From Father Gerard Manley Hopkins’ journals:
Nov. 8— Walking with Wm. Splaine we saw a vast multitude of starlings making an unspeakable jangle. They would settle in a row of trees; then one tree after another, rising at a signal, they looked like a cloud of specks of black snuff or powder struck up from a brush or broom or shaken from a wig; then they would sweep round in whirlwinds — you could see the nearer and farther bow of the rings by the size and blackness; many would be in one phase at once, all narrow black flakes hurling round, then in another; then they would fall upon a field and so on. Splaine wanted a gun: then ‘there it would rain meat,’ he said. I thought they must be full of enthusiasm and delight hearing their cries and stirring and cheering one another.
From the New York Times:
In what represented a cautionary tale for terrorist teachers, and a cause of dark humor for ordinary Iraqis, a commander at a secluded terrorist training camp north of Baghdad unwittingly used a belt packed with explosives while conducting a demonstration early Monday for a group of militants, killing himself and 21 other members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, army and police officials said.
I did not know that:
Today, new problems have emerged in the process of resolving old ones, but the solution is not to go back to the past. Some people may long for an era when divorce was still hard to come by. The spread of no-fault divorce has reduced the bargaining power of whichever spouse is more interested in continuing the relationship. And the breakup of such marriages has caused pain for many families.
Yet, according to the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, whenever a state adopted a no-fault divorce law, the annual rate of female suicide there dropped by 8 to 16 percent, and the incidence of domestic violence declined by roughly 30 percent.
Pope Francis has reaffirmed the reprimand of American nuns issued by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and endorsed the plan to have three bishops supervise an overhaul of the nation’s largest umbrella group of American nuns.
The announcement from the Vatican on Monday dashed the hopes of Catholic sisters and their supporters, who had hoped that the new pope might not want to meddle with women’s religious communities because of his experience in the Jesuits, a men’s religious order…
…His wonders to perform. It turns out that television, far from making us dumber, is in reality culling the morons. It’s actually the anti-boob tube, applying the best eugenic principles to the whole human race. From MedPage Today:
Men who watched TV for 20 or more hours a week had a 44% lower sperm concentration compared with men who did not watch TV. In a multivariable analysis, sperm concentration tended to be inversely associated with time spent watching TV, and a trend toward lower sperm count emerged from the data.
Let us now consider Richard Mourdock’s view of God’s role in childbirth. Mourdock (have you forgotten so quickly?) is the Republican who lost his U.S. Senate bid last fall after telling the voters of Indiana that pregnancies caused by rape are all part of God’s plan:
“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” Mourdock said during Tuesday’s Senate debate, choking up.
On the likely assumption that Mourdock believes God to be both good and omnipotent, the Almighty must therefore have intended for Mrs. Darwin to carry Charles to term. What did God have in mind with that? While we’re at it, why did Mourdock’s God forsake him on election day? And wouldn’t an actually good God have forsaken Obama on election day? Furthermore, why didn’t Barry Bonds make it into the Hall of Fame? God made steroids, didn’t She?
Our focus at Bad Attitudes is on bringing the good news. So here’s some for all you non-hard-working American taxpayers:
Researchers in New Zealand have found that people who work at least 50 hours a week are up to three times more likely to face alcohol problems. Earlier this month, the American Journal of Epidemiology reported on a global study showing that over-workers are between 40 and 80 percent more likely to suffer heart disease than others. The lead researcher of that study had previously found that middle-aged people working more than 55 hours a week tend to be disproportionately slow-witted, and to be more at risk for dementia.
A Pew survey from 2009 asked about the permissibility of torturing people suspected of terrorism. The religiously unaffiliated and those who never attend church were more likely than Catholics, evangelicals or mainline Protestants to say that torture can rarely or never be justified. The nonreligious were also more likely than Protestants, Catholics or Mormons to oppose the war in Iraq…
From the BBC:
…the former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath says Mr Bush told him and Mahmoud Abbas, former prime minister and now Palestinian President: “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.”
Asked if there was anything in retrospect he might have done differently the night he followed Trayvon Martin and shot him dead, George Zimmerman told CNN:
“No, sir. I feel that it was all God’s plan and not for me to second-guess or judge it.”
Now that I’ve discovered this site, we’ll be hearing a lot more from VietNamNet Bridge:
Ms. Bui Thi Vinh and Mr. Ha Van Toi, 91, in the southern province of Ben Tre, have officially become wife and husband on June 4.
After several months of strongly protesting the two elder people to live together, children of Ms. Vinh and Mr. Toi were glad to support them. A small party that they organized on June 4 was seen as the official wedding for the old couple.
Ms. Vinh said that being convened by the local officials, her children and Mr. Toi’s children understood the old couple’s wish. “Several days ago, Mr. Toi’s son took him to my home to visit me and then took us to the church for marriage ceremony,” she said.
Since Mr. Toi lived with Ms. Vinh in her house, the old couple went to church every morning, then they dropped by the market to buy food. They together cleaned their garden and house.
Two months ago, local people were surprised knowing that a couple of 91 years old asked the priest to perform marriage ceremony for them. Their families tried to stop the old couple from living together.
Thanks to the patience of local officials and being influenced by the public opinion that supports the old couple, the two families have understood of the two people’s hearts.
What’s clear from the record is that [Michele] Bachmann brought deeply held religious values and legal training from outside the mainstream to her career, values shaped during her unusual law school experience at Oral Roberts University.
“It was a real shocker for me to show up and hear people speak in tongues in chapel,’’ said Burnetti, Bachmann’s classmate. “It was a very exceptional place to go to school.’’
For further information, please apply here.
The Miami New Times brings us up to date on Miss Exxxotica’s spiritual awakening:
After her parents divorced in 2003, modeling became an obsession for Schwitzky, who attended Hialeah-Miami Lakes High but was never very interested in studies. At age 16, she began donning bikinis for department store ads without her mother’s permission.
Such a path can lead to only one place: a porn convention. At age 18, Schwitzky made a pilgrimage to New York City and entered the 2008 Exxxotica Expo’s pageant. The contest is relatively staid considering the setting: The girls wear G-strings and tiny bikini tops. Though slowly bending over with one’s rump to the audience is encouraged, there is no nudity.
Schwitzky vanquished her opponents and took home the $2,000 prize before returning home to gingerly explain the victory to her mother. The next year, Schwitzky won another sash: that of Miss March Hardbody, bequeathed by 305HipHop.com, an honor for which her bare chest was painted with the website’s logo.
Schwitzky regrets the dubious pageantry — sort of. “I made mistakes when I was young. So what? We’re in Miami, for God’s sake.”
Worried about her daughter’s future, Elizabeth Schwitzky began dragging Caroline to the Baptist Potential Church in Fort Lauderdale, where Pastor Troy Gramling wears jeans, sermonizes with an accompanying rock band, and sends out holy tweets.
Every Sunday, Mom says, Caroline was so moved that she would sob and run from the church. In July 2010, Pastor Gramling baptized Caroline in a hot tub. “[The Lord] wiped me clean as snow,” Schwitzky explains, “and told me that all your sins and all your mistakes are done…”
From Larry Beinart’s political thriller, The Librarian:
They had two prophets. The first, of course, was Jesus Christ. Scott claimed to have been saved, and the hard core of his support were Jesus people…
Their second prophet, and to Hagopian their real prophet, was Adam Smith, the eighteenth century economist and philosopher who had coined the phrase “invisible hand” to describe the surprising, unplanned, and unlooked-for effects of each individual pursuing his own domestic plans for gain.
To the intellectual mind, that was a simile, an “as if,” but to the believer mind it was God and God wanted us each to pursue profit to our utmost and then His “invisible hand” would combine those efforts and guide them to the true good.
Adam Smith had also said, “Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.”
Hagopian thought that was true.
If Scott’s people were men of vice, merely greedy, there would be limits to what they might do. If they were men of virtue, there were no limits, no point at which they would stop. There was no lie they would not tell, no fraud they would not perpetrate. No murder they would not commit.
Young delivered his sermon, but he couldn’t hear or see his congregation respond: He wasn’t physically there.
Young’s parishioners were instead looking at a high-def video image of their pastor beamed into their sanctuary from a “mother” church in Grapevine, Texas.
Young is part of a new generation of pastors who can be in two places at one time. They are using technology — high-def videos, and even holograms — to beam their Sunday morning sermons to remote “satellite” churches that belong to their congregation…
Esposito is a member of Fellowship Church, where he has listened to Young preach for the last five years.
“I feel closer to the sermon than I would if I ever attended in person,” Esposito said. “The screen is so big; it’s almost lifelike. I would rather see Ed [Young] on the big screen than somewhere live…”
NEW YORK — Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston say they're engaged and hope to get married within six weeks in Alaska, an abrupt turnaround for the couple that just months ago was fighting over child support and Johnston's critical comments about the family…
The couple is ready to get married but Palin told the magazine they'll probably see a marriage counselor, Schaefer said, adding that Plain made it clear that Levi will have "a lot of work to do."
Asked whether the magazine paid for the interview, Schaefer would not discuss details of the arrangement except to say that the magazine paid for the expenses of the photo shoot.
From the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON — Catholic nuns are urging Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s health care plan, in an unusual public break with bishops who say it would subsidize abortion.
Some 60 leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 Catholic nuns Wednesday sent lawmakers a letter urging them to pass the Senate health care bill. It contains restrictions on abortion funding that the bishops say don’t go far enough.
The letter says that “despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions.” The letter says the legislation also will help support pregnant women and “this is the real pro-life stance.”
Pursuant to our recent interest in agnosticism and atheism, I pass along a specimen of Bertrand Russell’s apostasy, written 60 years ago but as fresh as yesterday’s earthquakes in Haiti:
Throughout the last 400 years, during which the growth of science has gradually shown men how to acquire knowledge of the ways of nature and mastery over natural forces, the clergy have fought a losing battle against science, in astronomy and geology, in anatomy and physiology, in biology and psychology and sociology. Ousted from one position, they have taken up another.
After being worsted in astronomy, they did their best to prevent the rise of geology; they fought against Darwin in biology, and at the present time they fight against theories of psychology and education. At each stage they try to make the public forget their earlier obscurantism, in order that their present obscurantism may not be recognized for what it is. Let us note a few instances of irrationality among the clergy since the rise of science, and then enquire whether the rest of mankind are any better.
When Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning-rod the clergy, both in England and America, with the enthusiastic support of George III, condemned it as an impious attempt to defeat the will of God. For, as all right-thinking people are aware, lightning is sent by God to punish impiety or some other grave sin — the virtuous are never struck by lightning.
Therefore if God wants to strike anyone, Benjamin Franklin ought not to defeat His design; indeed to do so is helping criminals to escape. But God was equal to the occasion, if we are to believe the eminent Dr. Price, one of the leading divines of Boston.
Lightning having been rendered ineffectual by the “iron points invented by the sagacious Dr. Franklin,” Massachusetts was shaken by earthquakes, which Dr. Price perceived to be due to God’s wrath at the “iron points.” In a sermon on the subject he said, “In Boston are more erected than elsewhere in New England, and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. O! there is no getting out of the mighty hand of God.”
Apparently, however, Providence gave up all hope of curing Boston of its wickedness, for, though lightning-rods became more and more common, earthquakes in Massachusetts have remained rare. Nevertheless, Dr. Price’s point of view, or something very like it, was still held by one of the most influential men of recent times. When, at one time, there were several bad earthquakes in India, Mahatma Gandhi solemnly warned his compatriots that the disasters had beeen sent as a punishment for their sins.
God caused a picture of his son to appear on Mary Massa’s arm following a recent blood draw in Delray Beach, Florida. Oddly enough the exact same picture appeared on my own arm last fall, after a blood draw in Sharon, Connecticut. God caused me to think it was Charles Manson, though. It’s all in the point of view.
Pope Benedict just named one Fr Gerhard Maria Wagner as assistant bishop of the Austrian city of Linz.
Fr Wagner is notorious for his extreme views — he has accused the popular Harry Potter novels of spreading Satanism, and described Hurricane Katrina as God’s punishment for the sinners of New Orleans.
He wrote in a parish newsletter that the death and destruction caused by the hurricane in New Orleans was divine retribution for the city’s tolerance of homosexuals and permissive sexual attitudes.
The future bishop said he was glad that Katrina destroyed not only nightclubs and brothels in New Orleans, but also five of the city’s abortion clinics.
Televangelist John Hagee:
I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are —were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade on the Monday that the Katrina came, and the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing.
The late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi :
[Al Qaeda’s then-leader in Iraq] issued a statement on the Internet calling Katrina divine retribution. “God’s great wrath has hit the head of the oppressors,” the statement read…
In the recording, al-Zarqawi said, “I believe the devastating hurricane that hit the United States occurred because people in Iraq or Afghanistan — maybe a mother who had lost her son or a son whose parents were killed or a woman who was raped — were praying for God and God accepted their prayers.”
And, from the third of the great Semitic monotheisms, here’s Ovadia Yosef…
… a former chief rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas movement, said Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for President Bush 's support for Israel's Gaza pullout.
“Bush was behind the (expulsion of) Gush Katif,” he said. “He encouraged Sharon to expel Gush Katif…we had 15,000 people expelled here, and there 150,000 (were expelled from New Orleans — ed. note)
This is the best political news I’ve heard all year, maybe even forever. A friend of mine was taking a cab in Cleveland last week. The driver went on and on about the economy — no jobs, low wages, medical bills, gas prices, foreclosures. At last he said, “You know what, fuck it! I’m voting for the nigger.”
…there’s a silver lining in that cloud over Wall Street:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Democrat Barack Obama has opened a 9-point lead over Republican John McCain in the U.S. presidential race amid turmoil in the financial system and growing pessimism about the economy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News national opinion poll released on Wednesday.
Among likely voters, the poll found Obama now leads McCain by 52 percent to 43 percent. Two weeks ago the race was essentially even, with McCain at 49 percent and Obama at 47 percent, the Post reported…
I haven’t paid as much attention to the Tom Cruise-Scientology nexus as I should have. This video brought me up to speed, and I hope it will do the same for you. There are only two words to describe the effect it had on me: “holy” and “shit.”
Once the initial bemusement passed, though, I began to wonder how a Martian would react to a video of a not-too-bright Christian or Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist babbling on about his own One True Faith.
RALEIGH, N.C. — L.F. Eason III gave up the only job he’d ever had rather than lower a flag to honor former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms…
“Regardless of any executive proclamation, I do not want the flags at the North Carolina Standards Laboratory flown at half staff to honor Jesse Helms any time this week,” Eason wrote just after midnight, according to e-mail messages released in response to a public records request.
He told his staff that he did not think it was appropriate to honor Helms because of his “doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice” and his opposition to civil rights bills and the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
All right, in these times we need as many feel-good stories as we can lay our hands on. Here’s Jiang Xiaojuan, a 29-year-old Chinese police officer who stepped in to feed babies orphaned by the earthquake:
“I am breast-feeding, so I can feed babies. I didn’t think of it much,” she said. “It is a mother’s reaction, and a basic duty as a police officer to help.”
More on the pleasures of forgetfulness: The Winter Palace by Philip Larkin, a dead librarian.
Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder.
I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university
And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,
And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.
It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.
Then there will be nothing I know.
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.
The next presidential election is a lock for the electorate. There are eight Democrats and nine Republicans in the race. No matter who wins, the citizens of the United States will be the victors because each one, even the certifiable Guiliani, will be an immense improvement over the current president. Not one of the candidates is in the thrall of the bloodthirsty, service-averse neocons. Breaks dawn after darkest night.
One of the main arguments advanced by Michael Northcott in An Angel Directs the Storm is that a millennial spirit has animated the United States from before its founding.
[Jonathan] Edwards, like [Cotton] Mather, believed that the colonists were living in the end times, and he saw the revivals [of the Great Awakening] as evidence of the end time:Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture … And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.
Edwards, you’ll no doubt remember from school days, was the author in 1741 of what the Wikipedia calls “one of the most famous of all fire and brimstone sermons”: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them. …
There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God’s restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell. There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do in them.
You can see why people would be attracted to such a message.
According to Northcott, Edwards and his contemporaries were postmillennialists,
which is to say that they believed that in building a godly commonwealth in the New World they were ushering in the millenial rule of the Saints on earth after which they believed Christ would return as judge of the earth.
This sort of belief had positive effects on the approach people took to their communities. If you see your task as building a commonwealth that will be worthy of ushering in saintly rule to the earth, you’ll be looking for justice and truth in communal enterprises. You’ll be trying to make sure that God’s values, as you understand them, are incorporated into the methods and operations of the community. Naturally this will be imperfect, humanity being what it is, but the job is clear.
I should probably admit here that theism does not appear to me to fit with what we know of the world. For example, science appears to work; prophecy does not. It appears to me that miracles are more likely to be a manifestation of insufficient understanding than of a God that interferes in the events of this world. Deism, on the other hand, the idea that God created the world and set it running on its own laws, does not appear to me to contradict experience.
Clearly, this attitude leaves me open to the argument that my assumptions are incorrect, and that reasoning is not as important as revelation. But at least I can engage with postmillennialism as a philosophy that encourages morality.
Premillennialism, the subject of the next in this series of posts, seems quite different to me.
I’m re-reading a fascinating book entitled An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire, by Michael Northcott. I expect to be quoting from it and discussing it in some detail over the coming weeks.
From the introduction:
The Bush administration’s policies combine a commitment to untrammelled capitalism, and hence a corporately restrained democracy, with a willingness to spend inordinate amounts of money on American corporations producing military technology. At the same time these policies are represented as America’s sacred mission to lead the world to its destined future of democracy and freedom. While Bush is clearly driven by a faith in unbridled capitalism that borders on religious fervour, these polices are not just the product of modern ideology. There is a deep millenial spirit here, which goes right back to the emergent belief of Americans that they were a “redeemer nation” destined to lead the world to the end of history.
It is the burden of this book to show that this millenial spirit rests upon a tragic deformation of true Christianity.
Perhaps now is the moment to mention that, although I grew up in the Episcopal church, I no longer consider myself a Christian. Of the philosophies that are generally referred to as religions, I’m most attracted to Zen Buddhism, which is really not a religion in the sense that Christians, Jews, and Muslims use the word. It does not posit a supreme being; it does not care about the issue of life after death, or struggle with the question, Why are we here? Indeed, it would consider that question silly. Zen concentrates on the eternal present, and on the decision about the next action; in other words, on what is relevant to the here and now. Thus it is not prone to being used for political ends, because it is too aware of the implications of each action.
Christianity, on the other hand, has been shaped by nearly two millennia of being used for political ends. This does not invalidate the religion; far from it. What Gibbon called “the pure and simple maxims of the Gospel” remain as relevant and as hopeful today as they were two thousand years ago.
But the circumstances under which Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire changed the ideology significantly. Although I have some issues with Northcott’s Roman history, and numerous minor complaints about the editing his book received, I find his analysis to be forthright, stimulating, and well conceived. I hope that An Angel Directs the Storm is widely read; it has much to tell us about the philosophical and psychological background of the religious framework of the United States. I hope readers of the upcoming commentary are provoked to engage in the discussion, and to encounter the original ideas in the book.