Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"How Many More Gay People Does God Have to Create..."

A beautifully simple argument against the Minnesota gay marriage ban by Representative Steve Simon, now a viral video hero. Sadly, it wasn't enough: the amendment passed the House earlier this week.

During his speech, Simon mentions a "member of the clergy" who testified that "sexual orientation is a gift from God." I dug around the Internet (including the Minnesota State Legislature archives) for a while, but was unable to figure out the identity of the pro-gay clergy member. There is a "Being Gay is a Gift from God" campaign going on at a Methodist church in Ohio, but I assume that whoever testified is somebody local. Perhaps it's the super-awesomely-named Obadiah Ballinger, a Minnesota pastor who's married to a fellow Minnesota pastor? (Okay, really no evidence that it's him -- I just wanted to share his adorable YouTube video, which I have now dubbed When Harry Met Gay Sally at Yale Divinity.) Whoever you are, mystery pastor -- God Spam salutes you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Evil Priests, Blasphemous Preachers & Dolph Lundgren's Crucifix Dagger

Here's a list of the Nine Most Heretical Onscreen Priests that I wrote for New York Magazine's Vulture website. To narrow it down from a long, long list of film and TV's corrupt holy men, I limited it to those who explicitly quote the Bible -- and was amazed at how few actually do.

To wit, here's a partial list of the bad bishops and perverse preachers who didn't make the list because they never say a word of Scripture onscreen:

Jonathan Pryce's evil priests in both Stigmata and The Affair of the Necklace
Pope George Carlin in Dogma
F Murray Abraham in In the Name of the Rose
Ewan McGregor in Angels and Demons
Bishop in Caddyshack
The Bishop of Aquila in Ladyhawke
The Bishop of Bath and Wells in Black Adder
Reverend Brian Darling in Dirty Sexy Money
Father Phil Intintola in The Sopranos
Bishop Anthony in V for Vendetta

Then again, maybe I wasn't watching closely enough. Did I miss any passing Bible quotes in these films? Who are your favorite un-holy men?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lady Gaga and the Fake Religious Controversy

If I'd been more on top of things, I would have set up a Religious Controversy Countdown clock the second Lady Gaga announced that her new single was called "Judas." Of course, we wouldn't have been counting down to a real religious controversy, the kind where people are thrown into crises of faith and forced to look at their own beliefs. No, the countdown clock would be ticking down the hours until some media outlet made up a story about how Lady Gaga was making religious groups angry. And by "religious groups," I mean Bill Donahue, the guy who calls himself The Catholic League.

Here's the headline from The Hollywood Reporter, posted one day after the release of Gaga's single:

Rather than waiting for an actual controversy to brew, HR took advantage of a statement Bill Donahue conveniently released to the media one week before the single dropped. Does that mean Donahue was reacting to a song he hadn't even heard yet? Yes. Yes it does.

So here's Donahue's statement, made on behalf of his official-sounding one-man crusade, The Catholic League: I find Gaga to be increasingly irrelevant. She thinks she is going to be groundbreaking. She is trying to ripoff Christian idolatry to shore up her talentless, mundane and boring performances. Another ex-Catholic whose head is turned around. This is a stunt. People have real talent, and then there is Lady Gaga. Is this the only way to jet up her performance? This isn’t random, we are getting closer to Holy Week and Easter.

He's right about one thing: the release of "Judas" right before Holy Week is no accident. It is a stunt, and it's a good one, because Lady Gaga excels at getting attention. I'm going to keep saying it: religion is the new sex. If a pop star wants to make headlines right now, talking about Jesus is the fastest route.

The thing that separates Lady Gaga, though, is that she's actually interested in religion. Her use of Christian imagery in "Judas" is very deliberate, and while it doesn't always make sense, it feeds into her message of cultural change through art -- which, of late, has included a lot of talk about reforming religion. The way she's going, it's entirely possible that Lady Gaga could spark some genuine religious controversy. But we'll never know, unless the media learns to tune out Bill Donahue's ranting and actually pay attention.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Video: The Devil Weighs In On The Westboro Baptist Church

And who better, really? From the weekend's Miley Cyrus episode of Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Will The New Yorker's Scientology Article Win Converts?

The New Yorker's recent essay on Scientology by Lawrence Wright is getting a lot of attention, and with good reason: it's well-researched, uses solid insider sources, and has some bombshell revelations. (Although if you've been following Scientology reporting for any length of time, it's the same sort of shocking stuff you already know.) But J.C. Hallman, who has also written extensively about Scientology, has an eye-opening criticism of the piece on Killing the Buddha. Specifically, he believes that Wright's journalistic objectivity gets in the way of portraying Scientology for the truly scary thing it is. Here's the kicker:

The funny thing is, "The Apostate" is exactly the kind of article that might get someone interested in Scientology. There’s just enough doubt thrown in, just enough caveats and deniability and dropped threads, and just enough intrigue to make it all seem like a grand adventure. If you’re frail and needy, and if you’re a seeker, then you’re not going to listen for what Wright is suggesting between the lines of this piece, when he appears to be writing not for readers but for a judge and jury. Instead, you’ll listen to the quiet evangelism that Scientology knows creeps through all accounts like this, and is the only reason they’re willing to sit down with The New Yorker.

Read the whole argument here. And for extra credit, read The Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard -- the biography that the Scientologists pretty successfully suppressed until some nice person decided to put the entire text online.

Friday, January 28, 2011

This Is My Body, Spiced With Cool Ranch Seasonings for You

So Doritos has decided not to air this Super Bowl ad, in which a desperate priest revives his congregation by adding trans fats and artificial coloring to Holy Communion. Here's the commercial:

I doubt that Doritos ever seriously intended to air this (it's among a number of potential ads they placed on their website and rejected, including 2 gay-themed ones), but it's still a piece of work. First off, notice the ways in which the filmmakers took care to cover their asses: they never say the priest's denomination. They never say they're serving Holy Communion, despite the recognizable aspects of the ritual. They know that most audiences will assume that the troubled church is Catholic, and that they're swapping out the wafers and wine during the service.

And part of me admires the sheer gall of that. But obviously, this commercial is incredibly problematic for anybody who respects religion. Let's look at a couple of the not-so-funny things that are being mocked here:

- Lack of church attendance. This is a major issue in many Christian churches throughout the country, especially when we're talking about mainstream Catholics and Protestants. (The mega-churches are doing just fine.) In terms of the Catholic church, the problem of shuttering churches is directly tied to a drop in faith and funds after the molestation scandal. Ha...ha?

- Holy Communion = Dullsville. See, here the thing -- Holy Communion is a ritual. It's not supposed to be exciting, it's supposed to be contemplative. The whole reason that Catholics use those wafers in the first place is to emphasize that Holy Communion is not about food, but about something greater. It's also a sacrament, based directly on Jesus's last act before he was tortured to death for humanity's sins. Go on, laugh.

The group that created this ad doesn't think they're making fun of churchgoers, but they are. I'm all for finding humor in religion, but not for mocking a two thousand year old ritual that harms no one, has given great comfort to many, and encourages deep spiritual contemplation. American culture, as a rule, does not encourage spiritual contemplation. That is part of the reason that more people don't go to church, and part of the reason why more people should. (Side note: for a contemporary look at Holy Communion, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles is an incredible meditation on the subject by an atheist-turned-Christian.)

Incidentally, here's another rejected Christianity-themed ad, this by a guy named Richard Belfry who sells shirts that say "Jesus Hates Obama." Yep, that's his whole business: selling shirts that say "Jesus Hates Obama." Why does Jesus hate Obama? His website doesn't say. In fact, Belfry has been making the press rounds, saying that of course Jesus doesn't really hate Obama. Lighten up, people! It's a joke! It's funny because Jesus obviously has the same political beliefs as you! And if Jesus was here today, he wouldn't be healing the sick and lame -- he'd be protesting Obamacare!

Sigh. I just want to be the funny blogger, guys. Why are you making this so hard?