Category Archives: Uncategorized

Puff: the Magic is Gone

When I was a kid I was glued to my 14″ black & white RCA TV on Saturday mornings to watch a bevy of cowboy shows. What childhood fun! After that I’d  strap on my 6-shooter cap-gun, don my felt cowboy hat, and go after the bad guys (who were other kids my age and who were the good guys the Saturday before.) Complicated stuff, but it all worked out in the end.

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Of course not every kid had a REAL cap-gun. Some had sticks but in the ‘game’ they became real. Naturally we’d argue about whether our imaginary bullets hit the ‘bad’ guys, but in the end, miraculously no one died. We easily moved from murder into a baseball game until our mothers called us in for lunch.

Ah, childhood. Freedom. Few responsibilities. Little angst. Yet, as the lyrics say, “Dragons live forever but not so little boys. Painted wings and giant strings make way for other toys.”

Not many adolescent boys play with cap-guns any longer. Cellphones with apps help him with fantasy and vicarious conquests. Yet I wonder if theoretical fantasy is a proper substitute for theatrical fantasy. We acted it out: dirt, sweat and grime. Is this more satisfying than digital imaginings?

All throughout history, stories are told of the developing boy mimicking the warriors of the clan, learning essential life skills through play. Im concerned that few boys ‘play’ any longer, preferring their digital device rather than the outdoors. What social skills are lost in the process? What opportunities for give-and-take are lost? How will this new phenomenon impact these boys as they grow into manhood?

 

GOP Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is a term used to describe the drawing of boundaries of congressional districts to benefit a particular ideology. In the past several decades, the Republican Party has been in control of the legislatures of most of the states. As a result, they are in charge of drawing the boundaries after each census. Naturally the lines drawn encompass areas which benefit their party and disadvantage the opponent’s party.

One district nearby me extends from Toledo to the suburbs of Cleveland yet is only a few feet wide in some places. In fact, it is not contiguous; the congresswoman cannot drive from one end to the other without leaving her district.

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If the congresswoman had a boat she could troll her district and fish at the same time. District 9 used to include all of the city of Toledo but, because it was heavily democrat, it now is ‘represented’ in three districts, thus diluting the strength of democrats living there.

Earlier this year the Washington Post ran a computer program which specified that a congressional district be drawn as compactly as possible. Below (bottom) is the result. At the top are the districts gerrymandered by the political parties.

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/13/this-is-actually-what-america-would-look-like-without-gerrymandering/

And so it goes. Slick political maneuvering. Welcome to America.

 

Poverty? Where? I can’t See It.

The most vulnerable Americans are being crushed by the grip of poverty, from the deserts of the Southwest through the black belt in the South, to the post-industrial, rusting factory towns that dot the Midwest and Northeast. – MSNBC, Poverty in America.

Where?

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in the Bible Belt. Perhaps they don’t pray enough. Or something. Very Republican, too.

Blissful Ignorance in the 21st Century

Who knew? Who knew that an entire clutch of Christians knew so little about their sacred texts? For the past week I did battle with a dozen or so Lutherans on a Patheos blog on the Evangelical Channel. Missouri Synod Lutherans.

My main interest was finding out why Lutheranism has remained so little changed from the time of Luther. I wondered if there were any doctrinal issues that were in need of addressing- as Luther had done back  in the 16th century. Or was that church fairly well content after the Reformation to this very day?

My intrusion into the blog was not met with welcome. Many figured that I was an atheist and leveled me so. They began guessing my religious background. One declared me to be a Jew. Clearly, I could not have been a Christian- especially not their ‘version’ of one!

Somewhere during all of that mud slinging, something stuck. And shocked me. These people had no idea about the New Testament beyond the literal words on the page! It was as if they had never grown since their Sunday school days. Worse yet, one claimed to be an active minister in the Lutheran Church..

What was going on here, I thought? Each one believed, for example, that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were the apostles who walked the dusty roads of Judea along side of Jesus. That these men not only took great notes, but that they were gifted writers- writers who wrote Koine Greek.

I wonder if these bloggers ever wondered why, with the exception of John, these names never appeared on that inner circle about which we read- Peter, Andrew and James. Shouldn’t these men have written the stories due to their close relationship with Jesus? Maybe they didn’t know Koine Greek?

The bloggers were outraged when I suggested that the authors put words onto the lips of Jesus. Oh no! Blasphemy!

Apparently adult education classes in their churches never talked issues like the authorship of the Gospel writings. One can only speculate why.

Undaunted by facts, the mud-flinging intensified and I unplugged. Whew! To be ignorant is one thing. To remain ignorant is quite another concept altogether.

Biblical Authors: Faithful Frauds?

Who penned the Bible? Exactly! Nobody knows yet the Judeo-Christian world surely gives a hunk of credence to these unnamed men living in the arid hills of Judea in the late Neolithic Age. In the book, How the Bible Became a Book,  biblical scholar William Schniedewind, the Kershaw Chair of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Studies at UCLA,  muses, “So how and why did such a pastoral-agrarian society come to write down and give authority to the written word?.” How indeed?

There is the rub. Further, why do people living 28 centuries later ‘give authority’ to that written word? Faith, many say. Yet how can we ‘believe’ that these writers weren’t shysters? Knowing what we know about televangelists and a clutch of exposed and shamed preachers and pastors, how do we know the same isn’t true of the biblical authors?

Believers do not ask nor answer such questions because of their ‘faith.’ Good for them, yet that answer will not suffice any longer in this post-modern era.

Schniedewind states, “In ancient Palestine, writing was a restricted and expensive technology. Writing was controlled by the government and manipulated by the priests. Writing was seen as a gift from the gods. It was not used to canonize religious practice, but rather to engender religious awe. Writing was magical. It was powerful. It was the guarded knowledge of political and religious elites.

The word ‘magical’ strikes a cord. Magic was powerful in that world of myth and spirits and, as a result, magic assumed credence. It is no wonder, then, that the “Word” which was printed became sacred to the Israelites. “Biblical literature became a tool that legitimated and furthered the priests’ political and religious authority,” says the author. Authority and power.

During the Babylonian Captivity, the author states, “the priests who took over the leadership of the Jewish community during this period preserved and edited biblical literature. Biblical literature became a tool that legitimated and furthered the priests’ political and religious authority.” During this confusing and dark time, it was the priests knowledge of the writing that gave both the priests and the writings exceptional importance.

The result of all of this brings into focus the question: What did these authors and priests really know about God, the Creator of the Universe? This group of scribes didn’t even know that the Earth revolved around the Sun, didn’t know the Sun was a star, didn’t know of galaxies, dark matter, black holes or even that a comet was an ice and rock cluster. Yet these men with their late Neolithic, nomadic minds wrote about something that they could never have known- the Creator of the Universe.

it had to be fiction, pure guessing. And what was the result? Who did this “God” become? ‘He’ became human-like filled with human emotion, wrathful, vengeful and loving and protective. He was, for lack of a better term, Superman Dad

Medieval Christianity

About 1400 years after the death of Jesus, religious leaders in Europe were interpreting the words of the Gospels in queer ways. Recall the scene of the woman caught in adultery. What did the writers say about the reaction of Jesus? Of course. 

Somehow during those 14 centuries those words were corrupted. Although the authors of the Gospels rarely record any sexual sins, the religious leaders of Medieval Europe seemed to believe that Jesus focused on those issues. 

A recent archaeological dig uncovered a rare burial in which the deceased was buried upside down. She was a nun and the cemetery was on the convent grounds. Why? Apparently she was punished in death because she gave birth to a child. The male (possibly a priest) is, naturally, unknown. The photo below is of the burial.

  
Note the arrow. It points to an infant burial below the missing legs of the woman.  The nunnery is Littlemore Priory, a nunnery founded in 1110 and dissolved in 1525 in the Oxford area. 

For more information on this dig go here.

Eclipsing God with Drugs

A new study finds that two common drugs—an antidepressant and a treatment for Parkinson’s disease—can influence moral decisions, a discovery that could help unravel specific mechanisms behind aggression and eventually help researchers design treatments for antisocial behavior.

Previous research has linked two neurotransmitters, the brain’s signaling molecules, to our willingness to inflict harm. Serotonin appears to help keep us civil; it’s reduced in the brains of violent offenders, for example. Dopamine, meanwhile, has been shown to prompt aggression in animals, and it’s elevated in a certain part of the brain in people with psychopathic behavior.
What if people with these anti-social disorders were given the serotonin-enhancing antidepressant drug citalopram on a regular basis. Would their behaviors swing back to the normal range?

Further, what if science could develop a test for children early on that could measure the serotonin/dopamine ratio of their blood? If those children with a ‘bad’ ratio could start a regiment of citalopram to ameliorate their anti-social behaviors, then their actions later in life would be ‘normal’ and society would reap the benefits along with the individual and his family. 

As a result, the individual would accrue fewer black marks on his Get to Heaven scorecard and God as well as judgmental folks would be much happier.

I wonder, though, if the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behavior is merely a ratio of two neurotransmitters, why are some people programmed at birth to be ‘bad’? Seems unfair. 

Propagandized Man Targets President

Washington (CNN) A criminal complaint and arrest warrant were issued Thursday against a 55-year-old Tomah, Wisconsin man accused of threatening to kill President Barack Obama. Brian D. Dutcher, 55, allegedly told a security guard at a La Crosse library, “the usurper is here and if I get a chance I’ll take him out and I’ll take the shot,” referring to Obama, who was in Wisconsin promoting his proposal for overtime pay reform.

The warrant also says Dutcher posted on Facebook on June 30 “that’s it! Thursday I will be in La Crosse. Hopefully I will get a clear shot at the pretend president. Killing him is our CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY!”

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Where did this man get the ideas that, first, President Obama is a pretend president? Second, where did the ‘constitutional duty’ to kill the President come from?

Where? Right-wing media! And this sad sucker took it to heart and, as a result, will spend quite a number of years in Federal prison because he was a propaganda sponge.

Freedom of speech?

Julius Streicher- look him up!

Why cannot God speak in the language of poetry, metaphor, and myth?

The title above is a question or rather an affirmation from Marcus Borg, American New Testament scholar, theologian and author. He asked this question in a challenge to conservative, literalist Christians who, as we know, know no linguistic subtlety. A word, phrase or paragraph mean exactly what the English says. I’m betting that many had trouble in high school English classes on the topic of poetry and creative writing.

Borg asks, what would it mean to take a phrase like “the right hand of God” literally? Does God have hands? And a right side and a left side? Literal interpretation of the Bible as a whole is literally impossible. As I am a leftie, such stuff bothers me perhaps more than my right handed friends.

The Garden of Eden story has long puzzled me: it seems so adolescent. A couple gets punished for trying to learn stuff! Not just punished but thrown to the wolves! WTF? That obedience lesson was terribly harsh and quite inappropriate.

Yet, not to worry because it was all myth. Not even original myth, either. It was lifted from the Babylonian creation story six centuries earlier. As I wrote in an earlier post, anthropologists suspect that this story is the effort of Iron Age people to explain the change from the hunter-gatherer, subsistence living to an agrarian economy. God has little to do with the change, but the ancients needed to mark this economic shift with a Deity.

How much more intricate and wonderous is the mythology than the literal words.

Then there is Noah…

Reading Iron Age Minds in the 21st Century

Dale B. Martin’s book, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation, is an excellent resource in this particular moment in U.S. history as the walls of sexual orientation segregation crumble. This past week the Supreme Court decided to equalize marriage for same-sex couples. With this announcement many fundamentalist Christians decried the decision as immoral. ‘It goes against God’s law’ was a common cry.

A question that must be asked (as the author does) is essentially, What were they thinking? What went through the minds of biblical authors 28 centuries ago? That time period was ancient. That society was insular and fragile as well as as far from American democracy as can be imagined. The concept of personal freedom and guaranteed individual rights was unknown. Ancient theocracies granted few liberties.

Yet, some Americans living in the second decade of the 21st century wish to impart biblical law onto our society. That’s the fundamentalist’s desire. That’s their agenda.

They don’t get the fact that theocracy and democracy cannot coexist. That ideas from the Iron Age do not stand up to modern day facts. That myth and legend no longer trump truth.

Author Martin examines, as his title suggests, the context in which the Bible stories involving sex and sexual relationships were written. Martin names “the myth of textual agency,” that is, the “common assumption … that the Bible ‘speaks’ and our job is just to ‘listen” as a prime fallacy in the modern world. We cannot ‘just listen’ without understanding the culture of the times in which the stories were written.

This is precisely where the fundamentalist goes awry. Martin argues against this assumption about what he calls a “speaking” Bible. He instead argues that textual meaning is inseparable from interpretation, which itself takes place ‘in specific contexts and under the influence of traditions and interpretive communities (religious and scholarly).’

The author contends that those who read the biblical passages literally cannot  hide behind texts when making statements about Bible and homosexuality. He insists that they will need to specify more clearly, and take responsibility for, the full range of considerations that lead them to adopt this or that position in the contemporary debates. It is my experience that such debates- especially on Internet blogs- inevitably end with a quote from Scripture as ‘proof’ of Truth.

Many who argue (conclude) in this manner seem to be ignorant of the historicity of biblical documents, specifically that most of what we have today are translations not from Hebrew but from Greek. New Testament authors used the Greek Septuagint versions of Hebrew texts. Martin points out two Greek words which have become problematic especially in reference to homosexual content. These are the Greek words arsenokoitês and malakos. The original meaning or intent of meaning is lost to history, yet the English translators jumped to homosexual interpretations that literalists cling to when they wish to condemn gays and lesbians.

The upshot is that modern translations of biblical references cannot be read in a literal context without understanding the original mindset of the original author. Yet, it persists, sadly.