Monday, November 30, 2009

“Bibi Versus The Iceman”


Jewish date:  13 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Wayyishlaḥ).

Today’s holidays:  Saint Day of Andrew (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Health Care is a Right, Not a Privilege - The Petition Site”.

I am still working on my review of The Matrix Trilogy and hope to have it done sometime this week.  It is taking so long because of the prodigiously large number of things wrong with this series.  I still have to write up a section on free will, determinism, choice, and purpose.

In the meantime I give you The Dry Bones cartoon “Bibi Versus The Iceman”, which deals with how people react to Israel giving concessions in the “peace process”:  by demanding more Israeli concessions, which does not help Israel at all, as if making peace were a one-sided process.



Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bibi, creationism, and Basement Cat


Jewish date:  12 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Wayyishlaḥ).

Today’s holiday:  First Sunday of Advent (Roman Catholicism).

NOTE:  My apologies to anyone getting an earlier version of this post.  Sometimes Blogger does really stupid things.

Topic 1:  “Bibi's bad week”.  This article deals with what the Obama administration wants Israel to do for the sake of the “peace process”, such as freeze Israeli building in Judea and Samaria and release terrorists, how Binyamin Nethanyahu is starting to give in to such ill-conceived demands, and why all this is a bad idea.  That Israel should give concessions is based on the assumption that concessions from Israel brings the Israeli-Arab War closer to an end.  It does not.  Ever since at least Jimmy Carter, American presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have pressured Israel to make more and more concessions to the Arabs in the hopes of peace, most of the Israeli prime ministers have made concessions, and still the war is no closer to ending.  They say that madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results; if so, the strategy of Israeli concessions is madness.  My suggestion:  United States presidents should get out of the “peace process”.  If over 30 years of sticking their noses into Israel’s business has produced only misery, hatred, destruction, and death, then they should be rethinking their actions and not relying on assumptions which are wrong.  It makes no sense to ignore basic facts about this war, such as it is an Islamic jihad against Judaism and that land is an excuse for the war, not a reason.  And Israel should refuse to be dealt with as a second-class country.  Instead of putting its own sovereignty on the negotiating table, it should be making demands and refusing to budge on anything until they are met.  From the United States, they should demand and receive the release of Jonathan Pollard and moving the American embassy to Jerusalem.  Israel should also seize complete control of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and impose peace rather than waste time on negotiating with the Arabs.

Topic 2:  “Evangelicals, creation, and scripture:  an overview” by Mark Noll.  This paper deals with how American evangelical Christianity developed its current mode of Biblical literalism and creationism.  Literalism apparently worked well for Protestant Christianity in a democratic environment, especially anti-traditional variants; one does not need to be a great scholar to understand a literal interpretation.  There is a lot more in there, but I do not have the time at the moment to summarize it all.

Topic 3:  More religious humor:  “basement cat”:
funny pictures of cats with captions
Here we have not only the “black cat = evil” trope, but also the notion that Hell is hot.  I am not sure where that notion comes from either, so if anyone knows, please tell me.  Thanks in advance.



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Friday, November 27, 2009

Anti-Semitism in “peace plans”


Jewish date:  10 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Wayyeṣe’).

Today’s holidays:  Friday of the Thirty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast of Harry Smith (Thelema), Eidul-Adha (Islam).

Worthy cause of the day:  “End Water Pollution from Mountaintop Removal Mining - The Petition Site”.

Today’s topic:  “No Jews Allowed”.  This The Dry Bones cartoon deals with a fundamental asymmetry in many “peace plans” meant to handle the Israeli-Arab War:  Jews are supposed to completely evacuate “Arab” areas, while Arabs are supposed to be able to live everywhere in Israel.  This is anti-Semitic, no matter how anyone tries to sugar-coat it.  And, no, this is not specific to Barack Obama.  This is commonly proposed, especially by Arabs and Muslims.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

V is for “vaccine” and “vitamin”


Jewish date:  9 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Wayyeṣe’).

Today’s holidays:  Thursday of the Thirty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Day of the Covenant (Bahá’í Faith), Yaum-Arafah (Islam).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Take Action: Tell President Obama to Save Rainforests and Stop Climate Change”.

Topic 1:  V (new series), episode 4:  “It’s Only The Beginning”.  This is more of a moral/ethical episode than a theological one.

A) There is a focus on the Vs performing medical miracles—apparently a reason a lot of people like the Vs—with the announcement of plans for them to distribute a new “vitamin shot” to boost the human immune system.  This should raise a question to anyone in the sciences:  is anyone doing proper studies to make sure V medicine actually works on humans better than human medicine or placebos?  Yes, there are “miracles”, but the unexpected sometimes happens in medicine.  For all we know, some of the “miracle cures” of the Vs are spontaneous remissions which the Vs take credit for.  Furthermore, is there any followup being done to track complications and side effects?  So far none of the characters seems to have thought about this issue, though they actually examine the “vitamin shots” and find out they contain——vitamins.  Seemingly ordinary influenza vaccine, however, may have been contaminated, and so the resistance takes a vial and destroys the rest.  It is not revealed why the Vs are tampering with influenza vaccines, but tampering with medicine certainly violates medical ethics.  (General rule in medical ethics:  never do anything to anyone without their informed consent.  But since the Vs are definitely doing naughty things in secret, this violation should be no surprise.)  Medicine is also used to try to control the reporter Chad Decker.  While reporting on V medical technology, he is scanned by a V medical scanner.  The Vs tell him that he will have a brain aneurysm in six months which human technology cannot detect.  There is a waiting list for V medical treatment, so there is an implication that he will have to do something for the Vs to save his life.

B) Questions of morality in in war are showing up, as they should.  Father Jack is asked if he is a priest or a soldier while he gives some emergency medical aid.  He has been both at the same time—he was an army chaplain and did two tours in Iraq.  Christianity has for the most part outgrown its militant past, and  it is a past that many consider a mistake.  Father Jack clearly feels awkward, even if his behavior is justified.  His problems are nothing compared to those of the Fifth Column, the Vs’ internal resistance.  One of the Fifth Column killed a V sleeper agent.  In order to spare the guilty party from Anna’s wrath, another of the Fifth Columnists took credit.  To make things really conflicted, Anna ordered the true guilty party, a medical officer, to inflict the punishment on the one who took credit:  skinning.  (Anna is not a nice humanoid lizard creature.)  The V who took credit justified himself to the true guilty party on the grounds of who was expendable and who was not and demanded that the true guilty party do as Anna ordered him.  He complied, but he was clearly forcing himself to do it.

C) Anna seems to have a messiah or goddess complex.  She does not tolerate “disharmony” among the V.  (See the above bit about skinning a rebel.)  Also, at the end of the episode, she sits naked(!) on a lit platform and apparently broadcasts good feelings which include her claiming to be wonderful (“bliss”).

This wraps up the series until March.  Things are not quite as bad as they seemed based on the pilot episode alone, but there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made.  In particular, the sudden reaction of many humans to the arrival of the Vs to start going to church still remains to be explained.  Fortunately there is hope that this series will turn out alright.

Topic 2:  Eastwick, episode 8:  “Paint and Pleasure”.  Theological progress is made by Roxanne, who has a vision of herself wearing a fancy necklace and snogging Darryl.  (And, yes, I have watched too much British TV.)  Soon afterwards Darryl presents her with the necklace and holds a party to introduce her paintings to the critical world.  The party is a success, with a critic praising Roxy’s art and noting all the paintings have been sold.  Roxy does end up snogging with Darryl, but she terminates the snogging session to go back to the party; she recognizes that the vision was of snogging, not going any further than that.  Therefore, even if fatalism rules in this world, the only thing she knows she must do is snog Darryl.  She later decides to go further with Darryl, but changes her mind once he stupidly hints that he was the one who bought her paintings.  (Good for the writers.  Darryl’s evil and sort of slimy.  He should not be getting what he wants.)  Roxy also gets a vision while looking at a painting of hers that was not at the party; she sees a dagger dripping blood.  The rest of the magic in the episode is fairly ordinary for this show.  Joanna, feeling depressed, mesmerizes a homosexual man into sleeping with her in Darryl’s bathroom.  Kat unpremeditatedly causes strong wind, strong enough to overturn a baby grand piano, when she sees her ex-husband snogging with his new girlfriend.

Topic 3:  More religious humor:  “Breaking News”.
funny pictures of cats with captions
I still have no idea why black cats are associated with evil.  Black = darkness = evil (opposite of light = good) makes enough sense, but why cats in particular?  Any enlightenment would be much appreciated.


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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Should we be paying “Christian Scientists” to pray for us?


Jewish date:  8 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Wayyeṣe’).

Today’s holidays:  Saint Day of Catherine of Alexandria (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of Sir Edward Kelly (Thelema).

Worthy causes of the day:  “No more toxic BPA in our food” and “Include Behavior Analysts in Health Care Legislation | Petition2Congress |”.

NOTE:  I am putting off reviewing the latest episode of V until tomorrow because I was half-asleep last night when I watched it, and I plan on watching it again on Hulu so I can make a fair assessment.

Topic 1:  “Gilo in Perspective” and “Press TV Spreading Hate & Incitement”.  These HonestReporting articles deal with anti-Semitism in the news, including reporters failing to do basic fact-checking to figure out where Gilo is.  (Hint:  It is not in the eastern part of Jerusalem.)

Topic 2:  “Praying for healing, lobbying for a provision”.  Healthcare reform is in the works in the US Congress, and everybody knows it.  And the (inaccurately named) Christian Scientists are using this opportunity to try to get more money for themselves.  A tenet of Christian Science is faith-healing, a practice which does not work and which has resulted in preventable deaths.  Nevertheless, Christian Scientists want insurers to pay for them to pray to heal the sick.  Forget questions of separation of church and state.  Since faith-healing does not work, there is no point in wasting money on it.  Furthermore, the attitude that they have to be paid to pray for the sick is impious; “and you will love your neighbor as yourself” does not have a payment clause.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

“Fresh Water Source”


Jewish date:  7 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Wayyeṣe’).

Today’s holiday:  Saint Day of Andrew Dung-Lac (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Support Microfinance in Haiti - The Petition Site” and “ | Reconciliation = Majority Rule. Sign our Petition to Harry Reid to pass the public option.

Note:  Posts at the moment are largely buying time while I work on my review of The Matrix Trilogy.  I wrote a substantial amount of material last night on the concept of reality in the series, but it will take time to produce a finished review.  So please be patient.

Today’s topic:  The Dry Bones cartoon “Fresh Water Source”.  If the thesis of the cartoon sounds unrealistic, keep in mind that Islamic terrorism and other violence does not benefit the so-called “Palestinians” except maybe to produce temporary good feelings.  Shooting missiles does not put food on the table.  Killing oneself does not build houses.  Attacking others does not create good relations with the neighbors.  Destroying useful people and items, such as greenhouses, does not create a functioning economy.  All the violence has produced is self-inflicted misery and pointless deaths.  I cannot discount the idea that Ḥamas and Fataḥ, who are already responsible for much “Palestinian” suffering, would do anything which would make the lives of the “Palestinians” worse.



Monday, November 23, 2009

Perfection, Pollard, and pet peeves


Jewish date:  6 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Wayyeṣe’).

Worthy cause of the day:  “To all US Jewish Organizations: Stand with the Land of Israel! Petition”.

Topic 1:  “ Why Barack is Becoming Boring”.  I am not sure Barack Obama has really become boring, and  if he really has, then perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he has been spending his time trying to clean up the gigantic mess left by the Bush administration and thus he does not have much time to spend on dazzle.  And I do not buy into notion that Obama is or has ever been perfect; I voted for him because I thought he would do a better job than John McCain.  While campaigning, Obama honestly admitted that mistakes would be made, and there is no doubt he has made some since.  And this is the point.  Rav Boteach correctly notes that the great figures of the Hebrew Bible are not perfect.  They have character flaws, and they make mistakes, often big ones.  Rather than ascribing greatness to them because of perfection, they are great despite their imperfection.  And this makes them better role models for it.  None of us can hope to become perfect.  But if someone imperfect can become great and virtuous, then we, who are also imperfect, at least have a fighting chance of also becoming great and virtuous.

Topic 2:  “Time for a new attitude in the Pollard case”.  This article is on a major anti-Semitic tragedy in the United States, the continued incarceration of Jonathan Pollard.  Pollard has been jailed for 25 years for passing to Israel, a friendly country, information which the United States was obligated to share anyway.  Correctly noted is that his life sentence is out of all proportion to what other spies—spies for hostile nations—have received and that it was given through government misconduct.  This article ties the life sentence into American coddling of Arab pseudo-allies, such as Saddam Hussein, none of which has done the US any good.  I will not believe any US president, Democrat or Republican, really has the good of Israel and the Jews in mind until he/she pardons Pollard.

Topic 3:  “Top Ten Nazir Pet Peeves”.  This is Jewish religious humor, and it really helps if you know what a nazir is.  The rest of the references are left as an exercise to the reader.


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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nonsectarian prayer is a fantasy; we do not all worship the same god


Jewish date:  5 Kislew 5770 (Parasheth Wayyeṣe’).

Today’s holidays:  Saint Day of Christ the King (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Take Action: Ask for renewable energy that keeps wildlands and wildlife safe”.

Topic 1:  “Birth of New Species Witnessed by Scientists”.  Creationists, pay attention:  evolution happens in real time, even within a human lifetime.

Topic 2:  “Jesus vs. Allah”.  This article discusses and rightly criticizes the notion of “nonsectarian prayer”.  “Nonsectarian prayer” is an attempt to get around the constitutional prohibition of the government favoring any particular religion in order to have a government-sponsored prayer at a governmental function.  The problem is that there is no single god worshipped by everyone.  No one is going to accept a prayer addressed “to Whom it may concern”, and no name for any deity is going to be acceptable to everyone.  Every name carries with it connotations.  For example, “Allah”, suggested by David Hamilton, screams “Islam” to practically everyone in the West, no matter how much anyone tries to rationalize that it does not.  Even “God” is not a good choice; while commonly used generically, different religions have radically different ideas who “God” is.  It is very easy to misinterpret “God” to refer to one’s own god rather than the god the speaker intended.  People try to bend the notion of “God” to fit their own notions.  For an example, see my recent commentary on His Dark Materials, in which “God” refers to a being bearing only vague surface resemblance to the God of Christianity.  This is why Muslims in Malaysia are going crazy over Christians using “Allah” to refer to the God of Christanity; they cannot accept that “Allah” might refer to anyone other than the God of Islam.  It is also why I have made a concerted effort to not used “God” to refer to the God of Judaism, but rather have taken to using “YHWH” and “HashShem” instead; the latter terms are unambiguous and take a lot more effort to bend to mean anything different.

Topic 3:  More religious humor:  “Prudence”.

All of you who are puzzled:  think The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  (I have to get around to rereading The Chronicles of Narnia sometime...)  And I do hope to make religious humor a regular feature on this blog, besides serious topics.  I do not want to be completely dour, complaining about bad religion all the time, and sometimes the humor itself can be revealing.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Atheist billboards and a possible emerging Twilight paranoia


Jewish date:  3 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Toledhoth).

Today’s holiday:  Friday of the Thirty-Third Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Support Early Education - The Petition Site”.

Topic 1:  “Atheists turn to billboard sites”.  Thus is it written:  “The group behind a controversial atheist bus-poster campaign is urging parents not to label their children with their own religious faith.”  I already mentioned kind of this stunt in my review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and my original comments still stand:
As part of showing off for fellow theist-hating atheists, Dawkins makes proposals designed to help make society more atheistic.  For one thing, he would like people to stop attributing religion to small children, e.g., that we should say “children of Christian parents” instead of “Christian children” (Dawkins 2006, p. 339).  It is correct that small children normally have poor or no understanding of basic religious concepts and cannot truly be said to be believers.  On the other hand, membership in religions is frequently defined in terms other than mere belief.  E.g., because a child is baptized in the name of Jesus, he may be considered Christian, whether or not he/she truly understands Christianity.  One may even be a rabid unbeliever and still be considered a member, e.g., “self-hating Jews”.  Dawkins would also like people to stop indoctrinating their children (Dawkins 2006, pp. 325-340).  The idea that this may be against certain religions has either not crossed Dawkins’s mind or he does not care.  It is also difficult to imagine how this would be done without teaching about religion at all (which he does not seem to favor (Dawkins 2006, p. 340)) or that anyone intelligent and seriously religious would voluntarily comply.
The British Humanist Association should be collectively ashamed of themselves for trying to foist such a bad idea on the public.

Topic 2:  “Twilight is a 'deviant moral vacuum': Vatican slams blockbuster New Moon film”:  I am downright puzzled by this article, with an explanation claimed which is downright opaque due to a severe lack of specifics.  Thus is it written:

'This theme of vampires in Twilight combines a mixture of excesses that as ever is aimed at young people and gives a heavy esoteric element.
'Men and women are transformed with horrible masks and it is once again that age old trick or ideal formula of using extremes to make an impact at the box office.
'This film is nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message and as such is something that should be of concern.'

While I have not read the Twilight Saga, the descriptions of it I have encountered seem mild by contemporary standards; it is not every contemporary love story in which the happy couple waits until marriage.  I am so puzzled by what the quote is supposed to mean that I have written the Vatican asking about it, including the question of whether it is even genuine, and I anxiously await a reply.  Intuition suggests this may be another witch-hunt along the same lines of Harry Potter paranoia.

Topic 3:  Some lighthearted stuff to end on:  First, Bizarro’s take on early Christmas commercialism.  Secondly, some of that over-the-top Christmas commercialism:  the USB Fiber Optic Christmas Tree.  And finally, “It’s the End of the World”, a take on the 2012 hype:

funny graphs and charts

Peace, and Shabbath shalom.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is dread Cthulhu a symbol of the Christmas spirit?


Jewish date:  2 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Toledhoth).

Today’s holiday:  Thursday of the Thirty-Third Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Alliance for Climate Protection | Send a message to the EPA: Tell the EPA you support strong fuel efficiency standards” and “Take Action: Will President Obama Attend the Copenhagen Climate Talks?

Topic 1:  Latest anti-Semitism articles:  “Under Attack: HR Accused by UK TV Documentary” and “What Does "Pro-Palestinian" Really Mean?”.  I like the second one especially since it makes the good point that being anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli, and anti-Zionist is not the same thing as being pro-“Palestinian”.  Attacking Jews accomplishes spreading hate.  It does nothing that actually benefits the so-called “Palestinians”, who have been treated as pawns by other Muslims in political games and tyrannized by their own leaders.  Aiding and abetting the continuing abuse of the “Palestinians” does nothing to help them.

Topic 2:  A bit of humor:  Even this long before Christmas, Christmas humor has started spreading.  The first of two I have collected so far is “Cthulu Holiday Decorations”.  Cthulhu, you will remember, is a fictional pseudo-deity who does not care for humanity at all.  The other is “Just Who is This Guy?”:

song chart memes

Notice that Santa Claus combines three traits people do not usually appreciate.  This is a bit odd for the symbol of a favorite holiday of love and joy.



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

V is for “validation”!


Jewish date:  1 Kislew 5770 (Parashath Toledhoth).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (Judaism), Dedication of Churches of Peter and Paul and Saint Day of Rose Philippine Duchesne (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of Adam Weishaupt and Feast of the First Initiation of the Prophet (Thelema).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Tell Congress: Being a Woman is Not a Pre-Existing Condition - The Petition Site”, “Free Press: media reform through education, organizing and advocacy:”, “Take Action: Tell American Funds to become genocide-free | Save Darfur”, and “ Political Action: U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Stop Protecting Rapists”.

Topic 1:  Episode 3 of the new V, “A Bright New Day”.  Theologically the only thing new is Father Jack hearing V-related confessions and feeling very uncomfortable.  Considering he is part of the resistance, I cannot blame him.  He ends up doing grunt-work and leg-work to hunt down people who were at the ill-fated resistance meeting, feeling he needs to do something towards fighting the Vs.

On the bright side, this episode makes a start towards filling in the huge blank spots in the background (the “validation” in the post title).  It is revealed that some of those protesting the Vs are doing so because several thousand humans died in the disturbances which accompanied the arrival of the Vs.  This gives the V leader Anna a public relations disaster to deal with.

Also:  Considering all the revelations they have had already, I am shocked that they have not come out and revealed that the Vs came to Earth to eat humans. Intuition suggests either that the revelation-happy writers had not decided this far into the series what that secret purpose is or that first episode may have been a (rushed) attempt to lull us into making us make bad assumptions so we feel surprised when the assumptions are violated.  What this new secret purpose is is anything but obvious, though the promo for next week’s episode suggests it may involve medical experimentation, which would be an ill-considered ripoff of a Star Trek:  Voyager episode.

Topic 2:  “Gaddafi preaches to Rome beauties”.  This just struck me as a creative form of bait-and-switch.  As it is written:
A group of party girls got more than they bargained for when they were recruited to attend a posh do in Rome on Sunday night.

Instead of canapés and cocktails, the 200 young women found themselves being encouraged to become Muslims.
While an interesting form of attempted proselytism, it runs afoul of the generally accepted virtue of truthfulness.  I will leave it to Muslims to decide whether any rules of Islamic morality were actually violated.

Topic 3:  “Why I Murdered 13 American Soldiers at Fort Hood: Nidal Hassan Explains It All to You”.  This article explains what Nidal Hassan was thinking when he shot his comrades at Fort Hood.  A link to a presentation he gave on Islam is included, complete with references to canonical Islamic source material justifying violence.

Peace and happy new month.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The blatant conservative bias of the Conservative Bible Project


Jewish date:  30 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Toledhoth).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (Judaism), Saint Day of Elizabeth of Hungary (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of Jacob Boehme (Thelema).

Cover for a NIV BibleImage of the alleged embodiment of evil via Wikipedia
Today’s topic:  The Conservative Bible Project.  I have been sitting on this one for a while, trying to decide what to do with it.  The project asserts, among other things, that there is a “translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one”.  Fair enough.  All of us have biases, even if we try to be fair and objective.  But the weird thing is that the people behind this claim that the resulting error of this “requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate”, which should be a warning sign.  Accurate translation is not a conservative or liberal matter but rather a truth matter, and truth is not inherently conservative or liberal.  Their list of ten guidelines betrays the delusion that truth is conservative:
  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias”:  And what is done to avoid conservative bias?  The Word of God should be accepted as what it is, not what anyone wants it to be.
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these)”:  Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek have grammatical gender, like it or not.  Sometimes masculine terms denote males and sometimes they denote both males and females.  The question should be whether a 21st-century English translation makes the distinction properly, preferably noting when it is unclear.  Not sure what references to the unborn are being deleted by NIV.
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level”:  I am against dumbing down, though I have not been impressed with the Gospels intellectually, and so far this seems to have held true in my reading the New Testament in the original Koine Greek.
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent; Defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".”  I have nothing against reflecting the original intent, but these people do not impress me as understanding the original intent.  Objecting to “comrade” is reading too much into the word.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots"; using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census”:  The point of translation is translation, not combating addiction, much as we all are against addiction.  Using specific terminology does nothing to combat addiction.  Casting lots is how people gambled back then, and using “gamble” would be a loss of precision.  And I have no clue how using “register” rather than “enroll” combats addiction.
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.”:  One does not need to believe at all in a text to translate it properly.  One needs to be honest about what it means.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning”:  This is trying to read modern conservative values into a premodern text.  Let the parables mean what they mean without trying to impose another meaning on top of them.
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story”:  Given the intellectual dishonesty displayed already, I have no trust that these people can distinguish between original and interpolated passages.  And one might even suggest that they might even leave in interpolated passages which conservatives commonly put their own spin on.
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels”:  Better to be honest and let Mark and John be as open-minded or as close-minded as they really were.
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."”:  Wordiness is not distinctively liberal any more than conciseness is distinctively conservative.  And the example chosen is preferring a bad translation over something more accurate; “YHWH” better reflects the original Hebrew than “Lord” or any of the alternatives.
Given this project is founded on bad assumptions, I was not surprised by the results when I looked over their translation of Genesis 1.  It came off as a paraphrase rather than a translation, making YHWH come off as a mad general barking orders rather than a calm, composed deity.  The King James Version, despite its deficiencies, came off more accurate.  Furthermore, if these people really are so interested in everyone understanding the Christian Bible right, why are they wasting their time with yet another in a long series of English translations?  Why are they not cutting out the middleman (or to be “liberal”, middleperson) and pushing for everyone to learn Hebrew and Greek so they can read the Christian Bible in the original?  There is never going to be a translation which is going to be perfect.  Among Orthodox Jews, bypassing the need for relying on a translation of the Hebrew Bible by teaching children Hebrew starting very early on is routine.  Why Christians have yet to figure out to do the same is a mystery to me.

Peace, and happy new month.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Non-believers, religious persecution, and a mindbogglingly immoral law


Jewish date:  29 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Toledhoth).

Today’s holiday:  Saint Day of Margaret of Scotland (Roman Catholicism).

Topic 1:  “Non Believers”:  This Dry Bones cartoon deals with how wishful thinking about Islamists never, ever works.  Come to think of it wishful thinking never, ever works, and physical reality never conforms itself to what we want it to be.  Human beings are also pretty stubborn in that way, too.  Sometimes even people recognize the truth they may want to cover it up anyway, e.g., “Memorial to Conn. 9/11 victim halted as town refuses to make reference to 'Muslim terrorists'”.

Topic 2:  More religious persecution:  “Egypt's Copts facing persecution”, “BELARUS: "We have Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims – all the others are sects"”, “”KYRGYZSTAN: Why is new Religious Education Law being hurried?”, “KAZAKHSTAN: "They can meet and pray to God, but the Law says they have to register"”.  Governments trying to dictate or censor the truth does not work either.

Topic 3:  “Phoenix Methodist church loses appeal; can no longer offer meals to the needy”:  I cannot make something like this up.  It makes no sense to me.  A church was feeding the homeless, and for some reason this is considered illegal in a residential zone.  This is a disgraceful violation of freedom of religion—yes, helping the needy is a religious duty—and senselessly antisocial.  May the legislators of Arizona change the law soon, and may everyone break it if they do not.



Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Top 18 Things I Would Do If I Ever Became an Evil Angel Overlord in His Dark Materials


Jewish date:  28 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Toledhoth).

Today’s holiday:  Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Support the Breast Cancer EARLY Act! - The Petition Site”.

Today’s topic:  The last nine chapters of The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman and the trilogy as a whole.


Having completed reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, I have concluded that the author concentrates on depicting Christianity as evil to such an extent that he is careless in other aspects of creating a story.  As such, there are a number of serious problems with no evident solution.  Some of these are difficulties in the way Metatron, a megalomaniacal angel who has taken the reins of power, behaves.  To point these out, I have been inspired to compose this list:

The Top 18 Things I Would Do If I Ever Became an Evil Angel Overlord in His Dark Materials:

  1. I will not take 300 years off my age.  It does not impress anyone.
  2. I will have an official representative in every world and will not tolerate the sort of illogic and incompetence demonstrated by the Magisterium of Lyra Belacqua’s world.  I will not tolerate my servants creating public relations nightmares through torture and experimentation which no ethical review board would ever approve.  Neither will I tolerate infighting.  I may be evil, but I can do without power-hungry megalomaniacs as servants.
  3. I will have a thoroughly modernized spy network present in all worlds so my enemies cannot do anything behind my back.
  4. I will keep up-to-date on all prophecies, and I will act on them early and often.  I will not give twerps, such as Lyra Belacqua, a chance to become dangerous.
  5. I will take possession of all items which are a potential danger to me, such as the Subtle Knife, and not allow them to remain in mortal hands any longer than absolutely necessary.
  6. I will have a well-funded research and development program so I can smite my enemies with superweapons they have never even dreamed of and have no defense against.  This includes finding new ways to kill rebel angels.
  7. I will not doom the dead to a miserable existence in the dark being insulted by harpies.  The idea of suckers rotting there is amusing, but if word ever gets back to the living about it, all mortals will realize they have no reason to obey me since they will end up in the same place no matter what they do.  Therefore there will be a real Heaven and a real Hell, and whoever obeys me will go to Heaven and those who disobey me will go to Hell.  And I will make sure everyone knows about this to put the fear of me in them.
  8. The waiting area to take the dead to the afterlife will have a staff of friendly angels who will return home living people who reach there by accident.  This makes for good public relations.
  9. The boatman who takes the dead to the afterlife will be armed and given standing orders to kill immediately anyone still living demanding to go to Heaven or Hell and take their soul straight to Hell.
  10. Given that Lord Asriel’s plan is to wait for me to attack him and that I am immortal and he is not, I will not attack him but rather will wait for him and the rest of the mortal contingent of his forces to die.  A few decades is nothing for a being several thousand years old.
  11. I will have the Magisterium of Lyra Belacqua’s world deliver up to me everything they can find of Lord Asriel’s.  That way, if Lord Asriel gives even the slightest hint that he will attack, if possible I will take advantage of Pullman’s misinterpretation of quantum entanglement and blow Lord Asriel and everyone in his fortress straight to Hell without ever having to get anywhere near him.
  12. If Lord Asriel gives me even the slightest hint that he will attack and I cannot obtain anything I can use to blow him up through quantum entanglement, I will land the Clouded Mounted on top of his fortress and press it down, literally crushing the opposition.
  13. I will not trust Mrs. Coulter under any circumstances.  Her heart is full of deceit and lies, and while she may be exceedingly desirable, there are myriads of women out there who are just as desirable who have no desire to kill me.
  14. If for any reason I do go off with Mrs. Coulter, under no circumstances will I go off with her alone.  Rather, I will take a dozen heavily armed and well-trained troops with me so I have a fighting chance of dealing with whatever she has planned.
  15. I will not send off a small number of unarmed angels to hide the Authority.  I have the Clouded Mountain, a massive fortress.  If Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry want to kill him, they will have to penetrate the Clouded Mountain, which will be staffed by heavily armed and well-trained angels with standing orders to shoot on sight all mortals who do not have a valid pass.
  16. I will strike down and send straight to Hell all beings who make use of any device powered by rebel angels, e.g., an alethiometer or Mary Malone’s device to talk to Dust.
  17. I will strike down and send straight to Hell all people who suddenly decide there is no God for absolutely no reason, e.g., Mary Malone.
  18. I will strike down and send straight to Hell Father Gomez for his idiotic idea that the mulefa moving about on seedpod wheels is evil, Satanic, and against the will of God.  Nowhere in the Christian Bible is there any such sentiment, and in fact Ezekiel 1, which includes a description of the four-wheeled Divine Chariot, should be proof enough that moving around on wheels has Divine sanction.  I will take credit for the idea of wheeled creatures and bask in the approval of everyone finding them cool.
Note:  My apologies to Jack Butler and Peter Anspach.  Some material here on Mrs. Coulter sounds a lot like material on the latter’s evil overlord list.

Philip Pullman signing a copy of Lyra's Oxford...Image of theologically incompetent atheist author Philip Pullman via Wikipedia
Philip Pullman keeps the theological train wreck plowing a path of destruction until the very end.  Metatron walks into an obvious trap, lured by Mrs. Coulter, and she and Lord Asriel have a Darth Vader moment and redeem their sorry selves by fighting him and dragging him down into the Abyss.  Lyra Belacqua/Silvertongue and Will Parry accidentally kill the Authority by opening his crystal capsule in and attempt to save his life; he literally falls apart and is blown away.  What happens to Metatron and the Authority, of course, does not even vaguely resemble anything that could possibly happen to the God of Christianity.  Mary Malone “plays the Serpent” by sending Lyra and Will off on their own to look for their missing dæmons; the adventure turns into a picnic/date.  They definitely end up falling in love, kissing, and cuddling, with implications of sexual intercourse.  (I cannot make this up.  I would not dare make up anyone doing it that young.)  This apparently has the beneficial effects helping healing the worlds, but as the Fall goes, it is lame and untenable.  There is no disobedience of any direct order from the Deity not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, nor does Mary ever suggest violation of a such a direct order.  Nor is making love mentioned in the original story as prohibited.  The botched equation of angels = consciousness = Dust/dark matter = original sin is never resolved.  The utter stupidity of Mary Malone and Father Gomez has already been mentioned in my list.  The reward of the dead remains to go happily(!) on to oblivion.  The Magisterium never rises above the vaguest resemblance of actual Christianity.  And very importantly, the ultimate source of prophecy is never revealed.  In short, religion in His Dark Materials is a poor reflection of religion in real life.  Final theological grade for the trilogy:  F, with a strong recommendation that Philip Pullman be banned from theology until he recants and stops making up paranoid fantasies.

I would also like to note that His Dark Materials is supposed to be the atheistic answer to The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.  It is not.  The Chronicles of Narnia is a set of seven books in which the characters and situations are used to discuss and present Christian ideas.  There is no atheism-bashing in Narnia.  His Dark Materials, on the other hand, is full of religion-bashing.  Furthermore, The Chronicles of Narnia is actually set in a Christian world, e.g., Aslan is Jesus and Tash is Satan.  His Dark Materials, however, is not truly set in an atheist world; it is set in a world run according to militant atheist conceptions of Christianity, only rigged so that divine beings can be killed.  By focusing on the alleged perversity of a transparently fraudulent Christianity, Pullman utterly fails to show us what beauty there may be to atheism or show us that Christianity is wrong.  While The Chronicles of Narnia can be easily read as “just a story”, ignoring the Christianity, His Dark Materials is so filled with hate that reading it purely as entertainment is difficult, to the point where I was glad that at the end young lovers Will and Lyra would be separated forever.  The great atheist story may yet be out there, but His Dark Materials is not it.

Also:  More commentary on His Dark Materials is available at “His Dark Materials - Television Tropes & Idioms” and “The Golden Compass:  Agenda Unmasked”.

Next up:  I made a decision to write a review of the Matrix Trilogy after His Dark Materials, so I am in for some serious self-torment very soon.  There are a few items associated with His Dark Materials which I may review (almost certainly negatively) at a later date, though I have to get my hands on copies first.


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Friday, November 13, 2009

Don’t hire Lord Asriel or Metatron to run your war


Jewish date:  26 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Ḥayye-Sarah).

Today’s holidays:  Saint Day of Frances Xavier Cabrini (Roman Catholicism), Feast of Osiris (Thelema).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Save BioGems: Take Action: Save Yellowstone's Beloved Wolves” and “Earthjustice: Take Action: Taking the Wrong Path on Protecting Right Whales”.

Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel in the film The Go...Image of incompetent warlord Lord Asriel (depicted by Daniel Craig) via Wikipedia
Topic 1:  Chapters 26-29 of The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman.  I was wrong about the quantum entanglement bomb being an irrelevant incident.  Pullman may be incompetent when it comes to theology and physics, but he at least has talent in writing fiction.  Dead shaman John Parry instructs Will to amputate the hair from Lyra’s head from where Mrs. Coulter snipped away a lock and stuff that hair  into another world.  He does so, and the explosion reportedly damages the entire structure of worlds, though we have yet to see the full effects of this yet.  Will also cuts a hole into another world to let ghosts commit suicide, which they gleefully do.  (Apparently the concept of an afterlife which doesn’t suck to the point of self-delusion or suicidal behavior has escaped Pullman.  “It’s a wonderful thing to go into oblivion” is not a good message to put in a children’s book either.)

Meanwhile, Mary Malone has an out-of-body experience, Magisterium assassin Father Gomez is still on the loose and an implied threat to Mary, and Metatron attacks Lord Asriel’s fortress.  Keep in mind that Pullman has the Authority reportedly senile and Metatron being an insane megalomanic holding the real reigns of power.  As I have noted already, attacking Lord Asriel is a bad idea.  Since Lord Asriel plans on letting his enemies come to him and attack him (with no plan B ever mentioned), all the Authority and Metatron have to do is stay away from Lord Asriel’s fortress and let the mortal contingent of the rebellion die of old age.  If Lord Asriel does get tired of waiting and goes to the Authority and Metatron, then the rebels will be out in the open without an imposing fortress for them to hide inside of.  Instead, Metatron takes the Authority’s mobile headquarters, the Clouded Mountain, AKA the Chariot (an Ezekiel reference) to Lord Asriel’s fortress and attacks.  The fighting so far has not had much of impact on either side.  However, the dæmons of Lyra, Will, and their Gallivespian friends have shown up at Lord Asriel’s fortress, and where I left off reading, Lyra, Will, and the Gallivespians were trying to get through the carnage in an effort to reunite with their dæmons.

Also:  Come to think of it, Pullman has gone out of his way to make Metatron doubly incompetent at fighting a war.  Barring just staying away from Lord Asriel, Metatron could easily land the Clouded Mountain on top of Lord Asriel’s fortress and press it down, literally crushing the rebellion out of existence.  This avoids those messy, time-consuming battles which Pullman seems intent on dragging us through and sends a message to everyone who hears about it that rebelling against the Authority and Metatron is a fatally bad idea.

Topic 2:  “Sudden jihad, or inordinate stress at Fort Hood?”:  Daniel Pipes notes that the Fort Hood incident is not the only one in which a Muslim attacked non-Muslims in the West.  A long list of examples going back to 1990 is included, including explanations given at the time which sound more like excuses than actual reasons.  Noted is a popular aversion to blame any violence on Islam, regardless of what the violent offender actually practiced or claimed.

Topic 3:  Just to end on something a bit upbeat:  “The anti-swine flu holy water dispenser”.  Someone invented an automatic dispenser of holy water which, like automatic paper towel and soap dispensers, knows when someone’s hands are in the right place to receive holy water.  This eliminates the need for contact between a font and the worshipper, thus eliminating a route of contagious disease transmission.  This is a good example of something sensible religious people, whatever religion they follow, need to do:  take into account how our universe actually works in religious practice.  Remember:  there is (probably) no religion in which sharing harmful germs is a virtue.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

2012, a senseless plot thread, and a lame Gospel film


Jewish date:  25 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Ḥayye-Sarah).

Today’s holidays:  Birth of Baha’u’llah (Bahá’í Faith), Saint Day of Josaphat (Roman Catholicism).

Note:  One month until Ḥanukkah.  Time to start reading up on the relevant laws.

Worthy causes of the day:  “Restore Coastal Louisiana - The Petition Site”, “End Gender Discrimination in Health Insurance Coverage - The Petition Site”, and “Big Insurance Kills”.

Topic 1:  “2012: The End Of The World?”  I am not the only out there analyzing bad religious ideas.  This chart gives a nice summation of the purported disaster on December 21, 2012, both what the believers and skeptics claim.

The cover of the book The Amber Spyglass.Image via Wikipedia
Topic 2:  Chapters 24-25 of The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman.  Pullman leaves Lyra and Will in the land of the dead and tells us about the further adventures of Mrs. Coulter instead.  Mrs. Coulter has decided to play Lord Asriel and the Magisterium off each other and be in favor with whoever wins in the end.  Having stolen an intention craft from Lord Asriel, she proceeds to the Consistorial Court in Geneva, where she is promptly taken into custody.  (She ran off with Lyra at the end of The Subtle Knife, not liking the idea of her daughter being killed.  The Magisterium is therefore collectively unhappy with her.)  This episode quickly goes downhill, with Mrs. Coulter suggesting to the President of the Consistorial Court that the Authority has gone senile and that it may be merciful for Will to use the subtle knife to euthanize him.  (Obvious bad idea.)  This plot thread goes further downhill with the President via proxy stealing some of Lyra’s hair from a locket Mrs. Coulter wears around her neck.  Through use of a process which demonstrates that Pullman fundamentally misunderstands the nature of quantum entanglement, the President hopes to use Lyra’s hair to make Lyra explode.  This gives Mrs. Coulter an opportunity to play the hero and the Magisterium an opportunity to look evil.  Needless to say, Mrs. Coulter is successful in stopping this evil scheme, as there are still 13 chapters to go, and she ends up in Lord Asriel’s hands again at the end.  Theology grade for these chapters:  F.  Physics rating for these chapters:  F.  Plot rating for these chapters:  F, as the scheme is unbelievable and could easily be removed without affecting the rest of the story.  Probability that Pullman will redeem himself before the end of the trilogy:  trivially small.

Topic 3:  Seeing that I have started working on the New Testament in the original Greek, I decided it was appropriate to start watching this pile of Gospel-based films I have accumulated.  As such, last night I watched Godspell, which puts the action in New York City during the 1970s.  On the bright side, the cast does a lot of creative dramatization of the parables and teachings of Jesus, interspersed with songs.  On the down side, there is no serious attempt at understanding anything Jesus had to say or making any of the action actually make sense in 1970s New York.  For almost all of the film, Jesus and his disciples wander around the city, without encountering anyone else, doing their dramatization and singing.  There is a Last Supper at the end, with Jesus making the proper Jewish blessings over maṣṣah and wine(!), but that ends with a whimper with the crucifixion being the arrival of police cars—but no police—and Jesus and the disciples putting themselves up against a chain-link fence.  The film ends with the disciples carrying off the body of Jesus, without any explanation why he is dead (or unresponsive) or a resurrection.  That’s it.  Next to no plot.  Things are further confused by having John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot being the same person and having no motive whatsoever for betraying Jesus.  In short, this film is so lame that it makes Jesus Christ Superstar look good by comparison.


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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

V is for “vacancies”


Jewish date:  24 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Ḥayye-Sarah).

Today’s holiday:  Saint Day of Martin of Tours (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “  Murdoch: Make a choice”.

Topic 1:  “CBC Promotes False Barrier Analogy”.  The PR jihad against Israel goes on, and this article talks about why it makes no sense to compare Israel’s anti-terrorism barrier to the Berlin Wall.  Also in jihad-related sloppy thinking, the Dry Bones cartoon “Face It” deals with the reluctance of many to acknowledge that the Fort Hood shootings were an Islamic terrorist attack, despite the evidence that it is.

Topic 2:  Given some criticism I received on my review of the pilot episode of the new V last week, I think I need to clarify my position on the series.  The plot and characters are not necessarily bad.  For all we know, the writers may have even avoided two major blunders of the original V:  the Vs eat humans, in which case their operation is much more complex than they really need it to be to accomplish this, and there is a human-V mating which produces live offspring, which in real life is almost certainly impossible.  The real problem is that there are huge gaps in the story, the “vacancies” of this post’s title.  While we have some idea what some of the main characters are thinking, we have practically no idea why most of the people in this series believe and act the way they do.  Much of the time, it is not even clear what the Vs are doing other than secretly plotting against humanity.  Without much of a background, it is very hard to appreciate the show as a whole.  If the new V survives past the four episodes planned to be shown this year, I hope they will make an episode dedicated not to moving the plot along but telling us what humans in general are thinking and what the Vs are doing on Earth which makes humans love or hate them; this could be done plausibly in the form of a documentary hosted by reporter character Chad Decker, who already has reported on the Vs.

The latest episode, “There Is No Normal Anymore”, does not introduce any new theological ideas.  It does, however, deal with the moral issue of trust.  FBI agent Erica Evans and Father Jack Landry, who were present in the last episode at a resistance meeting which was infiltrated and attacked by the Vs, are naturally unsure whom they can trust.  There is evidence that Vs have been on Earth for decades, disguised as humans, and knowing who is really human and who is a V without more physical examination than most people would casually submit to is impossible.  This leads to questions of when to hide information or lie.  What they ultimately decide they must keep doing, despite the unanswered trust and deception questions, is to get to the bottom of what the Vs are really up to.

The cover of the book The Amber Spyglass.Image via Wikipedia
Topic 3:  Chapters 20-23 of The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman.  Chapter 20 deals with Mary Malone, still in the world of the melufa, turning her crude optical device to see Dust into a more proper spyglass and ascending to the tops of the wheel seedpod trees to see why they are slowly dying.  Apparently currents of Dust in the sky have changed and are no longer raining much Dust down on the wheel seedpod tree flowers to fertilize them.  Don’t ask me to explain the physics of this; it makes no sense to me.

Meanwhile, Lyra, Will, and two elf-like beings known as Gallivespians, following Lyra’s death, reach the shore of a river, where they meet the boatman who takes people to the land of the dead proper.  They all go, but in the process, they have to leave their dæmons behind.  This is a huge blunder on Pullman’s part.  The dæmon is supposed to be the soul, and if that is not what goes to the land of the dead, what does?  Furthermore, Lyra and company really do not act differently when they go on to the land of the dead; they just feel horrible.  In any case, the land of the dead itself is as dark and dreary as the waiting area, only it is fenced in and guarded by harpies, who do little more than be insulting.  (Notice the ancient Greek religion theme going on here.)  With the help of Will’s knife, Lyra and company get past the front gate, only to find more of the dark bleakness, inhabited by the physically insubstantial dead, who do little more than sit around quietly and get insulted by the harpies, who know all the bad things everyone has done in life.  Despite promises that the Authority will reward and punish the dead, there is only punishment by the harpies in this domain.  It is so bad that Lyra and Will plot to let the dead out into another world—and even though the result will be oblivion for the escapees, most of the dead prefer it to remaining in the land of the dead.  None of this sounds particularly like the Christian afterlife, so chalk up another demerit to Pullman.


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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lyra Silvertongue is going to Hell


Jewish date:  23 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Ḥayye-Sarah).

Today’s holidays:  Saint Day of Leo the Great (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy causes of the day:  “IBR Message Center | UANI:  Send a United Message:  Sign the petition and urge these companies to stop doing business with the Iranian regime by sending them a message today” and “Take Action | UANI:  Message to the Los Angeles MTA on Light Rail Contract”.

Topic 1:  Chapters 14-19 of The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman.  The theology and story get more and more bizarre.  It is revealed that Lord Asriel does not plan on invading Heaven; he is amassing a great army and supplies and waiting for Heaven to attack him at his fortress.  This plan has the fatal flaw that if the Authority never attacks, Lord Asriel can never win.  Presumably the Authority is not a moron—he has been smart enough to be able to retain power for thousands of years—so Lord Asriel had better have a plan B in just in case his plan A would result in him dying of old age before the Authority attacks.

Meanwhile, Mary Malone, ex-nun and physicist, has found herself in another world populated by wheeled creatures known as the mulefa (singular:  zanif, and please, do not ask me why, because I have no clue).  The thing about the mulefa having wheels is plausible because the wheels are not actually parts of their bodies but rather rather seedpods of a tree they have a symbiotic relationship with; use of seedpods as wheels, mounted on the mulefa’s horny axles, is aided by an oil exuded by the seedpods.  Where Pullman gets flaky about the mulefa is that seedpod oil enables the mulefa to see Dust.  The mulefa even have a metaphorical story about a snake introducing the mulefa to the use of seedpods as wheels, which considering that seedpods are fruit should be ringing a few bells about now.  Why oil, which does not have unusual properties with regard to interacting with anything, should be useful for seeing Dust, is not explained, though considering the physics (and theology) of this trilogy is half-baked from the start, I should not be surprised at all.  Mary manages to use seedpod oil to make an optical device that lets her see Dust herself.

There is no way I can omit mentioning what happens to Lyra and Will, the heroes of the story.  They decide to take a trip to the land of the dead.  So far they have only reached the waiting area where the living who accidentally reach that world must wait to die, but what Pullman comes up with so far makes even the bureaucratic afterlife of Beetle Juice seem like sheer ecstasy.  The land of the dead is a dark, dreary place.  The dead must cross a river to the afterlife.  (Shades of Charon and the river Styx).  The living who make it to the land of the dead must wait until they die.  They are neither allowed to return to the world they came from nor provided for, so the waiting area is a squalid refugee camp where the living can remain for decades.  It is also revealed that everyone has a death, a being which follows him/her around and eventually takes him/her across the river to the afterlife.  (Shades of Hermes or the Grim Reaper, only personalized.)  Deaths usually remain out of one’s sight, but in the waiting area some people are on good terms with their deaths and see them constantly.  At the end of chapter 19, Lyra convinces her death to take her and her companions over the river while still alive.  You will have to wait till I read further to find out what happens next, though given Pullman’s attitudes, the afterlife being anything other than hellish would be shocking.  However, this particular journey has a rather mythological feel to it.  I might argue for connections with the journeys of Heracles (Hercules) and Orpheus into the realm of Hades, though considering Pullman’s hatred of Christianity, Lyra may be reflecting Jesus.  Lyra is supposed to be the new Ḥawwah (Eve); this may reflect a title given to Jesus in the New Testament:  “the new Adam”.  Like Jesus, Lyra is supposed to be a figure of salvation, the subject of prophecy, and someone dangerous to the establishment.  Just as Jesus was the product of adultery (Mary was married to Joseph, not the Holy Spirit), so too Lyra is the product of adultery.  And now, just as Jesus died and purportedly rose from the dead, Lyra has gone to the land of the dead and probably will return.  We will see how far the parallels play out.

Topic 2:  “The British Dare to Determine Who is a Jew”.  This article by Rav Shmuely Boteach complains about a recent court ruling in the UK which tries to dictate to a Jewish day school who is a Jew.  Do note that religions frequently have membership criteria, and among them one will never find the opinion of a government.  Considering the source of authority for religious membership criteria are not subject to government regulation, e.g., they are dictated by a deity beyond the reach of human jurisdiction, no government can reasonably expect a government ruling on religious membership criteria to ever be followed.  This is nothing less than a violation of freedom of religion.  The claim that Jewish membership criteria are racist is particularly ill-founded.  One is Jewish if one’s mother was Jewish at the time of one’s birth or if one converts.  Racial background is irrelevant to these criteria, as humans of any race may convert, and the maternal line descendants of said people are considered Jewish in perpetuity.

Topic 3:  Start Worrying (1994)”:  This Dry Bones cartoon is prescient to the recent Fort Hood attack by a Muslim in the name of Islam in the United States.  



Monday, November 9, 2009

Reincarnation, pets, and a transsexual Jesus


Jewish date:  22 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Ḥayye-Sarah).

Today’s holidays:  Dedication of St. John Lateran (Roman Catholicism), Saint Day of Saint Nectarios (Greek Orthodox Christianity).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Support Innovative Humanitarian Assistance in Ethiopia - The Petition Site” and “End Overfishing -- A Chance to Save 10 Species - The Petition Site”.

Note:  For a change, today I will not discuss His Dark Materials.  There is a lot more religiously going on than militant atheists writing material which shows they do not know what they are talking about.

Topic 1:  “Head Check”.  This Dry Bones cartoon does a pretty good job discussing what happened in last week’s Fort Hood incident.

Topic 2:  “Buddhist robber's 'mum reincarnated as a cat' denied visiting rights in jail!”:  I cannot make this case up.  A Buddhist robbed a bank and was put in jail.  He has been denied visits from his cat, which he believes is the reincarnation of his mother, because he has not been able to convince the court that the cat really is the reincarnation of his mother.  I am not an expert on Buddhism, but I believe the correct Buddhist response is that because he did something wrong (robbing a bank), karma is smacking him in the face.  The non-Buddhist response is to wonder how to prove a cat is a reincarnation of a human without the cat engaging in overtly human-like behavior, such as writing.

Topic 3:  “Gone to the dogs: LA church starts pet service”:  Nothing particularly fallacious here.  Just an unusual attempt at evangelism.

Topic 4:  “Transsexual Jesus sparks protests”:  The transsexual Jesus is part of the play “Jesus, Queen of Heaven”.  On one hand, Christians have a long history of adapting the image of Jesus to local cultures.  Think about it:  what are the chances that Jesus looked European and not Jewish?  The standard image of Jesus in the West is not historically accurate.  Said image is actually a statement that Jesus is relevant to Europeans.  A transsexual Jesus may just be a statement that Jesus is relevant to homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals.  On the other hand, this play does not reflect the message of Jesus as laid down in the Gospels and cannot be historically accurate.  Furthermore, the title “Queen of Heaven” actually applies to Jesus’s mother Mary and (worse) various pagan goddesses.  These inaccuracies, naturally and expectedly, have made some rather unhappy.


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Sunday, November 8, 2009

I did not do preemptive penance for this post


Jewish date:  21 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Ḥayye-Sarah).

Today’s holidays:  Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Synaxis of the Archangels (Greek Orthodox Christianity).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Establish Presidential War Powers Commission - The Petition Site” and “ Political Action: No Reward for Blocking Health Care”.

Today’s topic:  Chapters 3-13 of The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman.  The theology of this imaginary multiverse keeps getting further and further away from Christianity.  Standard Christian theology depicts God as consisting of three persons:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  This is not something obscure or esoteric; this is something well-known.  So far there has not been no hint of a Trinity, Jesus, the Crucifixion, or the Gospels.  The only distinctively Christian idea which gets any real play is original sin, and that Pullman completely botches.  Positive aspects of Christianity, such as salvation, grace, and forgiveness, are conveniently ignored, as these might paint the Magisterium/Church in a positive light.

What Pullman comes up with for a theology is very un-Christian.  As noted previously, the Authority is not a true god, but rather an angel pretending to be a god.  The Authority has retired from personal involvement in the worlds, and he has retired to a “crystal chamber” to concentrate on philosophy and left the administration to the angel Metatron, who is seeking to crack down on misbehavior in every world.  Metatron is transparently based on the angel of Jewish and Christian tradition Miṭṭaṭron, sometimes identified as “the lesser YHWH”, as having formerly been Ḥanokh (Enoch), and has being YHWH’s right-hand man (so to speak).  This two-tiered hierarchy of the Authority and Metatron strikes me as perhaps a bit Gnostic, but this may be reading into the text something which was never there.

As far as behavior is concerned, Pullman also invented the perversely illogical doctrine of preemptive absolution, which is that one can do penance in advance for sins one has not yet committed.  The dramatic reason for this is so Pullman can have the Church rationalize trying to kill Lyra.  This doctrine may be a warped version of indulgence.  But while an indulgence is meant to be a gift from the Church, preemptive absolution for a sin never negates the fact that a sin is being done deliberately.  This perverts the notion of penance.  Penance is supposed to be about feeling bad about doing something wrong and trying to get beyond repeating it.  Doing penance with the intention of doing the sin in the future is a contradiction.  I am not aware of the Roman Catholic Church ever practicing or condoning such hypocrisy.

Also:  According to Pullman, angels can be killed.  And they can be gay.  This sounds nothing like angels in Judaism or Christianity.  There is also an afterlife, but it seems to be a dreary, boring place, neither the Christian Heaven nor Hell.



P.S.:  Somehow I am expecting that when the Authority finally appears on-screen that he will form a Trinity with two hand puppets, but even this is may be expecting too much from Pullman.