Tiny, waterlogged Tangier Island, off the coast of Virginia in Chesapeake Bay, is full of people of faith. They believe in God. Climate science, not so much. In recent years, they’ve garnered some media attention for the paradox of largely rejecting sea-level rise while simultaneously suffering its wrath. …
American Christianity (white American Christianity) is otherworldly — “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” It had to be. Our slaves had to be converted, because everyone has to be converted. But if that were allowed to mean anything here, in this life, then those slaves could not remain slaves and we white Christians could not remain slave-owners. So the meaning and import of our faith had to be postponed to some other life in some other world. It had to be rendered utterly and steadfastly irrelevant to our lives here and now.
That theological innovation has come back to bite the white Christians of Tangier Island. But they are not unique in this regard.
• “When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the sacred pole beside it was cut down.” — Judges 6:28.
“Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans encamped in the Valley of Jezreel and offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever vandalized their idol.” — Judges 6:33
• Here’s a smart, generous piece from Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson on the boundary dynamics of white evangelical subculture, “I didn’t read Harry Potter when I was growing up. And I wasn’t alone.” She describes the wide spectrum of evangelical suspicion toward Rowling’s books, which ranged from a vaguely fearful reluctance to the kind of book-burning opposition represented by Jack Chick-style religion. Wilkinson herself seems to have missed the books not because they were forbidden, but because they were not explicitly singled out as being permitted.
This is a sharply remembered paragraph:
Many American millennials who grew up in conservative Christian families share plenty of these touchstones, things in pop culture we knew we shouldn’t watch or read or do, or things we thought we should engage with. The Simpsons was bad. A Walk to Remember was good. We kissed dating goodbye. Dungeons & Dragons, the Smurfs, and the Care Bears were bad, as were Cabbage Patch dolls (the rumor was that they were possessed by demons), but we probably read Left Behind. Plenty of young people got rid of their secular music and replaced it with Christian versions. A lot of us spent our evenings every October 31 at a church “harvest party” instead of trick-or-treating. Rejecting a lot of mainstream pop culture was part of who we were.
Charles Kuffner notes that the white-collar conman behind the Enron scandal that ripped off consumers and entire states nationwide has been granted early release, and that “as part of the early release … Skilling has to get a job.” I think we may have found Trump’s next White House Counsel.
• I agree with James McGrath here on “Jokes about Camels and the Historical Jesus.” The Aramaic word for rope is similar to the word for camel, so it’s often suggested that our translation of Jesus’ comment about the eye of the needle might be a mistranslation. The passage in question is this one, from Luke 18 (parallels in Mark 10 and Matthew 19):
How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Maybe it’s the case that Jesus’ original saying was about putting a rope through the eye of a needle, but it’s also possible that Jesus was engaging in deliberate wordplay. As McGrath points out, we have another example of Jesus clearly punning on the word “camel” to over-the-top hyperbolic effect, so that seems more in character.
I’m sticking with “camel” rather than “rope.” It would be impossible to pass either a rope or a camel through the eye of a needle, but a rope doesn’t seem quite as ridiculously impossible. Christians have spent more than 15 centuries trying to minimize or dilute the impact of this passage — even creating ridiculous urban legends about it — and I don’t want to contribute to that.
• It’s Labor Day, so let’s go with a workers’ classic: “Sixteen Tons.” This is Eric Burdon’s version from the soundtrack to the very best of the Hanks/Ryan canon.