Recently in Religion Category

Discovering Chu-bu and Sheemish


I have a book-owning problem, a logical consequence of the book-buying problem I had for ages. The book-buying problem was especially bad when I was in grad school in Iowa City: not only did I have to buy books for school, for fun I would wander into Prairie Lights Bookstore on my way home and see if there was anything interesting on the remainder table (and there almost always was).

The book-buying problem is pretty much under control these days; I get stuff from the library and only buy things I a) must have for a project or b) know I'll like because it's by a writer I love. The book-owning, though still a problem, is not as bad as it used to be, because I've been reading stuff on my shelves and realizing that I don't need to own a lot of it any more.

Sometimes this is a cause of distress, as when FINALLY I read Franny and Zooey after owning it for almost three decades, and realized I HATED it: pretentious prose, annoying characters, and not that much actual story. I hauled that book back and forth across the continent more than once, when I should have just started it one night and put it in a box the next morning to take to a used bookstore.

Two Different Kinds of Prodigy

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"Prodigy" typically refers to someone of extraordinary talent or ability, especially a child. A fun fact I picked up somewhere in the last two decades is that it originally meant "an unnatural happening," and so referred to omens or things of prophetic significance--as well as to something so unnatural it's monstrous. I once found it listed as a synonym for "monster."

The videos below were both sent to me by a friend who like me is a poet interested in religion. The first one involves many meanings of prodigy.... The last one is much simper, and will help alleviate some of the horror you will no doubt experience as you watch the first.

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I can't say how much that video freaks me out. The difference between the kid sitting and smiling at the "Today" lady or yawning or playing with his shoelaces because he's bored, versus the kid when he's all worked up, dabbing at his sweat with his folded handkerchief, really disturbs me. And then, when he starts jumping and down and shrieking, "But the Lord is gonna do it. That means God has to do it, and then God is gonna do it, and then Jesus has to do do it, and then God is gonna do it," as if that was anything but nonsense, I almost believe I have seen the anti-christ.

Whereas this is just nice. Perhaps the kid's mom helped him with intonation and expression, but it's still a very nice presentation of a terrific poem.

MHP: About Faith

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I became a fan of Melissa Harris-Perry thanks to her appearances on the Rachel Maddow Show, but it never occurred to me to google her until she mentioned that her ancestors were Mormon polygamists, a fact that influenced but did not determine her ideas about a number of things, including faith. I think I would have been moved by her statement on faith posted below even without knowing that, but it certainly didn't hurt my response to be aware of that.

This is the kind of faith I want to have, btw.

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An Alleged Ledge


A perq of living in Salt Lake City is that some cool stuff happens here. Things other people consider international events are local for me. One such event is Sunstone; another is the Sundance Film Festival, the largest venue in the world for independent films. The 2011 Festival is happening right now.

OK, most of the really cool stuff happens up at the Sundance Institute, in/near Park City, about an hour up into the mountains to the east of SLC. But there are still screenings in theaters in SLC.

My first January here, 2009, I was mostly annoyed by Sundance, because it meant I got really bad service at my favorite tea house. My second January, I actually paid attention to Sundance; I really wanted to see 8:The Mormon Proposition, but I was denied.

However, one of my friends picked up tickets to two other films, and offered me a ticket to whichever one I wanted to see most. I wisely chose the one that actually had a narrative, and it turned out to be The Kids Are All Right. So I can say that I saw an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture back before it had a distributor, which is, if not exactly an accomplishment that says anything about me except that I'm lucky to have a friend with good taste and a generous nature, still cool.

Yesterday evening this same friend called to say that he'd scored tickets to a screening in SLC; did I want to go? He didn't even manage to tell me what the movie was before I said yes.

Catholic Rant

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the fact that I didn't grow up Catholic does not prevent me in any way from considering this freakin' genius.

h/t Life as a Reader

"So why would an atheist know more about religion than a Christian?"

That question comes from an article in the LA Times, discussing "a survey that measured Americans' knowledge of religion [and] found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths." It's not really surprising, given that

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

The result is that they know what they're rejecting.

One funky bit is that "Jews and Mormons ranked just below [atheists/agnostics] in the survey's measurement of religious knowledge -- so close as to be statistically tied." In fact, "Mormons, who are not considered Christians by many fundamentalists, showed greater knowledge of the Bible than evangelical Christians."

Another report on the survey, via MSNBC noted that

On questions about Christianity, Mormons scored the highest, with an average of about eight correct answers out of 12, followed by white evangelicals, with an average of just over seven correct answers. Jews, along with atheists and agnostics, knew the most about other faiths, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Less than half of Americans know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, and less than four in 10 know that Vishnu and Shiva are part of Hinduism.

So I guess that means that formerly Mormon atheists/agnostics REALLY know their god shit, right? No wonder it's so rewarding to discuss religion with post-Mormons.

I love my people, man. I love my peeps.

p.s. For good measure, you can always read the NY Times coverage of the study too.

p.p.s. Take a shortened version of the questionnaire used in the survey yourself.

No Way, Yahweh!

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Hopefully you have already discovered Sassy Gay Friend on your own, but in case you haven't, and in case you haven't yet seen the "Eve" episode, here it is:

(If you haven't already seen it, watch the "Romeo and Juliet" ep--love the line "you took a roofie from a priest!")



I recently came across an email address that announced its owner's religious rigidity and intolerance. Of course the person has the right to have such an email address, but they are active in the world of interfaith community building and use it to conduct intellectual business--even with people who do not share their beliefs.

Imagine getting a message from someone who claims to respect intellectual inquiry, verifiable evidence, academic freedom and scientific consensus, but has the email address Or someone who claims to care about gender and sexual equality but has the email address Or someone who worked for understanding between races but had the email address

OK, it's possible if not probable that any such address is a joke, designed to express not how the bearer sees him/herself but how s/he is seen by others. But would that make it a funny joke? Or one that's likely to help the person's cause of building bridges across different belief systems and intellectual approaches?

It's one thing to write a blog entry or comment joking about the worst way you might be seen by others. But to use it as a way of introducing and identifying yourself in the world at large? When there are so many other choices out there, like Or

It Could Happen to Someone You Know

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I finally read The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. Given that I've read most of her books, several of them more than once (and taught one of them twice), it didn't exactly surprise me when the first half of the book or so was sorta familiar, but it did made it not all that fun to read.... But I perked right up around page 150, when she starts discussing John Duns Scotus (1265-1308), a theologian who "was convinced that reason could demonstrate the existence of anything" (149) and asserted that God was a "mere being"--in other words, a completely knowable entity, whom you get to know by asking the right questions and thinking the right thoughts.

I perked up because that's basically the theology I was raise with.

Armstrong then goes on to discuss an English poet, hermit and mystic named Richard Rolle (c. 1290-1348) who was all about feeling the spirit. He and a bunch of other mystics "[cultivated] a type of prayer that was devoted almost exclusively to the achievement of intense emotional states, which they imagined were an 'experience' of God," (152), which, Armstrong argued, was totally fucked up. She discusses the fact that up to that point in Christianity, and even in many other traditions to this day, those who devoted themselves to god were also supposed to serve their community, and the real mark that one had an understanding of "god" was that one would become more compassionate. Instead, in monotheism, "a flood of pleasurable and consoling emotion would be seen by more and more people as a sign of God's favor" (154). And I totally perked up at that, because that's a fair description of Mormonism, which is all about "feeling the spirit"--"feeling the spirit" is how you "have a personal revelation" that the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith and the president of the church blah blah blah are all what they purport to be.

She concludes part one of the book by remarking that "the 'God' with whom these so-called mystics are infatuated is simply the product of their own unhinged imagination" (157). And that is the point at which we arrive at our modern concept of God, and that is the crappy god we are stuck with these days.

The next two chapters are on science and religion, and I recommend them highly. She provides a fairly nice history of Renaissance astronomy and the process by which we moved to a heliocentric model of the solar system. I've tried about five times to summarize the chapters but none of my efforts are adequate.... Besides, what's most important to me is that she argues that atheism is really the only logical option if you apply to religion the standards of evidence and reason and proof required in science, because the god of modern monotheism, who really settled in around 1500, is a nasty, evil, incoherent, idolatrous impossibility.


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