Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

D’Souza / Singer debate at Biola

March 31, 2008

So Cal readers, if you’re into apologetics and big name debaters, mark your calendars for April 25th. Dinesh D’Souza debates Peter Singer on the topic: “God, Yes or No?”

I’m sure it will be a good event, despite the lame title. (Does God exist, yes or no? Should we believe in God, yes or no? Hey there God, could you give me a Yes or No?)

Cost is $10; registration is required.

Complete schedule


Buddhist monks strain credibility to prove relevance

December 15, 2007


Japanese monks and nuns held a fashion show – with rap music and a catwalk – at a major Tokyo temple Saturday to promote Buddhism.
[. . .]
“We wanted to show the young people that Buddhism is cool, and temples are not a place just for funerals,” said Koji Matsubara, a chief monk at Tsukiji.

I walk away from something like this thinking not that Buddhism is cool, but that it’s hokey, and that any religion that has to hitch its star to the popularity of hip-hop culture looks suspiciously bankrupt of native appeal.

This reminds me of something the Subcomandante Marcos wrote for our high school newspaper, though I don’t recall if it was ever printed. On some humanitarian-type student group, the name of which escapes me, he wrote a fictitious article describing the challenge it had to demonstrate its worth as a group. The group’s student leader replied, “We’re not worthless . . . we just aren’t!” I’m thinking the group was called “Interact” but can’t remember for sure.

ECT on the Blessed Virgin Mary

November 27, 2007

First Things is publishing a series of “preliminary papers” by members of the ecumenical project Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). They are “currently engaged in studying what can be said together about the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The participants include some well known theologians from both sides: Edward T. Oakes, J.I. Packer, T.M. Moore, Matthew Levering, and Cornelius Plantinga. (The link above is to Oakes’s paper; here is Packer’s.)

The series should be worth the reading time. I found the paper by Oakes (on the Immaculate Conception) very interesting, with a lot of fascinating stuff from Pope Pius IX, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Essentially, he claims that if Mary was not immaculately conceived, her free consent at the Annunciation came (in however small part) from her own sinful nature, and not entirely from grace, thus making salvation history dependent upon a human action—“the very apogee of Pelagianism.”

Packer’s paper, however, was a real let-down. He sets Mary forth as a model of obedience, but spends nearly half the paper clearing his throat, listing his assumptions and letting us know he will not bother to defend them. The rest is, as he describes it, a “plain Bible study” of Luke (and John). More about Luke and his authorial methods than about Mary, I thought. And it doesn’t consider any of the soteriological questions that Oakes was concerned with. Boo. It is like he and Oakes are talking next to each other, but not to each other. Authorial freedom is great, but so is dialogue and discursive continuity.

Not surprisingly, Packer does not believe in any of the Catholic teachings on Mary. He almost seems to disagree on some level even with the Anglican Church’s handling of Mary: he says he has “been drilled” on the Magnificat, and that “England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer teaches” him to celebrate Mary’s feast days—i.e., were it not for the BCP, it would not have occurred to Packer to give her that much liturgical attention.

Wal-Mart’s pushing the Osteen poison

November 12, 2007

After spending all weekend grappling with revising an essay, I figured a good balancing measure would be a 10 p.m. Sunday night trip to Wal-Mart. I was not disappointed. A brotha struck up a conversation with me in the DVD section over some action movie I hadn’t seen, and berated me for not having seen “300.” And the mullets never rest at Wal-Mart, be it Sunday night or any other time.

I saw two products that put the fear of God into me anew: One was a 2-CD set called “Thomas Kinkade: Handel’s Messiah.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Oprah puts her stamp of approval on a book, or Kinkade on a CD, and people go out and start reading and listening.
kinkade handel’s messiah
Reading and listening are good things, especially when the material is first-rate, as it is in the Handel case. And the Kinkadians might get their taste expanded in a healthy way. I guess I hate to see Handel presented as if he had to be endorsed by TK in order to have credibility.

Wal-Mart is also pushing Joel Osteen’s new book in a big way: Become a Better You. (I saw two giant sales displays in the store: one was for Osteen, the other was for the movie “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.”) I flipped through Osteen’s book, and quickly came to realize that it’s a collection of reworked sermons from the past couple of years. The chapter that gave it away was the one on your “bloodline.” One of my favorite Osteen moments was when he gave that sermon: he looked out at his stadium full of 10,000+ people, of whom many were normal and even sub-normal in various respects. He said to them, “I don’t believe I’m looking at ordinary people . . . I’m looking at thoroughbreds.”

To quote Christopher Hitchens from his debate last month with Dinesh D’Souza, “gag me with a spoon.” But Joel knows what the people come to hear, and he gives it to them. He seems to think that one can “choose” whether to be sick or healthy. In his new book, he talks of a woman whose debilitating disease disappeared. This was not a miracle, but a result of her choosing to “live under the blessing” and not “under the curse.” (quoted from memory). Name it and claim it! I think we should be thankful that the world does not work that way.

My half-baked theory about praise songs

October 6, 2007

I’m listening to the local praise-song station, and positively cringing at every single song. Yet I agree with everything in every lyric. It’s not that I’m embarrassed to hear such messages. Something is up.

It occurred to me that the very directness of the message may play a big role in my extreme distaste for praise songs. Augustine said in De Doctrina Christiana that things are more pleasing if they are presented obscurely, and understood through effort, than if they are stated openly. I’ve been listening to this praise station for about 30 minutes now, and haven’t heard a single lyric more subtle than a sledge hammer to the head (repeatedly, for 4 minutes at a time).

But I call this theory “half-baked” because there are a lot of undeniably great songs with openly-stated lyrics. Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”—I shudder to think it—might be the 18th-century equivalent of the praise song: about 4 minutes long, with the same words repeated over, and over, and over. But what is it that makes Handel sublime and these pious folks on the radio so intolerable? I suspect that the difference is the quality of the music. If the music is good enough, you can sing anything you want to it, and it will sound great. If you don’t think so, head over to Rich’s blog and watch the Pearl Jam “misheard lyrics” video. What is that guy singing? Who knows. Do we care? Nope, because the music is good.

Still, I think there is something—a lot—to be said for indirect communication in lyrics. Jesus spoke in parables, after all. If it was good enough for him . . .

Who says all Protestants ignore the Old Testament?

August 23, 2007

It’s not uncommon in my experience to find Protestants criticized for focusing more or less exclusively on the New Testament. But this article, entitled “Of Church and Steak,” (get it? we live in a theocracy headed by the ultra-pious George W. Bush, so it’s no wonder we can’t keep these things separate!), shows a “new breed” (ahem) of evangelical Christian: the kosher beef farmer. The North Dakota farmer profiled is named Scott Lively, and it’s all OT, all the time with him.

Mr. Lively adheres to a diet he believes Jesus followed. Like Mr. Wiesenfeld, he says the Bible prescribes that he use organic methods to respect the earth, treat his workers decently and treat the cattle that enter his slaughterhouse as humanely as possible.

“We learn everything from the Old Testament,” Mr. Lively said, “from keeping kosher to responsible capitalism.”

I reckon he means, “we learn everything about the cattle biz from the Old Testament,” since if he learned everything from it, he’d be Jewish instead of Christian. Even this, though, seems pushing it. This was the first I heard of capitalism in the ancient world, as well. Aside from loaves and fishes, and some wine, do we have any other record of Jesus’ diet? I can’t think of anything else, and beef is sounding kind of out of place, to my mind. Maybe I should check out The Maker’s Diet. (Or not.) Or listen a Joel Osteen sermon like “Living at your ideal weight.” (No longer available online, but it was last year. Who says that all Protestants pay attention to the Old OR New Testament?)

And if anybody has any idea where Lively gets the Biblical “prescription” to use organic methods, do tell!

Where the broom comes from: vocabulary from 16th-century English

August 11, 2007

Do you know what a knop is? How about a snoffet ? A habergeon ? The kall of a calf? The lap of the ear? What is a besom ?

If you answered No, you would have a hard time reading the Bible in English—the Geneva Bible of 1562, anyway. It uses all these words in Exodus 25 ff. where God gives instructions for the Tabernacle, its accoutrements, and the priestly garments.

I had no idea what any of these were, so I looked them up.
* knop = a knob
* snoffet = something you snuff out a candle with or in
* habergeon = “A sleeveless coat or jacket of mail or scale armour, originally smaller and lighter than a HAUBERK, but sometimes app. the same as that.” (OED) —Exodus 28:32 says the the priestly garment should have a hole for the head which is designed “as the coller of an habergeon that it rent not.”)
* kall = modern-day “caul” . . . “The fatty membrane investing the intestines; the epiploön or omentum” (OED)
* lap = lobe

And a besom is a bundle of twigs bound around a handle and used as a sweeping implement. We call these things “brooms” but broom was just one of many plants used to make besoms.

But today, through the constant evolution of language and its usage, we use this specific word “broom” for the general concept of “sweeping implement.” Pehaps people got tired of saying “where’s the broom besom?” and started abbreviating. The reverse logic applies to the shortening of “motor car” to just “car”—in this case, the general term is preferred over the specific type. Unless you’re really hoity-toity.

Who knows what we’ll call brooms in the year 2462?

Roland S. Martin, do your homework

July 19, 2007

I was blissfully unaware of this man’s existence until this morning, when I read on a couple of different blogs about his venemous and ludicrous attack on Benedict XVI, prompted by the statement on the Church released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last week.

For an excellent summary, see the Newsbusters piece. For the piece I’m talking about now, go here.

My point here is that anyone who has studied the Catechism, as Martin claims he did, or who has paid any attention to the CDF document, as Martin may be presumed to have done, since he’s belittling it, would not have made the obvious blunders that Roland Martin makes in his CNN piece.


The Tailgate Exegete

July 4, 2007

Tailgate Exegesis is an emerging academic discipline, though its study is somewhat geographically constrained. Scholars from the east coast are not likely to find as many specimens for study in their own area, as are the residents of any of the states that border Mexico. In fact, the closer you get to Mexico, in geography or in terms of the connections with Mexico possessed by the residents of a given city, the more likely you are to find opportunities for Tailgate Exegesis. The following tailgate, with its identifying label of “Guanajuato, Mex.”, reveals just such a Mexican Connection:

Custom conundrum

Now let’s get exegetical.


Museological assumption: The Cloisters

June 12, 2007

One of the places I’m considering seeing in New York is the Cloisters Museum, which houses medieval European art in buildings taken from five different French monasteries, cobbled together and joined by cloisters. Their web site comments on these covered, colonnaded walkways:

Just as cloisters provided sheltered access from one building to another within a monastery, here they act as passageways from gallery to gallery. They provide as inviting a place for rest, contemplation, and conversation as they did for their original monastic population.

Inviting for conversation amongst the “original monastic population”, that is, if their monastic order didn’t observe a vow of silence . . . but since they know which monasteries these buildings came from, I’m guessing that they know whether this was the case or not.