Monday, January 28, 2008

Church Leaders Dropping Like Flies

If you were in charge of a major religious denomination this weekend, you probably aren't anymore. Let's take a look at the casualties:

First up:

Archbishop Christodoulos, 69-year-old leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, died of liver cancer. Christodoulous was a controversial figure; the Times obituary makes him sound pretty rad:

A polyglot who surfed the Internet, Archbishop instituted sign-language liturgies for the deaf and made plans for a religious television station, and buoyed the faith’s dwindling numbers with the aura of a rock star. He enlivened sermons with one-liners and animated antics. He cheerfully allowed teenagers to wear miniskirts and body-piercing jewelry to Mass. He embraced rather than disgraced AIDS patients.

Yet his Wikipedia entry makes him sound like an arch-conservative reactionary. You be the judge!

Next up:

Mormon church president Gordon B. Hinckley died of old age at 97. Apparently the community is totally shocked; as a University of Utah student put it: " "I texted my brother and he just wrote back, 'What?' "

Hinckley was actually descended from the original Mormons, and he was a tireless evangelist for his church, making lots of international trips and several cable appearances to dispel rumors about polygamy and cultism. He also told Mike Wallace that his sacred underwear once saved him from a fire.

Last but not least:

80-year-old Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, leader of the Jesuits, did not die. He did, however, decide he was too old for the position, and was replaced this weekend by the much more chipper 71-year-old Rev. Adolfo Nicolas.
Those who hold this position (official title: Superior General of the Society of Jesus) have been nicknamed "black Popes" because, unlike the Pope (but like Johnny Cash), you'll never see them wear a suit of white. Among internet nutjobs, Black Popes like Kolvenbach are credited with all kinds of nefarious conspiracies, not including the deaths of the above church leaders . . . yet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Scientology Week: The Hits Keep Coming


Yes, it is a new week — and yet, it is still Scientology Week on GodSpam. That is the power of Dianetics. It defies space and time as we know it. It also defies government mind control. It will make you a better person, chef, fashion designer and opera singer. It has granted Kirstie Alley eternal life. Seriously, just watch the video already.

Via Defamer.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Scientology Week Continues: Now With Video

Here's a promotional video for "A Very Merry Children's Scientology Pageant," the very enjoyable musical by Les Freres Corbusier. It is exactly what it sounds like.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What the Huck?

We now interrupt Scientology Week for a very special announcement: if elected president, Mike Huckabee wants to "amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards." What does that mean, exactly? He elaborated at a press conference this week:

"The context is two things. Human life amendment, which I support and which has been in the Republican platform since 1980...And the second thing is traditional marriage."

Huckabee went on to quote the parts of the Bible in which Jesus condemned abortion and homosexu - OH WAIT.

He did go on to say: "I'm not suggesting that we rewrite the Constitution to reflect tithing or Sunday school attendance. I want to make that very clear." Well that clears it up.

Tim Grieve at Salon has a nice rebuttal:

If it is, as Huckabee said the other day, "easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God," what's the basis for stopping at abortion or same-sex marriage or even at tithing or Sunday school? Why not push for an amendment outlawing homosexuality entirely? On the other hand, maybe God would be interested in passing the Equal Rights Amendment. How about an amendment banning the death penalty? Or maybe an omnibus amendment outlawing preemptive war, the touching of pigskins and the getting of haircuts?

Who should be the arbiter of "God's standards"? How do we decide which of those "standards" can be ignored and which are important enough that we "need" to address them by amending the Constitution? And how would Mike Huckabee feel about having someone else -- say, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John Edwards or Dennis Kucinich -- making those decisions for him?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's Scientology Week! The Tom Cruise Propaganda Video

Here's the video that the Scientologists are threatening to sue the whole internet over: Tom Cruise talking about why he's a church member. My favorite line:

"Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it’s not like anyone else. As you drive past, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you’re the only one that can really help."

So apparently, the Church of Scientology has convinced Tom Cruise that he is actually a character in one of his own movies.

Transcript here (thank you, Ada!).

Monday, January 14, 2008

Gettin Xenu With It

A month after telling Us Weekly that he "doesn't necessarily believe in organized religion," it appears that Will Smith has converted to that most frighteningly organized of religions, Scientology. While Smith hasn't confirmed that he is a member of Hubbard's church, the press has offered a couple tip-offs:

1. He sent out Scientology-themed Christmas cards. (Where does one buy those, exactly?)

2. He's started using the word "reprogramming" as if it were a normal conversational term for anyone except robots.

3. He informed Men's Vogue that "98% of the principles (of Scientology) are identical to the principles of the Bible."

Those interested in the other 2% should head over to Gabriel Mckee's blog SF Gospel, where he posted some fascinating stuff, including the full text of the out-of-print expose Bare-Faced Messiah. Gabriel also spent 20 minutes making the above photo, which it took me 30 seconds to blatantly steal.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Man Claiming to be Priest Caught With Cocaine

Says airport security: "We've seen a lot of things, baseballs filled with cocaine, wine bottles, plaster casts, but this is a first."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Jehovah's Witnesses Came By Today

... and dropped off the latest issue of Awake!, the monthly magazine that seems to be replacing Watchtower as the de facto door-to-door handout. Here's the cover story:

Oo, I know! Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Except, of course, you have frightening groups like Christian Domestic Discipline that seem to think the Bible is all about wife-slapping. So what do the Jehovah's Witnesses have to say?

First, there's an introduction called "Violence Against Women: A Global Problem," which quotes Amnesty International describing anti-woman violence as "today's most pervasive human rights challenge. The following article, titled "How Do God and Christ View Women?", uses examples from the Bible to show that Jesus treated women as equals. They do a nice job of presenting cultural context, describing how scandalous Jesus' interactions with the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well and Mary Magdalene must have seemed in a culture that often equated women with slaves. (I would have included more New Testament examples, like Jesus' friendship with Mary and Martha, and Paul's commission of Phoebe as a Christian leader.) The article then moves onto the Old Testament and some generalizations from Proverbs, concluding that "all women should be treated with honor and respect."

Hell yeah! Good on you, Jehovah's Witnesses!

But wait...

That was the cover story at the front of the magazine. Here's the story at the back of the magazine:

What, did I get too uppity between pages 3 and 28?

Somehow we went from "Jesus didn't condone chauvinistic attitudes" to "Many women chafe at the idea of male headship in marriage... (but) you will find that its position is balanced and practical." The article tries very hard to seem feminist, saying that a husband's job as the head of the household is to put his wife's needs above his own, and that women "provide valuable input" into marriages. (Gee, thanks.) These statements that are quickly followed up with the qualifier "Of course, as the family head, the husband is responsible for making final decisions."

Their example of a well-balanced marriage is the real kicker: they cite the story of Abraham and Sarah, specifically the part in which Sarah gets pissed because Abraham knocked up one of the servants. She tells him to kick the girl out of the house, and he considers it, but only after he goes off by himself and contemplates it does he do it. In other words, it was his decision, not hers, which makes the whole thing okay.

Did the connection between this type of arrangement (condoned on page 28) and global violence against women (condemned on page 3) never occur to the editors at Awake? It's this idea of male headship that causes men to believe they have the right to abuse their wives, women to think it's their duty to submit to it, and -- worst of all -- leads to the laws in many cultures that give men the right to abuse, punish, or even kill disobedient female family members. If the Jehovah's Witnesses are looking to separate themselves from such cultures, they need to take a long hard look at their beliefs about patriarchy -- which stem from the same ancient Middle Eastern desert culture as the religion they're implicitly condemning.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Tax n' Spend Messiah

"And despite giving dozens of speeches on the Middle East, Jesus has refused to call the Islamofascists by name, and he's even suggested that we turn the other cheek."

A rather brilliant attack ad by Lee Stranahan.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Devil's Advocate: Mike Huckabee

As someone who believes that the separation of church and state strengthens both church and state, I should be terrified by the prospect of Mike Huckabee winning in Iowa today. And yet...

It's hard not to admire a politician who actually seems to have his own set of beliefs and doesn't backtrack on them the second the media starts asking questions. (Yes, I was the one shouting at John Kerry through my TV during the last race: "Dammit, just say you threw the medals!") I'd put 2000-era McCain in this camp as well (um, possibly not the best choice of words there, but you know what I mean), and a number of the current candidates, notably Barak Obama. But for a progressive Christian, Mike Huckabee is a more complicated prospect. Let's take a completely biased look at his theology:

GOOD! Huckabee believes that we are stewards of God's creation and therefore need to take care of the environment.

BAD! Mike Huckabee signed the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention statement on the family, and specifically supported the inclusion of this passage: "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ." Tip for Mike: next time you sign your name on a Bible verse, make it something Paul actually wrote.

GOOD! When pressed about his Christmas ad being 'too Christian,' Mike was all "No shit, my Christmas ad is Christian." Not in those words, exactly.

BAD! Huckabee believes it's wrong to teach kids that evolution happened. (Because where are the unicorn fossils?)

GOOD! "The key issue of real faith is that it never can be forced on someone. And never would I want to use the government institutions to impose mine or anybody else's faith."

BAD! Despite the above statement, the Bible is the only reason Huckabee ever cites for wanting to outlaw abortion and gay marriage.

GOOD! It's also the reason he's pushed for prison reform and poverty relief, issues that most Republicans don't seem to have thought twice about.

Still, every time I find myself on Huckabee's side, I'm reminded that he said this. These kind of statements show that he's not as in touch with larger world issues as he seems to think he is. But at least he's in touch with himself -- and that' s more than we can say for Romney.