Category Archives: Doomsday

Unholy Land

Living in the suburbs as I do, I would have difficulty in deciding which Saturday morning sound is worse: the leaf-blower or the chainsaw. Both make me want to scream – which I may have done once. Not unlike the sound of adults talking on Charlie Brown cartoons, when I hear Benyamin (Benjamin) Netanyahu speak, I hear a leaf-blower. Recently Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been spouting his typical doomsday rhetoric over the diplomatic agreement to place limits on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Limits on nuclear weapons – of course that’s a bad thing.

Al Jazeera America online led with this paragraph on July 14, 2015. “Iran and six world powers announced a historic deal Tuesday morning that places limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions, a development that represents the most significant diplomatic milestone in a dispute that has lasted for more than a decade and could significantly alter geopolitics in the Middle East.” This is what Netanyahu has been complaining about, from which he could be comforted if the United States just sent Israel more money.

Al Jazeera article
Netanyahu response

The pending agreement to limit the development of nuclear weapons with Iran is just one story from a region that is violent and complex and which I wish I could ignore.  (I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.)  It was with great reluctance, and in fact dread, I decided to start reading about Palestine and Jerusalem, the entire Armstrong-Jerusalemregion being too overwhelming. Further, I admit that my research is never exhaustive; I try to identify a few good sources that I believe are reliable and work with them. I trust anything by Karen Armstrong as well-researched and well-written, so I have been reading Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths (Ballantine Books NY 1996, new preface 2005). With all due respect to Armstrong, you can summarize thousands of years of Jerusalem’s history by saying: nobody gets along for long, and somebody’s gonna get killed.

I have supplemented the Armstrong reading with a publication by the Episcopal Church, which in my view is gloriously liberal, inclusive, and socially aware. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship produced, Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace, an annual report-type 50-page book (second edition, August 2011). Accidentally, I also listened to two Philip Roth audio books. His characters provided insight into archetypes with regular interaction between Zionists and secular Jews (not mutually exclusive), weaving in an ongoing conversation about Jerusalem as the Homeland.

My research about Israel and Palestine has included the US role, which forces an awareness of the planeloads of money we lavish on that small country. In 2007, US foreign aid to Israel was $3 billion in direct assistance, which was two percent of their entire budget. Later in 2007, the Bush administration promised to increase the aid to $6 billion over the next 10 years (Steadfast Hope, p.33). Let’s say it’s five billion by now, and for a country of eight million people. In 2015 the US will spend only a little over double that, $13.13 million, on food and agriculture for a US population of 317 million. The math gives me a headache but no matter what the calculations, that’s too much money for too few people, with much of it spent on the military. That is not how I want my tax dollars spent.

US Budget Basics

Neither do I want my tax dollars spent on aggression against the Palestinians while Israel breaks international law. “US aid has been used to support Israel’s military occupation of Palestine, to build illegal colonies and segregated highways on Palestinian lands, to construct what Palestinians call the apartheid wall…” (Steadfast Hope p.33). The Israelis regularly use US made and paid Caterpillars to bulldoze Palestinian homes, businesses, groves of olive trees and more. Between 2000 and 2005, nearly 465,000 Palestinian olive trees were uprooted. That is not to say that olive trees are more important than people, it is to illustrate that however Israel tries to justify aggression, it will never be able to prove olive trees fired the first shot. Palestinian farmers are denied access to their own fields and residents are denied access to hospitals. Since 1972 the US has singularly vetoed 43 Security Council resolutions that were responding to Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian people.

When I was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, I was never allowed to cite Wikipedia as a legitimate academic source. Nonetheless, I found a terrific timeline for the history of Jerusalem and the link follows. Let me tell you why this matters: because in the history of Jerusalem, lots of different folks have called Jerusalem theirs. The Jews are only one group. I have condensed the Wiki timeline below.

Wikipedia’s Jerusalem timeline
Ancient period – starts 4500 BCE with Canaanites
House of David rules after military conquest from 1010 BCE to 740 BCE
Classical Antiquity – 332 BCE “Hellenistic Kingdoms” & Romans
Life of Jesus and development of early Christianity
Late Antiquity – 324 CE Byzantine period
Middle Ages – 636 CE
1099 The Crusaders capture Jerusalem and slaughter most Muslims and Jews
Early Modern – 1516 Ottoman period
Modern Era – 1821 Ottoman, British, Israeli
1948 Arab-Israeli War
1967 The Six-day War

The current state of unquestioning, and in my view irrational and excessive support of Israel, takes us to Evangelical Christians in the US. Christianity is a majority religion in the US, but it is declining. Evangelicals enjoy a large percent of the Christian majority, but among Christians, they do not comprise a majority. (See the Pew study, the link follows.) What Evangelicals are good at is making noise and getting news coverage, and only seeming to be a majority. They embrace unquestioning support of Jewish rule of Israel. This political position has nothing to do with the life and ministry of Jesus, and in itself is un-Christian.

Pew’s Religious Landscape study

The irony of Evangelical support of Israel is that it is rooted in anti-Semitic, apocalyptic mythology. The political advocacy for a Jewish state in Israel pertains to end-time prophecies in which a Jewish state in Israel precedes the ‘second coming’ of Jesus, after which all the Jews are annihilated. Simply put, it is just one manifestation of cheering for the end of the world.

The excessive financial and unquestioning political support of Israel is neither Christian, patriotic, nor humanitarian. It is expensive and unjust. Neither is sole ownership of Jerusalem theologically valid for any of the three Abrahamic religions. In the Armstrong book she described Christianity as “the religion of love” and Islam as “the faith of unity and integration” (Kindle location 4762). Of Judaism, Armstrong said, “Crucial to the cult of Jerusalem from the very first was the importance of practical charity and social justice,” (location 289).

“All the great religions insist that the true spirituality is practical compassion,” (location 286). Additionally for Judaism, as it developed from a small sect to a more established religion it evolved: “As the religion of Yahweh changed during the Axial Age, justice and compassion became essential virtues, and without them, it was said, devotion to sacred space was worthless,” (location 1478).

Connecting the sacred to geography is not uncommon. It is paradoxical that human beings love the metaphysical aspect of religion but keep trying to connect it to the physical. “Historians of religion believe that it is one of the earliest manifestations of faith in all cultures. People have developed what has been called sacred geography that has nothing to do with a scientific map of the world, but which charts their interior life,” (location 185-6). Experientially, that makes sense for individuals; however, it is not politically valid.

It is inconceivable to me that any particular piece of land was promised to any specific tribe or religious group. And even if you think so, how in the world can you imagine that the God of a compassionate religion would approve of killing people to dominate property? The very acts of killing and aggression would make that land unholy. These conflicts have nothing to do with any god, only with politics and greed. It is all very human and entirely unholy. – J.B. Good

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Left Behind and Loving It

This column is my version of beach-read fantasy/fiction because the other day I was cut-off in traffic by a car with one of those Jesus-fish bumper stickers and I started thinking about what life would be like if there really was a rapture.  I imagined a world without those annoying, judgmental, Evangelical Christians.  I’m not quite as vindictive as they are because I’m not wishing they would be damned, like they wish on us.  For those who believe in a rapture of the righteous just before the end of the world, I do wish for them that they go to the happy place of their dreams.  For me, personally, it would mean much smaller family reunions with an open bar.

And then there could be life without Chick-fil-A.  I worked a banquet for those wing-nuts once.  The tips were puny and their idea of rewarding our exemplary service was to make a great fuss about providing a plastic travel mug with coupons.  (I don’t eat chicken.  I do use money.)  The “marketing director” gave a testimonial about how generous he was in a “tithe” he gave to his church.  His talk had absolutely nothing to do with chicken or marketing.  It was just a rambling self-aggrandizing tale that also said nothing about God and everything about the culture of the company.  Chick-fil-A closes on Sundays and has a reputation for considering marital status and religious beliefs in hiring (see link for 2011 story below).  It would be lovely if this entire company would be raptured.

http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/01/31/controversial-chicken-chick-fil-a-gay-rights-rumble/

I would also be thrilled if all televangelists would be raptured.  That would save money for the poor slobs that keep making donations.  Those people would be better off buying lottery tickets.  Without televangelists there would be additional cable channels for more “Law and Order” reruns – because we can never have too many of those.  Come to think of it, the odds of winning the lottery would be better because I don’t believe for a minute that those rapturees never bought lottery tickets.

Some of the rapture wannabes have a Web site to get all their documents in order and archived before the rapture with messages to be sent in their absence to those who will be, you know, left behind.  It’s only $14.95 a month.  (I’m not posting the link because I think they are serious and they creeped me out.)

There are two statistically smaller categories that I look forward to being raptured: KKK members and Pentecostal snake handlers.  I would give a lot to see the face of Klan folks when they get raptured and find black folks next to them.  As to those batshit crazy snake handlers – I know they are just getting freaky with each other, but I really don’t like snakes and I hope they take some along with them.  (I wrote about them on my Web site on 7/10/2012 at  http://allthingsreligiousonline.com/.)

If you are rusty on your Evangelical Christian theology I’ve blogged about the rapture before in two different columns with outside sources if you want to know more.  The links follow.

“Read before rapture”: https://allthingsreligious.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/read-before-rapture/

“The Sky is Falling”: https://allthingsreligious.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-sky-is-falling/

In preparing for this blog, I downloaded a free sample from the Left Behind series on my Kindle.  It is mean-spirited, juvenile pulp fiction and one giant “I’m right and you’re wrong” escapade.  Hey wait, if there’s a rapture, no more Left Behind books, movies, or Web sites.  Yipee.  Left behind and loving it.

Last week cable TV ran Bill Maher’s movie, “Religulous,” a must buy movie.  Of course, I’ve watched it several times before, but he makes me laugh every time.  What I envy is how comfortable he is asking very obvious questions regarding the ridiculous nature of many religious beliefs and practices, and he does not squirm one bit.  That is not at all easy for me.  I was aggressively force-fed fundamental Christianity my entire youth and it’s taken many more years to shake it off.  Every holiday I return to that culture and have to work to re-center myself as I return home.

But even when I am safely home, I admit I don’t really like going to the basement at night.  A Left Behind kind of religion is the ultimate boogeyman in the basement.  Confronting this kind of thinking is unsettling, but not because God is speaking to me.  It is unsettling because of how many people attempt to manipulate others with fear of the unknown – which they don’t really know either.  So, thanks Bill, for being fearless and making me laugh.  I don’t want a religion that needs a Boogeyman or a Rapture.  Life is hard enough, thank you very much.  Left behind or not. –J.B.

The Sky is Falling

Remember Henny Penny?  She was scratching around doing chicken things when an acorn fell on her head.  She assumed that the sky was falling and had to go tell the boss.  Don’t you know people like that?  In Henny Penny’s case, she was joined by Goosey Loosey, et. al. and went running off to see the king until Foxy Loxy tricked them into his cave and he and his family had a five-course  poultry dinner.

The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales: The Western fairy tale tradition from medieval to modern (Edited by Jack Zipes) distinguishes between folk tales (like “Henny Penny”) and fairy tales which include villains, protagonists, heroes and magic.  An important point made by another grown-up author, Sheldon Cashdan (The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives), is that when stories were in the oral folklore tradition, they weren’t intended for children.

Folk tales still exist and are retold in picture books in the children’s section of the library, where I found and re-read Henny Penny (no author of record, just illustrator credits, Paul Galdone’s cover pictured here).  Fairy tales are more complex than folk tales and some have evolved to become children’s stories; Cashdan said, “…fairy tales are more than suspense-filled adventures that excite the imagination…rescues are serious dramas that reflect events taking place in the child’s inner world,” (p.10).

Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) repeatedly equates people of faith to children believing in the Tooth Fairy.  This demonstrates a lack of understanding on his part of the role of fairy tales in our psyche and our society.  However, when it comes to tales of fantasy and horror, the book of Revelation comes to mind.  That is the last book in the Christian Bible.  Many, including me, think it would have been better left out.  (And yes, I have read it.)  Martin Luther initially wanted to throw the book out of the Bible but instead found a way to use the imagery against the Roman Catholic Church (Pagels p.2).

Elaine Pagels is a Princeton scholar known for The Gnostic Gospels and has just published Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.  She describes it as the most controversial book in the Bible.  Here are two links about her and her book from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly and The New Yorker, respectively.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/february-24-2012/elaine-pagels-on-the-book-of-revelation/10372/

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/03/05/120305crbo_books_gopnik?currentPage=all

Karen Armstrong calls “Revelation”  “a toxic book,” (Chapter 3, Kindle location 680, The Bible: A Biography).  Christopher Hitchens (god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, p.97) describes “Revelation” as “deranged fantasies.”  He sums up the contemporary fiction loosely based on “Revelation” ideology: “…the best-selling pulp-fiction Left Behind series, which ostensibly ‘authored’ by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, was apparently generated by the old expedient of letting two orangutans loose on a word processor…”  I think he does orangutans an injustice.

Thanks to Pagels for context.  Originally, “Revelation” was a metaphor for the Roman Empire conquering Judea, written by a Jewish expatriate.  “Revelation” was validated about 300 years later by a ‘wily and powerful bishop’ (Athanasius) who insisted on the inclusion of “Revelation” in the Bible because he could “take this imagery of the war of good against evil and turn it against his religious enemies,” (Pagels on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly 2/24/2012).

The themes of “Revelation” appeal to the petty and the vengeful.  They are Henny Penny running to the king, and not only escaping Foxy Loxy, but fantasizing about Foxy and his hungry family thrown in a pit of fire.  “Revelation” is much worse than a fairy tale, it is a nightmare unrelated to the compassion of Jesus in earlier books of the Christian Bible.

Interpreting “Revelation” as prophecy is a misreading, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for prophecy for people of faith.  The trouble is discerning when the sky is actually falling and when someone is overreacting to an acorn on the head.  I have no way to prove this (right now), but I have an intuition that many of the people who subscribe to “Revelation” as predictions of the future are dismissive of prophecies about global climate change.  Climate change, as a result of human impact on the environment, is not punishment from God but the very natural consequences of human actions.

Every generation has had Doomsday Prophets, and yet, here we are.  To ignore all warnings seems irresponsible, to take them all to heart is not only foolish, it would make it difficult to function in everyday life.  I suggest considering whether the supposed prophet benefits from the prophecy.  That is, will donations increase or membership expand if the prophecy succeeds in provoking fear?  (See my column on “Family Radio” predicting the “Rapture” for May 2011, “Read Before Rapture,” posted 5/19/2011.)

Contrast the lucrative “Left Behind” book series with the Kogi tribe in South America.  The Kogi call themselves the “Elder Brothers” and we are the “Younger Brothers.”  They prefer to avoid us, however, they have felt compelled to allow contact only to warn of the consequences of our own actions.  Take 53 minutes out of your sound-bite dominant day to watch a grainy video on Google from an old BBC story.  Watch and learn about the sophistication of this pre-Columbian tribe that knows how to live in harmony with nature and each other, and knows a lot about prophecy.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-521537373096312859

The sky isn’t falling, we are destroying it ourselves with gas-guzzling SUVs.  Telling the king won’t help because the Royalty in the U.S. Congress are well-insured millionaires who benefit from maintaining an underclass.  None of these things are God’s will.  That rumble you hear is not the sky falling – it is our foundation crumbling.  It is not quick and dramatic, it is slow and malevolent.  And at the end of the day, fantasizing about the destruction of the godless, does not serve God any more than abusing our environment.  – J.B.

Read Before Rapture

This is going to have to be a quick blog since I only have another day before the rapture.  There is too much being said about the latest Doomsday Theology fad, but I am compelled to add a few thoughts that are not prominent in the stories I’ve read.  I will not, however, summarize the rapture fantasy.  You’ll have to Google that yourself, or read CNN or MSNBC.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43082513/ns/us_news-life/

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/18/tick-tock-goes-the-doomsday-clock/

I have been doing research on how the secular press covers religion for my University of Pennsylvania master’s work.  Not surprisingly there isn’t much news about religion and it’s not usually covered well.  Since I started my studies at Penn in 2005, however, religion coverage has increased and CNN’s “belief.blog” is one example.  Still, both reporters and media consumers make assumptions about religion and the coverage of religion.  If I can do one thing with this blog, it is identify what is really religion, what is cultural, and what is just sensationalism.

When every single generation has had predictors of the world’s end, what is newsworthy about this latest claim?  Yesterday (5/18/2011) doomsday predictions were on CNN’s home page, but bumped to the third story on their “belief.bog” by 10:00 p.m.  This morning the story was back on the home page and the blog had over 5,000 comments.  The MSNBC story moved from a liner with a link on the home page to three pages into their Web site.  There have been billboards from the Doomsdayers and responses from the atheists.  I did check out “Post Rapture Looting” on Facebook, but it has fewer “friends” than this blog.

“This is how religion hurts people, one of the many ways religion hurts people,” American Atheists President David Silverman told CNN Oakland, California, affiliate KGO.  Now I am a fan of atheists because they have given religion some thought and taken a position.  I would disagree with Silverman about his assumption.  To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s mother, crazy is as crazy does.  The view of the “Family Radio” people is not embraced by the vast majority of Christians just like the vast majority of Muslims didn’t agree with Osama bin Laden.  In fact, I would say those rapture predictors are to Christianity what “Girls Gone Wild” is to a college education.  Probably the most appealing aspect of this story for the press and those Facebook links going viral, is hoping we get to laugh at them being wrong on May 21st.  Admit it – you do enjoy the chance to say ‘I told you so.’

The Oakland, California based “Family Radio” has been leading the cry on this one.  I do admire anyone willing to be viewed as a fool while honoring their convictions.  It is so sad that these convictions pertain to picturing the rest of us going to hell.  To understand this kind of misguided theology means considering the psychology of religion.  Some people just need a religion with a deadline.  And some people can’t imagine a religion without fear.  Perhaps this is what John Lennon was singing about.  Do not confuse the need of these individuals for drama and attention with divine inspiration.  These people need a scary primitive religion with a judgmental, angry God.  That doesn’t make them inspired.  Their god perception is just a reflection of what they are capable of imagining.

Still, just in case there is a rapture, I’m sure many of you will join me in hoping the rapturees provide for their pets during their eternal absence.  (Yes, I am expecting to be left behind with all the interesting people.)  I’m joining the rest of you in enjoying the Web site of New Hampshire atheist Bart Centre who is offering post-rapture pet care for those best friends that are left behind – of course for a fee.

http://eternal-earthbound-pets.com/

I really do hope he makes some good money on this one. But Bart, you better donate that money to a local shelter or we will all know why you’ve been left behind.

See you on the 21st! –J.B.