Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Birth of Jesus, Told 4 Ways

This Christmas, God Spam is taking a Rashomon-like approach to the Nativity story (but without the rape and murder and creepy fortune teller). Here are four different videos describing the birth of Jesus, as told by...

...Social networking:

...Sincerely adorable New Zealand children:

...Lovably inaccurate American kids:

... And tongue-in-cheek Christian cartoonists:

The Christmas story comes out of years of church tradition and theological controversy, but you can get a nice run-down of what the Bible actually says here. In the words of writer Phyllis Tickle: "The Virgin Birth is so beautiful that it has to be true, whether it happened or not."

Merry Christmas from all one of us at God Spam!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gotta Have Faith: Lewis Black

"Gays didn't need to ask if they were gay. God told them. And if God told them, that's all you need to know, 'cause He's God and He wouldn't have made people gay unless He thought it was right. How do I know this? Because He's God and He's smarter than you. And if you don't like what I just said, tough. That's the God I believe in and that's the way He thinks. Maybe your God will have some thoughts someday."  

— From I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas, in which comedian Lewis Black expresses a message of divine love and acceptance in the most ornery way possible.  Crankiness notwithstanding, the book actually has a lot to say about the ways in which our culture celebrates and interprets the Christmas season. (And if you're interested, here's an interview I did with Lewis Black when the book hit shelves in November.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The New Christianity Meets the Liberal Media

Jay Bakker, whose name I shall follow with the obligatory "son of Jim and Tammy Faye," gets an excellent profile in this week's New York Magazine.
Image: Kenneth Cole via Killing the Buddha
 I've mentioned Jay before on God Spam -- he's the founder and New York City pastor of Revolution, a church that seeks to embrace individuals (mainly the young, liberal, counter-cultural variety) who feel rejected by traditional Christianity. Here's how writer Alex Morris sums up Bakker's unexpected ministry:

But as I’m sitting there, close to the back and beer in hand [note: Revolution NYC meets at a bar], it occurs to me that maybe the opposite of faith isn’t doubt. Maybe the opposite of faith is certainty, a comforting belief in your own rightness. To a greater degree than most Evangelicals may care to admit, Jay Bakker’s open-armed ministry is an extension of what his parents created. Jim and Tammy Faye were much more tolerant than other televangelists; in 1986, Tammy Faye famously interviewed a gay minister who had been diagnosed with AIDS. But theirs was a theology of aspiration—believing is easy, and believing leads to success—and it didn’t encourage its followers to doubt their faith or themselves. This, it seems to me, is what Jay is offering: a Christianity that allows for, and is even sustained by, failure.

I'm going to repeat that last line, because I love it: "A Christianity that allows for, and is even sustained by, failure."
Promotional image from Revolution NYC

An interesting detail: Morris refers to Bakker as part of the Emergent movement. I'm not surprised that he says Bakker won't use the term himself; among Evangelicals (of whom Jay, however liberal, is one), "emergent" is considered a sort of half-boast, half-pejorative, like "hipster."* Be that as it may, this is the first time I've seen the emerging church given attention in a major New York City-based publication. I've been wondering when the Emergent movement would start making its way over to the East Coast, and this could be the first harbinger.

* I don't know why this is, exactly, although there's a certain teen-like brattiness that can come with the rejection of the mainstream church. For example, Emergent Church icon Tony Jones once told me in so many words that my lovely Brooklyn church is doomed, because we follow the Presbyterian bylaws and meet in a historic church building. 

**  And yes, if were wondering, "liberal media" in the headline is indeed supposed to be tongue-in-cheek; I have two (non-religion-related) articles in the same issue of the magazine.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

This Week, On the Happy Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy Hour...

Husband Kody's first three wives think his fourth wife is a ho because she kissed him before they were married. God, I love Mormons.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Christine O'Donnell and Eddie Izzard Argue About God

Vintage "Politically Incorrect" clip in which the Senate candidate explains that, if she were hiding Jews in her attic during WWII, God would save her from having to lie to Hitler. And then Eddie Izzard and Bill Maher make fun of her.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

God Spam in The Village Voice

The Village Voice's news blog featured God Spam this weekend in a piece about Jacob Isom, of "Dude, you have no Quran" fame. The article, by Leslie Minora, specifically focuses on the merchandise I whipped up in honor of Mr. Isom. You can read the story here.
From the interview: Watkins, a freelance writer and the daughter of a minister, says she started her quirky religious blog because she's "always been really fascinated by the intersection of pop culture and religion...[this type of blog] didn't exist, and I wanted to read it." Isom seems the personification of the very intersection Watkins explores.

I wouldn't say he's exactly at the intersection that this blog explores. If David Isom had grabbed the Quran while singing a verse from the lost Gospel of Thomas to the tune of "Bad Romance," then we'd be talking.

However, The Voice is absolutely correct that David Isom's story has a special appeal for me. Ironically, I had deliberately avoided covering the Amarillo Quran-burning story at first, for the same reason that I won't write about the Westboro Baptist Church: both stories center around a small group of bigots whose message distorts the Christian faith, and who are ultimately powerless except in their ability to get media attention. I do not want to feed that particular beast.

But I am not the mainstream media. By the time the book-burning was actually scheduled to take place, the nation's entire freedom of religion apparently hung in the balance of one deluded pastor and a park grill. The Unitarian Universalists, God bless 'em, mobilized en masse to stop this event from taking place. And then one shirtless stoner thwarted the entire event by doing the most practical thing imaginable: taking the holy book away. And since apparently no one had a back-up Quran (which I do, in fact, find hilarious), everybody just went home.

With one spontaneous act, David Isom brought this clash of faiths down from the ideological clouds to a very human level. And that's the element that's so often missing from press coverage of religion stories: the fact that the participants are individuals, and even if they all believe basically the same thing, they no doubt have very different reasons. No one was hurt that day in Amarillo; no individual freedoms were lost. In the end, there was just a man who looked down and realized he had no book to burn.

Footnote: I am 99% certain that God Spam is the point of reference for this article from the Amarillo Globe-News, as no one else to my knowledge is selling "Dude, You Have no Quran" hats. That article's reference to hats and T-shirts was also featured in The Week. And as a result of all this publicity, I have sold... 3 shirts! And no teddy bears. Come on, guys, Thanksgiving is coming. That's the traditional holiday of meme-themed plush toys. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dude, You Have No Quran: The T-Shirt

Every once in a while, an everyman utters such a profound statement that we must grant him our culture's highest honor: a slogan T-shirt. Ladies and gentleman, Jacob Isom is such a man. Although there were dozens of protesters making a stand against the scheduled Quran burning in an Amarillo, Texas park, Isom single-handedly thwarted the Christian hate parade by yanking the sacred text off a burning grill.

In his own, now-immortal words: "I snuck up behind him and took his Quran. He said something about burning the Quran, and I said, Dude, you have no Quran."

Jacob Isom, in honor of your bold stance against religious intolerance (and the fact that you said "dude"), God Spam salutes you with this custom T-shirt.

The "Dude, you have no Quran" shirt is now available for purchase, in assorted colors and styles, at the brand-new God Spam online store. And since Cafe Press, as it turns out, is insane about customization, you can also get your own "Dude, you have no Quran" teddy bear.

Or perhaps you'd prefer an extremely American-made dog T-shirt?

While you're there, you can also get a Smoking Nuns T-shirt, inspired by the popular God Spam post, "Is Catholicism like Smoking?" Here's the design:
(I'm not totally sold on this one, so if buy it now before I decide it's too offensive!)

But Jacob Isom, this post is really about you. God Spam salutes you, your bravery, and your weird cooking show pilot that we found on YouTube. All Americans should be proud to wear your words.

Update: Isom is now promoting official "Dude, You Have No Quran" shirts with his face emblazoned on them. Go here to buy one. So many options!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is Catholicism Like Smoking?

Since last week's post prompted some lively discussion on Anne Rice's Facebook page, this seems like a good time to ponder something that Rice has made me think about: the difficulty of quitting Catholicism.

I should clarify, to start, that I'm not a Catholic; rather, I'm a Prod with Italian roots, a nun obsession and a love of early church history. I named my son after Saint Anselm. So rest assured that I'm not trying to be flip about the Catholic Church here.  I see a great deal of beauty in Catholicism. When Anne Rice first declared her conversion into the Catholic Church, I thought it made perfect sense.  The things that resonate about her books -- the conflicted relationship between passion and morality, the grand drama on a larger-than-human scale, the tantalizing nearness of death -- are all very present in Catholic tradition and ritual.

And now she is walking away, not from her faith, but from the Church. Here's what I neglected to mention in the previous post: after declaring that she'd "quit being a Christian," Rice received a public invitation to join the socially liberal United Church of Christ (supported, of course, by an enthusiastic Facebook campaign). When she demurred, the LA Times asked Rice flat-out, How can you say no to that? Her response was diplomatic and honest: "I respect completely people who want to find a church that's more in accord with what they can morally accept. But for me, walking away is the thing right now. In the name of Christ, in the name of God."

Now, I love the UCC. I love their proud acceptance of different lifestyles and sexualities, I love their willingness to embrace change, and I love that their entire outreach campaign is based on a Gracie Allen quote. But the UCC is not the Catholic Church. For everything it offers, it lacks the rituals, the thousands of years of history and culture, the globe-spanning universal language of Catholicism. Now: did Anne Rice leave the church entirely because she thought it would make a stronger political statement than joining a more liberal denomination? Or did she leave because nothing can truly replace Catholicism for her?

I've watched many friends struggle to quit smoking, and it's always seemed to me that the hardest part of quitting smoking is that nothing can really take its place. There is no alternative activity that incorporates relaxation, socializing and ritual in the same way that cigarettes do. There's nothing you can do with your mouth and hands and breath that can replicate the feeling of having a cigarette.  Similarly: there is nothing else in the world like the Catholic Church. Some would argue for the Episcopal Church as an adequate replacement, but for many who have fallen in love or been raised with Catholic tradition, it will never be more than adequate. Remember: selecting a church is a deeply personal thing, and it can be more about a feeling of presence and belonging than about a series of check marks on an "agree/do not agree" list.

This is hard time for Catholics with an independent moral compass.  In June, a representative from the Vatican argued before the U.N. that condom distribution was actually harmful to AIDS-ravaged Africa. In July, the Vatican declared the ordination of women to be delicta graviora -- a "grave sin" comparable to sexually abusing a child. And the abuse scandal -- a travesty only magnified by the church's refusal to take responsibility -- is still a great unhealed wound; just this week, a Vatican lawyer gave an interview to Fox News assuring the public that Pope Ratzinger actually did show human emotion in reaction to the abuse cases. (When that's supposed to be comforting, we're in deep trouble.)

Anne Rice says that she'll "very much miss" going to Mass and participating in Holy Communion. Her decision sounds heartbreaking. But sometimes, going cold turkey is the only option.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Reluctant Christian: Katy Perry & Anne Rice

At this particular moment in pop culture, we have two very influential women trying to distance themselves from their former Christian faith. And other than their ability to make headlines, they couldn't be more different. First we have Katy Perry, a 25-year-old pop singer who started out in the Contemporary Christian Music scene before a song about lip balm made her a superstar. Check out the video below from her CCM days. (Who knew she could sing without writhing? I thought these things were programmed to occur simultaneously.)

It's a well-known fact that Perry was raised by devout evangelical parents -- well-known, because for every topless photo shoot the singer gives the press, she offers a new anecdote about her wacky religious upbringing. I have to hand it to her, she gives good quote. In the latest Rolling Stone, she says that speaking in tongues is "as normal to me as 'pass the salt'", and says she couldn't eat Lucky Charms because "lucky" sounds like "Lucifier." But what's even more interesting than the sugary-cereal anecdote (I'm so trying that on my kid), is that she still considers herself a Christian. To wit:

God is very much still a part of my life...But the way the details are told in the Bible—that’s very fuzzy for me. And I want to throw up when I say that. But that’s the truth. 

I still believe that Jesus is the son of God… But I also believe in extraterrestrials, and that there are people who are sent from God to be messengers, and all sorts of crazy stuff… Every time I look up, I know that I’m nothing and there’s something way beyond me. I don’t think it’s as simple as heaven and hell.

In the other corner of the blogosphere we have Anne Rice, who made headlines by announcing on Facebook that she had "quit being a Christian." The vampire novelist famously returned to her Catholic roots in 1998, after a long period of atheism. Here's what she told the Los Angeles Times about her decision to walk away again:

I've come to the conclusion from my experience with organized religion that I have to leave, that I have to, in the name of Christ, step away from this. It's a matter of rejecting what I've discovered about the persecution of gays, the persecution and oppression of women and the actions of the churches on many different levels. I've also found that I can't find a basis in Scripture for a lot of the positions that churches and denominations take today, and I can't find any basis at all for an anointed, hierarchical priesthood. 

So all of this finally created a pressure in me, a kind of confusion, a toxic anger at times, and I felt I had to step aside. And that's what I've done.

What do these two stories have in common?  Neither of these ladies have abandoned the core tenet of Christianity, faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ. By that definition, they're still devout Christians. What they've done is left the church, or more specifically, a version of Christianity that they found limiting. For Perry, it was a version that didn't allow her to eat Lucky Charms or hang out with gay people; for Rice, it was a version that insisted that priests were closer to God than laypeople (or women). This makes perfect sense, really. One could argue that Christianity itself is founded on the idea of rebelling from restrictive religious laws and practices. So why is it headline-worthy news when a pop singer and a fiction writer decide that organized religion has a few problems?
In terms of Katy Perry, there's an easy answer: the press tosses its spectacles into the air with glee every time it finds a story that actually has the capacity to shock, anger or titillate the jaded reader -- and while religion and sex are only sometimes enough on their own, the intersection of the two is a reliable home run. (Adding "violence" to either topic also works. Nobody tell The Huffington Post that I'm spilling their secrets, okay?) Katy Perry is sex on a plate, and Katy Perry has an unironic Jesus tattoo. Write it up, boys.

I could make a case for Anne Rice falling into the same category -- after all, she's best known for writing steamy fantasy novels -- but I think there's something more going on here. What strikes me most about Perry and Rice's statements is the inner conflict they express. These women are not just declaring their beliefs; they're divulging an ongoing struggle with the very ideas of faith, the church and salvation. Katy Perry literally feels nauseous when she admits she doesn't believe in the absolute truth of the Bible. Anne Rice, like a woman in mourning, lists the Catholic rituals that she'll miss. Neither Rice nor Perry is in a state of resolution about their faith. Each is on a journey, working through "toxic anger" (Rice) and contemplating "the neverendingness of the universe" (Perry).

This is turf where celebrity journalism fears to tread. We like our Christian stars to be troops-supporting virgins, our atheist stars to be hard-drinking intellectuals. We can allow for agnostics, or those who fit into the new default category of "spiritual but not religious." But celebrities who actively wrestle with faith? They make us uncomfortable. Why can't they just pick a side, like everybody else? Katy Perry must be an idiot. Anne Rice must never have been a real Christian. We can accept the sincerity of a celebrity who marries and divorces six people, but not that of a celebrity who goes back and forth on God.

If we could make room for celebrities who question religion, could we also make room in the modern church for disbelief? Should our religious institutions be trying harder to embrace doubt, to accept questioning as part of the process of faith? Food for thought.

For now, it will be interesting to see what replaces religion in Rice's books and Perry's songs.  Katy Perry seems to have fled from her strict religious upbringing into a teenage cotton-candy world, where any notion of Hell is superseded by the next sugar fix. Is the much-criticized lack of depth in her songs an attempt to detach herself from her evangelizing past? Rice has referred to her entire body of work, up until her 2004 decision to "write only for the Lord," as "a movement toward Jesus Christ." Will her work from now on be a movement away from Christianity -- and if so, what will that look like?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gotta Have Faith: Lady Gaga

"I'm very religious, I was raised Catholic, I believe in Jesus, I believe in God, I'm very spiritual, I pray very much. But at the same time, there is no one religion that doesn't hate or speak against or be prejudiced against another racial group or religious group or sexual group, and for that I think religion is also bogus. So I suppose you could say I'm a quite religious woman who's very confused about religion."- Lady Gaga on Larry King Live

Image: Gaga at the Wailing Wall, from the Daily Mail

Monday, May 10, 2010

Blessed are the Teens Who Won't Kiss, For They Shall Have Really Awkward Weddings

The always-entertaining blogger Rich Juzwiak has done us all a great public service, by buying '80s Christian propaganda films at The Holy Land Experience and posting the highlights. Behold, the anti-kissing drama Pamela's Prayer:

Because the single most important lesson we can take from Jesus' teachings is not to kiss people.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How Do You Pray for a Rock Star?

If you're a reality TV or '80s metal fan, you probably know that Bret Michaels had a brain hemorrhage last week and is currently in critical condition at an undisclosed hospital. The Poison frontman/Rock of Love star/Celebrity Apprentice contestant has his people posting updates on Facebook, where tens of thousands of fans have gathered to show their support for Michaels. Mostly, they're hitting the "like" button on positive news and leaving encouraging comments about his recovery. But a lot of them are also praying out loud, on Facebook -- a relatively new occurrence in the digital world. A sampling of the prayers being posted for Bret:

May God watch over you once again as He has several times.Bret my thoughts and PRAYERS are going out to you,Please Lord help This amazing Kind Wonderful Soul of a Human Being Heal Quickly and Completly,He is a wonderful source of inspiration to many,This world Needs more People like Bret Michaels in it,Keep him Safe and Please Lord Help him Heal,God Bless you Bret Michaels,I prayer for you Everyday,Bret we all love you,God Speed to your retuning Health,Love you Bret.

I pray for you Bret, I pray that you have a full recovery and the angels protect you always. Rest and the angels will heal you. I'm not a religious person, but I owe you.... your music and you have pulled me through some tough times. So now I will pray for you in your time of need.


May the blood of Jesus cover you bret micheals and shield u from all harm. May the angels guard you and protect you, and i pray your surgeons and physicians and specialists all have supernatural gift and knowlegde to heal you. I beg our Father to stop the bleeding to seal shut the damage vessle or vessles and to protect your brain from all harm so... See More that you have a full recovery. May u awake with a powerful testimony for God. Thankyou Jesus, Thankyou our Father, I love you God. In Jesus Name Amen.

And the shortest, sweetest prayer of all:


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Edward Cullen: Vampire, or Perfect Mormon Boy?

With the premiere of the next Twilight film only SLIGHTLY MORE THAN TWO MONTHS AWAY OMG, God Spam's thoughts turn to devout Mormons with vampire fetishes. Prior to 2005, such Mormons lived in the shadows, secretly writing G-rated fan fiction on their home PCs. Then one of them got a publishing deal, and now the words "Mormon" and "vampire" appear in the same sentence together more often than not. (It's true. Google it.)

While the feminist in me is wary of all things Twilight, I'm also a person who owns well-worn copies of both No One Knows My History and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Series. So I do find the idea of Mormon vampire fiction pretty irresistible. The most obvious reference to Meyers' faith is leading-man vampire Edward Cullen's strict moral code; in the words of Mormon-raised blogger stoney321:

Edward ... doesn't believe in open mouth kissing, swearing, chewing tobacco, drinking caffeine, and enjoys time with his family. HE IS THE PERFECT MORMON BOY.

But stoney321 goes one step further, suggesting that Cullen is actually modeled (subconsciously by Meyer) on Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. To wit:

Every time SMeyers would write about Edward, I would just boggle. She was drawing from everything we Mormons were taught about Good Ol' Joe - he was handsome, shockingly so, he could draw you in with just his presence, let alone when he spoke, down to his freaking nose and hair color. HI THERE CREEPY AUTHOR WANTING TO BONE YOUR PROPHET.

In a less cheeky article in Touchstone Magazine, John Granger suggests that Twilight is both an analogy for Mormon conversion and a critique of Mormon culture:

Twilight is essentially an allegory of one gentile seeker’s coming to the fullness of Latter-day Saint faith and life. Bella, though, as Mrs. Meyer’s stand-in, is also a modern American woman who struggles with Edward’s patronizing misogyny and over-protectiveness. Her mind is the only one in the book not open to him, which serves both as an indication of her reverential reserve towards him as God or prophet and her resistance to being totally subject to him. Though devoted to and in love with him, she sounds notes throughout the series that reflect something like feminism.

I suspect Granger is giving Meyer too much credit here, but the books definitely seem rooted in traditional Mormon family values, as Samira K. Mehta discusses over at Religion Dispatches.

So if vampires and Latter-day Saints are one and the same, what does that mean for the world as we know it? Joseph Laycock, author of the definitive vampire religion book Vampires Today, thinks that it's bad news for bloodsuckers:

"I’m a little concerned about Twilight, because these are the most unrebellious vampires we’ve ever seen. They are essentially Mormon vampires... The vampire has gone from being a horrible monster to the kid next door. So we’ll see what happens. Perhaps Edward Cullen will be the last vampire."

Robert-Pattinson-as-Mormon image from stoney321.
Mormon underwear image from Altarkation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Did Jesus Invent Universal Health Care?

In Jesus, God was hip-deep in health care reform. It was a spiritual issue. It became a political issue. John’s gospel says that it was Lazarus talking about his short stint in the grave that finally decided authorities on plans to execute Jesus as a criminal. When a nation can’t get its healing powers working for all the people, of course its dysfunction will eventually become a political issue —- that is, a human power struggle. But it is not equally obvious that the people of a nation as sick as ours are first of all in a spiritual struggle. Our inability to do deeds of health care power is the manifest symptom, but unbelief is the real cause.

-- From an amazing piece of writing on the spirituality of health care by the Reverend Stephen H. Phelps. Ever see a sermon get a standing ovation? This one did.

(Image c/o FETC)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dixie Carter, the Liberal Christian Who Wasn't

In real life, Designing Women's Dixie Carter was a conservative Republican -- but for 7 years, she played one of the most outspoken liberal Christians in TV history.

Julia Sugarbaker, who managed the show's interior design business, was a devout Southern churchgoer who argued for separation of church and state, equal treatment of gay people (a cause which Carter also supported) and the ordination of women. Jezebel has some great clips of Julia speechifying on those first two topics -- but the episode that made the biggest impression on me is "How Great Thou Art" (1988), which made a passionate case for the ordination of women. I couldn't find the whole episode online, but this impressive fan site contains an episode description, historical context and guide to Biblical references. And there's one clip on YouTube: Dixie Carter singing the title hymn, below.

RIP Dixie; thank you for giving us Julia Sugarbaker. And thanks also to Linda Bloodworth-Thompson, the writer who created the character and wrote the episodes mentioned above.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Passover Kitsch

Need a housewarming gift for your next seder? Try one of these fine pieces of Judaica...

Ten Plagues Finger Puppets

Perfect for teaching the kiddies about infanticide! The clown, in case you were wondering, is supposed to be hail. Though we prefer the idea that there was an eleventh, forgotten plague... of clowns.

$14 at

Matzoh Print Dog Coat

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because tonight, the dog is dressed like a matzoh ball.

$10 from

Passover Plagues Magnet Set

"Honey, where did you put the credit card statement?

"It's on the fridge, underneath the boils!"

$10 at

Matzah Sweeper

My favorite part of this semi-useful product is that words "Matzah Sweeper" are trademarked. You know, in case you were thinking of naming your band that.
Via the Allee Willis blog.

Happy Passover from the prodigals at God Spam!