Category Archives: religion

Holiday Mash-Up

Quick quiz: What do Jesus and the poop emoji have in common? They both are associated with Easter, silly!

Don’t believe me? Just go to the Easter display in your local store. There you can find cross-shaped tins of candy with the saying “Jesus Saves” and the offer “Jesus Jelly Bean Prayer Inside.” Then there’s the ever-so-seasonal pastel plastic poop emoji that, well, poops candy. (It also has whimsical bunny ears. As you can see.)

Now I don’t mind the mash-up of Christian Easter with its pagan roots. That practice has been around long enough to make it into a tradition. The pagan symbols of Easter are relatively easily adapted from their earlier symbolism of fertility and renewal to their Christian identification with resurrection. New life, and all of that. Eggs. Lambs. Chicks. Even bunnies, that most suggestive of symbols for burgeoning life.

But lately, there’s something … odd about the merchandise that’s offered for consumption on Easter. It’s not just that the pagan roots are showing. It’s more like Easter is getting confused with Christmas. Or maybe Halloween. Easter is getting to be yet another occasion for retailers to make a buck in the name of wretched excess. 

Look at the Easter displays in your local supermarket or department store. You’ll find baskets, all right, but many of them look more like trick-or-treat pails than things a seasonal rabbit would deliver. Now you can find them shaped like a Troll head or Mickey Mouse, and adorned with Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman, Despicable Me Minions, Spiderman, and other characters more often associated with Halloween costumes. There are even felt “baskets” adorned with pictures of dinosaurs and volcanos.

(Dinosaurs have theological implications, of course, as reminders of evolution. When pressed, some Christians will claim that dinosaur bones were put into rocks by Satan, to test the belief of the faithful. But I digress.)

Obviously, these assorted characters are meant to appeal to media-obsessed kids, and so are the trinkets the Easter baskets are loaded with. Barbies. Water guns. Chocolate soccer eggs. Posters and stickers and PJ Masks toys. Any gimcrack fancy that can pull in a few bucks, whether or not it’s related to Jesus or Oestre.

When did superhero, sports, and other fashionable toys become symbols of Easter? Back in the day, we got plush rabbits. Of course, we also had a limited choice of sweets – jelly beans, gum drops, and chocolate bunnies (which occasioned the eternal question of whether to bite off the ears or the tail first). Christmas candy consisted largely of candy canes and “books” of Life-Savers. Halloween candy was much more varied. 

Halloween has already surrendered its place as a Christian celebration (the eve of All Saints’ Day) to being a childhood ritual of door-to-door sugar-laden extortion. Sugar skulls for Día de Los Muertos may be gaining on fun-size Snickers.

Now both the commercialism of Christmas and the pop culture iconography of Halloween have made their way into children’s Easter baskets. The hell of it (sorry not sorry) is that it’s most likely too late to turn back now.

Mash-ups of Christian and pagan holidays are par for the course. We get the Druidic Christmas trees and the Coke-ified Santa (originally a Christian Saint Nicholas) and the exchange of gifts on Saturnalia melded with of the celebration of a quiet birth.

I’m not saying that cultural mash-ups aren’t fun or happy or festive. I’m just saying it’s all gotten a little out of hand. We now have the ubiquitous image of Santa kneeling at the manger. How long until we have Mickey Mouse rolling away the stone?

 

Science Madness

The problem these days is not so much “mad scientists” as people who are mad at science.

Where did the Mad Scientist come from? Arguably it was Mary Shelley’s horror novel Frankenstein, published in 1818. Science fiction classics like Jules Verne’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) kept up the theme and the “Golden Age” of science fiction provided many more examples.

In these novels, scientists either tampered with things better left alone or succumbed to a lust for power. Death rays and the precursors of gene splicing abounded. The outcome was mostly dreadful, except for those few gallant hero scientists who managed to save Earth from a deadly plague/alien/monster/giant something/tomato.

While the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s were the heyday of mad scientists in fiction, they also constituted a time when real scientists were heroes. The atomic bond ended WWII in the Pacific. Polio was conquered. The U.S. space program began. (So did the “Space Race,” what with the Soviets and their Sputnik.)

Back then, scientists were revered.

Later on, not so much.

There was the conflict between science and religion, way back before Mary Shelley warned us about “playing God.” Galileo and Kepler removed us from our God-given place in the center of the universe, and Darwin implied that we were just another animal. The Earth suddenly became billions of years old,  circling a mediocre star.

Then there was fallout, both literal and figurative, from the atomic bomb. Medical science gave us thalidomide. NASA spent billions of dollars, with no guaranteed payoff. Science didn’t seem like such a good deal after all.

And that led to changes in the general public’s attitude toward science.

By the ’60s. medicine was under fire from those who found Eastern philosophy and natural healing just as good, or better. Physicists were condemned for the same atomic bomb for which they had been lauded. (Even Einstein took a hit over that.)

And there’s some truth to the complaints. Many scientists believed that math, physics, and chemistry were all. If it didn’t have numbers attached to it, forget it. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, and most other -ologies were “soft sciences,” barely sciences at all. Hard sciences ruled. Special relativity and moral relativity butted heads.

Slowly, the ground under science had shifted. Now science was the enemy, the domain of elitists and narcissists and people who felt they were entitled by their intellect to run the world.

Of course, the stereotypes from early science fiction had nothing to do with that.

But the Average Man (and Woman) had a bone, or at least a fossil, to pick with science and scientists. Again, science was denying what people believed.

People believed in the efficacy of non-Western medicine, or at least the non-efficacy of Western medicine. Science believed in genetics and stem cells and cloning.

People believed in souls and the spiritual realm. Scientists believed in the measurable.

People believed in religion. Science believed in science.

You can see where this is heading – right back to the days when science meant slime monsters and scary aliens and death rays. Because what, after all, is the distance between growing human organs and creating life in the lab, between a cloned sheep and a half-man-half-fly, between a laser-guided missile and a death ray?

And many scientists are arrogant, dismissive of popular opinion, and unwilling to engage in dialogue with opposing viewpoints. “Because I said so,” seems to be enough for them.

Unfortunately, “because I said so” seems to be enough for the general populace as well. (Or “because the Bible, or David Avocado Wolfe, or Jenny McCarthy said so.”)

Unfortunately, everyone is shouting and no one is listening.

Personally, I am a sometimes science geek as well as a word nerd, thanks to high school chemistry and physics, college astronomy, and lots of reading. I don’t think science knows it all, and it’s a long way from figuring it all out. I also think that psychology and spirituality and art have a lot to teach us about the human condition and our place in the universe.

If only we didn’t have all these mad scientists and people mad at scientists mucking things up.

 

 

The Nature of Terrorism

According to the definition of “terrorism,” we have some pretty half-assed terrorists out there.

Merriam Webster defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Another definition says: “a surprise attack involving the deliberate use of violence against civilians in the hope of attaining political or religious aims.”

And the word terrorist is defined as “a person, group, or organization that uses violent action, or the threat of violent action, to further political goals….”

What’s missing from terrorism as spoken of by the media, politicians, and the general public? The goal. The coercion. Especially when discussing “domestic terrorism,” most of the examples have no goal. When no goal can be accomplished or even named, what you have is crime, not terrorism.

Oh, certainly some of them have goals – pointless, ineffective ones. The 9/11 attacks had a goal of destabilizing U.S. political, military, and financial structures. In that sense, it was terrorism. But as a goal, it was poorly thought-out. Political, military, and financial power in the U.S. are simply too complex and decentralized to be destroyed or even much hindered by destroying a symbol of that power.

Destroy the Pentagon and military power remains (not that the bombers succeeded in destroying the Pentagon). Destroy the World Trade Center and American capitalism carries on. Eliminate the White House and structures exist for the government to continue. While those events were powerful as symbols, as attempted coercion, they had the opposite of the effect intended. They did not weaken U.S. power; if anything, they increased it.

Goals of more “successful” terrorist actions have been more precise, and more effective. The terrorist acts of the Irish Republican Army resulted in the release from prison of members of their organizations. The domestic Islamic terrorism of the Taliban caused women in Afghanistan to abandon jobs and other freedoms for fear of violence against them. The violence and threat of more violence coerced them into altering their behavior.

Compare the lack of effectiveness of “Islamic terrorism” in the U.S. Any Sharia law enacted? No. Any convicted prisoners freed? Any populations so terrorized that they abandon former freedoms and daily routines? These shootings and bombings have been crimes, but not actual terrorism. Or at least not terrorism successful in its objectives.

And what of “lone-wolf” terrorism in the U.S.? (Let’s remember that Timothy McVeigh was not a lone wolf. He had accomplices. And they caused terrible death and destruction, but not terror in the sense of attempted coercion.) David Koresh’s Branch Davidians did not have an apparent goal. They caused fear for the people held hostage and for the lives of the government representatives trying to remove them from their compound. But they posed no real threat to the ATF, the U.S. government, or the population of Waco, TX – only to themselves and their children. The Unabomber’s schizophrenic efforts seemed random to anyone who could not follow his demented logic, because they were, indeed, random and unhinged.

The anthrax scare was perhaps the most ineffective of all. While ostensibly targeting the media and the Congress (again, to what supposed effect?), they primarily caused terror among tabloid mailroom employees and assistants who open mail for higher-ups. Fear, maybe. Terror, no. There were no demands, no goals, no proposed change in potential victim behavior.

In the U.S., the most “successful” terrorist actions have been those against abortion clinics and gay meeting places. Abortion clinics have not been eliminated (at least by bombings and shootings), but employees have in response to the death and destruction quit their jobs or instituted complex and expensive security measures. Bombings and shootings at gay night clubs and hate crimes against individuals, for example, have not eliminated the gay population, of course, but they may have had a chilling effect on the gay community and their willingness to speak up, gather in public, and feel secure in public spaces.

And what of other “terrorist” attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing? Did that event have its desired effect of bringing attention to the situation in Chechnya? No. What does the citizen-on-the-street know about Chechnya? Any more than before? That bombing and other attacks have been expressions of impotent rage, futile protests, and deadly crimes, but they have not been terrorism.

Calling these actions “terrorism” gives them a power they do not have. Terrorism is meant to alter the everyday behavior of people or institutions. To some small extent, they have done that. Americans are more vigilant, more suspicious, more angry, but not more ready to give in to the goals (if any) of the terrorists. That suspicion and anger are in many cases too widespread and likewise devoid of specific achievable goals, but they are certainly not effects that supposed terrorists intended.

The terrorists have not won. Yes, they’ve killed and maimed and destroyed property and lives, strained our resources, and made us unreasonably fearful. But they’ve hardly accomplished anything.

 

 

 

Post-Feminism: Back to the Future

Now that we’ve got the marriage equality question settled for all time (1), I think it’s time we turned to a brand-new, never-before-contemplated issue of social concern – women’s rights.

That’s right. We women want rights.

What rights, you ask?

Well, I dunno. There are so many.

The right to fair wages. The right to be believed when reporting a rape. The right not to be abused by a partner and to get something more than a restraining order that doesn’t work. The right to affordable, good-quality child care. The right to be represented in groups that make decisions about women. The right to have children or not, as we decide. The right to health care, mental health care, places in homeless shelters. The right not to be assaulted by fellow service members.

I could go on. So could you, I bet.

But, just as we’re now living in a post-racial society (2), I’m told we’re living in a post-feminist society.(3)

I’ve also heard that one of the reasons the Terrifying Gay Agenda (4) is having such current success is that they found a specific issue to organize around – marriage equality. Not “Treat Us Like Human Beings” or “Don’t Discriminate in Jobs and Housing” or “We Want Equal Rights.”

And those are some of the problems with the women’s movement – we’re not organized, we don’t have just one issue that we can knock off the list above, and “Change Society” is too vague.

So let’s narrow it down to one. For myself, I’d like to be mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. And that means the Equal Rights Amendment.(5) All we have to do, according to the experts at http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/, since the one proposed in 1972 was passed (6), is just get enough states to ratify it to put us over the top – three whole states.

The ones that haven’t ratified are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. I figure Illinois is a good place to start. Then, I don’t know – Nevada? North Carolina? Virginia? What do you think?

But let’s do it. Then see what happens with all those other issues. I’m betting the ERA will have a good effect on many of them, and more besides.(7)

What’s that? It isn’t a good time to bring up women’s rights? The climate in the country isn’t conducive to the issue? There’s no chance of it happening?

Well, was it a good time to bring up marriage equality? Was the climate of the public discussion in favor of that? Was the country ready for it? Take a look at all the strict constitutionalists scrambling to figure out a way to defy the Constitution (8), and you tell me.

And to those who say that it’s an empty gesture, that an Equal Rights Amendment will make no real difference in women’s lives, think about what happened once black people were mentioned in that foundational document. No, it didn’t change everything for the better right away. But it sure got the ball rolling.

And I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to see some ball-rolling on behalf of women.(9)

(1) *snerk*
(2) *snerk* again
(3) I had a t-shirt that said “I’ll be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.” My husband and I both wore it until you couldn’t see the letters anymore. I’d get another one if I could remember what catalog we found it in.
(4) As the joke goes, it includes brunch at 11:30, decorating committee at 4:00, and a dance at 9:00. It’s probably the dance that terrifies people.
(5) Here’s the full text:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Fifty-two whole words. Scary, isn’t it?
(6) Yes, the ERA actually passed, although almost no one remembers this. It was the ratifying that did it in.
(7) Back in the day, when the ERA came around the last time, it was sneeringly referred to by some as the Equal Restrooms Amendment. Which is actually a topic that still needs addressing. Women’s bathrooms in public buildings need more stalls than men’s to achieve parity. Women need a stall for each excretory (and hygiene) function. Men conserve space using urinals; for some unfathomable reason, they’re willing to pee without walls and doors.
(8) And/or the Supreme Court. And/or the President, for that matter. Anything mentioned in the Constitution, really, except the Second Amendment.
(9) yet more *snerk*

Books, etc.: Remembering Suzette Haden Elgin

A few days ago a friend informed me that Suzette Haden Elgin had died. This was not unexpected. She was almost 80, and had been in ill health for a while, and suffering with dementia, along with other disabilities.

I never met her, except through her work, but I mourn her passing.

Suzette was a trained linguist, a language maven, and a writer. She is perhaps best known for her books in the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series. Though not as well-known as Deborah Tannen’s or John Gray’s works, Suzette’s are practical, straightforward, and supremely useful.

She was interested in many aspects of language. She thought and wrote about language and religion, language and politics (especially framing), language and women’s issues, language and perception, language and culture, and more.

For many years she kept up a Live Journal and two newsletters. Under the LJ name Ozarque, she stimulated thought and discussion of her many fields of interest. These were lively, educational, interactive, and fascinating forums in the way that Live Journal blogs are meant to be and seldom are.

She was a writer of science fiction novels, stories, and poetry. I was astounded by her Native Tongue series. (Who besides me could possibly be interested in feminist linguistic science fiction? Many people, it turns out.)

In the Native Tongue series, Suzette described a newly created “women’s language” called Láadan. She and others pursued the idea and constructed a grammar, a dictionary, and lessons available online – way before anyone tried to do the same with Klingon.

She worked on new fiction until the dementia descended. In her LJ, she would sometimes post poems and songs (particularly Christmas carols) and solicit feedback from her audience, sometimes incorporating their suggestions into the piece. The Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Elgin Awards are given in her memory.

She attended science fiction conventions, where she could meet and interact with her readers. One she often attended was WisCon in Madison, WI, the premier feminist science fiction convention, and in 1986 was one of their Guests of Honor.

On a more personal note, she once took the time to give me feedback on a piece I was writing about bullying, also a concern of hers.

She was a kind, humane, quirky, quick-witted, creative, varied, engaged, humorous, brave lady and a brilliant scholar and writer. I will miss her and her work. The world is poorer for her passing, but richer for her legacy.

Let’s Call a Truce on Christmas

I wrote this over a year ago, but it still seems relevant.

Time to choose sides again, folks. There’s a war on Christmas, says Bill O’Reilly. No there isn’t, says Jon Stewart. Christians are being persecuted. Christians are the ones persecuting. “Merry Christmas” is forbidden. “Merry Christmas” is mandatory. The Constitution forbids manger scenes. The First Amendment protects manger scenes.

I hate war metaphors. There are too many of them and they encourage a martial mindset. War on Terror. War on Poverty. War on Drugs. Cupcake Wars. My least favorite hymn is “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”(1) So let’s dispense with the whole “War on Christmas” thing. Until automatic rifles and tactical nukes are involved. Then I’ll be willing to call it a war.

What side am I on, I hear you ask? To quote Tolkien’s Treebeard, “I am not altogether on anyone’s side because nobody is altogether on my side….” (If you promise not to say “the reason for the season,” I will admit that crass commercialism and greed are, I believe, the real forces that threaten Christmas.) So, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.(2)

Christians are being persecuted. Yes, they are, and it’s appalling, indecent, and shameful. Christians are being persecuted in Iraq. In North Korea. In India. In China. In other countries around the world. They are being killed or driven out of their homes and towns. They are jailed for preaching and handing out Bibles.

None of that is happening in the U.S., most likely because Christians are in the majority here. Christians are persecuted in places where they are in the minority. If you think you’re being persecuted by being asked to say, “Happy Holidays,” think again.

Christians aren’t allowed to say “Merry Christmas.” Well, sure you can say “Merry Christmas.” Say it to your friends and relatives. Say it to passersby and people in the streets. Say it to Jews and Muslims and Buddhists if you want. The one place saying “Merry Christmas” is frowned on is in the workplace.

Let’s think about this a minute. There are all sorts of things that employers don’t want employees to do in the workplace. Some of them don’t allow facial hair. Some insist that tattoos be covered. No one wants you to come to work with dirt under your fingernails.(3) They don’t allow you to call customers granny or bro or stink face. Why? They want you to show respect, so that customers will keep returning and spending money. Flip it. If every store that Christians went into greeted them with “Happy Hannukah” or “Joyous Eid,” would they feel welcome and respected and want to come back? No?

America is a Christian nation and should follow Christian laws. Here’s where things get sticky. It’s true that many of the founders were Christians.(4) And many of them were getting the hell out of countries that told them what kind of Christians they had to be – Catholics or Protestants. Or Calvinists or Presbyterians. Or nonbelievers.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that in the U.S. Constitution, the very first Right in the Bill of, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”(5)
Simply, the government can’t tell you what religion to be – Christian, Baha’i, Sikh, Jewish, or none of the above. And the government can’t stop you from practicing that religion, or none.(6)

And that’s it. The government can’t show preference to ANY religion, because the founders knew personally how easy it is for that to be abused.

My Freedom of Speech means I can say “Merry Christmas” if I want to. Yes, it does. The government can’t tell you not to, or punish you if you do. But the government also can’t forbid people to say “Joyous Kwanzaa” or “Enjoy the holiday of your choice.”(7) But, as noted, while the government can’t do that, many businesses ask employees not to. Blame them or boycott them if such be your inclination. Just don’t drag the government into it.

But we can’t put up manger scenes in public places. Sure you can. Have the biggest one you want in front of your house or your church or your private school or even your restaurant (if you don’t mind driving away non-Christian customers). But, again, the government wants to stay hands-off. No manger scenes in front of public buildings that everyone of every religion gets to use. Yes, all are welcome at the court building, the IRS offices, and the public schools.(8)(9)

So, that’s the story. It’s government places that have to call things “holiday” this-and-that. Many people and businesses think that’s a good idea and do likewise. Others object, and the government can’t tell them not to. It’s got enough headaches.

But it’s also the government that can’t say a thing about how you choose your holiday or celebrate it or decorate for it or speak about it. And if anyone tries to stop you, the government will tell them to cut out that nonsense.

So when former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) decried anti-Christian persecution in America, comparing it to Nazis and the Holocaust, you can just ignore him. No one here is heating the ovens, and he probably just wanted to get his name in the papers, or votes, or something. Besides, whoever mentions Nazis first, loses the argument. That’s a rule.(10)

Peace, everyone. Can we all agree on that?

(1) We’ll leave the Salvation Army out of this. For now. Except I have to say that I like the ones that play saxophones instead of ringing bells.
(2) Two cents. It’s worth exactly two cents. Duh.
(3) Except for mechanics. They can probably get away with it.
(4) Or at least deists.
(5) In this sentence, “respecting” means “about.” No law about establishment of religion.
(6) Unless you break fundamental laws, like about not beheading people. They get kinda cranky about that.
(7) My favorite. It offends either no one or everyone.
(8) You know, the ones that local, state, and federal governments (that aren’t allowed to mess with religion) let you send your children to for free.
(9) A personal plea: If you do set up a manger scene somewhere, PLEASE don’t do the kneeling Santa thing. It was thought-provoking the first 7,000 times, but now it’s merely provoking.
(10) Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies. It’s in the Third OED, which is authority enough for me.