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Archive for July, 2009

My weirdly intense-yet-atheistic interest in religion can pretty much be traced to growing up in a very Christian place while not having a religious family at all. I’m sort of like that kid you know who’s never left Wisconsin but is really inexplicably into Japanese culture, except there are no swords hanging on my wall. Yet.

This puts me in a position of having several religious friends who I’m close with, but an absolute deluge of Facebook friends (otherwise known as “people I vaguely remember from high school”) who are very religious. Then they post things. Fantastic, terrible, religious things for everyone to “think about.”

These posts are about those things.

Our first is actually from a friend of a friend, who got so excited that she emailed the whole thing to me.

Cell phone vs. Bible
Ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?
What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?
What if we flipped through it several time a day?
What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?
What if we used it to receive messages from the text?
What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it?
What if we gave it to kids as gifts?
What if we used it when we traveled?
What if we used it in case of emergency?
This is something to make you go….hmm…where is my Bible?
Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don’t have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill.
Makes you stop and think – “where are my priorities?” And no dropped calls!

This particular nonsense comes from a long, proud line of nonsense which gets all upset that something secular (e.g. cell phones, iPods, cars, television, laser discs, the Beatles) are now more popular than the Bible; these things also all assume that the reader is already Christian. That makes sense, given that 77% of Americans self-identify as Christian (even though something like 15% of them attend church more than twice a year*). Presumably, the answer to all these questions is supposed to be, “My life would be better in every way!” not, “I would have the extra encumbrance that comes with carrying around a big book.”

This little missive mostly makes sense. Mostly, because I have never “received messages from the text” from my cellphone. Nope. I just receive texts like everyone else, except apparently the author of this note. I’d use my Bible when I traveled, but does it still work in Europe? Do I have to get a different BibleCard for it so I can use it over there? Can I somehow use it to contact AAA in case of an emergency? Maybe I should upgrade to a Bible with 100-mile tow. I bet that would be extra useful if you were stuck in the Devil’s Punchbowl or Hell’s Gate, and it would all be free because our buddy Jesus has apparently pre-paid the bill.

My favorite, though, is the “And no dropped calls!” tacked on at the end there. Well, no, the Bible does not drop calls. It also doesn’t carry calls in the first place, unless “calling” here is a metaphor for “praying,” in which case maybe the call is never dropped but we’re more like that guy in the old Verizon commercials wandering the globe, shouting, “Can you hear me now?” into a book. And then we give up and just call God back from our landline, because our Bible doesn’t work in our office building, and this metaphor is really overextended by now.

The point of this is, I think, Jesus should be #1 on your speed dial. That’s right, even before your mom.

Two stars because while entertaining, I am not enlightened and it did not really bring the crazy.

★★☆☆☆

*Totally made the second number up.

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Or, cooking with the Illegiterati!

This stuff was in the bread aisle when I went to Whole Foods today to pick up approximately one gallon of my favorite peanut butter:

Since I’m like a moth to the flame of anything random with a bible quote on it, I bought it, brought it home, re-read Ezekiel 4, and made a sandwich. It turns out that you couldn’t get a recipe from a much weirder biblical source. Ezekiel is one of the major prophets in the Old Testament–I like to call them the crazypants prophets–who basically used his priesthood to warn the Israelites of impending doom while they were exiled in Babylon (approx. 6th century BCE).

You’ll notice that this is pretty much the healthiest, most granola-crunching-hippie bread you can buy. It had lentils. It’s sprouted. It’s got a low glycemic index, it’s vegan, it’s organic. Already my hangnails have healed and my hair is shiny and bouncy.

Anyway, according to God’s orders, Ezekiel eats a scroll so that he can speak God’s words and goes to Tel Aviv. Then he shuts himself inside his house and binds himself with ropes. Then he takes a brick and draws a relief of the city of Jerusalem on it (how he does this while bound is unclear), then puts an iron plate between himself and the brick, and then lays siege to the brick (somehow).

Next, he lies on his left side for 390 days (to represent the number of years Israel will spend in exile), then flips over and his right side gets off easy with 40 days (how long Judah will be in exile).

(It’s turkey and fried egg. Don’t you judge me.)

Finally, we get to the part about the food. God tells him to mix wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spent in a big jar and then to cook it into cakes over a fire made with human poop, though Ezekiel asks real nice and gets to use cow poop instead. Basically, that’s a starvation diet–God just told him to essentially mix the dregs together and eat that to keep from dying.

And now you can buy it for only $5.69 a loaf!

I couldn’t find anything at all about the religious views of the company who makes this, sadly.  They have some doves on their homepage, so they seem vaguely Christian, though they seem to have bought the Ezekiel bread from someone else up in the Pacific Northwest. My theory is that some guy got really stoned, decided it would be fun to read the bible for a while, and then got some serious munchies around Ezekiel 4:9. It makes more sense than a marketing ploy, because I suspect the audience who would buy a bread because it’s from the Bible doesn’t overlap much with an audience who are into sprouted vegan bread.

The rest of Ezekiel (and the prophets in general) are pretty crazy and excellent rainy day reading. I can’t wait until they come out with more biblically inspired foods. Revelations bee-beast honey!

Four stars, since it’s pretty tasty (if you’re like me and the hippier the bread, the better) and good for vegans, but it does cost more for a loaf than an hour’s worth of minimum wage.

★★★★☆

Sorry for the less-than-stellar photos. I’m no Pioneer Woman.

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I owe this episode of Obscure Saint Blogging to Twelve Byzantine Rulers, a podcast I’ve been listening to on my runs lately and enjoying the crap out of. As a half-assed classicist, my understanding of Roman history goes something like: lots of detail, names and dates up through about 69 CE; something about Trajan and Hadrian; organized Christian persecutions; Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, Diocletian splits the empire into four; Constantine loves Jesus and moves the capital to Constantinople; lots of stuff; Rome gets sacked in 410CE and then it happens about every ten years until the last Western emperor just gives up in 476CE; more stuff, Constantinople falls in 1453CE. Nuanced, yes? Suffice it to say, there are some gaps in my knowledge.

Irene of Athens, born in 752CE, was the only woman emperor the Byzantine Empire had. She was chosen for the future emperor Leo IV, possibly in a bride show as apparently she was a total hottie, and had a son, Constantine VI.

Irene’s story is partly the story of the iconoclastic movement, which is a big hairy, complicated deal but this is a blog so I’ll keep it simple. Christianity has a really weird relationship with pictures of people they consider holy, coming mostly out of Judaism like it did, and of course the second commandment says no making pictures of God. Now, Christians generally pick and choose which parts of the Old Testament they feel like following–no other gods? Got it. No bacon cheeseburgers? Yeah, about that…

Additionally, the neighboring Arabs had just gotten religion in the form of Islam, which has similar views to Judaism about when you make pictures of God (never), and they started knocking on the door in the mid-seventh century, taking Egypt and the Levant from the Byzantines, and probably having an influence on the Christian theological discussions of the day.

As a result of these two things, the Byzantines got into a big fight over whether it was okay to make and venerate icons, which, to be fair, are always pictures of Jesus or a saint, and one asks for the saint’s intercession with God on one’s behalf, not directly to the saint. This useful Orthodox Information page likens icon veneration to how Americans treat our flag (with important differences, but if praying to an American flag ever cures anyone of leprosy, I would really like to know about it). Shades of gray. Those against the icons were the iconoclasts; those in favor were the iconodules.

Leo IV’s father, Constantine V, was a fervent iconoclast who was reported to have crapped in the baptismal font at the Hagia Sophia during his coronation. Since history’s written by the winners, and the iconoclasts didn’t win (spoiler!) I am guessing that didn’t really happen, but it’s a good story. He convened a council of bishops to declare icon veneration heretical, then forced monks and nuns to marry since monasteries were notorious locations of icon veneration. Bishops got lynched in the streets, and by the time he died he was against all relics and prayers to saints. Two hundred years after he died, he was dug up again and thrown into the sea, just to make he didn’t forget he wasn’t welcome.

Leo IV, who became emperor when Constantine V died in 775 CE, didn’t care so much about who people did with icons at first. According to legend, the iconoclast Leo found two icons in Irene’s possession, and afterwards cut off all sexual relations with her, which really must have been a huge loss because he sounds like a fun dude. Possibly in reaction to this, he slowly got more intense about the iconoclasm, but then died before long, leaving his four-year-old son Constantine VI (Byzantium suffered from a severe shortage of first names) nominal emperor.

When you’re four and the emperor, mama really rules the empire, and that’s just what Irene did. She reinstated icon veneration, much to the delight of most people, and then fucked the empire seven ways from Sunday. The Arabs attacked. The Franks attacked. Everyone hated her for one reason or another, including her kid who was nearly an adult. He tried to overthrow her twice, nearly succeeded the second time and she had him thrown in jail. Then, in an act shocking even to the Byzantine empire, she had him blinded so brutally that he died from his wounds several days later.

After this slight whoopsie, she went ahead and declared herself Emperor (not Empress), and everyone freaked the hell out. No one really liked her to begin with, and since there was no man on the throne the Pope in the west decided the Byzantine empire didn’t have a ruler and just crowned one himself, so Charlemagne became the first Holy Roman Emperor. Yeah, I didn’t know an empire that ruled for a thousand years was based on sexism, either. Shockingly this deepened the rift between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, although it was rumored that Irene accepted a marriage offer from Charlemagne in order to fix all her problems. Before that could happen, though, one final big conspiracy unseated her and she was exiled to the island of Lesbos and someone else put on the throne. She died a year later, after ruling as sole Emperor for five years.

Much to my dismay, the podcast was wrong and Irene’s not actually a saint in the Orthodox church, but lots of Western sources think she was. She did reinstate icon veneration, which the Eastern Orthodox church is really into. On the other hand, she was a terrible emperor and had her only child blinded in a particularly gruesome manner. You win some, you lose some. Since she doesn’t actually have a saint day, you can ask a picture for a favor and then do something truly awful any time you damn well please.

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This Was Your Life is a pretty standard Chick tract, but also the most popular worldwide. It’s been translated into over 100 languages, and not just the text–other translations are actually illustrated differently as well, so presumably you can relate no matter your skin color (as long as you’re a dude). A really fun game is to look at the translation page, click a language you don’t know anything about, and then figure out where it’s spoken according to the vaguely racist drawings. Enjoy!

In the comic, there is a guy. This guy dies, goes to the Pearly Gates, and gets to review his entire life. In a shocking twist, he has not lived according to the principles that Jack Chick thinks are laid out in the Bible—complete with out-of-context Bible quotes!—and he gets sent to Hell in the end.

This one might be more poorly written than most; the best panel is when he sees a “hot” woman on the street, and the best he can do is, “ummm hey.” He’s like the awkward gentleman in Wondermark. He goes to church and mocks the pastor to his face, which makes no sense. Why go if you’re only going to mock it? Nobody answer that.

The other best part is the montage of sin, especially this one:

Is a whoremonger the same as a pimp? A fishmonger sells fish. A cheesemonger sells cheese. It only follows that a whoremonger sells whores. This guy, however, seems to just be looking… somewhat lecherous. Probably just barely lecherous enough for a glare; I don’t think that look would warrant even flipping him off.

“But where,” you are asking, “is the redemption part? It’s a Chick Tract. We know there is a redemption part.”

I’m glad you asked. Because in This Was Your Life, the redemption part is fucking revolutionary: they break the fourth wall. Yeah, they went there. There’s a cartoon of you, the reader—by the way, you’re a middle aged man, surprise!—and you repent. You accept Jesus Christ and all that noise, and there’s a “good works” montage to complement the earlier “sin” montage. There’s nothing to do with whores, though Chick would like to remind you that giving to your local church is a VIRTUE, and they’re not even Catholic. On the last page you have a heart attack, I think, mentally yelling, “Take my hand, Jesus, I’m coming home!” in a clear homage to 30 Rock. Apparently the Grim Reaper is also a biblical truth, since he’s in that panel with you.

And then you get into heaven. Good job!

The main thing about this Chick tract is that the main character—the dude at the beginning—is not the one who receives the redemption. Usually that’s the case, because the sinner/Mormon/Catholic/Jew/atheist/woman realizes the error of his or her ways, repents, and is saved. We at least assume that they get into heaven, as the tracts make abundantly clear that heaven is the main point of Christianity. Of course the only way to get into Heaven is to accept Jesus and repent for that time you looked extra evil as a baby:

This Was Your Life is a pretty standard Chick tract: do vague, normal bad stuff and go to hell; do vague, bad stuff and then love Jesus, go to heaven. It’ll be a good measuring stick to measure other insanity against.

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It’s finally time for me start something that was supposed to be a main attraction when we started the blog: religious tract reviews. You know all those folded sheet of paper with a cross on the front that you kinda step over on your way to the corner mart for your morning Sin Coffee? I love those. I collect those, I will cross streets to pick them up off a dirty bus bunch, I risk long discussions with people wearing misspelled sandwich boards just to obtain one more, and I occasionally cross streets, risk discussions, and then don’t even take the pamphlet because I already have that one.

So, you know, I’ve got a couple stashed away. They’re mostly Christian, because that’s what tends to be around, though I have a few from Jews for Jesus, some Mormon stuff, and a Scientologist graph of something from back when I lived next to the Dianetics Center. I’ve also got a Qu’ran and an entire book of introduction to the Qu’ran, but people, I am not reviewing the Qu’ran for this blog. Same goes for the splinter group Buddhist books I got a few years ago from the train station in DC.

In order to start this party off with a bang, I went to the gold standard of crazy pamphlet lit: the Chick tract. Jack T. Chick was born in 1924, and is an Independent Baptist, which isn’t a specific church but basically means that regular Baptists weren’t conservative enough. He’s also a dispensational premillenialist, and in case you’re not up on your proper End Times lingo, just know that Jesus’ second coming is incredibly confusing and the subject of much debate requiring graphs, tables and illustrations, and this guy has a definite opinion on it.

Jack Chick hasn’t given an interview since 1975, and has never released a photo of himself, though there are other photos that claim to be of him. He’s like the Thomas Pynchon of the Christian Comics world. According to his Wikipedia page, he got the idea of spreading the word through comics from Communist China.

The first review in a sporadic, untimely series is going up tomorrow. Try to contain yourselves until then.

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