ponzo reads the bible - war on christmas special

It may piss off the Christians to hear this, but Christmas doesn’t have much to do with anything in the Bible. In fact, take away the nativity scene and the rest of the holiday comes from pretty much every European tradition except the Christian one. The Romans were exchanging gifts during Saturnalia long before the three wise men showed up at Jesus’ house (yes, house – we’ll get to that in a bit), and the only thing that the Bible has to say about Christmas trees is to condemn them.

As far as the birth of Christ thing, of the four books of the Bible that discuss the life of Jesus – the Gospels – only two of them talk about his birth. And, given the Bible’s track record so far, it should not surprise you to learn that even those two books disagree with each other.

This starts making sense when you accept the most important fact about Jesus: he did not exist. Jesus was merely the cooption of pagan resurrection god myths by a particular Jewish sect in search of their long-awaited messiah. This is fairly obvious when you compare the four Gospels. They mostly agree on the gist of things, but they disagree on the details, which is precisely what you would expect from oral traditions. Furthermore, when you compare that gist to other Mediterranean and Near Eastern religious traditions, you find that they track fairly well: Greek sects had their resurrection gods; Egyptian sects had their resurrection gods; and so forth. Everything Jesus did, some other god had done before him.

As for the date of Christmas – December 25th – well, that’s not Christian in origin either. In fact, the modern holiday season, whether represented by Christmas, Hanukah, Eid, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday, is merely the modern version of the ancient celebration of the winter solstice – that time of year when the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer again. The Romans even celebrated the winter solstice on the same day that Christians would later celebrate Christmas, December 25th. A popular myth is that early Christians intentionally set the date of their holiday around the time of the Roman Saturnalia festival, so as to partake in the festivities without drawing attention to themselves. However, Christianity was little more than a local cult at that time, and it is unlikely that anything like Christmas had begun to develop so early in the religion’s existence.

The first hard evidence we have of the celebration of Christmas on December 25th does not occur until the year 354CE. It just so happens that that date was already in use by pagan Romans as the birth of Sol Invictus, the “Unconquered Sun”. Jesus has always had a sun god aspect, which is also in keeping with the other religions from which he is liberally borrowed, and which was especially obvious in early portrayals of him. As the Roman Empire transitioned from the Greco-Roman to the Christian religion, dies natalis Solis Invicti simply became Christmas, because the god celebrated was one and the same. And both gods, in this context, were simply symbolic representations of the solstice.

It has become something of a tradition that, around this time every year, we have to listen to the right-wing bitch and moan about the supposed “war on Christmas”. To any observer, however, Christmas is in no danger of disappearing. The truth is that Christmas has always been a secular holiday with religious overtones that change depending on the particular religious tradition of its observers. It is also true that the most rabidly religious groups are not the most fervent in their celebrations of Christmas, but in their attempts to suppress and ban them.

There is no “war on Christmas”. However, there is a right-wing fundamentalist Christian “war” on every other holiday that might be celebrated this time of year. What concerns the right-wing is not that their holiday might be taken away somehow, but that someone somewhere might not believe and practice in the same fashion that they do. The right-wing is threatened by any reminder that they do not possess undisputed cultural hegemony. Fundamentalist Christianity, with its inherent paranoia and delusions of persecution, makes the perfect foundation for a homegrown American proto-fascist movement, and that is precisely what it has become over the last few decades. Christmas, being an emotionally-charged topic among its followers, has been co-opted into a symbol of their supposed persecution at the hands of domestic enemies.

Also present is the right-wing embrace of anti-intellectualism, which has reached such an extent that the right-wing now seems proud of its ignorance. Its members are loathe to learn about the world, because, in learning, they might discover something that would make them question their beliefs; since they already know that they are right – because they believe they are right – then that new learning must be wrong, and, in trying to divert them off the “straight and narrow path” of their own egoism, intrinsically evil. Thus, they divide the world into neat boxes, but only two: fundamentalist Christian, and everything else. It is this anti-intellectualism, this fear of being wrong, that causes them to miss and dismiss the long history of the winter solstice as the ultimate multi-cultural celebration.

And it is this anti-intellectualism which leads them never to know that what they purport to celebrate as the birth of Jesus is not even true Biblically, for that fear of learning extends even to their own holy book, which they dare not actually read because they might be wrong.

As I mentioned above, only two of the four Gospels even mention the birth of Jesus. Those are Matthew and Luke, and they disagree with each other. The nativity scene, and the well-known story of Jesus’ birth, is a mishmash of both, taking the gaudiest bits of one and mixing it with the gaudiest bits of the other.

For example, the three wise men only appear in Matthew. Here they visit Jesus at his parents’ house in Bethlehem. The manger only appears in Luke, where Joseph and Mary must travel to Bethlehem for the purposes of census (itself a dubious idea) and find all the inns to be full. Unfortunately, the three wise men are absent from Luke’s version. Thus, the three wise men come from Matthew, and the manger comes from Luke, with the discrepancies conveniently forgotten.

The shepherds only appear in Luke, where they are visited by the angel while guarding their flocks. This bit is also incorporated into the standard nativity story. However, shepherds don’t guard their flocks in the field in the middle of winter, not even in the Near East (where it is not perpetually hot). In other words, according to the Bible itself, Jesus could not have been born on December 25th. Given his role as a resurrection god, it is probable that he was initially identified with the vernal equinox, which marks the approach of spring; only when the myth incorporated the solar aspect was his birthday changed to the winter solstice.

Herod and his slaughter of the first-borns only appears in Matthew, and is a wild fiction. The contemporaneous Roman historian Josephus produced a detailed biography of Herod that makes no mention of such an event, nor does any other history produced at the time (and such an event would have drawn notice). Meanwhile, in Luke only, Joseph and Mary travel to the temple in Jerusalem after Jesus’ birth to offer thanks to Yahweh for his birth, but this is missing from the standard tale, which ends in a strange anticlimax (Jesus is born, and that’s that until Easter).

As I mentioned above, these disparate tales make sense if they are considered to be different versions of the same oral tradition. The other two Gospels, Mark and John, begin with Jesus already having started his ministry. In all versions of the myth, the death and resurrection is the important part (though, again, they differ on the details), but Matthew and Luke seek to emphasize the deific nature of Jesus, as well as his Hebrew lineage (this places him within the context of messianic Judaism).

The obvious question here is why a story sprang up that incorporated bits and pieces from each of two different versions of the same tale, without anyone noticing the discrepancies. I mean, couldn’t they read? Well, as it turns out, no, they couldn’t. Not only was most of the population of Europe illiterate until well into the modern age, but the Catholic Church also did its utmost to maintain strict control over how the religion was presented to its followers. Only members of the church were permitted to “interpret scripture”, and, even then, they had to interpret it within an established framework; to do otherwise was to risk being branded a heretic. With the traditional Christian penchant for the gaudy and saccharine, it is likely that the standard tale was the result of a new and underground kind of oral tradition, one for the common people in which Jesus may be born in the most lowly of states (a manger), but in which even the wise and the powerful recognize his superiority and eventual triumph. In that sense, the Christmas story becomes a pseudo-proletarian version of the resurrection god myth.

Meanwhile, as Christianity spread throughout pagan Europe, it incorporated the traditions of the locals so as to win their support. Thus, the Catholic Church incorporated its pantheon of saints, which appealed to the locals’ traditions of multiple gods with specific domains of power. Christmas, likewise, expanded from its origins in the Roman Saturnalia and Sol Invictus festivals and adopted local customs such as mistletoe, stockings on the fireplace, and the Christmas tree decorated in lights.

Ah, the Christmas tree! Here we find the ultimate irony of the “war on Christmas” kerfuffle, because this is, in fact, the only Christmas tradition that the Bible does mention:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (Jeremiah 10:2-4, emphasis mine)

Odd, isn’t it, how the Bible itself may be the biggest culprit in the “war on Christmas” of them all!

Cross-posted at Ponzo Reads the Bible.

this special day

Today we celebrate the birth of one of the greatest persons to have ever lived – indeed, one of the architect’s of the modern world: Isaac Newton.

Among his accomplishments, Newton helped establish a mechanistic foundation for the universe, by providing mathematical descriptions of motion. His ideas helped push back the darkness of pre-Enlightenment thought, and are still very much applicable today. Even if they had been fully surpassed by the theories of later physicists like Einstein, however, that is just further evidence of the strength of the scientific method that Newton helped exemplify, for science does not hold onto ancient ideas just because they are tradition and make one feel good about oneself.

So today, we celebrate by finding something that is staying at rest, as objects that are at rest tend to stay, and, by applying an external force and witnessing the equal and opposite reaction of the object, we observe that that the force of its new momentum is equal to the external force applied.

And then we eat an apple. (That part may be myth, but at least we will acknowledge that fact.)


prtb - catching up

I know I never write these things even after I make an effort to do so. You want to know why? Because reading the Bible is bad enough; writing about it is even worse.

Much of the Bible seems like housekeeping, in which details are included just because they are part of the chronology. Thus, we spent entire chapters learning why some obscure mountain or cave bears a particular name, when that location will never be mentioned again. This is not just housekeeping, but pointless housekeeping – like tidying up a building that’s about to be bulldozed.

There is no moral message contained in these passages. These passages do not serve as prologue to a moral message. They are “history”, except that they are mostly a-historical, made-up fantasy.

So we come to Genesis 23, in which Sarah finally dies. The trailer-trash Sarah has exemplified some of the most immoral behavior you might ever come across, and she will not be missed. Sarah’s death is dispensed with in two verses; the remaining 18 are devoted to Abraham negotiating for the purchase of a cave in which to bury her, and a discussion of why that cave is called what it is called.


Genesis 24 picks up a bit, but not in a good way (unless you enjoy unintentional laughter). Abraham is now worried about his son Isaac not having a wife. Since this is the Bronze Age, Isaac cannot be expected to go off and find his own wife, so Abraham sends his slave out to find one for him.

You really need to read this chapter just to enjoy its repetitiveness. It tells the same story, in almost precisely the same words, three times – and almost tells it once more! In the end, the slave winds up finding Rebekah, who agrees to become Isaac’s wife.

We can finally say good riddance to the abominable Abraham in Genesis 25. I guess he won’t be pulling that “she’s my sister” bullshit on anybody else now. The chapter then proceeds to discuss the birth of Isaac’s two sons, Esau and Jacob.

Jacob will be one of the ancestors of Judaism and later Christianity and Islam. Like his forebears, he is a shining example of how not to treat other people. His brother Esau comes to him one day dying of hunger and begs for sustenance. Jacob agrees to give it to him, but only if Esau sells him his birthright. Thus, for the price of a bowl of beans and a piece of bread, Esau’s descendants are robbed of their rightful inheritance and must become Jacob’s servants.

Oh, what a glorious history the Jews/Christians/Muslims share!

At least we’re half done with Genesis now. It’s all (further) downhill from here.


a good point

On the heels of my last post, John Avarosis has a great point. If Obama considers holding anti-gay views to be mere “disagreement”, then where are the racists? Where are the anti-Semites? Will he be having a Klan rally at the inauguration? Will the skinheads put on their own parade?

The parallel between being black and being gay is not perfect. Slavery in America was based on skin color, not sexual orientation. The double-standards gay people face today parallel the abuses of American apartheid in only the vaguest fashion. Moreover, gay people can always “pass”, whereas that option was never available to the majority of blacks.

Yet we are a people who deserve to be recognized as people, not as a sexual preference. Is that not the same thing that motivated the Civil Rights Movement: the desire to be judged, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., not by the color of one’s skin, but by the content of his character?

So, if hating us and denying us equality under the law is a valid “point of view”, then what about all the other points of view? The Obama team can troll the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center; I’m sure they can flesh out the post-partisan makeup of the inauguration with a few of the groups listed there.

It’s all up for debate, right?

fisa to warren (and beyond)

It is pretty amazing that the Obama team would select Rick Warren to deliver the “invocation” at the inauguration in January. The gay community in particular is aghast, given Warren’s outspoken anti-gay views, as well as his vocal support for Proposition 8.

Obama’s supporters seem to have short memories. I don’t, unfortunately. Yeah, I did vote for Obama in November, but I’m not sure if I did it out of support, or just to piss off the right-wingers. Obama’s mantra of “Change” was revealed to be nothing but a cheap catchphrase way back in June.

That’s when Obama endorsed the FISA Expansion Bill, which retroactively legalized BushCo’s evisceration of the Fourth Amendment. When pressed on the issue, his defense used the same fear-mongering language of the Republicans. It was that moment when the tone of his presidency was set for me.

It was just a couple of weeks ago when everyone was up in arms over Obama’s protection of Joseph Lieberman. The Democrats were so eager to achieve that 60-seat majority in the Senate that they simply forgave Lieberman all his sins, despite knowing full well that he would side with his true Republican allies when the pressure was on. Also, the Democrats – like the Republicans – also believe that they are above the law and the people they purportedly represent; Lieberman had committed no crime, because there was no one (important enough) to commit a crime against.

One might be tempted to ask why, in the 21st century, it is necessary to include an “invocation” to the imaginary Great Sky Fairy when inaugurating a new president. If anybody bothered to read the Constitution – besides us radical leftists, that is – then they’d realize that the president serves the people, not “God”.

Furthermore, one might be surprised that even Obama and his progressives feel that they must kowtow to the demands of the Religious Right. They have fallen for the myth that fundamentalist Christianity represents a valid theological position, instead of being a reactionary social movement wrapped in a corrupt heresy.

Or maybe Obama feels that this gesture will placate the rabid denizens of the far right that he is not, in fact, the “Antichrist”. If so, then he is obviously willing to cast aside the support of his own people for a group that will never, ever, ever support him. This shows once again the absurdity of American politics, in which the majority can repudiate the proto-fascist ideas of the fringe, and yet, when all things are said and done, our leaders still embrace that fringe.

FISA. Lieberman. Warren. Who wants to bet that the next betrayals will be named after torture, Guantanamo, and Iraq?


womb control

A couple of days ago, I commented that fundamentalist Christians – they of the anti-abortion, “pro-life” movement – don’t really give a damn about babies. It is obvious that they don’t much care for children after they are born either. Now they are cheering the impending passage of an executive order that would strip an untold number of American women of their reproductive rights in the guise of “conscience rights”. But don’t be fooled: fundamentalist Christians have been waging a culture war since the inception of their heresy in the late 19th century, and babies – unborn or otherwise – are merely a prop in it.

The United States is the wealthiest country in the world. The US spends more than any other country on health care. Yet, according to the results of a 2007 study by Save the Children, the US ranks 36th in terms of infant mortality. That is behind virtually all of “socialist” Western Europe (including the European Union as a whole), and even Cuba.

It is revealing that, the last time this study was conducted in 1997, the US ranked 28th. In other words, since the “pro-life” George W. Bush came to power, the US has actually declined in this ranking! But that should not surprise us.

Looking at the United States itself, we see another revealing trend. Of the 15 states with the worst infant mortality rates, twelve of them are located in the so-called “Bible Belt” – i.e., those states with the highest percentage of fundamentalist Christians. For the record, the District of Columbia is unranked, since it is not a state; however, DC has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country. Still, is having eleven states in the top 15 any better than having twelve?

Well, not really. Of those states that voted for the “pro-life” John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, eleven of them – you guessed it – are among those 15 with the worst infant mortality rates. Conversely, of the 15 states with the lowest infant mortality rates, eleven voted for the pro-choice Barack Obama. (Again, to be fair, DC voted for Obama, but has the worst infant mortality rate. Meanwhile, Utah has the best infant mortality rate in the country, but voted for McCain.)

Those exceptions don’t change the big picture, though. If fundamentalist Christians and Republicans really cared about the health of children, they would be working on improving the infant mortality rate in the United States as a whole and in those particular states where they have the most power.

This same hypocrisy is revealed by how the Republicans deal with evidence that pollution results in higher levels of infant mortality. This article from the Kalamazoo Gazette from April of this year details how Republican congressmen are blocked the release of just such a report. If the health of the “unborn” were so important to them as they claim, they would have taken this report and run with it, whether the study was complete or not. After all, a lack of evidence did not stop them from doing that very thing with the false hypothesis of “post-abortion syndrome”, even though no legitimate study has shown a link between having an abortion and experiencing depression afterwards.

We all remember the debacle of S-CHIP, in which Bush vetoed a bill expanding health care to underprivileged children for the most dubious of political reasons. They spare no time in providing tax cuts to the wealthy, but the health of children who cannot afford treatment in America’s broken medical system means nothing to them. It is that which captures the true meaning of children to this inhuman mob.

Children – babies – are unwilling pawns in the right-wing’s quest to roll back the clock on women’s rights. They do not want to “save babies”, but control wombs. They remember when women were solely the possessions of men, and they will not stop until they have regained their tarnished golden age.

ponzo reads the bible - genesis 21-22

I’m trying to make Ponzo Reads the Bible a regular feature, and Sunday seems like the most appropriate day for it. Unfortunately, the first entry happens to concern Genesis 21, which is mostly boring as shit, so we’re going to skip much of it. The first half does deserve mention, though, because it not only introduces a major character, but reveals what kind of a person Sarah is.

Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Sarah, of course, is not only Abraham’s wife, but his sister, so we are already in weird ass territory here. Sarah is also over 90 years old at this point, so it’s even weirder. Fortunately, Sarah has been receiving fertility treatments from God: therefore, Isaac.

Of course, a 90-year-old woman giving birth is biologically dubious, but we do not question the pumpkin carriage or the ruby slippers; all fairy tales need their supernatural elements. Thus, we will take it in stride and move ahead.

Earlier we felt some sympathy for Sarah, but, if that hasn’t already evaporated, it will now. Since Sarah has her own kid now, she gets jealous of Hagar and her son Ishmael. You may remember Hagar: when Sarah was still infertile, she forced her slave girl Hagar to bear Abraham a son, Ishmael. Well, now Sarah wants them out of the house, because they offend her.

I’m no fan of Abraham or God, but I am willing to cut them a break here. God promises that Hagar and Ishmael will be taken care of, and that is indeed the case. Sarah, on the other hand, couldn’t care less whether Hagar and Ishmael live or die. So fuck her.

This chapter now goes off on one of those odd Biblical non-sequiturs and discusses the origins of a well, so this is where we’ll skip ahead to Genesis 22. I was willing to cut God and Abraham some slack a moment ago, but this is the chapter that makes me want to take both of them out back and ensure that no one ever finds the bodies.

This is the part where Abraham almost murders his own son at God’s request.

God decides to “tempt” Abraham, but God is really testing his loyalty. He demands that Abraham offer Isaac as a sacrifice. What is remarkable here is that Abraham does not suffer any moral qualms about this. He does not question why God would make such a demand. He does not resist in the slightest. He merely packs up his ass (the other kind), selects his best sacrificin’ knife, and sets off to the altar.

Of course, we know that God relents at the very end, with Isaac bound on the altar and the knife in Abraham’s hand. What does this say about God, though? He demands loyalty to him over familial relationships, regardless of the damage it does. What did Isaac think about his father after this? What was their relationship like? Is this the kind of human society that God expects his followers to create: one in which no one can trust anyone else? Even worse, this passage has served as the template for subsequent Christian families rejecting their children when they didn’t turn out the way that they wanted.

In other words, these are the “family values” that fundamentalists truly have.

Any God that would demand that its servant demonstrate his loyalty by killing his own son is simply evil. And any father that would blindly and robotically follow such a command is more than a “bad father”, but a sociopath.

There is more to consider here, though, because there are two versions of this story. As we’ve discussed previously, the Pentateuch is comprised of at least four different source documents. Well, the Isaac sacrifice story appears in two of them. The one people are familiar with is the one in which God relents at the very end; this is basically the Disney version of an older, original tale. You see, in that source document, Isaac never appears again after this. In other words, originally, God let Abraham go through with the sacrifice.

There is evidence that human sacrifice was practiced by the forerunners of the Israelites. By the time the Bible was compiled, the practice had mostly shifted to animal proxies. There are still passages in the Bible that reflect the earlier practice, though; most of them were edited out, but reconstructing the source documents reveals them. This is one such example.

Genesis 22 ends with – what else? – a boring genealogy. Hopefully things will pick up next time. (Actually, they don’t.)


who's distorting what now?

Via Right Wing Watch, we learn that the fundies are upset about something (as usual). In the words of one of their spokesbigots:

Appearing as a sarcastic, rotund Christ, Black distorts the Bible and condones shameful, homosexual acts. Associating Christ with perverse activity is an affront to all people of faith, especially Christians. Apparently Black and company find it hilarious to falsely accuse Christians while they intentionally distort the Bible. Black ought to apologize.

That’s in reference to the Prop 8 Musical, in which Black appears as Jesus. As usual, though, it is the Christians who do the distorting. At no point does Black’s Jesus distort the Bible; he merely points out some other things that the Bible condemns (or advocates) as strongly as homosexuality, and that fundamentalist Christians pick and choose the rules they want to follow.

This is in the same vein as those creationists who maintain that Christianity was against slavery in the 19th century. It is hard to believe that even they are so ignorant of history (of biology, sure), so one can only conclude that they are being willfully mendacious: their particular brand of religious heresy arose out of their support of slavery.

Once again, we see that the “values” people wouldn't know a value if it snuck up behind them and…well, you get the idea.

the origin and nature of fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is often treated as if it were just another point on the natural continuum of religion. Thus, on one end, you have liberal religionists, and you have conservatives on the other. This hides the truly radical nature of fundamentalist belief, however, because there is a profound difference between conservatism and fundamentalism.

Conservative religious belief may be relatively inflexible, but it remains within the boundaries of mainstream religious belief. Fundamentalism embraces the absurd fringe. It is an aberration within the evolution of a religion.

In fact, fundamentalism isn’t really a religious movement in the theological sense. Instead, it is a social movement cloaked in the guise of religion, both to win the support of ill-informed religionists, as well as to disguise its true motives.

Fundamentalism arises in a society in response to changing social conditions. It occurs when a rigidly traditionalist society undergoes massive and rapid change to which it cannot or will not adapt. Rather than adapt to changing times, fundamentalists seek to resist them. Although it was their inflexibility that led to their loss of social status, their response is merely to insist that this was the result of not having been sufficiently inflexible. Effectively, they hope to undo the change by doing the same things they were doing before, only moreso.

Fundamentalist Christians would have you believe that they represent a line of thought stretching back for millennia. In fact, fundamentalism is a relatively recent development, having originated in the final decades of the 19th century. It originated in the American south following its loss in the Civil War. For two decades, southern society had been based on slavery, and Christianity played a primary role in justifying this practice. Slavery was seen as God’s will, and its reinstitution became the focus of fundamentalism in the post-war south. This remained the case until the Civil Rights movement finally broke the control fundamentalists held over southern society.

Actually, that still remains the case. However, it is no longer socially acceptable to express racist sentiments in the open. As a proxy, fundamentalists have adopted homosexuals as their new target of bigotry. They also continue to work against the rights of women; don’t think for a second that anti-abortion activists give a damn about “unborn babies”.

As I observed yesterday, fundamentalist Christians have largely stopped pretending that there is anything except hate that motivates them. Their beliefs originate from hatred and bigotry; without someone to hate, their lives are meaningless.


hatred in the guise of freedom

Fundamentalist Christians like to complain about their “religious freedom” being taken away. Of course, they’re never concerned when someone else’s religious freedom is taken away, so that right there should make you question their integrity on the principle.

Another thing is that, when they talk about religious freedom, they always use some standard examples. For example, if gay marriage were legalized, then it would become illegal for Christians to rail against the abomination of homosexuality. If religion cannot be taught in science classes, then Christians cannot accuse “Darwinists” and atheists of corrupting the morals of America’s youth (or something).

The same goes for abortion, contraception, and reproductive rights. It also goes for Muslims, who, as we all know, are terrorists – every last one. Pick your own favorite minority, and somehow fundamentalists Christians have conflated hating it with the concept of religious freedom.

It is entirely disingenuous for fundamentalist Christians (or any other variety) to pretend to care about religious freedom. After all, fundamentalism – particularly its American variant – is merely fascism with the hooks cut off the swastika. To the fundamentalist, there is only one kind of religious freedom: the freedom to believe what they tell you to believe, goddammit! I mean, amen.

It has become virtually impossible lately for the Christian fascists in our midst to cloak their true motives anymore. The whole Prop 8 outrage was but the most obvious example of how religion has become nothing but a cover for bigotry. These are the same people who have hijacked the word “family”, and who are attempting to hijack the word “person” as a cover for reproductive control.

In a way, blowing their cover is a good sign. It shows that they know they are on the wrong side of history, and that their days are numbered. However, a cornered animal is dangerous, and these animals are not only cornered, but fucking rabid as well. When the word “Jesus” drips from their lips, it does so in a coating of thick frothy saliva.


ponzo reads the bible - genesis 20

It’s been quite some time since my last post in the Ponzo Reads the Bible series (which is now migrating to the new blog, though you can always access the archives here). I have practical reasons for slacking off – moving halfway across the country being the chief one – but the most immediate excuse is that I got stuck on Genesis 20. I just didn’t know how to respond to it.

It is not because Genesis 20 contains some life-changing moral message that caused an epiphany in me. Rather, Genesis 20 simply continues what has quickly become the theme of the Old Testament in general: God’s chosen people do terrible things to others, with God’s full approval.

How many times can I condemn the moral degeneracy of Abraham and Sarah, or of their God for letting them get away with the shit they pull? How can I find new words to describe my disgust?

Here is the summary of Genesis 21: Abraham and Sarah travel to the land of Gerar, which is ruled by King Abimelech. Once again, they play the “Sarah is my sister” trick on Abimelech, convincing him that Sarah is free for the taking and ensuring that he will fall in lust with her (keep in mind, by the way, that Sarah is over 90 years old at this point). Once Abimelech has taken Sarah for his own, God shows up to demand the Bronze Age equivalent of protection money, threatening dire consequences if Abimelech fails to pay up.

Excuse me, but how is this not a protection racket?

This time, though, there is a twist. You see, Abimelech may have taken Sarah to be his wife, but he has refrained from even touching her in the meantime. God couldn’t care less, though; he still insists that Abimelech pay up or face the consequences. In fact, he even has the audacity to take credit for Abimelech’s own modesty.

Oh, and it gets better, because here we find out that Abraham and Sarah weren’t lying about the sister thing after all. Sarah really is Abraham’s sister; he just married her anyway!

What is all this I’ve been hearing lately about “defending ‘traditional marriage’”?

Now, all of this would be fine if it were used to convey some moral lesson – i.e., if Abraham and Sarah eventually got what was coming to them for their actions. That is not the case, though. Instead, these trailer trash degenerates engage in trickery and deceit with God’s imprimatur, and God even shows up to twist the arm of their innocent victims. Three major religions trace their origins back to Abraham as ur-patriarch, and never stop to examine or question his true nature. These religions worship the same god that is here behaving like a petty thug.

What does this say about those religions, or their adherents? What does it say about the nature of their god? The only rational conclusion is that God – Yahweh, Allah, or whatever name you choose to ascribe to this deity – is evil. The chief religious concept that the Bible supports is maltheism.

The Bible hardly needs critics, as it is its own worst enemy. If its adherents ever bothered to read it, or if they did so without succumbing to massive cognitive dissonance, they would reject it outright.


unions and bailouts

During the first half of the twentieth century, unions played a central role in ending the abuses of laissez-faire capitalism and securing rights for workers. Unions became an important part of the American economy, giving workers a voice. However, the economy has changed since then. Manufacturing jobs which formed the base of union membership have become harder and harder to come by, replaced by a “service” economy in which unions play no role.

As someone who spent – gah! – ten years working for a particular fast food chain - *cough* McDonald’s *cough* - and having absolutely nothing to show for it, I was never able to sympathize with the demands of unionized workers. Like retailers Wal-Mart, Kmart, and others, the fast food industry has ensured that its workers are unable to organize, and so it has always treated them like crap. I was a witness to that; despite the myths, a substantial portion of fast-food workers (and their compatriots in other industries) are not high-school kids on their way to better things; they are adults, often with families, trying to make ends meet in local economies that offer no alternatives. The UAW never spoke up on our benefit, so I couldn’t have given a damn about them.

Nevertheless, even as I met the demands of presently unionized workers with resentment, I recognized the need for unionization, and that need has only become more profound in the current economic climate. If a company has no reason to fear its workers, then it will never provide them with anything even approaching decency; countless recent examples prove that to be true.

Which brings us to the auto industry. The Big Three American auto makers – Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler – have asked for a portion of the $700 billion Wall Street giveaway. The Republicans in Congress – and their lockstep supporters – are opposed to such a handout; they have actually taken the position that the auto industry be allowed to collapse. They don’t care about how many people are hurt by such a collapse, or its effects on the economy as secondary industries dependent upon it go down like dominoes. No, they are willing to see this happen for one reason and one reason only: to break the back of the United Auto Workers union.

Although most of the Republican platform has been taken over by religious nutjobs, there is still a faction loyal to the demands of big business and the ultra-wealthy. Unions stand in the way of unrestrained greed and rapacity on the part of corporate sociopaths, and the CEOpaths lust for their destruction. The Republicans are always quick to do their masters’ bidding, and the masters see this as an opportunity to get rid of that unionized thorn in their side.

Indeed, it was largely to break the power of the unions that the US economy was reorganized in the eighties to become a “service” economy. The propaganda was that others would do the dirty work, and Americans would oversee it all. That, of course, was bullshit: under the rule of the exalted senile Ronald Reagan, unionized American workers lot their jobs, and Chinese slave laborers snatched them all up. In that sand, the foundation of our contemporary economic woes was laid. Unions disappeared in the eighties; the standard of the newly dominant service industry was minimum wage and no benefits.

Remember that, when Republicans talk about the “American dream”, they don’t mean what you think they mean.

Of course, the American auto industry is not in trouble because of the UAW’s unreasonable demands. It would not surprise me if the total wages of every single UAW member put together failed to match that of a single General Motors CEO. The auto industry is in trouble for the same reason that the banks were in trouble: the people at the top took advantage of the gift of deregulation, and pushed things past the breaking point. Moreover, they clung to an outmoded business model based more on myth than reality: big, gas-guzzling vehicles that were simultaneously ugly, unreliable, and user-unfriendly, but which they convinced themselves Americans still wanted, even as those same buyers turned more and more to foreign options.

I was in opposition to the Wall Street free-for-all giveaway, because I knew it would neither help those who really needed help, nor do anything to help the economy overall. The money would disappear into a corporate black hole, spent on golden parachutes, luxury spa trips, and the proverbial ivory backscratchers. I have not been proven wrong. It is for the same reason that I oppose a giveaway to the auto industry: it won’t actually help the auto industry; just the CEOpaths at the top. Technically, I wind up in agreement with the Republicans, but for very different reasons.

Post-crisis, it is not the power of the unions that I desire to see broken, but the power of the antisocial bastards at the top.


gay secular fascist lives!

Props to Newt Gingrinch for what may just become my tagline.

I know, I know: it seems like it’s been forever. It’s not like I didn’t want to post, but, when I reached for the keyboard, something stayed my hand. I suppose it was the feeling of shouting into a void, but fuck that: I’m old friends with the void.

So I’m back, and I promise nothing. If you’re curious, you can read the posts I wrote at aop where I geeked out about Star Wars, but those were a while ago as well.

What have I been up to? Why, playing Fallout 3, of course! I’ve been playing that game at a leisurely pace for weeks now, and I am nowhere close to finishing it; it’s so much fun that I only push the main storyline forward when I have to.

In between, I’ve been catching up on Battlestar Galactica episodes. My time in Korea put a crimp on keeping up with the series, so I’m trying to catch up – avoiding anything that smacks of a spoiler in the meantime.

Oh, and there’s work: an hour of productivity, following by a day of boredom and resentment. Yeah, I went to college and joined the Army so that I could become a secretary! That’s precisely why I applied for the job, even though the job description was completely different when I submitted my resume. (Though it is a job, and I do recognize that I am lucky to have it. It’s just inadvertently becoming the very thing I never wanted to be, in the shadow of the very thing I wanted to be, that bugs me. My life is governed by ironies.)

So here’s to gaydom, seculardom, and *cough* “fascism” – with a lot of geekdom tossed in for good measure! I missed skewering quite a lot of right-wing idiocy while I was away; I’ve got some catching up to do.

blah blah gay blah blah god blah blah fire

According to this turtle-headed freak, “God” is so angry about the anti-Prop 8 protests in California that he has decided to set fire to people’s homes. Presumably, most of these homes were occupied by heteros with kids, so this seems rather counterproductive on Jehovah’s part – but the Great Sky Fairy has always been indiscriminate in his tantrums.

Seriously, though, I could ask, “Who thinks like this?” but I know that a great many people actually do think like that. Remember how the fundies blamed 9/11 on TEH GAYS, and then, a couple of years later, blamed Hurricane Katrina on TEH GAYS? Oh, and TEH GAYS are also responsible for the economic crisis, apparently.

That’s what religion does: it rots your brain from the inside-out, until you are ready to believe the most ridiculous things.

(Via Pam’s House Blend and Right Wing Watch.)


Body language.

Yeah, I’m watching the debate.

My impression so far is that Barack Obama is doing much better. He has provided real answers to the moderator’s questions, regardless of what you think of those answers. John McCain, on the other hand, has been vague; when he has provided specific examples, they are almost irrelevant. He has made a couple of good points, but those are commonsense ideas that could have come from either candidate. He has also told multiple provable lies.

However, much more than the content of their speech, one thing in particular has stood out to me. That is the demeanor of the two candidates.

Obama has the appropriate debater’s stance. He appears open and energetic, and he divides his attention between the moderator, the audience, and his opponent. When he speaks to McCain, he looks at him; when McCain is speaking, Obama looks at him.

McCain will not look at Obama. He keeps himself turned away from his opponent. When Obama speaks to him, McCain keeps his head down or turned away. On the few occasions when he has spoken (semi-)directly to Obama, he doesn’t even look at him then. He even has his body turned away from Obama.

That is bizarre. It is either defensive or dismissive. Regardless, it is rude, and displays a lack of respect for his opponent. That violates one of the most basic rules of debating, in which both individuals, no matter their difference of opinion, treat each other with general respect.

McCain is a liar. By this point, his entire campaign is based on lies, which have come almost on a daily basis. It is remarkable that his behavior during the debate is that of a liar: the downcast eyes; the defensive physical posture; the refusal to look at his accuser directly.

So McCain is either displaying the characteristic behavior of someone feeling shame, or he is being intentionally disrespectful of his opponent. Either way, I can’t imagine how that could play well with a general audience, though I’m sure the right-wing racist Christofascist base will love it.

And then there is McCain’s death’s-head smirk.

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Up & down - a request.

In August, I got a job. I had been unemployed since leaving the Army, and I was starting to get worried. I had my savings, but they would have run out eventually; what would I have done then?

Then I got the job. It was the one I had been hoping for, and it was more than halfway across the country. For the first time, I got to leave the place of my birth and irrelevance without shackles (the Army may be great in many ways, but it comes with many conditions that put restrictions on your life).

So I moved, and I like my job, my coworkers, and my new home. The only thing that I dislike is the drive to work in city traffic every morning. For the first time, it seems that things are starting to work out for me.

At the same time, two of my friends have suffered serious downturns in their own lives. One of those friends is a real-world, personal friend whom I have known for many years. The other is a virtual friend whom I have known for only about a year and a half, and then only through blog comments and email; nevertheless, I owe her a special debt of gratitude, and feel very close to her despite the fact that we will never meet in person.

It seems terribly unfair, though one could say that I’ve already experienced the suffering portion of life. Just a few years ago, everything in my life was different; my future was only a sliver of hope, and I had no idea what to do about things. If it had not been for my mother, I can imagine what would have happened – though I do not like to do so.

It is because I’ve been there that I believe the things that I do. I have watched religion fail those in need time and again, and I know that the only things we have to rely on is each other. I have seen the self-interest and indifference of those in positions of power, and I know that the hierarchy – any hierarchy – is always going to fail those who near the bottom. I have no confidence in the government to solve our problems in society, because the government is always incompetent – though some shades of governments are worse than others, and we should continue to fight against them.

We live in a world of particles and forces, and the only intelligence comes from our own brains. That is also the only source of goodness, just as it is also the only source of evil. I spent too much time trying to convince myself otherwise, so that I could rationalize the dichotomies in my life. Disillusionment was the result.

I don’t know what to do to help out my real-life friend. However, if anyone stops by and reads this, you can help out my virtual friend, Deb, by going to her fantastic site, clicking the PayPal button, and helping her save her mother. If there is anything else you can do, then please do it.

Remember: if we do not have each other, then we don’t have anything at all.


3 to 2, plus Chrome.

I uninstalled Firefox 3 this week. It was a hard thing to do: to go back to FF2 after I'd gotten accustomed to many of the new features in FF3.

I had to do it, though, because FF3 was sloooooooooow. It took forever to start up, and then it would hang or even crash when I tried to do something. I tried everything I could think of: I thought maybe ZoneAlarm Forcefield could be causing the problem, so I shut it down. No effect. Reverting to FF2 has restored the speed I was used to, and I haven't lost any of the important features since Mozilla still hosts extensions compatible with the older version.

It's been a bad couple of weeks for browsers, actually. I thought I'd try out Google Chrome, but it crashed at install. Today, I've been getting errors from Blogger every time I tried to update my blog template; doing the same thing in Internet Explorer worked just fine (I keep IE around just for times like that).

Ugh, maybe it's time to clean the computer out. I certainly need to defrag the hard disk, but I've got a lot of software running that could go away without causing me any heartache. I have no intention of reinstalling Windows, but I should make a list of unnecessary applications and do some uninstalls. Maybe I could get Chrome to work then.



I have been having problems with my blog templates.

"Open Threat" is not formatted properly. Blogger continually ignores my commands, so what you see on screen is not what I have selected behind the scenes. This is problematic: the design of the blog is very important to me, and I cannot be happy with it until it looks the way I want it to.

As you may or may not be aware, I recently closed my old blog, "(adventures of) Ponzo", and stripped it bare of all my old posts. You may or may not be aware of why I did this. Anyway, I decided to resurrect "adventures of Ponzo", and have been struggling with the template there as well. I never could get Disqus to work there, so "aoP" is running Intense Debate.

I have no idea why I am having this much trouble, and I have considered switching over to Wordpress. I like Blogger, however, because it gives me more and faster control over the template, and Blogspot is a more widely used host. If my recent tinkering has worked, then I should have trackbacks installed for Blogger (use Greasemonkey and the script you can find here).

As far as the two blogs go, I am going to post to both of them for the time being. I will decide which one to keep eventually. I know that this probably falls into the category of "theatrics", and I apologize; what happened a couple of months ago happened at the worst possible time. It caused me to overreact, but I think it also gave me an opportunity to reassess the attitude I had had with this whole blogging thing.


And so it begins anew.

I came back online last week. I’ve not posted, though. I wish I could say that it’s because I’ve been busy, but that’s only partly true. The main reason is that I’ve just felt overwhelmed lately by the present state of affairs in America and the world.

It feels like trying to dig yourself out of a mountain of shit with a toy shovel, while every shovelful of shit you manage to displace results in many times that amount being added in its place.

The sheer mendacity and malevolence of the Republican Party is only to be expected. Is it not John McCain’s daily lies, but that so many Americans are prepared to believe them. It is not the shallow Christian corruption of Sarah Palin, but that so many Americans have been distracted by McCain’s new shiny thing. Polls now show a tight presidential race: how could this be? Are people so blind? Are they so stupid? Are they so evil?

Sure, it might not be that way if not for the fecklessness of the Democrats. Barack Obama has had so many chances to prove himself the better candidate (and, next to McCain, he remains such), but he has failed again and again. Once he got the nomination, another Obama arose to take the place of the first one. For me, it was his vote on the FISA bill that did it. I swore after that that he had lost my vote; if McCain were not such a fucking mess, that might still be true.

For the record, I have been unimpressed by Obama and the Democratic Party since that fateful vote. Obama is not a “progressive”, nor is he a “leftist” or a “socialist” or a “Marxist”. I am all of those things, to varying degrees, and he can only disappoint. I am also an atheist, and the Democratic embrace of religiosity at the DNC did not go over well with me. Like we needed anymore, that was just more evidence that the Democrats are “Republicans-lite”; there is no left-wing in American politics.

It’s enough to make you want to throw up your hands and walk away from it in disgust. We Americans live in the wealthiest country in the world, which shares far too many vital statistics in common with third-world countries. If this election goes the wrong way, then that will be it for America’s relevance in the world; the country at that point will exist only to be feared and hated, to fear and hate.

John Edwards always talked about “two Americas”. I never really liked Edwards, but at least I can say that that precluded any disappointment on my part regarding his affair. He was right about the “two Americas” thing, though. How can you tell the difference between the two? One of them doesn’t have to surrender their civil rights to get on an airplane.

So, this has been my “back from hiatus” post. Not quite as brief as I had originally intended, but it got the job done. Now I can write without having to explain my absence (though I will do that soon).


Some chick from Alaska? Seriously?!

I know that sounds horribly sexist, but come on! You know John McCain did not pick Sarah Palin as his running mate because of his deep and enduring respect for feminism. Palin is Dan Quayle with a vagina.

What I mean by that is that Quayle was selected as the running mate of George H.W. Bush not because of his qualifications, but because he was a (supposed) pretty face meant to woo women. Palin is intended to woo a particular kind of woman: Hillary Clinton’s professionally disaffected supporters – aka, the PUMA people.

Palin is a stunt. A 42-year-old, one-term congressperson from Alaska who doesn’t even know what the VP job entails. This, from a campaign that cannot stop taking potshots at Barack Obama’s supposed lack of experience. McCain has met her only once; there is no way that he could consider her a legitimate VP nominee. It is only that “special” qualification between the legs that matters, though, to a campaign and a party (and a political movement) that seems to grow more and more childish by the day.

The sad thing is that the Palin stunt just might work. The PUMA people are so petty and vindictive in their anger that they have promised to vote for McCain out of spite. This, even though they’ve pretty much demonstrated they have no clue what the man’s positions actually are. McCain hates Obama, too; that’s good enough for them.

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Just temporary, I assure you.

You see, I am going to be moving. Halfway across the country, as a matter of fact. My first concern once arriving at my new home will be to find somewhere to live. Once that's taken care of, I will arrange to have internet access installed, because I cannot stand to be away from it for too long. It may be a couple of weeks before I'm online again.

I know I promised the third part in my creationism series, but I just haven't been able to work on it. It will be some time in September before it is posted. My apologies if you were looking forward to it.

I will let you know when I'm back online. See you soon-ish.


Racism and creationism series - update.

My post on Pangaea and Creation was accepted for the current issue of the Carnival of the Godless at Letters from a Broad.

The third part in my series was originally planned for this weekend. I’ve not had time to work on it, though, so it might be a couple more days before it is posted. It is my favorite of the three, though, and pulls a lot together, so a quick, shoddy job just won’t do. It will be worth the wait, though. No hints this time.

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Racism and creationism (part two of a series).

Part one in this series can be read here.

Contemporary creationists would have you believe that they represent a line of thought that stretches back for millennia. In fact, creationism is a relatively modern development, having emerged at the end of the 19th century. This same period saw the rise of Christian fundamentalism, another unique development in the history of Christianity.

It is true that earlier Christians had regarded the Biblical account of creation as true. However, post-Reformation Christian theologians and philosophers had been surprisingly open-minded in their approach to scripture. When empirical evidence contradicted their understanding of the Bible, they regarded themselves as having failed to interpret it correctly. For them, it was not a choice between Biblical literalism and scientific evidence. They would exhibit a theological humility that fundamentalism and creationism would utterly reject.

Creationism is merely an aspect of fundamentalism, in which every word of the Bible (even the parts that contradict the other parts) is regarded as literally true. Fundamentalism arises when a culture undergoes a sudden and massive change that undermines its prior social position. Such change may come from internal or external forces, but it always involves a rejection of modernity and rationalism. Creationism represented just such a flight from reason. It would drive the development of fundamentalism, and would remain its most fervent ideal.

Creationism arose as a cultural force in the post-Civil War south. Prior to the Civil War, the southern economy had been based on the slavery of black Africans. To rationalize this form of slavery, southerners had internalized the belief that whites were inherently superior to blacks. The form of Christianity to which they subscribed had adapted to fit this social system – for instance, it had magnified the importance of two Old Testament concepts in particular to justify racial inequality: the “Mark of Cain” and the “Curse of Ham”.

The south’s defeat in the Civil War may have ended slavery as a legal institution in America, but it did not bring to an end a racism that had become so deeply ingrained in southern culture that it formed the foundation of white southern identity. Thus, following the withdrawal of federal troops from the south, white southerners would reinstitute slavery in the form of the convict lease (chain gang) system and racial segregation.

Their defeat in the Civil War, however, had shaken their confidence, and the growing popularity of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was a threat to their very identity. If Darwin were correct, then whites and blacks were biologically equal; worse yet, they were related via a common ancestor, and shared the same developmental lineage. For a culture that regarded even a single drop of “black blood” to be an indicator of inferiority, this was an outrage.

Creationism developed in the racial miasma of the late 19th-century south, and emerged fully formed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Creationists manipulated the law in many states to prohibit the teaching of evolutionary theory, and were prepared when John Scopes went on trial for teaching evolution in 1925. In the decades since, creationism would serve as the spearhead of Christian fundamentalism.

The Civil Rights Movement would threaten southern identity once again in the decades following World War II. Newly divorced from the Democratic Party (which white southerners had embraced en masse following their defeat by Republicans during the Civil War), racist white southerners would be wooed by a very different incarnation of the Republican Party in the sixties. The Southern Strategy would result in an influx of racists into the Republican Party, who brought their fundamentalist beliefs with them, and gave them a national stage for their ideas.

The goal of the fundamentalist movement was nothing less than a return to an idealized past in which its ideals were supreme – a goal shared in common with all varieties of fundamentalism. As its most emotional issue, creationism was used in an attempt to attract followers outside the fundamentalist base. Until this point, creationists had primarily worked at the local and state levels; they would continue to do so, of course, but their new access to the Republican political apparatus allowed them to make creationism a national issue for the first time.

Open expressions of racism were no longer socially acceptable, and an open message would have worked against the fundamentalist agenda anyway. Creationism was overhauled so that its racist core was no longer obvious, but its origins in racial hatred remained lurking below the surface. The Ku Klux Klan had embraced creationism openly during its heyday, and modern white supremacists would do the same. Creationists willing to endorse continental drift in an effort to avoid an African origin do the same. Creationists continue to use the term “monkey” to refer disparagingly to human ancestors; this is a rather obvious “dog-whistle”, as is obvious from even a cursory perusal of racist propaganda from throughout the 20th century.

Of course, most people who endorse creationist beliefs do not do so out of racism. In a terrible irony, even a large segment of traditionalist black Christians endorse creationism. Although these individuals are not motivated by racism themselves, they have endorsed a belief that arose from hatred, and serve the interests of religious leaders who know full well the implications of their beliefs.

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Correction to "Evangelicals and their voting preferences".

It appears that I made an important error in my last post describing the findings of a survey by the Barna Group. My error did not affect my ultimate conclusion. However, I did mischaracterize the nature of the Barna Group itself, and I would like to correct that here.

In doing my research, I did not do third-party research into the Barna Group. That was a mistake. Therefore, I overlooked a very important fact: the Barna Group itself is an “evangelical” organization. The Wikipedia entry of its founder, George Barna, describes the group’s position as follows:

The Barna Group conducts opinion polls, which are generally interpreted from an evangelical perspective, and often cited within evangelical circles. His research has revealed "a radical gap between what we heard Christians professing they believed and the values and the lifestyle that grew out of the values.” [Emphasis in original]

That is supposed to be favorable. Indeed, the entire entry is written to be sympathetic toward Barna, and yet its content is damning. It describes someone who targets children for proselytization due to their “spiritual vulnerability”, and who rejects anyone whose views of Christianity do not align with his own views (he has even penned a book entitled Pagan Christianity to describe such individuals).

I was wrong in ascribing legitimacy to the Barna Group; it is, instead, a prime example of the fundamental propaganda program blurring the lines between extremist and mainstream Christianity. The Barna Group is not attempting to dispel the illusion that fundamentalist Christians are more numerous than their vocal activism would suggest; instead, it is conducting a test of ideological purity. Nonetheless, the results of its survey confirm that the beliefs it represents appear to be a diminishing social factor in the United States.

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Evangelicals and their voting preferences.

UPDATE: Important correction to this post. Please see here for additional information about the Barna Group.


Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist looks at the results of the latest political survey conducted by the Barna Group. The survey breaks down voters into religious groups and asks them who they are planning to vote for in November (and if they intend to vote). Mehta provides a useful chart breaking down the numbers in the survey. It shows that every religious group, including atheists and agnostics, tilt heavily in favor of Barack Obama, except for one group: evangelical Christians.

The Barna Groups breaks down the evangelical results into two categories, based on whether they self-identify as evangelicals, or whether the Barna Group classes them as such. Both groups lean toward McCain, but there is an interesting disparity between them.

Among self-identified evangelicals, 37% report that they will vote for Obama, while 39% say they will vote for McCain, with 23% undecided.

Among those classified by evangelicals by the Barna Group, only 17% report that they will vote for Obama, while 61% say they will vote for McCain, with only 14% undecided.

Also interesting, using self-identification, almost 40% of Americans adults consider themselves evangelical, whereas, using the Barna Group’s questions, only 8% fit that definition. Among the first group, 83% say they will vote in November, while 90% of the latter say they will vote.

These are staggering differences, and they raise a number of questions. The questions themselves are rather non-controversial, and I would imagine even a large number of mainstream Christians would answer them in the affirmative:

  1. Say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today

  2. Indicate they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior

  3. Say their faith is very important in their life today

  4. Believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians

  5. Believe that Satan exists

  6. Believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works

  7. Believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth

  8. Assert that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches

  9. Describe God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today

Being classed as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended.

A number of scenarios come to mind to account for the discrepancy. It is possible that there is bias in the Barna Group’s results. However, if that were the case, it would seem to be working against the Christian ministries they represent. Bias could only be found if one were claiming them to be intentionally underreporting the percentage of evangelicals in America, but, as you read above, the questions they ask are non-controversial, and would point away from this possibility.

I also considered that evangelicals may be falsely reporting their affiliation and voting preferences in order to skew the results; I have referred to fundamentalist Christianity as a reactionary cultural movement in the past, and this would not surprise me. However, if that were the case, then one would expect the results to be even more biased in favor of McCain. Even if McCain is not particularly popular among evangelicals, his positions would certainly be more in line with their own.

The only reasonable conclusion bears out something that I have asserted for some time, and the reason that I do not use the term “evangelical” to refer to right-wing, activist Christians myself: there is a difference between fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. Evangelicals represent a much broader range of social views than fundamentalists, and are more tolerant, open-minded, and respectful of the views of others. The blogger Slacktivist is one such evangelical who has nothing in common with the hard-liners.

Fundamentalist Christians, long known as the Religious Right or Christian Right, are a different breed altogether. The inheritors of the reactionary social movement that arose from the union of white southern segregationists with the Republican Party in the 1960s, they constitute a vocal and dangerous cultural movement. Their preference for John McCain, whose opposition to abortion and gay rights fits into their social agenda, makes him their preferred candidate, and their overwhelming intention to vote indicates their activist bent.

Furthermore, fundamentalists have made a concerted effort to have themselves identified as representatives of “normal” Christianity, blurring the line between themselves and more numerous mainstream Christians. Given that their activities have caused the term “fundamentalist” to take on negative connotations, they have attempted in recent years to rebrand themselves as the more moderate-sounding “evangelical”. It is unfortunate that outside groups, from the Barna Group to the Pew Forum, have fallen for this in an attempt to avoid giving (manufactured) offense.

What this study reveals is that the core of the fundamentalist Christian movement is in tatters. Only 8% of Americans can be classified as belonging to it, using even the broadest and least damning criteria. They still possess a lot of power, but their social influence has diminished considerably. This should be heartening for people who hope for a better future for America.

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One from the vaults: From Neuromancer to the Singularity.

This post was originally written over a year ago. It serves as a great foundation for future posts on the cyberpunk genre and technological change. I am republishing it with only a couple of minor edits.


The foundations of cyberpunk were laid in the late seventies (though precursors go all the way back to the fifties - e.g., Alfred Bester). However, William Gibson's Neuromancer, published in 1984, was the archetypal cyberpunk novel. Ironically, as much as Neuromancer was responsible for the development of the cyberpunk genre, it also laid the seeds of its decline; few of the later authors to work in the genre would go beyond the tropes established in Neuromancer, and the genre would become overwhelmed by its cliches.

As much as Gibson wrote the archetypal cyberpunk novel, Neal Stephenson wrote the ultimate one: Snow Crash. Stephenson then wrote the archetypal postcyberpunk novel, The Diamond Age. Unlike cyberpunk, which was typically set in a relatively concrete future, postcyberpunk novels, if set in the future at all, take an ironic approach - e.g., Charles Stross.

Throughout most of the history of science fiction, authors have predicted the future in a very linear fashion. For example, during the fifties, it was commonplace for authors to predict space travel and flying cars as common elements of the future. Forget that flying cars are a terrible idea anyway, and that space travel fizzled out because it was boring; other than these elements, the future for these authors was little different from their present. Even in the cyberpunk of the eighties, the future was still a linear development of the present. However, predicting the future has gotten very difficult.

Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave was the bible of the cyberpunk movement. In this book, Toffler analyzed the history of human civilization and how it was affected by technological development. Each major technological advance set in motion a "wave of change" that radically altered society. The first wave was the Agrarian Revolution; the second was the Industrial Revolution. The focus of the book was on the Third Wave, which would be driven by the development of computers and information technology; the Internet is one of its direct results. The thing was that the waves were occurring at an ever-accelerating pace: the Agrarian Revolution had taken perhaps 200,000 years, whereas the Industrial Revolution happened less than 2000 years later. The Third Wave happened only a couple of hundred years.

What this meant was that the Fourth Wave would likely happen in only a couple of decades; in fact, the Fourth Wave would happen even before the Third was complete. The Fifth Wave would occur almost immediately. It would no longer be possible to predict what the future would look like.

Add to this confusion Gordon E. Moore. Moore's Law states (very roughly) that computers will grow more powerful at a geometric rate, doubling their computing power with every generation, while every generation would last only half as long. Eventually, this rate of development would reach infinity; by analogy with black holes, this event was named the technological singularity. Just as it is impossible to predict what happened beyond the event horizon of a black hole (a gravitational singularity), it is impossible to predict what will happen after the "event horizon" of a technological singularity.

Vernor Vinge (who coined the term "technological singularity") originally predicted its occurrence around 2030. Ray Kurzweil also used this date. However, Eliezer Judkowsky of the Singularity Institute considers this time frame conservative, and predicts that the Singularity will occur around 2021. Thus, we are perhaps only a decade away from the point at which human civilization and human nature itself undergo the most radical change yet.

This, I believe, is responsible for the recent dearth of science fiction dealing with the future. Even pioneers Gibson and Stephenson have turned their sights elsewhere - Gibson to the present, and Stephenson to the past (though both continue to brink a (post)cyberpunk style to their material). It is also responsible for the resurgent popularity of fantasy in literature and film.

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Presidents gone wild!

This picture is going to be all over the internet – well, the liberal part of it, anyway – tomorrow. It’s our beloved George W. holding up the American flag at the Beijing Olympics…backwards. Duh!

I’ll let others fret endlessly over the flag itself. I want to draw your attention elsewhere, to this woman at the bottom:

Look at the expression of surprise on her face!

Just what is George doing with his penis?

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