Strange and Curious Sects: Sabbatai Zevi

Past editions of Strange and Curious Sects have explored religious splinter groups that came into existence relatively recently. Today's edition will focus on an older cult that still has lessons to teach us: the bizarre story of the would-be Jewish messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.Sabbatai Zevi was born in 1626, supposedly on the anniversary of the Roman destruction of the Temple, to a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family in Smyrna, modern-day Turkey. In his youth, he studied the Talmud and especially the … [Read more...]

Noises in the Night

In the first chapter of her autobiography Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali recounts some of the Somali folktales her grandmother taught her when she was a child. One was a story of a nomad, searching for a home for his wife and child, who mysteriously finds an oasis with a fine grass hut already built in the middle of the desert, and a smiling, friendly stranger who invites them to live there. Alas for the trusting nomad, the stranger was really "He Who Rubs Himself with a Stick," a monstrous … [Read more...]

Vignette from the New York Subway

Presented without further comment:Last night, when I got on the subway, I noticed an older, balding white man wearing a white T-shirt. The front of his shirt read, in multicolored block letters, "I'm so happy I'm saved," and the back read, over a backdrop of flames, "I won't have to spend eternity in the lake of fire. P.S.: There won't be a drink of water there!"As the train pulled away from the station, a young black man entered the car. He announced that he was down on his luck, was trying … [Read more...]

Little-Known Bible Verses X: Don't Trust Your Heart

I first came across today's little-known Bible verse while reading The Pilgrim's Progress, and it was so amazing to me that I had to set the book aside and look it up on the spot. Search on the internet, and you'll find volumes of Christian apologetics seeking to justify the author's belief in God by claiming that they just know he exists because they can feel his presence in their heart:The imagination knows God and the heart knows God, but the conscience silences the whole person because of … [Read more...]

An Exercise in Empathy

In 1967, Mildred Loving and her husband Richard, an interracial couple, were arrested at their Virginia home for violating that state's anti-miscegenation law. At trial, Judge Leon Bazile offered his explanation for why the state of Virginia had chosen to ban interracial marriage:"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact … [Read more...]

Doubting the Sun

Imagine, in some medieval monarchy or modern-day oligarchy, that the government passed a law which made it a crime to deny that the sun exists.No country either ancient or modern has ever done this, and it's easy to see why. Who would ever be tempted to deny the existence of the sun? The evidence to the contrary is undeniable. It's large, it's obvious, it's blindingly brilliant - it's just there. There are no rational grounds for claiming the sun does not exist; only a fool or a madman would … [Read more...]

A Personal Note

As I've said in the past, I don't usually write about myself or my personal life on this blog. But every so often, something forces me to break that rule. This is one of those occasions.As of yesterday, I'm engaged to be married to the love of my life: a wonderful woman who, for the past eight years, has been my friend and companion. It's been my great good fortune and happiness to have been together with her this far, and I'm looking forward to making our commitment a formal one.I'm going … [Read more...]

Smoke on the Breeze

In May, I wrote about the freethinker Giuseppe Verdi and my experience attending a performance of his operatic masterpiece, the Requiem. At the time, I had one other thought: strange as it sounds, and despite the fact that its composer was no friend of orthodoxy, Verdi's Requiem was one of the more effective arguments for Christianity I've ever heard.I'm not a frequent attendee of sermons, but even so, I doubt few of them would match Verdi's orchestral eloquence. Even though its arias were … [Read more...]

The Child Brides of Islam

The New York Times published an article last week, Tiny Voices Defy Child Marriage in Yemen, about a stunning act of courage and feminism: in the nation of Yemen, a 9-year-old girl named Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali, on her own initiative, sought and obtained a divorce from the abusive, violent 35-year-old man she had been forcibly married to. Her success echoes that of a 10-year-old girl, Nujood Ali, who escaped a similar arranged marriage a month earlier.Having just finished Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi … [Read more...]

Why I'm Skeptical of the Singularity

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made a famous observation: that the speed of computer hardware (to be precise, the number of transistors that can be packed onto an integrated circuit) tends to double every two years. In the four decades since, Moore's law has held true with remarkable accuracy. The technology to fabricate ever-smaller logic elements has steadily improved, leading to astounding increases in computer speed. The memory, bandwidth, and processing power available today in even … [Read more...]