Parting shots

I'm headed to God's country for a couple of days (i.e., the land of my birth, New Jersey) and won't be near a computer during this time in paradise.

* * * * *

From McSweeney's: The Bible You Sold Me Is Clearly Defective and I'd Like to Return It, Please."

This has got to be a bad translation because the Book of Revelation, instead of very clearly explaining the end times, the Rapture, and the final war with the Antichrist, doesn't make a damn bit of sense. It's full of a bunch of obscure symbols that are so open to interpretation, they could be applied to anything.

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Big thumbs up for the new SciFi series Eureka. Both Max Headroom and the Brother from Another Planet seem to be having a great deal of fun. Blogosphere connection: I haven't yet seen his name in the credits, but I believe that John Rogers of Kung Fu Monkey is part of the show's stable of writers.

(N.B.: Eureka appears to be using the high school gymnasium from John Tucker Must Die — or at least they seem to have an identical "Kodiaks" mascot stenciled on the gym floor. Odd.)

* * * * *

Another snippet from George Orwell's "Charles Dickens":

Roughly speaking, [Dickens'] morality is the Christian morality. … Where he is Christian is in his quasi-instinctive siding with the oppressed against the oppressors. As a matter of course he is on the side of the underdog, always and everywhere. To carry this to its logical conclusion one has got to change sides when the underdog becomes an upperdog, and in fact Dickens does tend to do so. He loathes the Catholic Church, for instance, but as soon as the Catholics are persecuted (Barnaby Rudge) he is on their side. He loathes the aristocratic class even more, but as soon as they are really overthrown (the revolutionary chapters in A Tale of Two Cities) his sympathies swing round. Whenever he departs from this emotional attitude he goes astray. A well-known example is at the ending of David Copperfield, in which everyone who reads it feels that something has gone wrong. What is wrong is that the closing chapters are pervaded, faintly but not noticeably, by the cult of success. It is the gospel according to Smiles, instead of the gospel according to Dickens.

Orwell's summary of what constitutes "Christian morality" is intriguing. He was not, himself, a Christian, yet what he writes here about Dickens was also true for him, so make of that what you will.

As literary criticism, this strikes me as dead on. Dickens does seem, on occasion, to "go astray," and here I think Orwell identifies precisely why.

But set aside Dickens and apply this instead to the public religious discourse here in America, of which it could also be said that "Everyone who reads it feels that something has gone wrong."

What is wrong is that it is pervaded, not faintly but overwhelmingly, by the cult of success. It sides with the upperdogs and goes astray.

  • Stephen Frug

    That’s one of my favorite of Orwell’s essays. If anyone hasn’t read it, I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s great.

  • Aaron M

    John Rogers wrote the episode that aired this week. According to his blog, he’s doing a podcast commentary with Colin Ferguson (Sheriff Carter), but it hasn’t been posted yet.

  • Dahne

    Huh. I never kenw that Dickens was True Neutral.

  • http://www.boarsheadtavern.com/archives/2006/08/02/2243540.html The Boars Head Tavern

    http://www.boarsheadtavern.com/archives/2006/08/02/2243540.html

    As much as I think Jack is nuts when it comes to libertarianism, he speaks much sense about the Iraqi occupation. I will not elaborate, for fear of incurring the wrath of the bartender. (Yes, I know people serving in Iraq, and no, I dont conside…

  • Evan

    Not only does American christianity side with the upper dog, but it’s often taught and preached like some weird combination of Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale. Corporate, self-help salvation. Protestant work ethic mutated and in 21st century overdrive. Put your Franklin planner in one pocket and your bible in the other!

  • Doctor Science

    Joisey! I didn’t know you were from around here! I’d say “let’s find a place to meet and drink liberally”, but in fact I’m going to be sweating and packing for vacation, myself. But if you’re heading to the Greater Princeton area I’m prepared to change my mind.

  • J

    But set aside Dickens and apply this instead to the public religious discourse here in America, of which it could also be said that “Everyone who reads it feels that something has gone wrong.”
    Okay Fred, I’m with you so far . . .
    What is wrong is that it is pervaded, not faintly but overwhelmingly, by the cult of success. It sides with the upperdogs and goes astray.
    Well . . . yeah, I agree with you there. But that only seems like Thing #2 that’s wrong with religious discourse in America. What seems like Thing #1 is the radical narrowing of the concept of Sin to include only 2 things: 1.) Sex or 2.) Science. If it doesn’t somehow touch upon those things, it simply is not accepted as Evil. Certainly, the separation of Greed from the category of Sinful Things touches upon your point. But Wrath too; religious folk (not even necessarily just Christians) are vastly more accepting of a person who’s killed 10 people than a person who’s fucked 10 people (serially or simultaneously).
    I’ve said this before: There are many and varied pastors (and rabbis and certainly imams) who would embrace and forgive one of the Marines in the Haditha massacre but never would a gay man.

  • jackd

    My favorite in the McSweeney’s link: “My understanding is that Noah is supposed to be a large, talking cucumber.”
    But that’s because I have a kid in elementary school.

  • J

    Nah, THIS has got to be the McSweeney’s gold medalist for Winner of the Internet:
    Roller-Derby
    Pseudonyms for
    Literature Majors.
    Count of Monte Fist-o
    Tess of the D’Urberkills
    Holden Brawlfield
    Anna Scar-enina
    MacDeath
    David Chopperfield
    Robinson Abuso
    The Brothers Tearhisarmsoff
    Maul Flanders
    Jane Scare
    The Plague

  • Jim

    “Not only does American christianity side with the upper dog, but it’s often taught and preached like some weird combination of Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale”
    No. You are not talking about Chrisitianity. You are talking about mmodern-day Evangelicalism. Get your terms straght.
    J is right as to how this has happened. It is not a new development. This is the pay-off that Phariseeism offers – demonize some behavior, perferably easily avoided, avoid it, feel righteous.

  • Wakboth

    “No. You are not talking about Chrisitianity. You are talking about mmodern-day Evangelicalism. Get your terms straght.”
    My favorite term for this is Christianism; it shares the same relationship with Christianity as Islamism does with Islam.

  • cminus

    I like Eureka, but it does suffer from a suspension of disbelief problem.
    A major element of the show, of course, is the amazing toys they’re working on in Eureka. Given how well they seem to work, it’s stunning that they haven’t been mass-produced and put to use outside Eureka. For example, I’m certain the military would pay any price for a bodysuit, lightweight and easy to move in, that can “only” take bullets from anything up to a tripod-mounted machine gun loaded with armor-piercing ammunition without even leaving a bruise, rather than whining that it doesn’t work against napalm as well. Likewise the force field capable of stopping a speeding car or the short-term memory eraser. And one can imagine a ready civilian market for a hologram projector, which in Eureka is used by 11 year olds to provide scenery for class plays.
    This is a problem with most superhero comic books as well. Rather than using their super-powered science gadgets to rob banks, why aren’t these supervillains incorporating in some no-questions-asked corporate haven and selling battlesuits or blaster rifles or practical jet-packs or what have you? With Reed Richards building clean, cheap and reliable fusion power, why isn’t the Richards Automotive Fusionmobile the best-selling car in the world?
    I’m perfectly able to suspend belief to allow for the existence of kinetic-damping bulletproof suits, force fields, battlesuits, blaster rifles and unstable molecule spandex. I have trouble understanding why they would have so little impact on society as a whole. It’s a little like the time I went to see “Being John Malkovich” with a woman from Jersey who had gone to school at NYU. When John Cusack comes back from his first trip into Malkovich and excitedly tells Catherine Keener that he found a magical portal through which he got to be inside John Malkovich’s head until he was dumped by the side of the Jersey turnpike thirty-five minutes ago, she stood up in a crowded theater and indignantly cried “there’s no way he could have made it from that part of the turnpike to Manhattan in thirty-five minutes!” Magical portal to John Malkovich’s head, sure. Magical rearrangement of metro New York geography and transportation patterns, not buying it.

  • Aaron M

    cminus: I must remember never to go to the movies with your friend.

  • Evan

    “No. You are not talking about Chrisitianity. You are talking about modern-day Evangelicalism. Get your terms straght.”
    Like it or not, evangelical christianity is still a form of christianity. Don’t commit the error of taking the forms of a religion you find acceptable and making those the basis of definition. Evangelical christianity has millions of adherents, and has been a huge part of American religious history, so that makes it as legitimate as any other form of christianity. Sufism is a weird offshoot of Isalm that, though it does not advocate violence, contains some pretty loopy stuff, as far as mainstream Muslims are concerned. Would you call that Islamism? Sufis call it Islam, and I respect that. And the evangelicals call themselves christian.
    Though I do love the term “Christianism,” sort of like “truthiness.”

  • zzyzx

    Cminus- the comic Starman addressed that issue. Ted Knight (a hero from the 40s) was able to harness cosmic energy and used that to create a superhero weapon (unfortunately) named the “cosmic rod.” The modern comic was about his son Jack. Jack didn’t want to be a hero, but he agreed to do so if his father would spend his time bringing cosmic energy to the masses.

  • Alex R

    In my mind (and I purposefully didn’t go look it up), Islamism is a *political* movement rather than a religious one: Islamists are those who want to turn their countries into Islamic theocracies. Christianism, to me, is the Christian analogy — they’re not as extreme as the Islamists, yet, but the basic pattern is there: the Christianists want goverment to enforce their brand of Christianity. This should not be confused with (religiously) conservative evangelicalism, even though the overlap is enormous. For an example of the difference, see this.
    The “cult of success” referred to by Fred is yet another thing, and it’s been around for a while — much longer than the Christian Coalition or the Moral Majority.

  • cjmr’s husband

    Alex R: What you described is called “Dominionism”; I’m not sure what “Christianism” means either.
    The dominionists are the idiots who insist that “This is a Christian Nation!” and “All of the Founding Fathers were Christians!” and therefore we should be a theocracy.

  • Duane

    For an example of the difference, see this.
    GREAT read. Those rare exceptions, while wonderful and inspiring, are still exceptions.

  • Jen R

    I like the term “Christian Supremacists” for folks like the ones who drove the Dobrich family out of their home. These are the people who believe that their religion (and usually their denomination, though they’ll mostly save those fights for when they’ve vanquished the non-Christians) should be on top, running society according to their rules. They can’t tolerate the notion that followers of other religions or no religion are their equals.

  • cminus

    Aaron M, there’s no need to worry. When she realized what she’d done, she almost vanished in a cloud of embarassment and hasn’t done anything like that since. Even though the point remains, the lesson was learned.

  • Reverend Ref

    I don’t believe I have ever heard the phrase “God’s country” and “New Jersey” ever uttered in the same sentence until now.

  • bellatrys

    No. You are not talking about Chrisitianity. You are talking about mmodern-day Evangelicalism. Get your terms straght.
    It’s not just Evangelicalism, either. Hang out with conservative Catholics of the Buckley stripe (or their hangers-on and wannabees, like the Tom Monaghan brigade) and you’ll hear things like “Hey, Jesus said the poor would always be with us – if you eradicate poverty, you’ll be going against the will of God! (snicker]” over the caviar and champagne.
    You can pretend they’re not “really” Christians, but you’ll have to explain how centuries of Puritans, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and mainstream respectable Protestants of all denominations who believe this way just don’t count, despite what they (and their bishops and clerics at all levels) have believed for generations. Unless you’ve got the literal, temporal power to excommunicate them, your opinion that they’re not “really” Christians is kind of like me saying that GW Bush isn’t really an American citizen…we might not *like* to have the Podsnaps in the same club with us, considering as we do that they are hypocrites who do not even try to live in accordance with what we consider to be the core principles etc – but we’re not the ones making the rules, now, are we?

  • luminouscarl

    “God has no religion.” Mahatma Gandhi
    Read the 101 Greatest Quotes of All Time
    http://www.carlhuttononline.com/

  • J

    You can pretend they’re not “really” Christians, but you’ll have to explain how centuries of Puritans, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and mainstream respectable Protestants of all denominations who believe this way just don’t count, despite what they (and their bishops and clerics at all levels) have believed for generations. Unless you’ve got the literal, temporal power to excommunicate them
    Verily. I’ve said the same thing before–and I apologize to anyone who’s getting bored of hearing me repeat it–that religion is as the majority of its adherents do.
    I came to this opinion during one of my Jewish Studies classes. The teacher said, “What do we mean when we talk about ‘Jewish behavior’?” Lots of ideas were immediately bounced around, mostly regarding differing levels of observance of the law. The guy listened to all these ideas politely, wrote them on the board, etc. But then he said, “Well, my own idea is that Jewish behavior is simply whatever ways Jews behave.”
    At the time I angrily rejected that idea–”What about Jews who behave shamefully?” I thought/said–but now I accept it. And I accept it about every religion. It isn’t that I always agree with what the majority says (in fact, I rarely agree with what the majority of all religions say), it’s just that it seems like a pointless endeavour to go around trying to parse out “pure” from “impure” religious behavior and beliefs.
    This really has gotten driven home for me in the push by both Muslims and Western apologists for Islam to portray jihadism as a “struggle for the soul of Islam.” That’s a narrative that would be a lot more convincing if there were anyone of serious political weight engaged in the other side of the struggle. But to me, jihadism seems like a fairly uncontested movement within the Islam world. Not thousands, not hundreds, not even dozens of people take to the streets to protest against suicide bombings. But easily that many take to the streets in favor of them.

  • Jesurgislac

    J: Not thousands, not hundreds, not even dozens of people take to the streets to protest against suicide bombings. But easily that many take to the streets in favor of them.
    Actually, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Israeli Jews have recently staged demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Um al Fahem in northern Israel. According to this news report Thousands of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship took part in a demonstration in Um al Fahem on July 30. The protesters carried signs calling for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. cite So you’re just wrong about that, J.

  • Beth

    It’s a good thing I wasn’t in that class, J. I would have pointed out that when we talk about “Jewish behavior,” we invite stereotyping, and when we lump all Jews together and judge them en masse based on our beliefs about how Jews behave, we are bigots.
    But to me, jihadism seems like a fairly uncontested movement within the Islam world.
    And it’s equally bigoted when we do it to Muslims.
    Not thousands, not hundreds, not even dozens of people take to the streets to protest against suicide bombings.
    I don’t remember hearing about protests like that, but then I don’t remember hearing about large numbers of Jews taking to the streets to protest bombings of civilian sites by Israel either. For that matter, I don’t remember even small demonstrations by Republicans protesting the aerial bombardment of Iraq, despite the fact that it killed a lot more civilians than the Israeli military and suicide bombers — including 9/11 — put together. If we wanted to go back in time, I don’t suppose we would have seen many leftists taking to the streets to protest Stalin’s atrocities either.
    I can see a couple of explanations for the relative lack of energetic condemnation of suicide bombing by Muslims:
    1. Most Muslims, like most human beings in general, tend avoid loud, public condemnation of people they’re sympathetic towards.
    or
    2. Islam is an evil religion, and most Muslims are violent Jihadists, even those populations that have no real history of organized terrorism (e.g. Muslim-Americans).
    (Personally, I’m leaning toward #1.)

  • http://www.zigguratofdoom.com/?p=1593 The Ziggurat of Doom

    So what DOES the H stand for?

    To celebrate being back from Otakon: Some thoughts on defective Bibles.
    I could not find the part where Moses says, You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you all to Hell!
    Good stuff.
    (Via Slacktivist.)

  • Angelika

    I think most human beings tend to avoid loud public condemnations of other people at all and for a couple of good reasons:
    - They have other things to do.
    - They don’t expect their loud public condemnations to yield the desired effect.
    - They are afraid that their loud public condemnation of somebody else’s missbehavior might attract said somebody’s violent attention to themselves.
    Not loudly protesting something is definitively not the same as being sympathetic with said something.

  • Jesurgislac

    And in fact, Muslims worldwide have and do condemn attacks by Islamic terrorists on civilians. Those condemnations tend not to be publicised by a media which prefers a black/white view of the issue – and thus, people like J keep asking “Where are the Muslims who condemn Islamic terrorism? We never hear from them!”

  • J

    I would have pointed out that when we talk about “Jewish behavior,” we invite stereotyping, and when we lump all Jews together and judge them en masse based on our beliefs about how Jews behave, we are bigots.
    This was a yeshiva class. Jewish teacher, all Jewish students, Jewish me.
    Not loudly protesting something is definitively not the same as being sympathetic with said something.
    Maybe.
    Thousands of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship took part in a demonstration in Um al Fahem on July 30. The protesters carried signs calling for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. cite. So you’re just wrong about that, J.
    So . . . where in that do you find the condemnation of suicide bombers? Arab Israelis don’t like having their cousins across the border being occupied; that’s been an established fact for 39 years.
    I don’t remember hearing about protests like that, but then I don’t remember hearing about large numbers of Jews taking to the streets to protest bombings of civilian sites by Israel either.
    I’d love it if you could posit a defense for Muslim violence or acceptance-of-violence that didn’t involve an equivocation with someone else’s violence or acceptance-of-violence. But no matter; fact is that there are at least 2 big groups of Jews who do criticize Israel all the time–even up to an including regular public protests: A.) Super-seculars like me and B.) Certain groups of Satmar Hasidim, who believe that the renewed state of Israel should only be created by God, not man.

  • Beth

    Jewish teacher, all Jewish students, Jewish me.
    Doesn’t matter. If you’re judging people based on ethnicity or broad religious identification, you’re a bigot.
    I’d love it if you could posit a defense for Muslim violence or acceptance-of-violence that didn’t involve an equivocation with someone else’s violence or acceptance-of-violence.
    My argument didn’t involve an “equivocation” with someone else’s; it involved an equivalence with almost everyone else’s. The lack of street protests by Muslims doesn’t tell us anything except that they’re not that different from anybody else.
    there are at least 2 big groups of Jews who do criticize Israel all the time–even up to an including regular public protests: A.) Super-seculars like me
    Really? When was the last time you took to the streets to condemn Israeli actions?

  • wintermute

    I’ve been thinking about the question “what is Jewish behaviour?”, and (while I suspect the question itself is bigoted), I can’t think of any answer that makes sense other than “the behaviour of Jews”. I think it’s as meaningless a question as “what is Pepsi-drinker behaviour?” or “what is scientist behaviour?”.
    I think the question is simply meaningless, and can only be answered with a tautlogy, as your teacher did. Any other answer is certainly bigoted, but I can’t see how “Jews behave in the way that Jews behave” is an attempt to judge people based on anything…


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