The Bruise on Biden’s Forehead

This story’s been all over the place since yesterday.

Kay Burley, a host of Sky News, was reporting on a Joe Biden speech during which he had ash on his forehead because it was Ash Wednesday. She didn’t recognize what it was, though, and that led to hilarity (beginning at the 0:26 mark):

“What’s happened to his head? I’m sure that’s what everybody’s asking at home… it looks like he’s walked into a door.”

She and her (also oblivious) co-anchor theorized that maybe Biden got a bruise when he slipped on ice while attending the Olympic Games in Vancouver…

There are a couple reasons this makes me laugh.

One, she’s a news anchor. You would think she would be aware of a religious ritual in which millions of people — – including herself, since she’s Catholic (!?!) — partake.

Two, this is the type of conversation I imagine would take place between strangers who knew nothing about Catholicism.

Can you imagine how the conversation would go if they learned about other Catholic beliefs for the first time?

He believes that a talking snake convinced a woman to eat an apple and that led to the downfall of Man? And later, a virgin woman gave birth to someone who was really God, who actually fathered himself? Is he bollocks?!

It’s all ridiculous. We’re just used to it so it doesn’t turn many heads anymore.

At least Burley (not on purpose) said what many non-Catholics were thinking. While it’s deeply meaningful to those who do it, good luck explaining it to those who don’t buy into the myth.

Let’s see her comment on Scientologists next!

(via Believe It or Not)

  • Valdyr

    Oh, man. I want to look at every religious tradition from the perspective of someone totally naive, now.

    “Oh! Someone stop that man! He just shoved that baby into a basin of water! What kind of place is this?!”

    “Er… you mean you cut skin off of babies’ penises because God doesn’t like that particular penis-skin-bit…which He created them with? No, that can’t be right, can you explain it to me again?

  • littlejohn

    I think you may have some misperceptions about journalists. I’ve known hundreds of journalists in my life (I’ve worked for several newspapers). Almost all of them neither know nor care anything about religion. A large percentage are outright atheists. But, like politicians, they can’t publicly say so.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    …i was equally oblivious to this…
    how quaint.

  • http://www.quietatheist.com Slugsie

    The whole ash mark on the head thing is completely new to me too. Although I have to admit to knowing only a couple of Catholics, none of which are particularly devout practising Catholics.

    Very bizarre ritual, but each to their own.

  • Carlie

    It’s also funny because one might cynically think that he did it at least in part to show off his piety (really, that’s what it’s for in the first place, right?), and it backfired here by the media simply wondering what the hell is wrong with him. Has the ring of a Monty Pythonesque sketch about it.

  • http://www.unmails.com Tyler

    “It appears that the Pope is a flaming homosexual. Yes, it must be. Look at all the glitter and that hat…”

    “I agree, is there a Gay Pride parade today in Rome?”

    “What’s that on his head? I’m sure that’s what everybody’s asking at home…”

  • Andrew

    Nobody does this in the UK (Catholic or no), so no real surprise that an anchor on a British station doesn’t know what’s going on.

  • Atheom

    I was likewise completely unaware of this silly tradition until very recently–more specifically, since I moved to the US (I’m Canadian).

    I somehow managed to avoid making any embarrassing statements about it when I first encountered it (as in, “hey dude, you have some crap on your forehead”), which is remarkable for me.

    But now that I’ve more fully wrapped my head around the origin of the tradition, I can’t help but to feel deeply embarrassed for the poor idiots who soil their heads in this way every year.

    In fact, I’m embarrassed that the news anchor was embarrassed by her comments. I mean, sure, she might have known better, but why should she be embarrassed that she pointed out something that, were it not done under the cover of religion, would be a silly thing to do?

    My favourite hockey team celebrated its centennial on Nov. 5th 2009. Certainly an auspicious occasion for a devoted fan, but were I to come to the office with the team’s logo painted on my forehead, would it make sense for people not to comment out of fear of insulting me? Of course not! I should be openly mocked, and deservedly so!

  • Christophe Thill

    The word “insensitive” seems to get used quite a lot these days. I don’t really understand it, especially in this case.

  • Liam

    “He’s eating a piece of bread someone recited some words over…and, the bread is the flesh of their god?! Are you sure? 
    Yeah, the fellow in the robe proclaimed the bread to be flesh. 
    Now they’re drinking wine, and the robed guy says it’s the blood of their god. 
    This seems to have very disturbing cannabalistic overtones, Joe.
    Indeed. I’m reminded of Greek ‘mystery cults’ on honor of Dionysus…
    That would be Baccus in Roman?
    Indeed. In which the flesh and blood of the god would be ritually eaten.
    Very interesting ritual we have here. What do you think the followers do next?
    I believe they’re singing a song about being ‘awash in the blood of the lamb.’
    Sounds rather Baccinalian once again, Joe. They do seem to have a fixation on blood and death, these participants. 
    Indeed, Joan. Now…they appear to be ritually driving for lunch at Villiage Inn….”

  • Ron in Houston

    Actually, Ash Wednesday is not a bad service. It has important lessons for everyone.

    If we always acted remembering that “ash we will become” then perhaps we wouldn’t be so unkind to each other.

  • Jim H

    What littlejohn said. If you have ever witnessed something that was later covered in the news, you know that news reporters often have no idea what they are reporting. In my experience, the only general exceptions are sports reporters. Of course, they have a higher standard–consumers of sports news are pretty knowledgeable too…

  • http://kaleenamenke.blogspot.com Kaleena

    Prolly one of the reasons that not many people know about ash Wednesday is that they usually have two (or more) services: one early in the day, and one in the evening. I imagine that most people go to the one in the evening so that there is not as much exposure.

  • BoomerChick

    I guess the ash smear is no worse than wearing a barbaric symbol of human torture, the Christian cross, as a pendant on a necklace around your neck.

  • cypressgreen

    As I reporter, I’d expect her to assume any bruises would be covered by makeup before Biden appears on camers. Duh.

  • Flah

    I would pay good money to hear the off-mic dialog.

    “What the bloody hell are you talking about? It’s not a bruise. It’s fucking Ash Fucking Wednesday.”
    “Ash what?”
    “Ash Wednesday. I thought you were a Catholic??”
    “Oh, is it like a religious thing? Are those the ashes of pagan babies or something?”
    “It’s the ashes of the previous year’s palm fronds from palm Sunday.”
    “Palm Sunday?”
    “Oh just go back on mic and say it’s not a bruise. Catholic my arse.”

  • Mel

    No one really does this in the UK, so its not surprising that she didn’t know about it. I didn’t until I moved to the US either. The first year we were here, my dad was trying to figure out whether he should say something to one of his employees because he has a dirty forehead…

  • Daniel

    Favorite Ash Wednesday story: In college I worked with a few guys in an IT department on campus. Being college, we all regularly showed up late, hungover, etc. One particular Ash Wednesday, one of the guys showed up *very* late, with an ash smudge on his forehead and said he’d been at service all morning.

    After repeatedly smelling stale cigarettes all morning (and I was a smoker at the time, so you know it was particularly rank if I was smelling it) I finally put two and two together and called him our for having just smeared some cigarette ash on his forehead… which he proceeded to thankfully admit and then clean himself up.

    So let that be a lesson to you: religion is very useful, particularly for lying to cover up severe hangovers.

  • cypressgreen

    Gosh! I haven’t been Catholic for 20+ years. I forgot all about St. Blaise Day!

    “In iconography, Blaise is often shown with the instruments of his martyrdom, and…may also be depicted with crossed candles.
    Such crossed candles are used for the blessing of throats on the feast day of Blaise, which falls on February 3rd…Blaise is traditionally believed to intercede in cases of throat illnesses, especially for fish-bones stuck in the throat.”
    As a kid, I always marveled that we all got to walk up to the altar for a blessing and have crossed candles put over our throats, all ’cause of *fish bones.*

    “During his life a boy had a jaw bone lodged in his throat and St. Blaise prayed over him and the bone was dislodged miraculously.”
    And amazingly, for my *whole life* I have also have had a jaw bone in my mouth right next to my throat! And I have never choked! Thank You, St. Blaise!!!

  • sunship

    Even if the US, it’s largely regional. I was in SF and Oakland on ash wednesday, and I saw a total of two people who did this. i grew up out here, but moved to philly at one point. I was literally shocked on ash wednesday to see so many people with a smuge on their heads.

  • Ron in Houston

    I guess the ash smear is no worse than wearing a barbaric symbol of human torture, the Christian cross, as a pendant on a necklace around your neck.

    Well, the cross does show that humans are often incapable of unspeakable behavior, but many Christians see in the cross that we’re able to transcend that.

    We each see in a symbol what we want to see. – That wacky writing in Hemant’s logo – clearly a sign he’s getting more unhinged day by day…

  • Aj

    Is he bollocks?!

    I think you’ve mixed up your British slang, Hemant.

    One, she’s a news anchor. You would think she would be aware of a religious ritual in which millions of people — – including herself, since she’s Catholic (!?!) — partake.

    a) Not all Catholics go to all services, b) where she’s from Catholics don’t seem to leave the ash on.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    Can you imagine how the conversation would go if they learned about other Catholic beliefs for the first time?

    Don’t forget the assumption of Mary! Catholics believe that Mary was assumed into heaven, because the Bible never mentions her death. That’s one belief that even most other Christians find weird.

  • Ron in Houston

    That’s one belief that even most other Christians find weird.

    One of the things that I find amazing is so many atheists are totally ignorant of the real state of “Christendom.”

    They rely on ignorant stereotypes and spout stuff that really just shows they have no clue.

    In my liberal Christian days, I’d sometimes go to functions that included a diverse group of “Christians.” One time one of the fundies said, “Oh, that person is Catholic. They’re not saved since they’re not born again.”

    Another time I heard a Catholic say, “Damn Pentecostals. Nothing but a bunch of ignorant folks flailing around with dirt under their fingernails.”

    Hey, humans are strange creatures.

  • BoomerChick

    @Ron in Houston

    Maybe the large red “A” on my tee shirt is interpreted by some as a “Scarlet Letter”.

    (I would insert a smiley emoticon here but I can’t figure out how to do it.)

  • J. Allen

    I lived 25 years in America before seeing someone with ash on their head.

  • Jim G

    I’m a reporter and an atheist who was raised Southern Baptist – and I know quite well what the Ash Wednesday tradition is. For that matter, in my experience atheists tend to be more knowledgeable about various religious traditions, not less, than members of any particular faith. While I know some atheist reporters, most of the ones I know (about a hundred) are at least nominally religious, and some are quite devout.

    I’ve seen people with said ash marks in all four cities where I’ve worked, in Florida and Kentucky – but each of them had a sizable Catholic minority, so while the sight was unusual, it wasn’t unprecedented. It would have to be a very homogeneous non-Catholic area for this to be unknown.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    If he bumped his head, that would be much more reasonable… lol

  • Ron in Houston

    For that matter, in my experience atheists tend to be more knowledgeable about various religious traditions, not less, than members of any particular faith.

    Well, if that’s the case then why do so many atheists try to portray these fundamentalist biblical literalists as what “Christians” are?

    I suspect you were raised with a rather broad world view and did have a broad understanding of various religious traditions. While that was a good thing for you, attributing it to others is flawed logic.

  • Sarah TX.

    I think most people (in the US) don’t know about the bit of Ash is because adults tend to either skip Ash Wednesday service (it is on a Wednesday, after all) or they go to the evening service and then go straight home afterward.

  • Sarah TX.

    Well, if that’s the case then why do so many atheists try to portray these fundamentalist biblical literalists as what “Christians” are?

    Because they are Christians? It’s not our job to change the popular conception of Christianity.

  • Erp

    It isn’t restricted to Catholics. Some Episcopalians (especially high church ones) and other Christians also do it. Even some evangelicals.

    However it is also fairly common to remove the ash before leaving the church.

    From dust you came and to dust you will return.

  • Jim G

    Ron, I’m afraid your assumption is false; I was raised in a conventional, if nominal, Christian household (church and Sunday school required), and most of my relatives are much more zealous. My knowledge of various religions came from my own exploration as a young (and then not-so-young) adult.

    I am speaking of atheists whom I know personally, hence the phrase “in my experience;” so no logical stumble there.

    For my part, I’d like to see some support for your claim that “many atheists” dismiss Christians in general as biblical literalists. Do you mean a majority of atheists do that? A substantial minority? Or a large number that happens to be a small percentage of a much larger population?

    For that matter, do you have any data on just what proportion of self-described American Christians are in fact biblical literalists? Are you sure that’s not really the case? Many of them (and, again, I’m talking about people I’ve actually encountered) may make that claim without having actually read much of the Bible.

  • Ron in Houston

    Jim –

    Well the fact that you say most are more “zealous” tells me that you clearly weren’t raised in a zealous Southern Baptist tradition. Like I said you have a broad knowledge of religious traditions whether it was self taught or not.

    As to support for the claim that “many atheists” dismiss Christians as “bibllical literalists,” I’ll say this. In the “new atheist” books, the projection of Christian theology is decidedly simplistic. There are many Christians that have profoundly non-theistic views of God. Heck there are even Christian atheists.

    Anytime anyone tries to make the claim that “Christians” believe in doctrines like hell, original sin, Satan, or whatever it simply makes me cringe. Clearly there are “Christians” that believe those doctrines. Are they the majority? Maybe. But saying those things is not different than saying “Blacks like watermelon” or “Asians like rice.” While they are true on one level they are ultimately stereotypical.

    I can’t speak to what the actual data are. I could go and research at groups like Pew research and maybe give you an answer. I’m mainly speaking from my own empirical data which are from my liberal progressive Christian background.

  • Tony

    I was raised catholic, and I always thought that the blob of crud they wipe on you is less prominant.

  • Jer

    Anytime anyone tries to make the claim that “Christians” believe in doctrines like hell, original sin, Satan, or whatever it simply makes me cringe. Clearly there are “Christians” that believe those doctrines. Are they the majority? Maybe.

    Are they the ones who have political clout in the US and get to meddle in science education standards? Absolutely. Do “liberal Christians” stand up to them, shout them down, and insist that they stop misrepresenting themselves as “Christains”? Rarely – only when they do something obviously offensive (see Robertson, Pat for most examples of this).

    Most atheists don’t have a beef with Christians who keep their beliefs to themselves and don’t use them as a club to beat other people with. Which is why the confrontational atheists take on fundamentalists more than any other strain of Christianity – the fundamentalists are the most offensive. If the fundamentalists all disappeared tomorrow books like you’re talking about would dry up because, frankly, no atheist really cares what John Shelby Spong’s take on Christianity is because Spong isn’t trying to smuggle Christian theology into the education system.

  • Petey

    Nobody does this in the UK (Catholic or no)

    Utterly untrue. Just because you’ve not seen it doesn’t mean nobody does it.

    Anyway, this is KAY BURLEY we’re talking about. “If you’re just joining us, the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States has been decimated by a terrorist attack.” Classic.

  • Aj

    In the “new atheist” books, the projection of Christian theology is decidedly simplistic. There are many Christians that have profoundly non-theistic views of God. Heck there are even Christian atheists.

    I lol’d. If Christian is just a meaningless label that anyone can apply to themselves then fine, but it’s not the case for everyone. Of course you know this, so it’s no more than bait ‘n switch dishonest wordplay on your part. Christians defend themselves as deists when they are not, you defend Christians with atheists, that’s not even funny.

  • Jim G

    Nonsense, Ron. You try to make assertion of “Christian” belief in Hell and such sound like a slur, when it’s nothing of the sort. Show me a black person who isn’t offended by the watermelon-munching stereotype. I, in turn, will show you churchloads of people who accept belief in a literal Satan as essential to Christian faith. Don’t like to be lumped in with them?

    Then quit calling yourself a Christian.

    No, there’s not one unanimous, definitive statement of what makes Christian belief. But is that atheists’ fault? No, of course not. That’s a matter for Christians themselves to hash out – which they’ve failed to do in nearly 2,000 years of violent argument.

    So long as there is such disagreement, however, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say “Oh, Christians believe this and not that,” when people with as much (or more) claim to the title than you believe exactly that and not this. Don’t try to pin your own doctrinal squabbles on outsiders.

  • Wendy

    “There are a couple reasons this makes me laugh.” …

    Three, there’s absolutely no ice here. It’s been 10°C (50°F) here for weeks. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom! Summer will be here before the games are over, lmao.

  • Martin

    I was raised as a catholic in a traditionally very catholic country in south america. I went to catholic schools too but I have to confess this is the first time in my life that I see this.

  • ckitching

    What would you have us do, Ron? Spell out the name of every church and faction that holds these beliefs every time we criticize those who call themselves Christian? But of course, there may be dissenters even in those churches. At some point it’s just more expedient to use the catch-all term, “Christian” to describe them. The people who believe these harmful things are not a insignificant minority. They’re loud, organized and aggressive and they mustn’t be ignored any longer.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I propose the following definitions.

    Christian: someone who is honest, kind, trustworthy, selfless, cares about their fellow man, and believes that a heavenly afterlife awaits those that repent and believe Christ died for their sins.

    Non-Christian: someone who is honest, kind, trustworthy, selfless, cares about their fellow man, but doesn’t believe that an afterlife awaits only those that repent and believe Christ died for their sins.

    P.S., not all Christians live up to the first part of the definition… neither do the non-Christians.

  • Ron in Houston

    Um – Jim G – I’m not a “Christian.” I don’t believe Christ was anything other than a man.

    Hell could be a slur to an educated Christian in the sense that the definition of “hell” has changed over the time the Bible was written.

    Atheists seem to want to say “Oh Christians believe in hell.” The fact is that this is untrue. First what is hell? Is it the place of the dead or a place of eternal torment?

    The fact that you immediately jumped to the illogical assumption that since I tried to explain the theology of “hell” to you that I must be Christian shows the exact stereotypical behavior that I’m trying to demonstrate.

    Perhaps you’re not as “rational” and logical as you think you are.

  • Ron in Houston

    I lol’d. If Christian is just a meaningless label that anyone can apply to themselves then fine, but it’s not the case for everyone.

    Well, I suppose “black” means someone with a high degree of melanin in their skin. Other than that it’s pretty much a meaningless label. Is Hemant black? He clearly has a high degree of melanin in his skin.

    Yeah, “Christian” is in many ways a meaningless label. I suppose it means they have some relation to Christ, but other than that it’s pretty much meaningless.

    Seriously, you guys claim to be rational clear thinkers? Anytime you apply a label to a group of people it only means what someone says the definition of the label is.

    I’d call you idiots but that’s simply just another label.

  • Aj

    I suppose it means they have some relation to Christ…

    You can’t even give a definition that isn’t so vague that it is meaningless.

    Anytime you apply a label to a group of people it only means what someone says the definition of the label is.

    No shit Sherlock, do you have a point, or are you pointless as usual?

  • Jim G

    Ron, do you have any idea what you are? You don’t seem to. You’re here offering apologia for Christianity, but claim not to be a Christian. On one level that’s understandable, because – and this is the gigantic point which several people have made, but you consistently refuse to address – You can’t even define what a “Christian” is or is not. Yet you spend all your time lecturing others for supposedly misunderstanding a term you can’t explain yourself.

    At last you stumble out with the admission that you think it’s “pretty much meaningless” (every so-called Christian I know would laugh in your face, by the way), apart from having “some relation to Christ.” Yet even then, your description of “Christ” differs from every mainstream “Christian” interpretation I’ve ever heard.

    Do not try to tell other people that their interpretations are wrong if you can’t defend your own – or even define them. That’s what makes your sneers about others’ “logical errors” so hilarious, though I doubt you meant to be funny.

    Again, Ron: what are you? I’m leaning toward a precise definition as “clueless yet pompous trolling git.”

  • stogoe

    It would have to be a very homogeneous non-Catholic area for this to be unknown.

    Oh, it’s certainly not limited to catholics any more. My parents’ Dutch Reformed Megachurch does the whole smudge thing now, though they did start up with it after I left their ranks.

  • Jim G

    That’s quite interesting, stogoe; do you know if just that church started doing it, or if the whole denomination did? I’ve noticed a number of megachurches, of varying denominations, adopting rituals from other groups. I suspect megachurches, being by nature an agglomeration of otherwise unrelated functions (social center, coffee shop, gymnasium, child care center, etc.) unified by the drive to get people in the door, are also adopting “popular” or conspicuous rituals as marketing tools rather than integral parts of the faith. What do you think?

  • muggle

    LOL! Don’t they have Catholics in the UK was my first reaction? (Been asked and answered in the comments so please don’t repeat.)

    I’m amazed that so many areas of the States don’t see this. I’m never aware it’s ash Wednesday until the smudges on foreheads start popping up all over the place though I have noticed a decided decrease in recent years.

    Where I live, it’s quite popular to do it on your lunch hour and some seem to do it before work too. State workers particularly run over to a church by the Empire State Plaza on their lunch and “get it out of the way” so they don’t have to after work. I’m sure they don’t mind the excuse for a long lunch either. (How’s that for devotion?)

    Of course, NY’s very highly Catholic. Lot of Irish, French and Italians around these parts.

    stogoe, you amaze me even more to hear of a Dutch Reformed church doing this. My fundy nut of a mother was Dutch Reformed and, man, she hated Catholics. My father had to convert to marry her which lead to her and my French grandmother engaged in war the whole 20 years of her marriage. Every Ash Wednesday, she’d mutter heathens at every ash ridden forehead she saw, which as I said is quite a lot around these parts.

    I’m glad she died without ever knowing that our father did sneak us off to mass once. At least to my knowledge, she never found out. He didn’t even have to tell us kids, don’t tell your mother. We weren’t exactly itching to.


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