Rhode Island Congresscritter Patrick Kennedy is banned from receiving communion in Rhode Island because of his lack of enthusiasm for abortion restrictions in the health care bill.

This, as always, sickens me to the core. I'm a Protestant, and I suppose that this was one of the principle things that we Protested against. The Eucharist takes place on a table that was set by Jesus Christ, and it is an act of extreme offense and hubris to keep someone away from that table. I don't think it's a decision that a bishop should be allowed to make, particularly when it is such a public figure that every other bishop is then going to have to either uphold your ugliness or publicly repudiate it and create dissension in your community. I'm not even going to start on how a religious entity could oppose health care reform that would bring medical care to the underprivileged in America just over the sole issue of abortion, because the thought angers me too much for coherence.

But this bugs me on a political facet and not just a spiritual one. If we agree that Assurance of Pardon and Communion with the Saints are things of value (and how could we not as a "Christian nation" lol), then it seems clear to me that withholding them for want of political patronage is extortion. The separation of church and state goes both ways; the Catholic church cannot demand to be free to engage in institutionalized homophobia that is illegal in the secular sector and then browbeat a politician who is pledged to serve the full diversity of his constituency. This isn't even because I just happen to agree with Rep. Kennedy on this issue; I would be as sickened if some UCC or UU-aligned politician were kept from the full expression of her faith because her stances weren't sufficiently progressive for her spiritual community. Take a stand, and then take your lumps if it doesn't go your way, but treating salvation as a toy that you can take away from a child who is not behaving the way you would like is an abuse of the authority bestowed upon you by Christ. Repent.

Anyway, I know that Rep. Kennedy is a faithful Catholic and wouldn't want any part of my raggedy-ass open communion, so I will merely stand beside him in a metaphorical sense today.
Greed:Very Low
Gluttony:Very Low
Wrath:Very Low
Envy:Very Low
Pride:Very Low

Take the Seven Deadly Sins Quiz

Humph, and they're pretty puritanical on giving me lust points too. I have no moral objection to other people being lusty, but don't go in for it myself with full enthusiasm. I suppose it's my second-biggest sin, just not quite that much.

(Which, at the end of the day, is my largest criticism of the way conservative Christianity tends to assert itself. *I* am in a covenant relationship with the Creator that says that I will refrain from X, Y, and Z and get A, B, and C in return. There is very little to suggest that I should take the initiative to keep *you* from doing X, Y, and Z if you are either not in a covenant relationship with the Creator or one with a different covenant. And yet it seems to be universally accepted that this is precisely how we should be investing our energies. It's a shame.)
Much has been made in the past day of Conservapedia's Conservative Bible Project, so much that the entire site has been offline for the past twelve hours. It's a shame, because the manifesto itself was a delightful mix of fear-mongering over the nearly two millennia of liberal bias of the Bible and squeeing over all the societal transformation that would come from something that acknowledged what an anti-progressive and pro-capital kind of guy Jesus really was. I tried, but I really can't get upset at someone who makes me laugh so much.

Which isn't to deny that they're really wrong on a number of major points. The one that struck me the hardest is that liberal Christians rally around the NIV (as it was written in the seventies by a bunch of intellectuals). They don't. I've belonged to three liberal Christian denominations in my life, and they all read nearly exclusively from the NRSV. I tend to bring my NIV to Bible studies because it is beautifully annotated with maps and footnotes describing why they made some of their specific translation differences, so I suppose that when I am around people are broadened by the NIV's decisions. In addition, that Bible was a gift from four friends in college, and at least three of them would be quite upset to hear themselves described as liberal apologists. It goes back to primary sources and comes up with different interpretations than the King James Version, but one could assume good faith and decide that there was a wider and better understood variety of primary source documents than there was in the seventeenth century rather than assuming that the differences were the result of philosophical bias (and that the KJV's choices themselves were not the result of bias). I am unmoved.

All the same, I think that Conservapedia, and in fact everyone, should feel free to transcribe the Bible as they understand it during their lifetime. I think it says more about you than it does about the Bible, and that you are on very thin ice if you then proclaim it as Scripture when you likely magnified the errors of whatever source you used in a form of the telephone game. I was moved by a specific example reading through the CBP's translation of Mark 14. In it, as you no doubt recall, Jesus was eating dinner when a woman (perhaps Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus) anointed him with expensive perfume. The disciples freaked out, because it was a waste of oil that could have been sold for charitable ends, but Jesus assured them that the woman was in the right (as he would be dead in a few days and they wouldn't have time to properly prepare his body for burial). Anyway, with all that laid out, here is how four different versions translate the first sentence of verse 5:

KJV: For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor.
CBP: We could have sold that for more than three dollars and charitably donated the money to the poor!
NRSV: For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the the money given to the poor.
NIV: It could have been sold for more than a year's wages* and the money given to the poor. (*Greek "than three hundred denarii")

You can see what happened. The KJV translates denarius (represented elsewhere in the Bible as payment for a day of unskilled labor) as "penny", and then some Freeper decides that there hasn't been any inflation since 1611 and so the disciples are getting wound over a woman wasting three bucks. On the other side, the Protestant Bibles don't mind telling you that they used ancient currency in ancient times, and the NIV tried to put that into context but maybe give you the impression that she spent a year's worth of *your* wages instead of a year of minimum wage income. Still, I reckon we'd think of it as being around $15,000 instead of $3, which changes the tone of the story considerably and points out the hazard of not following the eggheads who go back to the source.

So, maybe I'll help if the site comes back up. In fact, since they skipped over Mark 7:24-30 and it is my favorite Bible passage, I'll translate it into modern politically-aware American for them:

(24) Jesus moved on into Tyre. He had hoped to travel in secret, but the people learned of his presence. (25) One woman, whose daughter was possessed by a demon, came to him and fell at his feet. (26) She was an unchurched immigrant, and begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. (27) "I am only here to serve the Jews," Jesus told her. "It would not be right to take bread off my childrens' plates and throw them to the dogs." (28) "Yes Lord," she replied, "but don't the dogs under the table at least get to eat the crumbs?" (29) And he said "Your answer has caused me to change my mind. Go home; your daughter is well." (30) And she returned home to find her daughter lying on her bed, with the demon gone.

I've got no large complaints against the Freedom From Religion Foundation*, and absolutely no beef against atheists and agnostics themselves. Atheists have to put up with their share of aphorisms that are as insensitive as they are ignorant. Moreover, not everything that everyone says deserves to be dissected. The only reason I don't say something stupid every day of my life is that I don't speak every day of my life.

But if you're an organization that takes it upon yourself to promote a slogan that you evidently feels would promote you and your cause as wise and witty, it seems fair to respond that the mark has been missed. Such is the case here. Not only is there no causality evident between Mr. Darrow's two clauses, there is not even correlation. Belief in a higher power with some level of interest in our moral and interpersonal affairs is quite independent of the belief that the majority of our fairy tale tradition came from a single literary source. Moreover, Mother Goose damned well did exist; Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé didn't publish itself, and even if the stories themselves "evolved" through oral folk tradition through the ages, the process of collecting them and distilling them into a unified written form with an author's unique voice is unquestionably an act of creation. I respect Mr. Darrow's right to believe differently, but I don't think that it makes me the only kooky one between the two of us.

* This is actually untrue now that I've seen their nominees for the next bus sign, half of the witticisms being based on the belief that Islam was responsible for 9/11. I will endure cheap shots at Christianity in the United States; it's part of the price of being a hegemony and I occasionally find it illuminating in perhaps the same way that a Shakespearean king would find his fool to be useful. But cheap shots at religions that are not as well understood or defended in our society drift have the same downsides of being harmful, painful, mean-spirited, and simply wrong but without any corresponding benefit. Throwing rocks at someone bigger than you makes you a crusader, but throwing rocks at someone smaller than you makes you a bully. FRFF is hitting below the belt here even in suggesting semi-privately that these slogans belong in the public space, and they should be ashamed of themselves atone for the harm caused by their actions grow up.
So, if you've taken the weekend off from the Internet, you may have missed out on EA's marketing campaign at Comic Con. Evidently, their marketing framing for Dante's Inferno is to tempt their fans into artistically committing a different sin every month in exchange for prizes. This month, the sin is Lust, the bounty is costumed representatives [1] at Comic Con (and not just EA's reps, who could have grudgingly given consent for the certain indignities that were to follow, but any rep at the con), and the prizes eye-rollingly involve the words "hot girls", "chest", and "booty". I won't even bother linking to the firestorm, because it is all predictable. People are angry, EA is shocked that they could be so misunderstood, apologists think that the protesters have no sense of humor or perspective -- there is nothing fresh. I'd join in the anger, except that I hate doing it because I suspect that it just makes EA seem even more rebellious to the sort of person who was actually going to buy the game in the first place. I won't buy The Sims 3, for what it's worth.

But I'd like to add something deeper. This isn't the first time in recent memory that someone has thought of a catalog of sins (here evidently as the Nine Circles of Hell, more often as the Seven Deadly Sins) as an anti-Christian scavenger hunt for the purpose of liberalizing ourselves from the esoteric superstitions of our ancestors. There is some sort of charm in the cultured dastard who feels that it is wasteful to not objectify women enough so long as you don't objectify her too much, along with being just prideful enough to assert your rights or wrathful enough to seek social justice. It is a dangerous game; when you consider it a virtue to stray from the path, you will quickly lose sight of it and soon not even realize how far you have strayed from it. To give an object lesson, EA's perspective on lust is so deranged that they thought that exposing their convention reps (and those of other companies) to statutory lewdness was "in the spirit of good-natured fun" (quoting from their "apology"). Do you or I look as ugly to those around us when we attempt to wave off our gluttony or intemperance as a mildly irreverent but cherished part of our culture? I am a proponent of the more traditional view that sin is what keeps us out of right relation with our neighbor, our Creator, and ultimately with ourselves, and that you worship impropriety and injustice when you celebrate anything other than the ideal even if it is an unattainable selflessness. I don't believe that the nature of sin has changed in 500 or even 2500 years to the degree that we should see ancient warnings as no more than historical curiosities, much less avenues for exploration. (Naturally, I am not talking about the warnings that clearly are ill-conceived. There can be a natural discussion about the inherent sinfulness of homosexuality, but none about envy; I believe you can see the difference.)

[1] This sentence is the only one in which I will write the phrase "booth babe", a phrase I dislike with a passion. I believe that the term itself is no small part of the marginalization of costumed representatives and the desensitization towards the degrading abuses that they are forced to suffer. They are a critical part of the enthusiasm that a convention team wishes to generate for their projects, and among the respect that they deserve is a job title that respects that prominence.
I got a piece of mail over the weekend that left me scratching my head and thinking that maybe I should blog about it because AKICODW, to coin a phrase. And today I now have a new entry in the "most curious letter I have ever received" category.

The first one first. I bank with a local credit union, and am highly satisfied with the lack of drama and headgames that commercial banks can tend to provide. When I started my relationship with them probably ten years ago, one of the decisions that I made was that I wanted my ATM card to not have debit card powers, to reduce my hassles should the card be stolen and because I already had a credit card that I could use for purchases. That turns out to be the sort of simplistic life choice that has brought me peace over the years, first when my wallet was lost and then again when the stories have erupted about skimming at TJ Maxx and hackers modifying ATMs and the ridiculously lax data protocol that debit cards use and how they seem to be the number one vector for identity theft. I try not to be anxious about this sort of thing, but I could go either way on debit cards and ultimately prefer not to have one.

So I just get a letter from my bank encouraging me to upgrade to a debit card because it's so convenient and cash is so last week and all that. Except that they're so dedicated to it that they're willing to offer me a $10 gift card to make the switch. And I suppose I'm inclined to take that deal because I doubt I'd ever use it in an unsafe place and of course there are anti-fraud protections should the worst ever come to pass, but it's left me very curious about why my bank is so eager to have me on board. They wouldn't offer me such a nice incentive unless they were going to make it back someday; is that from me or are they hoping on collecting $10 worth of service fees from all of the times that I use the card to do my grocery shopping or whatever?

And now for the main event. A woman in town whose name I don't recognize just sent me a handwritten condolence note for "the loss of your loved one" and going on to speak about the peace that the Bible provides at a time like this, adding in a few of her favorite verses of reassurance, and a Jehavah's Witness tract. And that would be surreal enough on its own (although sweet in that off-center but earnest Jehovah's Witness way), but I actually don't know which loved one she is thinking of. And no contact information, aside from the return address on the letter, so it's not drawing me closer to their church even if I did happen somehow to be in mourning. I'm not expert on forensics, but if this isn't a handwritten letter someone went to a lot of trouble to make it look like one.

Wow. Having written all that, I decided to check out the local online obituaries for the lulz, and it turns out that an unrelated (or at least very distantly related) Thomas Daly passed away in the suburbs last week and was survived by his son Matthew, who is not listed in the phone book. I guess I have to get used to the fact that my name isn't all that unusual, but I didn't realize that I'm not even the only one in the county. I hope he is doing okay, although I think that I will spare him this very impersonal condolence letter.
Exhibit A: This morning, a Muslim man in Arkansas, evidently upset about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a moment of opportunity shoots two army recruiters in uniform, killing one. He has been charged with one count of capital murder and fifteen counts of "terrorist acts", one for each person who was hit or endangered by his bullets.

Exhibit B: Yesterday morning, a pro-life extremist in Kansas, evidently upset about late-term abortions, culminated the stalking of an abortion provider by shooting him in front of his Christian church on one of their high holy days. No charges yet. Any guesses? Speeding away from the scene of the justice? Littering?

ETA: One count of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. Same behavior as the Muslim shooter in Exhibit A; using a gun to intimidate people in the commission of a crime, but not hitting the T-word threshold for some reason despite the fact that Scott Roeder belonged to an ACTUAL violent anti-American organization instead of, you know, Islam.


May. 31st, 2009 01:41 pm
George Tiller, a doctor who performs abortions in Kansas, is shot dead.

While in his church. On Pentecost Sunday.

The Operation Rescue website (which still has links referencing him as "America's Doctor of Death") is shocked (SHOCKED!) to find that someone would commit such "a cowardly act" and hopes that his family "will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ." Perhaps that advice rings hollow when their familiar consecrated ground has been defiled by one of OR's followers. I pray that Troy Newman recognizes the damage that he has done to the body of Christ through his campaign of stalking and harassment and his own role in rousing the rabble who then go on to accomplish Newman's mission of fear and intimidation without dirtying his own hands. And I hope, once again, that his allies recognize the toxicity of OR and the wrongness of the campaigns that spring from them.

ETA: And, once again, I use the word "hope" to indicate an opportunity that I expect to be missed, and lo it is missed. Operation Rescue and its affiliated Christian groups spent more time in their recent press conference chiding liberals for being outraged than advising that their own followers step back from acts of anti-Christian terrorism, despite the fact that their followers will listen to them and liberals will not. Here we go again: I hope that Mr. Newman and his crowd privately recognize the harm that they have done and make nigh-invisible incremental steps to lessen the role of violence taken up by their own extremists.


Matthew Daly

December 2012

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