the basic religion--the twelve major Olympian gods, plus all the minor deities, nymphs, and other miscellaneous objects of devotion--was patriarchal--the gods were organized into a structure with a dominant male god--Zeus/Jupiter. The major gods were also all seen as having kinship to each other--a divine clan, just like the human clans. Among all the cults of the various individual gods, there are cults of female, as well as male, divinities.

It's possible to say the same for most other ancient religions for which we have clear records of the practices and beliefs. I don't know if this is in line with Xenophanes' observation that people conceive of gods in their own image, so that by the time people were able to record the details of their beliefs and practices, their societies were, for the most part, patriarchal.

When you look at ancient religious history, there are fascinating suggestions of things buried under what was done and believed at the time things were written down--or were remembered well enough to be written down. But, for the most part, these are hints and suggestions, and not clear evidence that permits their unbiased interpretation as a Goddess-centered religion.

Graydon probably has more, and better-argued and expressed observations on this, but based on the little I know, what we have is what people believed when things were recorded, or, in some cases, what their very recent ancestors believed. For example, despite the volumes that have been written about Minoan religion, we really don't know much that's definite and unarguable; we can't read what they wrote, so we're basing much of the guesses we make on the evidence of artifacts, and artifacts are at the mercy of those who interpret them.

#411 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 04:32 PM:

fidelio, I have to take exception. We are living in written history now, and Wicca is a real Goddess religion that has been in existence since 1939 (or longer if you believe different people than the ones I believe).

I know that's not what you meant. Let me introduce some terms to help:

Neo-Paganism Modern Paganism, revived by people most of whose ancestors were not Pagan.
Paleo-Pagan Ancient Paganism, such as that practiced in Ancient Greece and Rome.
Eo-Paganism Modern Paganism practiced continuously since ancient times, such as the various types of Hinduism, or Yoruba tradition in Africa.
I'm pretty sure you meant there were no Paleo-Pagan Goddess religions that survived into recorded history. Is that correct?

#412 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 07:36 PM:

Laura Roberts says:
Those of us who have been excluded from written history have the right to question the accuracy and value of a historical record that does not include us.
which I find plausible. But I see a gap between this and the next line,
We have the right to attempt to create our own history - which is exactly what those who control "written history" have been doing all along.

I suppose you have the right to do this, just as Norton had the right to proclaim himself Emperor. But without evidence -- which, absent history, is not easy to find -- are you doing anything other than creating another mythology? It's one thing to follow Martin Luther et al in going back to older sources, eliminating any buildup of bias or mistranslation. But creating history seems a bit like what I recall of Xopher's comments on personal <mythology>; it helps to accept that it is personal, and every person's is different.
(Xopher: I know I'm not phrasing this precisely, but view-all-by only goes back 4 months.)

#413 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 09:50 PM:

Fidelio --

That isn't wrong, but it's not quite what I was thinking of, either.

The distinction I'm used to encountering when someone isn't trying to hurl asparagus at someone else's beliefs goes more or less like:

cult -- entered voluntarily in maturity; direct worshipper participation in ritual; distinct (and often secret) ritual practises; geographically constrained; specific focus of worship

religion -- participation is the social default (effort to leave); publicly conducted ritual; identified with a population rather than a place; general worship, covering all major life events.

Laura --

My question is, why is it apparently impossible to have a Goddess religion, as opposed to a goddess cult?

Because religion -- the participation-is-a-social-default thing -- is a tool of social control, and throughout written history, that's been equivalent to 'control of farmland and labour', which has rested on a combination of muscle powered weapons and maximizing the birth rate.

The convulsive social changes we're near the start of the process of surviving are about *not doing that* for the first time in something approaching ten thousand years. (Yes, yes, not everybody was doing that for the last ten thousand years, but our line of culture descent sure was.) This has a lot to do with why various there are religious conservatives freaking out all over the planet.

I'd echo Kip about making up history; fact is what can be agreed on without reference to the contents of any particular person's head, and history ought to be about facts.

Humans are, biologically, a mildly polygynous species. (Relative average adult male and female sizes are indicative for this across mammals, from pinipeds to ungulates, and certainly in our simian near relatives.) This predisposition toward patriarchal forms of organization is offset by education, but most of all by the disdain for the social uses of force.

That's rare; that's a product, almost purely, of the wealth brought about by industrialization, and the possibility of the effective removal of '...or I die' choices from daily life.

#414 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 11:04 PM:

Yes, Xopher, I was talking about ancient religious belief and practice. I find it difficult to comment on currently evolving beliefs and practices; these are too fluid for me to feel I can analyze them reliably. I apologize for any confusion or distress I may have caused by failing to make this plain.

I also have to agree with CHip and Graydon about history. I am all for a better investigation of the many poorly-covered areas in all of human history, whatever they may be and for whatever reasons they've been neglected. However, I want the evidence to be carefully studied and interpreted, with some effort at objectivity. Without this, all we end up with is another set of popular history myths, and I'd like to think we could do better than those who were responsible for building the myths of popular history we're trying to overcome now, in the interests of finding out how it really was.

#415 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 10:27 AM:

CHip said: But creating history seems a bit like what I recall of Xopher's comments on personal <mythology> it helps to accept that it is personal, and every person's is different.

Yes, exactly: it is personal, and every person's is different. I don't have a problem with that.

I guess what I mean is, I'm not asking for Goddess religion to be accepted as "historical fact" by everyone. I'm saying, I believe that the Goddess is a valid concept. Many people agree with me. (It's not just a question of one crazy person making stuff up - we're all crazy here : )

We can't enforce our personal beliefs on society at large, but we are fortunate to live in an era (and a place) where societal constraints on religious belief are weaker than they have been at other times.

Fidelio said: However, I want the evidence to be carefully studied and interpreted, with some effort at objectivity.

(and Graydon agreed.)

Because I state that I have a personal interest in the matter, you assume that I can't be objective. I'm not taking that as an insult, but I will state that it is possible to be objective about one's personal beliefs - with sufficient effort.

Furthermore, how do you know that other persons are truly objective? They might not make their personal biases clear, but that doesn't mean they have no bias. They might say "I'm being objective," but what does that really mean?

I started rereading Rebirth of the Goddess by Carol Christ last night, and she specifically challenges the notion of objectivity. I'm not capable of repeating all her arguments here, though.

Graydon defined "religion" as:

participation is the social default (effort to leave); publicly conducted ritual; identified with a population rather than a place; general worship, covering all major life events.

I think that a temple such as the one to Artemis at Epheseus would provide a location for "publicly conducted ritual." I'm not sure how you can separate a population from a place. I know there are goddesses to cover "all major life events," from birth to death.

I can't "prove" anything about Goddess religion. I still think that the definition of religion as "a means of social control" (to paraphrase Graydon) is incomplete and, in fact, distorted. But there's no way to argue with someone's personal beliefs, is there?

What it comes down to is, "official religion" and "official history" have nothing to offer me, no place for me. So what should I do?

(BTW, you can take that question as rhetorical if you want. I'm not trying to prolong this discussion ad nauseaum.)

#416 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 11:01 AM:

Laura --

Of course there isn't any individual possibility of actual objectivity. That's why the concept of 'fact' as something independent of individual opinion has been so successful.

My take on it is that no concept of divinity has any factual validity; they're all utterly dependent on the inside of specific people's nogins.

Which is why I think it's important to keep distinct what has a factual basis and what is believed; if these things get muddled up, it's very hard to tell what the conversation is about.

#417 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 11:08 AM:

There are facts. Specifically, archaeological evidence. There are many small sculptures normally interpreted as fertility goddess statues. But count on The Press to spin recent discoveries:

Sex in the Stone Age
Pornography in Clay
By Matthias Schulz
DER SPIEGEL 14/2005 - April 4, 2005

"New pornographic figurines from the Stone Age have been discovered in Germany. But researchers can't agree on what the 7,000-year-old sculptures mean. Were our ancestors uninhibited sex fiends, or was reproduction strictly controlled to improve mobility? An increasing number of finds seem to indicate the Stone Age was an orgy of sexual imagination...."

"And the project is becoming ever more fascinating as archeologists continue uncovering additional fragments while sifting through the Stone Age garbage pit. One fragment, which extends from the left calf to the pelvis, appears to be part of a female statue; Adonis, apparently, had a girlfriend. In fact, in an article soon to be published in the journal Germania, Staeuble speculates on how the pieces could fit together. He writes that 'there is strong evidence that this is a copulation scene.'"

"According to Staeuble, the fragments show that the man was standing with his pelvis at a slight angle. The woman in front of him was bent forward, almost at a 90-degree angle. Another indication that the two figures belong together is the fact that they are both made to the same scale -- both figures were originally just under 30 centimeters (11.7 inches) tall...."

#418 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 12:02 PM:

Well, there you go. A "fact," or "artifact," a concrete physical item, is undeniably real. It's in the interpretation of that fact that things get sticky - and objectivity goes right out the window.

Is a written record more, or less, "factual" than a statue?

From a Pagan point of view, of course, sexuality is sacred. There seems to be an assumption in that article that if a thing is "pornographic," it cannot be "religious." That is one huge distortion right there - from a Pagan point of view.

#419 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 01:06 PM:

Laura--I accept that you are as capable of objective thought as most people I know--including me. However, most people I know do have to make an effort when considering the difference between what we've been taught about the past, what we have absorbed as part of the set of cultural assumptions we grew up amidst, what scholars [some more careful than others about drawing conclusions] have concluded after looking at whatever evidence they could find, and the bare evidence itself. Some make it willingly; some grudgingly, some automatically, and some only under extreme duress. I don't know if growing up in the southern US gives one extra insight into how well we can convince ourselves of what we want to believe about the past or not, but I certainly have been exposed to plenty of examples of wishful thinking masquerading as historical study. I do believe it takes a certain amount of effort to accomplish any objectivity; the closer something is to my heart the harder I have to work at it. I don't know where you fall on the easy ====> hard scale of objectivity, but I assume that you are willing to dig in and make a good-faith effort; if you weren't, none of this discusssion would have taken place, because you would have found it intolerable rather than sometimes confusing [when we use terms differently] and occasionally irritating to deal with us.


As for Graydon's definition of religion as a means of social control, it seems to me this is one of the definitions that social scientists--sociologists and perhaps anthropologists--as opposed to, say, religious historians or theologians, would be likely to use. It covers the function of religion in a society [or one of the functions], and why a religion might have value for a society, rather than considering why it is, and how, that people, as individuals, have belief, and why that belief should be in one thing rather than another. As a scholarly tool it's useful, even if it's of very limited value on the personal scale. Since so much of Graydon's discourse here is based on a highly analytical and scholarly manner of thought and discourse, I usually work on the theory that, unless he says otherwise, he's not taking a personal view of a topic, but an academic one. This may be wrong of me, but I usually end up being less confused that way.

Alienated from official religion? Well, I assume that the best thing to do is what you are probably already doing--developing a system you do feel comfortable with, and, if an American, doing your best to make sure we never have a legally established State Faith you'd have to cope with. As for official history, this is really a pretty fluid thing--at least, if you take "official history" to mean What We Learned in School, combined with the Sea of Cultural Assumptions we swim in. The Sacred Mythos of the Confederacy, for example, is now less and less of a southern obsession than it is a banner for certain frustrated white people across the US [mostly, but not entirely, male] who'd like to beleive that Things Were Better Once, and have picked that nail to hang their fantasies on. More and more, this Official History becomes divided up among various groups of the like-minded, who will bend and shape it to suit themselves. One of the reasons the likes of Tom DeLay, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, et al. are so worked up is that they are desterately determined to enforce their version as Official History, rather than letting any other version get a hearing. One reason they dislike librul college professors so much is that they dare to question their Official Version, and keep coming up with inconvenient evidence, as well as encouraging tender young minds to ask awkward and inconvenient questions.
Your best recourse here? 1. Build your own Official History, making sure it's as solid a structure as possible and 2. Ask those who want you to believe in their Offical History what support they have for their claims.

I'm not surprised that an article in Der Speigel can't do justice to the artifacts it discusses--it's the popular press, and too many people make the unpleasant connection sex = pornography. I can think of a lot of explanations for what that artist, shaping clay 7000 years ago might have had in mind--and they aren't mutually exclusive, either. However, I don't know for sure what he or she meant by it--I'm only capable of knowing my own reactions, and those that are shared with me. The reader/viewer puts their own interpretation onto the work, and the farther away we are from the work's creator, the harder it is to grasp the original intentions.

Is a written record more, or less, "factual" than a statue?
That depends. The question of interpetation is different when we consider texts as opposed to objects. Analyzing Hesiod's Theogony to get a view of religion in Greece, around 700 BCE is different from analyzing the statues of kouroi and korai dating a hundred years later. The Theogony tells us what Hesiod thought about the origin and relationships of his religion's divinities; it's not a detailed map of religious practices in Greece during his time period. There were writers who did try to give a picture of beliefs and practices, from the various philosophers to people like the travel-writer Pausanias, who gave details about various local temples and cults [perhaps because his audience wanted this information, perhaps because it interested him, perhaps both]. Sometimes it's easier to see through the layers of intent and meaning with a text, but some texts are very much at the mercy of the scholars, and some scholars are more determined to beat a particular drum than others.

#420 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 02:00 PM:

Wow, I don't agree with Graydon's definitions at all. They might be anthropologically valid (for all I know), but they're nothing like what I'm used to, nor are they (I feel certain) what Our Hostess meant in the initial text that began this thread.

I'm pretty sure she meant the usual "harmful mind-control pseudo-religious nasties" definition of 'cult'. Not that that means we can't discuss other things and other distinctions, of course.

Graydon's definition of religion, if all those things are ANDed (not clear from the semicolons) disqualifies most forms of Christianity, which do not "cover all major life events." There's no worship for menarche, for example, or for menopause. And of course they don't cover lifelong marital commitments between people of the same sex, which no matter your opinions on the matter are major life events!

Entry into puberty on the non-distaff side is also ignored. For both sexes, preparation for death is generally neglected as well, in favor of praying for it to be delayed as long as possible.

I could go on. But I think the point has been made.

#421 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 02:09 PM:

Xopher: I think the two definitions of "cult" that fidelio provided from Wikipedia explain the two usages of the term. I do still find it a little unsettling that Goddess worship always seems to be branded "cult," never "religion."

fidelio: thanks for your long and thoughtful response. As you noticed, I have managed to develop a system of belief that I feel comfortable with. Of course, it is all an ongoing process.

#422 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 03:15 PM:

One quick note: To the best of my knowledge, most Anthropologists would have as much difficulty agreeing on one definition of religion as any Making Light reader would have in agreeing on one definition of...er...the 'best' science-fiction novel ever written.

I don't know about sociologists, or other fields, but I do know I never heard the same definition twice in social work under grad or grad. FWIW. :)

(btw--thank you all for this thread. I need to update my book wishlist now. :)

#423 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 04:36 PM:

"There are no non-Patriarchal religions of any historical significance in written history."

Does Shinto count? That temple at Ise is to the Sun goddess Amaterasu, and the emperor's claim to divine descent comes from her (through an empress, who might be only a legend.)

By the way, stupas mark reliquiaries; the Chinese and Japanese version is the pagoda.

#424 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 08:00 PM:

Randolph --

The three terrors of Japanese proverb are 'thunder, earthquake, father'; Amaterasu notwithstanding, I don't think you can call Shinto, nor Japanese culture generally, anything but patriarchal.

#425 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 10:03 PM:

Laura: I started rereading Rebirth of the Goddess by Carol Christ last night, and she specifically challenges the notion of objectivity.

This seems to be a common practice on the left wings; the problem is that it validates all the bizarre beliefs and actions of \both/ wings. I suppose it's possible to distinguish between some facts ("This egg is smashed on the floor") and variously subjective objectivities ("I threw it down in a rage", "I dropped it", "It slipped out of my hand", "The dog tripped me", "An angel took it out of my hand"); the question is whether someone's objectivity tends to survive (or not survive) additional facts, or sink under them like planetary orbits in a mass of epicycles. But it is possible at least to attempt to keep closely connected to facts, and to push aside theories ("Interracial marriage will produce morons!") at least as soon as facts are seen; and I think it's fair to call the attempt to do that objectivity.

Now watch somebody who actually knows philosophy tear that apart....

fidelio: librul college professors

Shouldn't that be "librul collij perfessers"?

#426 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 01:36 AM:

Graydon, traditional Japanese culture as it emerged (1000 years ago!) was heavily influenced by contact with China and Confucian patriarchalism; the feminine underlayer remains, flashing a bit of skin every now and again. (Look up Japan's sun return myth, sometime--it includes a goddess looking in a mirror and a striptease. The mirror is said to still be at Ise.) Looking back before that time there are hints that it was, if not matriarchal, at least a matrilineal culture in which women held considerable power.

I wonder if there are any books in English on this.

#427 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 07:40 AM:

Randolph --

Women have always held considerable power; Roman women had considerable power in the gods-be-feathered Late Republic, when Rome was a (fantastically successful) nearly pure marcher-state slave-taking machine.

What does the most to change the apparent relative power of women is whether or not the culture in question has come into contact with effective cavalry tactics. If it has, the minimum necessary survival size is quite a bit larger than if it hasn't, and the result is an enormous bias towards hierarchical and authoritarian military organization, which tends to drown out the family/individual scale signal. That signal is much more readily apparent if a culture's largest scale of organization is created by food storage needs, rather than mass defence. (Old Kingdom Egypt, pre-Hyskos, is another example.)

The back-before-that-time Japan was probably colonized from Korea (or, rather, the people then on the Korean peninsula very probably colonized what is now Japan) and since no one in the region wants to know this, I am suspicious of explanations which leave that connection out.

(the New World substitutes 'expansive empire' for 'cavalry'.)

#428 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 10:05 PM:

Graydon, what you say is probably correct; in Japan I think the contact was with the Chinese calvary. Even so, Japan was different in odd ways; I think--but am not going to write a thesis on it--the old matriarchial practices left a stamp on the culture and it makes a considerable difference, even to this day.

#429 ::: Maria ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2005, 07:02 AM:

it seems that churches encourage you to go home after the service.

#430 ::: shira ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 02:59 AM:

I found this site while looking for something else. I'm definitely enjoying reading here; thank you all very much. You sound like my kind of people. Meanwhile, perhaps one or another of you can help me find what I was looking for. Some time ago I took a very comprehensive, well-organized test with multiple choice questions. The scoring at the end provided percentage values showing comparisons between the individual's results with a large number of religious philosophies . . . including various forms of Buddhism, many Christian denominations, et al. I want to share that website with some friends and family members and now cannot find it. Can anyone help me, please? it is *not* beliefnet, whose test is less sophisticated, less comprehensive. Thank you very much.

#431 ::: Britnie ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2006, 03:02 PM:

Well, surfing the internet this afternoon, I made a shocking discovery. Apparently anything that is not a Christian church is a cult.

"They will learn that to be a good UU, he or she must acknowledge that the Buddhists and Hindus, pagans and Muslims have as much claim to spiritual truth as any Christian ever thought of."

So this makes me a bad person and a cultist. (I'm UU by the way).

But on the lighter side, a funny Unitarian Univerasalist joke:

Instead of burining crosses on the lawns of Unitarian Universalists, they burn question marks.

#432 ::: The Emerson Avenger ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2007, 11:05 PM:

Believe it or not this page is No. 1 in Google for a search of - Unitarian*Universalist assholes.

Here is my question mark for U*Us. . .

#433 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2007, 11:33 PM:

Thanks for letting us know.

#434 ::: Dava ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2007, 08:06 AM:

I don't know why people ever since around the mid-80's have forgotten what the real meaning of the word 'cult' is. It's part of a large & longlasting religion, like Catholicism or Buddhism, but it selects some particular aspect of that faith (a saint, a holy place) and takes it as the main or even exclusive focus of worship. That's what the word 'cult' did and should continue to mean. All those sociologists and journalists who have made it mean otherwise can all just go to hell. Who believes what they have to say anyway, besides their duped cult members that is.

#435 ::: John Fisher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 09:21 PM:

A group of Unitarian Universalists who play Mafia Wars- Let us stick together and fight for the UUA principles :)

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism -- 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been b

#436 ::: John Fisher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 09:25 PM:

A group of Unitarian Universalists who play Mafia Wars- Let us stick together and fight for the UUA principles :)

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism -- 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!

People of the United States, why is everyone yelling at you??? Whatever happened to ... you know, everything? Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea? Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace notes for the record that we mean no disrespect to Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Referred back to the committee of the whole for further discussion.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

Brother Gatling Gun of Patience notes that he's pretty sure the world is out to get him because everyone laughs when he says he is a Unitarian. There were murmurs of assent around the room, and someone suggested that we buy some Congress members and really stick it to the Baptists. But this was deemed against Revolutionary Principles, and Brother Gatling Gun of Patience was remanded to the Sunday Flowers and Banners committee.

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.

#438 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 10:55 PM:

It's an old Jon Carroll column.

#439 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 11:36 PM:

A Jon Carroll column, I note, which appeared in April of 2005, while this thread was near its peak.

Coincidence? Perhaps....

#440 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2011, 12:04 AM:

Also, the Unitarian Jihad Name Generator.

Coincidentally, this just came up recently in an e-mail conversation...

#441 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2011, 12:18 AM:

I really should back into reading Carroll.

#443 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2011, 07:48 AM:

David Goldfarb... Thanks.

#444 ::: Cassy B. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2014, 12:38 PM:

@444. At least it's not a sockpuppet...

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